Short Story of Woman Unknown – What Was Her Name?
“It is the voice of heart and not the words that makes people move. Listen to your heart.”
My eyes fell on those beautiful lines written on the poster, as I opened the parcel. At first I was surprised when the courier guy told me that it came from Japan. I hardly had any acquaintances in Japan and the sender’s name Mr. Masahiro Takayuki was not even remotely familiar. But the sight of that dilapidated, yet beautiful poster instantly made me recall the day when I had seen it for the first time. With it, also came back the memories of the very adorable and exceptionally beautiful Japanese girl.
Almost thirty years ago, I had met her during my business visit to Japan. I still remember that ecstasy I had felt when I had stepped on the Land of Rising Sun for the first time. Almost everything from larger than life skyscrapers to humble traditional abodes, local trains to bullet trains, clean wider streets to beautiful walkways was immensely inspiring. Even more stimulating was the unfathomable kind nature of Japanese people (truly shinsetsuna hito desu). The concept “Language Barrier” doesn’t exist for Japanese people. They would understand your expressions and would go all the way to help you out. Although I had learnt a little of Japanese before embarking on this trip, but I’d restricted its usage only to strike a conversation with beautiful Chinkis (our version of Japanese females).
After a hectic first month at office, I decided to explore Japan. Kyoto was one major city close to where I was stationed. As the weekend came, I packed my bags and reached the beautiful city of Kyoto. It was overwhelming to see the great architecture of the temples, a symbol of the ancient Japanese culture. The Golden Temple of Japan- Kinkakuji was spectacular. Tired of walking all day long I finally started looking for a cheap place to spend the night. I checked on the internet and realized that hotels in Kyoto were much beyond my reach. I checked for other alternatives and found Ryokan (Dormitory) called Café Zen in the outskirts of Kyoto. Instantly I called up the number and was delighted to hear the sweet voice. Even more fascinating was the perfection with which she had replied to me in English.
Within an hour I reached the Café Zen. I found the café very different from the image I’d developed during the course to the place. It was a small unconventional set-up for giving shelter to tourist like me. But then that famous one liner from India came to my mind “Itne mein itna hi milega..” .
Hesitatingly I entered the café. To the right there was a dilapidated bar table but the bartender was nowhere to be seen. In the middle there were three sets of small center tables surrounded by four chairs, arranged in a column. To the left I noticed two wooden benches and two standing ash trays one at each far end of the benches. Light music was being played in the backdrop, but the poor bass of the speakers clearly reflected the age of the music system. There was a small table at the opposite end of the end. The whole set up with no living species around except myself made it a bit scary. It felt as if I was playing a character in a sequel to the likes of “Hostel”, “Wrong Turn” , “House Of Wax” etc. Instantly I decided to move out of the café. Just as I turned around to leave, my eyes fell on a beautiful poster hanging on the wall just above the door. It said:
“It is the voice of heart and not the words that makes people move. Listen to your heart.”
The way the handwritten message on a fabric was framed clearly reflected that it was not bought from a store, but created by an amateur. It was a feast both for the eyes and for the soul.
“Sumi ma sen!! “ (Japanese version of Excuse Me). I heard a sweet voice from behind.
I turned around and saw a beautiful lady standing at the reception desk.
“Oh Hi!!” I said.
“How may I help you?” I guess she anticipated very well that I would be more comfortable in English.
“Aah! Actually I’m looking for a place to spend the night.”
“You’ve come at the right place sir.” She said with a smile.
Quickly, after completing the formalities she handed me the key and gave the directions to the room. Just as I stepped into the room it felt as if all hell broke loose on me. It was much worse than I had even imagined. There was no sign of a bed, all what was provided was a small mattress spread on the floor and a stinky quilt. The horrible stains on the quilt clearly told the tales of what might have happened there. This was not all, the toilets were for common use one on each floor. There was just one lantern hanging from the ceiling to light up the place and a small dressing table, whose drawers I didn’t even dared to open.
I tried hard to sleep but the ethereal surroundings didn’t allow me the privilege. Out of insomnia I got up and went downstairs to main hall. The sight was simply ecstatic. Almost every table was occupied with people of different nationalities. I couldn’t believe myself, that this was the same place, which a few hours ago was totally abandoned. The bar was still open, and I spotted a Swedish couple enjoying their drinks. A Chinese girl was busy surfing on her laptop; a French guy was reading the Japan-tour guide. The girl at the reception desk was also busy reading a newspaper. The euphoria of the light background music was overwhelming. Everyone was enjoying themselves.
I decided to stay back and enjoy this multi-national, mutli-cultural environment. I went to the reception desk.
“Sumi-ma sen. Watashi wa kohi ga hoshi desu.” (Excuse me. I would like to have a cup of coffee)
“Sure. Sure.” Instantly she got up with a smile and went to the kitchen.
I took the coffee and sat on the couch lying in the secluded corner of the room. I looked around the room and suddenly my eyes got fixed at that poster. It was just plain text, but still there was something in it, which attracted me.
“Anything else you would like to have sir?” I noticed she was standing next to me.
“No. Thanks.” I wonder what was wrong with me, instead of looking at the beautiful girl, my eyes were fixed at the poster.
“You like the poster?” She also noticed my point of interest.
“Yes, yes. Where can I buy one?”
“Sorry sir. This one is made by me and not for sale.”
“Aah! I see. It is heartening that at such a young age, you have such inspirational thoughts.”
“Thank you. But I must tell you, that you are the first person who has noticed it and shown interest it.”
“Everyone has his own interests. And it seems we share same interests.”
“Are you from India?”
“Yes. You know about India?” I could spot a spark in her eyes, as she heard the reply.
“Oh yes. I’ve read a lot about India. “
“About India or about Taj Mahal?” I had become habitual to these kinds of conversations. Most of the Japanese people I’d met had heard a lot about Taj Mahal and wanted to visit India.
“No. Not just Taj Mahal. I’ve read a lot about Rabindra Nath Tagore and Subash Chandra Bose.”
It was really hard to believe. She had studied about both of these great persons to a great extent. We kept discussing over the values and thoughts of them. I even felt embarrassed when I realized that she knew much more than me. I being an Indian was not aware of certain facts, but it appeared as if she had all their ideologies and their history on her fingertips.
We were lost talking to each other. But suddenly, we felt the earth shaking beneath us. The intensity of the tremor increased and we realized that it was an earthquake. Without losing a second, all of us ran towards the street. I had never witnessed an earthquake before in my life. But that day I faced the real havoc. I saw cracks appearing on the walls as we ran towards the street, building were shaking, as if someone was trying to pull them off from the roots. It was horrible. We all kept running, till we reached an open place.
I tried to look for that girl, but she was nowhere in sight. I went back a few steps to see if she was coming. To my utmost amazement I saw her running back in the direction of her café. Bewildered, I thought of calling her. But then I realized that all this time, I hadn’t even asked her name. I stood there for a split second, watching her running madly towards her café. I even saw the dilapidated structure falling into pieces. And before I could rationale over it, I was running in her direction. I caught her just before the café’s debris.
“Are you out of your mind?” I said holding her shoulder.
“My mom’s diary…” there were tears in her eyes. She shrugged off my hand and started running.
“Stop it. It’s too dangerous.”
“I can’t. It’s my mom’s last gift to me.”
“I understand. But please try to understand..” I paused as I saw a boulder flying in our direction. We somehow managed to avoid it.
“You please go. I’ll not go without that diary. Leave me.” She said and ran past me.
I could see buildings tearing off into pieces. It was really dangerous to move any further in that direction. I saw her disappearing into the thick cloud of ash. Puzzled I decided to wait for her.
Next 5 minutes looked like an eternity. There was no sign of her. I couldn’t hold back myself and ran into her direction. Suddenly I spotted her coming out of the debris.
“Thank god.” I gave a sigh of relief.
There were bruises on her arms and legs. Together, we ran away from the place.
“You waited for me” she asked
“Yeah, I thought you may need my services.” A smile came on her face.
By the time, we reached the open place, the tremors had settled. The damage was done, but the girl looked much relieved holding an old diary. I had never thought that even in this part of the world, people had such strong emotions.
Clueless, we waited there for the rescue team, which arrived shortly. We were moved to a rehabilitation camp. Meanwhile, the HR of my company had contacted me. I assured her of my good health and she asked me to catch the next flight and return.
I got so lost in completing the formalities as my passport got buried in the café’s debris. After a while I was asked to aboard a bus leaving for the airport. Just as I was about to board the bus, I saw her standing next to the bus. Our eyes met, she came forward.
“Thank You.” She held my hand, looked again into my eyes. There were tears of gratitude in her eyes.
“Thank god, not me.” I smiled at her and boarded the bus.
Soon, the bus started moving, I noticed her standing still, watching in my direction. I waved at her, but then again I realized that I still hadn’t asked her name. I smiled at myself.
Next day I was back in India. I remember how my wife had mocked at me, when I had told her that I didn’t even ask the name of that girl.
And as time went by, the memories of my Japan trip got evaded from my mind. But the sight of that poster brought everything back. I checked the envelope, and noticed that there was a small note lying inside it.
“I had something of your interest. Now that my days are nearby, sending it to you. Please accept this as a gift from an unknown friend. Tanaka Takayuki.”
I sat speechless, motionless as if suddenly somebody drilled a hole in my heart. I took my cell phone and dialled my wife’s number.
“Now, I know her name…..”