The cell phone clicked shut.
A nameless woman stood frigid. She stared off into the void of her bedroom, the corner where the walls met getting darker, darker, darker...
The telephone rings again. She answers but makes no sound.
“This line is being monitored.”
“Good. I'm sure you're aware of your position. Ignore Steinberg's call. Wait until I say so. Then you'll act.”
And then the line cut.
Morning came and light filled the room.
Reiko Saeki prepared food as usual. Bread entered her system and dissolved. Tea, hot and tasteless. The news was on the TV, but there was no sound to it.
Reiko Saeki saw the face of the man whose adoptive daughter he was in charge of. They had seen each other the day before.
“There’s no way Ryuuji’s in trouble, just no way!”
“That’s fine, and we understand your position, Lillie.” Reiko Saeki said this with a calm voice. Her cell phone sat on the coffee table of the Sogabe apartment, recording the audio. Next to it was a mug of coffee, the same mug she had always used in her sparse visits to the Sogabe residence. It was the same mug Ryuuji used too.
“Try and think clearly. Did you notice any unusual activity before he left? Any new faces in the apartment?”
“No! He’s innocent!”
“Lillie, I’m only trying to help. Have you seen the news? Things are getting kind of hairy out there, don’t you think? I personally have to wade through crowds to get to my office everyday. Even beyond the crimes Sogabe is being accused of, he may hold some key information that can solve this whole mess. We want to work with him, Lillie, and you’re the next best thing--so please. If there’s anything you can tell us to help, we’re all ears.”
There was a pause, and the middle school girl in front of her carefully addressed the situation. There were two NAB investigators in front of her. Reiko Saeki was sitting on the couch while her partner sat adjacent to her in a chair he had pulled up. He was younger, closer to Lillie’s age than Reiko’s, and acted as an equalizer--his youthful presence balanced out the hierarchy of the room.
Ryuuji had instructed her on interacting with authorities of any kind. Speak only what you know about the situation, and carefully. Wait for an attorney. Don’t say anything unless you know it can be used to your benefit.
My benefit… thought Lillie. In fact, a few weeks prior she had seen Ryuuji welcome a blonde foreigner into the apartment, and she remembered him to be a NAB investigator as well. Perhaps throwing one of their own at them would shake up their chase.
“Now that you mention it… there was a foreigner here a few weeks ago. This blonde guy with a huge nose…”
The young man spoke up. “Did he look like us?” His voice was calm in a natural way, unlike Saeki’s calculated tone. Lillie naturally opened up to him.
“Yep. I think he said he was an investigator from the NAB, just like you guys. He wasn’t ikemen like you guys, though.”
The two investigators looked at each other.
“Now that you mention it, there was an American who called me a few weeks back looking for you, Ms. Saeki…”
“I met with him,” said Reiko Saeki. “So he came here?”
“Yeah. So I’m telling you, Ryuuji’s innocent! That nose guy knows!”
The image of David Steinberg floated across Reiko Saeki’s mind. She coasted around Jimbocho and traced her hand along covers of old books that all seemed the same to her. Yellowed pages, black ink, stories riffing on stories that can be traced back to the beginning of time. While coming here was once a way to relax, a meditative commute to lose herself in towers of fiction, it now felt as empty as any other urban canal that formed the labyrinthine streets of Tokyo.
She no longer felt the rules of a story confining her own life. It’s an odd thing, really, that she should have ever felt this way before. Since becoming nameless, however, she had also become minutely aware of other things that she had lost in that transition too; a name was one such signifier that kept her lodged in the story of her life, a proper noun she could point to and use to anchor herself in a larger narrative. Now that it was gone, the woman formerly known as Reiko Saeki had become unlodged from the narrative that once governed her life. It was liberating in some senses, but extremely lonely in others.
Her sights settled on Sanshiro. The book’s title is the protagonist’s name. It could easily have been called The Student, The Coward, or Country Bumpkin, but all of these are just alternatives for a name. There was nothing that Reiko Saeki could be called anymore except for a woman who operated peripherally to other, more important people--those with names, those who had books named after them. She opened the book and leafed through it. The short sentences seem as meaningless to her as it would to a foreigner with no concept of what kanji is, let alone kana. A cold wind entered her body, and she felt empty as she accepted it. She placed Sanshiro back on the stack outside of the quaint storefront, and the shopkeep paid no attention to her existence.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the window of the door as she left. Her features were murky, but one new thing made itself apparent: subtle gray hairs, few in number. How tired she had become, how much older without realizing. The lines on her face seemed to indicate that she had exerted more effort than usual lately, as if every laborious action required huge amounts of motivation and purpose. At the same time, she felt as if she had done nothing at all. She moved and acted where she was told, but bringing herself to do these things, to care about them when she herself had no name or motivation was a vexing kind of paradox that made her feel like she had been moving underwater. The image in the glass dissipated now, losing her focus on its shape and never once seeing her face. The only thing that remained was the translucent view of the bustling street, and no one she could identify as herself. The door made a ringing noise as it opened, and she took a deep breath.
This name had weight. This name had purpose. This name had context and history, both things which created a discernible character that could stand out in anyone’s mind. By contrast, Reiko Saeki felt small and nonexistent. Her role was simply to reposition and repurpose the story of David Steinberg into something new, to direct it towards a conclusion that had been decided by forces unknown to him in ways that seemed natural and bordering on divine. She had come to realize this over time as K continued to announce directions to her, like a narrator to her life without a title. She was one such tool they employed to create context, one minute player of an unfathomably large game.
It was always like this. Once unmasked, a character has nothing but their actions and their immediate consequences. Like clockwork, K phoned back with what the next of these would be for the nameless woman.
“You will tell David Steinberg a story about an investigation that did not happen.”