A Storyby E. K. Ota
His name was Dai Matsumoto, but at work everyone called him Dai-san. After thirty years as an accountant, his greatest pride was a Blancpain watch and his innocuous facade. He was a balding, thickset man with weak eyes, a laugh that was gelled and inconsequential after years of puttering on the coattails of flattery, and glasses that had black frames identical to at least three of his colleagues’. He did not like office politics, wilted at the slightest hint of another’s opprobrium, spent years cultivating meticulous routines: white shirts, black ties, the 6:07 train, work, cola and a fried egg in the evenings on weekdays, pachinko on the weekends after he got paid. At night he played online video games and watched the news. His apartment on the thirteenth floor had a balcony at either end, two rooms, a portable butane stove. He kept a fish even though he wanted a dog, and one night when he was fifty-three he created an online avatar by the name of Nimi, who looked like a red-bearded dwarf. When Nimi jumped off the ground, it made a sound—pukka! pukka!—that was different from the one it made when it discharged ninja stars—thuck thuck. Dai-san hadn’t left Nagoya in years. Then he met the girl.
It was evening. A sunset bruised the sky. She accosted him in the park as he was walking home.
“Hey, old man,” said the girl. “Hey.” Her voice was bright, playful, issuing the greeting as if getting ready to sing a song. “Want to get me some pudding?”
She called out to him from the swing set, where she sat perched on the rubber seat like a child, although she could have been as old as sixteen. Dai-san looked around, but no one else was in sight. Young girls who wore makeup made him nervous, and he tended to avoid them at the train station and in the stores.
“Hey,” she said, jumping lightly from the swing. “Old man, you have kids? You married? Buy me something sweet.” Her heels clopped rapidly across the sidewalk until she was next to him. Suddenly, there was a buzz in the air and the streetlamp flicked on. Under the blue light the girl’s hair looked soft, silky as a doll’s, and full of silver wisps. Her skin was pale, her eyes dark, large, perceptive, and feeling her gaze upon him he began to sweat. Without breaking his stride, Dai-san continued on.
“Don’t act like you don’t hear me. I know you like ’em young. You like ’em young and sweet. Juicy as a pear.” The girl laughed. A strange feeling crawled over Dai-san’s skin. “Juicy. Cutesy. Saucy. Naughty—what do you wanna do tonight? Karaoke? Chicken wings? An hour downtown in a bar? Or we can just stay here. You can buy me mochi ice. God, it’s hot.” She smiled. Even in the heat, she was wearing a light-blue sweater, black tights, a white tulle skirt as if she were a ballerina. He caught a whiff of vanilla and roses. It was cloying in the humid night.
“Okay, so maybe you’re not into games. Maybe you want to go to a hotel.” She came close enough to touch his arm. “But of course that costs more. You have family? Kids?”
“No.” Brusquely, Dai-san shook his head.
“So you’re alone.” He felt her smile. “No one will be waiting for you. Good,” she said, as if she expected him to invite her to his home.