Contemporary East Asian Fiction

“So… you’re coming home, right?”

His sister was on the phone. He imagined her by the phone in the hallway, back at home, fingering the cord in the dark, the receiver pressed against her face, pressed to her cheek. He imagined her putting a hand over the little holes of the mouthpiece, imagined her breathing. In and out.


“I’m listening.”

A beat. As he stood looking out at the dark sky, Goro imagined his sister turning and looking over her shoulder for a moment. Goro imagined the tension in the air, permeating the halls. The low breathing of a person on the edge of death.

The sensation that Death was pacing up and down the hall. That intuition, that instinct.

“Look, Mom’s situation will not be getting any better,” his sister explained. “Please, come home.”

Goro heaved a sigh.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Please,” his sister repeated, like a period, setting the phone down and ending the call.

For a while, Goro stood staring at his phone. Then looked at the time. 10:24 p.m.

Goro sighed again and shoved his phone back into his pocket. He shifted weight to the other foot, heard the rasp of his shoes over the floor, and looked out at the world beyond him, moving on under the night.

The sounds of distant traffic came drifting in like a cloud his way, the honking, the sounds of engines.

Once like an old friend, but now plain exhaustion.

His eyes were tired, with a sort of sizzling around the corners every time he blinked.

What should he do?

Their mother was decaying this very moment, and here he was, out in the city, far away from home.

Their mother had been battling cancer for as long as he could remember, by now. It's been so long that it might as well have been forever. Time felt that way to him. A period of time could stretch for so long that it becomes a sort of eternity itself, the beginning so far behind that it becomes a distant memory and the end nowhere in sight.

But now? It might be the end. Their mother might leave the world at any moment.

The thought of it almost petrified him. If he were to find some way to come home tonight, would he be able to be home before she’s gone? Will he find some way? Were there any trains left? Any buses? Should he take a cab? If he took a cab, how much would that be? Did he even have the money? If he went the next day, he might be too late. She might not be awake to see him…

At the same time, somewhere, Goro sort of hoped she wouldn’t have to see him.

Yet, he wanted to see her. And even deeper inside, he wanted her to see him. One last time.

He didn’t want her to see him like this. Right now, he was wearing a leather jacket over clothes several weeks away from the washer. And probably smelled like alcohol. He’d ruined his life beyond repair since leaving for Tokyo, and he had nothing to show. No success, no stable job—no nothing. Nothing besides broken dreams and promises scattered behind him.

He had gone out to Tokyo to continue his studies, but slowly he became disillusioned with it all. Things stopped making sense, the world felt strange, almost twisted. He started feeling like there was a cockroach roaming inside of him, or some rat, and he felt dirty all over. His emotions stopped feeling real, and Goro started questioning if he was human or an imitation of one, some fake, some liar. Slimy all over. Then he started drinking to numb everything, and at a party, his 'friends' introduced him to ecstasy. Goro became addicted, and he couldn't stop using it. He needed it, he craved it. He needed more. Every time he ran out, he bought more and more. He met people in the dark, in dank alleyways, and traded more money. He even started using cocaine, and had a taste of heroin once. He went out with women, several women, and started arguments and fights everywhere. Before he knew it, he had run out of money and had to drop out. He had been skipping a ton of classes, too, so it was about time.

It was when he got the news that their mother was diagnosed with cancer that he started seeing better.

He was broke, he was a mess, he was no longer in college, and he was out of drugs. His body felt awful, and everything felt horrible. Slowly, as his rent went unpaid for two months, three months, four—he was kicked out as well, had to share a home with a woman he met several times during his drug trips. And as the days piled on, his misery only increased and guilt in various things began stacking on one another.

He'd ruined his life, a thing he had never thought would happen to him.

Not only that, he betrayed his mother’s wishes.

She gave him all her savings for him to study in college, and what did he use it for? To ruin his life.

How could he show his face to her?

Goro walked away from the wall, staggered down the steps, and strolled through the park. Through the lamplights, he felt the night grow dense in the dark. It felt real. Like how his body used to feel to himself. Before it all crumbled apart.

Then, walking out of the dark, he gazed up at the starless sky feeling the world glare at him from all around. Traffic passed him by—headlights flashing and disappearing into the night, tail lights glowing red in the dark. Heaving a sigh, he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked away, walking who knows where. He didn't even know where he was going himself...

Slowly, a bigger question gathered in his mind—how could he face himself?

Maybe he can’t…

May 25, 2021 18:53

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