The past suddenly flashed before him. It didn’t look as good as he had hoped. He had been struck deep in his chest, but he didn’t dare touch his chest. Gradually the past became more and more beautiful in order to avoid a feeling of disgust.
A year before Pluto Again. He had torn into the other side of the past, into the year 2009.
It was the year of the earthquake.
A magnitude 3.3 quake occurred in Duisburg, Germany. It was said to be the biggest earthquake they’d had in over ten years*. To the Japanese Ryuuji, such an earthquake was not particularly large, but for the people of Germany, it was an earth-shattering event, literally and figuratively.
It was the year of women’s soccer.
At the 2009 UEFA Women’s Championship held in Finland, the German team ran a close game against powerhouse Sweden, winning 1-0, thus securing their fifth consecutive title**. During the halftime of the final match, words that the coach directed to the players such as “existential attack” became buzzwords in the country.
It was also the year of “The World.”
Just six months after its release in 2007, this monster hit of a game had recorded sales of over ten million units, and this figure would increase with every version update. The world was about to be united by a game. At least that’s how it looked. When Ryuuji thought back on that idea, it was no more than a mere illusion, a practical joke., but some people at the time took it very seriously.
It was the year of the reassessment of Minnesang.***
The old love songs gained such a resurgence in popularity that soon one could hear such love songs seemingly everywhere. Ryuuji’s attendance at the laboratory was no exception; he had become fed up with his coworkers playing the sweet melodies every day from old record players, like what you might find in an old professor’s personal belongings. His blood would boil every time he heard the songs playing. His memories would seethe. Two birds nestling close together. Forever. Forever and ever. Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever…
It was the year that he met Kaya for the first time.
That unbelievable afternoon, under a blue sky the like of which had never before been seen in Germany, Ryuuji was sitting on a bench in the Englischer Garten with the dog from his former boarding house. A breeze gently shook the trees that lined the street in Schwabing, and the sun shone softly on the lawn.****
There was a creek in front of the lawn. While listening to the lively chatter of passers-by, Ryuuji pondered the matter of the death of the soul. He didn’t know why.
Suddenly a strong gust blew, and a round brown object came into view and broke his concentration. The object, a straw hat, fell just short of the creek, and looked as though it was going to start sailing away again.
Ryuuji commanded the dog with a smack on the back of the neck.
Alright, let’s go. Come on, he said.
However, the dog, a Great Dane, looked back at Ryuuji with a sad look as though he had been through some hard years, and then laid back down with a big yawn.
I know, the dog was trying to say.
Ryuuji stood up, walked over, and picked up the hat.
Immediately after, a young woman with a handbag began to scurry over.
Ryuuji brushed off the hat, then passed it to her.
Thank you, she said as she took the hat. Then she called out hesitantly to Ryuuji who was about to return to the bench.
Do you live around here? I’d appreciate it if you give me some directions, she asked.
There was an awkwardness in her words, like a foreigner exploring an unfamiliar land. I wonder if she’s a tourist, Ryuuji thought.
No problem, Ryuuji said casually.
The woman wore a cardigan and a skirt of modest hue. She had a mature demeanour, but if you looked closely, you could see a childishness in her face as though she were a young girl. Ryuuji supposed that she was one or two years younger than him.
The woman said the address.
However, these strings and numbers, which she did not understand well on her own, meant little to Ryuuji too.
It’s hard to understand the addresses around here. Don’t you have a map?, Ryuuji asked.
She took out her phone from a pocket in her handbag, displayed a map on it, then passed it to Ryuuji.
Ryuuji examined it for a moment, struggling to adjust the map on the mobile terminal while he rechecked the address several times, but he finally managed to find the destination and the route to it.
Ryuuji was surprised to see the name and picture of the building displayed on the terminal.
What? That’s the boarding house I stayed in, he said.
Just then, Ryuuji saw a flash of a memory of something he had been told at a dinner two weeks before.
She decided to adopt the daughter of a distant relative, the landlord had said.
The woman’s relatives had been involved in an accident while on a business trip in the United States, leaving their daughter an orphan. The daughter had nowhere to go and she was so depressed that her health started to deteriorate. To get her medical attention, the woman adopted the young girl.
If you’re so inclined, could you perhaps also direct me to a nearby cafe?, the woman asked.
Such an amazing coincidence, Ryuuji said as he handed back the mobile terminal. I’m the one who took care of Mr. Weiss. I’ve heard about you. Ah… Kayo Frobe, right?
Kaya, said the woman as she held out a slender hand. Kaya Frebe.
He took her hand and gripped it lightly. Her hand was light as a feather. It felt like she would fly away if a breeze blew, so Ryuuji pressed her hand lightly so as not to hurt her.
My name is Ryuuji Sogabe, but please just call me Ryuuji.
Ryuuji took the leash after he finished his self-introduction and spoke to the dog that remained lying down while also showing no interest in the exchange between the two people.
Grid, come on. You’ve got to guide the guest, Ryuuji said to his dog.
The dog, however, did not move. He looked up at Ryuuji and yawned again. He wagged his tail two or three times listlessly, and then closed his eyes as though to say that he had fulfilled his duty. Ryuuji pulled on the leash in vain.
I apologize, Ryuuji said to Kaya.
It seems my buddy here wants to bathe in the sun a little more. Good grief, he continued.
I understand, she said.
Since the weather is so nice today.
Kaya smiled as she spoke. Her flaxen hair blew in the gentle breeze.
Ryuuji looked away and pretended to look down the road.
Well, once you go out of the park, don’t just immediately turn right. Go straight, then the cafe is on the right side of the second street. Understand?, Ryuuji said.
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Sogabe. Well, bye now.
Ryuuji said goodbye and sat on the bench.
As she walked away, Kaya put on the straw hat.
Ryuuji watched Kaya as she walked the trail, his eyes fixed on the beautiful outline of the girl who easily stood out from everything else in the park.
The sky overhead was a ghastly shade of blue.
*This historical piece of information is based in reality. In July of 2009, a magnitude 3.3 earthquake struck near Moers and Kamp-Lintfort in the Wesel District, a region 20km (12mi) northwest of Duisburg, Germany. About a week later, a magnitude 3.1 aftershock was recorded in the area. These two seismic events are known as the 2009 Moers Earthquake. It was caused by a mining operation in the area, but does not seem to have caused much damage. It is apparently the largest earthquake Germany had experienced since 1955. Although natural earthquakes of a larger magnitude have occurred before and since 2009, they do not seem to have been felt as heavily as the 2009 earthquake due to its closeness to the surface.
**Although also based on real events, the story gets details wrong. Germany did not play Sweden at all in the 2009 UEFA Women’s Championship. It played England, winning 6-2 in the final. Germany, however, did win 1-0 against Sweden in the semi-final of the 2013 UEFA Women’s Championship held in Sweden. They then played Norway in the final, winning 1-0.
***Minnesang (“Love song”) is a type of Middle German love poetry popular from the 12th to 14th centuries in Germany.
****Schwabing is a borough in the northern part of Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria in the south of Germany. The Englischer Garten (German for “English Garden”) is a popular public park. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwabing and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Englischer_Garten for pictures of what Ryuuji likely saw.)