Ryuuji could never forget the events of that foolish autumn. The year was 2010.
ALTIMIT OS was Scheiße*.
By October of that year, people who had praised the network were now very upset. It was not surprising. Massive connection issues occurred frequently both inside and outside the country, telephone lines were interrupted, the stock market crashed, train schedules were disrupted, there were power failures, and ALTIMIT’s security was beyond help. It had holes big enough to fit a whale.
On the opposite side were those who continued to praise the wonders of the network.
Pluto had been contained and we received the blessing of the Virgin. We could now enjoy the benefits of the network. We believed in the Virgin. It was necessary to avoid the foolish mistakes that would send us back to the dark ages.
The two sides would sometimes get into heated debates both online and in the real world. Soon the problems would develop into political controversies in other countries around the world. That is to say, the debate was over whether to continue promoting the globalization of the Internet, or “Netification” as it was sometimes called.
However, Ryuuji had enrolled at the Institute of Psychiatric Medicine’s Neimann Department at the University of Munich’s School of Medicine, which meant that the Psychiatric and Neurological Pathology Laboratory, which was sponsored by Professor Manfred Neimann and was where Ryuuji studied, was far removed from these issues. This was because computers had not been introduced into the classroom as part of an academic policy.
This was not something considered to be human nature, nor natural for a Professor, and was like an extreme dislike of computers.
Having said that, this policy was not without merit in an age of an unstable Internet environment, but it’s disadvantages far outweighed the advantages.
For example, when they organized patients’ medical records, students had no choice but to pack them away in a warehouse once a month.
While making a bunch of medical records, Ryuuji’s friends spilled them from his huge business-use clipboard.
Ryuuji was pretty upset. Rather than click on a computer like in the 21st century, they were stuck using clipboards.
He pointed at some bugs in the corner of the room with a look of disgust.
The professor spoke perfectly grammatical German, but with the accent of someone from Poland.
He spoke while looking around at the students during the first lecture.
“Your job is not to give direction to a patient like an oracle. Nor is it to solve a mental illness by filling out a quick prescription. You are there to help patients understand themselves. You have to experience their true nature, to be present and aware, to be open with the patient, and guide them toward a realization of the solution to their problems,” he said.
“How do we go about doing that?” a student asked.
“If you do nothing else, please do something for me.”
“Two things,” the professor replied.
“Always be sceptical, and always explore. That is the mission of the psychiatrist.”
The university lecture ended and, as part of his daily routine, Ryuuji stopped by a cafe and a used-bookstore as he wandered back to the boarding house where he was staying. He asked for a cup of coffee and read a book in the peaceful town.
There was also the times when he accompanied Kaya for a stroll.
Every Friday she would attend the Psychiatric Center at the University of Munich.
On a day that Kaya showed up, Ryuuji perfectly timed his departure, quietly excused himself from the classroom and stood at the front of the building in a nonchalant manner for a chance to meet with Kaya just as she finished her visit to the center.
“Hey, Kaya. I didn’t realize you were here,” Ryuuji said.
“Ryuuji. What’s up?” Kaya asked.
“Nothing much. I had an urgent errand for a professor, but I didn’t catch him. I was a little bothered by it”, said Ryuuji.
“If you mean Professor Neimann, I saw him in the second floor hallway a little while ago,” said Kaya.
“No, it’s actually another professor. Not one you know. Probably not,” countered Ryuuji quickly.
“Should we go look for the professor together?” she asked.
“That’s okay. I’ll look for him tomorrow. It’s not as urgent as I first thought. Oh, by the way, are you stopping by the cafe today?” said Ryuuji.
Seeing Kaya was always interesting, even if he didn’t get to spend time with her. The taste of coffee was exceptional when sitting across from her. They would talk about various things; recent events, friends, neighbours, TV, books, hobbies, and their respective hometowns.
Looking back on it, Ryuuji realized it was love at first sight.
The previous year from the time he first met Kaya in the park that spring the previous year, Ryuuji found himself becoming hopelessly attracted to her.
In Kaya’s attitude towards Ryuuji there was a deep sense of affection, like that of a sister towards her brother.
Being with her allowed Ryuuji’s to feel a deep calm come over his heart, and he could be himself; he didn’t have to pretend to be someone he wasn’t.
On the other hand, however, Ryuuji felt that there was a mysterious “wall” that had been placed between them.
Kaya, though thoughtful and intelligent, had a naivety that allowed her to become friends with just about anyone in no time.
But inside her it was as though she had built a tough wall to protect herself from others, a wall that covered the most important parts of her soul.
As it was, much of her was not expressed due to this wall.
No matter how sociable he was with her, no matter how much they talked, no matter how intimate the conversations, Kaya’s wall stubbornly remained standing before Ryuuji, and at the end of the previous year, she gave him an impression of being somewhat unfriendly and unapproachable.
Ryuuji had once tried to ask Mr. Richard von Weiss, the landlord of a boarding house, about Kaya’s illness.
Mr. Weiss, who held the title of Count, was a seventh generation direct descendant of a prominent family that made a number of meritorious contributions during the rise of the German Empire. His ancestral Schloss** was located on the outskirts of Hamburg and though he would still be tended to by servants had times not changed, he could not stop the tide of change, so he had become a businessman, working for a trading company in Schwabing.
It was an evening in late July and Ryuuji was in the early stages of living with Kaya.
After dinner that evening, when they had been driven out of the dining room by Mrs. Weiss for clean-up, Ryuuji went out on to the terrace with Mr. Weiss.
Kaya went to the living room to tend to the Weiss’s daughter. The daughter, Lilie Weiss, had just been born in the spring of this year.
From the terrace the Weiss family were able to look over the spacious grounds. The lawn had been beautifully coloured by blue lilies that dotted the grounds.
“You want to know about Kaya’s illness?” Mr. Weiss asked Ryuuji as he cut the tip off of a cigar.
“Yes. I’d like you to tell me everything you know,” said Ryuuji.
It would be easy to imagine that Kaya’s illness is the cause for the wall she creates between her and others. Learning about her illness might get Ryuuji past her defences.
“Why do you want to know about this?” asked Mr. Weiss.
“Ah, well, you see, ummm,” said Ryuuji.
It was a natural question and Ryuuji was at a loss for words. He was not able to provide a good explanation of his feelings to this man.
“I am Kaya’s guardian. I will not speak indiscriminately about her private matters,” said Mr. Weiss. He looked calm, but his tone suggested otherwise. “It is a delicate matter, after all.”
“Yes, well, you’re certainly right,” said Ryuuji.
“If you want to know anyway, ask her directly. She may not want to talk about it either. If she does, she’ll tell you,” said Mr. Weiss.
There was a lull in the conversation, but Mr. Weiss looked as though he had more to say. Even if Ryuuji asked Kaya, she may react like Mr. Weiss did now.
“Why? Why do you want to ask such a thing?” asked Mr. Weiss.
“To answer that question, I must confess my feelings for Kaya,” said Ryuuji.
Ryuuji proposed to her nearby, but this resulted in Kaya’s rejection of him, ending his dealings with the Weiss family. Friday’s talk disappeared forever.
Since he had come to enjoy living here since meeting Kaya, living without her in his life was terrifying to imagine.
So Ryuuji secretly decided to not pursue his happiness any further.
However, at some point circumstances would cause him to break his own commandments.
These circumstances came about almost by accident.
Since Mr. Weiss and his wife had to meet with a real estate agent concerning the maintenance of their manor, they took Lilie and left for Hamburg, leaving the house empty except for Ryuuji and Kaya.
The two of them sat face to face on the terrace, speaking disjointedly while they snacked on currywurst and beer that they had bought at a food stand. Somewhere in the garden a cricket sang in its strange way.
“Do Japanese people like the sounds of insects?” asked Kaya.
“I don’t know if you hear what I hear, but I feel like it’s different from how it’s referred to in the Japanese language,” said Ryuuji.
“Does it sound like a melody to you?” asked Kaya.
“Perhaps,” said Ryuuji.
“I envy you,” said Kaya.
“You envy me?” questioned Ryuuji.
“Yeah, I think I envy the fact that you can like me so much without really knowing me…” she said.
As she spoke, Kaya’s hand bumped into Ryuuji’s hand which was resting on the table. Ryuuji took Kaya’s hand.
Kaya withdrew her hand shortly after.
“Why’d you let go?” asked Ryuuji.
“Because your hand is greasy from the sausage,” Kaya answered accurately.
“Oh, sorry,” Ryuuji said, then wiped his fingers with a handkerchief.
Not really knowing what he was thinking, Ryuuji held out his hand again.
She did not hold his hand.
Ryuuji moved his hand back.
“I do really like you, but I don’t really know you well, do I?” said Ryuuji.
He realized it as he spoke. Perhaps it was because he had had too much beer.
Kaya ate some peanuts, then took a shell and tossed it at Ryuuji, hitting him.
An unpleasant joke.
Or maybe it wasn’t a joke.
He had come this far and he couldn’t go back. Ryuuji now said something that until a few seconds before he hadn’t even dreamt he would ever say.
“I love you, Kaya. I want to marry you more than anyone else in the world,” he said.
Suddenly the cricket stopped making its noises.
Kaya was silent for a moment and put her head down, but then looked back up again.
When he saw her eyes, Ryuuji felt his blood run cold. He could see the protective wall of rejection rise up inside of Kaya.
“Ryuuji, we can’t continue this relationship anymore,” said Kaya.
“Why not?” asked Ryuuji.
“I…,” Kaya said, her eyes cast downwards. “I’m sick.”
“I know. Well, I don’t know the exact details, but I know what it’s called. It’s not a problem with some good medicine,” said Ryuuji.
“No. You’re taking this too lightly. You don’t know about my father,” she said.
“What about your father?”
Ryuuji was puzzled by these unexpected words. This was the first time Kaya had spoken about her father.
“My father committed suicide,” said Kaya.
A strong wind blew though the garden, shaking the flowers.
A heavy silence followed.
Why isn’t even the cricket making any noise?, thought Ryuuji. He wouldn’t stop up until a moment ago.
Eventually Kaya spoke.
“My father chose to end his own life. He could no longer endure the pain that his dream caused him,” said Kaya.
“His dream?” Ryuuji asked. His voice didn’t sound like his own.
“At first it was just a nightmare. A dream about being run over by a car or being attacked by someone. It made for a funny story when he woke up,” she said. “But that would not remain so. His dreams became more severe. The line between dreams and reality began to blur and my father started to break down. He said that he would actually feel pain from where he had been injured in his dreams. My symptoms are exactly the same as when my father first started suffering from his illness. Little by little I feel more severe pain that will become intolerable in the end. I haven’t been suppressed by drugs just yet. It was the same during my father’s time. But that’s just a pretense. It only looks like I’m fine. I’ll also be killed by my dreams. In just a few more years. Just like my father.”
Kaya had described all this with a cold tone, devoid of emotion.
“My illness is apparently inheritable. So, I can’t get married. I’m sorry,” she added.
She stood up and walked away at a brisk pace.
Ryuuji watched her in silence.
When Kaya was no longer visible, Ryuuji very slowly exhaled the breath he had been holding.
I wonder if she really has this disease, thought Ryuuji.
However, Kaya was continuing to go to the Psychiatric Center of the University of Munich. He Center is a research institute containing a state-of-the-art treatment facility. It was highly unlikely they would misdiagnose her.
While he was lost in thought, it was time for a stroll.
Ryuuji retrieved Grid and went out again.
The sky looked ready to rain. He walked on anyway. He walked the concourse of the English Garden as usual and when he sat down on a bench, it began to rain in earnest. It was drizzle.
Ryuuji just got wetter and wetter.
Grid quickly sank down on the bench and lay still without being perturbed by the rain.
Ryuuji remembered that he had met Kaya for the first time in this place.
At that time the park had been filled with vitality. The sun had been shining and the sky had been a bright blue.
Now it was nothing like that day, everything was dismally gray. The landscape was filled with loneliness.
However, it was very poetic and this poetry was tough for Ryuuji.
Unexpectedly, Grid barked as though clearing his throat.
Ryuuji, who was getting soaked while lost in his thoughts, returned to reality at the sound of the bark.
“You’re right, bud,” Ryuuji said. “It’s just as you say.”
The next Monday, after his lecture, Ryuuji caught his professor on his way to the laboratory.
By this time the reprint boom of Minnesang had long since passed, but the professor continued to record the sweet love songs as usual. No matter how high the wall. No matter how thick. My love surmounts them all. Like a bird. Flying to you. Forever and ever.
“Professor Neimann, I’d like to get your permission to organize the warehouse,” said Ryuuji.
A week and a half later, Ryuuji hadn’t returned to the boarding house and hadn’t shown up at lectures, but was instead intently sorting through medical records at the warehouse. He continued to take notes and look for a certain case.
The twelfth day was a Friday in the third week of the month. Ryuuji reported that the sorting was complete to the professor and waited for Kaya to come visit.
Kaya didn’t come.
In the evening, Ryuuji left the lecture hall and went straight home without giving a thought to the used bookstore or cafe.
The days passed quickly. Winter approached ever more swiftly. Oktoberfest was over and a cold wintry wind began to blow, as though a sign of the harsh winter to come.
Upon finally returning to the boarding house, Mrs. Weiss, who was cradling Lilie in the living room, spoke with wide eyes.
“Well, Ryuuji. Where could someone like you have been hiding all this time?” she said.
“Under some rocks,” Ryuuji said with a smirk, but his mouth began to get dry with nervousness. “Is Kaya here?”
“She’s in her room,” said Mrs. Weiss.
“It seems Kaya’s condition has worsened. She’s been bed-stricken since the end of Oktoberfest,” she added.
Ryuuji went to Kaya’s room and knocked on the door.
Soon Kaya opened it. The room was dimly light and Kaya’s expression was hard to determine, but Ryuuji could tell she was giving him quite a look.
“Kaya, please listen. I’ve been investigating your illness,” said Ryuuji. “I don’t know the exact details. I’m only learning as a student. So, based on your description, I’ve been examining whether there are any cases that the University’s hospital has handled in the past. I found several illnesses that fit the profile. Narcolepsy, pain disorder, fibromyalgia, and CNS Hypersensitivity Syndrome. You weren’t able to realize it because you haven’t seen them, but the case was easily solved by digging through the mountains of medical records.
Ryuuji then described each disease in detail, one after the other.
“That sums it up,” Ryuuji said after taking a breath. “Your illness is not hereditary. For starters, with mental illness, except for special cases, genetics are irrelevant. The impact of one’s environment is much greater. You were only assuming that your illness was inheritable. Also, even if genes were relevant to your symptoms, I can do something for you. So, please don’t tell me you’ve been doing fine all this time. Or, if I can’t handle your illness with a smile, I want to say this clearly. No, that’s not it. I don’t want to tell you such a thing.”
Ryuuji took a step towards Kaya.
“I’ll say it again, Kaya. I love you. I want to marry you more than anyone in the world,” said Ryuuji, who closed his mouth and waited for Kaya to respond.
Time passed uneasily. Ten seconds felt like an eternity to Ryuuji.
Looking into his eyes, Kaya gently placed her hand on his cheek.
Then, she kissed him lightly on the lips.
Ryuuji brought Kaya close and embraced her thoroughly. Her face rested on his collarbone.
“You fool,” Kaya said in a soft voice.
“But I’m being honest,” Ryuuji replied softly. “That’s better than a clever, dishonest man.”
“Strange logic,” Kaya said.
Her body trembled. She gently sobbed. Her tears spilled forth.
“No one’s looking, Kaya,” Ryuuji whispered.
December 24, 2010, the last day of Pluto Again.
Ryuuji Sogabe and Kaya Frebe filed their marriage registration.
*Since Ryuuji is reminiscing about his time in Germany, he dots his speech in this chapter with German words he learned while there. Scheiße is the German word for “shit” as in “terrible.” Not that it needs much explaining.
**Schloss is the German word that can refer at once to a palace, castle or manor house. It is not clear which type is referred to here, but it is most likely that it is a manor house, as the family is noble, but not necessarily royal enough for a castle or full-scale palace. Nobility typically did not build larger or finer residences than a king or queen as this would be insulting to the royals, and a stone castle would be difficult to maintain without a large staff.
***Oktoberfest is an annual funfair and beer festival held in Munich. The Theresienwiese is the name of the field in which the event is held. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest)