Whenever the railroad crossing gate hit his head, Franz felt right at home. Like a true local.
The crossing gates came down often at the entrance to Happy Road Oyamadai. At first, Franz had found it amusing, how the locals started running once they heard the signal. Almost every time, at least one unlucky runner was hit on the head on his way to the other side.
Before long, Franz wasn’t laughing anymore. He had become one of the runners. And it was always him who was hit on the head first. To the others, he was an early-warning system. The tall German stuck out. And everybody familiar with Japanese proverbs knew what happens to those who stick out.
Franz wouldn’t have it any other way. He could have lived without the headaches, but he couldn’t live without Happy Road, his chosen home. That was the reason he was running now. He was running to his hypothetical new house in his old neighborhood. The one his American friend O.G. had found for him and his wife, Hina. The one that might prevent them from moving far away, where he couldn’t enjoy the privilege of having it all: suburban tranquility as well as a Tokyo postal code. He was running, because he was already late. He would meet O.G. and Hina there, his wife coming straight from the office.
The house turned out to be a slim two-story building — not pretty, but charming in a functional Heisei Era way. It would easily fit Franz, his wife and whoever might complete their family in the near future. When Franz arrived, O.G. and Hina were already waiting in front of it, no love lost between them. Hina saw the bump on her husband’s head.
“Crossing gate again?” she asked. He didn’t reply; he didn’t have to.
She was wearing the beige trench coat that many Japanese woman of age wore when they left the house. O.G. had opted for an old hoodie, its front depicting a fading, youthful image of the Beastie Boys, the back advertised tour dates. It was hard to make out after decades of occasional washing, but the gigs appeared to have taken place in the early 1990s. And that hoodie wasn’t even the worst. Franz looked down O.G.’s hairy legs and asked, “You met the realtor like this?”
“Nothing.” Franz wasn’t a religious man, yet he had certain strong beliefs. One of the strongest was that men shouldn’t wear shorts in public after the age of 12. Tokyo summers regularly made him question this particular belief, but it wasn’t summer yet.
When the realtor arrived, they were allowed inside. They were impressed, even Hina. Until she looked out the living room window.
“There is a cemetery right behind the house,” she said. “That’s why it’s so cheap.”
“I don’t mind at all,” Franz responded.
“Neither do I. But they won’t like it.”
“Who do you think?”
“I don’t think our children will object as long as we don’t raise them to be superstitious, backward hicks.”
“Who are you talking about? We don’t have children.”
“Not yet. I thought that was the idea. … Who are you talking about?”
“My parents! Did you just call them superstitious, backward hicks?”
“Not directly, and only in the nicest sense of … those words. Well, we don’t have to tell them about the cemetery.”
“They will probably look out the window at some point.”
“They have never visited us. Why would they visit us here? Oh, you mean because of the kids?”
She touched the bump on his head. “Are you alright? They won’t be visiting; they will be living with us! As we have discussed.”
He remembered. They had discussed it. Way back in the early days of their courtship, when he simply agreed with everything she said just so she wouldn’t go away and discuss her future with another man. He remembered mentioning that he wouldn’t rule out welcoming his hypothetical wife’s parents to live with them, space and budget allowing. One of the many things he said only because he thought they were the right thing to say in that moment in time. Nothing more serious than: Of course I like nattō; crazy about it!
“I don’t like nattō,” he said now. “In fact, I hate it.”
He sat down, touched his bump and groaned a little. “I have a headache.”
Andreas Neuenkirchen is a German novelist and essayist based in Tokyo. “Leaving Happy Road” is a work of fiction. Some of the names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5