Let’s go into Exhibition Room 2. Here we’ve got our own collection. It’s not so spacious, so you can look around and get the whole picture. In the left corner, a middle-aged woman is seated on a chair. With a name tag pinned to her breast, she wears a white blouse and a black skirt. That’s me. Seated between Kandinsky’s Blue Rider and Yoshitomo Nara’s Broken Treasures, she pulls up her stockings.
Opening her mouth wide, she yawns, closes her eyes, and nods off. The whisky she’s brought with her in her water bottle begins to work on her. With her eyes shut, she makes a terrible museum security guard. But on a rainy day like this, we get only a few visitors.
“Hey!” a female voice says, and somebody shakes my shoulders. “Mumbling to yourself? You give me the creeps.”
I was so focused on giving myself a play-by-play description that I didn’t realize somebody came in.
I open my eyes and find an elderly woman with dark sunglasses in front of me.
“How many times do I have to ask? I need a guide.”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize.
I bow and fall silent. Raindrops whip and lash noisily against the ground outside. In my mind’s eyes, rain pours like a waterfall. Water drips from the tip of the woman’s umbrella. Chilly raindrops streak down my stockings and wet my shins.
“Excuse me. You’re not allowed to bring an umbrella inside. Please place it in the rack outside the entrance door.”
“What an easy job you’ve got,” the woman says. “You just sit there like that and get paid.”
“Excuse me? I’m a bit hard of hearing.”
I brush hair out from behind my ear and reveal a hearing aid. She brings her face closer to me.
“Sorry. I can’t see too well,” she says slowly. “I didn’t notice your hearing loss wristband until now.”
“Excuse me. I shouldn’t be thinking aloud. No one had pointed out this habit to me before. Let me keep your umbrella.”
“Thank you. Say, I have a favour to ask. I want to see the paintings up close. I asked someone else before, but she said no.”
Of course, that’s a no-no. We’ve got to keep visitors away from the paintings. That’s our job.
“Only from the dead angle from the security cameras,” I say in spite of myself.
She then proceeds to see the paintings with her nose almost touching them. Nobody else comes.
She takes out her phone and brings it close to a painting. I clear my throat noisily.
“Thank you,” she says after one hour. “I had a great time. But I believe if you don’t lose your perception, you can see the blue in the Kandinsky with your heart instead of your eyes.”
“That’s great. When I saw you with your phone out, I thought you’d take a photo.”
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t touch anything either.”
“That’s because I breathed through my nose until you were done. That was my mission.”
“Oh, it’s just my good luck charm, so to speak. I didn’t trust you. So I challenged myself to breathe through my nose while I prayed.”
“Hey, are you Midori-chan, by any chance?”
“That’s me. Long time no see, Sakurako-san.”
“Oh, why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You look so old, so I wasn’t sure if it was you. Eyesight can be cruel sometimes. I can see all your wrinkles. I’m glad you recognized me. If you didn’t, dynamites in this museum would have gone off.” I chuckle.
“Oh, you haven’t changed since middle school. Pulling my leg like that. Forgive me for being so blunt, but are you really hard of hearing? You seem to hear me all right.”
“Gee, what a shame. I hate you, after all. When I lost my hearing, I learned to read lips. Do you think I’m making stuff up? You always lacked imagination, Sakurako-san. You haven’t changed. You said you could see colours with your heart. That applies to others. As your situation changes, your perspective naturally alters. Everybody makes adjustments in order to survive. You were always self-centered back then, so this doesn’t surprise me.”
“Do you still hold a grudge against me?”
“What? Don’t you realize what you did? How your deeds made me suffer? If I managed to hold my breath from the vending machines to my house door, peace would have reigned over the world. But that day you got in my way. As I dashed toward home, you grabbed me and pulled my arm. I fell and released my breath. You were laughing at me. Then the TV showed horrific scenes of devastation after the earthquake. The jet-black world will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
“Are you crazy? You don’t make sense at all.”
“You just don’t get it, do you? My only wish is to complete my mission. Please go home, Sakurako-san.”
I sneak out before an employee comes to lock up the museum. I get on a bus and head home. I feel tired working all day. But I saved The Blue Rider. Once I’m home, I empty my whisky in the bottle. I gaze toward the calendar to check tomorrow’s schedule. Another mission awaits me at the zoo.
translated by Toshiya Kamei
Ayumi Nakamura is a part-time radio announcer based in Tokushima. In 2020, her short story “Ori” won the Tokushima Shinbun Award in the third Awa Shirasagi Literary Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Tokushima Bungaku.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.
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