Unlike most people, Imre Void never forgot how much of a failure he was in his previous lives.
Imre Void had run the ticket gate between gate 9 and gate 10 in the Tokyo Train Station for fifteen years. Of course, then he was not called Imre Void; at that time he was Takagi Omura, vaguely aspiring comic book artist who was content to watch his life, as well as the lives of others rush by. That is until February 2, 2012.
It had been Takagi’s birthday. He lived in a small apartment beside an elementary school, and since he left in the early hours of the morning and came home around five, the school was always an empty place. Sometimes when he came home, he would drop his bag on the floor then would sit on his little balcony and imagine what the school yard looked like when it was full. Takagi kept a little turtle named Shōkame, which he fed lettuce hearts every evening when he came home. The only noise that ever came from Takagi’s apartment was the soft padding of his socks on the wood, the whirring of the old microwave, and the creak of the chair on the deck when Takagi came outside with his cup of tea to watch the empty school.
On February first, Shōkame the turtle crawled onto his sand mound and nuzzled his seashell that Takagi brought home from the beach the year before. Then he stopped breathing. Takagi woke for work on February second and carried over a leftover lettuce heart and dropped it in his turtle bowl. When Shōkame did not move, Takagi sat, waiting as his tea grew cold.
He reached into the bowl and dragged his finger down the spine of the turtle’s shell, and with a quiet sigh, he picked up the bowl and carried it downstairs. He tiptoed past his landlady’s apartment on the first floor, and then rushed out the front door, which squeaked as it closed behind him. He buried Shōkame in the bushes beside the school yard, the dirt dry, his eyes wet, and the air clear.
Takagi walked alone to work, his hands jammed in his pockets and his eyes turned down on the sidewalk. It was only three blocks, but it was a chilly morning, and the sun was only a grey smear on the horizon. When he drifted into the station and the automatic doors closed behind him, Mr. Tanaka, a co-worker, waved to him. Takagi waved back.
He had told himself for weeks that he would get a pastry from the expensive French shop in the station, but when he walked in and stood at the counter as other costumers bustled around him, he could not bring himself to get the expensive, yet mouthwatering berry tart. He stared at the tart, his beady eyes occasionally flickering to the price board. When he walked out, he told himself that the smell of fresh bread and the warmth of the store had been good enough. When he slid into his seat at the ticket gate, there was a sinking feeling in his chest.
The morning passed like any other. Around nine, Mr. Tanaka brought him a cup of watery coffee. He helped a group of ungrateful middle schoolers through the ticket barrier, and he could not work up the energy to politely nudge out a homeless man who had settled beside a newspaper rack to escape the weather. The morning crowds were a sea of multi-colored hats, scarfs, and puffs of breath rising and shifting like sea foam as they rushed into the station. He sorted out a few issues with rail cards.
At lunch time he bought two rice balls from the convenience store and took a fifteen minute break. Mr. Tanaka got up from his seat.
“Oh, you’re back already?” he asked. Takagi shrugged and took a ticket from a business man and let him through the gate. Another businessman bumped Takagi as he hurried past. Rush hour rose and fell like the tide. He dimly noticed Mr. Tanaka and another employee laughing at a dirty magazine, but he was paying closer attention to how his coffee behaved when he swirled it around in the styrofoam cup, as the crushing noise of the station began to fade and the voices of his co-workers grew. Takagi sighed.
His coffee was finishing its thirteenth counterclockwise swirl when he heard high heels clicking on the floor and his co-workers quieted.
“Mr. Omura?” whispered Mr. Tanaka. Takagi looked up from his coffee.
Standing at the end of his gate was a foreigner, a woman with curly bright red hair. She was pressing her tourist train pass card against the gate’s sensors, but the gate was not letting her through. She fumbled through her coral bag, looking for something. Usually dealing with foreigners was not a task anyone relished, but Takagi had no problem with it. His arms lifted from his the desk, and he felt himself walking out of the train station booth towards her. He noticed the strangest things: the way the peonies had been stitched onto her bag, the ink stain on her left hand, the way she smiled warmly, almost nervously as she was passed by a group of late high schoolers. Takagi could see a brilliant history in how she moved, maybe she had been a dancer. Maybe she had sailed around the world, or ruled a city. She was not extraordinarily pretty, worn in the same way as a housewife with old ambitions. But something beyond him, something within him was pulling him in, and Takagi had never felt anything like the riptide dragging him across the train station towards her.
“Excuse me,” she said in terrible Japanese, and she started to fumble with a sheet from her purse. Takagi glanced at the translation sheet of Japanese expressions.
Dutch? I speak Dutch. Though I doubt my vocal chords could handle it, and what would my co-workers say?
“Is gate not letting you through?” asked Takagi in Japanese. The woman frowned and read over her sheet. He could tell she was wracking her brain for the right thing to say. He admired that. Most would have begun pantomiming by now.
“May I see your pass?” he asked politely in Japanese. She stared at him for a moment, her brown eyes tearing through him.
Where have you been? he wondered. What have you seen?
She handed him the pass. Takagi turned it over. It was going to expire soon, but the machine must have just been registering it wrong.
“Come this way,” he said, “and you’re going to need to buy a new pass.”
She looked at him, and Takagi swore she could see through his grand farce, the great lie of his life and all his lives.
He couldn’t look away from her. He was sure when she returned home, maybe to a husband and two kids, her neighbors would not see it. He family would take the packed lunches and the kisses on the cheek, and they wouldn’t understand.
“Excuse me,” she said again, determined, in her bad Japanese. “I’m sorry?”
No. Not a conquerer... Religious figurehead? He stopped halfway to the worker’s booth. All right. You win.
“You will have to buy a new pass tomorrow,” he said softly in terrible Dutch. It was old fashioned, and he knew it sounded old, and this particularly mouth had never worked around the words before, but he said it, and her eyes widened in surprise. “I will let you through the gate today though.”
“This way,” he said, ignoring the looks of amazement from his co-workers as he opened the gate.
I want to see you again. She walked through the gate, and Takagi considered dropping it closed as he grew desperate. Don’t go yet.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
The redhead flipped her hair over her shoulder and smiled at him.
“For letting me practice my Dutch,” he lied. “I don’t get to often.”
“You’re determined. After so long, most people would’ve forgotten.”
His eyes opened, wide, in his shock, and he refused to blink because he felt tears. He had long suspected there were others, but he had never met one.
“Determination,” he repeated, his mouth hurting from trying to make the right sound.
“Or ambitious,” she said with a laugh. “Do you speak English too?”
“Ambition. I don’t know...”
“The desire to achieve something.”
He almost laughed to himself. “I meant,” said Takagi, “that I’m not so sure if I’ve ever been ambitious.” It was true. He gazed at her, and he wondered if that was why he had always been unhappy. “Do you know how to get where you’re going?”
“I’ll figure it out,” she said. She grabbed a station map.
He nodded. I’m sure you will.
“My name is Nadia.” She did not stick out her hand, instead giving an awkward bow.
“Thanks again for you help, Mr. Omura.”
He nodded, his throat tight, and he couldn’t bring himself to say anything as she walked away. He had always been a coward.
Don’t go. Please.
Always been a coward.
“I can’t take this anymore,” said Takagi Omura to himself as the redhead left the station through the old exit. She didn’t wait for the doors to open and pushed them open herself, pausing for a moment to tie a blue scarf, a scrap of sky over her hair. She thrust forward into the crowds.
Takagi felt something rising inside him. He wanted to follow her out the door, run out into the city and tell everyone how he felt. Freedom beckoned. Ambition called to him. He wanted to tell them all the truth, grab her wrist and they could tell the truth about everything. They were two rocks in a fast-running river.
The station clock clicked incessantly above his head, and the trains continued in on time. He took a step towards the door. He couldn’t see her anymore.
“Hey! Mr. Omura! I think we’re going to need help unjamming the ticket machine!”
Takagi stopped cold. His eyes narrowed, his pulse quickened, and and as the exit door snapped closed, the dull calm that had consumed him like dirty, lukewarm bath water was swept away.
“Oh, never mind,” called Mr. Tanaka from in the inside of the booth. “We fixed it.”
For the first time, Takagi couldn’t stand the sight of them. Mr. Tanaka was huddled over the ticket machine with the other two men giggling over the dirty magazine. He was trapped, trapped in cement, glass, and an endless stream of tickets for everyone else leaving. The middle schoolers had left the station. The businessmen had left. Nadia had left. He ran to the second floor and gazed out the window at the crowd, searching for her, but she had disappeared in the hundreds of souls around the station. Tears burned in his eyes, but mostly he felt a blinding, divine clarity. He needed a fresh start. Greatness.
“This ends today,” he said venomously. “I will not continue like this.”
And he turned and walked into the ticket booth.
Next time, I will grab her and I won’t let go. Next time, everyone will understand.
“I’m going home early,” said Takagi.
Mr. Tanaka chuckled. “It’s about time. Enjoy your birthday.”
“I will,” said Takagi. He picked up his bag and left the station without looking back. He did not look at the sidewalk like usual. Instead he looked at the advertisements on the buildings, the road signs, and the clothes the people wore as they hurried through the cold. When he saw his apartment, he broke into a run. By the time he reached the parking lot, his face was sweaty and he was out of breath, but he didn’t care, and ignoring his landlady as she got out of her car, he ran up the steps.
Takagi threw open the door to his apartment. He dragged the chair off his deck and leaving it in the middle of his living room, went into his bedroom and picked up a bed sheet. With the dexterity of a sailor—a Dutch sailor in the great age of great ships—he tied the sheet to a beam and then to his own neck. His legs shook, and he closed his eyes.
“Nadia,” he whispered like a prayer. “Next time.”
He stepped off the chair, and his neck snapped.
It was the first time he had committed suicide to restart.