The Other Side of the Closet (Part 2)
Getting rid of the ghost, of course, wasn't straightforward. While Aya flung herself into research about exorcism, Keiichi started stocking up the fridge with all kinds of foodstuffs that neither he nor I would have ever known how to cook. After a few days we started seeing signs of the ghost again.
It started with salads. Simple Caesar salad gave way to taramosalata with sliced cucumber and carrots, and then more complex cooked dishes such as bouillabaisse or ricotta cheese cannelloni started to appear. She seemed to prefer Mediterranean cuisine. For a week or so she worked like this, carefully avoiding us when we were at home, and going on her culinary excursions while we were out. We'd come home and find them left on the sideboard, and Keiichi soon got into the habit of taking them to work with him for lunch. Then, one night we met her again.
From the street I could smell gently simmering vegetables and spices drifting from the open kitchen window and when I entered the apartment, sure enough I found her there, cooking and talking to Keiichi. She was wearing the same old-fashioned kimono, and seemed to be making another pasta dish. Her hairstyle was also quite dated, like something from the late Meiji period, but she spoke like a normal, modern Japanese girl. As she heard me come in, she suddenly stopped speaking and spun round. There was a moment where it looked like she might run back into the closet, but Keiichi quickly spoke up.
"It's okay," he reassured her, before turning to me, "She's not doing any harm."
She continued looking at me, not with Aya's cold glare but with something far more fragile and vulnerable. I didn't know what to say so I just let out an annoyed grunt and stomped off into my room. I put on some music so that I wouldn't have to listen to whatever idiotic conversation they were having. It was typical of Keiichi to find a ghost in our apartment and immediately start making friends with her. No, not "her", "it", I corrected myself. The ghost was an "it".
Later that evening my phone buzzed and there was a message from Keiichi asking if he could come in. I opened the door and he was there in the kitchen, alone with two plates of spaghetti in arrabiata sauce on the table in front of him.
"Just knock if you want to come in." I told him, and then went back to slumping grumpily on my futon.
He offered me one of the plates but I refused, so he put it on the floor near my pillow and started tucking into his own food.
"She says they call her Chiyo over on the other side, but she doesn't think that's her real name," he explained. "The clothes, the hair, the name, they're not really hers. Apparently the dead are pretty conservative when it comes to fashion."
"Why are you telling me this?" I snapped back. I couldn't see how he had accepted this creature, this thing, so easily into our lives.
"Don't you think that's kind of sad though? She doesn't remember anything about her life, not even her real name. She doesn't even know how she died."
I could see what he was doing. He was trying to engage my sympathy. No longer just an "it", the ghost now had a name and feelings. I wasn't going to let myself get sucked into this, and I had to somehow make Keiichi understand how stupid he was being.
"Come on, Keiichi, think about this for a moment. What about Aya? Even she agrees with me!"
He looked away from me when I said this and his voice dropped, losing confidence.
"I don't know what Aya thinks. I never really know."
Aya let her feelings known clearly enough the next evening when she showed up at our apartment with a priest in tow.
"This is Father Moran. He has a lot of experience with exorcisms," she explained.
Keiichi looked at them both glumly. Father Moran was an older middle-aged white man, wearing a black shirt and white priest’s collar under a grey sweater. When Aya had said she was researching exorcism, my image had been of a Buddhist monk burning incense, reading religious texts and noisily shaking his staff. Looking at Father Moran, however, a thought struck me and I couldn’t hold back a smile.
Aya had a very strict sense of style and tended to view all things European as inherently superior to their Japanese equivalent. To her, Father Moran had obviously seemed the most chic way of dealing with the ghost. I grinned at him and tried out a few creaky greetings in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and lastly German, but he replied in Japanese.
"I intend to get directly to the point. Ghosts do not belong among us. They linger here for many reasons, but it all comes down to one thing:” he stated, with businesslike certainty, “an unwillingness to let go of this world and move on to the next.”
The ceremony itself was pretty similar to how I’d imagined a Buddhist one would be. There was no incense but Father Moran gave each of us a candle to hold. He lit them one by one and Keiichi glared at him as the priest reached into his pocket and used the last candle to light a cigarette. He took a few puffs and started to read from a book that could have been the Bible or could have been Harry Potter for all I could tell.
Time went by. None of us moved and there was no sound except for Father Moran’s monotone voice, reciting the words from his book.
After a while there was a noise, then movement. The closet door creaked open a crack, then a little more. Slowly fingers, then a lock of hair, then an eye ppoked round the corner. The priest kept on speaking, quickening the pace of his words. Chiyo’s head was now peering around the edge of the closet door, clearly confused about what was going on.
She stepped out into the kitchen, a look of panic in her eyes. Something seemed to be happening to her, but her body kept on moving towards the centre of the kitchen.
“Come on, let’s stop this,” exclaimed Keiichi. “She’s obviously terrified!”
Father Moran upped the pace of his chanting once more. Chiyo dropped to her knees, clasped her hands over her ears and screamed.
All the lights in the room shattered.
In the darkness, the body of the ghost was tinged with a pale blue glow. She continued to scream, clutching at her face and shaking her head furiously from side to side.
The priest, Father Moran, continued reading from his book. I stole a glance at him and could see small beads of sweat collecting on his brow. In my hands the candle I was holding flickered erratically.
“That’s enough! I can’t do this!” shouted Keiichi, throwing down his candle, “Look at what this is doing to her. It isn’t right!”
My candle flickered again and a saucepan suddenly flew across the kitchen, clattering into the wall on the other side of the room. Then more pieces of kitchenware followed: a frying pan, a wooden spoon, a pot, a coffee mug, a bowl. A plate hurtled towards us and struck Father Moran, shattering against his head and knocking him to the floor.
Keiichi continued pleading, this time at the ghost, Chiyo, begging her to stop. Pots and plates continued hurtling around the room though, apparently at random. Chiyo looked up at Keiichi, her face blank, uncomprehending. She cast her glance across me and then her eyes met Aya's.
Aya returned Chiyo's gaze unflinchingly and the two of them remained locked in that position. I’d been on the receiving end of some of Aya’s stares in the past so I could sympathise with what Chiyo must be going through. Sure enough, the kitchenware gradually stopped moving. Keiichi and I watched in silence as Chiyo started to tremble slightly and what looked like tears began to well in her eyes.
Suddenly, Chiyo stamped her foot in anger and frustration, then ran back through the closet door.
Aya helped Father Moran back up, apologising and asking if he needed anything for his head. He said he was fine but would be grateful if he could borrow her lighter. Keiichi ignored them as they left and Aya threw a vicious glance at the back of his head before slamming the door shut behind her.
Keiichi went to the closet and swung it open. There was nothing inside of course, except for the things we were storing there. He took out the dustpan and brush and started sweeping up the broken glass of the shattered light bulbs. After a while he flung down the dustpan.
“Shunsuke, let’s get a drink.”
An old college friend of ours, Takao, was deejaying at a cafe near Akasaka-Mitsuke that night. I still did the occasional job designing flyers for him so I was able to get us on the guest list. At first Keiichi grumbled about just wanting to go to a nearby izakaya, but once we got inside he started to lighten up.
“It’s like being back at university, isn’t it?” Keiichi said as we entered the room. He was right. We'd fallen in with an arty crowd pretty early on and had spent a lot of time at places like this, listening to bossa nova or 1960s French pop, and watching stylishly dressed girls doing performance art. I looked around. Sure enough, in the corner of the room there were two girls doing finger painting on a huge piece of board. It looked like a picture of two giraffes kissing, but it didn't matter what it was; the girls seemed to be enjoying themselves.
"What's going on with you and that ghost?" I asked as I returned with our beers. Keiichi sighed.
"You think I'm crazy for getting so attached to Chiyo, right? I know that."
It had been at a party like this that we'd met Aya for the first time. She was majoring in French and she'd translated the lyrics of Francoise Hardy songs for us.
"I think you're crazy for making Aya so angry."
"Come on, Shunsuke, you hate Aya."
"Only 'cos she hates me, and that's not the point. She's your girlfriend."
Keiichi fell silent for a moment and tapped his fingers on the table. He took a small sip of his beer, and then a larger one. Eventually he spoke up.
"You don't know what it's like. You just go through life at your own pace and do whatever you please, but I just get work pile up on top of more work."
"I understa..." I started to say, but he cut me off, raising his voice slightly.
"And 'cos I'm the new boy, I get to be the butt of all the jokes when we're drinking with clients. They made me drink beer out of a shoe."
I started to laugh.
"Shut up, Shunsuke. Aya just makes it all worse. She's always there at the back of my mind, expecting me to work myself to death, pushing me to do more of everything. I can't deal with it anymore!"
We drank in silence for a while after that and I realised that Keiichi really didn't understand Aya at all. Sure, she hated me for being lazy and unreliable, but it wasn't because of work. She was studying for her masters at the moment, as well as juggling two jobs and practicing for her golf tournaments. What Aya cared about was making sure no moment in her life was wasted, and yet here was Keiichi thinking about leaving her for a dead girl.
After a while Keiichi took a taxi home, muttering something about work the next day. I stayed until morning and staggered home, drunk, early the next day. The old man on the first floor was sitting in his window, listening to the radio as usual. He cast a suspicious glare at me.
"Any more noise like last night and I'll call the police, understand?"
I was woken up by my phone just after midday, with my hangover raging. My head pounding and my mouth feeling like a cat had died in it while I was asleep, I answered.
"Shunsuke, get up and meet me outside Doutor in twenty minutes."
Aya hung up.
To be continued...