An extract from “Escarpment”
Over the many years of my residence in Japan, I have met a number of people who possess Second Sight – the Sixth Sense. Many of the true anecdotes they told me found their way into my fictional writing. One of those is incorporated in a scene from “Escarpment”. The extract is below.
“Sometimes at night, outside of this pension, if you listen, you can hear the echo of rifles, because the battle keeps going on. The dead don’t know they’re dead. The men on both sides who fought here felt only two things – the desire to kill or the pain of being killed. The civilians who died caught between them know only the pain of dying.
“All of those thousands of voices still cry out their pain from a place we know nothing about, and their cries are imprinted in the cliffs and the soil and the air.”
His hands scooped up water and let it drain through his fingers.
“I’ve seen a lot out there, not only at night. I’ve heard a lot. I’ve been tugged at and pushed about by invisible hands. But over the years I got used to it, and they got used to me. I’ll tell you a story.”
I really didn’t want to hear it.
“This was a long time before I started collecting bones.
“I used to own my own brown-sugar processing company. These days I play no active role in its operations. I am just a figurehead, the Chairman, to whom no one listens. My son is the president, and that fact sometimes gives me sleepless nights. But that is another story.
“Anyway, some years ago, one of my employees retired. His name was Ishihara, and he had been with the firm for many years, in the accounting department. So when he retired I took him out for a fine meal, just a token of my thanks. Of course, we drank too much, and after the meal I invited him to a club that had just opened in the Omoromachi district of Naha.
“This was during the economic bubble. What days they were, Dave-san! Where did they go? Like a dream they seem now.
“I telephoned ahead and the mama-san was waiting for us on the sidewalk, bowing very low. And why not? I did not always crawl through tunnels digging for ashes and bones. Once I was a company president! The hostesses all over Naha loved me because I used to buy them presents. I was a devil in those days, Dave-san. But you must not tell my wife, if you ever meet her.
“The club was called La vie en Rose and was located in the basement of an office building. The door opened on a red-carpeted and gold-plated winding staircase, which we descended like royalty. Inside, everything sparkled, most of all the hostesses themselves.
“Poor Ishihara! He wasn’t used to it. He was a quiet, gentle man – not that I was not also – with a quiet, gentle wife and a grandchild he doted on. Work was his life – not that it was not mine, too – and he was not accustomed to the gaudy nightlife of those days.
“And that was precisely the reason I took him there, to give him a pleasant memory to take into his retirement. The mama-san held the door open for us. We went through it, but Ishihara stopped on the stairs. Damn me if he didn’t cringe! I slapped him on the back. Forget your wife! For a couple of hours, at least, enjoy yourself!
“Two of the most beautiful hostesses in the world stood waiting to settle us onto a soft leather couch. One sat at my side, the other next to Ishihara. They mixed us drinks from a bottle of Chivas Regal. These days, you can buy that fine scotch in the supermarket. I will not tell you how much a bottle cost in that kind of place in those times.
“I said a few words to thank him for his years of dedicated service. Then, I proposed a toast. His expression was almost painful, which irritated me because I was paying a fortune to make this a memorable night for him.
“He was hunched over, tense and uncomfortable, as though this was an ordeal rather than a celebration. Concerned, the hostesses asked if he was all right. He shook his head. Then suddenly he got up. I’m sorry, he said, I feel very bad. I must go.
“He ran up the stairs. If he hadn’t already retired, I would have fired him. I went in pursuit, telling the mama-san I would be back in five minutes, with or without him.
“I found him on the sidewalk. He had recovered himself and was wiping the sweat from his face with a handkerchief. Again, he apologized to me; and I asked him what was wrong.
“He told me.
“All the years we had worked together he had never mentioned it before. He told me he had second sight, all his life it had been a burden. He saw things and felt things that were there, but which should not be seen, that most people did not see or feel. Dead things.
“He had witnessed such things in the club. He said that a stench of blood and the rawness of battle still infested the place. That he had seen the bodies of dead soldiers lying all around. And he could hear the moans of the wounded.
“The building that club used to be in is on the slopes of the hill the Americans called Sugar Loaf.”