Extract from Only on Nights When I Want to Die by Kirio Tsume
Translated from the Japanese by Eve Thomas
The most beautiful Tetris block in the world
2008, Spring. Someone had got seriously pudgy. This time, it wasn’t Asuka, but me.
I’d taken to heavy drinking and gluttonous eating to relieve the stress from work and had started to get repulsively fat. My weight, 60 kilos when I first moved to Tokyo, had shot up to nearly 100 kilos, fat enough to put to shame the blubbery American tourists I’d sometimes pass on the street.
My boss, who was concerned about his ever-gigantifying subordinate’s health, strongly recommended that I commute by bike. It’d take about 30-40 minutes from Nakano, where my home was, to the office in Shibuya. He himself looked eternally ill, so was just about the last person I wanted to be taking health advice from, but since he actually went as far as buying me an expensive, foreign, Bianchi bike, I really had no choice but to try out a cycling commute, at least for a bit.
They do say you should follow the advice of your elders and betters. Those commutes, which brought me nothing but exhaustion at first, suddenly became fun after a couple of weeks when my body got used to it. The joy of whizzing down the road without getting caught up in all the traffic, the ease of paying no heed to train times or changes, the freedom of being able to stop and aimlessly peruse my favourite shops on the way home – it was wonderful. The weight also dropped off me. In that fortnight, I lost a whole 7 kilos.
I got so that on my occasional days off, too, I would mount my bike and head for neighbourhoods I’d never been to before. Finding insanely good tonkatsu pork cutlet in a dilapidated canteen on a deserted shopping street. Buying an entire set of erotic manga I could never afford as a student from a second-hand bookshop. Seeing the comically pushy manner of brothel touts in certain suburbs. No matter the place, there were always small pleasures to be found and charming discoveries to be made. When I pedalled my squeaky bike, breathing in the air of unfamiliar neighbourhoods, I could brush off most bad things with a, “Pah, who cares?” The bicycle truly is a wondrous thing, somehow becoming even more fun to ride as an adult than as a child.
Two months after I began cycling to work, now a full-grown man who finally understood the joys of cycling, my beloved bike was stolen. Probably targeted because it was so pricey. Obviously, thieves are nothing but a fucking nuisance, but I do have a certain soft spot for bike thieves. After all, my first love was a bike thief.
The year 1996, when trendy teens with bleached hair wearing statement baggy socks and girls impersonating pop idols like Namie Amuro were all the rage. It was the autumn of my second year in high school. Preparations for the school festival meant it was past 9 p.m. by the time I left. When I rushed to the nearest station to grab my bike and head home, I saw the lone figure of a girl illuminated, as if in a spotlight, by the dim, orange light of a shoddy streetlamp. In the faint glow, the blonde-haired miscreant was really laying into my bike lock with a pair of pliers. I’d stumbled upon the worst possible scene. And the worst thing of all? That blonde-haired miscreant was my first love, Yoshida.
Yoshida was in the same year as me at middle school. She came drifting into my life from nowhere, an out-and-out chav with dyed brown hair, bright red lipstick, and a skirt that completely went against school regulations. We became desk buddies after a change to the seating plan in third year, but we’d never really talked. Then one day, during a boring social studies class, Yoshida suddenly struck up a conversation. I sat up, bracing myself for a potential grilling.
“Hey, you! D’ya play games?”
“Erm… Yeah, from time to time.”
“How about Tetris?”
“Yeah, I play.”
“Well then, bring your Gameboy in tomorrow! We’ll have a match! Unless you think a girl like me won’t be much competition.”
The next day, as if under a spell, I took in my Gameboy, the Tetris software, and a cable to connect up for a match. “Right!” Yoshida cried, taking her Gameboy out from her desk. Even though they were probably exactly the same model, Yoshida’s Gameboy seemed to shine. Girl’s things always do.
The two consoles connected up fine with the cable. Managing to avoid the gaze of the teacher, we began a match. She’d boasted about being ‘pretty good’ and she probably was better than the average girl, but it turned out that she was no match for me, the saddo who wiled away every waking hour playing video games. Yoshida wound up winning just one of ten games. When she lost, she’d bite her bottom lip in frustration, and when she won, she threw her fists up slightly in a mini celebration. Too nervous to look her full in the face, I observed her figure furtively with sidelong glances. The Tetris blocks that Yoshida dropped were the most beautiful Tetris blocks I had ever seen.
I fell in love. In this world, love can spring from anything – even Tetris. Countless times I thought about trying to confess my feelings, but back then my face was covered in spots and every time I looked at myself in the mirror I gave up on the idea, not wanting to push my luck.
Better to keep being mates that play Tetris together than to confess and risk having her hate me.
Our Tetris matches went on until the end of middle school. I’d hoped that by some miracle we might end up going to the same high school, but Yoshida, who was disastrously dense, went on to attend the technical college that all the notorious delinquents from the prefecture went to. Apparently, there were only ten girls amongst all the students there, and you can well imagine that even at the best of times a cute girl like Yoshida would be a magnet to those girl-starved scallies.
I grew miserable and would cry like a baby under the blankets of my futon each night. When we moved up to high school, opportunities to meet became non-existent, and my once burning heart grew cold. At just the time that this love came to an end, the spots on my face cleared.
That very Yoshida was now stealing my bike.
Eve Thomas is a translator, musician and songwriter who grew up in the seaside town of Whitby, North Yorkshire. She studied an undergraduate degree in Japanese at the University of Sheffield and a postgraduate degree in literary translation at the University of East Anglia. Her studies often centred around the orthographical differences between English and Japanese, and the effects that these can have on translations. In her spare time, Eve enjoys reading, baking, and birdwatching.