Kumiko’s appearance was as eerie as her disappearance was. It was during one of the escapades in Nishi-Kasai; Japan’s own little India, I found her sitting atop a lamppost, with her body bent and head stretched unusually towards the sky. In the darkness prevalent above the lamppost, her dark silhouette resembled a fiend, ready to pounce on its oblivious prey. In this scenario, it was me. And as any docile person would react, I, too, was transfixed. Sweat greased my forehead, my eyes widened, and my feet trembled in anticipation. Then came a woman’s laughter. That was enough. Losing whatever compose I had left, I fell on the ground. Another laughter, and then there was dead silence.

It stayed that way for a few minutes, and I remained on the ground, unable to move because of this indistinguishable monstrosity. It then moved and hanged down off the pole. It was a woman, but there was a great discrepancy between the sizes of her head and that of the rest of her body. The latter was broad and cylindrical, succeeded by legs of apt thickness but tiny in length. I shut my eyes and prayed for whatever it was to be over quick.

‘Daijōbu desu ka?’ Instead of a merciless death, a woman’s calm voice rung inside my ears.

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Surprised, I opened my eyes and found a girl of twenty leaning on me. She had shoulder length hair curled inwards and a pair of glassy blue eyes, which were fixated upon me. Further, she wore a padded jacket that stretched till a little below her knees and through it peeked a pair of skin-tight blue denim jeans and a pair of navy blue snickers. That was Kumiko.

‘Daijōbu?’ she said. A certain pause followed her inquiry, after which she repeated her question in accented English, ‘Are… you… okay?’

Giving her one last look, I pulled myself up and dusted my clothes, ‘Daijōbu desu,’ I said and made my way towards the exit.

The response brought a sheen to her eyes. A smile broadened across her face and she hopped behind me.

‘So, you can speak Japanese?’

‘I have to, if only a little,’ I said, ‘I stay in this country after all.’

Just then she broke into another laughter, ‘Well, for a man you pretty much are a wussy.’

You never expect a total stranger to be that much blunt. So, when those words rung in my ears, I obviously was taken by a surprise, ‘Whoa! And for a total stranger, you are icily blunt,’

Kumiko pouted. I thought I might get another round of unwanted applause, ‘I’m gonna have some sushi and sake,’ she said and headed towards the exit. I gaped in awe at this unusual phenomenon of nature when she stopped at the door and turned towards me.

‘You coming or what?’

Since there was nothing else to do, and the time was in my hands, I followed her to wherever she intended to go. Two hours later, after 7-9 drinks, we were laughing our asses off.

‘So you are a writer,’ she said; her eyes were so out of the sockets that I feared they would fall off.

‘In a way,’ I said, ‘I’m yet to be published.’

Kumiko stretched her body and swayed around on her seat as if possessed by some evil spirit. Then, all of a sudden, her body stiffened and she looked straight into my eyes, inviting unease inside me. I held my breath and waited for her to speak, but when I only received silence from her side, I had to step in.

‘What happened?’ I asked, moving anxiously on my chair.

She skipped an immediate response, instead, she continued to scrutinise me via my eyes. After she was contented with whatever reason, she turned normal.

‘Now, you don’t worry about anything,’ she said, ‘Because, I will help you get published.’

Is this girl for real… was the very first thought that was registered in my mind. I couldn’t help but laugh, and immediately I had to shut my mouth.
‘What’s funny in this?’

‘I’m sorry, but it’s just that every other person I meet ask me to write a story on them,’ I said, controlling my laughter.

‘It’s only because they weren’t me.’ She answered and gulped another cup of sake down her throat.

‘What is so unique about you?’

‘I do not look what I’m supposed to look,’

Her answer made zero sense to me, yet I tried to procure some sense out of it, ‘I agree, age does wonders.’

‘No,’ she retorted, ‘I mean, I looked a little different than what I look now.’

Now, call it the influence of alcohol, or her declaration, I was intrigued by her story, and in my state of obliviousness, I struck a deal of which only I became aware when on the following Sunday, the doorbell screamed in my apartment. I opened the door and found Kumiko at the doorstep, clutching a large envelope to her body.
‘Gosh, you sleep like an elephant,’ she said.
‘It’s Sunday, and by the way…

She didn’t wait for me to finish, but pushed me aside and conducted herself into my apartment, and I could only stare in awe at this insane yet quintessential product of nature. But, my catatonic admiration didn’t last long and I once again returned to the normalcy.

‘What are you doing here?’
To my question, she stared me in such a manner as if it was me who had infested the insanity, ‘We got a deal, remember?’
Her words rang no bell in my head, and when after her strenuous effort, I did recall the fragmented aspect of that event, and my only response was…
‘What? No!’

I thought it would dissuade her but she wasted not even a second to shatter my expectations and that too with only a single word, ‘Yes!’
What an adamant human could do under circumstances, I did the same, and as a repercussion, I sat black-eyed in my chair, pouring my eyes on the photographs. Though the obvious discomfort of the caressing that I got a few minutes ago, hindered my every attempt to concentrate.

‘You shouldn’t have to hit me so hard,’ I said while tracing her expressions through the corners of my eyes.
‘You shouldn’t have been so stubborn then,’ she snapped.

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I once read somewhere that innocence conceals the worst deviations of human nature. I didn’t believe it then, but I did now, and it scared the hell out of me. Therefore, without much further ado, I began her contents’ inspection. First, there were a bunch of photographs of girls with close to distant similarity with each other. Nothing peculiar met my eyes, except the tattoo of some European Dragon with an arrowed tail point on their arms. So far nothing intriguing caught my eyes. The look alike, well, could have been a look alike, and the tattoos could be a mere coincidence. I began to lose interest and soon enough would have seen her off, had not the video caught me by surprise.

It was Kumiko’s video. She shot it herself; once every week. She didn’t do anything. She just sat in each and every video and stared at the camera. Initially, I didn’t notice anything but then I saw changes in her face. It kept changing over the videos, each one introducing fresh perspective, and the last one brought me to the Kumiko I saw today. She was forty percent different than what she looked in the first video.

Flabbergasted, I sat still in my chair. Thoughts wreaked havoc in my mind, but my mouth was too preoccupied with the inertness that it refused to collaborate. Kumiko might have sensed it as she too allowed me the time to reciprocate from such a ridiculous encounter.

‘What was that?’ I asked, ‘And how can such a thing even possible?’
‘And I thought you must have the wildest imagination.’ She said and burst into laughter on seeing the annoyed expressions on my face, ‘It was all because of Kichijoten.’
‘Kichijoten?’ I expressed.

‘Yes, you know, the Japanese…
‘I know that,’ I interrupted, ‘but that’s just mythology.’
‘So is my changing face, ‘she replied.
I had no reply to her question, ‘Fine, but how?’
‘I turned greedy,’ she said, ‘And wished for more, and stole a little from her light.’
Kumiko nodded, ‘She didn’t get mad, rather turned morose.’
Kumiko’s words had me confused, ‘But you stole from her, so why…?’

‘I asked the same. She said she does not protect the light for the fear of its misuse but for the curse that it can bring.’ Kumiko paused for a breath. Her fists clenched and trembled, signalling the forthcoming statement to be a humongous burden, ‘She said, she can’t help it, I may become an Aphrodite but everyone will forget me, just like they forgotten her.’ For the first time since she came, Kumiko raised her head and looked straight into my eyes. Tears blocked her eyes, but still I could sense the sadness and grief in them, ‘I don’t want to be forgotten from everyone’s memory, and the only way possible is to make them unchangeable, or I will lose them. I’m losing them now.’

‘So, you think if I write your past and present in the form of a story, I can stop both?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘she told me. I tried it on my own also. It worked.’

Kumiko fell silent, so did I. Her tale was indeed unbelievable, but I couldn’t deny the proof and the honesty of her expressions. So, I agreed, but the first condition was never published it. At first, I opposed but then I remembered the still present black spot on my eye, and I agreed readily. Her second condition was that under no circumstances I have to fall for her. The statement was as unusual as its moment of deliverance and so couldn’t help myself but laugh.

‘Why would I fall for you?’
‘You would. Believe me,’ she said, unheeded by my jest.
The deal was struck. I began to write the story, and the truth to be told, my writings began to sell and they sold well.

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Initially, I was cautious in my approach, and Kumiko also checked my drafts, wary of my commitment as ever. However, as time passed, she grew trustful of me. But, alas, men of words often lose themselves in the ways of the heart. I did too. With time I grew fond of her change, and instead of regaining the past, I wrote about her present and future. Then, she learned about it.
The pounds nearly brought the door down, and when I opened the door, Kumikio stormed inside the apartment. She paced up and down while mauling her forehead. I was left baffled.
‘What happened?’

‘I can’t seem to recall something important.’
‘Then it might not be that important.’
‘It is!’ She snapped at me and immediately fell silent. Her eyes punctured the depth of my eyes. It unnerved me.
‘What is it?’
‘Did you stick to the deal?’

‘Of course, I would,’ I laughed at her, but she wasn’t buying it. Rather listening to me, she stormed to my laptop and looked at the story.
Once she finished reading it, her expressions degraded quite a bit. It told me she learned the truth. I wanted to clarify, but she had already left. That was the last time I saw Kumiko.
‘But what this has to do with me?’ asked the woman, who sat opposite to me, sipping her espresso. The one that I have been following since this morning until she noticed me.
‘Everyone has a deep space inside them. No matter if billions of stars and galaxies glisten to make it a magnificent masterpiece, the darkness pervades all. Kumiko had one such darkness. I sense the same in you.’

The woman sighed and turned her face to let the Mediterranean sun fall flat on her face.
‘I’m not that woman,’ she said, her face still facing the sun.
I knew the question would come, so I pointed at the tattoo peeking out of her sleeve; its pointy end resembled that of dragon’s pointed tail. She paused for a second and then pulled up the sleeve, revealing it was a maple leaf tattoo. My expectation suffered a drawback and it showed through my expressions.
‘Still, don’t know why she chose me,’ I said to myself and left my chair, ‘Sorry for being a creep.’

I was about to leave when she spoke, ‘Well, maybe you are also afraid of letting go of the past. She saw that.’
‘Maybe,’ I replied and walked away.
‘But I like your story and I wouldn’t mind hearing more of it,’ she said. I stopped and turned my face in her direction, ‘Well of course if you don’t bother for a cup of coffee?’
I smiled and regained my position. She offered a handshake, ‘Name’s Kathy.’
After initial reluctance, I shared the handshake, ‘Name’s Rajan.’
Behind the sun moved below towards the horizon, giving a red tint to the Mediterranean sky.

by Nishant Verma