"I can't believe you tried something like that. Maybe a couple of punches will help you realize your place. Don't think you're anything special, Grandpa. Otherwise, I'll make your life a living hell."

"What a loser!"

"Cheh! What a waste of time. He wasn't anything special after all. From the way he talks, you'd have thought he was a big shot."

"I don't need this. I don't need other people. I'm... talented"


Monday, April 11, 2011

A classic quote, attributed to some philosopher or other, is that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I believe that it is a flawed statement. Taking that first step requires something even more fundamental: courage. Even when you know where you want to go, absolutely nothing changes if you don't have the guts to get up and do something. You'll just have the vision of the goal line and the realization that it will never get any closer. And I think that I am the exception that proves that the statement is not universal.

I know that I will never take the journey the philosophers speak of. There are just too many hurdles that stand between me and my destination. Still, I think the acknowledgment of the obstacles that stand in my way makes me a more mature person. I have no delusions of grandeur and no misguided belief that the world revolves around me. I'm just one more pathetic person living this life, trying to get by - maybe a little better than the day before. 'Course in my case, maybe my life is a little more pathetic than most others. I failed my first set of exams for college, and only now, a full year behind my classmates, I have made it to the big city: Tokyo.

Tokyo. Where thirty-one million people live. Tokyo. Where the population make it the second largest metropolitan district in the world. Tokyo. Where a three bedroom house can cost more than what a man could make in thirty years. Tokyo. Where a man's dreams can become reality, or spit him out and leave him living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Tokyo. Where you can fall in love, only to realize the reason the girl was talking to you was because you were buying a brand name purse for her.

This is not a city for the weak at heart.

So what am I, an admittedly untalented weakling, doing here? I applied to Nihon University because I wanted a change, any change from the life that I had been living up until now. When I stop to think about it, my parents probably don't even realize that I've left. Ever since middle school, they stopped caring about anything I did. It must be that parental strategy: if you want to toughen kids up abandon them to the wolves. I think that only works for animals though, not humans.

I need to take a deep breath, calm down, and then take stock of my situation. What do I have going for me? I'm one of the most generic humans a person might ever meet: I'm slightly tall, I'm slightly overweight, I have a slight stutter, and finally a quiet voice. Hell, even my name is slightly normal: Souji Seta.

There are only two factors that really separate me from the typical nineteen to twenty-year-old male one might find anywhere. I have a genetic condition, which started in middle school. And, ever since childhood, when I would observe or talk to people, the world would momentarily pause, and I would see a flash of color.

The genetic condition causes my body to incorrectly produce color pigments, giving me silver hair and eyes. As for the second one, at first I would freak out. Over time the colors simply disappeared. Now I mostly see a flash of gray. I don't know what it means, but when I talked to a doctor, he told me that there was nothing wrong with my eyes, and it might have just been glare. Thankfully, there haven't been any weird flashes in the last year or so.

In any case, thanks in part to the fact that my parents have written me off as a failure, I decided to try and do something on my own. I got in touch with my uncle, a man by the name of Ryotaro Dojima, asking if I could stay with him while I attended college. It's been several years since I've talked to him, so it was a long shot but he agreed. I guess he felt sorry for me. I've sent most of my belongings ahead of me, and today is the day that I catch the train into Tokyo and meet him at the station. Glancing at my watch, I notice I have three more hours before the train pulls into the station. I close my eyes, and try to catch a few minutes of sleep.


I wake up with a start.

Up until now, I've kept my head down and focused solely on ignoring the people around me. I've learned through personal experience that unless you are someone special, drawing attention to yourself is usually a really bad idea. Wedgies, beat downs, and other fun activities have been enough to make sure I never make eye contact with strangers. There are a lot of other people in the train carriage I'm riding in, but nobody is sparing me a second thought. Perhaps I'm being paranoid; I can't help feeling that somebody has been watching me. In any case, I've made sure to keep my head down. The announcer calls my station, and I wait at the door with my bags.

… Great. Of course there's no one here to greet me, and I have to wait alone while I'm being turned into a pancake by the crush of humanity moving through the station. Not to mention it smells horrible. At least the women here aren't bad to look at; then again, my chances with them are probably close to zero.

For example, take the stunning beauty across from me, with long flowing raven hair and beautiful green eyes— the kind of look that could knock a guy right out. Wonder what she's doing alone.

There's a cameraman there as well. Oh, that explains it: She's a reporter. Wonder what they're up to? Probably doing local interviews to spice up whatever news program they anchor for. Still, I've been watching them for at least a few minutes, and something is definitely up. Most of the people around them are just ignoring them. Wouldn't most normal people at least want to take a look at this chick?

Oh crap. What if this is some kinda scam? Like those stories about women in Tokyo who trick you into following them down a dark alley, and then some Yakuza guy jumps out of the shadows, beats you up, and takes your wallet? Maybe everybody else has already figured out her game, and is deliberately avoiding her to prevent exactly that from happening. No! If I make eye contact with her, then she'll lock onto...

I let out a deep sigh. Why do I ever think that good luck will come my way? It was obvious the second that I looked at her that I was doomed. Almost instinctively, I break out into a cold sweat.

"Hello, handsome. I noticed you checking me out from across this busy terminal. Tell me, do you like what you see?"

While saying this, the reporter leans over, allowing me to see straight down her shirt. And without any warning, my world goes gray. Dammit! My eyes haven't been triggered in a while! Why now?

However, I realize just how wrong I am. This chick isn't even remotely dangerous. She's just a bimbo who uses her looks to get onto television. Hell, this was probably some crappy variety show where they ambush average people, ask them some stupid question, then try and get them to do something moronic so that the viewers at home can get some kind of voyeuristic pleasure. Again, I realize how wise I am in avoiding humans as much as possible.

"N-Not to be rude, but I am waiting for someone. If you d-don't need anything, can you go away? I'm trying to f-find them, and it's a little d-difficult while you are standing in my way."

"Oh, don't be like that! I promise, I'll just take a few seconds of your time, and then I'll let you be on your way. In fact, all I need is an answer to a single question."

Why won't people just leave me alone? Maybe if I play along, she'll go away.

"One q-question, huh? If it's just o-one, I can a-answer. W-what is it?"

"We're doing a poll of people, to see what answers they come up with when asked the same question, you know, 'Getting the pulse of the people'." She uses her fingers to make air quotes. She leans close, and just for a second, it feels like her hand grazed mine.

If I am being completely honest, that was the first time a woman ever touched my hand. It feels strangely...freeing? Normally I would brush people like her off, but something; something makes me want to answer her. I nod my head.

"Great, you won't regret this. Here's the question: If you won one hundred million yen today, what would you do with it? We ask that you answer as honestly as possible, because we are doing research regarding the desires of the people. So, what's your answer?"

A hundred million yen? With that much, I wouldn't even need to go to college. I could just buy a convenience store, settle down as a manager for the rest of my days,and read manga from dawn until dusk.

But...what is this: This feeling deep in the pit of my stomach, as if something is trying to claw its way out?

Is this really the answer I want to give? Is this really the type of life I want to lead? Isn't something missing? What though? What answer would satisfy her?

For that matter, what answer would satisfy me? If I want something more, doesn't that mean that I have to become something more? I've lived up until this point with no great plans or ambitions. Am I really going to give an answer that flies in the face of everything that I've done up until this point?

And am I really opening my mouth, collecting my breath, to give my answer? Why the hell can't I stop myself?

"If I had a hundred million yen,"

This is my voice, this is my body! Where the hell is this answer coming from? Where the hell am I getting the confidence to say this?

"I would use it as seed money to invest in the stock market. Using the funds I earn from that, I would start a company the goal of which would be to end corruption in poor countries, so that the people there can live without fear."

As I finish, I realize that I have just said something insanely crazy. End corruption?

That's something I haven't even thought about in a long time. Yet why does this feel right?

"Hmmhmmhaahaha," My thoughts stop quickly as I realize that the lady is laughing.

"What a fascinating answer. I've heard everything from 'I'd buy a fancy car and live it up' to 'I'd get as many hookers as I can and have an orgy'; even 'I'd buy a year's worth of yogurt, put it all in a swimming pool, and swim in it'."

Wonderful, more mental images I need to start repressing right away.

"But nobody has given an answer even close to what you just said. And the way you said it too, with such total confidence. You must be quite the charismatic individual, huh?"

"I, uh, that's, uh, could we do it over? I don't w-want to sound like an idiot or s-something!" Crap, I'm really panicking here. Anybody who heard that would think I'm the world's greatest suck up. Nobody says something like that when asked what they'd do with money!

"Of course not. We are looking for honesty, not scripted answers. In any case, thank you so much for answering our question." With that, she stuck out her hand. Without really thinking, I shake it, only realizing at the last second that my palm is sweaty. Heck, so is my face. I'm getting pretty light headed too.

"Take care now. I look forward to hearing about your exploits." With that the lady and her cameraman walk away. I'm too busy leaning against the wall, trying to catch my breath. I only realize after they disappear, that I never asked her what channel the program would be on, or what time either. Just as I'm about to pursue her, I hear a voice from behind me.

"Souji! We've been looking everywhere for you! It's me, Ryotaro Dojima, your uncle. It's great to finally see you again."

End Prologue


It has been two days since Souji left for Tokyo. His parents are sitting in the living room. Mr. Seta is reading the evening paper, while Mrs. Seta is making dinner.

"Dear, I've noticed that something is missing. Do you know what it is?" Mrs. Seta asks

"Hmm. Is it that painting we sent away for appraisal?"

"No, I got the call from the curator that they received it." Mr. Seta thinks some more.

"Then, perhaps it's the groceries? I put them in the fridge."

"No, that's not it either. I checked and saw them." Mr. Seta looks outside.

"The only other thing I can think of is that Fluffy isn't back yet."

"That's it! Our cat hasn't had dinner. And here I was thinking somebody important was missing. You're so clever, Papa."

"Thanks so much dear." And he goes back to reading his paper.

300 kilometers away, a tear runs down Souji's face.