It started long before then, with a word or a glance or a smile, but it's only when Isa first notices the distance, that he starts to understand, to see and – to an extent – to acknowledge.
One morning, he's organizing a week's worth of reports because it's part of his job, and it's like his brain decides to shut off all of sudden: with his usual detachedness, Isa finds that the meaning of the characters keeps evading him and that, for some reason, Doctor Kawara's breathing seems louder; loud enough that he can't hear anything else.
Isa looks at him and sees nothing more than an old bird sleeping on his job with one cheek pressed against a stack of notes that will soon be useless, because Kawara is drooling on them.
He looks nothing like a genius, Isa thinks, not for the first time, but this morning something is different.
This morning, he can't read, he can't understand, he can't work, and although he has experienced indifference but not apathy, never apathy, not when it comes to work, Isa can't bring himself to worry. The only thing he can do is stare at Kawara's stupid face and wait in silence as the geography of his world changes drastically.
Isa realizes, this morning, that if he stretched his arm the tips of his fingers would touch Kawara's tousled hair (he must have forgotten again to brush it before running to the laboratory).
Isa could stretch his arm and touch Kawara's own fingers, feel the consistence and the texture, and it would be like making a new discovery, like going on an adventure in a world that suddenly seems endless.
They are in the same room, sharing the same desk, breathing the same air: it's been like this for almost a year now, but it's the first time Isa truly notices. He can't stop thinking: he is here, he is here. In front of me.
Today, right now, the desk between them is the distance, the proof that they exist at the same moment and at the same place, in the same world.
Somehow, Isa believes he could be at peace again if he could turn this distance into a bridge, but as the days, weeks, months, years go by, he finds himself unable to reach out, and if there are any words he could say instead, he doesn't know them. He quietly chases after Kawara's back, until there is nothing left to chase anymore except ghosts.
Then, years later, on a different morning, Isa will find himself in St. Pigeonation's infirmary, making his way through boring paperwork again.
He will be alone, by then, and he will realize he was never really able to forget his longing and give up on hope: he will find them, useless and rotting in his heart, eating away at it under the name of regret.