Sakai-san: Part II – 2007


It’s dark now when I get there . . .

Five-fifteen. But already dark, winter, soon December, soon snow. A moment of unrecognition, then the familiar gap-toothed smile . . .


“Ha, wow! Today I’m lucky. First my niece and her husband, and now you. I’m happy.”


I don’t catch it the first time ’round, focused on what appears to be the broken burner in Sakai-san’s hand.


“Not even a chair for you. Oh, here we are . . .”


The desk has disappeared from its usual position, and there’s more food around.


“My older brother’s daughter and her husband just came, brought me some food!” Sakai-san is sitting down to a healthy meal of rice and fish.


“Coffee, tea?”


“Ran out of canisters for the stove there. That’s the one you brought me, right?”


“I’m sorry, I should have brought more.”


“It’s useful; I just keep forgetting to buy more. Put memos inside my wallet, but still forget. You know, so when I’m going to pay for something, I’ll take money out and see the memo, but . . . always, I’m forgetting! Forgot to buy oil for the stove too! Ah – I’m an old man, always forgetting!”


Scattered around the room are some new large-sized books. Handsome foreigners in expensive suits grace the cover, and I ask Sakai-san if I can take a look. They’re old fabric sample books, and I realize he’s burning them to stay warm in lieu of the oil heater. On ignition, they burn a deep, dark smoke. Through it, I can barely see him, spitting up kernels of rice with words — one seems to slip out as easily as the other — but then again, Sakai-san doesn’t have many teeth to speak of.


“Ah, when you’re a single man, this is how you do things [burning fabric swatches]. They burn nice and hot. Keep me warm for a while.”


“Okay, but please be careful. Easy for other things to catch on fire this way . . .”


“Yeah, my niece and her husband come and visit me three or four times a year. Always bringing so much food! . . . I get by with the old-age pension money — every month, the post office delivers it here — but I want to move to Toyama city. I know there’s got to be some free places to live there, too; everyone’s always building new houses. I just want one of those old ones, in the middle of a rice field, a place someone will say, “Here you go. Live here, please — rent-free.”


I ask Sakai-san about the past again. “After the war, what did you . . .?”


“Oh, lots of things, but when my older brother got out of the army, I went with him and one of my sisters, and we sold medicine in other prefectures across Japan. It’s an old Toyama tradition, you know. Used to be tons of traveling salesman, and at the time, it was the easiest thing to do. But the money, it wasn’t good after a while. People only paid for what they used, [and gradually they didn’t use so much].


“So then . . .?”


“Then I went with my brother and worked as a traveling medicine salesman.”


“Oh, I see. And after that . . .”


“Oh after that, some other things. I worked for Fujikoshi-nachi [Toyama’s largest company] for a while. Made big long pipes and
tubes, parts for machines and such. And for a while, I sold clothes —tailored men’s suits — but that’s work for young eyes and hands. Get older and it’s no good. And always I liked the arts. Couldn’t draw worth a darn, but always liked the arts, ya . . . Went to Tokyo’s top art university for the graduating show and met with the head dean. He encouraged me to sell his students’ paintings, so I decided to switch jobs. But Toyama’s people are too low to appreciate that kind of art. Too expensive. If you talk to the people at the top, then it’s okay — but only the top guy, not even number two will do . . . Left my card and lots of photos with Toyama Prefecture’s governor, but he’s always out when I call . . .”


“When you sleep, do you remember your dreams?”


“No, don’t need to. I don’t dream. Don’t have anything to worry about, so nothing to dream about. I’m living a relaxed life, not too many stresses. Ha—ha-ha-ha-ha.”