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Roland Hagenberg

Krash eyes

Kurashiki Blues

On a rainy November day last year I escaped from Tokyo to find myself in a small town, where people sleep after 8 o'clock and where tomorrow only matters, when it arrives. And when it arrives it comes like a truck full of life's burdens: with an illness here, a loan unpaid there or the story of a grand-daughter, that suddenly ran away with a dubious friend to Osaka.
The houses were made of dark wood, some of them a hundred years old, small, stubborn fortresses that attract tourists from all over the country. But since it was rainy and cold and November there was only me walking down the center street, and that suited me fine. I sat down in a small café to warm up. An old man looked up to me, half his face covered with reading-glasses.
"Dobriy den, good afternoon!" he said in Russian.
"Dobriy den!" I answered, and the old man smiled.
"Don't bother our guests," said the woman who had served my cappuccino.
The old man was undeterred.
"You know, I once was a prisoner in a Siberian camp."
"Grandfather, we know the story!" said the woman.
A man in his sixties sitting in the opposite corner of the cafe had overheard the conversation.
"You were prisoner in Siberia?"
"The rats saved my life. I cooked them. The smell of soup is still in my nose!"
"That's nothing!" said the guest. "I have a friend, who was a Siberian prisoner, but he escaped, and he made it all the way back to Japan!"
The old man looked down into his tea-cup as if guilty for being alive 63 years later.
Again the guest said, "Can you believe, he escaped?" - expecting an admiring comment. But the old man did not answer and so it was up to me to break the silence.
"And what is your friend doing now?" I asked.
"Oh, well, he actually died of cancer years ago."
The old man looked up.
"Grandfather, don't forget your pills!" said the woman from the kitchen.
Grandfather pulled out a cardboard box divided in 21 departments filled with a week's supply of medicine.
"He built it himself," said the woman.
The guest in the opposite corner got up, paid and left.
I got up too.
"Dasvidanya, good-bye!"
"Dasvidanya!" said the old man, waved his hand and spilled some colorful pills.
"Grandfather, what are you doing!"

And then it was me again walking alone down the center street in the rain. I entered another wooden fortress. This time a bookshop. I was told, the owner was a moss-specialist. Next to the cash register, she had a microscope and I thought, that in a city that sleeps after 8 it is quite natural to find refuge in the micro-cosmos, which is billions of times bigger than Kurashiki, but that was only a flicker of a thought between stepping in and out of the bookshop.

Further down the street was another store. The owner had worked at city hall for years and now, with pierced lips and hidden tattoos she had finally freed herself from the neon-flooded government desk-work.
"No horror - no life!" she said to me and laughed. Her government desk-work had not been horror enough, and so she filled her black shop with Halloween merchandise: plastic skulls, fake blood, spiders, chopped-off hands and polished hand-cuffs. On one of the shelves, there was even a fat rat, one of those, that had saved grandfather's life during cold and eternal nights in the Siberian camp.