stories

When The Shogun Awoke - Chapter1 (all)

"Wandering, always wandering, I end up
in Siberia to the north, in Java to the south"

Kinjiro woke up to this high-pitched female voice singing out of tune. It was not what one might call a pleasant awakening. It seemed as if he had been dreaming a long dream. He couldn't recall what kind of dream it was.

"Yesterday I was in the east, today in the west.
When will my wandering end?"

The woman was still singing. An idiotic kind of singing with a nasal voice.
Kinjiro looked around and found himself lying in a nine mat room. It was dark because there was only one window. There was nobody else.
He heard a miaowing at the foot end of the quilt. There were four cats there. One more crawled out of the quilt. And yet another one was crouching as Kinjiro took off the quilt.
Hung on the wall were a complete set of a general's formal uniforms, a feather hat worn on ceremonious occasions, two bowler hats, and one made of silk . Seven Japanese flags made of paper and two sabers were leaning against one of the walls. A sumo umpire's fan sat on a board right next to the door. Two more cats came out from under the board. Miscellaneous household utensils and furniture were placed in abundance in all the four corners.
Where am I?, thought Kinjiro, and then he mumbled the same thought aloud: "Where am I?"
His voice was hoarse.
He remembered himself haranguing at the top of his voice. But no matter how loud you talk in dreams, your voice can never get hoarse.
What kind of voice is this? It's almost like the voice of an old man.Thinking these thoughts, he looked at the back of his hands.
The hands were indeed those of an old man. They had stigmata and swollen veins. They looked like the hands of a dead man. They looked like the hands of an old man at least sixty years old.

"I'm sick and tired of this small Japan."

Again the woman started to sing. It's "Bandit Song", he thought. Searc hing though his memory he realized that the previous song was "Beggar's Journey" .But he did not know why he recognized those songs.
Once again he fixed his gaze on the army general's uniform hanging on the wall. He felt as if he could recall something. But all he could tell was that he had been asleep for a long time. With this increased knowledge of himself, he again took a look at the back of his hands.
"Ah, Mr. Shogun. You woke up early today," said a husky female voice behind his back, "I brought you a newspaper.
Looking back, he saw the door was open without his noticing. A middle-aged woman with glasses in a nurse's uniform was standing at the door. She had dark skin and high cheekbones. She tossed the newspaper on the tatami mat floor and beamed at Kinjiro.
"But Mr. Shogun, read your newspaper after you wash your face," she said in a flirtatious voice, nodding.
Sensing that he was being teased, Kinjiro nodded back to her. "Thank you very much for your help, Miss."
The woman left the room. Looking at the door now shut, he shook his head .
And he repeated in a low voice, "Thank you very much for your help, Miss."
He did not understand why an expression so appropriate for a retired old man had slipped out of his mouth. All he could make out was that the woman did not find such an expression unnatural, and that his name was Mr. Shogun.
"Mr. Shogun?" he mumbled to himself mopingly. "Me? A shogun? It can't be." Again he looked around. "Hm, I'd be dammed if a shogun lived in a dump like this." He picked up the newspaper.
It was dated March 20th, Taisho 11.
"So it's March, then. That explains why it's so cold," he mumbled to himself and stared fixedly at the black, sooty ceiling. "The 11th year of the Taisho Era?" He looked at the paper again. "Tttaisho? Taisho 11? What the hell is Taisho?"
He did not know which was the last year of the Meiji Era. But he could see immediately there had been a change in eras.
"This means at least eleven years." He looked up dumbfounded. "If another era is sandwitched in between, there's more."
Again he looked at the back of his hands. Then he looked around,
searching for a mirror. But there was no mirror in the room.
Again he stared fixedly at the empty space in front of him. "What have I been doing for over eleven years?" He shook his head slowly. "What have I been doing all these years?"

"Spring is an evening dream in Venice"

The woman was still singing. She was singing somewhere in the building, probably going back and forth in the hallway, because her voice sounded now faint and now close, alternating between the two.
"Where am I'?"
As he mumbled these words to himself, the woman, her song finished, started to laugh wildly. Her laughter echoed through the building.
"Some laughter! It's sheer mad..." He broke off, looking stunned, eyes wide.
"Now, my little princess, let's wash your face," said the middle-aged woman in a miaowing voice. "And then rinse your mouth, too."
He stood up screaming.
With his eyes wide open he looked toward the paper flags.
He scuttled towards them staggeringly and supported himself against the wall on his hands. He realized he could no longer control his body.
After carefully examining the seven Japanese flags, he looked at the opposite wall. Then he stumbled toward the general's uniforms, and taking hold of the lace and ribbons, studied them. The decorations were made of tin. He tried to run back toward the saber.
"Screech!" He tripped over a cat and fell on the quilt. Then he quickly jumped back on his feet, darted toward the saber, and pulled the blade half way out: it was made of tin.
The saber made a clutter when he dropped it. He sluggishly walked back to the center of the room and shuddered with horror. "What is this place?" He swallowed his saliva. "And, me, what happened to me?" He shook his head violently. He did not want to think about it anymore. "This can't be true. This can't happen to me. To an intelligent person like me. What did I do wrong?"
He lost strength in the knees and suddenly collapsed onto the quilt on the buttocks. Using both hands he pulled violently at his hair. A gray hair fell onto the quilt and he picked it up. "It's white!" The sound which came out of his mouth was almost a scream. "A wwwhite hair!" He jumped at the saber, pulled it out of the sheath and looked into the reflexion of his face on the tin blade.
He sprang back. "Who are you?"
He pulled at his long perfectly white beard, then his sideburns, then his mustache and sat down again on the quilt. "Is this me?" Feeling wretched he began to sob. "No, no, no! I don't want to be an Urashima. It's impossible. Urashima..."
"Ah! Mr. Shogun," said the woman with a grating voice snooping at him from the half opened door. "You haven't washed your face yet. You should hurry up, or your miso soup will be cold..."
"Tell me about this paper", said Kinjiro thrusting it towards the woman. "Is it really this morning's paper? Is it really and truly March 2Oth's paper, of Taisho 11?" The woman's eyes widened behind her glasses at his fierce tone. She sighed and started to talk sitting on the edge of the floor at the entrance.
"Alright. Now that you've finally noticed, I can't hide it any more. I'll tell you everything, Mr. Shogun. Yes, you are right. It's not this morning's paper, but yesterday's. But, you know, this is a city hospital, which means we are funded by the city and so can't afford to buy a copy for you every morning. The chief-of-staff's office gets two kinds of papers and that's all. So what you get is a day-old paper from the office. It would have been too rude to tell you the truth -- you enjoy the papers so much, you read each tiny section every morning. And that's why we've been lying about the date. But, please don't be upset, Mr. Shogun. Unfortunately the money we get from the city is not enough. And ... you give us some...you know... once in a while, but that's been used for some other things."
"What was the last year of Meiji?" Kinjiro interrupted the eloquent speaker sharply.
"Huh?" The winsome smile disappeared from her face and turned to a suspicious look.
Kinjiro repeated, "The first year of Taisho falls on which year of Meiji?"
"The forty fifth."
"What! Forty fifth?" he shouted standing up. Then he started to figure out how old he was by counting his fingers thrust out in front of his face. He was otherwise motionless.
When he finished counting, he cried out, "forty seven years!" Pointing his finger at the woman who was preparing to get away, he raised his voice once again: "You mean forty seven years have passed since I lost my memory? You are saying I'm seventy two years old? You want to say I'm now a decrepit man seventy two years of age, born in the fourth year of Kaei, a twenty five year old youth in the eighth year of Meiji?"
"No, no. I don't mean to say that at all. On the contrary you look very young, Mr. Shogun."
"Shogun? Who the hell is shogun?" He groaned and with his back bent over he inched his way toward the woman.
She flinched, her face distorted as if she were about to burst into tears.
"Hospital! You said something about a hospital, didn't you?" He looked into the woman's face. "This is a mental hospital, isn't it?"
The woman took a deep hissing breath. "Well..."
"Tell me. What kind of patient was I?"
"Yipe!" She jumped out into the hallway slamming the door violently. Her scream and the clatter of her steps grew fainter.
Kinjiro was so shocked by her scream that he fell on the floor on his buttocks. He remained dazed for a while. Then he mumbled to himself, his eyes fixed on the door, "Why does she have to scream so loud when a crazy man comes back to normal? Is it because a madman turned normal is creepier than a real madman for a nurse in a mental hospital?"