53. Honour


IT WOULD BE TOO easy to suppose that it took the illness of a parent for Koji to realise that what he had been doing – his unfaithfulness – was wrong and must end, but this is not the case. The fact was that he had already made up his mind, but he had been unable to find an honourable way out of the affair. If adultery is dishonorable by its very nature, he wondered, what kind of man would seek an honourable way out? He had no answer. It took his mother’s sudden and unexpected diagnosis for Koji to find his escape route. It would be doubly convenient: not only would it spare Katsuko’s feelings, it would also allow him to speak the truth. The truth was, he thought over and over, as if he was rehearsing a part in someone else's play, that as a result of his mother’s diagnosis he had thought deeply about things and he realised he wanted to bring his double life to an end by renewing his commitment to his wife and children. All this was true. The only untruth in all of this was the chronology: certainly, as a result of his mother's diagnosis he had thought deeply about making changes in his life, but it was also true that by the time of the diagnosis he had already decided to stop seeing Katsuko but had needed a way of telling her. His mother's diagnosis was an excuse, and he told himself to be extra careful about how he delivered it or he would betray himself. The day after the diagnosis he had called Katsuko and driven to her apartment and he had told her, in tears, what he’d decided, whereupon she'd shed some tears herself. They’d made love one last time and then he’d left. Afterward, in the car on the way home, his head was spinning, but over the following day or two the clarity came. All in all, he concluded, it had been very adult. She had been typically understanding. Katsuko was a fine woman, he thought. It had been a clean break, and although one could never be too sure he was confident there would be no fallout. He never breathed a word of the affair to Sumi. He trusted Katsuko. He expected she would simply melt back into the backdrop of his life, become a fond memory, and he looked forward to the day, several months or years hence, when he could feel nostalgic about her, perhaps look her up online or shoot her a note, asking her how she was keeping. Sure enough, the time did come up when he had cause to remember Katsuko, although it wasn’t weeks or months but merely days later. Koji and Sumi had one of their old-fashioned fights that involved throwing items of furniture and slamming doors and a generous exchange of long threads of insults creatively chained together. He realised how much he missed Katsuko. At first he told himself he would get over Katsuko eventually. Thus a new phase in his life began, one in which he thought longingly of Katsuko every time he fought with Sumi – and they fought almost every day for the next few years. When finally he realised he would never stop thinking of Katsuko, he told himself that this pain was simply in the nature of things, and that there was nothing to do but accept it and make the most of life, which after all had been generous to him. Eventually Koji and Sumi agreed to separate when their two children were old enough to go to school. Until that time, they slept in separate rooms. He caught himself having imaginary conversations with Katsuko and having fantasies of her at night as he lay in bed alone. He tried going to her old apartment but the block had been demolished. In all this time, he didn’t call Katsuko, or write to her, or look her up online. Because it had come at such a high price, he determined to keep the vow he’d made to himself. However, as soon as he was set up on his own, he tried to find her. Her email address was a work address where she no longer worked. Her phone number didn’t answer. She wasn’t online. It was as if she had not only ceased to exist, but that all trace of her previous existence had been erased. He imagined she had married, changed her name, perhaps had children. Still, with each passing day he became more eager to find her again. He hired a private investigator, who eventually told Koji she was still alive and living alone, although she’d moved to an adjoining state. Wasting no time, he sent her a letter immediately and after some weeks Koji received a reply. She told him that his decision to end the affair had completely transformed her life, although she did not say how. She said she would not – could not – see him again. She implored him not to seek her out again, that if he should do so it might ruin her, and she threatened to contact the police if he tried. He immediately drove to the adjoining state in a state of heightened anticipation and knocked at her front door. When the door opened, he saw Katsuko sitting in a wheelchair. Her face was horribly disfigured and where her eyes had been there was now two dark, empty sockets. Koji stood there awkwardly. Who is it? She was unrecognisable, he thought. It's me, Koji said. I thought it might be, she said. I bet he hasn’t changed a bit, she thought. What happened to you? Koji asked. She shook her head slowly as if it was still an unsolved mystery. I wasn’t feeling myself, she replied. I did some stupid things. There was an accident. Of course I regret it now. Don’t blame yourself. It wasn’t just you. There were other considerations. It was a perfect storm of cluster fuck. You weren’t to know. Koji continued to stand there, shifting weight from foot to foot, looking at her, looking away, looking at his hands, not knowing where to look. You shouldn't be here, she said. I wish you hadn't come. It would have been better for both of us. I wish you every happiness, Koji. I truly do. I don't harbour any ill feelings. Believe me. Now you should go. And please don't come back. Katsuko closed the door gently and Koji turned around to face the street. He stood there, unable to move for almost a quarter hour before taking a slow, timorous step toward his car, as if he had only recently learned to walk.