April 2014

About Mr. Q and his Tour to Europe

By Taku Unami

This was several years ago. One of my music buddies – I call him ‘Mr. Q’ here – was about to take off for his long tour to Europe – Netherlands, Portugal, London, Berlin and some cities in France. The following stories are what I heard from him when I called him on the phone right after his trip, to see if he was back home safely and to hear his travel stories. I am trying to be as precise as possible to report the contents of his stories here, from what I remembered.

It was his concert tour to overseas countries, a big deal. So Mr. Q tried to be neatly dressed for the trip. Although Mr. Q normally goes everywhere with a pair of old shoes that have large holes covered and reinforced with duct tape, he decided that it must be impossible to enter other countries with his everyday outfit. Perhaps I should explain his living environment here. Mr. Q lives on the second floor in a one-room apartment along the railroad tracks, one minute walk from a nearby private railroad station. The ground floor of the building has a grocery store run by his landlord, and also has two restaurants. Perhaps because of the powerful pesticides that the restaurants regularly spread, Mr. Q’s room is always filled with escaped roaches. I am a coward when it comes to cockroaches, and I personally think that roaches should not come into our sight even if they exist in the room. However in Mr. Q’s room, it is impossible to not see the shiny black bugs whichever direction you set your eyes to. There is no safe angle. The most dreadful thing about roaches is that if you encounter one of them, it will never be the last one. Once you see one, you cannot help but imagine that thousands of them are hiding behind the wall, making noises by rubbing their bodies. There is no concept of separation between individuality and plurality when it comes to roaches. Their world is like a zombie battalion from Return of the Living Dead. The number of Mr. Q and roaches’ episodes is longer than I could list.

Mr. Q has a favorite brand of long canned beer. He told me that once he grabbed two of the empty beer cans in both hands and banged them against each other. The banging sounds were so ecstatic that he was carried away and lost a sense of self for a while. Under the trance, Mr. Q stepped into nothingness and just the sounds of empty cans were echoing in the room – the moment when every musician’s dream came true. After a while when Mr. Q was back to reality from his ecstatic state, what he saw was hundreds of roaches dancing around him in happiness. It seems that they did not sense a hint of presence of a human being at all.

Another time, he saw a giant spider and a roach staring at each other on the wall, standing dead still for about one hour, then slowly made their way to each other in the end. And another time, when he drank milk straight from a milk carton, there was a roach in there.

I should get back to what I was saying about Mr. Q, who was just about to leave his room to take off for his tour to Europe in his neat clothes. Right after he locked the door, he remembered that he forgot something to bring with him – his airline tickets, his passport, and his apartment room key. Those three sacred treasures. I may have to explain how his room lock works. Perhaps it can be called a push-button lock system. If you push the button on the door knob and close the door, the door will be locked. So if you lock the door and go out without a key, it will be very difficult to get back into the room. If you have read this story carefully, you must remember that the landlord of the apartment lived on the ground floor. In this urgent moment when the departure time of his airplane was imminent, you may think that he should simply ask the landlord to open the door with a master key. But Mr. Q was several years behind with rent, so he was too ashamed to face the landlord.

What caught Mr. Q’s mind was a small window right above the door, not his landlord. The window was positioned on the upper wall of his kitchen, and he decided to enter the room through the window. But a serious issue here was those neat clothes he already put on. If he entered the room through the very small window located in a rather high position of the wall, it would be inevitable for him to end up falling onto the kitchen floor. In Mr. Q’s kitchen, once mushrooms grew up under the refrigerator. At another time, he left the electric rice-cooker untouched for two years with cooked rice in it. When he opened the lid of the rice-cooker, the only things he saw were some black things like fine powders. Perhaps there was a long mortal combat engaged between different bacteria in the rice-cooker, leading in the end to a natural purification.

In any case, falling down on the floor of such a foul kitchen would have been a disaster, he thought, and his clean and neat clothes would have gotten filthy. So Mr. Q decided to be half-naked in the hallway. Fortunately, the small kitchen window was unlocked. The size of the window was very small – like a tiny hole in a column base of Todaiji Temple. Mr. Q gave a spectacular jump toward the window as if he were possessed by a palm civet, but one miscalculation was his puffiness caused by those 100 yen burgers he had been eating daily to save money. He managed to squeeze his upper body into the window, but his lower body was held back at the gate. If someone passed by the hallway at the time, he/she would luckily have been able to see Mr. Q’s lower body wiggling and struggling in shorts under the window.

Perhaps I should mention the residents in this apartment now. The second and third floors of the building have rental rooms, and each floor has three apartments. The only resident on the third floor is a middle-aged man who is working at the grocery store downstairs. Recently, Mr. Q went up to the third floor by chance, and found that the grocery store guy was using the entire third floor as his own apartment by putting his shelves and possessions all over the hallway. On the second floor, there is another resident besides Mr. Q, who lives next door to him. This person was also behind with rent for a long time just like Mr. Q was, and one day he ran away under cover of night. But somehow he came back to the apartment after one year, and has been living in the same room since then. There were times when I stayed in Mr. Q’s apartment more than ten years ago, and I remember the story Mr. Q told me about the guy around that time. He said that the next-door guy always went to the communal toilet in the hallway to take a leak at a set time every night, and in addition, he always cut an impressive fart in a perfect glissando. But somehow on the particular day I stayed with Mr. Q, the guy did not cut the fart. Mr. Q was a little upset and anxious because of the sudden change in the familiar cyclic pattern of his life, and he could not sleep till the morning. Just for the record, Mr. Q’s apartment is currently cut off from the sewage line (not the water line), so he cannot run the water. The communal toilet on the hallway where he used to listen to the next-door guy’s piss sounds is currently nailed down and closed, so no one can use it. Another communal toilet on the third floor hallway is still available, but the walls and the ceiling of the toilet are smudged with filthy matters beyond anyone’s imagination all over the place. It is like a scene from hell.

Mr. Q’s one-room apartment is so small, yet the room is occupied with countless things like audio-visual equipment and antique items he picked up from the street. So perhaps only less than half of the space of the room is actually inhabitable for a person, but once an alley cat came to live with him. Mr. Q felt sorry for the cat since he was not able to feed him since he himself was seriously short of food. But one day when Mr. Q came back home, he found a dead pigeon in the middle of the room. It seemed that the cat wanted to offer a meal as a present to Mr. Q who was always hungry, as a token of gratitude for letting him share the room. Once in the middle of the night, Mr. Q heard a knock on the window, and when he opened the curtain, he saw a weasel outside the window.

Let’s get back to the story of Mr. Q who was stuck in the small kitchen window. It is heartrending for me to imagine Mr. Q’s anguished look at the time, but after his desperate efforts of stretching and wiggling his lower body for several minutes, he somehow managed to fall onto the kitchen floor. He retrieved what he needed and left again for his journey, and he decided to go to the airport on a ferry. There would be no surprise if Mr. Q had missed the airplane at this point, but fortunately he had set his departure time with maximum leeway since he knew that he was always terrible with directions (I once witnessed him starting to walk toward the opposite direction when he wanted to go to the nearby station from his apartment), so it was still possible for him to catch the airplane in time. When he arrived at the ferry port, there was no ferry waiting. So he asked an old man who was strolling along the river about the ferry, and the old man told him that the ferry was abolished two years ago.

When I was listening to Mr. Q’s story to this point, his cell phone battery ran out and our conversation was cut off. So these are all the facts about Mr. Q’s tour to Europe that I know.■

About the Author

Translated by Yuko Zama