Written while listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto–I absolutely love him and his works. This story has been sitting in my computer for months now, waiting to be finished by me. This is the first non-one-shot I’m posting here at Epik Love Story…I’ve been debating on whether to actually post this online or not even before it’s finished. Guess you know which side won. 😀
00. What He Remembers
Brown eyes with flecks of grey.
Red flaming hair—hair that she herself dyed—just above her shoulders.
A voice so melodic it can easily put me to sleep.
That’s how I remember her. Sakamoto Girl.
I’ve been haunted by those eyes, that wonderful voice for so long that I don’t know how I was able to live life before her, not knowing somewhere in this world she could exist. Life as I knew it ended from the moment I met her, and never again would it be the same.
It started with a question about Sakamoto.
I was sitting outside a café somewhere in Paris, my attention buried under a non-fiction book a friend gave me. It wasn’t what you would call a very interesting book, but I took it upon myself to finish it—I who had never finished an entire non-fiction book of my own will. Although it wasn’t exactly thought-provoking, I tried my best to focus at the task, and so I must have withdrawn all my other senses: the coffee I bought became tasteless after a few sips, the buzz of the crowd unheard after a few pages, even my own skin felt numb, unfeeling of the rare breeze that went by the streets of Paris.
She said it took her a few tries before she caught my attention.
“What a relief,” she said after I gave her a look of curiosity. She wiped some imaginary sweat from her forehead and continued, “I thought for a while you couldn’t hear me.”
She spoke in my native language—Korean—but at first glance you would never mistake her for one. Her cropped hair was dyed bright red, the color of her eyes were the lightest brown with flecks of grey. I don’t know how I realized that she was Korean, but after awhile it just dawned upon me. Perhaps it was the shape of her eyes, or maybe her skin…until now I don’t really know. I just…happened to know.
She was smiling like a kid as I said one word: pardon? Her eyes suddenly brightened and she repeated herself.
“Do you like Sakamoto?”
I blinked a couple of times as I let her words sink in. It was a question that took me by surprise.
“Who’s Sakamoto?” I asked innocently. She laughed.
“Ryuichi Sakamoto. Only the best living musician in the world.”
I wasn’t really someone who was knowledgeable about the musical world, but I was curious. Closing the book I had, I faced her once again, my eyes telling her to go on with her story. If I knew then what it would mean to me, how that very random conversation with the very odd girl would affect me, I would have stood up with the book in my hand, leaving that young woman and her Sakamoto world. But I didn’t know, and so I listened.
I listened as she shared tidbits of information about the so-called best living musician in the world. Her eyes sparkled at every word, at every thought. It was deeply amusing to watch her. We talked for hours and hours—mostly she did the talking and I listened, but it was deeply interesting, listening to her talk. She has this musical voice, a kind of melodic tune whenever she talked about things that fascinated her. I assumed she was a singer or a musician of sorts, but when I asked, she said she wasn’t even close to being one.
“I don’t even know how to read a music sheet, let alone sing. I’m tone deaf,” she said. After a small pause, she went back to telling me about Sakamoto.
My first memories of her went that way. Me, listening to her melodic voice, her chattering about a musician she loved yet I had never even heard of. I don’t remember much of what she said—I don’t think I even listened well enough to remember her words. All I could remember was the sound of her voice…soothing and rhythmic, like a child’s lullaby. It put me at ease, listening to her speak.
We bade goodbye to each other an hour after the sky went dark. She said she had fun talking to me. “I hadn’t spoken with a fellow Korean for so long; it feels so nice to talk to you.” I smiled at her, gave a slight bow and went on my way. It wasn’t after three blocks of slowly walking to my hotel did I remember—I never got her name.
It didn’t bother me, of course. She wasn’t someone I’d really want to go and meet with, anyway. I found her rather strange—who would, after all, come up to a stranger in a fine afternoon, asking about liking a random musician or not? It felt all too confusing for me, so as I walked to my hotel I tried to take away all memories of that conversation. Thinking too much about it would only cost me a headache.
However, as I closed the door of my room inside the small hotel, the faint traces of her voice still lingered in my ears, like the voice of a ghost inside a haunted, lonely house.
“Do you like Sakamoto?” the voice asked.
I was seated inside a restaurant in bustling Seoul, my fingers constantly tapping the wooden table in front of me, the usual sign of boredom. As a certain pair of eyes wandered to my tapping fingers, I consciously stopped in mid-action and slowly placed my fingers around the silver fork on my plate. I smiled at the young woman in front of me, and she continued with her blabbering. It was at this time that the sound of her voice would automatically be tuned out of my mind, as if I were turning the volume dial of the radio into low. She didn’t seem to notice that I would do this every time she opened her mouth; I only uttered a few words to politely convey that I was listening—a simple “ah” or “hmm” seemed to put her at ease.
Her voice was low and unpleasant, and I hated it. Of course, I couldn’t tell her. Like the many women I had dated before, hers wasn’t the voice I wanted to hear. But this wasn’t a good enough reason for anyone to stop from seeing her—how could I tell my friends that I didn’t want to date so-and-so just because her voice wasn’t appealing enough to me? Just the mere thought of explaining to anyone about my habit of “fading away” from the words spoken and just listening to the voice and tune of the speaker was absurd. And because they all wanted me to get married soon, they pushed me into meeting all kinds of women for the sad purpose of marriage.
…But every single one of the women I met did not have that voice—a melodic voice similar to hers. A voice that would make me want to curl into her lap and sleep. A voice so hauntingly beautiful it pained to be apart from it. A voice I could hear anywhere, like the faint whispers of a ghost, but couldn’t sense where it was coming from.
“Siwon-ssi?” the woman in front of me said. My name felt foreign, coming from her voice and lips. I quickly looked up and apologized. “It’s been hectic at work, you see,” I lied. She ate the lie and pursued to ask about my profession. I answered curtly and didn’t say anymore, so she went on to another one of her entirely long stories, which I drowned out again. In my world, I could only visualize that time in Paris. The young woman with bright eyes, those long hours of conversation…
Most importantly, I could remember her voice.
Without a moment to spare, I blurted out to the woman in front of me: “Do you like Sakamoto?”
The woman in front of me blinked twice, as I had in Paris.
“Is that a fashion brand, like Vera?”
“Vera?” It was my turn to blink.
“You know, Vera Wang—I’ve always loved her gowns, she never fails to impress me—” And she went on and on, my question left hanging in midair, abandoned and unanswered.
A few minutes passed. The minutes soon turned to an hour—then an hour and a half. I cleared my throat and apologized once more. “I have pressing work to do, I’m sorry.” I called the waiter, paid for the meal, quickly stood up and left.
As I walked to my car, I smiled to myself and remembered my question. Who was I kidding? Even if she knew Sakamoto and loved him, she didn’t have a voice like hers. Or even if she did, she wouldn’t be the same person. Those light brown eyes weren’t hers, nor was her hair short and dyed a bright shade of red.
She wasn’t the girl in Paris.
I could hear the voice—her voice—once again. It was only a voice I remembered, not one I could really hear from anyone around, but to me it sounded so much more real than any voice I heard in a while.
“Do you like Sakamoto?”
If I did, I asked the voice, will you stay with me forever?