It started a few weeks after they separated for good. The old man, who never spent a morning without a cigarette and tea, was suddenly engrossed in charting plans for the rest of his life. He never considered living a solitary life, let alone at the age of 60. He had a faint smile when he was staring out of his window, the magical rays of sun shining on his face when he suddenly realised what he wanted to do.
It all began, when the old man decided to become a messenger man, delivering important stuffs from one corner of the city to the other. He would receive requests in his email, which he would read in his flashy new iPhone and cycle all the way from his house to the top 5 addresses, pick the stuffs from the residents and deliver letters or documents or anything important to the recipients. This little adventure went good for some days. He was happy with the work that kept him busy while also keeping him fit and healthy.
Strange things started happening now. He would wake up and see three cats outside his house, which would disappear into the city the moment he stepped out. When he reached the houses to pick the stuffs, the same three cats would be there, waiting for him. He would see them everyday, morning noon and night, and then ignore them. It was when he saw the cats for three continuous weeks, he got a little suspicious. Three cats would follow him everywhere and these cats would always know about the places that he will be visiting in a day. The more he saw them, the more restless he would become.
One sunday, he woke up to find the cats were not outside his house. The sudden disappearance of cats did not bring him any comfort. He decided to ignore everything, that there is nothing to worry about and that everything is just a blank pattern. He checked his email and found one email for pick up. It was not too far from his house as well. He got dressed and peddled his way down the river. He knocked on the door to find a young bald lady greet him with a smile.
“Hello there, so what can i pick for you today?” he asked.
“Its good to finally meet you sir. I am so thrilled to have you at my door. It’s a rather warm day, isn’t it?”
He was not a man of small talks and would always insist on picking the stuff, drink a cup of water from his bottle and head back to deliver the stuff.
“I’ve been working on my summer bod, so I won’t be complaining.” he joked. There were times when he would pretend to be a funny man, because everyone loves a little humour.
“Sir, I insist you to come inside and have a glass of water. It’s so hot and I’d just take five minutes to finish the paperwork that must be delivered to the city library office.”
“I usually don’t like wasting my time.” he told her and then added “however if you insist, i don’t want to say no to a pretty lady.”
There was something attractive about this young bald lady. He figured her age to be about 30-35, dark circles indicated that she usually sleeps very late and wakes up early. There was a Malaysian Airlines boarding pass on the table. He was just scanning the room when he saw a wall frame of three cats, the exact three cats who were chasing him for the last three days. He stood up and was confused at everything that was happening. He scanned around and saw no sights of those cats, it never looked like a house where cats would live.
The young bald lady appeared and saw the confused look on the old man’s face.
“Is everything alright?” she questioned.
“Yes. Can I ask you a question?” He didn’t wait for her to respond. “Are these your cats?”
She was surprised at this question and said “No. I purchased this picture from a local shop. There was a discount sale and I love cats.”
This didn’t make much sense to him. He would not have asked the question if he never saw the cats. But now, there was a strange sense of restlessness. He wanted to tell her everything, how these cats have been following him for some time and how he didn’t see them today and yet he saw these cats in a picture. Was he overthinking? And if so, why would he see the picture here, of all places.
“Where did you buy this picture from?” he still asked, hoping to feed his curiousness.
“From a local shop, just outside the city. I brought it from Bella’s Art and Crafts supplies.”
“Ok. Thanks for that information. I am afraid I won’t be able to deliver the letter. I am so sorry about this. But if it’s not urgent, can I pick it up tomorrow?”
“I am surprised to hear that. But it’s fine. Its going to rain anyway and I would not risk getting this document wet now.”
A sudden confusion hit his face again. It was hot and sunny a while back and this was a strange home without any window.
“I usually don’t do this but I am just not feeling well.”
She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. So she said “That’s ok. You don’t have to do this. I completely understand.”
He decided to leave the house and head straight to Bella’s Art and Craft supplies. It was not far away from this house. He was not sure about what he was searching and he had absolutely no idea what he would find over there. But there was a particular familiarity in the bald women’s appearance. It felt like he has seen her somewhere but couldn’t recall where and why.
A human mind turns into a maze when it stores thousands of memories. Recalling a moment or a face is like catching a fast train and not knowing about the destination. Old man was cycling along the river when dark clouds took over the blue sky. The strong wind was followed by a loud thunder. When the first drop of rain hit the earth, old man decided to take cover and stand under a tree. That was when he noticed the signboard which said Bella’s Art and Craft Supplies.
He quickly ran over to the other side of the road. A million thoughts reached his mind and some voices even begged him not to go inside. But he also knew that something is hidden somewhere and he ought to find out about it soon. He exhaled a heavy breath and entered inside. There was just one salesman and no customers. He looked like a Japanese or Korean, middle aged and was wearing sunglasses inside the shop. The salesman looked at old man and greeted.
“Oh hello Mr…. wait, for the sake of the voice which is telling this story, let me call you Mr. Old Man. I am sure you have a name but let’s not spoil that for everyone now, can we?”
There was a surprised look on Old Man’s face.
“Do you know me? Do I know you? I didn’t intend to come here for a reason and I don’t know what I need to know?”
“Yes you do Old Man. You are looking for answers. We are all looking for answers, for missing pieces that connects and form a universe within us.”
“I don’t understand anything. It’s been strange, for the last couple of days. I am not sure if I know what I need to tell you.” old man was shivering now. It was suddenly cold.
“That’s ok brother. You don’t need to tell me anything.”
“But how do you know me? Did you know that I am going to come here?”
“I knew you would be coming sooner or later but never anticipated it would be this early.”
“What’s your name?” old man was getting restless.
“Oh, where are my manners! Let me introduce myself to you. My name is Mister Nakata and I am the owner of this place.”
“Oh no, don’t confuse my first name with the honorific for men. My first name is Mister. M-I-S-T-E-R. So, if you were to write my name, it would be Mr. Mister Nakata. It’s funny, isn’t it?”
“I won’t say funny because it is a name after all and I am not sure if this holds anything significant in the country you come from. But yes, in this part of the world, it is definitely strange.”
“Oh no no no. You see my daddy was a drunk man who took to drinking after my mother passed away when she gave birth to me. So, he was a lazy old man who never wanted to think a lot. He would say that thinking gives him headache. So, he kept my name Mister. I am used to it and I laugh about it.”
“Hehehe” old man laughed for the first time today.
“Hehehe” Nakata laughed back.
Nakata sensed the shiver and asked him to come inside where there was a heater and a hot soup.
When they sat together and old man was comfortable, Nakata began talking.
“we are all doomed to fall and break but to do that we should also choose the best way to fall, the way where it wouldn’t hurt the most. You hear about a bearded guy throwing bomb in the trains or a white old man building walls around his country or an insane guy shooting at people who only loved each other. They think they are doing something good for the citizens of their country, but all they are doing is bringing them down so they can fall and crash.”
Nakata was confused and he did not know why he was listening to this.
“I am sorry but I don’t completely understand you. I am here because you sold some art painting to a women who was kind of bald some days back.”
“Yes. Her name is..again.. let me call her young bald lady. I did sell her the painting on 10th of October. The day you were separated from your wife.”
“How do you know all this? How do you know any of this? What is it that you are not telling me?”
“Well, I don’t want to hide anything from you my friend. You have come here looking for answers and this story is not a novel, so I don’t want to hide anything from you. You have lived 65 years of your life, trying to live a life by not celebrating it. You have never understood what it truly is to live a life. And that’s why you decided to become a messenger man because messenger boy is too young for you. You wanted to look at the river and stare at the pelicans because it gives you joy. You also wanted to help people because how else will you experience what its like to share happiness. ”
“We all live our lives without understanding it. Can you tell me that you have understood everything that is there to live?”
“No. But taking to my cats helps a lot Mr. Old Man.”
“Talking to your cats? You mean it as a figure of speech?” old man was still confused.
“No, I mean practically. I have been blessed with the power of talking to cats.” Nakata stood up to fetch a bottle of water.
“Those three cats? Are they yours?”
“The three cats that were chasing around? Yes. I sent them to you because you need to understand something important in your life and this is the best time you should know that. Bella is dead.”
“Bella? who is bella? Was that your wife?” old man sounded confused.
“No. But it’s no surprise that you don’t remember her. She did tell me that when you come to meet me and I tell you about her, you will be confused.”
“Listen Nakata, I don’t know what you are talking about and why do I need to know about her death.”
“Do you remember Brunei, 1978?” nakata asked
“Yes. I went there when I lost my job. I wanted to escape and..” it looked like old man was now able to recall something which he buried long time ago in his memories. Old man continued talking
“Bella…. She was a bar singer in one of the local night club. I remember buying her three drinks before I decided to go out with her that night. We went back to my hotel where I stayed with her for two days. We talked, sang, had sex and..” old man began to stutter.
“and then you dumped her and never called her back. That would be the short description.” Nakata finished it for him.
“Yes.. You can say that.” Old man was lost now.
“It’s ok. Everybody make mistakes and you made yours. When Margaret, your ex wife decided to leave you, you were alone and lost. And that’s when Bella passed away.”
“What happened to her?” old man grew curious.
“Well, after you dumped her, she did not lose the spirit to live. She wanted to finish her degree but because you came in her life, she became pregnant and she had to work even harder to support herself and her daughter. She did get married to a local business man who was not too great but yet he raised your daughter, before he passed away in a motor car accident. Bella gave her daughter the finest education that she can afford before she sent her to this city to pursue higher education.”
“She is here? Where?” he wanted to cry but still was holding his tears.
“I’ll tell you that Old Man. That’s exactly the reason why you have come here, isn’t it? To get answers.”
“Yes.” old man was now crying.
“Aww! Dont cry. As I told you, we have numerous way to fall down. The best way to fall down is the way where there is less pain. When Bella’s daughter purchased the picture of three cats, that was when your wife left you and that was when Bella passed away due to heart failure. Your daughter, she wanted to send the final cheque to the city library office which funded her education through loan.”
“Wait, you mean to say…” old man was now ecstatic.
“Yes Einstein. That young bald lady is your daughter. Bella came to me and asked me to show you a path that would lead to her. I am just a messenger, just like you.”
Old man was still trying to recover from everything that was happening right now. He said “I don’t know why this has happened now. I was not lost but I was just hopeless. I gave up all hope of finding the meaning of my life with someone else. I am so sorry what happened with Bella and I am sorry that things have come to this. But I don’t know what I’d do now. I cannot go and tell her that I am her father. That would totally freak her out.”
“It’s ok. Bella just told me to inform you. I don’t know what or how you will tell her this. But if you ask me, I’d say, you have good 10 years of your life left and then another sad 10 more years of your life. And at your age, things will get even more sadder. So go out, enjoy the sun and remember that things happen for a reason.” Nakata got up and then told “I have to close my shop now but do think about this.”
They both bid each other goodbye. Old man’s cycle was just parked outside and the dark clouds were nowhere to be seen. He started walking along with his cycle when one last thought came to his mind. He turned around but Nakata was gone. He decided to come back again tomorrow. He was unable to make up his mind if he should go and talk to his daughter.
Next day, old man reached the outskirts of the city. He entered Bella’s art and craft supplies. Mister Nakata was nowhere to be seen instead there was a lady who was cleaning the shelves. The lady came up to him and asked if he was okay. The old man asked her
“I came to this shop yesterday and”
The lady interrupted, “Yesterday? Our shop was shut for five days because the owner son died. Our owner is currently in Japan attending to his son’s funeral while I am in charge of the shop now. Can I help you with anything?”
“Can you tell me what was the name of his son?”
“His name was Kazuyoshi Nakata.” the lady replied back.
The old man left the building and was confused. Nothing was making sense to him. He was trying to recollect everything that he knew. He was trying to connect the dots and arrive at a conclusion. But what would be the conclusion? What about Mister Nakata? And the cats? Is there an alternate reality apart from this reality? Is there a world with two moons where dead and living live together? Of what is important in this world and why would Bella tell him about a daughter now? He had a lot of questions and just one answer in front of him. That he has a daughter and that both should accept this reality and see where this would take them. He knows where he’s going and he don’t want to waste any time in getting there. Beethoven Symphony No. 9 was playing on the radio and his life, just like this day has just began.