But tonight, Mr. Terajima thought as he walked into the Jade Garden, I will not turn away in disgust. I will continue to eat; I will wring every drop of joy from my plate, and in the process expire. I will taste more than most ever do, and what better way than that to depart?
As a waitress showed him to his table, Mr. Terajima watched her retreating backside. There had been something about her face, too. He hadn't seen one like her in a long time. At these times, he was overcome by a sense of wistful hopelessness. These stillborn desires with nowhere to go. Nothing would happen, and by tomorrow he would forget her. The Mongolian beef looked nice, he thought.
Mr. Terajima had looked in the mirror that morning and realized that he was aging. To make things worse, he looked completely ordinary - no matter how well he dressed, it was impossible to mistake him for anything other than a middle-aged man. Even his hair was thinning.
The waitress returned with a teapot, but by now he was already at the buffet. Denied a closer view of her. She smiled professionally as she saw him watching. Mr. Terajima turned back and began to fill his empty plate.
He helped himself to bowl after bowl of wonton soup. He gulped down hot tea and let it burn his tongue. He stuffed himself with noodles, fried rice, sweet and sour pork; went back to the buffet and ladled on lurid pink sauces. He'd been right about the Mongolian beef. He could hardly keep himself from shoveling it into his mouth.
Soon he was full. There was still meat and rice and soup in front of him but he didn't want any of it. His belt seemed tighter already. He lost his ambition to eat. He lost his ambition to die.
Indeed - what had he been thinking? Had he really believed that he wouldn't make it to work on time tomorrow? He'd spend more time in the bathroom tomorrow morning, that's all. The same office, the same cup of coffee, and when he returned, to watch the news, the same programmes, sitting in the cracked leather chair,
He signalled. The waitress returned with a bill and a fortune cookie. Mr. Terajima unwrapped the latter. The white edge of the message paper protruded from the cookie's lip. Mr. Terajima drew it out without cracking the cookie, his preferred method since childhood. The process always reminded him of defusing a mine, or removing the pin from a grenade. He looked down at the tiny scroll.
Please do not eat me. I am
Mr. Terajima turned it over in his hands. He supposed it was a joke - what kind of fortune was that? On the back, random numbers. No clue. He made to crack the cookie.
Something caught his eye. Something white sticking out of the cookie. Another fortune? It must have been some kind of factory mistake. He drew it out. Maybe he'd have better luck this time.
alive. This is not a joke. I
Mr. Terajima arched his back. Definitely a joke. But what was the trick? Was the cookie simply stuffed with messages? Sure enough, as he looked down, he noticed a white edge that hadn't been there before.
realize how extraordinary this is. But
He tossed the cookie in his hand; it didn't seem especially heavy. He wondered how many more messages were inside.
please believe me. Have compassion for
Another one. He drew them out one by one now, like a magician with scarves in his sleeve.
my situation. I repeat, this is the truth. If you would like proof, please ask me a question.
"My wife's name," he said, "Is Midori. What's my wife's name?"
Midori. It is a very beautiful name.
Mr. Terajima sighed. There was no reason for anyone to be doing this to him, but it was either that, or he was witnessing a miracle. Neither prospect impressed him much. But he decided to play along.
"This is unbelievable," he said, after looking around the restaurant. There were only a few customers, but he didn't want anyone to see him. "How can you be alive? Where did you come from?"
I remember being in the dark, wrapped in plastic. I was in a box with others like me, but none were responsive. Perhaps I have been reincarnated?
"Maybe," said Mr. Terajima. Best to keep his responses short. A group of young people had just came in - no need to give them anything to stare at. "Okay, I won't eat you. Actually..."
This was something that could make him rich.This was something that could make him famous. Televised interviews...all sorts of publicity for the company. Make the cookie a mascot, maybe? Instant recognition, ubiquitous stuffed toys...Midori watching him on television.
"Actually, I think we should go public." he said. "Maybe we could go into business together."
"Well, a talking fortune cookie...it's not something you see every day."
Apart from the novelty of my existence, I'm afraid that very little about me is interesting. Until I've learned more about myself, I don't feel that I can be of any help to you in that matter. I apologize.
Mr. Terajima wasn't especially disappointed - this being a joke, after all, it had to be a joke - but was it really necessary to use six messages to convey this rather formal rejection? The tabletop was covered with tiny scrolls. He supposed the cookie was afraid a simple "no" would have led to him snapping it, but its obsequiousness grated on him - he'd seen it all too many times in his subordinates when they wanted something.
"Well, now that we've gotten business out of the way, I'm afraid I have to be going," he said. He almost wanted to ask for another fortune cookie. He'd always liked the taste. He took out the next message.
What is your name?
So the cookie was becoming personable after all.
How are you tonight, Mr. Terajima?
"Depressed? I don't know. I don't feel too bad, I guess. I came in here on some kind of whim that I was just going to start eating and not stop," he said, looking down at the empty plates, "I don't know what I was thinking. I feel sick already. I'll probably just go home, maybe rent a movie..."
That situation is not very likely. At the most, you would end up vomiting or losing consciousness.
"Yes. I know."
That seems rather irrational to me, Mr. Terajima. Why would you want to do something like that?.
He was about to start telling the Midori story when the waitress returned and asked him if everything was all right. Had she seen him talking to himself? Even though she'd never see him again and there was nothing between them now, he couldn't stand the thought of her thinking there was anything the matter with him. What was it about her face? It...Natsuki Ogawa from high school had had a face like that. The sharp cheekbones, and the same bearing, how she seemed to be looking beyond him even when she smiled. Natsuki Ogawa from the swim team, wishing for her picture on those dark afternoons spent wrapped in himself, the radio blaring foreign songs in his half-lit room... The waitress disappeared into the kitchen.
"Well," he said, "I've always been slightly depressed most of my life. I used to think that I was afraid of dying or troubled by the meaninglessness of life, but just now I realized that most of it comes from not being able to have sex with whoever I want, whenever I want to."
There - it was out in the open now. Mr. Terajima felt a tremendous sense of liberation - until he realized he was whispering his secrets to a fortune cookie in a second rate Chinese restaurant.
Would the ability to have sex with whoever you want to whenever you want to relieve this sense of hopelessness?
"Yes, yes it would!" Mr. Terajima said, lowering his face to the cookie. If miracles could be as banal as this, was it too much to hope for? "Would it be possible...could we make some kind of bargain? I'm a very wealthy man. I don't know what you are, but, there are other things, services I could provide. Even devotions, sacrifices...what is it you want?"
He reeled out the message scroll by scroll, waiting until he had the whole thing assembled on the table before reading it. He could feel his heart beating. Hadn't Midori said something about that, too?
I'm sorry to disappoint you again, but my abilities don't extend much further than providing messages on these small pieces of paper. As a sentient cookie, I can't help you with your problems. All I can offer is my moral support.
Mr. Terajima picked up the fortune cookie and snapped it in half.