Nori was a grown man who was usually seen “playing” in the neighborhood alone….
My great-grandmother on my father’s side recently passed away. I’m a 27 year old guy. I guess it is rare for someone my age to have had a great-grandmother this long.
My great-grandmother and I lived in different towns. Unfortunately I didn’t have much chance to get to know her while she was alive, except, there was a time I lived with her for a month. I was 6, soon to be starting a grade school. My parents were building a new house and there was a delay in the construction schedule.
The new house wasn’t done by the time the lease was up on our old apartment like they had originally planned, leaving us homeless for a while. My family temporarily moved in with my great-grandmother who lived in the rural area of Fukuoka.
Life in the countryside was new and exciting for me. Her house was surrounded by farms, mountains, gate-ball fields, and the traditional Japanese style single story row houses that I’d never seen back home. I remember every day feeling like I was going on an adventure. And sadly, that’s the last memory of her that I have.
At her funeral, I got to see all my relatives who I hadn’t seen for ages. Since she was nearly 100 years old when she passed away, the funeral had a somewhat warm, celebrating atmosphere rather than sad and sobbing. Everyone was praising my great-grandmother’s long life, talking about the fond memories of her while she was alive, and celebrating her departure.
After the funeral, the relatives held a small reception at my great-grandmother’s house. Someone took out the old photo albums that my great-grandmother kept and we all looked at them together. My relatives were all reminiscing on old times, remembering my great-grandmother and missing her.
But as for me, all my memories of great-grandmother was limited to that one month before I started my first grade. I didn’t recognize most people in the old pictures. I was kind of bored to be honest.
“Hey, look at this, it’s Sen!” someone called out laughing. Sen is the name of my father. I looked into the picture they pointed at. I found my father going through his teenage struggles to be cool. “Who wears a white suit to high school?” I said in disbelief.
The albums were neatly coordinated in a timely manner, we were looking at my father in high school, college, his wedding, my birth, and then the 1 month that my family lived here..Then one picture caught my attention.
There was a man in it. His name is Nori. It suddenly came back to me that he was a great friend to my great-grandmother. But he wasn’t at the funeral. Then I noticed it. As soon as his picture came up, everyone seemed to have stopped smiling.
Nori was a grown man who was usually seen “playing” in the neighborhood alone. The neighbors, especially with small children, did not feel safe with him hanging around outside and they would often complain.
But my great-grandmother defended him fiercely and attacked back at those complainers saying “If you are so worried, make sure you watch your kids and keep them inside the house!”
As a matter of fact, I think Nori’s age was like, 45 at the time. So I wouldn’t blame those parents for feeling creepy and unsafe about him acting like a little kid and playing outside alone all the time. But in my great-grandmothers’ opinion, he was harmless. He never caused anyone any trouble doing that.
I wasn’t sure why everybody stopped smiling when they saw Nori’s picture. But before I got to ask anyone about Nori, the reception was over. One of my cousins asked me to go for a drink. Her name is Misa. She is 35 and lives in this neighborhood. She was like an older sister to me.
We went out to a local bar and had a few drinks. Since Misa has lived in the same town as my great-grandmother all her life, I decided to ask.
Me: “Hey. Do you know what happened to Nori-chan?”
Misa: “I heard he is living in some nursing home. He is old now and he doesn’t have any family members that can take care of him. Why?”
Me: “Nothing. Since I saw him in the album, I’m just wondering.“
Misa: “Oh, OK”
I thought to myself: maybe my relatives were ashamed of letting him be sent to a nursing home, that they were not willing to be his guardian here. This is a close-knit community and people tend to act/feel like a family with neighbors. Maybe that’s why they stopped smiling.
We kept drinking until about 2am and I decided to crash at Misa’s house. I was both drunk and tired, I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed.
I woke up thinking it’s the morning. The room was very dark. I looked at my watch and noticed I’d only slept for an hour. I tried to fall back asleep, but I was wide awake. I lied in bed, closing my eyes and hearing the clock ticking, I don’t know how many hours had passed …the photo suddenly popped up in my head.
“It doesn’t make sense” I said to myself.
Something about Nori did not sit right with me. My subconscious was pushing me to not think about it. There was something about it that makes me …afraid. I couldn’t figure out why the picture bothered me so much.
I started thinking about the 1 month I stayed here as a kid. I remember playing with Nori. He would come to my great-grandmother’s house around noon. We would play in the farms or an empty space in the neighborhood. I remember that.
But there was something else…I couldn’t remember the part that was bothering me. I fell asleep while I was trying to remember it. It was noon when I woke up again. I thanked Misa for letting me sleep over and left her place.
Since it was Sunday and I got nothing to do, I decided to go to my parents’ house. They lived a bit far from the town that my great-grandmother lived. It’s been forever since I visited their house last.
My parents weren’t expecting to see me again so quickly after the funeral, but nevertheless, they were happy that I visited. I played with their dogs and talked about my work and they talked about their retired lives.
After a while, the idea of Nori’s photo started to cross my mind again. I decided to ask my parents.
“Do you guys remember Nori-chan?”
To my surprise, my parents did not have any weird reaction this time. They seemed to like Nori. They started to talk about how Nori took me out to play in the neighborhood when I was a child, and what I would tell my parents about our adventures.
Then my mother mentioned it : when I was 6, I used to tell my parents that I played with “Nori-chan” and “Yanshan”.
That’s when I remembered it. I held back my shock and tried not to react in the way I naturally felt like: “Freak out”. Once I slipped out my feelings, I felt like my fear would swallow me.
The sound brought back the dark, eerily memories inside me.
In hindsight, Yanshan couldn’t have been real.
Yanshan was a person who stayed with Nori, all the time. My memories aren’t that clear, but I’m sure 80% of the time that I played with Nori, Yanshan was there too. I think.
When Nori would come over to my great-grandmother’s house around lunchtime, she would always prepare lunch for me and Nori, but not for Yanshan. While Nori and I ate, Yanshan was sitting behind Nori with his knee folded in front of him.
My great-grandmother would never speak to Yanshan or look at Yanshan. Thinking back, even I have never had any interaction with Yanshan.
It was just Nori who would always call him “Yanshan, Yanshan” and be really friendly with him, and I just understood that’s Nori’s close friend. I never had any question why he was there.
Yanshan was always wearing a pair of black slacks, like a typical student’s uniform, and no shirt. Just a bare chest. He had black hair but his head was always shaved. I think he looked about 30.. But I’m not sure. He was regular built, but I remember thinking his arms were disportionately big. I never heard his voice.
I’m not sure how Nori used to communicate with Yanshan. I remember them interacting with each other (I never caught what they were saying) and then Nori burst out laughing. It happened quite a lot.
And since Nori was laughing hysterically, me as a child started laughing together with Nori, even though I had no idea what was funny. And every time that happened, I remember Yanshan was looking at us with a straight face. He never had any expression on his face.
I remember this one time, Nori came to my great-grandmother’s house to pick me up. Nori was alone this time, and he said we had to go pick up Yanshan. When we were walking to pick up Yanshan, we passed a local candy shop that had a little fighting game machine that you could play by 100 yen.
Nori asked me to play the game with him as soon as he saw it. We both forgot about Yanshan and played it until we used up all our money. Then we continued playing in the park across from the candy shop until it’s time to go home.
On our walk back from the shop, I remembered we were supposed to pick up Yanshan. Shoot! I thought. I asked Nori “ Do you think Yanshan is mad?”
Nori answered me that Yanshan was with us until a little while ago. I was not aware at all that Yanshan was with us at any moment of that day. I felt strange. But at the time, I was more offended than creeped out. I was annoyed Yanshan had not even cared to let me know when he joined us.
This is all I remember about Yanshan. Yanshan is the person who would sometimes whisper something into Nori’s ear and make him laugh hysterically.
Continue on Yanshan Part 2