The Tale

This tale begins one morning in April, of an ordinary day. When I woke up, my usual routine reminded me, early in the day, of the importance of keeping expectations low.
Like every day, I had prepared for breakfast a bowl of rice with boiled tōfu. And to compensate such intensity of flavor, it was usually accompanied by a good bowl of freshly whisked Maccha tea.
      I used to go up to the terrace with my doggie Sira, so that she could play a little before the walk. Although she was never so much aware of the ball, as she was of the certain fall of rice grains from the top of the bowl. The cause of which was my total ineptitude with chopsticks.
When we finished, we went downstairs to get ready for our daily morning walk. But just as we were walking out the door, the postman called.
Nothing seemed different from previous weeks: the typical correspondence as usual, and the relentless warrior spirit of Sira against all the postal service employees.
      We went to play on the beach, she loves it. If anyone ever wants to feel freedom in its purest state, only has to contemplate how a dog plays in the sand.
When I returned home, I noticed that there was a letter inside the mailbox, even though the postman had just come. Still, this was a different letter. How strange, I thought. It has no stamp, no recipient, nor any address. Just a name.. Setsuko.

To whom may receive it,
                My name is Setsuko and I am 33 years old. Before I continue, I would like to say that I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read this. But still, I have to do it.
I was born in Japan, in the city of Hiroshima, and have lived there all my life.
And I say lived, because I don’t live there anymore.. I think. Now I don’t know where I live. In fact, as I write this letter, I don’t even know if I’m still living..
I will start at the beginning. I am a writer. Despite the fact that, lately, what I am is closer to ‘spirit of writer’ than to a writer by trade.
Five years ago, I wrote a novel that had a great reception. And I was feeling very happy and fulfilled. I had many projects in mind, and a world of opportunities was opening up before me.
But, after a while, the harsh reality set in. I had to embark on a new project, and I didn’t know which one. At that moment, I began to think and think. And to read and to write, looking for my inspiration. But this didn’t come.
I tried anything.. I traveled all over the country, visited temples and shrines to pay my respects to the ancestors, I met fascinating people, and I was able to discover real stories and experiences through the emotions of their protagonists. And yet, nothing.

One day, my childhood friend Yumi, seeing that I was feeling so lost, told me why not try folding 1,000 Orizuru. I asked her why I would do such a thing, that I would rather lie down and gaze at the stars. And then, she told me the ancient legend that promises anyone who folds a thousand Orizuru that the spirits will grant them a wish. One Orizuru for every year the cranes are said to live. And, perhaps, that wish could be the inspiration.
I replied that it was a beautiful legend, but I couldn’t help laughing when I imagined that it would do any good. And, naturally, I never thought about it again.

But, after some time, while I was walking in search of my lost inspiration, a boy came up to me and said.. ‘Here, for you’. And showed me a little Orizuru he had made out of a snack cake wrapper.
I thought it was endearing that he decided to give it to me. I thanked him, and put it away.
When I got home, I put it on my desk, and it stayed there.
One day, when I was cleaning my room, I held it in my hand and looked at it, remembering Yumi’s words. And, then, I thought.. Why not? You have already tried everything. You are not going to lose anything, maybe time. But you have plenty of it, when you lack inspiration.. And that’s how I decided to start folding a thousand cranes in Origami.

The first of them took me half an hour to finish. And the following ones were not far from those marks.
I thought that, at this pace, I would be able to complete them when I would care little about telling anything to the world..
But then, I remembered my beginnings as a writer. Some time ago, I learned that it is in the first steps of the road that we usually stumble the most. But that is because the road itself places obstacles there to see if we are worthy of walking on it.

Finally, after a few months, the day came for me to fold the 1,000th crane. I had been anticipating this day for weeks. I was very excited to be able to make it, even nervous. It seemed absurd to feel this way, but at the same time, it was nice. I had set my mind to something and I was about to achieve it, even if it were going to be of no use..
Maybe I would go to the same park where I received mine, and give an Orizuru to each child. So that they could start their own chain.
I folded the last wing, and it was time: I had to make a wish. Although I didn’t know if I should think it, or say it out loud..

That night, I went to sleep very happy. I knew that nothing had changed. But the feeling that surrounded me was similar to the one I used to feel when I finished a chapter of my novel. Although that was already such a distant memory..
The following day, I woke up and began to raise the blind. And as the sunlight gradually was illuminating the room, my surprise was to see that something was not in its usual place.
I had always left on my desk the Orizuru that that charming boy had given me. But that day, when I woke up, I found it on the edge of the window. How odd, I thought.. I never put it there.

Anyway, I had no time to waste. Once again, I was late for my part-time job. Which I had started a few months ago so that I could continue, during the afternoons, on my literary path.
I had just ten minutes to get to Inari-machi station and take the streetcar line 2, if I did not want to get another fair rebuke..

I love to travel by streetcar. Ever since I was a little girl, I always asked my parents to forget the car, and to go everywhere riding it.
It is also a symbol of the city of Hiroshima. A sign of the spirit of determination of its people to move forward. It took only 3 days, after the city was devastated, for the streetcar service to be restored to its first stretches.

I believe that my love for streetcars, and for trains, is due to the close relationship I forged with my father during childhood. From a very young age, I often traveled with him, accompanying him to all his exhibitions. While my friends made the most of vacations and festivities playing or resting, I didn’t want to do anything else but travel with him.
And I remember that, already at that time, I began to develop my interest in human stories.
In those brief moments when the streetcar, or the train, would stop, I would observe. I was absorbed in watching the scene that showed up before me, and imagined what the people in it might be thinking or saying. I would notice their looks, their facial expressions, their attire, their body language.
And with all of this, I would create stories in my mind.. and write them down.
I always carried a small notebook with me, where I wrote down what I saw and what each situation evoked in me. Sometimes it was a couple looking into each other’s eyes, without saying a word. Other times, it was an old woman seeing her husband off. Others, it was a child watching the station guard.
And I used to imagine what they would be thinking, or saying. Sometimes, I even imagined what their lives could have been like.

In the end, I arrived at the station on time. As usual, it was crowded, which was customary at that hour. Everyone was rushing to get to the front row, so that they could get a seat. I stayed behind, waiting. I looked to the side, and found an old lady also standing at the back of the crowd. I asked her: ‘Wouldn’t you like to sit down?’. And, with a smile, she replied: ‘Sitting down? But the day has only just begun’.

The streetcar doors opened, and little by little, people came in. I let the lady enter first. She thanked me by bowing her head, while maintaining that enigmatic smile that seemed to know something I didn’t know.
Suddenly, as I was about to enter, something happened. I felt how I began to lose control of my body. Something was preventing me from moving, and I couldn’t open my eyes. I thought I had gotten dizzy and, in a matter of seconds, I was going to fall on the ground in a faint. But the truth is I didn’t feel weak, nor did my legs falter.
Actually, I was more aware of my presence than before. In fact, more aware than ever.

Finally, that feeling subsided, and I could open my eyes again. But what I saw at that moment was beyond the limits of my reasoning.
Everyone had disappeared, even the lady right in front of me. The streetcar was empty.
In fact, it was no longer a streetcar. Now I found myself inside a train.

For a minute, I stood motionless, without any thought. I felt I could move, but I did not. My most primal instinct was telling me to observe, and to look for some element that seemed familiar to me, so that I could regain my composure.
That element should have been the train itself, but no. This train was different. It was a train like no other I had ever been on before.
Its appearance was classic, antique, as if from another era. It was covered with wooden slats. But I had never seen wood similar to that. It looked very old, almost millenary. Its grain was deep, and its color, intense but dull. It reminded me of what happens with blue ice in Antarctica.

Next to each block of seats, there was a window. And, just below it, was located an illuminated sign announcing the next station. But the names I saw there did not resemble those of any station I had visited before. Although I was able to recognize the emblem of Hiroshima Prefecture.
At that moment, a melody sounded, and a deep voice began to broadcast over the public address system:
‘Welcome to the Yamato Train. In a few moments, our journey will begin. Please take your seats.’

It’s been a few days since I boarded the Yamato Train, although I couldn’t say with precision how many. The perception of time, here, seems different. Although that is not the only thing that appears different.. Everything that happens here escapes any logic or common sense.
At the beginning of the journey, we were riding at ground level, on the railroad track. But at a certain point, we began to rise above it. Which left me speechless.
The velocity of the train is usually constant. But on some occasions, it reaches tremendously fast speeds. And yet, on others, we seem to be floating, like a bird that crosses the clouds.
I could also see through the window that, although we tend to be at the usual distance from people, animals and objects, there are times when we are surprisingly close to them. And the most curious thing is that they don’t seem to see us.

But what I really can’t understand at all, no matter how hard I try, is that I would say we are traveling to other eras, to other periods of the history of Japan.
The scenes, buildings, garments and behaviors I’m seeing here I only knew them from textbooks and Jidaigeki period dramas.
I don’t know what to think. Either this is a very large film set, or we are really traveling through.. No, it cannot be.

So far, I have visited a station named ‘Spirit in Hiroshima’. As soon as the train stopped, I felt a deep connection to what I was witnessing. And, at once, I grabbed my notebook and began to write.
Along with this letter, you will find a torn out page of my notebook, with a note. What is written on it is what, at that moment, I felt.

After a while, the deep voice came over the public address system again, announcing which would be the next station. This time, its name was ‘Love in Hiroshima’. And, at once, the illuminated sign changed color, while the text of the new station appeared.
There has been something else that should have surprised me. But at this point, I think it’s going to be hard to be speechless again. Still, it’s hard to take in. The fabric curtains, placed on either side of the windows, also change color slightly with each station. As if following a pattern..

If you have reached this point in the letter, you may think that everything you have read so far is a joke. That’s normal, I would think so too. And, for that reason, I can’t ask you to think otherwise.
But what I am living here, since I went through those harmless doors, has made me discover something. The reality I had lived until now, the one my mind has strived to create day after day, was leading me to be complacent with my own existence.
I have never considered how to live each day, I have simply lived it. Sometimes, I have wasted moments, aware that, having my whole life ahead of me, they would come around again.

But, inside this train, I have started to think in the here and in the now. To try to treasure them. After all, the train only stops for a few moments at each station.
So, as long as this journey continues, I will keep writing. I don’t know where all this will take me, but I feel I have to share it with someone.. whoever you are.

As you can imagine, when I finished reading the letter, I could not believe everything that was written there. I was perplexed, I thought it was an amazing story. But, of course, I didn’t believe, not for a moment, that it was true.
Even so, I didn’t throw it away. I put it in a drawer and never thought about it again.
      My surprise was two months later, when opening the mailbox, I found again another letter like it. This one, had the same appearance as the previous one: without stamp, nor recipient, nor address.. only Setsuko. In it, she told me what she was able to feel when she visited the station of ‘Love in Hiroshima’.
Once again, I didn’t give much thought to it, a simple curiosity. Apparently, someone was going ahead with her joke.
      But after two months, I received the third one: ‘Loss in Hiroshima’. At that point, I remember I started to get scared. Perhaps, without being aware, I was beginning to believe that all this could be something more than a joke.
What if it was real? What if someone had actually entered this supposed Yamato Train, and was traveling through the Japan of yesteryear?
Two months afterward, it was me who was waiting for the letter. And so it was.. well, then, I received ‘Nature in Hiroshima’. The excitement was beginning to rule my every thought. I was spending the days reading and re-reading the letters, along with each of the notes Setsuko had sent me.
Finally, I received ‘Childhood in Hiroshima’.
      It has been eleven months since her first letter arrived. And, a few weeks ago, I received a new one with the first station of Miyazaki Prefecture. It was, at that moment, that I remembered her words:
‘Before I continue, I would like to say that I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read this. But still, I have to do it.’
And, then, I knew that now I was the one who had to do something.
Welcome to The Tale of Setsuko.