At the time, it all seemed perfectly normal, albeit with the same kind of logic as one finds in a children's book - where a rabbit may push you aside because he has looked at his watch and realized he is late for an appointment, and only years later do you ask: So why was a rabbit wearing a watch? The events of that morning only seem notable in light of what followed them, and as I was only five, the tragedy didn't hit me for a few days.
I'm twenty now. I still have Frog. My college roommate wondered aloud, at first, what a girl otherwise so mature and uniformly serious was doing with a stuffed animal, and why she slept with it every night. I never told her, of course.
I lost a cousin in the earthquake, but I didn't die. Neither did my mother. She wondered why I was so insistent that we leave the Plaza right now, but she took me at my word, indulging the whim of a child. She was glad of it, and she fell down and prayed, as soon as the shaking stopped. I had insisted, with childish petulance, that we go to someplace in the open air.
When she was done praying, she turned to me, and asked me how I knew.
With childish simplicity, I told her, straight out. "The nice man told me. The one I was talking too. He told me I had to take you and leave the mall right now, so I did." I blinked at her, confused. What was wrong with that? Somebody told me, and he looked honest, so I did what he said?
"He must have been an angel in disguise," she said, and crossed herself.
Mother was a serious Christian. I'm not sure where she got it from. She took me to church every Sunday, but it never stuck with me. I had, by the time I was five, started to understand, to believe, but after the year of earthquakes I never went back to church. In fact, I stopped going when Ebisu was destroyed. Mother somehow never asked me why, never forced me. I was grateful, because I could not have articulated my reasons at the time.
My mother and I, after the earthquake, decided not to stay in Tokyo any longer, because of the earthquakes. We packed up our bags and she arranged for a cousin in Okinawa to let us use his spare room for a while, just until the seismic activity had stopped. We thought it would just be for the summer, but summer stretched into autumn, and our apartment was destroyed in the next quake, and we decided to stay there for a while. It was a cold, cold winter. I did my schoolwork, dutifully, but I took no joy in it. I took no joy in anything that winter, because I did not know why the earthquakes were happening, why everyone was being told to get out of Tokyo, because everything was falling down. Mother tired to keep her spirits up, but every earthquake found her glued to the television waiting for news, and every friend she lost sent her into fits of sobbing, in her room where she thought I could not hear her. She tried to be brave for me.
I didn't need her to be brave for me, though. Something had cracked inside me that day, despite my youth, and I would spend the rest of my life wondering. We stayed in Okinawa for five years.
I remember his smile. He had a prefect smile. He smiled at me, as he told me to leave Ebisu with my Mama as soon as I could, because that was my wish.
Not to die.
Underneath it all, it still is. Maybe it's foolish of me. But everyone I know, there's something in them that holds them to greater purpose, that says there are things worth dying for. I just can't think that way. There is nothing worth dying for. I want to live, no matter what. Even if the world ends. It is a supremely selfish wish. It means I would destroy anything in my own name and only my own name. When I was five I thought that God would keep me safe, because I believed. That summer I realized that if there was a God, he didn't love me, and maybe even hated me, so if I was going to live, I would have to do it despite everything. But I didn't mind. If the universe was conspiring against me, too bad for the universe. Because I wanted to live, no matter what, and nothing, nothing at all, was going to stop me from living.
The effects of the Year of the Earthquakes, as the commentators began to call it soon afterwards, are still felt around Tokyo. It took them years to repair the Yamanote Line. The temperatures rose even more in the summers, and the government begged people to take busses everywhere, started giving out free bicycles, finally, after that terrible day in 2001 when twenty people died of heatstroke, closed the roads to private vehicles for days at a time. They did rebuild the line better, though, and the summers are cooler now, because everyone takes the subway.
Shortly after the Year of Earthquakes, for no apparent reason, the government started a comprehensive environmental program. They did this even before they began to rebuild Tokyo. Nobody is quite sure who started it, or why, but it has been a phenomenal success. I hope to start working for it after I graduate; I want to give something back. I'm not quite sure why, but something tells me the best thing I can do for myself is to take care of the earth.
My major is Civil Engineering. I learn about things like building and subways and electric lines. But the most vital thing I ever learned about buildings, I learned when I was five. It's a simple fact.
Buildings fall down.
Buildings fall down, but if you're clever, you can be somewhere else when they do.
Ever since Ebisu, I've had phenomenal luck regarding earthquakes. There were several that struck Okinawa late that winter, mild ones, and my mother was struck unconscious by a falling dictionary, while I stood in the middle of the room and watched the paint chips rain down like falling leaves. I wondered if I would always have that luck, always be in just the right place at the wrong time.
When I was ten there was an earthquake while my mother and I were taking the train back to Tokyo, for the first time since I was five. It knocked the train off the tracks, but we hit the side of the car at just the right angle, and my mother dislocated her shoulder but still walked away, and I was perfectly alright.
When I was sixteen I was in high school; I had managed to enter CLAMP Campus on a scholarship. I made friends with a rich classmate, and both of us went to Seattle, in western America, over our summer break. His family went a different place every year, and they had chosen Seattle because the wanted to see the Space Needle, and he invited me along for company. That was the summer that the subduction zone finally broke loose. As far south as San Franciso there were tidal waves. Half the buildings of Portland were shaken from their foundations; Seattle was decimated, being built on unstable foundations. We were walking through one of the older parts of the city when it hit, on our way downtown. My friend and I clutched at each other when we felt it. We would have prayed, perhaps, had we not been too busy screaming.
The buildings collapsed in slow motion, with a gentle creaking noise, and bricks seemed to fly through the air like ping-pong balls. I remember the look of helpless terror on the face of a man across the street, as he was lost beneath the debris.
We lived, myself, my friend, and his parents. We were not even hurt, or trapped beneath the debris. We were left standing on an untouched block of concrete. It had risen several feet and tilted slightly, but it was stable, and we scrambled down to the ground, brushing off our clothes, and began yelling to attract the attention of the ambulance crews.
It took us two months to find our way back to Japan, because the airport had been destroyed, but we got back. We lived.
My friend asked me to marry him when I turned seventeen. I accepted, but we agreed to wait until I was out of college. We both went straight on to the college division of CLAMP Campus, and we see each other all the time. We plan on having a large family. Our children will grow up in the rebuilt Tokyo, because we both love the city too much to leave. However much we long to see the world, we will always come back here. We love this Tokyo, which will always rise from the ashes. My mother told me once that the earthquakes are sent by God to keep us humble, but humans are unable to be humble. I know I am not humble, and never will be.
They have put in bigger skylights. The rebuilt Ebisu Garden Plaza has a lot of changes, but that is the most obvious. I sit here, with my laptop, and Frog beside me, on the anniversary of the Ebisu quake, and wonder what really happened.
I know that boy saw what was coming. I wondered who he had been. Despite my mother, I didn't believe in angels. Or, if he was an angel, he was the Angel of Death. He saw the earthquake coming, because he caused it.
I am as certain of this as I am of my own name.
He gave me two cans of tea to drink, and drank two himself, because he wanted to use the empty cans. 'To destroy the Kekkai.' I didn't know what a Kekkai was then, but I remembered the word, and I looked it up later, and a few things fell into place.
If he was the Angel of Death, he touched me, and made me immune. I wanted to live. Perhaps he chose to grant my wish. But if he was not an angel, than he was a man. And if he was a man, he died that day. He died for nothing, because his work was undone, and the building fell down, but people put it back up, as people always do.
That is why I stopped believing in the benevolence of God. There is nothing worth dying for. If that boy died that day, he died willingly, but his work was for naught, because I sit here in the new Garden Plaza with Frog beside me, typing this on my new laptop, a birthday present last month from my fiancé, and staring up at the skylight wondering what happened to him.
I wish to live. No matter what happens I wish to live. I will live, because there is nothing worth dying for, and because I am strong, and because I will it.
That day I clutched Frog close to me as the tremors stopped, and I turned and looked at the building as Mother fell down and prayed. It was distant, like an optical illusion, but I thought I saw, standing on top of a slab of concrete, that boy. He stood carelessly balanced, poised above the destruction, barely visible through the dust that threatened to choke me. He looked almost sad, but then he turned, and for a moment, his eyes met mine across the wreckage.
And, just for a moment, he smiled at me.
The dust blew up in front of me, and when I looked back, he was gone.