Another Kind of Courage
08:38 – thirteen minutes remaining. Isamu shrugged off the stares of morning commuters in line behind him and set the two bottles of beer down at the register, half-expecting the little girl to appear. Coins clattered on the counter.
“She’s not real,” he blurted without warning.
The cashier’s cheerful smile didn’t waver.
Isamu nodded his apologies for the delay and assured himself that he was the same as any other suited salary-man in the trendy Tokyo café. He took a seat at a table by the door and resolved to go through with his plan: finish the beers, walk to the bridge, and jump down onto the tracks as the 08:51 train exited the tunnel.
He upended the first beer and drank it dry. When he looked down again she was there, sitting across from him, with thin brown arms and a sleeveless summer dress. He started to raise his eyes to her face, but still lacked the courage to do so. Not now, not ever, he decided.
The little girl greeted him: “Ohayou gozaimas…”
Isamu closed his eyes and retreated into darkness where he found the usual rush of water, the screaming, and his own helpless, heart-pounding fear.
“Ohayou,” the little girl persisted, forcing him to acknowledge her.
People were staring again, he was sure of it. “Ohayou,” he whispered, dreading what might come next. If she called him “papa” he’d scream.
“Have courage,” she commanded – and then vanished.
Isamu needed no further encouragement. He finished off the second beer, rose on shaky legs for the last time, placed the bottles in the appropriate bin, and headed outside to mix with pedestrian traffic.
Ninety-five steps, he coached himself. This time nothing would go wrong. He made it past the station entrance to the center of the bridge and gazed over the guardrail to the tracks below. One minute remaining.
His sternum thumped. The panic always began this way, but sometimes he overcame it. Too late. He lost control and reality slipped away. A tremendous boom stole his breath, and a deluge of water erupted from the tunnels, covered the tracks and flowed fast under the bridge beneath his feet. Terror gripped him and he faltered.
The little girl appeared in a sudden blast of luminescence and he knew what he had to do.
Isamu dared to gaze at her face for the first time, hoping only for that final push into the abyss and a release from madness and pain; but instead he beheld an oval of light with eyes like slits into infinity, which for one magical moment became the face of his sweet child, more beautiful than he had remembered her in life.
“Have courage,” she reassured him.
“I will,” he promised as the train roared past.