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You Were an African Elephant and I Didn’t Know Your ..


You Were an African Elephant and I Didn’t Know Your Name

Dan Shanon

When I returned to Nagoya from Tokyo for the first time in 20 years, the first thing I should have done was visit you at Higashiyama Zoo to say hello.
Some 20 years ago, I was living in a rental apartment in Nagoya with my wife, and we didn’t get along very well. Also, I couldn’t perform very well at work. I was caught in a negative spiral in every aspect, causing uncontrollable chaos inside me.
Lacking dedication to my work or even leisure activities, I lived every day with no purpose. The only thing that set the pace in my daily life was the teachers’ voices emanating from the junior high school across from my apartment. I don’t know why, but I have no recollection of hearing voices from the students. Standing at the school gate in the morning, these teachers exchanged morning greetings with the students coming to school. “Good morning!” “Good morning!” I would often imitate the teachers’ unique intonation in front of my wife, which I assume slightly helped ease the tension in our relationship. Their greetings were sometimes interspersed with other remarks, such as “Hey, guys, hurry up!” or “Look both ways before you cross the street!” which also aroused laughter from us.
Even though I could not get along well with my wife or perform well at my work, somehow my writing activity was going well. I won a literature award for best new talent, leading to my original short work being included in a paperback anthology. Accordingly, when I was transferred to Tokyo, home to many publishing companies, I thought that I had been promoted.
In reality, however, my new appointment was a step down. I assume the company wanted to fire me because I was not industrious enough and was always writing novels. My boss in Tokyo did not try to understand me. He asked me questions that led me to resign from the company for my own convenience.
Nevertheless, I did not leave Tokyo soon and continued to stay there with persistence even after losing my job, simply because I could not find anywhere else that I could stay.
After all, I could not develop my career as a writer, either. I became totally unemployed.
I set your photograph in a photo frame. My wife would often call me “elephant-crazy.” I was happy to be called that. Since my childhood, I had been crazy about African elephants. Nothing else was above youa magnificent creature with short tusks and a calm demeanor. I took that photo when I skipped work on a weekday to see you at the zoo immediately before I was transferred to Tokyo. My awful situation did not change at all. Still, I could at least forget everything when I was with you.
After a long, fruitless period of 20 years, I finally returned with my wife to our hometown Nagoya.
I always missed you. I thought that now that I was living in Nagoya again, I could see you anytime because you were only a few minutes away from me by subway. You would surely be there.
However, my wish was not fulfilled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I returned to Nagoya shortly after the beginning of the year of the start of the pandemic. In those days, there was not so much fuss about the pandemic. Only a few people wore masks on the streets. If it had not been winter, almost nobody would have worn masks.
I needed to take care of various matters after moving and was busy as a writer, a job from which I earned a little bit of money. This made me continue to postpone visiting you. Then, Higashiyama Zoo was closed. I had no idea when the zoo would be reopened. I suddenly became restless. What if I could not see your forever?
Later, the zoo reopened. Still, I did not go to the zoo to see you. This was entirely due to my laziness. I assume I expected that I could see you anytime.
Finally, that day, August 10, 2020, came.
A local news piece made me keenly realize how cruel and hopelessly merciless the world was. The only African elephant in Higashiyama Zoo, Kenny, had passed away. The news made me cry. A man well into his 60s crying bitterly over the death of a African elephant.
I didn’t know that your name was Kenny until then.
I finally headed to the zoo. I was all in a sweat in front of the table for offering flowers to you. I did not go with my wife. Our relationship had improved a long time before, but I rejected her offer to come with me, fearing that she might feel sick under the burning sky because she was constitutionally weak in summer.
It was lucky for me that it was a scorching summer. Sweat continued to pour down from my forehead, preventing anyone around me from recognizing that I was wiping not sweat but tears.


弾 射音