I first noticed Mr Kawasaki that Summer. I had just started working at the rest stop on the main highway and I was busy learning the job, so it took a while before I had time to stop and observe the customers. People think that cleaning is easy, but any job requires concentration if you want to do it well, and I was new and proving myself so I worked hard and did my best every day.
It was particularly hot that year, and tourists poured in by the coach load in search of some cool mountain air. To give a pleasant experience in those kinds of conditions one needs to work fast, cleaning up discretely after each guest whilst allowing people their privacy. If anything developed a fault, for instance if one of the toilets lost its bidet function, it had to be checked and fixed immediately. Don’t rely on complaints, my supervisor advised me. Nine times out of ten, people won’t complain, they will just go away with an unfavourable impression and your business will suffer. I felt that was true. Who would bother to complain, when they only had a brief stop in a place? Better to spend that time in the souvenir shop buying okashi snacks and themed keyrings to take back as gifts for your co-workers. The cheekily named ‘monkey poo’ chocolates were particularly popular sellers at our rest stop due to the famous monkey park nearby. Most people visited there, if only just to take a picture on their way to the springs.
That reminds me, I was talking about Mr Kawasaki. He probably came in every day for a while before I became aware of him. One day there was a traffic holdup on the highway just coming out of Beppu and so there was a lull between coaches. I took the opportunity to give the mirrors a good polish, whistling as I went because I assumed the place was empty. It was not until I reached the very end that I noticed the door to one of the stalls had been closed the whole time. Embarrassed, I cleared up quickly and left the building. The heat pushed back at me like a thick mattress of cloud and sweat immediately broke out all over my body like a prickling, wet, rash. I stopped, pulled out my handkerchief and wiped my face and neck. As I did so, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a man leaving the rest room. He was dressed in the olive-green uniform of the monkey park and was carrying a suit over his right arm. Strange, I thought, to change out of a suit into a uniform, and in a public restroom too. Then the first of the coaches arrived and I thought no more of it.
The following week, though, it happened again. This time I had taken a detour to the vending machine for a cold drink, holding the can against my hot skin for instant relief. A gaggle of schoolgirls had been crowding around the area fanning themselves and squealing about the heat ‘So hot, so HOT!!!!’ as they chose their sugary drinks. I moved away to a quieter spot, and there was the man again, coming out with his uniform on and this time a suit bag over his shoulder, coat hanger held steady by one casual finger.
I confess that it became somewhat of an obsession of mine. I looked out for him every morning and once, staying late because we were understaffed, I was there to see him enter the rest room in his uniform and leave in a suit. The suit was grey with a subtle pin stripe and a crisp white shirt underneath that gave the impression of an air-conditioned office. His tie was precisely knotted and his shoes, which I’d never noticed before, were expensive looking leather and perfectly polished. That was the day I named him Mr Kawasaki, after the businessman from that silly show – what was it called again? I can’t remember now. It was popular at the time.
There is an unsatisfying end to this story. One day he stopped coming. I thought he was on vacation but after three weeks he was still not back. It bothered me so much that I even went to the monkey park one day. The monkeys were as cute and as mischievous as everyone said but my day was unrewarding, nonetheless. He wasn’t there.