Deborah Mantle

Lost and Found

          Millions of people passed through the stations of Greater Tokyo every day. In the to and fro of daily life, it wasn’t surprising that things got lost. And when a person noticed they’d misplaced something belonging to them, they would, logically, head to the Lost and Found Office.
          Genichi Ogawa worked in the Lost and Found Office at Kita-Tsuruno station. Kita-Tsuruno was the end of the line. Or at least it was the end of one line. It wasn’t the kind of place Genichi had imagined working back when he’d first applied for a career with Japan Rail. But the stress of his previous post had made him sick and he’d been lucky to get a transfer to anywhere. Kita-Tsuruno meant “north crane field”. The fields had long gone, and with them the stately white birds, but the station was in a relatively peaceful part of south-west Tokyo where trees outnumbered neon signs.
          On his first day at the station, Genichi was tasked with bringing greater order to the stock of found goods, weeding out items that had sat unclaimed for more than six months. Genichi was amazed and slightly saddened by the amount and array of articles that had ended up in the back room of the office. So much loss, he thought. So many things abandoned.
          In the afternoon, Genichi sat in his manager’s office drinking cold barley tea while Mr Mori instructed him on how to help customers. Genichi liked that Mr Mori talked of helping and assisting. In his previous workplace, Travel Enquiries at Shinagawa Station, customers were viewed as “situations” to be “dealt with” as quickly and efficiently as possible.
          “In my experience,” Mr Mori said, “most of the time our customers can, with some gentle guidance, pinpoint when and where the loss occurred. Help them to visualise the last time they remember holding or utilizing their belongings.”
          “You mean, if they tell us which carriage they travelled in, or at least which train, we can trace the item,” Genichi said, with some confidence. That sounded easy enough.
          Mr Mori rubbed his stubby, yellowed fingers against his chin. “That is often the case. But at other times it’s less … certain.”
          Then, Mr Mori had touched Genichi lightly on his arm and smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. The most important thing is to listen to what the customer is trying to tell you.”
          Genichi knew that his hearing was almost perfect. The doctor had told him that during his last annual check-up, the same check-up in which his high blood pressure and weight loss had been remarked upon. Genichi may have been afflicted by self-doubt, but he was sure about his ability to listen.
          On Genichi’s second day at work, he arrived for the late shift precisely fifteen minutes before his start time. After checking his uniform for unsightly stray hairs and re-reading his notes on “customer procedures”, Genichi presented himself to his boss.
          “Ah, Mr Ogawa, how fresh and tidy you look on such a hot day,” Mr Mori said, his small, dark eyes twinkling. “Are you ready to reunite lost items with their owners?”
          Genichi wasn’t sure what to say. If he said he was ready, he would sound cocky; yet saying he wasn’t ready would be unprofessional. “I will do my best,” he said finally.
          Mr Ogawa’s smile was almost as wide as he was tall.
          “Good, good.”
          At that moment the chime above the office door sounded.
          “And here’s a customer for you,” Mr Mori said.
          Genichi felt a frisson of nervousness, but then reassured himself that he knew the process. He had memorised which forms to fill in when a lost item was re-claimed and which to complete if the article wasn’t in the office store. And, more importantly, he was familiar with the stock, the umbrellas of every shape, size and type of technological wizardry, the mobile phones and the bags empty and full. He’d also spent time looking at the miscellaneous items, including two pot plants (he would be responsible for watering them when Mr Mori was away), a trumpet, a single crutch and a wedding dress. Wouldn’t a crutch be missed? Genichi had wondered. And how was it possible for a wedding dress to go unclaimed?
          As the customer approached, Genichi stood tall and presented what he hoped was a welcoming smile. The man looked to be in his forties. His skin was pale, his bright eyes darting around the office as if he were searching for what he’d lost.
          “Good day, sir. And how can I help you?”
          “I’ve lost … something.” The man spoke without meeting Genichi’s eyes.
          “Well, I’ll do my best to assist you, sir. And what is it that you’ve lost?”
          “My wife.” The man finally looked at Genichi, his expression intense and pleading.
          “Your … wife.” Genichi wondered if the man had lost his senses. But then he thought about what Mr Mori had told him — listen, help.
          “When … when did you last see your wife?”
          “Oh, I saw her this morning. But that wasn’t my wife.”
          “I … see.”
          “No, you don’t. My wife is …” The man checked himself. “My wife was wonderful, always smiling, always happy. I made my wife laugh. She loved me.”
          “And …” Genichi groped for the right words to guide the man gently. “… this situation has changed.”
          “Yes, completely.” The man opened his eyes wide. “The wife I have now never smiles. She’s not happy. She doesn’t, … she doesn’t love me.”
          “I see,” Genichi heard himself repeat, but he didn’t see at all. This was beyond his scope of experience. He’d had girlfriends of course, but there’d never been anyone he could imagine going home to. But this man, his customer, needed assistance.
          “Perhaps sir has changed, too?” Genichi suggested.
          The man looked at the walls and seemed to consider the question.
          “Well, I got a promotion, so I have to work harder. Longer hours, of course.”
          “Of course,” Genichi murmured.
          “And I have to work at the weekends, often.” The man frowned. “I don’t like the work, but it’s a good job. Secure. And I have to work, don’t I?”
          “Do you, sir?”
          The man didn’t appear to have heard Genichi’s question.
          “I don’t like Tokyo. I don’t like big cities. You can’t see the stars in the city, can you?”
          “Well, I …, well, I haven’t–“
          “My wife liked the countryside, too. We don’t have a garden now, of course. But she grows all sorts of flowers. And herbs.”
          The man looked at Genichi. Genichi felt he should be responding in some way. “Herbs?”
          “Yes, herbs. On the balcony. I like to go out there in the evening. There’s not much room, but I like to stand and breathe. You know, just breathe and look for a star.”
          Genichi could picture the small man on the small balcony breathing and searching.
          “Perhaps …, perhaps you could find your wife in the countryside?” Genichi asked as softly as he could.
          “But what about my job?” the man demanded.
          “What about your wife?” Genichi countered. Then he wondered if he’d gone too far.
          The man looked around at the magnolia walls of the office reception as if seeing it for the first time, as if he didn’t know why he was there.
          “Well, uhm, thank you for your help. Perhaps I know where my wife is after all.”
          “Have a good day, sir.”
          “Yes, uh, yes.” The man left muttering.
          Genichi felt rather than heard Mr Mori next to him.
          “I’m not sure I was very helpful,” Genichi said.
          Mr Mori patted his shoulder. “You did just fine, Mr Ogawa. The customer is now aware of what he’s lost and has some idea of how to look for it.”
          Genichi absorbed Mr Mori’s words, yet was unsure if the man would find his wife again.
          The door chimed. Genichi pulled himself up straight, but felt less certain about his abilities to help.
          “Good day, madam. How can I be of assistance?”
          The woman on the other side of the counter wasn’t young, late twenties perhaps. Around his age.
          “I lost my umbrella on the 7.07 train from Kawagoe.”
          “And what does it look like?” Genichi asked, while preparing his mental catalogue of umbrellas.
          “The train? Well, it was long, with a dark green stripe–”
          “No, madam, your umbrella.”
          “Oh, right, of course.” The woman laughed at her own mistake. “It’s pink, bright pink, with large, blue polka dots. It’s not an expensive umbrella, but it … it was a present.”
          The woman looked at Genichi. She smiled again. She looked as if she smiled a lot. And yet he noted the dark smudges under her eyes that make-up didn’t quite cover.
          “Of course, madam, I understand. I’ll go and have a look.”
          Genichi went back into the storage area. There were so many lost umbrellas that they were kept in sections differing by colour. The bin of clear plastic umbrellas was the largest. The bin for black umbrellas was quite large, too. Bright pink with blue spots should be easy to find. He peered into the pink bin. Immediately his eyes were drawn to sky blue dots set against a background of shocking pink. He checked the tag on which Mr Mori, in his tiny, rather square script, had written when and where the umbrella had been found.
          Genichi walked back into the reception area carrying the umbrella and the woman met him with a full smile.
          “You’ve got it. Oh, how wonderful. Thank you so much.”
          Genichi was about to say that it was nothing, but a feeling of pride swelled in his narrow chest, pride in the efficient working of the Lost and Found Office.
          “Can I ask you to sign this form, please? It states that you’re the rightful owner of this property.”
          “Yes, of course.” The woman barely looked at the form and scrawled a signature. She then returned the office pen to Genichi.
          “While I’m here …” she said.
          “Well, I’ve lost something else.”
          Genichi smiled in anticipation of fulfilling his duty.
          “My dream.”
          Genichi’s smile faded slightly. “Your dream?”
          “Yes, I came to Tokyo to be an artist, but, well, … well, that hasn’t happened.” Her voice trailed off.
          For a moment Genichi doubted whether he was up to his new job. Who was he to assist others in their search for disappearing wives or derailed ambitions? But this was his job and he always aimed to do his best. Genichi took a deep breath.
          “I see. And when do you last remember having this dream?”


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