“It’s been a while, Saegusa-san. You seem to be doing well.”
The slightly overweight middle-aged man, who had walked along the country road and had sweat on his forehead, bowed politely to me at the entrance.
“Ito-san, you look well too. Thank you for coming all the way here. Please come in.”
We exchanged greetings and invited Ito-san into the house.
It had been about a year since I last met this freelance journalist in person.
Wind chimes swayed, creating a cool sound in the air-conditioned room.
“Oh, your house is as far away as ever, Saegusa-san. But it’s really quiet and calming here.”
“Yes, there’s nothing here, and that’s exactly what I need the most. Thanks to the real estate agent that you introduced me to, they found me a great place.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
While wiping sweat, the amiable man sipped cold tea. I owed him a great deal.
“So, is there something you want to hand over to me in person today?”
“Yes, well, I did want to see your face again after such a long time, but there are a few things I thought it might be better to give you directly.”
Ito-san took out envelopes and such from his large bag.
“First, this. It’s my book that you kindly helped me write. Thanks to you, it’s been selling moderately well. This envelope here is the payment for that.”
Along with the book, he handed me a considerably thick brown envelope.
“Isn’t it too much?”
“It’s a fair amount.”
Ito-san said so and took a sip of tea. I was sure he wouldn’t retract this money.
“…I gratefully accept it.”
“Yes, please. …Next is this. It’s a letter entrusted to me by your daughter.”
I received the white envelope he offered.
I took out several sheets of A4 paper and read the letter.
It was my first time seeing the handwriting of my daughter.
I was falsely accused of being a molester on the train.
A young woman, dressed like an office worker, suddenly shouted loudly, claiming that I had molested her.
A nearby man restrained me and testified that he saw me doing it.
I was taken to the police station and questioned.
With the testimony of both the female victim and the man who restrained me, I was suspected from the beginning.
I pleaded my innocence, but the suspicion didn’t fade. The statement they asked me to sign was exactly what the female victim had said, so I refused to sign it.
I wasn’t allowed to contact my family or my company, and I ended up being detained.
After ten days, the results of the investigation using the train’s surveillance camera and the examination of the traces on my hands and the woman’s clothes finally came out, and I was finally released.
The police officer bowed to me and explained that there were suspicions of a duo committing fraud.
I finally got my phone back and contacted my wife, but she didn’t answer the call.
It seemed that my family had been contacted, but neither my wife nor my daughter showed up for a visit.
When I returned to the apartment, no one was waiting for me.
There was only a note and a signed divorce paper left behind.
“Can’t live with a sex offender.”
That was all that was written on the note.
My relationship with my family had certainly grown cold.
My wife, a housewife, had stopped talking to me except for making sarcastic remarks about my low income. She no longer prepared meals, and my high school daughter ignored me.
When I called my wife’s parents’ house, my mother-in-law answered the phone.
“What does a sex offender want?”
That was my mother-in-law’s first response after I introduced myself.
“I didn’t do it. That’s why I was finally able to come home today. I want to talk to my wife and daughter.”
My mother-in-law asked my wife, who was likely nearby, if she wanted to take the call.
I heard my wife and daughter’s shouting from a little distance away.
“He is disgusting, so hang up! I don’t even want to hear his voice!”
“The worst is having a father who was caught as a molester! I wish I could drain all his blood!”
“You heard, right? That’s what they said.”
Then the call was cut off.
The next day, I went to work, but everyone around me was distant.
I could feel that there were unfavorable rumors circulating. While working, I was called into a private room by my boss.
“You, you’ve been accused of being a molester, right?”
“I didn’t do it.”
“Don’t play dumb. There were people who saw you being shouted at by a woman. They also showed me a video they took. There’s no doubt it was you.”
“No, it’s a false accusation.”
“Don’t play dumb. Your punishment will be decided later. Until then, you’re suspended.”
I was dumbfounded, but this boss was the type to be stubborn and never admit his mistakes.
I wondered if someone from the company happened to be nearby to capture the video.
Feeling it was futile to resist, I reiterated that it was a false accusation before returning home.
My colleagues avoided making eye contact with me.
A few days later, I received a notice of dismissal in the mail.
By that time, I had already given up on many things.
I no longer had the desire to continue working at that company, and my love for my wife and daughter had long since faded away.
My father had passed away, and I had a terrible relationship with my mother, with no communication since my university days.
Due to the long hours and frequent overtime work at the company, I had grown distant from my friends as well.
I was utterly alone.
What I thought I had built up was probably just like tissue paper.
I had no intense emotions; I was simply hollow.
Unable to do anything, I spent my days like an empty shell in my apartment.
Thoughts of death crossed my mind, but I couldn’t summon the willpower for it.
Days passed, but I could only perceive the passage of time. I vaguely remember eating something from the refrigerator, but I couldn’t recall what it was.
The intercom in my apartment rang.
Without thinking, I picked up the receiver.
“…Who is it?”
On the monitor, there was a slightly overweight middle-aged man.
He bowed to the monitor and greeted me with a calm, low voice.
“I’m Ito, a freelance writer. I’ve come to request an interview about the false accusation.”
An interview about the false accusation? …Ah, has he come to trample me as well?
“…I won’t say anything condescending like I understand your feelings. If you request not to put this into the form of an article, I won’t. “
As I was about to hang up, he spoke calmly with a voice like touching fragile objects.
“Since starting this investigation, I’ve heard many people’s troubles and anger. Please, shout at me. Let it out. I want to feel those raw emotions and convey them in my writing. I promise not to write anything specific. I just want to reduce the suffering of those who may experience a false accusation in the future. I humbly ask for your cooperation.”
He bowed to the monitor again.
Even now, I don’t know why I accepted him.
But after that, he became my lifelong friend.
Afterwards, Ito-san introduced me to a lawyer.
As the lawyer was familiar with such procedures, I explained the whole situation, including my desire for a divorce and not wanting to return to the company. The lawyer assured me, “I won’t do anything harmful,” and took care of most of the proceedings for me.
I filed for compensation for the unjust divorce requested by my wife and the unfair dismissal by the company. My side of the story was acknowledged, and I received a small amount of money.
The divorce was smoothly processed as my wife had already signed the divorce papers, and I relinquished custody of our daughter.
Although my wife had taken the passbook with her, with the advice of the lawyer, I quickly reported it as lost, applied for a reissue, and transferred the account, thus being able to recover almost all of the savings.
During these proceedings, my wife and the company repeatedly called me, but I ignored all of them.
When I consulted the lawyer about these calls, he suggested I see a psychiatrist, and when I provided the diagnosis to the lawyer as requested, the calls from the company ceased immediately.
My wife continued to call persistently, so I had no choice but to block her calls, and finally, everything became quiet.
As a side note, I later heard that the man who used to be my boss was dismissed from the company.
He was in his late 40s and wasn’t even treated as a voluntary resignation, so it would be quite challenging for him to find a new job.
As a result, the company carried out a significant downsizing, reducing its workforce, and the department I belonged to disappeared entirely. Ito-san mentioned this with a slightly mischievous expression on his face, something quite unusual for him.
Ito-san and I lightly toasted, and our conversation on this matter came to an end.
After the compensation was finalized, a few days later, my ex-wife and daughter barged into my apartment. However, I had already changed the locks, so I didn’t open the door and remained inside.
At first, they spoke politely, saying, “Let’s talk.” But their words gradually turned aggressive.
“Let us in!”
“You worthless father! Come out!”
When they realized I wouldn’t come out no matter what, they went home that day. However, they returned again for two days in a row, causing a ruckus just like before.
They came many times, and each time they made a scene, kicking the door and such. It seems someone reported it because I saw them being taken away by the police.
Soon after, a young police officer came to question me about the false accusation and the current situation. After explaining everything, including the false accusation, he seemed deeply apologetic and left.
After that, they stopped coming to my apartment directly, but I received messages in a group chat with my ex-wife and daughter on my smartphone.
I had forgotten that such a group existed.
In the past, I used that group chat 90% of the time to inform them about my overtime work, while my wife used it 10% of the time to send me half-hearted responses initially, and it was the first time I saw a message from my daughter in that group chat.
“Sorry. Let’s talk.”
“Dad, I’m sorry. I’ve reflected on my actions.”
Messages with roughly such contents were repeatedly sent to me.
In response, I replied as follows:
“You, who didn’t listen to me and jumped to conclusions, approaching me with a straight face now, is incredibly repulsive to me. It makes me sick. We’re no longer legally connected, and I don’t want anything to do with you ever again, not even a drop of my blood.”
Then, I blocked both of their IDs, got a new phone contract, and changed my number.
After that, I occasionally saw my mother and daughter wandering around the apartment building, but I tried not to leave my room whenever possible, doing my shopping online, so fortunately, I didn’t run into them.
However, Ito-san couldn’t bear to see my situation and introduced me to a real estate agent, and I decided to move to another prefecture.
From then on, life was peaceful.
Nobody in my new town knew me, and I lived in a rural area, where I received help from my neighbors to get used to farming and gardening, which I was unfamiliar with.
Although it was the countryside, surprisingly, there were many people of the same generation, and some had come from the city for various reasons. So, when I explained my reasons for coming here, they accepted me with kindness and understanding.
Of course, there were physically demanding aspects, but here, for the first time in a long time, I laughed.
The last time I had a clear memory of laughing was when my daughter was born.
I’m still exchanging emails with Ito-san.
He occasionally drops by to visit, chatting about various trivial things before leaving.
He asked if it was okay to touch on my experiences when writing a book, and I told him he could write anything as long as it wasn’t my real name.
In this new place, I feel a sense of accomplishment as I build something anew.
It’s something I couldn’t obtain in my life with my wife and daughter or at that company, and it feels fulfilling.
The letter I received from my daughter through Ito-san explained that my wife had been kicked out of her parents’ house, and they didn’t know her current whereabouts. My daughter mentioned that she had started attending a vocational school, living on her own with the help of her mother’s family. Her mother’s family wasn’t wealthy, so she had to be independent, earning her own tuition and living expenses. She expressed regret for how she treated me and realized that her mother was wrong.
After briefly reading the letter again, I folded the paper.
“Thank you, Ito-san.”
“You’re welcome. I obtained permission from your daughter to confirm the content of the letter before bringing it to you. I thought it wouldn’t be unpleasant for you, but is everything alright?”
I took a sip of the lukewarm tea.
It was challenging to put my current feelings into words.
“I seem to be a cold-hearted person.”
“…..What is your response?”
“…I don’t feel like writing it, at least not right away. If I do, may I ask you to give it to my daughter? I’m sorry.”
“Yes, of course, anytime.”
“Will you stay overnight today? I have some sake prepared.”
“That’s a tempting offer, but my book is getting a reprint, so I have to go back for a while.”
“Ooh, then we’ll celebrate that next time.”
“I’ll visit again soon, so maybe at that time.”
With a smile, Ito-san left.
Five years have passed since my father’s passing due to cancer.
Today, for the first time, I came to this place. Ito-san had told me about my father’s death and the existence of his grave here, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t deserve to pay my respects to my father.
However, it was difficult to refuse when my son said, “I want to greet my grandfather.”
My son silently offers his prayers to the modest gravestone engraved with “Saegusa’s Grave.” I take a step back and approach the slightly overweight man who has been praying a little further away.
“Thank you for guiding me today, Ito-san.”
“You’re welcome. Your son has grown up, hasn’t he? Is he already in high school?”
“Yes… He’s the same age I was back then when it all happened.”
“I think it’s admirable what you told your son.”
I silently nod my head.
“… It was in my father’s letter. He said he couldn’t forgive my mother and I. I don’t think I have the right to come here… But I wanted my husband and son to meet him.”
“I’m sure he would be happy. That you came here as well.”
As I lower my gaze, contemplating my response, I hear my son’s voice as he offers his prayers.
My son opens his eyes and speaks towards the gravestone.
“Grandpa, I heard about what my mother did to you. I also read Ito-san’s book. Despite being my mother, I couldn’t believe she could do something so cruel. I understand the feeling of not being able to forgive my mother and grandmother, at least to some extent.”
My son’s words hit me deeply, and I hold back tears. I don’t have the right to cry in front of my father.
“I can’t say ‘I forgive you’… But my mother, who told me that story, showed me the letter from you too. She quietly cried while watching me read it. I saw my mother cry for the first time… I believe she will continue to suffer, now and in the future.”
Ito-san also listens with an indescribable expression on his face.
“Grandpa, you wrote in the letter that you couldn’t forgive them, but at the same time, you apologized for leaving my mother entirely to my grandmother and hoped that your wound would make my mother a kind person. I believe it has happened that way… I just wanted to convey that.”
After saying this, my son bows deeply towards the gravestone.
“I’ll come again. Next time, I’ll bring Dad who couldn’t come today.”
My son says with a smile and walks away from the grave. I also bow my head to the grave and leave the place.
“I’m glad, Saegusa-san.”
Ito-san’s gentle voice, speaking to my father, sees us off.