All original artwork by Tania Vicedo (instagram, website — and thanks!)

A Window to the Future

Kiyoko worked as a clairvoyant by phone. I knew this because I saw her face on a billboard at Shimokitazawa station, but at first I didn’t recognize it; I simply stared at it in the evenings while waiting for a train heading to Shibuya.

The sign said her name was “Ayami.”

For days, her face was like a song stuck in my head, the title hidden in a dusty drawer of an old room somewhere in the far reaches of my mind.

When I finally did remember who she was, I took a photo of the billboard and spent nights just staring at it, lying in bed in the darkness of my little apartment, waiting for the slumber train to arrive.

But over the course of that week, the train was consistently late.


When I finally called Kiyoko, I was sitting by the window, listening to a lazy buzz of traffic and commuters outside. I told the phone operator I wanted to speak to Ayami, and after a short time on hold, she answered.

“Hello?”

“Uh, hey,” I said. “It’s me.”

“I know.”


Surprisingly, Kiyoko didn’t say anything about my future that night. We navigated the awkward space between us with nervous laughter and slight pokes at the past, like looking for safe places to stand on floorboards that had grown fragile with age.

I’m not sure why I asked her out for coffee at the end of that call, and I’m not sure why she said yes. It had been twelve years since we last met, and the circumstance of our last meeting did not make for fond memories.

But perhaps, when your list of acquaintances gets low enough, you simply accept what rests at the bottom of the barrel.

Loneliness is a funny thing like that.

Perhaps love, too.


“Why did you use a fake credit card to call?” Kiyoko asked.

“It wasn’t fake,” I said. “It was a friend’s.“

“Then why did you use a friend’s credit card?”

I shrugged.

“Because I don’t have any money.”

Kiyoko laughed.

“Maybe you could get into clairvoyance,” she said, “you have a nice enough voice, and the money is good if you get a few regular clients.”

“But I can’t see the future.”

“It’s not a necessity,” Kiyoko said. “Most people take the training seminars and the persuasion courses, and they seem to do just fine.”

“Is that what you did? What you do?”

Kiyoko shook her head.

“I see it,” she said, “the future, I mean. I just elect not to share it most of the time.”


Kiyoko and I had dated for a while during university. We met by chance in a small literature class, and one day got to talking. There was something about the depth of her eyes and the shape of her body, and the way she made conversation easy. She was happy to listen, spoke with a wisdom I couldn’t put my finger on, and always knew the word I was looking for when I couldn’t find it myself.

I thought I was in love with her, so I took her out to dinner and proposed.

“I want to get married,” I said. “I want you to be my wife.”

But Kiyoko shook her head.

“You don’t want to get married,” she said. “You want to get Saeko out of your head and you think this will help. It won’t. You’ll meet her again because you can’t help yourself, and you’ll do something very, very stupid.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was at first shocked and stupified, then quickly indignant and infuriated. I left Kiyoko at the restaurant, and the next day invited Saeko out for drinks.

And that night, I drank until I did something very, very stupid.

The following day, reeling from a hangover in a bed I didn’t recognize, I realized I’d never once mentioned Saeko to Kiyoko. I stared at lazy flower curtains blowing in the breeze, and felt Saeko’s body beside me, and wondered how Kiyoko knew.

I thought about asking, but the chance never came up.

I did not see Kiyoko again.


“Not long after I proposed to you,” I said “Saeko and I broke up.”

Kiyoko sipped at her coffee and nodded.

“I know,” she said.

“You know?”

“I saw it the day we last met.” Kiyoko shrugged. “You were looking for another Saeko in me, and she was looking for another Kei in you. She wasn’t going to find him, but she needed to understand it for herself. That happens a lot.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” I said. “If you knew, why didn’t you tell me?”

Kiyoko shrugged.

“What was there to say? If I’d said something, would you have listened?”

I thought about this for a time.

“You still should have told me,” I said.


Kiyoko said it started when her mother asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and she knew as soon as she answered that she would end up with something entirely different.

“I couldn’t exactly see the future then,” she said, “but sometimes I could feel it.”

At first it was the little things, Kiyoko said, but over time they became bigger, and they became clearer. They were like dreams, she said. A pet rabbit escaping its cage, a friend’s mother bringing over fruit, a car crash at school, a bullied boy bringing a knife to the classroom.

Her father kissing a woman who was not her mother.

Sometimes the dreams made Kiyoko happy, but just as often she wished they stayed dreams.

But however she felt about them, she was unable to stop them, so in time they simply became a part of everyday life.


Meeting Kiyoko for coffee was like finding pieces of a puzzle long unfinished. It felt like putting some of those pieces in place, and realizing we had been creating something beautiful, all that time ago.

I suppose this is why, just a few days later, I invited her out for drinks.


The day before we met again, I found myself thinking back on university; a collection of memories I had mostly locked away behind doors I thought I wouldn’t need to open again.

But even in the mess of broken hearts, drink, and failed classes, I had enjoyed the ease and flow of my time with Kiyoko. We had crafted a small collection of moments that lingered like the nostalgic taste of a favorite dessert.

It was the closest I had ever felt to being in love.

I thought of how Kiyoko regularly forecasted the weather, and how she knew when I was going to be late. I thought of how she knew the good days to meet me, and the good days to avoid me, and the way she never lost a game of rock-paper-scissors.

I wondered why I hadn’t seen it then, and why I hadn’t noticed.

But I guess sometimes you just don’t see what you’re not looking for.


Kiyoko took me to a small bar in Shimokitazawa where an old woman poured flat gin tonics and played a selection of old jazz.

Our drinks that night laid bricks on a path from the past, which we walked until we were firmly in the present, sharing stories of our lives and all the things that were wrong with them.

Drink after drink and story after story, all of it peppered with laughter and the occasional silence, as we rode on waves of jazz from old, crackling speakers.

“I’ve missed this,” Kiyoko said.

“Missed what?”

“Living in the present,” she said. “Forgetting the future for a time.”

“For a time?” I said.

Kiyoko winked.

“The future’s never too far away,” she said. “And it’s always closer than you think.”


The following day, reeling from a hangover in a bed I didn’t recognize, I turned to find Kiyoko lying next to me.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Did you know that was going to happen?” I asked.

“I did.”

“So… you knew I was going to fall asleep in the middle of it?”

Kiyoko nodded.

“Then why didn’t you say something?” I asked.

Kiyoko tilted her head for a moment.

“What was there to say? If I’d said something, would you have listened?”

I stared up at the ceiling for a time.

“You still should have told me,” I said.

Kiyoko laughed.


That afternoon, Kiyoko told me she had decided to move to the city when her mother became too much to bear.

“She had a good heart,” Kiyoko said, “but no heart to change.”

She said it was the accumulation of years of promises — I can change, it’ll be different, I’ll stop, this is the last time — and knowing all the while they were broken from the start.

“The most painful part,” Kiyoko said, “was that right up until the end — right up until I left — I had always wanted to believe her.”

I watched as Kiyoko stared out the window. I wondered what memories played out before her eyes in that moment, and what futures stretched out into the distance.

“It is a strange thing,” Kiyoko said eventually, “to want so badly for something that will never be true.”


Kiyoko and I met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and drank until morning.

Kiyoko drank because the future blurred when she did, and she enjoyed the way it weaved from her sight just long enough to leave her with a pleasant lack of vision, and an indulgent mist of ignorance.

It was funny to think that I drank for exactly the same reasons, and for exactly the same effect.

And even though one of us could see the future, and one of us could not, in those moments together we wanted exactly the same thing.

To avoid it.


Kiyoko sometimes compared seeing the future to watching a colored fan of ever-changing paths open from the people she met. She said when she talked to someone, the paths interwove, coalesced, and faded, until only one or two remained, stretching into the future, and usually ending in the same place anyway.

“But we don’t know what to do with the future when we have it in our hands,” Kiyoko said. “We don’t know how to handle it, or what to make of it, so even when we have it we tend to ignore it.”

“Can’t you tell people to change?” I asked. “Won’t they make the right decision if you tell them?”

Kiyoko sipped at her gin tonic.

“Did you?”

I replied only with a wry smile.

“Some people listen,” Kiyoko said. “Sometimes. But this is a rarity. I have my cat because I saved it, but I still know the day it dies, no matter what choices I make. I know the weather the day she goes, and I know that I will not be able to stop the tears, even though I know when they come, and how long they last for.”

Kiyoko said she gave up on people because they did not listen. She said she didn’t want to watch another person walk into an accident, or another illness play out before it formed, or another relationship crumble before her eyes.

And so she closed herself off to the people she had called friends, and lived a life of her own, on her own, where the futures that branched from the people she met were merely advance screenings of movies she wasn’t interested in seeing anyway.

This was how she survived.


We drank, and we talked, and we stumbled and we slept, and we avoided the future for as long as we could, but it was always there, and always closer than we thought.

I saw it rear its head in the glances Kiyoko shot my way, and how stray comments seemed to linger in the air with the weight of the days ahead. I saw it flash across her eyes when a moment played out exactly as she thought, or when I ignored my phone and she knew who was calling.

In those moments, as I leaned away from my inevitable future, I saw it like a beautiful, fragile vase which I held over the edge of a building.

The question was never whether I would let go.

The question was always when.


And one day, the vase dropped.

“You want to know, don’t you?” Kiyoko asked.

“Know what?”

“You want to know if she’s cheating on you, or if she will.”

“Who?”

Kiyoko shook her head.

“You know I know who,” she said.

I stared at the whiskey glass on the counter.

“Look,” I said, “Hitoka is the closest I’ve ever been to anything resembling a serious relationship. We might get married. We might have kids. We might settle down. I just…”

Kiyoko nodded.

“You just don’t know if you want the truth getting in the way of your future.”

“Will you just tell me?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because people don’t want to know the future,” Kiyoko said. “Not in any real sense, and not with any real consequences. You’re just like everyone else; you won’t know what you really want until it’s too late. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen every variation of it in every conversation we’ve had. Every drink. Every kiss. Every night in bed. I’ve seen all the options, and you’ll always choose the wrong one until the right one isn’t there anymore.”

“Then why don’t you just tell me? Why don’t you just tell me what the right decision is?” I said.

But Kiyoko shook her head.

“Because whenever I tell you, you don’t believe me,” she said. “You always have to see it for yourself.”


And of course, Kiyoko was right. Hitoka did eventually cheat on me.

She was right about how it happened, too; how everything I did to stop Hitoka only pushed her further into the arms of the other man. How my failed pleading lead to accusations, and how the accusations brought up dissatisfactions I had never known, and truths I had not wanted to hear.

Kiyoko had told me what it would feel like; how part of it was like watching a car crash in slow motion, and part of it was like punching yourself in the face, and the rest of it was like breaking your own heart.

And in this, too, she had been right.


A few nights later, I sat by the window and listened to a lazy buzz of traffic and commuters outside. I told the phone operator I wanted to speak to Ayami, and after a short time on hold, she answered.

“Hello?”

“Uh, hey,” I said. “It’s me. Again.”

“I know.”


We were four drinks deep when I finally asked.

“I have a question,” I said.

“Hm?”

“You knew, didn’t you? From the very start, you knew about Hitoka.”

“I did.”

“So why let it play out?” I asked. “Why let this happen? Why let us happen?”

Kiyoko thought for a time.

“Whenever we went out, you knew that a hangover was coming,” she said. “But did that ever stop you drinking?”

I waited for her to continue.

“I did it because it was fun,” Kiyoko said. “I did it because you’re fun, and I missed what we had, and this was a hangover I welcomed. You’ve always lived in the present, and you’ve never wanted to look to the future, and I’ve always loved that about you, just as much as I’ve hated it. You help me forget; you always have.”

I saw my life then, stretching out like a pathway paved with bad decisions and regret, and all of it starting with a stupid boy who didn’t know any better asking a girl who could see the future to marry him.

“But there was something else, too,” I said. “What was it?”

Kiyoko looked at her drink for a time.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You were never going to know what you really wanted until you couldn’t have it anymore,” she said. “This was the only way for you to see it for yourself.”

The words were like putting the last puzzle pieces in place, and looking at the picture of the beautiful, tragic disaster I had built; the picture of heartbreak I was destined to put together.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” I said. “Why didn’t you just say something?”

Kiyoko sipped at her gin tonic, and placed it back on the counter.

“This will sound silly coming from someone who can see the future,” she said, “but right up until the end — right up until now — I had always wanted to believe in you,” she said.


When Kiyoko left that night, I knew it was the last time I would ever see her, and the last time I would ever know true love.

As I made the slow walk to the train station in the early hours of the following morning, I realized that sometimes, in some lives, you simply don’t deserve the thing you love the most. I thought about the future I had tried to avoid, and the future I had tried to run from, and I wondered if I would have done things differently had I known what was coming.

But I couldn’t say either way.

I thought of Kiyoko at the bar, and at the cafe, and in bed; of the glances she shot my way, the stray comments that lingered in the air with the weight of the days ahead, and the flash across her face when a moment played out exactly as expected.

I thought of the look in her eyes — of the hope, and the despair, and the defeat — and I wondered why I hadn’t seen it, or why I hadn’t noticed.

But I guess sometimes you just don’t see what you’re not looking for.

— -

Music
(mr. hong — bittersweet chocolate)

All original artwork by Tania Vicedo (instagram, website — and thanks!)

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Thanks for reading!
— Hengtee

Hengtee Lim (Snippets)

Written by

Fragments of the everyday in Tokyo, as written by Hengtee Lim.

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