by Ken Nishizaki
(Translated by Toshiya Kamei)
I don’t remember who started calling him “Starman.”
Was it Kondo who worked at the bar? Was it Shorty, a self-proclaimed drummer who quit the band after a month?
One day at an izakaya, Starman told us he’d come to Earth from another planet in a distant galaxy. Since then, he’d been known as Starman. This is his story.
Starman claimed to have supernatural powers. I don’t know exactly what they were, neither do his other acquaintances, but he said they were spectacular powers. Also, he was supposed to have a superb intellect.
His real name was Toru Shimada. Originally from somewhere in the Tohoku region, he said he’d grown up with an older brother. His brother finished third in his high school marathon. I still remember this trivial fact. The entire track team didn’t enter the race because of food poisoning.
I met Starman at the pub in Hamamatsuchō where both of us worked as cooks. We were both high school graduates.
You may not know this, but Hamamatsuchō is a unique town, perhaps because Hamamatsuchō Station connects to Narita Airport directly. Those who live in the area claim that they don’t get used to living there.
Hardly anyone actually lives in Hamamatsuchō, especially on the other side of the station. On weekends and holidays, the streets are almost deserted. You see hardly any cars, no taxis, and no passersby. The place is so empty that you’d be startled to find a single soul there. At times, monorail cars come alive and scurry through gaps between deserted skyscrapers like squirrels in a forest.
Straight-faced, Shimada told us he wasn’t an Earthling.
At the izakaya in Tamachi, pots, diced steaks, and lemon sour cocktails were lined up before us. Five of us, all male, were there: Shimada, me, two coworkers from the pub, and someone’s friend.
“Aren’t you from Tohoku, though?” I thought he was joking at first, but I went along.
“I lived on a distant planet before I was born in Tohoku,” he insisted.
“Which planet? What’s it called?”
“You Earthlings can’t pronounce it.”
“What’s it like?”
“Our science is highly advanced. At least, 1,000 years ahead of Earth,” Shimada mumbled through his half-closed lips as usual. “I have extraordinary powers.”
Shimada always referred to himself with the first person pronoun “boku,” sounding like a schoolboy. He never used the more masculine “ore” like the rest of us.
“But I won’t do anything,” he continued. “Earthlings are too weak, so it’ll be too easy for me. I’d rather not to get mixed up in any trouble.”
By this time, everyone was drunk, so no one paid attention to him.
Although everything else was a blur to them, they remembered Shimada was a bit odd and claimed to be from another planet. Someone dubbed him “Starman.”
As I said before, I don’t know who started using this nickname. Although no one called him that to his face, everyone referred to him as “Starman” when he wasn’t around.
Starman was rail-thin and a bit taller than the average. A man of few words, he never joked, which is perhaps typical of someone from Tohoku.
How can I describe his face? If I were a woman, I wouldn’t go out with him. His face reminded me of vinegared mackerel, perhaps because his shaven beard shone dark blue. His hair was thinning despite his youth.
Starman was different from anyone else. For instance, he never talked about music. Once, we entered a ramen shop, and he said, “I love this song.” It was totally unexpected. It was a song by some damn boy band. I’d never imagined he’d listen to that kind of music.
Never had I pictured Starman going out with a girl. When we talked about girls, Starman never joined us. Sakoyama, the chief cook, asked him if he was a virgin. Starman seemed to give a light nod.
Sakoyama was an insect-like man. Behind his back, everyone called him “Takoyama,” a reference to octopus. “Fetch me a cabbage,” Sakoyama would say. When one of us handed him a whole cabbage, he’d get mad, saying, “Not that one. I need a halved cabbage.”
Sakoyama frequented brothels and kept talking about prostitutes from preparation to cleanup.
Everyone hated his guts. When he didn’t talk about women, he talked about wrist watches. He was obsessed with them.
Four of us worked in a small, dirty kitchen. We spent most of our hours there. Day after day, we led a life that reeked of cold dog piss.
It wasn’t that Starman always talked about his home planet. Since the drinking party where he’d become Starman, he hadn’t brought up the subject.
One evening, we decided to go out for drinks because we had the following day off work.
At first, four of us were going out, but two of them decided at the last minute not to join us, leaving Shimada and me alone. We decided to go to an izakaya that was open until dawn.
While we were drinking, a young salaryman at the next table started arguing with us. A fairly robust man, he grabbed Shimada by the elbow.
Before we reacted, his friends did. They said, “Hey, drop it” and “You must be drunk.” They apologized to us as they left the place.
While I was thinking of what to say, Starman said in an excited tone, “I could kill him in a heartbeat.”
I remained silent, trying to figure out what he meant.
“I could squash his heart so easily.” Starman held out his hand to grab an imaginary heart in the air.
“I could have presidents and governments under my control. I could manipulate Britain’s prime minister, too.”
I thought Starman was nuts. Harmless, maybe, but certainly crazy.
Starman was peculiar. Once, I spent the night at his place. He cooked us curry. He also made us instant coffee, but he recycled the water he had used to heat up the pouch that contained the curry.
One day when I went to work, Sakoyama said, “Hey, did you know Shimada got into a car accident?” As he wasn’t gravely injured, he himself called to let Sakoyama know.
A few days later, I visited Starman at the hospital.
Most of his injuries were on the left side of his body. He was more cheerful than I’d imagined. He sat up in his hospital bed and mumbled about his home planet.
His planet had a large continent and a large ocean.
The continent had forests and the ocean had islands.
Grown-ups had no need to work.
Everyone helped to raise children.
Thanks to their highly advanced science, people enjoyed longevity. It was similar to the Roman Empire.
Starman grew up on the continent. His hometown was located among hills.
The gentle slopes of the hills looked like a sea of green plants, which swayed and roared in the wind, making his chest feel tight.
When he was a young boy, Starman walked along a dark-green path.
At the end of the path, there stood a shrine.
A priest and a priestess clad in white were waiting for Starman. They waved him to come inside the shrine.
The dark corridor of the shrine led him to a courtyard.
There stood a tree. When he came closer, he saw many fruits hanging from the tree.
“They look like oranges on Earth,” Starman explained.
“Pluck off one,” the priest said.
Starman did as he was told.
“Split it into two,” the priest said.
When he split the fruit, the juice sprouted up like a fountain. His hands got wet and cold.
He found a folded piece of paper inside the fruit.
“Let me take a look,” the priestess said.
Starman handed it to her.
“Come here,” the priest said.
In the hall, the priestess opened the paper. She glanced at it and pointed toward the ceiling.
When Starman looked up, a map of the universe was etched there.
“You’re going to that planet,” the priestess said.
“That’s your school,” the priest said, pointing his finger. “You’ll need to learn about love.”
His nonsense was more farfetched than usual perhaps because of the accident.
Starman used the word “beautiful” while he talked about his home planet. He usually didn’t use the word. It wasn’t part of his vocabulary. I had a hard time keeping a straight face. I couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle. But Starman didn’t notice it. Perhaps he’d gotten the idea for his life story from a movie or a TV show.
A week later, I tried to visit him again with a manga magazine as a gift, but he’d died from a complication. Maybe he’d gone back to his home planet. I wrote down his story because hardly anyone remembers him. This is Starman’s record.
Ken Nishizaki is a writer, editor, and translator based in Tokyo. An accomplished musician, he runs the indie label dog and me records. In 2002, he made his literary debut with Sekai no hate no niwa, which won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award. His most recent books include A History of Rock Music (2019) and Michi no chorui ga yattekuru made (2020). He has translated diverse writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Virginia Woolf.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Samovar, and elsewhere.