When I lived in Japan I used to go to Japanese class with this guy called Rob, who told me that after every lesson he wanted to run away. He’d go to the station to catch his train home, look at the board and think, I should just go there. Or there. No one would care if I did. He felt excitement just reading the names of the cities.
Yet every week he went his three stops, got off and went home. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, no matter how strong the urge was.
I asked him if it was just that he was bored with his job – he taught English at a high school – or missing home, but he said, no, he loved his job, and his school. The students were great, his colleagues better. He just wondered, what if? In the grand scheme of things, would it matter if he disappeared?
After we both left Japan, we stayed in touch. He wrote me an email once in a while, and I wrote one back. He moved to Vietnam to teach there, and said sometimes when he was riding his motorbike he’d feel the urge to just drive into other drivers, speed up and go head on into a truck.
I asked why, was he depressed? But he said, no, he was fine. He got even more out of the job there than when he was in Japan. He was moving up. Soon he’d be a senior teacher. And, anyway, he’d never actually do it. It was just a thought, there and then gone.
After Vietnam, he moved to Hong Kong. He got his promotion and loved every minute of it. He said it was like getting paid to do his hobby, but that sometimes when he was alone in his apartment – he lived on the 26th floor – he would go on to his balcony and feel this weird sensation, a tingle in the back of his calves, telling him to jump. He could do it. Why not? It wasn’t such a long way down, he’d be all right, and if he died it’d be over quicker than anything.
Again, I asked him if he was all right, or whether it was like the train thing in Japan or the motorbike crash thing in Vietnam. He told me yes, it was stupid. He’d never do it, but for some reason on his balcony he imagined he could jump without dying.
After that we lost touch. I got married, had kids. Keeping in touch with someone I’d gone to Japanese class with years before didn’t seem that important. If he wrote, I’d reply. If we met, I’m sure we would pick up exactly where we left off.
Then one day I was deleting old emails when I came across one of his and decided to reply to it. I thought, why not, it’d be good to hear from him, his travels, his latest weird urge.
I wrote just a few sentences, nothing more than a where are you now, and a quick personal newsflash. The response was immediate. The email could not be sent. I thought about googling him. Then I stopped. In the grand scheme of things, would it matter if I let him disappear?