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Sea of Trees – Sayandeep Paul

“Okay then, 3:30PM it is”, Naoko agreed. There was a subtle inward curl on the far left side of her lips, the kind she used to have when she had to accede without absolute devotion. “I will be okay with some other time as well. I mean, I’m flexible that way.”, I assured. But Naoko made no attempt to suggest a new time and hence, 3:30PM was finalised. Soon after, the 15.6” window opening up into her world went dark.

The clock on my bedroom wall showed 9:45PM. It was Saturday and for me, weekends meant dinner from outside. I cooked during the weekdays though. It was getting late, not late in terms of my time, but this part of the town hardly had any diners open past 10:00PM. As I hurried to put on my trousers, I couldn’t resist thinking of Naoko. Her soft, innocent smile, her dreamy eyes and her long, smooth neck. I knew her for around two months or so; we had met online. In person, we had met thrice after that and although none of them could be called a “date” in the strictest sense of the term, we had our moments. Her distinctive jawline became even more prominent when she had a wide smile on her face, making her neck seem all too fragile. Naoko made me feel weak in the knees and I couldn’t wait to strangle her. 

I lived in Otsuki, comfortably tucked in a rented apartment, perfectly set up for a bachelor. The lane on which my apartment was located, had just a liquor shop open when I stepped out of the house. “There’s a place” by Beatles playing in my ears kept me from focussing on the curses I kept muttering in my mind. I walked across the street and carried on straight ahead with no change in luck. After continuing for about twenty minutes, I hit the main road and could spot a small udon shop lit up on the opposite side. Having no time to ponder over the idea, I crossed the road, went over to the counter and placed my order, “One large bowl of udon, please” and sat down on one of their wooden chairs. 

I loved udon as a kid and was a fairly regular at the local shop. That was back in my school days; back when we had not shifted to Otsuki. I was born in Nakakoma and went to Kofu Showa High School. Back then, udon was a staple afternoon meal while heading back home. In grade eight, one afternoon, a friend of mine had come over to my place for some home assignment. I didn’t quite remember his name anymore. “Toiya or Toru…?”, I wondered. All I could gather from the heap of forgotten memories was that, he was a good friend to me. We were both on the floor, with our legs folded and our heads bent over. While working on the assignment, for some unknown reason, I happened to glance at him. One moment I was looking at him and the next, I was all over him with my little hands held tight on his smooth, soft neck. I didn’t know what I was doing but it made me feel intimate; the feeling of gripping something with my bare hands and maintaining full force despite the feeble resistance offered and the eventual sweating, pumped up my blood. My friend’s eyes were upturned and red. Hearing his faint panting sounds from his wide-opened mouth made me realise that he wasn’t partaking in this little pleasure game of mine. I let go. Whatever transpired following that day concluded with me and my mother shifting to Otsuki. I still loved udon all the same. 

The udon at that shop was one to die for. I paid my bill at the counter, came out into the road and headed back for my place. Tiredness had not yet descended upon me since weekends were usually my rest days anyway. However, I had to sleep early for I had a big day coming up; a date with Naoko. 

In my twenty-three years of uneventful existence, I had never gone out with a girl; or a guy for that matter. Tempting discussions about the sizes of girls’ breasts, how their butts twerked when they walked around or our weekly masturbation counts were common among my high school and college mates and yet, I never had any piece of information to contribute to that knowledge pool. I had looked up porn sites suggested by friends and even ventured into the exotic categories, without having ever felt anything substantially different. This wasn’t a topic one would want to discuss openly and neither did I. With the knowledge I had of my own and the experience I had with myself over the years, I was certain of my asexuality and just then, I met Naoko. She made me feel ecstatic and even after having accounted for all possible exaggerations, made me breathe faster. I couldn’t consciously relate to the normative definition of ‘love’ per se, but if anything of that sort ever existed, as was so readily portrayed across all media, Naoko and I had probably stumbled upon it.  

I reached home before midnight; the walk to dinner was always longer than the one from it, it seemed. The next morning, I woke up around 11:00AM only to find my alarm clock which had, by then, silently accepted its defeat. For the next couple of hours, I went through a guilt trip about possibly being late and was only convinced otherwise when I had to wait instead for Naoko in front of Tsuki’s café. 

Naoko was wearing a purple dress that day. Her hair looked longer than what the screen had disclosed the night before. She looked cheerful and healthy, the excitement had clearly sent colours to her cheeks. 

“I’m so sorry. I know it’s my bad. Did you have to wait for long?”, Naoko apologised. 

“Not really. I came here late myself”, I lied. 

“Yeah, right. Not like I was expecting an actual “yes” from you or anything”, she giggled. How did she come to know? 

“I guess. Should we go inside and get something? I mean, I can pass but…”, I was interrupted midway.

“I know you can but, hey, let’s get two cups of coffee now”, she suggested. 

So here we were, sitting face to face with two cups of coffee on our table. I wondered how she’d look underneath that frothy purple dress of her’s; how she’d coil up if I unzipped it right now. 

“So, I guess this is serious, right? Between…us…?”, Naoko asked with an unknown, innocent frown.

“Of course, it is”, I reconfirmed with an easy-to-bring-to-the-face smile. 

“Good. Did you get it?”

I reached for the farthest corner in my trouser’s left pocket and brought out just the tip to let her know, I did. 

“Good. Strong enough?”, she enquired.

“Well, let’s say any dosage north of eight will assure a first class trip to the afterlife!”, I asserted.

“Gosh. That bad huh.”

“Are you having double thoughts?”

“You think so?”

“Not really, no.”

“Well, it’ll probably just be you taking them anyway so…”, Naoko exclaimed.

The car I had rented for our afternoon journey arrived around 4:30PM. We promptly got in and I put on McLachlan’s “Gloomy Sunday” to set the mood for the ride.

Upto that point in life, I hadn’t come across anyone who’d understand and join me in my search for pleasure. In my private moments, I came to the realisation that inflicting suffocating pain was the only thing which fulfilled my sexual urges, or anything remotely close to that. Over time, I had to shun my desires convincing myself of being the glitch in the puzzle. Naoko made me reconsider for she was just the same; our meeting was more of a cosmic collision. It took us some time to open ourselves up to each other. However, upon realising our true feelings for one another, we wanted to cross the line with ourselves and reach our tipping points and perhaps, take a look into that unknown feeling for which we longed and yet, could never quench our thirst. A mutual strangulation till we climaxed in our pleasure bath would ideally end us both, but in reality, just one; we knew that all along and hence, the “Kill Pills” in my pocket were our back up for that unlucky survivor to tread the path that the other would have by then set out on. 

We reached the Aokigahara Jukai around 5:15PM. The woodlands, literally translating to the “Sea of Trees”, was a natural formation at the base of Mount Fuji which came into being after the volcanic lava solidified over the years. We parked the car and entered the intricate maze of intertwined roots and moist rocks washed in fading afternoon light. 

“Ki…yo…shi. Soundless”, Naoko murmered as she walked alongside me with her small but steady steps. 

“What?”

“Kiyoshi. Your name. It means soundless. Didn’t you know?”, Naoko had a scornful grin on her face.

“Of course, I did.”, I quickly defended myself.

“I see. You know, this forest, this bed of hollow, porous soil absorbs the sound all around us. It creates this overall suffocating atmosphere. In a way, it’s just like you, isn’t it?”, she chuckled.

We walked around for some time without spotting as much as a soul inside that untamed display of lush greenery. Having arrived at a fairly desolate spot, Naoko signalled me to stop. 

“Do you think it will be alright here?”, she asked coyly.

I couldn’t see any reason to think otherwise and nodded, with a smile. We glanced at each other. Without further ado, she slowly unzipped her dress just a little from the top and I unbuttoned my tshirt to allow her a better grip. Her lean, green-ish veins on her neck were ever so prominent against her thin, fair skin. The first touch was enthralling; my hands on her soft, cold and mildly pulsating neck and her’s on mine, together. Then, it began. The gradual tightening of our grips. In the beginnning, I felt a lump in my throat being pushed inside, kind of ticklish. On the other end, Naoko’s eyes were getting bigger and I could spot the red veins getting thicker. We both felt our bodies getting warm and went ahead with tightening our grips. My vision started becoming rather blue-ish with the edges of Naoko’s face and my hands smudged as one would expect to see in an amateurish painting. An intense urge to gulp in all the air around me coupled with the utter inability to do so gave birth to a sensuous blend of helplessness in me. I could make out Naoko’s mouth opening up, her jaws tightening around my hands. Her faint, slow gasping sound resulted in an upheaval inside me and I had to go on; only this time, even harder. She didn’t let me down and played her own part on my neck. By then, I had started to see multiple blurry images of her, superimposed on one another. This intoxicating pain was definitely worth dying for but then, the exhilarating thought abandoned me midway, my eyes welcomed the utter darkness in front and I hit my head on the ground. 

I woke up, violently coughing up blood, with the wet grass brushing against my nose and gazed into Naoko’s lifeless eyes staring right at me. For a moment, an archaic fear clouded my mind and I forgot why I was there. How long had I been unconscious on the ground? Was Naoko dead? I sprang up with a jolt, still dizzy in my head. I started limping over to Naoko; her pale, fair neck had distinct strangle marks, as purple as her dress. I checked her breathing only to reaffirm my conscience. What was I supposed to do? The light was starting to betray me. The pills. I still had the pills on me and yet, I didn’t want to take them. But why? Wasn’t that how we had decided our date would pan out? I looked over at her side, her eyes silently reproaching me from the other end. “No, I have to get up. I just have to get back to the car”, I tried to supersede my own instincts. While I hobbled back hastily, the agitating thoughts inside my head seemed to make my ears bleed. I begged for some human voice somewhere in that forsaken expanse and yet, the deafening soundlessness of the sea of trees tightened its grip. 

Note: The Aokigahara Jukai forest also known as the ‘Sea of Trees’ is located on the northwestern front of Japan’s Mount Fuji. It is sometimes referred to as the “Suicide Forest” in Japan with regular reported cases of suicides across the year.

Sayandeep Paul has done Master’s in Economics and currently working in Business Analytics Industry. He likes to read and write. A brilliant orator. He has profound interest and knowledge in Japanese Anime.

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