Sunday, October 18, 2009


Reality is a dream, your dream at night is reality", Rampo

While I like Edogawa Rampo's stories, I really need a lot of time to read his stories. I haven't really read many pre-war stories so I don't know whether this is a general thing or not, but the usage of kanji in Edogawa's work is very aggrevating at times, with of course many pre-war kanji and strange ways to write words from a modern point of view.

So while I actually wanted to translate The Murder Case of D-Hill, the first Japanese locked room mystery, I've put that plan on hold for the time being and instead did the simpler, short One Person, Two Identities. Which is an OK (non-detective) short story of Edogawa, but what is more interesting is how the theme of one person, two identities plays a big part in Edogawa's stories. People taking on other identities, people taking on other people's identities, blurring lines between reality and dream, no knowing anymore what is the original, it's a theme I enjoy very much in Edogawa's work. Silver actually makes an interesting point in Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowings and Japanese Crime Literature when he mentions how Edogawa's work can be read as stories that were both emulating the Western model, as well as atempts to try to move away from them, as Edogawa might have been afraid to forever remain nothing but 'an impersonator', never to be an original himself. But of course, who is to tell what original is in this world, what seperates the daydream of reality and when Morpheus' world ends ?


One person, two identities (Hitori Futayaku)
Author: Edogawa Rampo

You really cannot to tell what man will do when he is bored. Amongst my friends, there was a man called T. He was what you'd call the stereotypical jobless idler. He didn't have that much money, but at least he could eat his three meals a day. He was the sort of man who busied himself with the piano, listening to the gramophone, going out to dance and to theater performances, the movies and the red light district. But unfortunately, this man had a wife. To think a man like him had a wife, it's almost a joke. It really should be called bad fortune. Really. It was not that he hated her, but T certainly wasn't satisfied with just his wife. He got around a lot, challenging the boundaries of his marriage*. Of course, his wife burned with jealousy. That in turn gave T a slightly strange thrill he wouldn't want to miss. T's wife was actually a beauty wasted on someone as T. Not satisfied with his wife, T also went to the prostitutes in the neighbourhood, but it was all out of boredom. It was not as he had too much energy, nor was he looking for love. He was just bored. Fooling around with one woman after another, he would experience all kinds of different sensations. Going on like this, it would be strange if he didn't make some new exciting discovery. This was roughly the thinking process behind the behaviour of T.

Well, this is the story of T who started something strange. It is truly bizarre. His playing around having come to this, his games started to get even more unbelievable. I suspect everybody feels this, but if you would peek on your own wife getting intimate with another man, a secret lover, what a strange feeling must that be.... no, of course, it would be unbearable if you really were cheated on, but sometimes T would just curiously think about it. Consider it a way to block off the envy of his wife for his debauchery. So if you ask what he did, well, one night, he appeared in clothes he had prepared beforehand, changing every piece of clothing on him, even wore a small fake mustache beneath his nose, in other words, he appeared in a simple disguise. And he concealed a silver cigarette case in his pocket, with some random initials ingraved into it, nothing to do with his own name and went back home as if nothing was the matter.

His wife really thought that T had been up all night somewhere again as always and that he finally came back. Yes, it's really true, she didn't notice the disguise. And it's not unbelievable, considering she had been looking at him with her eyes drowzy from staying awake waiting for him. And T himself had made his own preparations, having chosen his new clothes to vaguely resemble like clothes he had and carefully hiding his mustache with either his hand or handkerchief and in the end, this eccentric plan of T succeeded completely. And in bed, you know, they had the custom of switching off the lights when going to sleep, so in the darkness T finally loosened his grip on his mustache. And of course, the sudden touch of those hairs surprised his wife.
For his wife to shriek rather cute, well, it's to be expected, right. And then came the most difficult part for T. Having confirmed his wife knew of the existence of the mustache, he quickly turned around and not letting his mustache touch her wife again, he pulled the futon over and made the noises of snoring. If his wife had tried to scrutinize him carefully then, T's plan would have been completely ruined. He was utterly excited as he made snoring sounds,. But his wife, unexpectedly easygoing, probably thought she had just imagined the mustache and remained like she was. After waiting a while, a soft snoring could be heard. It was finally over.

And then T, after having let enough time pass for his wife to get into a deep sleep, he got out of bed, quickly changed his clothes, leaving only the earlier mentioned cigarrete case behind besides the bed and went out of the house. Not through the entrance, but by climbing across the wall. And that time, no cars were running and ploddingly, he arrived at his regular teahouse, about one kilometer away from his house. He was an eccentric man.

And then the next morning. Waking up and seeing her husband, whom she was sure had been sleeping with her, was missing, the wife was surprised. She searched around the house, but he was not home. Her husband being a late riser, he surely wouldn't have gotten up so early and while thinking this was so strange, she suddenly discovered the cigarette case besides the bed. Something she had never seen before. It was completely different from the one her husband used. When she he picked it up she saw some initials she had never seen before on the case. The cigarettes inside the case were different from the ones her husband's regular brand. She then thought her husband might have mistakenly taken it, but she still couldn't really get her mind off the mystery. She remembered what happened the night before, the incident with the mustache. How she worried she must have been!

That morning, T came back home, trying to look like he was sorry for staying out the whole night. Of course, he wore the same clothes he had on him when he left the house yesterday and he had also removed his mustache. Normally, she wouldn't just let him get inside like that, but today wasn't the day for that. She was feverishly worrying. In a strange and completely silent procession, T went to the living room, with his wife following with a pale face. After a while, his wife nervously asked him.
"Did you pick this cigarette case up and bring it back with you?"
I don't have to tell you that she was talking about that cigarette case she found of course.
"No, I didn't. But what is that?" answered T feigning ignorance.
"But...," she tried again, "Didn't you bring it back yesterday night?"
"Hmm," he said again innocently, "But I have my cigarette case right here. And did I come back here yesterday night?"
The tension heightened. With that one sentence, she was taken completely aback. And then, like a rakugo performer, she started talking about all kinds of things and after a bit of asking questions and answering, she finally told him everything about what happened yesterday. T showed a surprised face, saying she was talking nonsense. He was yesterday night at the XX, drinking all night with someone and if she'd asked the person, she'd find out it was true, so in other words, he had what you'd call an alibi in detective novels. He had of course arranged this beforehand. Hm, whether I was the one providing the alibi? No, no!

"Didn't you just see it all in your dreams? No, it can't be a dream. The proof for it not being a dream, is that cigarette case. I've read something about soul separations, where one person splits up in two and can be at two different places doing different things in some old books, somewhat like a ghost story, but... are you sure didn't bring a man back home yourself?" he said threatening, but for T, this was an unbelievable delight.

Anyway, that day ended on an undecided note. Of course, this was not the end of it. T was planning to do this time after time. The second time, he worried a bit. Because his wife learned it the hard way already, if he went in a simple disguise again, his wife might see through it. So when he got back home this time, he wasn't in disguise, nor did he had the mustache and so after they switched off the lights and got in bed, he waited till his wife fell asleep and just when she was drifting between reality and dreams, right then, he let her feel the hairs of the mustache again and after seeing her fall into a deep sleep, he left behind a handkerchief, once again with those initials and left the house, with those preparations, why wouldn't it succeed a second time?

The next morning, things happened like the time before, the only difference being the face of his wife being even more pale and T acting even more jealous. And with a third, fourth time following, T's acting improved more and more. For his wife, the man with the cigarette case and the handkerchief with the initials had become a real living being. But at that moment, something strange happened. You see, until now, this story is nothing more than just a funny story, but it is becoming a bit more serious from now on. You'll have to see it as a story that makes you think about how man's heart is unreliable and something mysterious.

The first change came from his wife's side. I guess you can't understand women in real life, but this woman, who was known as a good faithful wife, as she spent more nights with the disguised T, she clearly started to show signs she liked the unknown man. The psychology behind is somewhat complex, but there are many examples to be found in the books of yore. Those stories of women spending every night with unknown men, to her, this must have been like one of those stories. And she also started to hide the belongings the disguised T left behind every time from her husband T. And even more, while recognizing him as another person than her own husband T, she started to whisper sinful words against the disguised T.
"Who are you? Where did you come from? You who I don't know, I don't understand a bit why you would come visit me. But I really can't forget the kindness you pay me with this. Nights where you don't visit me, make me feel so lonely. When will you come again?"

And hearing this change of heart (though it is kind of strange to call it this) of his wife, the feelings of T were sure to have taken on an unimaginable form. On one hand, this meant T's original plan had succeeded completely. So they had gotten even on his own debauchery by her own indiscretion. There was no need to feel inferior to his wife anymore. If he stuck to his plan, he could just stop this strange game and bury the disguised him and let the other man disappear forever. As he didn't exist in the first place, surely, no harm would be done, T thought. But actually, his heart had fallen in the greatest disorder, something he hadn't foreseen. Because even though the other man was a product of his imagination, the horrible thought that his wife has started to love someone besides himself had hit him. While he had only acted jealous at first, now those emotions had turned into real jealousy. But could you call these feelings jealousy? Because there was no other man. Who should he be jealous of? It certainly wasn't that he had allowed someone else take his wife. In other words, his rival in life and love was none other than himself. Having come to this conclusion, the wife he used to think nothing special about, became the one thing he couldn't help thinking about. Whenever he thought she would be stolen from him (and to be correct, by himself), he got extremely frustrated. His wife had given herself up to some phantom. Aah, right now, she is thinking of another man. Thinking about this was just durable.

T had done something he couldn't turn back anymore. He had fallen in his own trap. At this stage not even stopping with his disguise would help anymore. Between husband and wife, a gap had already grown. At times, his wife would get depressed. She probably was thinking about the unknown man, not able to forget him. But at the same time, if he thought how the man who was so important to her, was in fact himself, then he would get happy again.

He had thought about getting clean about everything with her, but somehow, he didn't really want to do that. For one, his childish act was sort of emberassing, and for another, and this was actually his biggest reason: T just couldn't forget the sensation of the pleasure he got from this secret love affair, never before had he experienced something like this. He felt like he finally experienced true love. He couldn't believe his wife, who to the old T was nothing more than just an ordinary woman, could have so much passion within the depths of her heart. T was completely surprised. And this became clear with every time they had their secret meetings. At this point, how can we call it false anymore?

But to continue with this double life, it was not only troublesome, he was afraid his wife was going to find out. Till now he had always visited her in the middle of the night, meeting her with dimmed lights or just in the darkness and he had always prepared an alibi for the day after, so he was safe, but he could not continue with these strange meetings forever. And there were only three options left. The first was to let the fictional man die, the second was to confess everything and the third option, it is a really strange one, was to give up the man T who his wife didn't love anymore, who had no function anymore in this world and to completely transform in the fictional man. And as I already mentioned, having finally found something like a true love by posing as the fictional man with his wife, T just couldn't go for the first or second option. I think it was a very difficult choice, but in the end, he decided to take the third option. In other words, person A takes on the identities of both A and B, and afterwards gives up the original A and changes completely into the other person B. Creating a person who did not exist before.

Having decided this, T first said he was going on a trip, leaving the home for around one month, while in the meantime, he tried to change his facial features as much as possible. He changed his hairstyle, grew a mustouche, put on glasses, underwent surgery by a doctor to change his single eyelids to double eyelids and put a small scar on his forehead. After he had let his hair grow, he went all the way to Kyushu and sent his wife a divorce letter. His wife was perplexed. She had no family members whom she could consult. Luckily, her husband had left behind a large amount of money. She didn't feel disadvantaged regarding money, but she couldn't just stay still like that forever. If only that man would come for her. She surely was thinking about that. Right around that time, T, who had finished all his preparations to become the fictional man, came back and at first, his wife insisted he was T, but when a friend of T came and he said he didn't think so (T had asked him this favor beforehand) and the identity of the fictional man became clear (T had prepared this beforehand too), finally, everyone thought he was a totally different person. Nobody would be fooled if you tried this for some sinister reason, but apart for T's feelings, he didn't really have a motive for this and nobody in their right mind would have thought about this all. It's no wonder his wife was fooled so easily.

Not long after this, they changed addresses and started to live together. Of course, his name was not T anymore. Thanks to that, T's old friends stopped visiting them. It seems that afterwards, T didn't go fooling around anymore. And this comedious play has a happy end, with word on the street having that the two keep getting along perfectly. There are truly strange people in this world.

By the way, there is a bit more to this story. This happened some days ago, at a certain place, when I suddenly came across the man who used to be T. When I saw him, he was accompanied by his wife. Thinking it would be bad to talk to him, I pretended I didn't see them and tried to pass in front of them, but then T suddenly called out my name.
"You really don't need to be so considerate."
Compared to the old T, this T's voice was much more livelier. We sat down in some chairs there and talked for the first time in a long time.
"You know, she knew everything of what was going on. I, who thought had deceived her competely, I was the one who was completely deceived. She knew right from the start it was all just a prank of mine. But she said that because no harm was done and as long as the house would get more happier, they wouldn't have to stop this and pretended to be deceived. I really think she played me around just too well. Haha... Women really are like devils, are they not?"
Hearing this, T's wife, who was beautiful as ever and sitting next to her husband, laughed rather emberassed. From the start, I had wondered time after time whether this wasn't the case, so I wasn't that surprised, but T was boasting about this, telling it time after time, showing his surprise. The teacher did get wonderfully along now with his wife. In my mind, I gave the two my blessings.

*The word used here is 箸まめ (
hashimame). 箸 (hashi) are chopsticks. It is thought that the origin of the word hashi derives from the word hashiwatari (crossing the bridge), as chopsticks form the bridge between food and the mouth. Hashimame here symbolizes the bridge between man and woman, that is to say, marriage.

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