Short Fiction: No More Washing Windows

    After twenty-two years washing some of the highest windows in the world, Hiroto Genji lost his job. Never again would he strap on his harness and descend from atop the Midtown Tower. Never again would he dangle like a spider on a strand of web, two hundred and fifty metres above Tokyo. Never again would he feel the satisfying slide of a squeegee across a fiftieth-storey office window. Those days were over.

    He took it quietly, said no more than was required. He had his pride. And he knew arguing was no use. Internal politics had rotted the high-rise window washing industry. Hiroto had said the wrong thing to the wrong person too many times, and they were looking for any excuse to get rid of him. He could see it in Mr Yamomoto’s face, the glee with which he uttered the words, “You have disgraced this company.” Hiroto handed in his company I.D. badge and parking permit, took his lunchbox and his favourite squeegee and left the building.

    His wife was a mess. What would her friends think of her now that her husband was unemployed? Hiroto could only smile. Fired from his job of twenty-two years, and that was her biggest concern? What her friends thought? He sat and sipped his tea and weathered the onslaught. His wife was a creative genius when it came to hypothetical worst-case scenarios. “Suppose I get sick?” she cried, pacing the room and wringing her hands. “We only have a small amount of savings. That won’t last long. I’ll have to find work, in a restaurant or somewhere. But I doubt they’d hire someone my age, especially if I do get sick. Oh, how could you be so foolish? We’ll have to sell the house.” She gasped and slapped her hand to her chest. “The children will abandon us. They will be ashamed of us. Oh Hiroto, why on earth did you do it? That’s what I don’t understand.”

“Why?” Hiroto hated that question. Nobody wanted to know why. That was just something people said whenever they disapproved of his actions. He would like to ask his wife, “Why?” and see if she could answer. Why did she buy a new handbag when she already has two? Why did she continue to socialise with her friend Sakiko, when she always complained what a bad friend she was? Why did she spend money on lottery tickets, yet insist on buying the cheapest coffee? Why did she always hold his hand in public, but never at home? “Why?” was not as simple a question as people thought. Who can answer why? Hiroto folded his arms and kept silent. Finally, his wife shook her head, threw her hands in the air, then went into the bedroom and sobbed loud enough for him to hear.

    Why? What a question. Hiroto sighed and grumbled quietly in thought. Why? For so many reasons, that’s why. For a practical joke. For a dare. Just to see if he could. Boredom. To have an interesting story to tell. Because he felt like it. Because an impulsive train of reasoning led him to believe it was a good idea at the time. Does that cover it? Isn’t that why anybody does anything? “Why?” Huh. Nobody really cares why.

    Later, his wife packed a bag and left to go stay with her sister for a few days. That happened at least three times a year. After she left, police came to question Hiroto. You can’t drop a microwave from the top of a skyscraper and have it smash on the pavement within metres of pedestrians without attracting some police curiosity. And what did they ask him? “Why?” Why did he tape a microwave to his head like a helmet before abseiling down the side of the building to clean windows? What did he think was going to happen? Why a microwave? Why did he not at least secure the microwave with something stronger than sticky tape? Hiroto thought for a minute or two, and then told the police that some stressful personal issues had perhaps caused his dangerous behaviour. That was true enough, Hiroto told himself. Everyone has personal issues, don’t they? He just wanted the police to go away.


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