It was nine o'clock in the evening. As usual, my cell phone rang with a number instead of a contact name on the screen, but I still tapped the answer button without hesitation.
The voice of a man who sounded a lot younger than me reached my ears.
It all started after I received a wrong-number call from him. When I told him I had just changed my number, he admitted in a self-deprecating tone that the number belonged to a girl he had dated a long time ago. I listened to him talk about her for a while. I didn't feel sorry for him, but his voice was pleasing to my ears, especially as he moved on to other mundane topics.
After that, I heard from him every now and then. Our conversations were more enjoyable than expected from discussions with a stranger, and I had come to look forward to chatting away about nothing in particular. At first we talked several times a month. Then our chats began to take place once a week and soon became a daily occurrence.
We didn't tell each other our names or any other personal information. We never added each other's numbers to our address books. That was a tacit understanding between us.
"I'm sorry, but I may not be able to call you anymore," he confessed to me one day. I was more shocked than I had expected to be, even though I was well aware that this relationship would end someday.
"I'm going away," he added.
"So far away that I can't talk to you anymore."
"Is that so?" I said. "Take care of yourself."
"Yeah, you too."
I really missed hearing his voice. At around nine in the evening, I unconsciously glanced at my cell phone. But it didn't ring anymore. No matter how long I waited, I would never hear from him.
I happened to come across an ad for a video game whose objective was to foster love born out of a wrong-number call. Although it seemed trite, I ordered it.
I played the protagonist who called a wrong number. I continued playing, not knowing who was on the other side of the line. What did you do today? What did you eat? I kept up a frivolous conversation. Even so, I opened the game screen almost every day.
Several days later I found out that the game had gone viral. And then I learned for the first time that the game's scenario writer had died just before its release. Also, it came to my knowledge that once you completed the game you could unlock a bonus scenario in which you would receive a wrong-number call.
Now I put great effort into finishing the game. I learned the other person's name, his age, his profession, the number of girls he had dated, his family makeup, and his close friends, among other things.
Then finally, I won the heart of the man on the other end.
The monitor flashed the message "Congratulations!"
At that precise moment, my cell phone rang. It was my own phone hooked up to the charger, not the one on the computer screen. An unregistered number appeared on my phone. But I tapped the answer button without hesitation.
It was nine o'clock in the evening.
"Is that you?"
"Yes. Thank you for finding me."
I will never see his face, but he's my lover. He happens to share the same name with the deceased scenario writer. Every day I wait eagerly for our telephonic rendezvous, the only time we can be together.
Natsumi Tanaka is a writer living in Kyoto, Japan. Her short stories have appeared in journals such as Anima Solaris, Kotori no kyuden, Outline, and Tanpen. She is the author of the short story collection Yumemiru ningyo no okoku (2017). Translations of her short stories have appeared in Fanzine, The Junction, Soft Cartel, and The William and Mary Review.
Translator: Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations of Latin American literature include My Father Thinks I’m a Fakir by Claudia Apablaza, South Exit by Carlos Bortoni, and Silent Herons by Selfa Chew.