“The Night they Played Hide and Seek” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (かくれんぼをした夜), 1984
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: Late at night in a school, eight boys play hide and seek, a game which they had been told to be dangerous at night but the thrill of the seek in such an environment at such a time is too much of a draw. Years later, seven of the now-old boys–Tetsu, Gen, and Matsu among them–reminisce about that night, a conversation which stirs up nostalgia. After Matsu dies, the remaining two–Tetsu and Gen–remember one additional detail about that night in the school: a boy named Fukuda who didn’t attend the reunion; actually, they couldn’t remember him ever after that night of hide and seek, which starts them wondering: Is he still playing?
Analysis: The game of hide and seek is beautiful in its black-and-white simplicity: one seeks while others hide; there are only two sides. Life, of course, never exhibits this characteristic, this naive idea that something–anything–can be boiled down to A and B–only A and B. Serendipity is much underrated: unexpectedly finding that which was not sought.
Tetsu had been hiding in the library on that fateful evening at school when he came across a book about the cosmos that he had never known about even though he had read every book in the library; thus, without seeking, his future was set to become a physicist, during which his purposeful quest for knowledge is fulfilled. Another time, much later, Gen reads the newspaper and discovers by chance the passing of Matsu, another serendipitous event that compels Gen and Tetsu to become closer.
It’s not only fact that falls under serendipity, but also emotion. You go to a funeral almost seeking sadness just as much as going to work to seek stress–it lies in expectation. At the class reunion, the group seeks and finds nostalgia; however, Gen is over-wrought by the learning of Matsu’s passing. Later, when Gen and Tetsu meet again, their nostalgia and sadness are expected, but their decades-old discover of the eighth player is abrupt, almost epiphanic. In the end, wanting to seek what had been discovered, Gen realizes that the hunt is over and had only discovered regret.
Review: Similar to “The Agency Maid”, this is a work of sentimentality, one of nostalgia and regret rather than spousal roles and dedication. It’s a brief six pages that feels too brief. It’s not among my favorite from Yasutaka nor of the collection, but it’s a nice sentimental piece toward the end of an otherwise decent hodgepodge collection.