Short Story
The Lucky Bar in Nihonbashi

It was the fourteenth of June and it seemed like the worst day of the year for me. Everything had turned sour for me that day. For starters, it was the beginning of the tsuyu rainy season in Tokyo and I’d left my umbrella on the train that morning in my rush to get to the office. Leaving my workplace at the end of the day without anything to shield me from the rain outside, I knew I looked just as pathetic now as I did when I’d arrived at my desk at eight thirty a.m.

I remembered stumbling into work after running three blocks from Nihonbashi train station to my office not long after eight fifteen in the morning with just a plastic bag covering my head to protect me from the pouring rain. I’d wiped myself down in the crowded elevator while everyone else had shoved to one side so they didn’t have to rub up against my wet clothes. As I exited the lift on the eighth floor, I felt the eyes of everyone in the office upon me as if they were judging me for showing up looking like I’d been for a swim in my work clothes. I sat down in front of my PC trying to hide from and ignore the amused expressions and the snickers from the three girls who always sat next to me. The three of them had all looked annoyingly immaculate and professional despite the rain pelting down outside. As soon as I turned on my PC, I made a dash for the bathroom to fix up my hair and makeup but in the rush to leave my apartment that morning I’d forgotten to throw my mascara, hairbrush and lipstick into my handbag and I had to smooth down my hair with my fingers and rub off any remaining makeup with tissues. I wasn’t naturally pretty and I looked washed out without my eye shadow, concealer, blush and lip colour but there was nothing I could do except sweep as much of my hair over my face as I could and rush back to my desk with my shoulders hunched over, sidling up against the wall on the right where there were fewer desks to avoid than if I’d walked straight through the middle of the office which would have drawn more attention to myself.

At eleven a.m. I received an unexpected text message from my fiancé telling me he had decided to move out of the apartment which we’d shared for five years and to make matters worse he also told me he was moving in with a very sweet and beautiful girl whom he had met recently when he was out drinking with his friends. When I read the message I felt all the energy inside me wash away and I welled up inside with a mixture of emotions. Sadness had hit me first coupled with pain at the thought that my fiancé Hotaka wanted to be with another woman when he was everything I’d always wanted in a man and someone who I had never stopped loving from the moment we’d first met. Next I was overcome with anger, knowing I’d tried so hard to make him love me. I spent at least an hour each day at our apartment cleaning every inch of our home and every night after work I’d taken a lot of trouble to cook his favourite meals like tonkatsu, oyakodon, nikujaga and chicken curry while he’d sat on the sofa and watched the baseball or chatted to his buddies on the phone. After about fifteen minutes of feeling positively ill, I also began to worry that at thirty-one years old, it was too late for me to start another relationship and I wasn’t pretty enough to attract another man as good-looking as Hotaka. I was also very hurt that my fiancé hadn’t even bothered to talk to me before now about the fact he no longer wanted to be with me and he had shown no indication when I’d left the apartment in a flurry that morning that he was planning to move out. Exhausted and exasperated that everything in my life was falling to pieces, I spent my morning doing as much work as I could at my desk as I tried to blank out my feelings and emotions.

The day had dragged on but I continued working at lightning speed to stop myself from dwelling on the fact I was now single again. I even worked through lunch and I was right in the middle of finishing off an important task and thinking to myself that at least I had a good job to go to everyday when at three p.m. everyone on our team was called in for a staff meeting. We were told all the other branch offices were doing much better than our own and our services were no longer required. My manager had said to us, without allowing any of us to question him, that this was our last day at the office before he swiftly left the room. He’d told us in just five minutes, as he stood before us looking at the ceiling to avoid any eye contact, that we would all have to finish up at the end of the day once we had tied up all our loose ends and the managers were very grateful for all the work we’d done and they were sorry they had to let us go. I was already numb from the text message from my fiancé but I felt another blow to my stomach when I heard this would be my last day at the office, and as I made my way to my desk with a few of my other colleagues, I could see they too were left dumbstruck by the news that we’d all been made redundant and we’d have to look for somewhere else to work.

With this in mind at four p.m. my mother called me to tell me she’d lost the pearl necklace which she had borrowed from me the week before and I was so overcome from everything else that day that I didn’t even get upset with her. I just had to acknowledge that nothing was going to go right for me that day and I would have to accept any misfortune that came my way because there was nothing I could do to stop this wave of bad news.

At seven p.m. our team was escorted from the office building with completely artificial reassurance from our manager that we’d all been terrific employees and we would all have no trouble finding other work. The last straw for me was when the left heel on my favourite pair of pumps snapped off as I stumbled for the last time out of the reception on the ground floor of our office building. I hobbled out onto the street with tears welling up in my eyes, looking from left to right, not knowing where to go or what to do. I didn’t want to return to my apartment to spend an evening alone and I knew the only thing waiting for me at home was a half-empty flat which my fiancé had just vacated and from which he would have taken everything he owned. I knew I’d have to cook a dinner for myself without the sound of Hotaka’s laughter emanating from the living room while he watched the programmes he’d always enjoyed on television.

The heel on my right shoe was also loose and I snapped that off as well so I didn’t have to walk unevenly as I made my way to Nihonbashi train station just after seven p.m. It was still raining outside but not as heavily as it had in the morning. The drizzle just added to my feeling of woefulness and the stifling humidity in the air made it difficult for me to breathe. I stopped to buy a cheap, clear plastic umbrella from a convenience store and I noticed my reflection in the mirror on the side of the shop. My white cotton shirt that I’d ironed so meticulously that morning was sticking to my body from the combination of heavy rain and perspiration and I looked miserable.

I was about five minutes from the train station when I passed a corner with a MOS Burger outlet on one side and a dry cleaners on the other, looking like a piece of limp seaweed thrown up by the ocean onto a soggy beach. A flashing neon sign in the alleyway before me that read “Lucky Bar” caught my eye and the warm glow and friendly laughter from inside the establishment beckoned me towards what looked like an old-fashioned bar. Deep inside me, I realised I was looking for any excuse not to return home to my empty apartment and I knew that I wanted and needed something . . . anything . . . to cheer me up.

There was a couple standing below the awning of the bar smoking cigarettes, both of them were dressed in polyester navy suits but he was wearing bell-bottom trousers and she was wearing a tight, short skirt underneath her blazer. The man looked like he was in his thirties and the woman had the lined face of an over-worked forty-five year old. They noticed me approach and I expected them to look me up and down and snigger at my downtrodden appearance but they actually seemed really nice when I noticed their friendly nods as I walked towards them. As I came closer, they looked even more welcoming and jovial as if they were having the time of their lives and they wanted everyone to share in their happiness. They both nodded at me again as I crossed the threshold of the Lucky Bar and I really appreciated the fact that they didn’t frown and laugh at me. I thought to myself that maybe my luck was changing and that the Lucky Bar was an apt name for this place.

The glow of the bar inside was even warmer than the entrance although there was a musty scent that hit you for a couple of seconds when you first entered. Three young men sitting in a row at the bar, next to a lava lamp, shuffled down to make room for me to slide onto the stool at the very end. I liked the way the bar had a 1970s theme and I thought to myself that this was very inviting.

The bartender was even younger than the three men, maybe in his early twenties, and the only one dressed casually in flared jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt with a ripped design. He stopped his friendly banter with the businessman at the end of the bar and sauntered over towards me with a charming smile which made me blush.

‘What would you like to drink?’ he asked as he placed a small dish of green, salted edamame soybeans in front of me.

‘A glass of white wine please,’ I replied. I felt something prickly brush up against my right arm but when I turned there was nothing there and I rubbed my arm wondering if I’d had pins and needles for a moment, which was strange.

I must have been tired because a large glass of pale gold wine appeared before me in the blink of an eye. The bartender placed it on a brown coaster with an image of a green three leaf clover. When I looked into the glass, it sparkled before my eyes like it contained flecks of gold. I thought it must have been the light above me reflecting in my drink. The man next to me, who seemed to know the other two businessmen very well, smiled warmly and raised his glass of Scotch to me. We both said kanpai at the same time. The two other businessmen followed suit and quickly added their own salutations.

One by one, I placed the edamame soybeans in my mouth and squeezed out the beans inside while I sipped from my glass of wine. The beans were incredibly delicious and the wine had a way of moving through my body as if it was slowly soothing each one of my limbs. It was incredibly comforting to sit there and feel my whole body gradually beginning to relax. Each sip from my glass of wine felt like it was removing each and every problem that I’d had to deal with earlier that day. I wanted to ask the bartender where he’d sourced the edamame soybeans and the wine but he was busy chatting with the businessman at the other end of the bar and I quickly lost the will to ask any questions. After a long and difficult day, I was relieved to feel the tensions of the day draining away and it was so nice and warm in the bar that I thought to myself this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing that evening after such a terrible day.

After what seemed like half an hour, I found myself singing along with the other businessman to a tune called Anata ni Muchu by the Candies, which I remembered as being very popular a few decades ago. The wine and the music and the good-humoured people surrounding me made me feel woozy and content and it was as if time had slowed down. The bartender offered to pour me another glass of wine and I accepted his offer willingly. As I began sipping my second glass another familiar tune, Natsu no Yuuwaku by the Four Leaves, started playing and everyone in the bar began to sing along. I joined in and I couldn’t help laughing along with the others as I fumbled my way through most of the words, but I enjoyed every moment of the sing-along. The bartender poured me a third glass of wine and I began chatting with the businessman sitting closest to me who had mutton chop sideburns. He wasn’t very good-looking but he seemed incredibly interested in me. As he spoke to me, I looked directly into his eyes and I tried to make out whether he was smiling at me but it was as if there was a haze in front of his face and the bad lighting made it difficult for me to see him properly. There was a lot of cigarette smoke in the room and the lighting was dim, but I thought this was somehow comforting and this man seemed nice enough, dressed in his brown suit with its dramatically wide lapels. When I joked about how bad my day had been and I told him how silly I’d been for taking the day so seriously, he kindly reassured me, telling me not to worry so much and he made me feel completely at ease. The other businessmen joined in on our conversation as well as the barman and it struck me that they were all being incredibly friendly as they laughed at my situation in such a good-natured way and offered me such sincere words of encouragement. It wasn’t long before I really began to enjoy myself.

A couple of hours later, I was smiling, bowing and thanking everyone in the bar as I prepared to leave for my short walk to the train station, thinking to myself that it must have been getting quite late and I should head for home.

Just as I was leaving the bar all the electricity went out for a moment. I was surrounded by complete darkness and silence and a horrible scent filled the air that smelt like burning rubber, but just as quickly the lights came back on and this brought about great cheers from everyone in the bar. I made promises to all of them at the door to the Lucky Bar that I would return the following evening, and in return every one of them begged me to keep my word.

On the train home I looked at my watch thinking it must have been about ten thirty p.m. but I was surprised to see it had only just turned eight. I was sure I’d had three glasses of wine and I was surprised I’d managed to drink so much in such a short amount of time. I didn’t let this worry me too much. I was feeling pleasantly inebriated and I spent most of my train journey thinking about how nice the people were who I’d met at the Lucky Bar and the extent of their cordiality as I replayed my time there that evening over and over in my mind. I was still thinking about this as I exited the train station near my home and walked to my apartment, still feeling the warm and soothing effects of the wine which I’d consumed earlier and not feeling as bad as I knew that I would have felt if I hadn’t stopped at the Lucky Bar in Nihonbashi.

When I entered my empty apartment, I immediately noticed a note from my ex-fiancé on the coffee table. It was very brief and it only took me a few seconds to read it. It basically told me Hotaka had left and he was very sorry it was so sudden. I sighed and crushed the note into a ball before I threw it across the room and watched it bounce across the floorboards and land next to the television. As I pulled my futon out of the cupboard and changed for bed, I felt the wine I’d enjoyed so much earlier that evening unexpectedly run through my veins again just as strongly as it had when I’d been sitting at the bar about an hour before. I stretched out on my bed and rested my head on the pillow, hoping the warm feeling of the wine would rush through me again. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.

The following morning, all I thought about was returning to the Lucky Bar. I spent the whole day smiling to myself as I cleaned my apartment, prepared my lunch and ironed the skirt and top I would wear that evening when I returned to the bar in Nihonbashi. I wanted to wear something that suited the 1970s theme there and I decided to wear a pair of platform shoes. I thought a couple of times about my troubles from the day before, but my interest in returning to the bar outweighed any of these depressing thoughts.

At seven thirty p.m., I stepped out of Nihonbashi train station and walked quickly towards the bar that I knew was only a couple of minutes away, but as I turned the corner and passed the MOS Burger outlet and the dry cleaners, I stopped in astonishment. Looking down the alleyway that stretched out before me there was no Lucky Bar with its neon sign – just an old homeless man sifting through the rubbish bags which were lined up against the grotty walls. On the right, where the bar should have been was a door covered in cobwebs that looked like it had been boarded up for years. I hesitated and wondered if I’d lost my way. I thought it would probably be best to question the old homeless man who looked odd yet approachable. His clothes were grubby but he didn’t look hostile and his square glasses made him look fairly intelligent.

‘I’m sorry to bother you,’ I said, trying to be very polite so I wouldn’t upset him. ‘but I’m looking for a place called the Lucky Bar – I thought it was down this alleyway but I think I’m mistaken . . . Do you know this place?’

The homeless man shuffled back a little and then suddenly straightened up and gazed straight into my eyes. ‘I’ve been living in this area for a long time,’ he said. ‘And yes I do know the Lucky Bar but it burnt down thirty-five years ago.’ He turned away and then swung around again quickly holding his finger in the air as if he’d just had a revelation. ‘I remember now – it was thirty-five years ago to this day, on the fifteenth of June . . . I also remember the regulars . . . they were such nice people.’

I was shocked and I’d started trembling a little despite the heavy humidity and the warm drizzle that was dripping down my forehead. I reached inside my bag for my umbrella. ‘Oh okay, can you tell me if they rebuilt the Lucky Bar somewhere close by?’ I asked the homeless man.

‘No, they never did,’ he replied as he quickly passed me and hurried down the alleyway. He was out of my sight before I could say anything more to him.

I thought to myself that he must have been mistaken and I turned around and walked back up the long alleyway in a daze, looking from left to right for the neon sign which had greeted me so warmly the night before. A charred brown piece of cardboard caught my eye near the wall and I bent down to take a closer look at it. It was a coaster just like the one the bartender had placed my glass of wine upon the night before with a picture of a green three leaf clover on it, but this one had a burnt corner. I picked it up and put it into my handbag wondering if what the homeless man had told me was true. I didn’t believe in ghosts, but as memories of the night before came back to me it all seemed very dream-like. The faces of the people whom I’d met at the bar as well as the bartender weren’t clear in my mind now and I felt like I wouldn’t even be able to distinguish their faces from anyone else if I ever met them again.

I went to another bar that evening in Nihonbashi which was very modern and completely designed in graphite and steel, hoping to revive the same reassuring feelings of comfort that I’d felt when I’d spent time with the strangers in the Lucky Bar the night before, but there were no friendly faces inside and it lacked any sort of welcoming ambiance. I only stayed for half an hour before returning to my apartment.

Before I went to sleep that night I thought about my experiences at the Lucky Bar and although it had all been eerie and inexplicable, I realised sometimes in life you can find a little bit of luck and true goodness in people when you least expect it.