We were a family of four. But none of us were related to each other
– my family was a
band of strangers. My daughter Sawa was twenty-five. The woman she called "Mother" was her
stepmother. Her real father had married this woman when Sawa was five, then died two years
later. Since then, the woman had raised Sawa as if she were her own child.
The two came to live with us when Sawa was fifteen. A fire had started in Sawa's
neighbors' house and swallowed her own house in a flash. The mother and daughter received
insurance money, but they had to look for an apartment, since they had not owned the house.
Then Yaeko, who worked part-time with Sawa's stepmother, asked them to stay with us until
they found somewhere else to live.
Yaeko was my common-law wife. She and I had lived together for eighteen years, but
never married. Jokingly, she used to say, "I'm a wanderer, so I may be gone someday, you
know." We might have married if we'd had children, but we weren't blessed with any. We felt as
if we were still lovers – I called her "Yae-chan" and she called me "Nobu-san."
When Sawa and her stepmother joined us, our cold, dreary house came to life. Since I
had grown up in a large family, I was happy to now have a family of my own. Sawa was an
intelligent girl. Understanding well that she was the only child among the three adults, she knew
how to ask for what she wanted. We grown-ups began to think of Sawa as our own daughter.
Soon our household began rotating around Sawa, and we all called her stepmother "Mother."
Even after Sawa graduated from a junior college, she and her stepmother continued to live with
Every time they found an apartment, I came up with an excuse to make them stay. I told
them they had to save for Sawa's tuition, and that I didn't want them to live far from work. I
didn't know what other people thought of our "family," but it seemed so natural for us to live
together like this. One day, Sawa asked me, "Uncle, may I call you 'Father'?"
I didn't know how to respond. Yaeko came to my rescue, saying, "Well, why not? Nobu-
san, you're the only man in the family. When Sawa-chan gets married, she needs someone to call
'Father.' Besides, Nobu-san, wouldn't it make you happy to be called 'Father'?"
Yaeko was right. Though it was awkward at first, after a couple of weeks I got used
to being called 'Father.' A workman who came to fix the exterior of our house thought Sawa's
stepmother and I were actually married. And when Sawa's friend from work came to visit and
said, "Sawa, why don't you ask your father to join us for a drink?" it didn't feel strange at all to
be invited in this way.
"Mother, Father, look at this! It's the new uniform for bank clerks!" Sawa chirped. I
found such conversation delightful.
One night, Yaeko said to me before we went to sleep, "I'm like a letter with no address..."
"What do you mean?" I asked, since I didn't understand her.
"Lately I don't know who to talk to. Maybe because we're not married..."
Her answer unnerved me. And we drifted apart while I enjoyed playing the role of father
But I couldn't bring myself to tell Sawa not to call me "Father." No matter how hard I
tried to distance myself from Sawa and her stepmother, the girl delighted me with her carefree
talk. Her stepmother made a point of attending to me – apparently she felt obliged. Not long after
this, Yaeko left. Her letter said, "I'll go live with my old friend. I'm a letter with no address." I
did everything I could to find her, but she was never heard from again.
Then Sawa and her stepmother found an apartment in the next city and left me alone.