Set Yourself On Fire

An arsonist-turned-fireman, Hideto, deals with guilt that weighs heavily on his heart and mind. Trapped in a conflict of remembering or forgetting the incidents that make up almost his entire life, he starts to question his reality and also the surreality of the life he's lived, up to this point.

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2. Parlez-vous français?

  Paris, the city of lovers.

  ‘Paris’ was small bakeries and cafes, the Eiffel Tower, art museums, the River Seine and large parks. It encompassed a sense of lightheartedness emitted by the majority of Parisians who lived a slow-paced, comfortable life; the kind of life they were shown to have in films.

  It was a life that Hideto often longed for. He was not blinded with wanderlust, eager to jump straight into an adventure and meet all sorts of people all around the globe. He simply wished for peace and calm, to be able to read a book in a nice café on a perfect, cool morning before taking a jog through a park, perhaps past the Eiffel Tower. He wanted to have exotic meals – cost was not an issue in his daydreams – and have refreshing walks along the River Seine at night, maybe one day with a significant other. If it rained, it wouldn’t matter: he would walk in the rain, like Parisians did in movies, right?

  He went so far as to study French in high school, filled with the silly and perhaps ambitious conviction that he would one day move to Paris and experience the life he lived vicariously through actors himself. He would have a gorgeous loft apartment overlooking the city and he would sit on a nice beanbag by the window, enjoying the night lights while sipping red wine.

  It seemed that his dream was coming true.

  He had just moved to Paris two weeks ago but he felt as if he knew the entire city already, having read up on it for years. He had feared that reality would be much different from the films but had been pleasantly surprised to find out he had been wrong – Paris was just as beautiful in the flesh as it was on the television screen.

  Opposite his apartment, there was a cafe which he visited every morning for waffles and a piping hot mocha. He would nurse his meal slowly while reading a book or magazine, not a care in the world. There were no pressing details in his life nor anything else that he owed time to.

  This morning was no different. Today, he found himself sitting at the table nearest to the road, reading a Japanese newspaper. He couldn’t remember how he had gotten hold of it but didn’t care either. He couldn’t read the words, despite Japanese being his first language, but didn’t find that strange at all – he was a Parisian after all, wasn’t he?

  He took a bite of his waffle and then returned his attention to the newspaper. He was merely seeing, not reading, not comprehending.

  For some reason, he found the fact that he could not read the Japanese characters oddly comforting.

  With a broad smile, he folded the newspaper neatly and placed it on the small, round table, next to his drink.

  It was when he was cleaning his ink-stained hands with a napkin that he heard it.

  Sirens.

  Immediately, he turned to look in the direction of the sirens which were growing in volume with each passing second. Hideto’s sharp eyes caught sight of the familiar, red vehicle which was speeding down the road. Oddly, he felt unperturbed.  

  The fire truck passed him quickly, white bold words on it no more than a blur, but Hideto didn’t have to read them to know they made up the name "Tokyo Fire Department". 

  Then it was gone. Out of sight.

  But the sirens remained, annoying, just like how Hideto remembered them to be. “Whee-oo-whee-oo-whee-oo” over and over again. No change in pitch or clarity. He had heard these sounds so many time that they didn’t even sound ‘right’ to him anymore. His mind would trick him into thinking there was something different – perhaps an undertone he hadn’t noticed before – but then he would start paying close attention to the sirens and, after a few seconds of mindful listening, he would realise that nothing had really changed after all.

  Just the same irritating sounds over and over again.

  They were loud, blaring even. Hideto’s hands itched to cover his sore, abused ears but his mind kept them chained by his sides, fingers twitching but otherwise not moving.

  Whee-oo-whee-oo-whee-oo-whee-oo.

  Hideto was staring down the empty road, pondering why he could still hear the sirens when its source had already gone? And why was the Tokyo Fire Department in Paris?

  As those puzzling questions popped into his head, an unsettling chill seeped into his skin, blood and bones, sending his nerves into a frazzle that caused his hair to stand on end. Frozen with apprehension of what was to come, he didn’t even feel the cool breeze that came drifting by, blowing the sirens away until only silence remained, eerie and shockingly deafening.

  Hideto would have been thankful for it, if it had come just a few seconds earlier.

  But, now, it was too late.

  He had woken up.

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