Convenience Store Woman

If the convenience store and Japanese society are so similar, why can Keiko Furukura function in one and not the other?

Sayaka Murata | Convenience Store Woman | Grove Press | June 2018 | 21 minutes (5,652 words)

A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the barcode scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.

I hear the faint rattle of a new plastic bottle rolling into place as a customer takes one out of the refrigerator, and look up instantly. A cold drink is often the last item customers take before coming to the checkout till, and my body responds automatically to the sound. I see a woman holding a bottle of mineral water while perusing the desserts and look back down.

As I arrange the display of newly delivered rice balls, my body picks up information from the multitude of sounds around the store. At this time of day, rice balls, sandwiches, and salads are what sell best. Another part-timer, Sugawara, is over at the other side of the store checking off items with a handheld scanner. I continue laying out the pristine, machine-made food neatly on the shelves of the cold display: in the middle I place two rows of the new flavor, spicy cod roe with cream cheese, alongside two rows of the store’s best-selling flavor, tuna mayonnaise, and then I line the less popular dry bonito shavings in soy sauce flavor next to those. Speed is of the essence, and I barely use my head as the rules ingrained in me issue instructions directly to my body.

Alerted by a faint clink of coins I turn and look over at the cash register. It’s a sound I’m sensitive to, since customers who come just to buy cigarettes or a newspaper often jingle coins in their hand or pocket. And yes: as I’d thought, a man with a can of coffee in one hand, the other hand in his pocket, is approaching the till. I quickly move through the store, slide behind the counter, and stand at the ready so as not to keep him waiting.

“Irasshaimasé! Good morning, sir.”

I bow and take the can of coffee he holds out to me.

“Oh, and a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights.”

“Right away, sir.” I take out a pack of the cigarettes and scan the barcode. “Please confirm your age on the touch screen.”

As he does so, I notice him glance at the hot-food cabinet. I could ask him whether he’d like anything else, but when a customer appears to be dithering over whether or not to buy something, I make a point of taking a step back and waiting.

“And a corn dog.”

“Right away, sir. Thank you.”

I disinfect my hands with alcohol, open the hot cabinet, and take out a corn dog.

“Shall I put the hot food and cold drink in separate bags?”

“Oh no, don’t bother. Together’s fine.”

I put the can of coffee, cigarettes, and corn dog into a small-size bag. Until then the man had been jingling the coins in his pocket, but now he suddenly moves his hand to his breast pocket as though something has just occurred to him. Instantly I deduce that he will use electronic money.

“I’ll pay by Suica.”

“Certainly, sir. Please touch your card here.”

I automatically read the customer’s minutest movements and gaze, and my body acts reflexively in response. My ears and eyes are important sensors to catch their every move and desire. Taking the utmost care not to cause the customer any discomfort by observing him or her too closely, I swiftly move my hands according to whatever signals I pick up.

“Your receipt, sir. Thank you for your custom!”

“Thanks,” he says, taking his receipt and leaving.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting,” I say with a bow to the woman next in the queue. “Irasshaimasé. Good morning!”

The morning period is passing normally in the brightly lit box of the convenience store, I feel. Visible outside the windows, polished free of fingerprints, are the figures of people rushing by. It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.

I look at the clock: almost nine thirty. The morning rush is nearly over, and I have to finish dealing with the delivery and start preparing for the lunchtime rush. I stretch my back and go out into the store to finish putting out the rice balls.

***

The time before I was reborn as a convenience store worker is somewhat unclear in my memory. I was born into a normal family and lovingly brought up in a normal suburban residential area. But everyone thought I was a rather strange child.

There was the time when I was in nursery school, for example, when I saw a dead bird in the park. It was small, a pretty blue, and must have been someone’s pet. It lay there with its neck twisted and eyes closed, and the other children were all standing around it crying. One girl started to ask: “What should we —” But before she could finish I snatched it up and ran over to the bench where my mother was chatting with the other mothers.

“What’s up, Keiko? Oh! A little bird…where did it come from I wonder?” she said gently, stroking my hair. “The poor thing. Shall we make a grave for it?”

“Let’s eat it!” I said.

“What?”

“Daddy likes yakitori, doesn’t he? Let’s grill it and have it for dinner!”

She looked at me, startled. Thinking she hadn’t heard properly, I repeated what I’d said, this time clearly enunciating my words. The mother sitting next to her gaped at me, her eyes, nostrils, and mouth forming perfect O’s. She looked so comical I almost burst out laughing.

The time before I was reborn as a convenience store worker is somewhat unclear in my memory.

But then I saw her staring at the bird in my hand and I realized that one of these little birds probably wouldn’t be enough for Daddy.

“Shall I get some more?” I asked, glancing at two or three other birds strutting around.

“Keiko!” my mother exclaimed reprovingly, finally coming to her senses. “Let’s make a grave for Mr. Budgie and bury him. Look, everyone’s crying. His friends must be sad he died. The poor little thing!”

“But it’s dead. Let’s eat it!”

My mother was speechless, but I was captivated by the vision of my parents and little sister happily tucking in around the dinner table. My father was always saying how tasty yakitori was, and what was that if not grilled bird? There were lots more there in the park, so all we had to do was catch some and take them home. I couldn’t understand why should we bury the bird instead of eating it.

“Look how cute little Mr. Budgie is!” my mother said earnestly. “Let’s make a grave for him over there, and everyone can lay flowers on it.”

And that’s what we did. Everyone was crying for the poor dead bird as they went around murdering flowers, plucking their stalks, exclaiming, “What lovely flowers! Little Mr. Budgie will definitely be pleased.” They looked so bizarre I thought they must all be out of their minds.

We buried the bird in a hole dug on the other side of a fence with a sign that said keep out and placed the flower corpses on top of it. Someone brought an ice lolly stick from the trash can to use as a grave marker.

“Poor little bird. It’s so sad, isn’t it Keiko?” my mother kept murmuring, as if trying to convince me. But I didn’t think it was sad at all.

There were many other similar incidents. There was also that big commotion soon after I started primary school, when some boys started fighting during the break time.

The other kids started wailing, “Get a teacher!” and “Someone stop them!” And so I went to the tool shed, took out a spade, ran over to the unruly boys, and bashed one of them over the head. Everyone started screaming as he fell down clutching his skull. Seeing as he’d stopped moving, my attention turned to the other boy, and I raised the spade again. “Keiko-chan, stop! Please stop!” the girls shouted at me tearfully.

Some teachers came over and, dumbfounded, demanded I explain myself.

“Everyone was saying to stop them, so that’s what I did.”

Violence was wrong, the bewildered teachers told me in confusion.

“But everyone was saying to stop Yamazaki-kun and Aoki-kun fighting! I just thought that would be the quickest way to do it,” I explained patiently. Why on earth were they so angry? I just didn’t get it.

They held a teacher’s meeting, and my mother was called to the school. Seeing her bowing to the teachers, apologizing over and over, her face strangely serious, I finally realized that maybe I shouldn’t have done what I did, but I still couldn’t understand why.

It was the same that time when our young class teacher became hysterical and began bawling and hitting her desk furiously with the attendance register, and everyone started crying. She wouldn’t calm down even when everyone started begging, “We’re sorry, Miss!” “Please stop, Miss!” So in order to shut her up I ran over and yanked her skirt and knickers down. She was so shocked she burst into tears, but at least she became quiet.

The teacher from the next class came running in and asked me what had happened, so I explained that I’d once seen on TV how a grown-up woman who was all worked up went quiet after someone took her clothes off. But then they held another teachers’ meeting and my mother was summoned again.

“I wonder why you can’t understand, Keiko…” she muttered helplessly on the way home, hugging me to her. It seemed I’d done something wrong again, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand what was the problem.

My parents were at a loss what to do about me, but they were as affectionate to me as ever. I’d never meant to make them sad or have to keep apologizing for things I did, so I decided to keep my mouth shut as best I could outside home. I would no longer do anything of my own accord, and would either just mimic what everyone else was doing, or simply follow instructions.

After this, the adults seemed relieved when I didn’t say a single word more than necessary or act on my own initiative. But as I got older, being so quiet apparently became a problem in itself. As far as I was concerned, though, keeping my mouth shut was the most sensible approach to getting by in life. Even when my teachers wrote in my school report that I should make more friends and play outside more, I doggedly refused to say anything more than absolutely necessary.

My little sister, who is two years younger than me, was a normal child. Even so, she never tried to avoid me; indeed, she adored me. Unlike me she was always being told off for silly little things, and whenever this happened I would go up to mother and ask her why she was so angry. This generally put an end to the lecture, and my sister always thanked me for it as if she thought I were protecting her. It also helped that I wasn’t all that interested in sweets and toys and would often give them to her, and so she was always hanging around me.

I would no longer do anything of my own accord, and would either just mimic what everyone else was doing, or simply follow instructions.

My family always loved and cherished me, and that’s why they were so worried and wanted to cure me. I recall hearing my parents discussing how to do this, and wondered what it was about me that needed correcting. My father once drove me some distance to another town to meet a therapist. The therapist immediately assumed there must be some problem at home, but really there wasn’t. My father, a bank clerk, was a mild and steady type, while my mother was kind if a little timid, and my little sister was really fond of me. “For the time being, shower her with affection and let’s see how things go” was the bland conclusion, and so my parents assiduously brought me up with loving care.

I didn’t make any friends at school, but I wasn’t particularly picked on or bullied, and I managed to get myself through elementary and secondary without saying anything uncalled for.

I didn’t even change after graduating from high school and going on to university. I basically spent my free time alone, and didn’t talk to anyone in private at all. I never repeated the kind of trouble I’d caused in primary school, but still my parents worried that I wouldn’t survive in the real world. And so, believing that I had to be cured, I grew into adulthood.

***

The Smile Mart outside Hiiromachi Station opened on May 1, 1998, soon after I started university.

I can still clearly recall the moment I came across the as-yet-unopened store. I’d been to see a Noh performance as part of my coursework and, not having any friends, was making my way home alone when I took a wrong turn and found myself in a completely unfamiliar office district, totally lost.

It occurred to me all of a sudden that the place was deserted. I was alone in a world of graceful white buildings, an artificial scene of paper models. It was Sunday afternoon, and there was no sign of anyone other than me in the street. It was like a ghost town.

Overwhelmed by a sensation of having stumbled into another dimension, I walked quickly through it looking for a metro station. At last I saw a sign and, relieved, was running toward it when I came across the ground floor of a pure white building converted into what looked like an aquarium.

It didn’t have a signboard, or anything else other than a notice stuck on the glass window: HIIROMACHI STATION SMILE MART—OPENING SOON! STAFF WANTED. I timidly peeked through the glass. There was nobody there, and it appeared still to be under construction, with plastic coverings on the walls and lines of empty white shelves. It was hard to believe this vacant space would soon be a convenience store.

The allowance I received from home was enough for me to live on, but still, I was interested in some part-time work. I made a note of the number, went home, and called the next day. After a brief interview, I was given the job on the spot.

Training would start the following week I was told, and when I headed for the store at the appointed time, I found it looking a little more like a convenience store, now partly stocked, with some stationery, handkerchiefs, and other sundries neatly displayed.

There were some other new employees gathered inside: a girl who appeared to be a student like me, a guy who looked like a typical job-hopper, a slightly older woman, probably a housewife—all in all, fifteen very different-looking people of all ages slouched awkwardly about the store.

Eventually, the trainer from head office appeared and handed out uniforms to everyone. I put mine on and tidied myself up according to the checklist stuck on the wall. Once those of us with long hair had tied it back, and all of us had removed watches and any other accessories as instructed, the motley bunch did actually now look like convenience store workers.

First, we practiced the various phrases we needed to use in the store. Standing shoulder to shoulder in a line, our backs straight, we lifted the corners of our mouths to match the smiling face in the training poster and in turn called out the stock welcoming phrase: Irasshaimasé!

The male trainer checked each of us one by one, instructing us to try again if our voices were too quiet or our expressions too stiff. “Miss Okamoto, don’t be so shy. Smile! Mr. Aizaki, speak up a bit! Try again. Miss Furukura, that’s perfect. Nice and spirited—keep it up!”

I was good at mimicking the trainer’s examples and the model video he’d shown us in the back room. It was the first time anyone had ever taught me how to accomplish a normal facial expression and manner of speech.

For the two weeks prior to opening, we worked in pairs to role-play dealing with imaginary customers. We practiced looking the customer in the eye, smiling and bowing, cleaning our hands with alcohol before handling items from the hot-food cabinet, putting hot and cold items into separate bags, and sanitary products into paper bags. The money in the till was real so we would become accustomed to handling it, but the receipts were marked training in big letters, and our “customers” were our fellow uniformed workers, so it was rather like playing at shop.

It was fun to see all kinds of people — from university students and guys who played in bands to job-hoppers, housewives, and kids studying for their high school diploma at night school — don the same uniform and transform into the homogenous being known as a convenience store worker. Once the day’s training was over, everyone removed their uniforms and reverted to their original state. It was like changing costumes to become a different creature.

After two weeks of training, at long last opening day arrived. I arrived at the store in the morning to find the empty white shelves now fully stocked, the tightly packed items looking somehow unreal.

Finally, it was time. This is the real thing, I thought to myself as the doors opened. Real customers, not the imaginary ones projected in training. And there were all kinds. Being in an office district, I’d had an image of all our customers in business suits or uniforms, but the people waiting outside appeared to be a group of local residents. I watched on in blank amazement as a little old lady walking with a stick came in first, followed by a long stream of customers clutching discount vouchers for rice balls and lunch boxes.

“Hey, Miss Furukura, don’t forget to greet our customers!” the manager prompted me.

“Irasshaimasé!” I blurted out, pulling myself together. “Today we are holding a sale to celebrate opening the store. Please look around!”

Even the set phrases we’d been taught to use sounded completely different now that there were customers in the store.

I never knew customers could be so loud! Their footsteps echoed and voices rang out as they walked around the store, confectionery packs rustling as they tossed them into their baskets, the refrigerator door clunking open and shut as they took out cold drinks. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume, I kept yelling out “Irasshaimasé!” over and over again.

The mountain of food and confectionery that was so perfectly displayed it looked artificial soon crumbled under their hands. The store had looked almost fake, but now under their touch it was being vividly transformed.

The first at the cash register was the same little old lady who had been the first through the door. I stood at the till, mentally running through the manual as she put her basket containing a choux crème, a sandwich, and several rice balls down on the counter.

All the staff behind the counter straightened as she approached. Aware of their eyes on me, I bowed to her the way I’d learned in training.

“Irasshaimasé!” I called out in precisely the same tone as the woman in the training video as I pulled the basket toward me and began scanning the barcodes, just as we’d been taught. The manager stood at my side, briskly placing the products in a plastic bag.

“What time do you open?” she asked.

“Um, today we opened at 10. From now on we’ll be open all the time!”

Noting how inept I was at answering questions we hadn’t practiced in training, the manager quickly followed up with: “From now on we shall be open twenty-four hours, seven days a week, year-round. Please come and shop here at your convenience.”

“Oh my, you’re open at night too? And early in the morning?”

“Yes,” I told her, nodding.

“How very convenient! It’s hard for me to walk with my bad hip, you see. The supermarket is so far away. It’s been such a bother,” she said, giving me a smile.

“Yes, we’ll be open 24 hours from now on. Please come at your convenience,” I said, echoing the phrases the manager had used.

When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.

“That’s wonderful. It’ll be hard on you store workers, though.”

“Thank you!” I said, enthusiastically bowing the way the manager had done.

The woman laughed and said, “Thank you, I’ll come again,” and moved away from the till.

“Well done, Miss Furukura,” the manager told me. “That was perfect! You kept your calm, even though it was your first time on the till. Good job, keep it up. Oh look, the next customer!”

I looked around and saw a man approaching with lots of discounted rice balls in his basket. “Irasshaimasé!” I called in exactly the same tone as before and bowed, then took the basket from him.

At that moment, for the first time ever, I felt I’d become a part in the machine of society. I’ve been reborn, I thought. That day, I actually became a normal cog in society.

***

The Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart has remained open ever since that day, its lights on without a break. Sometimes I use a calculator to work out the number of hours that have passed since then. The other day, the store was open on May 1 for the nineteenth time, having been open continuously for 157,800 hours. I’m now thirty-six years old, and the convenience-store-worker-me is eighteen. None of the other workers who did their training with me are here anymore, and we’re now on our eighth manager. Not a single product on sale in the store at that time is left. But I’m still here.

When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.

Even now my parents indulgently look on as I remain in the same dead-end job. There were times in my twenties that I felt sorry for them and went through the motions of applying for career positions, but having only ever had the same job I rarely even passed the screening selection. And even if I made it to an interview I couldn’t explain very well why I had spent so many years working there.

Sometimes I even find myself operating the checkout till in my dreams. I wake up with a start, thinking: Oh! This new line of crisps is missing a price tag, or, We’ve sold a lot of hot tea, so I’d better restock the display cabinet. I’ve also been woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of my own voice calling out: “Irasshaimasé!”

When I can’t sleep, I think about the transparent glass box that is still stirring with life even in the darkness of night. That pristine aquarium is still operating like clockwork. As I visualize the scene, the sounds of the store reverberate in my eardrums and lull me to sleep.

When morning comes, once again I’m a convenience store worker, a cog in society. This is the only way I can be a normal person.

***

My days off are Friday and Sunday, and on Fridays I sometimes go to see a friend who is now married and lives in the area we grew up in.

At school, I’d been so intent on not speaking that I didn’t make any friends, but later on after I’d already started working, I got to know her after going to an alumni reunion.

“Wow, Furukura, you look totally different!” Miho had told me cheerfully at that reunion, then went on to comment excitedly how we both had the same bag in different colors. “We should really go shopping together sometime.” And so we exchanged e-mail addresses and from time to time meet up for lunch or to go shopping.

After Miho married, she and her husband bought a secondhand house where she now often holds little parties with her friends. There are times when I feel like it’s too much bother, knowing I have to work the next day. But it’s the only connection I have to the world outside the convenience store and a precious opportunity to mingle with “normal” women my age, so I usually accept her invitations. Today there was Yukari and her young child, and Satsuki, who was married but still childless, and we had all brought cakes along to have with tea.

Yukari had been away with her husband on a job placement, so it was the first time we’d seen her for quite some while. We all laughed as she kept looking around, saying how much she’d missed us as we nibbled at the cakes from the station mall.

“There’s really nowhere like home. The last time we met was just after I got married, wasn’t it, Keiko?”

“Yes! It was at that celebration barbecue, wasn’t it? There were lots of us there that time. Oh, what fun that was!” I said excitedly, mixing Mrs. Izumi and Sugawara’s speech patterns.

“You’ve changed somehow.” She stared at me. “Didn’t you use to speak more normally? Maybe it’s just your hairstyle, but somehow there’s a different air about you.”

“You think?” Miho asked, tilting her head questioningly. “I don’t feel she’s changed at all, although it could just be because we meet so often.”

But Yukari was right I thought. After all, I absorb the world around me, and that’s changing all the time. Just as all the water that was in my body last time we met has now been replaced with new water, the things that make up me have changed too. When we last met a few years ago, most of the store workers were laid-back university students, so of course my way of speaking was different then.

“I guess. Yes, I have probably changed,” I said with a smile, not elaborating.

“Come to think of it, your fashion sense has changed too. I’m sure you never used to dress so flashily,” Satsuki said.

“Oh! Yes, maybe you’re right,” Miho agreed. “That skirt is from a boutique in Omotesando, isn’t it? I tried on the same one in a different color. It’s really cute!”

“Isn’t it? Lately all the clothes I wear come from that place.”

It was the me with different clothes and speech rhythms that was smiling. Who was it that my friends were talking to? Yet Yukari was still smiling at me, repeating again how much she’d missed me.

Miho and Satsuki wear exactly the same expression and speak the same way, perhaps because they live close to each other and often meet up. The way they eat cookies is especially similar, both breaking off tiny pieces and putting them in their mouths with hands that have perfectly manicured nails. I couldn’t help wondering whether they had always been like that, but my memory was hazy. The little habits and gestures they had last time I met them must have already been flushed out of my mind I thought to myself.

“Next time let’s get more of us together. Especially now that Yukari’s back home. Like Shiho, for one.”

“Mm, yes. Great idea. Let’s do that!”

At Miho’s suggestion, we all leaned forward.

“Everyone should bring their husbands and kids too. Let’s do another barbecue!”

“Yay! That’s a fab idea. It’d be great if all our kids can make friends with each other.”

“Yeah, good thinking!”

Satsuki sounded a bit envious, so Yukari prompted her. “You are planning on having kids, aren’t you, Satsuki?”

“Sure, I want them. I’ve been relying on nature to take its course, but I suppose I should start being a bit more proactive about conceiving.”

“Oh yes,” Miho said. “The timing is perfect now.”

I noticed Satsuki gazing at Miho’s sleeping baby and got the impression that both of their wombs were resonating in sync.

Yukari had been nodding during their exchange, but now she abruptly directed her gaze to me. “Keiko, aren’t you married yet?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Really? But…you’re not still stuck in the same job, are you?”

I thought a moment. I knew it was considered weird for someone of my age to not have either a proper job or be married because my sister had explained it to me. Even so, I balked at being evasive in front of Miho and the others, who knew the truth.

“Yep, I’m afraid so.”

Yukari looked flustered by my answer and so I hastily added, “I’m not very strong, so I’m better off in a casual job.”

I’ve made it known among old friends that I have certain health issues that make it more convenient for me to have a part-time job. At my workplace, I tell them it’s because my parents are ill and I need to care for them. I have my sister to thank for thinking up these excuses for me.

I knew it was considered weird for someone of my age to not have either a proper job or be married because my sister had explained it to me.

When I was in my early 20s it wasn’t unusual to be a freeter, so I didn’t really need to make excuses. But subsequently everyone started hooking up with society, either through employment or marriage, and I was the only one who hadn’t done either.

While I always say it’s because I’m frail, deep down everyone must be thinking that if that’s so, why would I choose to do a job in which I’m on my feet for long periods every day?

“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? Have you ever been in love, Keiko?” Satsuki asked teasingly.

“In love?”

“Like, have you ever dated anyone? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard you talk about that sort of thing.”

“Oh I see. No, I haven’t,” I answered automatically.

Everyone fell quiet and exchanged uncomfortable glances with each other. Too late I remembered that my sister had told me in such cases I should give a vague answer like: “Well, there was someone I liked but I’m not a good judge of men.” This would give the impression that I’d at least had a lover or something that might have involved some kind of physical relationship, even if I’d never had an actual boyfriend. “You can just give a vague answer to a personal question, and they’ll come to their own conclusions,” she’d told me. Well, I messed that one up, I thought to myself.

“You know, I’ve got quite a few gay friends,” Miho intervened, “So I kind of get it. These days you can also be asexual or whatever you like.”

“Oh yes, I heard that’s on the increase. Like there are young people who just aren’t interested in it at all.”

“I saw a program on TV about that. It’s apparently really hard for them to come out too.”

I’d never experienced sex, and I’d never even had any particular awareness of my own sexuality. I was indifferent to the whole thing and had never really given it any thought. And here was everyone taking it for granted that I must be miserable when I wasn’t. Even if I had been, though, it didn’t follow that my anguish would be the obvious type of anguish they were all talking about. But they didn’t want to think it through that far. I had the feeling I was being told they wanted to settle the matter this way because that was the easiest option for them.

It was the same as when I’d hit that boy with a shovel at school. All the adults had jumped to the unfounded conclusion that I must be an abused child and blamed my family. That way they could understand why I’d done such a terrible thing and therefore have peace of mind. So they’d all pressed me to admit my family situation was to blame for what I’d done.

What a pain I thought, wondering why everyone felt such a need for reassurance. But out loud I just parroted the excuse my sister had told me to use whenever I was in a fix: “No, no. It’s just because I’m not strong. That’s all!”

“Oh yes, it’s true, you’ve got a chronic condition, haven’t you? It must be really tough on you.”

“You’ve been like that for ages now. Are you okay?”

I wished I was back in the convenience store where I was valued as a working member of staff and things weren’t as complicated as this. Once we donned our uniforms, we were all equals regardless of gender, age, or nationality—all simply store workers.

I looked at the clock—3 p.m.—so they’d have finished settling the cash register account and changing money at the bank and would be starting to put the latest truckload of bread and lunch boxes out on display.

Even when I’m far away, the convenience store and I are connected. In my mind’s eye I picture the brightly lit and bustling store, and I silently stroke my right hand, its nails neatly trimmed in order to better work the buttons on the cash register.

***

From Convenience Store Woman© 2016 by Sayaka Murata. English translation © 2018 by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Originally published as Konbini ningen. Japanese edition published by Bungeishunju Ltd., Tokyo. English language translation rights granted to Grove Atlantic, Inc. under license granted by Sakaya Murata arranged with Bungeishunju Ltd. through The English Agency (Japan) Ltd. Excerpted by arrangement with Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.