When I first met Hiroko she seemed like a normal girl. I had no idea that her life was a terrifying nightmare of near constant stalking.
I’m not very outgoing and making friends doesn’t come easily to me. Yet I’ve often been envious of cliques, of girls who paint each other’s nails and go clubbing. Most of the people I spend time with are more interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons than giving each other facials. Then at law school, Hiroko and I shared a tutorial class together, and we clicked straight away.
She was in Australia to study law while her husband and family were back home in Japan. I thought this was odd at first. How could anyone live in a different country from their partner for four years? Then I thought of my best friend in high school from Korea, who lived with her sister so they could study in Australia, and it didn’t seem so strange.
Hiroko and I had study sessions together, met up for dinner, chatted over the phone and emailed each other. She was the kind of person who was able to coax me out of introversion. Occasionally she’d say something like ‘Don’t give out my email address,’ or ‘Please don’t share that photo of me,’ comments that I dismissed as being a little over-cautious about privacy. After all, Hiroko seemed to get a new phone number every few months. Harmless technophobic caution.
One day she told me that she’d moved house. I’d recently been over to her place for a last minute cram session before our assessments were due. Her apartment had been across the road from campus with amazing views of the city. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to move from such a sweet spot.
‘The landlord keeps letting herself into the apartment,’ she told me, frowning. ‘At first it was to do a fire inspection. Now she goes through my things and tampers with my mail. I can tell because my stuff is always moved when I get home.’
‘Wow, that sucks,’ I said, a little worried. ‘I can see why you’d want to move.’
Her new place was in the Goldsborough Mort building. A large warehouse that had been converted into apartments and a hotel. It wasn’t as picturesque, and she was sharing with roommates, but at least she didn’t have a nosy landlord to deal with anymore.
Unfortunately for Hiroko, it wasn’t the landlord she had to worry about now, it was her roommates. She was only there for a few months before she couldn’t stand living with them anymore. I’ve never lived in a share house before, but I’ve heard horror stories about housemates who refuse to do dishes, take out the garbage or even pay rent. Hiroko didn’t have those problems, though. She eventually confessed the reason she’d moved again was because her roommate was going through her things. This wasn’t a coincidence. The landlord from the previous apartment had asked her roommate to do it.
That was when I realised Hiroko wasn’t experiencing a string of bad luck. She was creating it in her mind.
I hadn’t had a good friend like her for a long time and didn’t want to lose that friendship. Whenever she talked about stalking, I tried not to engage. But as time went on, it became increasingly difficult to have a conversation with her that didn’t revolve around a vast network conspiring to monitor her.
At one of the last study sessions she told me about a man who parked on her street, watching her. As usual I tried to change the subject, but she launched into a story about convincing a taxi driver to wait on the street while she turned the tables, parking outside the house of one of the men involved in the conspiracy. The narrative was spotty and probably never made sense to begin with, but in the end she told me the man she was watching was a corrupt police officer.
That night, as I went to leave, she announced she was going back to Japan for a holiday soon, and thrust a small pot plant into my arms. She asked me to look after it for her, to give it a little bit of water every now and then.
The next I heard from her, she was calling from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I was shocked to discover she was in the mental health ward. I visited her as soon as I could and she was very happy to see me. She told me I was the only friend she had, and I told her I pretty much felt the same way. Apparently Hiroko had gone to the police to tell them that one of their members was corrupt – several times. The police were the ones who had put her in hospital.
I was torn. While I didn’t like the thought of my friend being there, the medication they gave her was calming. When I suggested she climb out the window to freedom, she soberly rejected the idea. It wasn’t much, but it was the first time she’d even come close to admitting she had a problem. On some level, I think she knew she was supposed to be there.
A few months later Hiroko was out and seemed to be in a better space. We were supposed to meet but she never showed and didn’t pick up her phone. A few days later I tried calling again only to find that her number was disconnected. I emailed her multiple times but never got a response. Hiroko was uncontactable. We had both finished our degrees. I didn’t even know if she was still in the country.
Without knowing, I had become a part of the conspiracy. I was keeping tabs on her, passing on information and photos to dangerous men. For what purpose, I wasn’t sure.
I don’t know why she was so paranoid. Perhaps she’d suffered trauma, or simply had a mental condition she never told me about. I may never know.
Her plant still sits on my balcony, now almost as tall as me. Whenever I look outside I am reminded of Hiroko and wish that we were still friends.