Saturday, 9 May 2015
Chapter four (segment three), twenty four years earlier, May, Ulf
They were finished with club hours. Ulf planned to invite them all to the café he had stumbled upon the evening before, but first he had to clear something up.
He pulled Ryu aside and pointed the other four in the direction of the worn sign. Christina nodded understanding and walked ahead with the other three in tow.
“Ryu, we need to talk.”
“You're rather familiar with me, aren't you?”
“Look, gaijin and all that. Keigo isn't my thing.”
Ryu nodded. He wasn't going to make an issue of it, and it spared Ulf a lot of problems. His Japanese wasn't anywhere near the level where he could master the nuances without making an arse of himself. He instinctively felt that Ryu came from a very different background.
“It's about Yukio, and Christina. And Noriko, I guess.”
“Uhum, he's more involved in this than you know. And he's not looking for Noriko, which is part of it.”
Ryu raised an eyebrow. That made him look oddly cool.
The prince of Himekaizen. Yes, I can see why. That makes me the king. “You know, the first time we met.”
Ryu's face filled with disgust, but Ulf knew he wasn't the target. “Yes.”
“Yukio was there and helped me clean up after you left. I owe him, and so do you.”
“Yu-kun?” Ryu asked for the second time.
Ulf stepped up on the side-walk and leaned against the wall. Ahead of them their friends had already arrived at the café and went inside. He looked after them, and Ryu followed his stare with one of his own.
“I might behave like a...” What's that expression in Japanese? “… eh rhino, buffalo, elephant?”
“Yeah, yeah, I understand what you mean. Get to it!”
“But I kind of like you all. I care for you, in my own way, and I don't want to lose you.” Because loss hurts. Because loss scares me. “So I want you to understand that Yukio isn't only important to me, but he should be to you as well.”
Ryu straightened and came to attention. “You said he was there the first time, after you saved my sister?” His voice had grown much friendlier. He even made an effort to remind Ulf about the debt the twins shared.
“Yes, he was. He was a clumsy kid, and well-meaning. And he took a great risk for Noriko, because it was important to him.”
“Please, Hamarugen-san, tell me.”
You didn't have to get that polite. But yes, Yukio, you were there all-right. I remember, yes I remember.
Once again Ulf's mind travelled to that day.
“Because I saw it.”
Ulf let go of the leg he held for a moment. The kid helping him drag the unconscious bodies out into the open barely spoke functional English. “Why are you helping me?”
That simple question took several tries to go through.
“I love her.”
That was a simple enough, and probably common enough, English phrase for the stranger to get it right in one try. Stranger? We're wearing the same school uniform. I've probably seen this guy before.
They dropped the wannabe rapist by the swings. Ulf didn't dare to move neither the one with a skull fracture, nor the one with a crushed ribcage, so this would be the last one they dragged away from where the one sided fight had occurred.
“I doubt dragging around the victims of my violence will make her fall in love with you,” Ulf said not caring that the other boy couldn't understand. He already knew the answer to his next question. “Your girlfriend?”
“No. Told two times. Said no two times.” The stranger smiled. A sad smile, but a smile with no regrets.
He was turned down twice. Got to give him credit for a backbone. Bloody hell, that takes courage to get shot down a second time. “What's your name?”
“I am Matsumoto Yukio.”
They do it in the wrong order here. So… “Matsu… Sorry. So, Yukio, I'm Ulf Hammargren.” Ulf looked at the surprised stare he received in return. Did I do something wrong?
“Mister Hamarugen, nice to meet you.”
Crap, they stick to the shit with first name and second name basis. “Eh… eh… Matsumoto-san, the pleasure is mine,” Ulf tried in an attempt to undo what had been an improper way of addressing a stranger.
“Please, mister… Uhun… Urufu, I'm Yukio.”
And now we're two who feel ashamed. Ulf offered his hand to Yukio. “Friends?”
It was a sliver of a memory, and because of that so much more important to him. It was how he had made his first really close friend here in Japan.
“And that's pretty much how we got to know each other,” Ulf said to Ryu and kicked a pebble across the street. “By the way, did he…?”
“Yeah. Sis turned him down a third time before he gave up.” Ryu made a crooked smile. “She really should have given him a chance. He's a good guy.”
They spent a few moments in silence only broken by the tapping of their shoes against the side-walk. Ahead of them the café had grown closer.
“I'm sorry,” Ulf said.
Ryu gave him a quizzical look.
“I'll probably become an item with Christina.”
“I don't want to hurt Noriko. She shouldn't ask.”
“It feels kinda strange to talk with the brother about a girl you're turning down before she even has the chance to ask.”
“I know. I'm glad.”
“I don't want you too close to sis. You're too much of a player.”
“Don't worry. I won't.”
“Doesn't mean I'll give up on Kuri-chan.”
Oh, competition! You're out of your league, kid. But you wouldn't know why. “She decides for herself. But she's from Sweden, just like me. Stuff you'll never be able to share with her the way I am.”
“I'll make her mine.”
You won't. Because I won't. Unless you understand that most Swedish women will never accept being seen as property you've lost the race before it even starts. “I'll settle for making her share her time with me.” Ulf grinned at Ryu. “Good luck to both of us,” he lied.
“Good luck to both of us,” Ryu answered.
He's a good kid. He really is. Pity he grew up with a gender view that belongs in the history books. Ulf sighed. Guess that can't be helped. Besides, I'm the foreigner in a nation where they still live in those history books. I'd better get used to this country, good parts as well as the bad ones. I can change the latter when I've grown up – again.
They had arrived at the café and went indoors. It still reeked of bad taste.
Behind the counter James, the barista, had just finished making the orders for the other four. He looked up and greeted Ulf with a nod.
Ulf looked at the coffee-machine between the mirrors. “A double espresso for me.” Then he smiled at the memory. “And a cake, the same one.”
“And you, young sir?” James said to Ryu.
“I'll have green tea and the cake my friend here ordered.”
James frowned. “We don't serve green tea here. Is black fine with you?”
Ryu looked at their surroundings and nodded. “Black is fine.”
“What kind?” James glanced at a blackboard above the mirrors.”
Of course, this is supposed to be a Swedish café. Ulf waited for his coffee. The cake was already on the counter. Behind him he could hear the others taking their seats by a table at the back of the room.
“What is 'South Mix'?”
What, he really serves the home-made mixtures from Sweden? Ulf took his coffee as it was served and went to join the group. He listened to James' explanation with one ear. Ryu made his order.
“This one free?” Ulf asked and nudged a chair. Four chairs, one sofa. All worn and nothing from the same set. The furniture looked like it was pieced together from the rejected items in a second hand shop.
The entire room was furnished with odd pieces of furniture. Back home this was supposed to be some kind of shabby chic. Here it just looked out of place.
Above them an old air conditioner made an asthmatic try to keep the temperature down. It was sweating profusely at the attempt.
Christina tried to give him a place beside her in the sofa, but Kyoko quickly took that spot.
So you're still angry with me? I guess I'm at fault. He sat down on the chair he had moved earlier and put his espresso and a plate with cake on the table.
Noriko gave him a sullen stare and focused her attention at her tea.
“Urufu, why this of all places you could have found?”
Ulf looked at his friend. “Kinda feels like home.” Seems Yukio finally dropped the honorifics with me. About time.
Ryu joined them.
Ulf could hear the door open and close. Probably James hanging that closed sign up.
Footsteps closed in on them. Yes, definitely James.
“I chose this place away from school,” Ulf said to everyone and no one in particular.
“Chose? You stumbled in here after dark,” James said.
“Whatever. James, can we use the café as a meeting place?”
“You're asking me if I'd allow more paying customers inside?”
Ulf felt stupid. He tasted his espresso to give himself some time to think. It was as horribly bitter as the last time. Is something wrong with me? I used to really love a good shot! Still smells the right way though.
Kyoko poured sugar into her cup and sipped her American style coffee, which was to say a slightly darkened liquid that might have made a very brief acquaintance with a coffee bean or two. To his right Noriko had begun nibbling on a cookie.
“Besides, it's not a place apart from school,” Ryu said after he had sat down.
“It's directly on she shortest path between Himekaizen and the station,” James said.
Ulf looked around him, Six faces studied him as if he was wearing a clown costume. Even the air-conditioner coughed agreeably in amusement.
“Urufu, you moron!” That was Yukio generously adding to his discomfort.
“His majesty the idiot failed to use that oversized brain of his again.”
“Urufu, this is on the route everyone going by train takes. Well, apart from you.”
The station closest to school. Oh crap!
“Old geezer, what did I say about thinking first?”
Ulf groaned inwardly. He had forgotten about that. But 'old geezer' was just a little bit too dangerous. He was about to reprimand his friend when Christina shook her head.
“Ulf, aren't close friends the best?” she said. “Those you can share everything with?” She smiled at him, and then she gave Kyoko an exaggeratedly fond look.
Oh, oh! Four of us. Need to get Yukio and Kyoko into the loop quickly. Besides, Yukio could use the fact that he has shared a secret with Kyoko.
He should have guessed. Kyoko was as close to Christina as Yukio was to him after all. But the problem with the café loomed darker. Other students would find their way here as soon as it was known that both Ryu and Christina went here. Him being an item with Christina wouldn't change that. Idols could be married and still be idols.
“Mister Hammargren, you look troubled. I have an inner room that can host a dozen people, more if you can cram it,” James suggested with a knowing smile.
Saved by the bell, once again.
“Hamarugen-san indeed. More like Moron-sama,” Noriko said all of a sudden. Then she giggled and she was soon followed by the rest of them. Apparently he was stupid enough for both Noriko and Kyoko for lay their anger aside.
To the left of him Yukio let out a deep sigh of relief.
Ulf stared Kyoko directly in her eyes. “I'm sorry to intrude on your friendship, but Christina and I are the same. Exactly the same.”
The sigh of relief was replaced by a sudden gasp. Good Yukio. I think you got it.
“She's still my best friend. If you hurt her I'll be very angry,” Kyoko said, proving Ulf's meaning hadn't got through.
He could see Christina look at her friend with slight disapproval. Ryu and Noriko understood that something was going on, but he knew that they couldn't possibly grasp what was going on.
“I could give you just over fifty reasons I would never hurt her,” Ulf tried again.
The penny dropped.
Kyoko's face opened up in a big 'O'. She gave Christina a frantic look and clasped her mouth with both hands. Yukio grinned sheepishly. Good for you two.
Ulf studied Ryu and Noriko. Yes, they had realised they were being left out on something, but Ryu was just too polite to ask.
Noriko, not so.
“What secret could possibly be great enough to merit that loony look of yours?” she said to Kyoko.
James shook his head slowly, so Ulf felt forced to nod back to him. They'll learn anyway. They'll learn, but I don't know if they'll believe.
“Ko-chan just learned that she has a lot in common with Yu-kun here,” Christina suggested with a knowing smile. Great! Thank you! So Kyoko has it in for Yukio.
The objects of Christina's teasing turned red with impressive speed and stared at opposite sides of the room. Ryu and Noriko exchanged looks and rolled their eyes. Twins, they certainly were twins.
“Well, with that out in the air, should we proceed?” Do we let the last two in on our secret yet?
Christina shook her head. “Sounds like a plan. James, that was your name, wasn't it?”
It's like she can read my mind. You fantastic girl!
“What about this inner room of yours? Could we have a look at it? And we'll have another round.”
Wordlessly James brought out a set of keys and headed for the counter. He unlocked a narrow door and beckoned them to join. “I'll clean up that table later,” he said.