Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chapter three (segment eight), twenty four years earlier, May, Ulf

After changing back to his school uniform later that day he felt a sudden urge. First he bought a brand new uniform, one that was strictly conforming to regulations, and bagged it. Then, as an afterthought he bagged his suit as well. It had to see a cleaner anyway.

He needed to get away from it all, but the blocks closest to school, or any on his way to his bike for that matter, didn't offer anything where there wasn't a risk of other students entering. So he struck out, aimlessly walking the streets in the evening. Better steer clear of the police. They're not too keen on loitering teenagers this late.

Random thoughts raced through his mind.

Did I just get myself a girlfriend? Am I even interested in her that way?

Ulf unbuttoned his shirt a bit and loosened his school uniform neck tie.

He kicked at a stone and continued walking the side streets. I am interested. She's beautiful and all, but that's not it, is it? He sighed and looked up, between tangles of electric wire, at a sky where he knew he would have seen stars but for the ever present night light of Tokyo.

We would understand each other. And we share a world. And we're pretty much the same age. Isn't that a perfect match?

He'd be hated by the other guys. Ryu especially. Ryu wasn't very good at hiding his crush, and the few days with the new club had been more than enough for Ulf. More than enough for anyone with even marginal eyesight, he thought sarcastically.

So, why am I not happier than this? I should be giddy with feelings. Am I too old to fall in love that way? He sighed again. Is she? Am I just afraid she won't feel the same way if I fall too hard for her? Is this just the fear of loss?

A cat hugging the wall came over to him and tied itself around his leg.

You're a cat. You'd be a cat back home. A cat.

He bent down and cuddled it for a while.

But I'm not a cat. Stranger in a strange land. That's me. I can't do anything on my own. Couldn't in Sweden for that matter, but more so here.

Satisfied with the attention the cat meowed and left him, as cats tend to do.

Yukio saved us all, and Christina made the club possible, and she's depending on Kyoko. Ryu is the other pole of the magnet attracting all those students, and I suspect that he thrives on the support of his sister.

Ulf looked up into the evening sky. There were no stars after all. The way he was no star.

And I depend on them all. I even depend on Amaya, the one I so arrogantly try to protect. What a mess!

He walked a couple of blocks more. Then he found a run-down coffee house that looked promising. 'Stockholm Haven Café' a sign in desperate need of new paint told him. Worth a try.

Ulf opened the door and found himself in a surprisingly European setting. They might even have decent coffee here. If I can afford it. Almost out of cash. Buying that bike bled me dry. He sat down at a table, grateful that the man behind the counter hadn't shouted a Japanese style welcome.

An ostentatious chandelier hung from the ceiling defying anything resembling good taste. It screamed at him: “We're really, really trying to be a high class old world place here.”

“Hey, you! I'm taking orders over here.”

Ulf rose and walked to the counter. Surprisingly rude for Japan. Maybe this was a bad idea after all. “I'll… I'll have a double espresso,” he said after recognizing the machine hugging the wall between two large mirrors. The café reeked of bad taste.

“You sure about that? At your age, I mean.”

My age? If he only knew. “Yes, I'm sure,” Ulf said, feeling himself blushing.

The barista gave him a long look in return. Then he started preparing the coffee. “If you prefer I could switch to English.”

So, my Japanese is still this bad. “Fine. If it's not too much of a problem,” Ulf answered, taking the barista up on the offer.

“You're not American either. Where you from, kiddo?”

“Sweden. Long story.”

Ulf felt the scrutiny as he was eyed over. “I can see that. Trousers too short, shirt too large. Imported brand glasses was a mistake though. Must have cost you extra to get that combination.”

Shit, busted! “So, what if?” he tried.

“Nothing. Just saying. You talk, I listen. Coffee’s on the house by the way.”

Ulf took a sip by the counter. So bitter! What kind of crap did he give me?

The barista gave him a long, thoughtful look. Then he waved him to the table Ulf had first sat down by.

Ulf followed the man back to the table and gave a start when he swung by the door and hung up what had to be a closed sign.

“Eh, but your customers?”

“It's slow going anyway.” He pulled an ashtray from a shelf and placed it on the table. Then he flicked open a pack of cigarettes and lit one. Ulf gratefully accepted the one he was offered, drew fire from the lighter and inhaled a lungful. The reaction from his fifteen year old body was spectacular.

“Funny that,” the barista said as Ulf tried coughing his lungs out. “Up until that attack I could have sworn you've been a heavy smoker for years.

And busted again, Ulf thought between racking coughs. “Who are you?”

“Ashiga James, at your service.”

“I'd better go home.” Ulf stood up.

James stopped him with a question: “Is that really possible?”


“You still owe me that long story of yours. It's not like I'm going to tell on you. Guess no one would believe me if I did anyway.”

Who is this man? Defeated, Ulf sat down again.

“If you wonder who I am I'll have to disappoint you. I'm actually just a barista these days. I'm kind of reliving my life, if you get my gist.”

How the hell did he know? Is he another one?

James continued as if he hadn't seen Ulf's stricken face: “Funny feeling taking the quick route from Sweden to here, isn't it. That blond girl went with you?”

Christina! So he knows her.

“We're drawn to each other. I get that much,” James continued. “Tokyo's big, but it's not big enough to explain us all ending up here. Especially not why all of us are connected to that school of yours.”

Ulf stared at James open mouthed. It must have shown, because James suddenly laughed, went back to the counter and grabbed a plate.

“Cake? You hungry?”

“Sure,” and as an afterthought Ulf added: “How much?”

“Still on the house, for this time. Now, your story.” James smiled, taking the edge off his last two words: “Spill it!”

And so they wound up talking. Ulf doing most of the talking and James most of the listening. When, long after midnight, Ulf carefully walked the streets to his waiting bike he knew he had found what he needed. They wouldn't depend on a club room at school. A haven indeed.

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