Just outside Hiroshima Ulf heard a voice calling his name. His real name, not the Japanese pronunciation of it.
What the hell?
He stood by his bike outside a convenience store, and there just wasn't any way he could pretend he hadn't heard.
How did they find me? Oh well, I guess it was bound to happen.
“Who's asking,” he said.
“I am,” a man in his forties answered in Swedish.
An arrival? Bloody hell, it's Christina's grandpa!
“You took ages to track down, but just vanishing off the net won't stop someone like me. I'm too old for that crap anyway.”
He would be. Ninety a hundred? Well, something like that. “What do you want, Mitsuo?” Ulf said, likewise in Swedish.
“They're looking for you, your friends you know.”
Ulf nodded. He knew. “What about it?” He couldn't depend on their friendship just yet, so he tried to sound as callous as possible.
“I heard you hurt my Tina.”
So he's here on a revenge trip. “She hurt herself. I helped,” Ulf admitted. Thinking of her ripped a hole in his heart.
“I heard she hurt you,” Mitsuo said.
OK, so not a revenge trip after all. “We weren't too smart, I guess,” Ulf said. “Too late now.”
Mitsuo shrugged. “I disagree. When they're dead, or you've transited, then it's too late, and sometimes not even then.”
Ulf suspected Mitsuo thought of how he met Christina in this world. “That's not why you had me tracked down, is it Mitsuo?”
Mitsuo smirked. “No,” he agreed. “It's not. I think you're both idiots, but I'm no matchmaker. I need to speak with you about killing.”
“I already made it clear that murders are unacceptable.”
“Does that include those directly involved in the attack on your friends?”
Ulf took a deep breath. For a moment he hesitated. Those directly involved. That would include the one who shot Amaya's friend. For a short time he fought a battle in his mind. His Swedish pacifist upbringing versus what had happened.
“Ulf, I need an answer.”
“Wait!” The morally right thing to do, or the right thing to do? “Kill them!” he said to his own surprise, and for the first time since the kidnapping attempt he remembered the sound of gunshots in the car he rode. How his daughter received the wounds she eventually died from. “Kill them all!”
“Whoa! Now you wait a moment. What do you mean by all?”
“Only those directly involved. Take them out. No torture, not talking, no nothing. Just kill them!”
“And those responsible?”
Ulf smiled, and then he felt his smile widen into a grin. For a moment Mitsuo flinched before he regained his composure.
“Sano-sensei,” Ulf said, for the first time using the polite way of addressing his senior, “I don't want them to die. That's too easy. I want them to live long and horrible lives.”
Mitsuo took a step back. “I can see why Tina fell for you. I hope you were good to her, because she never was to herself.”
“You'll have to ask her,” Ulf said. He heard how harsh that sounded, but talking about her hurt. “I can't presume to know, but I tried. If I was enough I don't know.”
“But you think you tried your best? That will suffice for me.” Then a calculating grin spread over Mitsuo's face. “Who's the most important for you, you or Tina?”
“I am.” Ulf's answer came immediately. His daughter's death taught him the hard way that the people depending on him would fall if he didn't take care of himself. If he didn't, who would?
“I'd die for her.” That answer also came immediately. When the loss was absolute he'd step aside. Besides, a world without Christina, even if she was no longer his girlfriend, was no world worth living in. It would be, some day, Ulf knew that, but not today.
“So you really are a being of two worlds,” Mitsuo said. “Like my daughter.”
Ulf knew what he meant. Not this world and the other one, but Sweden and Japan. He was Swedish through and through, but sometimes he looked upon life in ways that was different from those around him.
That had been harder when he was a child, but as he grew up more and more people around him shared the sense of standing with a foot each in a different world. The new generation of Swedes.
In the end Ulf just nodded consent. Mitsuo knew, but he could never truly understand. He had moved from one world to another, not stayed his life in one, always listening to a shadow of the unknown.
“Did you get the answers you came for?” Ulf asked. He wanted to end the conversation and continue his hike.
“I did.” A darkness fell over Mitsuo's face. “Don't take too long. They need you. My Tina needs you.”
What? “Why, what do you mean?”
“She's dying inside. I met her. Even if you two can't be a couple, she still needs you close to her. Please, if not for yourself, then for my little Tina!”
Ulf dropped the food he had just bought into his bags. He didn't need to hear that Christina was hurting. “I can't promise anything. When I'm ready I'll return.”
“If that's the best you can do then I'll have to settle for that.” First Mitsuo made as if to leave, but then he stopped. “May I tell your friends?”
Ulf had known that question would come up. “I'm sorry, but you can't. I need this time. This is my spring break.”
“I know, let's just call it an extended spring break.”
Mitsuo bowed. “I acknowledge you,” he said and left the parking place.
Ulf stood left behind. The meeting with Christina's grandfather had signalled an end to something, and a new beginning. Now Ulf needed to reach that beginning before he hurt his friends even more.
Not tomorrow, but a few days more. I'll heal. I have to heal. Christina, I love you.