Thursday, 29 June 2017
Early July brought an end to the raining and a sudden increase in temperature along with an acceptance of a new daily routine.
Noriko got used to her sailor uniform, to the new route to school and to a school that was smaller and more silent than Himekaizen.
While the students at Irishima High on average got higher grades she still stood out. The main difference from Himekaizen was that no one here expected her to have much in the way of free time, well apart from the group who joined the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club. Which in its own was was hilarious as it still sported the name of the school that had expelled so many of them.
She didn’t, however, get used to not seeing Urufu and Kuri on a daily basis. The latter had hit her hard since early this spring when Kuri’s job stole more and more of her time. Now chances were Noriko saw her staring down from a billboard or a magazine ad rather than meeting her for real.
Once or twice a week Kuri showed up at the Stockholm Haven café, but when here she was tight lipped about what happened in their old school.
Urufu, well he was more outspoken, but a hardness grew in his face, one Noriko recognised from her father when he ran into problems. It wasn’t the face she wanted to see on the boy she loved, but it was a reminder that the adult world would bring more changes to her than she cared for.
Today Urufu looked like a boy though. Carefree and with his smile opening up into the mischievous grin that made Noriko’s heart jump.
“Good news?” she asked him when he caught up with her on their way to the café. Walked up to her where she demonstratively stood waiting for her might have been a better description.
He just nodded.
Urufu rolled his eyes, and by the time he finally spoke more than a few of the club members stood waiting for his words. “Graduates incoming,” he said cryptically.
Graduates? They were at the end of their first trimester. “And explain,” Noriko added.
“We’re having a few club members from our sister club in Sweden visiting. Or former members.”
Noriko ran the information through her head. Sweden finished their school year early June, so it made sense. Then what Urufu had really said finally registered with her. “They’re here? The people we Skype with?”
Urufu grinned again. White teeth shone in the sun, and to Noriko his face bathing in sweat looked better than ever before. “Some of them.”
“Including my brother,” a voice said from Noriko’s right.
She turned and met Ai-chan’s eyes. “Your brother?”
“Yep,” Ai-chan said and smiled. “He went chasing skirt last autumn.”
Ah, yes, I remember. “And?” Noriko said.
“And he’s bringing his girlfriend,” Ai-chan offered in return. “I want to meet her. I’m curious about anyone who made my brother move to Sweden.”
“Rika’s coming as well,” Urufu said, “together with her friend and his friend.”
“The former club chairman. Same as club president here.”
Something with Urufu casually throwing around the name of a girl Noriko didn’t know didn’t sit too well with her, but that was just the way Urufu was. “That must have been expensive,” she said instead.
A gust of hot air ran over them as they turned a corner, and Noriko missed Urufu’s answer. The sound of a passing lorry drowned his voice, and she decided to wait until they had crossed the street before asking him again. Not that it really was the question she wanted to ask.
At their side of the street the car with Kuri’s bodyguards was absent, which meant no Kuri at the cafe for the evening to come. The other car, however, was present, so she’d be able to see Kyoko and Yukio at least.
A few steps later brought her to the entrance, but rather than enter she waited for most of the group to go inside ahead of her.
The old fashioned doorbell chimed several timed as they opened the door, but Urufu showed her the courtesy of staying outside. While he didn’t respond to her feelings she had made certain he was acutely aware of them. If she was to lose this battle at least she never wanted to look back at these days and regret she hadn’t tried.
She stole a glance at him in the afternoon sun. Tall as always, with his hair unkept in glaring contrast to his buttoned shirt and neck-tie. At least the summer uniform prevented him from wearing his blazer, or Noriko would have melted away from just looking at him.
Looking at him she noticed how his hair had grown slightly darker since she got to know him. Now it was almost impossible to notice that he wasn’t born and bred in Japan. There was a frizziness to it that was mildly unusual here, but if she didn’t know she’d never have guessed he had any foreign ancestry.
“Notice anything strange?” he said with an open smile teasing her.
That was the bad part about him knowing. He definitely had the upper hand when it came to teasing.
“Nothing special,” Noriko said and tried to force down her blushing. She wasn’t all too successful.
“You never caught up on my answer back there?” Urufu suddenly said.
Noriko shook her head. She hadn’t expected him to notice.
“It was probably expensive. Rika’s father made certain it was all paid for.”
Some of the hardness Noriko wanted out of Urufu was back again. This time it was his voice that held a steely edge.
Power games. He’s at his power games again. “The visit isn’t just for fun?”
“It never was,” Urufu said. “For three of them, yes, but both Rika and Jun know there’s something going on.”
Jun, that was Ai-chan’s older brother. “Do they know about you?”
Urufu shook his head. “No they don’t, but they know something is going on. I’m not certain how much their parents know though.”
Saturday, 17 June 2017
Rumours about the latest madness reached Ryu as he fought with his gakuran just outside Himekaizen Academy.
While the old style boys’ school uniform was still commonly seen in middle schools, Red Rose Hell had chosen the blazer long before he even reached the age for elementary school. A surprisingly modern approach for a school with such horrid ideals, he thought, but both his parents promised him Red Rose hadn’t always been that way.
He believed them. Himekaizen Academy turned into a hell hole with the mere change of headship.
Ryu put two fingers inside the high neck, but it didn’t give at all. He probably looked like an idiot, but the expulsions went into effect late enough for Irishima High to switch into their summer uniforms, so this was the first time he wore the full gakuran.
A belated photo session for the new students was the main reason, but most of the former Himekaizen students made an issue of being seen close to their old school in their new uniforms while on their way to the club. Said club by now officially recognised by Irishima High, including its old name.
So Ryu swore once more. Over the uniform or the latest news he wasn’t certain.
Wearing the heavy jacket was of course absurd now when June turned towards July, but the procession got the attention they wanted when they slowly walked s close to Himekaizen all that prevented them from trespassing onto their old school grounds was a thin debarkation of tarmac and gravel.
Ryu knew, but the others didn’t, that the scandalous police intervention, where they brought the principal of Himekaizen to a police station by force, that investigation had been killed as soon as it started.
Behind them, just moments earlier, police picked up the last of the foreign journalists who doggedly had stalked Himekaizen since spring. Spreading misleading news and damaging the Japanese government, was the reason.
Ryu could understand why they were removed. They put Japan to shame, even if in this case he had seen first hand what Kareyoshi was capable of.
Then he heard Urufu blow up in a fit of rage almost a block away, but even through the incoherent shouting he recognised Urufu’s signal when Kuri’s phone came alive a few metres across the street.
Stay away, she’s not your girlfriend any longer! Keep your hand off what’s mine!
And then, just as sudden, Kuri was a flurry of long legs rushing in Urufu’s direction. Her hair bloomed behind her and Ryu caught his breath watching her receding back vanishing up the street.
He noticed how a few Irishima High freshmen girls threw him glances he knew all too well and then gave Kuri jealous stares.
Once again Ryu put two fingers inside his collar, and once again it refused to give. He finally gave up and unbuttoned the jacket before folding it and putting it in his backpack. Whatever it was that felt like it lodged in his throat was still there, and because he knew it was all emotions he couldn’t even muster up the courage to pretend to spit it out.
The sound of the commotion came closer, and Ryu guessed it had taken a little longer than he expected to get his jacket out of the way.
“Passport, I just need my damned passport and I’m out of this shit hole!”
“I promised nothing! Fine I did, but I don’t have a reason to keep that promise any longer, do I!”
Ryu heard months of pent up frustration and pain in Urufu’s voice.
“Ulf, you promised!”
“So what? I promised I’d stay with you and change this place, and so did you, but you broke that promise. Why should I keep mine?”
“Ulf, you promised!” Kuri’s voice was pleading now.
“Urufu, what did you promise?”
Ryu flinched when he heard his sister’s voice filled with so much love and concern it almost overflowed. I’ll never let him have you! You’re my sister!
Maybe Noriko could read his thoughts, maybe not, but no matter what she didn’t give them even a moments notice. “Urufu, tell us! What did she make you promise?”
Kuri gasped, and Ryu understood her. The question was a loaded gun.
Then he saw Tomasu-kun’s face, twisted into rage just like Urufu’s, and Ryu stopped to wonder what could possibly bring out so much hatred in the two men turned boys.
“What’s going on?” Ryu asked.
A Irishima High junior Ryu didn’t know by name answered. “Dad told me the diet made what’s happening at Himekaizen a government secret. It’s illegal to report about it.”
Ryu shrugged. Putting the lid on disturbing news before it hurt society only made sense. That was the reason responsible newspapers had a vetting process before allowing any articles that could potentially hurt the government. At least that was what they were taught in school.
“Did they fucking move the Soviet Union from Moscow to Tokyo?” Tomasu-kun raged.
“I’m out of here as soon as I get my passport. Only a swine would resort to censorship, and I don’t live with pigs!”
“Ulf, please, you promised! They do things differently here.”
“No, Christina, no! I’ll never consent to this!”
“I never asked you to consent to it. Just don’t leave Japan, please!”
Some of the air went out of Urufu. He deflated. “You’re unfair, Christina. You’re unfair.”
To Ryu’s consternation Noriko walked directly to Urufu and embraced him. While he hardly seemed to notice it, the rest of them certainly did.
She let go briefly and turned her face up to face Urufu. “If not for her, then stay for me,” Noriko said.
“Unfair, you’re both unfair,” Urufu said, and for a moment he stroked Noriko’s head.
A chill that had nothing to do with the early evening ran down Ryu’s spine.
Friday, 9 June 2017
As June grew to a close Ulf got used to the boredom of not having his closest friends around him in school. In ways it was a little like the life he took for granted while they built TAP and acquired more customers during the nineties in his previous life.
Back then old friends grew distant, and new ones took their places. Still, it was different now. It didn’t matter that he knew his teenage body lacked a lot of the impulse control that came with adulthood. The sense of immediacy was still there, and he drowned himself in his work, training and, more importantly now than ever before, in club activities.
That day, not too long ago, when Noriko arrived in the restaurant he had first reacted with surprise, but when he learned about the expulsions Ulf understood how she had wanted to tell her parents as soon as possible.
In short, while the arrivals couldn’t be expelled, their fight against Kareyoshi had turned into an utter defeat.
Himekaizen took on an uglier tone, one that he remembered from Red Rose Hell. Korean and Chinese students were expelled en masse and the few ones left were subjected to harassment while most of the teachers turned a blind eye to what was happening, when they didn’t outright support the bullies.
A few took the fight, but after their English teacher was fired on unclear grounds the last of the resistance petered out.
In place of the old PTA a new one, firmly in the hands of Kareyoshi, was established, and the only mitigating factor was how journalists kept stalking the school and stubbornly fed the flames of a slowly escalating political scandal.
Ulf had his suspicions about who lay behind it. Arrivals, far older than he was, built their own power base, and then there was that shadowy organisation behind it all. It might be split into two fighting factions, but that meant there was still the faction with saner ideals who kept throwing dirt at the side who currently had the upper hand.
It had to give, and when one journalist caught Kareyoshi on tape when he referred to Christina as ‘the foreign whore’, it did. Problem being, it never happened. When the scandal reached international media it turned out the tape had been mastered.
What a mess, Ulf thought. He kept the thought to himself, because right now wasn’t the time to air what he was thinking. The arsehole in charge sat delivering an endless stream of incoherent threats and verbal abuse while his cronies in the PTA listened. Ulf stood at the receiving end.
He wasn’t alone. Beside him Amaya silently sat in a chair and heard it all. Silently because he had forced a promise from her not to explode the way she usually did. As usual he taped the entire session for future use.
When Kareyoshi finally finished his raging rants Amaya looked up. “Let me see if I understand this correctly. If Urufu doesn’t make sure that the articles about this school ends you’ll have his arms broken and him thrown into Tokyo bay?”
Ulf refrained from shaking his head. Sure enough, the idiot said those things, but there was no risk he’d make it happen. They were just empty threats.
“He’s filth!” The arsehole said. “Garbage like him should just die.”
“I need to ascertain this,” Amaya replied. “Did you just say you wanted one of your students to die?”
“He deserves it, and you know it.”
What’s she up to? That was when Ulf noticed the throat microphone hidden inside Amaya’s collar. No, you didn’t!
“Let me just try to understand. You’re saying that if that sixteen year old boy doesn’t force media from six nations to stop writing about this school you’ll have him killed?”
Even Kareyoshi wasn’t stupid enough to disclose the secret about the arrivals in front of the PTA, not even if he had them under his thumb. Ulf watched him panic slightly, but as Ulf suspected the moron simply lacked the brains to understand when he was baited.
In the end Kareyoshi just growled.
“That’ll be all, thank you very much,” Amaya said and grabbed Ulf’s arm.
When she started leading him out of the principal’s office Ulf saw Kareyoshi’s face redden once more.
“I haven’t given him permission to...”
“Officer, please take him in for interrogation,” Amaya said rather than wait for Kareyoshi to finish. “I’ll supply you with the recordings of the meeting as well.”
“You’re not allowed to...”
The yelling stopped when two men in civilian clothes passed by Ulf and entered the office.
Ulf could hear muted protests from the inside even after Amaya the door. So could part of the Himekaizen teaching staff as well since they had stood eavesdropping outside.
“What’s the matter with you? Never seen police before? Do you need a closer contact with them to better learn what they’re like?” The steeliness in Amaya’s voice reminded Ulf of the line of works she had been into since long before he met her. How he could ever have seen her as his substitute daughter was beyond him.
While a few of the teachers frowned at her all made themselves scarce within moments.
“Urufu, my young man, you’d better learn to behave.”
“Yes ma'am,” Ulf said. He recognised that voice for certain.
“I don’t care if you think you have some kind of special status. Here you’re just another student, so act like one! Understood?”
Then something glimmered in her eyes. “And that fucker is just a principal, so we’ll teach him to behave like one as well.”
“Yes ma’am,” Ulf said, just to be on the safe side.