Monday, 25 September 2017
“What do you think?”
Uchida turned and faced him. Uchida. No honorifics. For Mitsuo Uchida had lost any rights to that kind of respect eighty years ago. Eighty long years ago when the older officer made Mitsuo believe in the war crazed ideals of imperial Japan.
“Good enough,” Mitsuo said.
He spent 50 years atoning for his sins in Sweden until the day he suddenly arrived in Japan. He spent six years reliving a very different kind of adolescent in a very different kind of Japan, and then he found out that Uchida hadn’t succumbed to cancer in the late 1970s.
That took a few years to forgive. What eventually sped that process up was when Mitsuo realised Uchida had atoned in his own way. In both worlds.
He always knew what I thought. “Yes, for now.” Mitsuo growled silently. He didn’t like the older man at all. “Look, you try anything funny with the Wakayamas and I’ll have every last goon you’ve hidden in Japan vanish within a couple of months. Are we clear?”
“Are they that important?”
Raw emotions flooded Mitsuo. Feelings of friendship, almost bordering on love soared through him. There was nothing sexual about it, but just as intense anyway. “They’re my friends. They made friends with me even though I never deserved it in the first place. I’ll die for them if I can stop you from hurting them.” It wasn’t even conviction, just fact. He owed them more than his life – he owed them coming alive again. Only once had he felt that strongly in his life before, and that time it was a tall, silver haired girl who turned his life upside down seventy years earlier.
Uchida stared at him. “You’ve grown.”
A sudden sensation of pain in his stomach delayed Mitsuo’s realisation that he wasn’t ill. Then he burst out in all but hysterical laughter.
“Moron,” he said after the attack ebbed out. “The hundred years old tells the ninety years old that he’s grown.”
“You’re ninety five.” There wasn’t even a trace of humour in the voice.
Mitsuo decided to react accordingly. “In this world I’m forty. In this world, and especially in this Japan I’m the one with the power to stab you from behind. In this world I left the worst parts of the seventy years I lived in that other world behind.”
“Talk, just talk.”
“You’re part of those bad parts. Two things of mine, only two, were never tainted by evil.” Mitsuo dug up old memories and sighed. Yes, this was what he truly believed. “My wife, and my daughter.”
Uchida’s eyebrows rose. “And Christina?”
Mitsuo had expected that. “She’s my granddaughter. She was never mine to begin with.” He didn’t dare to tell the older man that she carried memories of deeds almost as dark as his own. He hadn’t dared to tell Ulf when he still hoped that the man turned boy would stay by Christina’s side for a lifetime.
“About young Wakayama?”
Somehow Uchida must have read his mind. Thinking of Ulf made Mitsuo think of the kid who currently played the role of Christina’s boyfriend.
“He knows, as his sister does. He knows that their parents are involved with us, but I suspect that my friends are still unaware of how much the kids have understood.” Mitsuo scratched his chin. “I agree, he’s an excellent bridge between Sweden and Japan, but I believe Ulf’s a better one.”
“He’s an arrival. He should pick one of the nations when he’s grown into manhood again.”
“Because you don’t want him to stand with a foot in each? Is that imperial army fucking major bloody moron speaking, or did you at least learn the basics of what it means to be a decent human being since you arrived here?”
Uchida looked like he was going to explode, but as he calmed down Mitsuo had to accept that the older man probably had. Learned the basics at least.
With a sigh Mitsuo concurred. “This is a different world. Not just because it’s a different world, but more importantly because this is the twenty first century. Ulf’s young enough to be comfortable with globalisation. He’s not one of us.” With a grimace Mitsuo tasted the pain Ulf would experience should he choose to stay in Japan. “Uchida, that boy will carve out a small part of this nation and change it. Unless you want to torment him for the rest of his life, please accept that he needs a connection with Sweden to stay sane.”
Uchida looked thoughtful for a while. Then he shrugged. “Torment or not. I don’t care. If he’s useful or not is the only important thing. An honourable man knows how to fit into society.”
And with those words Uchida proved to Mitsuo that, while he might represent the Swedish side, Uchio’s core represented everything ugly with a Japan of the past that Mitsuo still kept running away from.
“Ulf could teach you about honour,” Mitsuo said with disgust filling his stomach. “I’ll help you with building a power base for young Wakayama, but if you try to fuck with Ulf you’d better keep the body bags ready.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No, Mitsuo said. “My threats send people to hospital. You’re still standing.”
In the background Hasegawa-san looked like he was going to be sick.
“Don’t worry,” Mitsuo offered him. “In difference from your colleague there are perfectly decent arrivals. If it’s any comfort I can tell you that you should be deeply ashamed of what you did to your daughter. Young Wakayama is a good man.” Mitsuo nodded at Uchida. “I’m just trying to make this arsehole understand that Ulf is an even better one.”
“Enough with the pleasantries,” Uchida said, and finally some of the humour returned to his voice. “Can we agree on cutting that Kareyoshi idiot down to size?”
Mitsuo nodded. Uchida might be a sorry remnant of a past best forgotten, but in this case he was right. “It’ll take some time, and I’ll need your help, but we have to give Himekaizen back to the arrivals.”
“Then we have an agreement.”
Sunday, 17 September 2017
Ryu stared after Kuri when she left the surfer shop for the outdoors shoots and her personal petty revenge on Kareyoshi. Ryu wasn’t certain how visible it would be, but apart from her, Urufu and their Swedish guests there were mostly formerly expelled students from Himekaizen on the beach. Kuri, rather unsurprisingly, had duped her crew into some group shots for a ‘summer with high school friends on the beach’.
He grinned. It was summer, and they were on the beach, and they were friends as well as high school students.
“Some people take all the good ones,” a whisper came from behind him.
Ryu didn’t turn. Crew, model or just a visitor, he didn’t know, but he was aware that whatever he lacked in looks compared to the male models he more than made up for in presence, or charisma as some preferred to call it. Still, he toned down his grin. It was an expression he had copied from Urufu in the end. The old Ryu usually smiled, or laughed, rather than grinned.
“That’s a funny thing to say with so much beauty,” someone else said.
“They’re models. He’s he real thing.”
He was, he knew that. His was a good family, which was the reason he disliked Noriko chasing after Urufu. Last year Ryu didn’t care, because he didn’t fully understand. In the end, in this world at least, Urufu had no family behind him at all, and Ryu worried for his sister.
That voice didn’t speak about him. That was a direct question, and Ryu had no other option than turn.
“I’ve been asked to invite you to a meeting.”
Ryu looked at the man in his early thirties. Definitely subordinate. “Yes?”
“If you would please follow me.”
“May I ask who?” Ryu said. He made a point of showing no sign of following.
“Ah, of course. Eh, Uchida-sa… Uchida-san and Hasegawa-san are waiting for you”
What the hell? The first ‘a’ in the interrupted honorific had been much too drawn out. Uchida-sama? What’s going on?
“I’m honoured. Please show me the way!”
Intrigued Ryu followed the man to a nearby office and stepped inside.
Two men in their late forties or early fifties sat waiting by a table, each sipping a cup of coffee. One of them rose and reached out with a hand in the western style of a handshake.
“I’m Hasegawa Mamoru, pleased to meet you.”
Ryu took the hand and bowed.
“First of all,” the man continued, and now he reverted to a traditional Japanese bow, “I need to apologise for the way I’ve behaved to you and my daughter.”
Daughter? Wait, Hasegawa. He’s Ai’s father!
Then the other man rose from his chair. “As a matter of fact I’m the one who needs to apologise.”
Ryu looked at him. He oozed of power. It wasn’t the aura of his father but something that reached beyond it.
What’s going on? Ryu fidgeted, he knew that, but adults very seldom apologised to kids, not even high school students.
“I’m the reason Hasegawa-san was against your relationship,” Uchida-san said.
“Sorry, I don’t get it,” Ryu answered.
“You’re good friends with Christina Agerman and Ulf Hammargren,” Uchida-san said instead of giving an explanation. Then, then… Hey, there wasn’t even a hint of an incorrect pronunciation!
“Kuri’s my girlfriend,” Ryu said to buy some time.
“Is that even legal?” Hasegawa-san said dryly.
“She’s just a high school kid here, just like Wakayama-san here. We can’t apply two sets of rules.”
Ryu decided to take a chance. “Are you, like, Nakagawa-sensei’s goons?”
“Nakagawa-sensei?” Uchida-san said.
“He’s the former principal of Himekaizen Academy,” Hasegawa-san responded. Then he grinned. “He’s part of the local MiBs as well.
“Men in Black? I see.” Uchida-san turned directly to Ryu. “No, we’re not part of the local civil war. We’re here to put an end to it. Mamoru and I belong to the Swedish section for a better alternative future.”
Ryu stared at the two indisputably Japanese men. Without as much as a thought about proper behaviour he sat down in a chair, leaving the two adults standing. What the hell? “Could you please explain to me so that I understand?”
“You have your secret black ops here in Japan. We’re part of a similar organisation on the Swedish side of things.”
OK, that much made sense.
“Officially I’m head of Sony Northern Europe, well, in fact I am running that section for real as well.”
“Yes?” Ah, he’s Rika-sempai’s father! Then something Uchida-san had said registered in Ryu’s mind. “What do you mean we have a secret organisation here?”
The man’s eye grew cold and hard. “I’ve known Christina’s grandfather for a very long time, and through him your parents.”
Bile rose in Ryu’s throat. “How long?”
“Once I was his superior officer,” came the answer. “Last time I visited his home Christina was a small child.”
“When… when did you, eh, move back to Japan?”
The predatory grin Uchida-san gave Ryu wasn’t entirely hostile. “I arrived here 1978.”
“Yes. Himekaizen Academy had only been made into a co-ed school a few years earlier. It used to be a girls’ school. You can tell from the name.”
Ryu thought about it. A school for the betterment of young ladies. It certainly made sense when he thought about it that way. “Why are you here now?” he asked instead.
“Partly to apologise to you, and to the daughter of my colleague as well. Even though he works with arrivals he didn’t want his daughter to get involved, and I’m afraid I’m to blame for that.”
Ryu nodded. “And the other part?”
“The Japanese side has allowed things to get out of hand. Rampant racism and arrivals don’t go well together. We’re here to force… to make them reconsider.” Then any kindness in Uchida-san’s grin vanished. “You could consider us friends from far.”
Friday, 8 September 2017
Through the windows Christina saw Yukio drifting away from the beach just to be promptly returned by Jenny. Watching the petite girl pulling him back with a life guard grip made Christina panic a little, but it was all over so quickly she never had the chance to become really afraid.
Idiot, what were you thinking? It’s the ocean and not a timid little pool.
Christina turned and faced the photographers. Crap, I botched the shot! “Sorry, I saw something disturbing. Retake?”
She saw the man growling silently, and he had all rights to do so. She’d just wasted a good shot with the sun streaming through the windows, and now they needed to wait until it returned from behind the cloud where it was hidden.
Christina glanced at the clouds and ran to the second set followed by surprised stares and more than a few angry glares.
“You’ll want some with neutral light. It’ll be a few minutes before the sun’s back again. What about it?”
Of all those present only her personal photographer, Kinoshita Dai, had the brains to move his gear from the moment she looked at the other set. Kinoshita Dai, an arrival like herself, and one of the best photographers she had encountered during her two lives.
They were inside the shopping mall. Inside a shop for surfing and beach volley attire more specifically. The cost for the shoot most likely surpassed what the shop made during an entire month, but the owner could easily afford it. This was part of a nation wide campaign using the Odaiba beach and mall as a lure for city youth.
Sitting in a chair by the wall Ryu returned her glance. Her boyfriend, but not really the man she loved. Still, she had grown fond of him despite his many shortcomings.
He was an idiot for missing out on the fun at the beach, but in truth she was grateful for his company. For some odd reason it dulled her longing for Ulf.
The shot drew out, and Christina had time to change into several bathing suits before the sun finally graced them with its presence again. By that time most of the club members had withdrawn under parasols, and Christina noted that only their Swedish guests still played along in the water, and of those the tomboy’s boyfriend, Jun, seemed reluctant even from this distance.
That wasn’t, she admitted to herself, entirely true. A bit further out in the bay Ulf clumsily did backstrokes, and had he been born here she would have been worried. As it was she saw how he lazily bobbed up and down on the waves whenever he got tired.
Then he had enough and made for the beach with heavy breast strokes. Just the way he had been taught once, just as they had both been taught once. Now the kids learned how to crawl – it was a more efficient way of swimming after all.
All at once forty years of life slammed into her. She missed her innocence and ignorance. In ways she missed her childhood more than her first youth, because memories from that youth were exactly what brought her to chose her career above love. Both times.
She hated herself.
Strong arms held her from behind, and it took a while before she realised she wasn’t dreaming. It wasn’t Ulf.
Ryu? She turned. Have you grown that fond of me? She smiled through her tears. Thank you!
He was her boyfriend now. Slowly becoming one for real as well, because despite her saying that she refused to feign that relationship, her feelings for Ulf stood in the way for her growing respect for the boy rapidly growing into adulthood who faced her now.
I could learn to love you. I think I already do, at least a little.
In the background a strange mix of angry growls and the endless smattering of a shutter took her back to reality.
Damn, I blew another shot!
“What’s the matter with that kid!”
“What’s the matter with you,” Dai responded. “If you had at least achieved basic competence you’d grabbed some of the best shots in your entire career. Moron!”
“Shoot’s over. I’ve got everything we need.”
“What the hell...”
“Shut up you idiot! That’s Kinoshita Dai!” A third voice.
“I am, indeed. And you’re incompetent. My kids would have done a better job.”
Christina stared at her photographer. I guess they could, if you had any. They’d be, what, thirty, forty? The surreal thought made her grin and as she gripped Ryu’s shoulder harder sudden mirth came out as laughter that freed her from weeks of worry.
She didn’t care about the sound of metal falling to the floor. She didn’t care about the gasps from below the stage. She hardly noticed the whirl when Dai’s camera came alive once again.
Life was wonderful, Ryu was wonderful and somewhere out there Ulf was wonderful as well. Lost to her, but wonderful anyway, and that knowledge didn’t hurt any longer. She’d love him for the rest of her life, but for the first time since she broke up with him she admitted that because she was an adult there was room for another love.
With a huge grin she threw herself around a very surprised Ryu and bit his ear. “I’m falling for you,” she whispered, and through her cheek she felt how he flared red in an instant.