This Is Not That World
A clock nervously ticked away the evening seconds while the scent of green tea lingered in the air, complementing the savored verdantly sweet taste. From a fastidiously suited figure lounging body in a recliner, neutral eyes scrutinized numbers under his spectacles that the ruled paper presented. One steady hand turned bound pages of ledger paper, while the other steady hand leisurely penned notes in the margins.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room closer to the kitchen area, a pre-school boy’s neatly combed hair was ruffled into a mess. But that was met with a disapproving voice from the recliner, “Were we in public, you would have gotten a slap on the wrist for that.” Then jigsaw pieces were scrambled into the air but that was quickly stopped when met with a disapproving glance. Small suspenders were snapped but quickly stopped when the lounging body threatened to stand up and impose its size.
Still bored, the boy reached for the bowl of caramel candies, wishing they were still warm like the day before after they had cooled down just enough. Finally, a scowl directed towards the mess of puzzle pieces let him know to clean up the mess or else, and settled down to fix the puzzle in front of him. The sweet caramel flavor melted to blanket his tongue as he pondered over the dozen pieces in front of him.
After having moved and rotated the pieces around for more than a few minutes, he finally had around half of them figured out and he could begin to make out woman — poised and proud, unpatterned kimono smoothed out with care, hair styled without a single stray strand, eyes piercing with a knowing intensity, matte terracotta lips curving just the slightest to hint at a most subtle smile.
“Papa, who is this woman?”
“Put that away.” Disapproving eyes peered over spectacles.
“But Papa . . . ”
“You won’t meet her. Put. That. Away.” The was tone even more disapproving.
Just then, the door slammed open, revealing a woman with a coil of rope over one shoulder under which a hand held a metal briefcase, and a pair of handcuffs in the other hand. Auburn highlighted hair moved like fire. Piercing, fiery eyes focused on the man.
“You! How did you get the key to this place?” the man demands.
But instead of answering him, she slams the door shut behind her, taking care to lock all the locks. His punches and kicks countered by her own and she dragged him to the kitchen area to handcuff him to the oven’s door handle. Finally, she turned her attention to the boy, “Come with me.” Having held her hand out, he quickly reached for it.
“Papa did something bad again?”
“It’s not fair to you that you know that.”
When in an undecorated, sparse bedroom, she opened a window and knelt down to the boy with a reassuring voice, “You can climb up and down the poles at the playground right? This is just like that. Then my partner will then take you to my place.”
But the boy whimpered and cringed from the window to cling to her leg, “It’s too high, I’m scared.”
She relents, throwing the rope out the window, motioning for her partner to leave it there and to leave herself. Having turned to the boy again, she accepted him into her arms and searched for her most comforting voice, “Shh . . . You need to stay quiet.”
“Come live with us!” And then remembering to whisper, “Come live with us, please come live with us.” Continuing to sob, he tried to whisper, “Papa won’t do anything bad ever again! You’d stop him before he does!”
“Your father and I already know we don’t get along. You shouldn’t have to see us fighting over little things.” Quickly refocusing her attention to the task at hand, she scanned the room and found a small box of ½ ⨯ ½ ⨯ ½ meters. “You can fit in.”
“It’s so small . . . ”
“Your back and neck might cramp. But, it’s just for a little while, okay?”
“Then after? Can I live with you? I feel safe with you.”
There’s a pause for a split moment before she pulled him into a warm and inviting embrace. Just a slightest pause before her face falls into a warm smile, “In that perfect world, I will have raised you.”
She eased him into the box and closed the top, watching the white sheets of cardboard cover and envelope him into obscurity.
And he felt the box being carried around rocking him gently; then the boxing being lifted reminded him of the little field trip to Tokyo Tower that she had taken him. Inside the darkness he could remember all of Tokyo below him and that smart proud feeling gotten from being able to see everything. “I told you to not be scared of heights,” she had encouraged him that day. “Now you know where you are, where everything is, where everything is going. Open your eyes and see everything.”
“How much do you owe!” From all the way from the other side of the penthouse, she could be heard breaking the sanctuary of the box and he tried to cover his ears.
Quiet . . . Quiet . . . Quiet . . .
“I am not going to owe you anything!” His Papa screamed back, equally as loud. “You . . . You . . . Spook . . . What you do with telephones! and garbage! and all the pretending!”
She only tells people what they need . . .
“People want info, I give them what they want! It’s more honest than the gambling tables at your restaurant!”
Tell Papa how to get out of trouble, just like you always do . . .
“Woman, do you know how scary you are!?”
She’s not scary, she always saves us . . .
“I fucking know why you broke up with me. But don’t you dare call me scary! Not when you’re willing to owe money to yakuza!”
Oh no! The scary people . . .
“I take care of my own affairs!”
But she always saves you . . .
“No you don’t! He’s your son! Your son! Your wife died in childbirth wanting to name him Ryuichi and you wouldn’t give her even that. He’s your son!”
Who? Huh? . . .
“Woman, don’t tell me what to do!”
Tell Papa again how to get out of trouble, just like you always do . . .
“Sell the Mercedes! Sell this penthouse! Sell the restaurant! Damn it, sell anything else!”
Huh? . . . But he’s Papa? He should love me most?
“If you can’t love your child, you don’t deserve him.”
But he has to love me. That’s how everyone says it works!
“Woman! I. Said. Don’t tell me what to do!”
Tell him to love me. Tell him he should love me. Like everyone says he should!
“Don’t you want that chance to be a better person? That chance to bring truth to your name?”
Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang!Bang! Strange mens’ voices could be heard.
“Just tell me how much he owes. I promise you I can get the money.”
“No can do, a contract’s a contract.”
“He’ll put an end to the gambling tables and he’ll stop his own gambling and he won’t owe you any more money. Just tell me how much.”
“Nope, we got our orders.”
“Then over my dead body!”
Bang! “Arg!” Bang! “Agh!” Bang!Bang!Bang! “Aaagh!”
The last one was a woman’s voice.
“Over your dead body, huh? Well fine!” One strange man’s voice was heard. And a click. “Where is the boy?”
“I-I-I . . . d-d-don’t . . . know . . . wh-where she hid him . . . ”
“Then tell me where your deeds are.”
“In-n-n a-a-a f-fireproof safe in in th-the s-study.”
Hours seemed like an eternity in total silence. And then, eternity broke with a slightest sound. A soft knock on the door was proceeded by woman’s voice calling out, “Hello?” And soon, the box was lowered and he pretended it was a happier day when he could look up at a beautifully sunny above her sky after the descent. But the box opened to reveal only a strange woman he’d seen twice before.
“Are you the business partner?”
“I am . . . was . . . ” And she tried to hide the pain on her face. “I think . . . I just lost my chance to be more than just business partners?” As her face grimaced in pain, he started to cry.
“Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I don’t know . . . how to deal . . . ” How did one find the right way to say these things? How did one find the courage to confront a lonely eternity? Was it a steely resolve? “Your Father is dead. You are going to live with me from now on.” The cold, hard aura that started with her moved by conduction when she lay her hand on his head, easing his tears into oblivion where they resisted going but had to go.
“Idiot!” She continues over the numb boy. “There was no love lost between them. Why did she try to save your father?” Kneeling down to meet the boy’s level and look more closely at a little body too overwhelmed and tired to even focus its eyes, she realized, “Oh.”
She carefully paused again over an almost lifeless boy before continuing.
“I know,” she says with a stern voice, “She had an amazing gift for explaining even the harshest truths in a way that is age appropriate for even the youngest children because she wanted children to feel open and safe.” Standing up to tower over him, she continued as sternly, “And you’ll have to forgive me that I do not have that gift of hers to give you.” Then facing away to look at the door, “But I will try, because that’s what she would have wanted.”
He was still numb, which she couldn’t stand even being close to. But it was easier than trying to stop the crying, right? Off went her jacket to put on him, care taken to pull the hood over his eyes. Time to move on, away from all of that, to something else, to something new, a new everything.
Carrying the child from one side of the penthouse to its front door was an exercise in carefulness, each step precisely placed, navigating a minefield wherein a wrong step would have meant a descent into a metallic, ferric scent of tragedy.
It was a slow process and with each step that progressed them through the living room, he wondered about the half-done puzzle he would have liked to complete and the candies that should have been eaten soon after. “Can we . . . bring the candies and puzzle she gave me?”
“That’s not possible,” she says without skipping a slow beat.
“Please?” He pleaded, a faint grasp for hope giving a hint of life to his voice.
“They are . . . spoiled in blood now.” No use sugar-coating the scene. “Leave them behind.”
Once outside, with the boy numb again, she knelt down and removed the hood over his eyes. “I know who they are, where they live, where they work, what they want, what they fear. I know who they talk to and what they talk about and what they fear talking about. They will pay.”
An anger inside was sparked, igniting a feeling of resolution inside him. “She said not to do bad things. But those people, they deserve something bad.”
“You’re right I suppose. She would say to not do bad things. But they can kill themselves for all I care.” Thinking some more, she resolved, “They will kill themselves.” Standing up, she held her hand out to him. “Asami-san will be avenged.”
Would this have been part of that perfect world she wanted for him? With the rising sun behind the partner, her face was backlit, obscuring the face and eyes he would have been able to see were his eyes able to focus. With only a blurry view of the sunrise, he can only nod.
In the pre-twilight atmosphere, Asami Ryuichi can clearly hear the young man he is approaching, sobs and hiccups punctuating the air louder than the sea gulls and boat horns. Closer, he can now clearly see, in the dimming yet warm light, highlighted sections of caramel-colored hair falling into a sunburst pattern and the tear-blurred eyes, the source glistening trails down warm red cheeks.
“I couldn’t hate you.” Underneath the burning tears of hurt and betrayal, a gentle warmth of love struggles to the surface. But reality douses a coldness onto it. “I trusted you.” Seeing shattered pieces of trust, he could feel the cuts such pieces made from decades ago.
“I don’t know if he meant to shoot,” Asami states as he clamps down his hand onto the young man’s head. He protests for a split moment, but the hand is heavy and steady. And for one brief moment, Asami can feel calmness from Takaba and Takaba can feel warmth from Asami.
But a stoic face is too cold for the young man, “How can you stay so calm?!” And he goes on accusingly, “One of these days I’m gonna get you and make a profit from it!” He is unaware that many have tried already, starting with the dozens that died with a name. But if there were ever someone who should find the truth of the man, perhaps a name can live again.
“I look forward to it.” He smirks at piercing, fiery eyes. If he could deliver his poised and proud self, if the younger man could hold onto the image, to hell and back and into the future, some part of his past self can live on.
“It might be good, to be seen by you through your viewfinder.” He leaves, walking into the diffused, warm light of a golden hour.