Akira Nakai #4 (2040): Fathers
By now you know I see ghosts. Whether they actually exist or whether they’re only a product of the brain randomly connecting my thoughts, that’s a debatable thing. Someone once said that this is very Japanese, to see ghosts and not care about whether they’re real or not, especially if they’re ancestral ghosts.
It’s funny because I never thought of it that way. But I had a chance conversation with my older friend Koji, and that brought me towards Koji’s father. My father was Koji’s godfather; he and Koji’s dad were close friends. Fathers sometimes have their own secrets, and this entry is about that.
1st May 2040
My sister is being weird again. She’s oddly religious at times, totally untraditional at others. Every May, however, she’ll do things like burn whisky or burn things in whisky. Actually, I’ve never seen her do it, but there’ll be burning smells in her room, and once she actually set the hallway sprinklers off.
Why May? I’d be lying to you if I said I had no idea. The awkward thing is that the fifth day of May is the anniversary of our mother’s death, and the sixth day is our adoptive mother’s birthday. This means there’s a very thin line between mourning and celebration for me, and no line at all for Akiko, because my sister doesn’t like Dr Hakamichi at all.
It’s become a kind of tradition that Misha-mother will then give me one of her huge hugs, the kind that makes me feel wanted and loved. Then she tells me to find something else to do. She knows what I’ll do.
At times like this, I turn to ‘big brother’ Koji, who is usually sensible and can be counted on to say the right thing, or at least, not say too many wrong things. I think Akiko has a crush on him, and it’s strong enough that she gets absolutely furious if I hint at it in any way.
So here we are, tall thin Koji Setou who looks like an imperial scholar from ancient times, and not-so-tall not-so-thin Akira Nakai who looks like a messy student from a local school. We’re sitting on a roof, because Koji informed me years ago that this was what our fathers used to do.
And now that I’m 18, I get to sip whisky, just like they did. “Sip it, not slurp it; that’s not polite,” says my wise senior friend. The golden liquid is strong, with a complex mixture of flavours and fragrances. It’s as if someone took an old boot and filled it with fermented flowers and fruit, then washed the liquid through a unicorn’s kidney.
I look at it dubiously. A rare smile appears on serious old Koji’s face. Then things change in the air around us.
“Hi, Dad,” I mouth at the lanky fellow sitting against the roof access wall.
He nods, grinning lopsidedly. “Hi, Nakai Junior. I see you’re hitting it off well with my godson?”
Koji doesn’t notice anything. When these things happen, it’s as if there are two of me, one in the ‘real world’ and one in the world where my late father gets to tease me about life.
I look dubiously at him, and he hastens to explain: “In case you’re wondering, it’s the whisky. Koji’s father used it to talk to Koji’s late grandmother, and I thought he was just being crazy drunk. But after many rooftop sessions, I wasn’t so sure anymore. And getting your mother online will be tough, because she hates drinking. She thinks it was a drunk driver that killed her own father.”
“How’s my sister getting along with you?” I ask Koji, not just to keep him talking, but because I’m genuinely curious.
A slight flush intensifies around my god-brother’s scholarly cheekbones. “I try to look after her, as your father would have wanted it. She is my sister too, in a way.”
I give him a cheeky grin, because it’s so very Koji to say things like that. “Yeah, but have you noticed how strangely she acts when you’re around?”
“I think she acts in an unusual fashion whenever people of any kind are around,” he says, deadpan.
In the background, Dad smirks. If it had been my mother, I’d be looking at her infamous laser glare of disapproval by now. What I find awkward in my head is that while my mother’s only been gone ten years, she’s so much more distant to me than my father, who passed over when I was only two years old.
“Ha,” I reply, and take a second sip of my strange golden-brown liquid. It’s doing something to my head. The night seems warmer even though the air feels colder.
Koji also takes a sip. His eyes are far away, looking at something maybe beyond the horizon, or in another time. Historians are like that, but this is different.
“Big brother,” I say to him, “do you see ghosts?”
“What?” He seems genuinely confused, but not irritated.
“Ghosts. Spirits. Ancestors who shouldn’t be around.”
He cracks a half-grin. “Yes, mostly in museums when I’m imagining things.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Well, I don’t have any ghosts, really. Nobody’s died out of my life.”
It’s a conversation I’ve had with him before, the one about people dying and dropping out from your life. I’ve lost Mother and Father, and serious old Mutou-sensei—who helped get them with their wedding rings, and later the plaques on their grave-markers. I’ve lost Aunty Rin, who helped look after me when I was young, but she’s not dead, only missing.
“That’s true,” I say, before deciding to go in a different direction. “Do you know anyone in your family who has?”
It’s his turn to look thoughtful and reply, “Ha…”
I stare at him. He knows something, that’s clear. Knowing his family, it must be…
“My father,” he says slowly, “has always said that he’s had conversations with his sister and his mother.”
“What do you mean?”
“He had a sister who died when she was very young. His mother isn’t the person I think of as ‘Grandma’; she’s Grandma’s late sister. It’s complicated.”
I look at Dad. This information matches what the ghost of my father has told me a mere few minutes ago. Isn’t that evidence that ghosts are real? Unless my brain is cleverer than I think it is. Such things are confusing.
Dad lifts an imaginary whisky tumbler and salutes me with it. I grimace back.
Koji mistakes my face as a rebuke. “Yes, small brother, it’s silly. Best not to think about such things.”
“No, no. I believe you. I’m looking at my father right now. He seems to be saying that you should tell my sister that you love her.”
“What??” Now Koji sounds absolutely shocked. I stare at him, and what I see is not horror, but… hope?
“Well, he’s your godfather, you should ask him yourself.”
“No. It’s silly. Your sister is beautiful and confident and a world-class athlete, and she probably has a boyfriend already.”
For some reason, that makes me angry. I’ve known my sister all of my life, and I’ve known Koji most of my life. I know Koji’s just making excuses. I let him have it.
“Hey! That’s nonsense. You’re just finding reasons not to tell her. I can tell you she’s not as confident as you think, and she doesn’t have a boyfriend. If you’re going to be my brother-in-law, hurry up!”
Koji gives me a stunned look. Wordlessly, he takes another sip of good Hokkaido whisky.
In the background, my father grins and vanishes.
21st December 2040
Eventually, a few things happen. A few days after our rooftop chat, Koji actually confesses his affection to my sister. Things become sweet but awkward. In December, things get a lot worse. The drama will play out over four years, although I don’t know it then.
I get to know Koji’s father and some of the other people in Koji’s life. I get to know my own relatives, adopted relatives, and other people as well. All this, I’ll save for other times.
The big thing is that somewhere in the mess, I find myself sitting on a rooftop with Koji’s dad, Kenji Setou, the man they call the General. It’s chilly, in late December. Koji himself is all sad that my sister doesn’t love him, and he’s nowhere to be found.
The General looks at me. He’s a terrifying guy, with about 35 years’ seniority on me, and implanted technology everywhere. He’s not large, but once in a while a vein throbs on his forehead, or he pulls his garish scarf tighter, and I remember that he’s a big man in Tokyo—a big man who has lost someone very close to him.
“So, what do you think?”
His voice is nasal, almost as if it’s going to turn into a chainsaw. I can’t quite see his eyes, because he’s wearing primitive thick spectacles, the kind that only old people wear these days. I suspect they’re fakes.
“This isn’t the kind of whisky big brother Koji drinks.”
“Ha-ha! Well, what do you think of Koji and your sister and all that?”
I frown a bit. To tell the truth, I’m disappointed that my sister has gone mad and that Koji let her. But I know my limits. I know I’m a bit clueless. And I don’t know why I’m up on the roof with Koji’s father, the way my father used to be.
He remains silent, waiting for me to answer. I don’t know whether that’s the question he wants me to answer. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dad. He looks sad, but he has a finger over his lips, as if to say that he doesn’t want me to talk about him to the General. I nod with the smallest possible movement of my neck.
“General-san, I don’t know what to think.”
He makes a face of surprise, but I can’t see his eyes, so perhaps he’s only acting. Regardless, I continue before I can think about regretting what I’m saying.
“I’m sorry for your loss. I think it has hurt you a lot, so maybe Koji and Akiko are not so important to you.”
He heaves a truly huge sigh out of his lungs. The cloud of frosty humidity hangs in the air for a while, visible like sadness and melancholy all boiled together and distilled, as Mutou-sensei might’ve said. His side-profile is stark against the night.
He remembers to breathe in. There’s silence again, for a while. Then he says, “Yeah, I’m a truly bad father. I should have spent much more time with Koji and Masako when they were growing up. But now they’re adults, and I completely lost their childhood.”
Hunched over in his overcoat, the tails of his scarf somehow blowing behind him on the roof, he looks like one of those medieval church monsters I’d seen in Europe three years ago. I don’t know what to say, which happens to me a lot. So I improvise, which always gets me into trouble.
“My father wasn’t around most of my childhood.”
“Boy, he didn’t have much of a choice, being dead and all.”
“But I still talk to him. He’s not a bad father.”
The General sucks in a gulp of air. “Ha! Why am I not surprised at both these things?”
It’s my turn to wonder. “Why are you not surprised, General-san?” I hesitate for a while, and then take the plunge. “May I trouble you to ask… is it true that you have ancestral ghosts too?”
His head swivels a quarter-turn towards me. “Always. All kinds of ghosts, and now, one more. You’ll know why when you’re older, boy. Give my regards to your father.”
He rises, and for a moment I think he is going to fly off the roof like a bat. But all he does is offer me a hand and help me to my feet.
“Thank you, General-san. I hope I’m not being rude… I don’t think you’re a bad father.”
“I don’t think you know what you’re thanking me for, boy. But I wish you all the best, and thank you too. And remember, you’ve got TWO mothers now. Ha-ha. Good night.”
I watch his lonely back disappear down the stairwell, and I wonder what it might have been like to grow up with Koji’s parents instead.
Editor's Note: This section of Akira Nakai's notes likely were first jotted down around the same time as the General's 2039-2040 narrative [here]. As always, it is also instructive to compare the contemporaneous writings of the author's sister, Akiko Nakai—her 2040 material can be found [here]. N.