Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5a up 20140716)

Post by dewelar » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:19 pm

*nods* I definitely agree with forgetmenot. Powerful stuff here. Best part of this arc without question, and best piece of the mosaic since at least Mutou's arc. I may disagree with the direction in which you've taken Kenji conceptually, but if I put that aside and allow myself to be re-immersed in this 'verse I can appreciate the quality of the work. This piece was strong enough to allow me to do that. Nicely done.
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5a up 20140716)

Post by brythain » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:46 pm

dewelar wrote:*nods* I definitely agree with forgetmenot. Powerful stuff here. Best part of this arc without question, and best piece of the mosaic since at least Mutou's arc. I may disagree with the direction in which you've taken Kenji conceptually, but if I put that aside and allow myself to be re-immersed in this 'verse I can appreciate the quality of the work. This piece was strong enough to allow me to do that. Nicely done.
That's a very encouraging compliment, especially since I've now gone completely experimental (stress is on 'mental', I guess, for Kenji) and don't feel very confident about such things. That lack of confidence can of course be a good thing as well as a bad thing. But I do very much appreciate what you and forgetmenot have said! :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1-5b up 20140717)

Post by brythain » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:41 am

This is the second section of the fifth instalment of the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
It completes 'Five Years That Break A Man', the first part of Sakura—The Kenji Saga.
In which he thinks there's little worse if what is broken is broken again—until he learns otherwise.

For another perspective on events in Saitama, see this part of Hideaki's arc in 'After The Dream'.



Kenji: Five Years That Break A Man—Year Five (Part 2)
(20090831-20100418)


It is always calmest before the storm, brightest before the night—this is what people will tell you. In retrospect, it was calm because nobody saw the heralds of the storm, and it was bright because of the contrast with what came after. That is why hindsight is sagacious compared to foresight, and foresight is doomed.

I learnt all this by discussing books with people like Naomi Inoue. In some ways, the legally blind are perhaps the most prescient; in the kingdom of those who see but are really blind, the really blind are kings. And yet, here I am, Kenji Setou, turning 21 and so keen to be a man, but failing so terribly.

These are my redacted log entries, from 20050404 to 20100418. I call them ‘Five Years That Break A Man’. In this last year of the five, I have lost ties to people, and what remains seems poor and thin. And then at the end, nothing is worth it.

*****

20090831-20090906:

When I get back from Hamamatsu, having left a gift and a thank-you note for my uncle, I greet the people I think of as my foster-parents, make some small talk, and go to sleep for a day or so. My mind is tired and my heart is sick, even if my body has had a vacation.

Naomi returns sometime between the afternoon of my return and the dawn of the next day, because there are familiar traces of her around the house when I get up for breakfast. I can only hope that she’s had a happier time with Natsume.

When she awakens, it’s nearly midday. With what’s left of my will, I shepherd her out of the house and ask her to share comfort food with me, a simple sushi meal. Still somewhat dazed, we adjourn to Musashi’s for something that won’t take too much mental effort. As the conveyor belt sends the little plates of handmade sushi around, both of us regain some composure.

“So,” she begins brightly, “tell me about your Black Dragon uncle and the life of hedonism you led all by yourself.” She sounds a bit brittle, but that’s probably because she hasn’t had any tea in her yet.

I push a little cup of tea in front of her and she picks it up daintily and appreciatively. Then I tell her about my encounter with Takahashi.

When I’m done, she says thoughtfully, “The music practice room, it had special meaning for you because of her. And now that’s gone. I look at you, Kenji, and I wonder what you have left. Don’t give up, though. Both of us can look forward to many more years if we’re careful.”

It sounds like an invitation to more years together. But I’ve been wrong before, because old Kenji was an idiot and new Kenji is naïve. So I have to ask her in return, “And how are things between you and Natsume?”

There’s a wistful smile. She fiddles with her teacup. Then she tells me about her time in Osaka and beyond. I think that is when I know I will never have her, because she will never have me. But when the blade is broken, there’s little worse if it is broken again.

20090907-20090920:

It’s about a year ago that I stopped taking my meds and went up the mountain to die. Since then, I’ve matured, I think. Nobody needs to die. You can just live on and hope for something better in life. But that’s all I’m doing—living on.

Naomi is back in Osaka for Natsume’s birthday. I stay in Kyoto.

20090921-20091004:

The end of the vacation and the beginning of a new term. Naomi and I both know something has changed between us. But we start term as always, awkward Kenji like a small monster made by Dr Frankenstein, petite Naomi with her always-needs-brushing ash-blonde hair, bustling through road and train and pathway to school. We are like any other couple, except we’re not.

20091005-20091018:

“Why don’t you just get it off your chest, Kenji-san?”

She only –sans me when she’s worried or angry, these days. To tell the truth, maybe I am being unfair to her. She can’t help being in love with Natsume, and now that our odd-eyed friend has even given up coffee for her, that’s even stronger.

I question my own motives. Did I want love so badly that I imposed my vision of it on Naomi? It is very like a blind person to want to impose vision on things, to imagine, to build images of one’s surroundings and want them to be a certain way.

“Ah, fuck it,” I whisper, unable or unwilling to say what I really feel like saying. If she is surprised, it is well-controlled. Maybe just the slightest twitch, or perhaps it’s only irritation. She remains silent, so I try to say it.

“No, didn’t mean that. Naomi, if I’ve loved anyone, I’ve loved you.” There, it’s said. It’s like rolling dice, except that I’ve kept one in hand.

She looks seriously at me, two of us sitting on the steps between her faculty and mine. “That’s a big thing, Kenji. But it’s not all you’re saying, right?”

“No, it isn’t. I’m not sure I know how to love anyone, or if I ever did. So I don’t know if I’ve loved you. I don’t know if I do. And now I can’t, anyway.” It doesn’t make sense even to me. I feel all hot and bothered, feverish, as if my brain is turning to soup. And that’s my last die, rolling on the table, falling off the edge.

“Oh, Kenji.” She puts her right hand on my left, which is clutching my knee. I observe that my knuckles are white, and that her hand is warm. Old Kenji mutters that at least she’s not a fembot. I smack him back into the early 2000s.

She knows better than to say what she’s said before. She’s my friend, and if not for Natsume, we might have had a chance. All that. Yeah. After a while she takes her hand away, although I wish I could keep it.

20091019-20091025:

Sachiko’s latest email is about the fun she had celebrating Hideaki’s birthday. But she’s also sad that they won’t be together next year. I think that’s just small fish, next to my personal tragedy. What can I give her in reply? I just leave her words on my screen, staring, not reading after a while, just looking at the strange twists and turns of the characters on the page.

20091026-20091108:

It’s all a game, you know. Women control the means of reproduction. They are the gatekeepers of the human race, the tides and flows of human population. Demographics, direction, doom. I am stuck here in Kyoto, in this house, with feminists around me, everywhere. No, there isn’t a conspiracy. But yet there is. Women synchronize their periods by airborne hormones, pheromones, who knows what else they synchronize without knowing it? It’s like a psychic power.

New Kenji thinks all that is bullshit, by the way. But old Kenji, he never gives up.

20091109-20091129:

Naomi asks if I will accompany her to the university’s November Festival. Of course I will. It is my genuine pleasure. Even if holding hands is a pointless gesture, it is a comforting one.

Natsume comes along. Surprise, surprise. I release the hand, feel the cold air blow over my empty palm. I wander off into the crowds, buy a huge pizza, and wake up in a storm drain. It’s the beginning of the end, I think, but what end?

20091130-20091213:

“Are things… not happy between you and our daughter, Kenji-san?” says Inoue senior, Naomi’s father. His name is Hiroto, but of course I would never call him that.

“Esteemed sir, ah, that is for her to say,” I reply politely. “We are as we always have been, and if anything is at fault, it is this unworthy person’s poor character that must be at the root of it. As ever, the burden of debt this one owes to the Inoue family is not one that can be discharged, and this one is extremely grateful.”

I’ve prepared that for days, actually. I’ve been preparing to leave the Inoues. I cannot take the pain, some days. I might need to transfer to Hamamatsu. My nerves and muscles twinge and twang like a demented heavy metal band.

Naomi’s father, so much more my father than the General ever was, looks stunned. “No, no,” he replies. “It is our honour to have you as a guest. Naomi is not always the easiest young lady to get along with, she is very independent-minded, but she likes you, you are good company for her.”

Heedlessly, my mouth responds, “She is a wonderful girl. She deserves to be happy and this one merely attempts to contribute to that.” Too late, I realize that Naomi’s parents, the one in front of me and the one eavesdropping from the next room, are likely to take false encouragement from what I’ve said. But I can’t unsay it, so I stop there.

My heart is breaking, old man. It was damaged from birth, but now it has stopped working, stopped helping me to be human anymore. The rest of the conversation is just a parade of meaningless noises, call-and-response signalling, data in a network.

20091214-20091220:

“What did you tell my parents?” she asks. She seems upset. “They seem to think you proposed to me and I turned you down.”

“If I had, that’s what would’ve happened,” I reply. See how calm I am? It is terrifying, how actions that are locked in can make one so brave and firm, when one is actually not. “But that’s not what I told your father. I just said I wanted you to be happy and that you were a good daughter.”

“That’s patronizing,” she hisses. Now she sounds like Natsume. Ah well, same kinds gather same words, as they say. “What’s wrong with you, Kenji-san?”

“I’m grateful for all your family has done for me. I’m grateful to you. I can’t even say how grateful I am. But it’s got to end somewhere. I’m already grateful for life, for what opportunities you’ve all made possible.” Babbling, babbling, filling the time, hoping the overflow will drive her away.

“You’re sad, aren’t you?” It’s not really a question. And by sad, she means miserable, not pathetic. Yes, yes, I am. I can’t afford the emotional currency, but yes. My eyes give me away, so thank God for thick glasses.

She sits down on my bed, uninvited. She attempts to give me a little hug. At this point, even a big hug would be pointless, I think. I’ll never know, because I stand up and lean against the wall. I need to clean my glasses, they’re fogged up, I’m worse than blind.

I put them on, look at her. She has the expression of a cat that you’ve just accidentally smacked in the face while attempting to clean its food tray. It’s a ‘why are you spoiling everything’ look. “You don’t have to be like that,” she whispers.

Oh, but I do.

20091221-20100103:

I’ve spent my birthday and the Christmas break in Hamamatsu. My uncle believes that a transfer, given my current academic progress, will not be a problem at all. Indeed, he seems very pleased.

20100104-20100117:

Natsume’s moved in with Naomi for a while. I think she had a disagreement with her own family, and she doesn’t mind the daily commute down to Osaka from here. Whatever it is, it doesn’t trouble me. In a free-radical substitution reaction, things break up because of other things. We are all things.

Naomi sometimes looks as if she wants to talk. I’ve stopped having lunch with her. I think what finally convinces her that we’re done is when we’re to celebrate her Coming-of-Age Day together, something we’ve planned for a long while. It’s a big thing; Japanese young ladies can spend hours choosing a nice kimono and getting all done up. Young people get a little gift from the city in which they reside, to celebrate their adulthood. I leave her to it with her very good other friend. They can have all the fun they want.

There’s a note on my desk two days later. [You’re still my friend. Happy Coming-of Age Day.] It’s as if she’s even forgotten that I’m a year older. I am about to throw it away, crumpled already in my fist. Then I just sit down and let the tears run down my face and into my scarf.

20100118-20100207:

It is socially acceptable for me to be hikikomori-like during this period. After all, the annual examinations are important events. I’m not a shut-in, of course. I just study very hard, eat breakfast with formal politeness, lend my physical presence to various scenes of domestic and public life. That is me, Kenji Setou, urban prop.

20100208-20100214:

In English: ‘We used to have serious conversations.’ Also: ‘I took her out for dinner on Valentine’s Day last year.’ See, these are all statements in the past tense. I have an excellent command of the English language now.

She never gives up. Another note on my desk. I don’t touch this one. It will dehydrate me and make me ill.

20100215-20100307:

[Wish me luck, elder brother. I’ve missed you. I’ll be going to Yamaku soon. S.]

Luck, huh? She’ll need it. Good luck, little S. May you find someone good for you.

“Kenji-san, may I come in?” Well, if I were to reply to Sachiko now, it would be way too difficult for my poor distracted mind. I blank my screens. It’s her house, I can’t say no, can I?

“Come in,” I say. My voice sounds alien, like those moments when you look at alien inscriptions in foreign movies and realize they’re actually Japanese.

The door opens. Oh dear, Naomi looks miserable. Poor thing. I wonder why. Had another fight with Ooe-san?

It’s two weeks after Valentine’s Day. Too late, I remember the unopened note on my desk. She’s seen it.

She takes a deep breath, and when she releases it, it’s like the faint whistling of birds in a distant marsh. My room is so very quiet, except for the sounds of two people breathing at each other.

“Kenji, we’re not enemies. I meant what I said, what I’ve been saying, we’re friends. I’m your friend, even if you don’t think so. Just because two people aren’t always with each other, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be friends.”

That is all true. New Kenji tells me to open that note now. Old Kenji fears the trap that you cannot escape. I reach for the note. It’s two weeks before the spring equinox arrives. Night and day, in equal balance. I open it.

20100308-20100321:

In the northeast quadrant of Nijo Castle are many cherry trees, with pale, pale blossoms. Some are ‘weeping cherry trees’, their long branches trailing over the water and stones of the landscape. Sakura season has begun, and the three of us are admiring the blossoms, the bright sky threaded with thin clouds, the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ as some famous author once wrote.

New Kenji has won this round. He is content for now to be an attendant, to stand on the left while Natsume stands on the right. His heart is in no better shape, but it isn’t worse either. Friendship can survive the death of Love, as long as the lower-case version, ‘love’, remains. In Japanese, there’s no such situation.

Old Kenji has his uses. He did well in his examinations. He procured whisky. He sat us up on the roof and wondered who would mourn for us if we stepped off it. He turned around and wanted to snarl when Naomi joined us, but we realized that she would. Yes, she values us.

That is why we protect the cherry blossoms. That is why Mother was so insistent that we should. Because at the end, they will cover us, the pale pink transient glory of our flickering lives.

20100322-20100328:

[Elder brother, I really miss you. At least say hi to Naomi for me. I’m so scared about Yamaku. Hideaki keeps telling me that his sister was fine there. But I’m not brave and fierce like Shizune Hakamichi. It’s just a face I use. S.]

[You’ll be fine. Naomi sends regards. Hideaki’s a wimp. K.]

Sometimes you guard the melons and the birds eat the plums.

20100329-20100404:

Five years ago, I remember seeing Naomi for the first time. I didn’t know it was her then. I didn’t think she was beautiful or outstanding in any way. Maybe I don’t really remember, but I just imagine I do. She was in a classroom door, with the sunlight behind her. It made her hair look light and dark at the same time.

When I tell her this, she smiles. Natsume looks fondly at her. Scruffy, that Natsume, but also nice in her own way. Her different-coloured eyes—I used to think that one of them might have been a cyborg implant. That was old Kenji, of course. New Kenji just thinks they’re pretty.

We’re drinking a few rounds to remember Saki. It’s been a year. She would have been 21 on the first day of April. Outside, the cherry blossoms are like white fire flushed with potassium flame.

20100405-20100411:

[Dearest elder brother, there isn’t anyone to talk to at Yamaku. I approached Mutou-sensei as you suggested. He said, “Oh? You’re Setou’s sister? You’ll probably fit in better than he did. Welcome to Yamaku!” I suppose he’s nice, but he’s an adult, he’s a teacher. I miss Hideaki. I miss his idiot jokes. S.]

Well, she’ll be fine. The new term has started. New Kenji is a serious machine now, he is going to ace his final year at Kyoto. Hamamatsu was a good option, but he has conveyed his regrets to his uncle and his gratitude for the advice received.

Everything will be fine. I commend Naomi in what’s left of my heart for working so hard to patch everything up. You cannot resist the women, not if you live in their home. I smile a lot. Maybe Naomi suspects all is not right. But if there’s nothing left, it’s all right, I joke to myself in English.

*****

[The old world ended for me in a very innocent way. I have no log entry for the period that follows, but I’m putting in what I think is true. This isn’t a redacted log entry, but something I’ve inserted from my memories of that time. KS.]

*****

20100412-20100418:

The big things always begin with little things. The emails you didn’t send, the notes you didn’t read, the hints you didn’t get or refused to see. On Thursday evening, a package arrives for Naomi. It seems to be from Saitama, I notice, as we come home and I see it on the side-table.

“How interesting,” I remark. “You’ve an admirer from Saitama, and it isn’t me.”

She blushes a little, I think. Natsume’s not with us; she’s in Osaka at this time. “Kenji, who could it be?”

I turn the package sideways and upside-down. “Hey, it’s sent from my former home address! Maybe my sister sent something for you. Strange!”

We remove the packaging, find a familiar-looking little box inside. Pearls? A return gift? What? Why? And there’s a note.

[Dear Naomi-san, I thought you should have these to remember me by. They were a lovely gift, and even Hideaki noticed them. But they deserve to be worn by somebody and not just left behind. Say hi to my elder brother for me, he’s probably spending so much time with you that he’s forgotten his sister. I forgive him for that, because I think you’d have made a great sister-in-law. Yours, S.]

They’re the small black freshwater pearls that Naomi gave her. “What the hell?” I say out loud.

Naomi looks at me, confused, and then a little frightened. “What does she mean?”

There is no reply when we call Sachiko. We try calling the house, and there’s nothing. Calling Yamaku and waiting for a long while allows us to learn only that she’s not in her room. It takes even longer for the terrible news to arrive.

Oh God, life’s too short to play stupid games with love. In the darkness just before dawn, Naomi and I hold each other. Who cares if we’re not to be together forever? Just this one long moment will do, before we have to bid Sachi farewell.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1 complete 20140717)

Post by bhtooefr » Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:29 am

So, the first entries (say, during Yamaku) actually stretched my suspension of disbelief in places, but this? This is excellent.

Now I'm wondering what exactly drove Sachiko to meet her end, because both this story and Hideaki's didn't show her thought processes... I mean, I've got a pretty good idea between both stories, but...
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1 complete 20140717)

Post by brythain » Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:41 am

bhtooefr wrote:So, the first entries (say, during Yamaku) actually stretched my suspension of disbelief in places, but this? This is excellent.

Now I'm wondering what exactly drove Sachiko to meet her end, because both this story and Hideaki's didn't show her thought processes... I mean, I've got a pretty good idea between both stories, but...
Thank you very much! In my very weak defence, I'd have to say that I'm coping with three Kenjis—the 'old' Kenji who is taking the wrong meds (sometimes deliberately) and whom we know and love from KS, the 'new' Kenji who is mostly clean and taking the right meds (however, these also change his mental state a bit), and the older and perhaps wiser Kenji who is tweaking the narrative his previous selves have recorded.

As for Sachiko, I think that this is all we have for now. I have a near-certain idea why, but I suspect that since neither Kenji nor Hideaki fully figured it out, nobody else would have. Your 'pretty good idea' is probably quite accurate, that being the case.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1 complete 20140717)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:15 am

I don't know how you manage to churn out so much text in so little time...
As for the suicide, I don't think there is sufficient indication in the text to explain it - not that there has to be. Simple anxiety because of going to a new school is not usually a sufficient reason.

Anyway, I think this story just turned too dark for my tastes when it has been skirting the line for quite some time now...
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1 complete 20140717)

Post by brythain » Thu Jul 17, 2014 8:32 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:I don't know how you manage to churn out so much text in so little time...
As for the suicide, I don't think there is sufficient indication in the text to explain it - not that there has to be. Simple anxiety because of going to a new school is not usually a sufficient reason.

Anyway, I think this story just turned too dark for my tastes when it has been skirting the line for quite some time now...
The text-churning is a side-effect of my professional lifestyle, for what it's worth. :)

As bhtooefr points out, part of Sachiko's sad story is in the other known reference point—Hideaki's arc. It's very much open for discussion as to whether school anxiety and other factors should have been sufficient to provoke her horrifying course of action. Sorry about the darkness. (Although I must say that when I first got here, I bumped into writers like Doomish and had several 'too dark for my tastes' experiences too!)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 1 Coda 20140718)

Post by brythain » Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:54 pm

This is a coda to the first part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
It's optional reading: Kenji's recollections of Sachiko's burial.
This would place it at the end of 'Five Years That Break A Man', the first part of
Sakura—The Kenji Saga.


Kenji 1: Five Years That Break A Man
(Coda—April 2010)


I grew up Catholic, of all things. I guess I’ve lapsed since then, but that’s why when I say ‘oh my God’, it is a plea and not an exclamation put in to fill a blank space of mind. The reason for my upbringing was my non-father, and he was that rare type, the unforgiving asshole Catholic, for most of his life.

Now that time has passed, I can write a bit about that, and other painful matters.

*****

In April, the later cherry blossoms bloom and then begin to fall. The General hides my sister in a cemetery plot far away from Mother and my elder brother Masaru. She’s a suicide, you see. She only gets a simple marker, with her birthdate and date of death on it. No father, no mother.

Sachiko Setou, died on a Thursday, buried on a Sunday, it’s her 15th birthday. Counting-rhymes are common everywhere, and that’s what goes through my head. That, and anger. Because there is no funeral, no eulogy, just my non-father’s shame. If there is any grief on his part, he hides it well, behind the stony face he’d learnt to wear during his time in the armed forces.

When they put her in the earth, he does not mourn. He supervises. I stand as close to the grave as I can, and as far away from him. My non-stepmother, Mother’s sister Midori, hasn’t even turned up. Maybe it’s guilt; she’s never been fond of Sachi, let alone loved her. Maybe it’s just indifference.

I remember being grateful for thick glasses and a scarf, because I can hide my own expression. I am most grateful of all for Naomi Inoue, who stands close beside me, her warmth welcome on this cold and misty morning. But I am completely surprised at who else turns up.

Back in Yamaku, nobody really gave a shit for that so-called hikikomori, the recluse named Kenji Setou who lived in room 117 and stayed away from people. It wasn’t that they weren’t tolerant. I didn’t care for most people, and they mostly didn’t care for me. It was simple.

So there we are, my non-father on one side, talking to the gravedigger as if planning an operation to capture some imaginary hill; Naomi and I on the other side, like a couple but not. The mist is clearing as the sun rises.

“Ah, ah, Setou-san?” The voice is hesitant, a bit out of breath. It provokes a response from the General, who stops giving instructions and looks at her. I look too, because there isn’t anything else to do. A woman, and I can’t see well enough to identify her.

“This is a private event. What do you want?”

“Oh, sir, so sorry, so sorry. I heard the bad news at Yamaku, I came down, I had to…”

“Shirakawa-san,” I whisper hoarsely, finally recognizing that voice. I clean my glasses up with the trailing end of my scarf. Yes, it’s Yuuko Shirakawa, her oddly reddish hair blown all over the place by the morning breeze, looking very formal in a simple black silk dress. She even has a black frilly umbrella.

“Um, I’m terribly sad, condolences to your family.”

“Thank you for coming,” I say, suddenly conscious that Naomi and I are holding hands. “That’s the General over there, Sachiko’s father. This is Inoue, who was at school with us, as you might recall.”

I’m all formal, because I don’t know what to say. Yuuko is the last person I’d have thought to see on this occasion. At Yamaku, she’d been the closest thing I had to having a girlfriend, perhaps the only girl who didn’t mind old Kenji too much.

The General is silent. His gaze passes over me as if I don’t exist. He turns back to the gravedigger and resumes his conversation as if nothing has happened.

Yuuko is blushing. She looks at Naomi and me, back and forth. What’s she looking for? Then she looks down at the little coffin, still partly exposed to the sky. She’s carrying white carnations, a nice bundle, which she offers to me, together with a traditional black-and-silver envelope. I don’t know what to do with them, but Naomi takes them gently from her with both hands, then lays the flowers carefully next to the grave marker and tucks the envelope into my breast pocket.

The gravedigger comes over to us. He looks very uncomfortable, poor man. He says, “This one offers condolences, Setou-san. The honorable general says that the grave will be closed in ten minutes. You can say a few words or say some prayers, and then you may scatter some soil into the grave and this one will do the rest.”

My friend Naomi does the words. I have none to speak, but I have written some things down on good paper, and I’ve already put that in the coffin to accompany my sister home. I remember Sachi’s shaggy brown hair, her gimlet gaze, her fierce affection and loyalty. It’s hard, because I loved her and didn’t really ever show it. Then we do everything else as the General has planned.

In the morning, we go back to tidy up. Natsume’s come up from Osaka on the first train, and she joins us on the way. There are more flowers around the grave, which otherwise looks lonely. Nobody else is around, and I wonder briefly who else has brought such things. All the flowers in the world won’t bring Sachi back. I realize I am all numb, and if it weren’t for Naomi’s support, I wouldn’t even have returned to Saitama.

*****

Some days later, in the last week of April, I am sitting all alone in the guest room that the Inoue family has so kindly made mine for two years. I stare blankly at the work I’m trying to catch up with, my engineering tutorial notes. Then I start up my log again: [Mother said to look after the cherry blossoms. I can’t save them all, but I can spend my life to make sure they don’t fall in vain.]

=====
prev | end of Book 1 | next
Last edited by brythain on Tue Jul 14, 2015 9:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Interlude (20140723)

Post by brythain » Tue Jul 22, 2014 8:54 pm

"Bloody hell, Kenji, stop doing that!"

It's my 18-year Glenfiddich again! I put the tumbler down, I turn back, it's gone. And in the corner like a bespectacled Cheshire cat, my secretive correspondent from the dark side, wrapped in a bright scarf like a malfunctioning Invisible Man. Or Tom Baker's fourth Doctor.

"Ha ha, you caught that bit! Most people think I'm Harry Pottering around. But I kill two birds with one stone that way. I'm a Mutou fan."

I don't need this. My deadlines are looming, I have a stack of incompetent Theory of Knowledge essays to grade. Argh!

"Kenji, your redactions are distracting; they're terrible! I can't structure a narrative full of 'ha ha I have removed the naughty bits and even the not-naughty bits for fun'!"

"Eh, author-san, it's to keep the readers guessing, right? Ha ha."

"That's a fake laugh!" I reply, suddenly thinking of Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon.

"Oh ho? Really? It's a genuine laugh!"

"I know what it is," I say, with a flash of insight. "You're redacting the parts that make you sad, that made you sad. Hey, I'm okay with that; why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, yes, true."

"At least let me indicate where you've removed stuff?"

"No! Besides, your readers are smart, they look smart, they can tell where I cut stuff out. And also, some of the redactions are matters of national security."

"Really," I say, sardonically.

"They are! They could be used to blackmail me! Or my country!"

Now that's genuine Kenji. I shake my head, and when I look up, he's gone. With my whisky.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-1 up 20140725)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 25, 2014 7:04 am

Here begins the second part of the saga of Kenji Setou.

Kenji 2: The Sound of Wings (2010-2015)

2010.05-2011.03 — Year 1 — Kenji begins to come to terms with powerlessness and loss (this post)
2011.04-2012.03 — Year 2 — Kenji learns to say goodbye
2012.04-2012.09 — Year 3 (1) — Kenji starts work as someone else's comes to an end
2012.10-2013.03 — Year 3 (2) — Kenji learns that friendships still exist
2013.04-2013.09 — Year 4 (1) — Kenji comes to some conclusions
2013.10-2014.03 — Year 4 (2) — Kenji works his way to a different conclusion
2014.04-2014.09 — Year 5 (1) — Kenji goes underground
2014.10-2015.03 — Year 5 (2) — Kenji looks up into the light

=====

This is the first instalment of the second part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he comes to terms with many things, and begins to look at his future.

This instalment takes place around the time of this part of Miki's arc.
Natsume's account of the Great Tohoku Earthquake's aftermath can be found here.



Kenji 2: The Sound of Wings—Year One
(May 2010- March 2011)


Can you imagine the year my kid sister Sachiko died? It was the year I died too. I was weak, sickly, paranoid and untrusting—that was ‘old Kenji’. Nurse helped me be moderate, OK, on proper meds—that was ‘new Kenji’. But after Sachi went, I had no family, and only poor prospects. I stared at darkness through my thick spectacles, but even darkness would not look back at me.

I’d always kept a log. There were strange things in it at first, then insane ramblings, then a record of unfulfilled adolescence. It seemed silly to continue keeping one. But what else did I have?

In a way, I had Naomi. I knew she would leave, that she was not mine. No matter.

These are my redacted log entries, from 2010 to 2015. I’ve transformed them from short and ugly notes to something more genuine to me. I call them ‘The Sound of Wings’. When a human flees from something, it is flight. When that human soars, it is also flight. We are not always bound to two dimensions.

*****

May 2010:

I draw them over and over again. Five petals, pale pink: sakura—cherry blossoms. Sometimes they have faces, sometimes they have names. I wish I had known Tezuka better, she was good at faces and flowers. Not so good at names.

Naomi is sometimes there, sometimes she sits and watches. Sometimes she takes my hand, and we go for a meal, or we go to the university, or we sit in a park, a museum, a library. I like her because she won’t make me talk. I like her because I can disappear into her small and comfortable presence and not be Kenji anymore, not be Sachiko’s useless brother.

But that’s no way to live life. I have more steel in me than I used to have.

“Naomi? What kind of world do you want?” I ask, quietly. This time, we’re sitting in one of our favourite spots, a corner up on Arashiyama, the Storm Mountain. Cherry trees and water, bridges and tombs. There’s always so much to feel.

She looks up, almost startled, like a little light-brown sparrow who sees a cat. Very tentatively, she reaches across the short distance and touches my cheek. I flinch at the contact. It’s rare these days, and I have forgotten what it feels like.

“That’s a deep question, Kenji,” she says after a long while. “What I want… it’s not something to take lightly.”

I clasp her hand gently in mine, move it away from my face. How can two people who won’t have each other be so close? It hurts, Mother, it hurts.

Beneath us, the tombstone of the courtesan Kogo sits. She was hunted into exile until her clan was defeated by the house of Genji. The avenues are lined with bamboo, tall, like walls of green. Like a koan, I think to myself: without Naomi, I have nothing; with her, also nothing.

June 2010:

“What do I want?” she surprises me by resuming our conversation weeks later, out of nothing. “I want a world where I and Natsume are allowed to be together, and nobody judges us for that. I want a world where I am always able to be with you, and Natsume will not judge us for that.”

It’s her birthday, and I’ve taken her out on Sunday morning before Natsume arrives for lunch. We are just being silly, or so I have been thinking, jumping from stone to stone as we cross the river at Nijo-Ohashi. But halfway across, things have turned serious. We’re young people, but soon, we will have to make decisions.

And that’s when the monstrous idea takes shape. Maybe…

Naomi laughs. It’s so unexpected that I almost fall into the water. “Such thoughts are for old people.” Her voice turns a little bitter. “Japan is what it is. Maybe I just need to go away. Maybe you and Nat should get to know each other better when I’m gone.”

We’ve reached the other side. I reach out to help her make the last step. She grasps my hand, crossing the gap into my waiting right arm. I turn her around, almost into an embrace. She pushes me away gently. Then she hugs me. Both are surprises. Both give me unexpected pain.

Maybe… I think, continuing my previous thought, maybe I should just let go. I look at the river we’ve crossed. Then I look into it. It’s not that wide or deep a river, and there are many bridges across it, of all kinds.

July 2010:

Almost three months have passed. Finally, I open the big envelope that is sitting on my shelf. It’s dusty, and I sneeze a bit. There are a few condolence cards. I haven’t read any of them. All the money gifts I left in my former home.

I wonder how much effort it took to send such cards. Hakamichi, this one, in midnight-blue and stark silver-white. Her calligraphy is clear, forceful, and it conveys a sadness I could not otherwise imagine coming from her. She mentions her brother. Mutou-sensei, that one, in traditional black and white. He writes for the staff room, appending a note from Miyagi-sensei. Something about his words make me feel that he knows all about sadness too. It comes from somewhere deep inside him.

There’s only so much grief you can take. I command myself. I log each one, and then I seal the envelope. It goes with whatever else of Sachi I’ve kept: an old doll, her stuffed toy hedgehog, her personal seal, a few other little things in a small wooden box. No necklace: Naomi has chosen to keep the memory of my sister that way. I lock the box away. Grief won’t win. I have things to do. I tidy my room, wash the dust away, get back to my books.

On Sea Day, an old reflex reminds me of violin music. I bow once in an arbitrary direction, and thank God for the memory of the violinist. And that is all I have time for, because now I remember that my soul must be that of an engineer.

August 2010:

It’s summer break now, in our third year. Naomi’s parents have made their preferences even clearer. They’re off to Singapore for a holiday. Naomi and I have the house to ourselves. “Enjoy Kyoto, learn more about local events and scenery, young Kenji!” says her mother. “And have fun with our darling!”

Yumiko Inoue is a fan of traditional culture, and my holiday reading seems to be a book on basic flower arrangement. I make a face at Naomi when her mother’s not looking, and she wrinkles her nose back at me.

We’ve made our own plans, in a way; Naomi will spend August showing me around more of Kyoto and some of Osaka, where we’ll meet Natsume. Then they have September to themselves while I… I don’t know, really.

I might visit Nagasaki. I have bits of ideas. I’m a nomad now. Ronin, lordless, landless. It’s the stuff of great stories. Maybe I’ll just watch Zatoichi movies and pretend I’m a blind swordsman. I am so much less when I am by myself.

“Let’s run away!” she whispers. I blink in surprise.

“What?”

“Hiroshima, maybe. I’ve always wanted to go there, look around. Or Niigata!”

I don’t know what kind of mood she’s in. I’m suddenly feeling unsettled. And yet, there’s a kind of insane logic to it. Go far away, out of your zone, and things will change. There’s something iconic about Hiroshima, though. Maybe it will clear my mind.

“I’ll look after you,” I say firmly. It’s not what I meant to say, which was more like, “OK, let’s make plans.” But you say what you say.

On 6th August, we walk into the 65th anniversary of the day of the Bomb. I won’t make jokes about nukes again. But Hiroshima in August is beautiful now. That night, Naomi and I watch ten thousand coloured lanterns float through the six rivers of the city. Each one is a prayer, a wish, a little piece of hope, a little hope of peace. So many, and not one is mine.

“Naomi, why do you hang out with me?” It’s a question I’ve asked many times.

“Because you’re my friend,” she replies, giving the countersign that she has given many times in return. “Why are you holding my hands?”

I mostly get two choices here. “Because they’re cold,” is not true tonight. “Because you’re my friend too,” is what I settle for most times. But I watch the coloured lanterns drift away, and I say, “Because I love you.”

It’s like breaking the rules of the game, it’s like resuming a conversation we had before Sachi died. In a way, I am confessing two things: that I can love someone again, and that I am sure that it’s Naomi. I can’t tell if she is blushing, but she does not remove her hands, so it’s a good sign.

Very slowly, she says, “I think you and Nat could be good friends.”

The breeze teases her hair. Ash-blonde with dark roots, like Yggdrasil of the Norse myths. I would gladly hang there to become a wiser Kenji. I will never understand women. But in the next three weeks, I hope to misunderstand less.

The last week of August brings us out of the illusion of being a couple and into the world of Natsume’s Osaka. It’s a beautiful city, but less charming than Kyoto. I find myself counting my seconds with Naomi like a miser counting gold. Worse, I’m giving my coins away.

But this is wiser Kenji. I resent Natsume, but I learn to call her Nat to her face, as Naomi wishes. And there is a stubborn integrity to her that I can appreciate. Last of all, most unwelcome but somehow appreciated—when I look into her left eye, it is like being teased by Sachiko all over again.

September 2010:

At the end of August, I leave them to enjoy the rest of our break, and Natsume’s 21st birthday. They must be lovers. How could they not be? Old Kenji would like to snoop and spy and get thrills from watching them. New Kenji would like to act all mature and understanding. But me, I’m alone, afraid, sometimes angry, and yet I’m happy for them. I have my own life. And over these weeks, I’ve chosen Nagasaki.

Three days after the Americans hit Hiroshima, they burned Nagasaki with the same ruthless fire. The mountains focused the flame: half of the city was burnt to ash, the other half saved. I think of Hanako Ikezawa, but not in a joking way. Almost 80,000 people died from the Fat Man and what followed.

All this I knew only a bit about. As I sit on the hillside near Koba, the Fist tells me more. It excites and saddens her. It makes her hot, it is part of her local history. I can hardly be unmoved. She’s even sexier than when she was in school, like this. She brings me to the shrines, the Museum of the Bomb, the monuments to peace. She tells the stories, and shows me Nagasaki in its rise and fall and fading times.

Yes, just as I’m a wiser Kenji, she’s changed too. She and I, we fall into comfortable friendship. We talk shop. We are able to discuss history, economics, technology, information sciences.

“Miura-san, you hated math in school! What made you so… good?” Careful, Kenji, you almost said ‘hot’ there.

She gives me a half-grin. “The new Miki is not the old Miki. Anything that fucked with me in the old days, well, it’s my bitch now.”

Her grin is half self-mockery, half bitter experience. I know the look. It’s the way I think of my love for Naomi. But what’s given this to her? We used to be friends, and we still are. Dare I ask?

“You’re the Fist,” I say quietly, surprising myself. I turn away, look out over the city. “You’re the best,” I whisper. I’m not sure whom I’m talking to anymore. But when I look up and see her curious smile, I know that in some way she is pleased.

“Damn right, Kenji,” she says. “What happened to us? We’re awesome now.” She tosses long black hair in the air, cocks her head at me, offers me her fist. My knuckles and hers meet. The fire in her eyes sears through my glasses.

Three weeks together. They are indeed ‘awesome’. She is like my brother, my sister, my friend. What she isn’t, is my lover. Nobody will ever believe that, I guess. She’s all heat and allure, like a jumpjet in a jumpsuit. She has a hunger in her. I can’t help but respond even though I don’t know why.

We learn to be friends without benefits, as she says. She’s both a test and a benchmark for me. Somehow, she’s learnt to keep that balance well. We almost fall, always survive. She shows me the great secrets of her Nagasaki. We tell the stories we’ve not dared tell other people.

On another hill, on the last day, we kiss goodbye. Her breath is warm, moist, powerful with years of trained lung capacity. My left hand lies idle on her side, her ribs under my palm. It’s just below the swell of her right breast, her dark nipple obvious beneath the thin yellow silk of her halter-top. She holds me—her right hand, my elbow, the fading heat of summer blooming around us. She crooks her left arm around my neck.

This is about two people conquering themselves, maybe their fears. They’re learning that they don’t need to be strangers if they’re not quite lovers. Learning, perhaps, that they can love without giving it all away. Is there such a thing?

No, nobody will ever believe it. When we part at the train station, she has a naughty, mysterious smile on her face. Perhaps, I have one too. Neither of us knows that it will be years before we meet again. Yet there’s a bond that won’t easily be broken.

October 2010:

“How was Nagasaki?” Naomi asks. We’re sitting by the lake, and the breeze is toying with her hair as usual. She has a playful smile, as if expecting me to attempt evasion.

“I missed you,” I say, being honest. “But it was fun catching up with Miki.”

“Ooh, it’s ‘Miki’, is it? Wow, I had no idea you were that close to Miura.”

I have no idea if it’s a matter of jealousy or not. I can’t read women sometimes. Besides, she’s got Natsume, so there’s no reason for it.

From Hiroshima to Nagasaki and back. It seems like a pilgrimage, almost. What have I gained from it? It’s not clear to me, but maybe I’m not so sad now. It’s been six months.

November 2010:

Third Year is tough. In the first two years in Engineering at Kyodai, they allow us to do subjects in the humanities and other disciplines. I have even picked up more English. But now there’s an objective that I am dreaming about: if you do very well in Third Year you can go on to the Master’s programme immediately. Intensive engineering study is called for. No more fun and games.

New Kenji moans, because it means less time with Naomi, and less to talk about. Wise Kenji wonders if he’s being wise at all. And Kenji, me, I just think about the future and realize that in a year or so, it will be time to worry about final farewells.

Maybe Naomi senses it too. We do something that we don’t normally do. We watch autumn deliberately, savour the colours. Arashiyama turns from green to gold over the weeks, and at the end of November, we enjoy the maple leaves gleaming over Kodaiji. One more year? It feels like it’s ending soon.

It occurs to me that I don’t know what she’s chosen to concentrate on in her third year. That’s bad for someone who claimed he’d take care of someone else. So I ask her, feeling a bit dumb. The answer surprises me.

“Humanistic informatics? What’s that?” I say, alarmed. It sounds like food for a feminist conspiracy, except that I think I know better.

She giggles. “It’s how human societies and information interact. Last year you told me about human networks and I got interested. The media, the way states work, all that stuff is important. If you want to change society, you’ve got to do something to its data flow!”

“I never knew you were interested.”

“It’s interesting when you get excited about something. Sometimes it’s just interesting to watch you, but sometimes it’s also interesting to listen.”

I remember feeling that way about Miki too. In my mind I draw another triangle. Natsume’s right. Everyone’s connected by triangles.

December 2010:

The Inoues spend more time than usual whispering around me. One day, Naomi’s mother decides to unburden herself. It’s in a curiously indirect way, very out of character; it is also more polite than usual. “Kenji-san,” Yumiko-san says tentatively, “becoming an adult, and next year is graduation, so might there be any specific plans?”

It would be rude to run away, because I’m having a flower-arrangement lesson with her. “Uh, not really, Inoue-san. But I’m thinking of going into a Master’s programme at Kyodai. Maybe then I can get a government job or go into industry.”

“If one may inquire, has Naomi been polite and friendly?”

Oh dear. It’s one of those when-are-you-marrying-our-daughter talks. I can understand it; the Inoues are fairly traditional and they don’t see Naomi-Natsume as a plausible option. But Naomi-Kenji? Even less, sadly.

“Ah, she is a perfect young lady. Very intelligent, has many virtues.” Yeah, Kenji, go for it, and before you know, they’ll think you’re making a proposal again.

“Good, good, one is always so afraid that one has not managed the parenting process well. This is great praise and strong encouragement, so one is very grateful.”

“Your daughter has been brought up well. It has optimized her talents and innate abilities.” Kenji, why are you laying it on so thick? I don’t know what I’m doing.

“Wonderful! Is it possible to inquire as to Kenji-san’s opinion of the young lady’s future prospects? Do her peers consider her marriageable at all?”

Now, that’s very blunt, even in such careful language. The rest of the conversation is pleasant but awkward, and I think I have given very little away. This time, to avoid further difficulties, I tell Naomi everything the next time we meet. She laughs, but I can now tell it is not a particularly happy laugh.

For my birthday, she bakes me a cupcake. It is such a peculiar thing to do. But it is the best cupcake I have ever had. Over the winter break, Natsume comes over, and we have a nice traditional Japanese dinner together. Triangles, triangles.

January 2011:

“Happy New Year, Naomi!” Soon, third year will be over. The countdown is inexorable. I put effort into sounding happy.

“Happy New Year, Kenji,” she replies, snuggling up. It’s raining sleet, maybe a bit of hail. It’s cold. We’re all bundled up, so I can’t tell which parts of us are bumping. But it all feels nice.

It’s colder on the 16th, with proper snow. When I’m not looking, she pastes me with a fist-sized ball of it. The exertion keeps us warm, and when we’re sitting around at home tired and panting, the warmth continues. It’s like being married, but without benefits, my older selves debate in my head. I just sit there, steaming and hoping to remember the moment.

“So, really, what do you think of Miura?” she says, rather too casually. It’s like being poked in the ribs when you don’t expect it. It’s been more than four months, woman!

“Erm. Well, she’s hot,” I reply. My foot is firmly in my mouth. Or up my own ass. “But we’re just friends. I think.”

I’m getting a certain look, very searching, from my housemate. She opens her mouth, closes it, parts her lips again. “Hot? It must be the eyebrows. The exotic look. Nat thinks so too.”

Now I’m sure there is deep, deep trouble waiting for somebody. But the subject is changed, it goes away, and Naomi doesn’t mention it again. Instead, she makes tea, and we drink in silence.

February 2011:

Examinations come and go. Naomi is happy when she finds out that I’ve made the cut. She gives me a peck on my cold, hard cheek. I can apply to go into a Master’s programme now. But it seems such a hollow victory. Do I want to defeat the General, my non-father? Do I want to prove that I am a man? In the end, I fill up the forms because I’m Kenji Setou. It’s all I am, and I’ll keep that.

Naomi herself plans a mysterious trip to Australia in March with her parents. She tells me that Sydney’s a nice place, asks if I want to go with them. I decline. There’s a lot to do at the university, and I can look after the house in their absence. In a year, I’ll no longer be living here anyway. There are already ghosts of the future lurking around.

We try harder to be friends. I think there’s some tension. Sometimes there’s Natsume on weekends, sometimes we’re not together, sometimes we have mutual fears about the years ahead. One night, she asks me, “What would I do without you, Kenji? You’re always making sure I don’t kill myself.”

How to answer that? I don’t trust myself. I look at her, look into the night, look back again. In the end, I just gently hold her and say, “If I’m not around, dammit, you have to make sure you don’t do such things anyway.”

She squeezes my hand. I have to prepare for the day when my hand no longer feels that squeeze.

March 2011:

All the angst, all the doubts. We humans plan so many things, but they don’t always work. The day of doom, it’s just around the corner.

I’m in my room on 11th March when all the newsfeeds start coming in. Kyoto hasn’t felt much, but there’s been a huge earthquake off the coast in the Tohoku region. I feel my heart sink. The tsunami has roared into the face of Mount Aoba, and the dragon behind it has wrecked Sendai. I call the Yamaku Academy office, something old Kenji would never have done. There is no reply.

The Inoues are safely away in Australia. Naomi calls me to find out if I’m fine and if I know anything. She says she can’t locate Natsume, and asks if I will help. Of course Kenji will help. That’s what he’s here for, right?

I call Natsume, but there is also no answer. This worries me: where the hell is my best friend’s best friend? I try another number on my list. Miki answers her phone. “Yeah, I saw it, Kenji,” she says before I can speak. She sounds terribly subdued.

“Were you able to contact the school?” I ask her, not really knowing why.

“There’s nobody I want to contact, really. But I called Tokyo, and Nakai told me Rin Tezuka’s gone missing.”

“Tezuka? The artist?” I’m stunned to hear this name from my past. I guess my juniors all know each other.

“Yeah. There’s also bad news coming out of Fukushima, rumours that the nuclear power plant is venting something. I hate nukes. Errm, call you back? I’ve got another call waiting.”

Tezuka. There’s a person I’d like to talk to, really. We had so many manly drinks together, and then one day I found out she was a woman. Such a facepalm, Kenji. But there are bits of my past I miss, and I need to know if Yamaku is still there.

Back to the computers. Back to my backdoor to the Academy, if they haven’t closed it by now. Then a voice in my head speaks to me. “Why don’t you call Yuuko?” it says. “She lives in Sendai. Is she all right?” How could I have forgotten? I stop short outside my bedroom, in the corridor, and look for her number.

She sounds pleased. “Kenji-san! Are you OK? I have not heard your voice for aeons! Sendai’s a big mess but it’s very lucky for me, I was safe in the university. Everything’s damaged, but no serious injuries. They’ve closed the campus till May! Are you still in Kyoto? I think I need to leave this place, maybe I can take a train down south, what do you think? But so expensive!”

I can imagine her face, the way she twitches when excited. It makes me smile. Three hours later, excluding a short interruption from Miki, I’ve finally caught up with someone I can call an old friend.

A week later, Miki tells me that she and Natsume, and their friend Misaki Kawana the photographer, are off to Sendai on some mission. I wish her the best. I experience irrational fear for her safety, and a bit of shame that I don’t feel the same way for Natsume. It makes me wonder: how does a man value his friends? What is the right thing to think, to do, to believe?

I miss Naomi again, and often. She’ll only be home in the last week of March. Only a few days, but such a long time away.

We’re so powerless to protect those we love. Distance is an enemy; lack of information and resources are other foes. But after the great earthquake of 2011, I find a great desire in me to try to save as much as I can.

=====
part 1 | prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Sat Aug 16, 2014 1:33 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-1 up 20140725)

Post by Serviam » Fri Jul 25, 2014 11:23 am

I suspect this is the point where he decides to join TRDI.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-1 up 20140725)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 25, 2014 12:53 pm

Serviam wrote:I suspect this is the point where he decides to join TRDI.
Still some time before he graduates… :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-1 up 20140725)

Post by azumeow » Fri Jul 25, 2014 9:34 pm

Read it all just now. Hit me like a sack of god damned bricks. That's just cruel...
"I don’t want to be here anymore, I know there’s nothing left worth staying for.
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore, I’m listening with one foot out the door
And something has to die to be reborn-I don’t want to be here anymore"

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-1 up 20140725)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 25, 2014 9:47 pm

azumeow wrote:Read it all just now. Hit me like a sack of god damned bricks. That's just cruel...
Yeah, it did that to me too. :( As a writer, when a character tells you, "I was raped," or, "I died young," my first response is, "No! Please!" and then I have to write the story respectfully. I think no main or supporting character dies in Part 2 though, if that's any consolation.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-2 up 20140729)

Post by brythain » Tue Jul 29, 2014 8:17 am

This is the second instalment of the second part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he gives up love in the end, for the beginnings of an illustrious career.



Kenji 2: The Sound of Wings—Year Two
(April 2011-March 2012)


I remember this year very well. It was not only filled with the sound of wings, but the sound of letting go. There are times when you must let go of earth, to gain the air. A dandelion seed must feel that way, but it probably feels less anxiety and no pain.

In 2011-2012, the world turns black and white and grey. There are flashes of sweet brightness, but the colour is leaving my life. It is only later that the colour comes back.

These memories are taken from my redacted log entries, from 2010 to 2015. I call them ‘The Sound of Wings’. Angels or vultures, butterflies or wasps, we all have wings, and to listen to them is to listen to life itself. Before we fly away.

*****

April 2011:

At the beginning of this month, I wake one morning and remember Naomi is home from Australia. I feel warm, happy, comforted. I fall asleep again. I have just spent weeks in an empty house, and I have been sad. But not any more.

The new term has begun. I will make it count. I am a Master’s candidate now. My past is behind me. My future is ahead of me. This damn entry sucks because I have forgotten how to write like myself. I’m reading my logbooks. I can see it’s not me anymore. Is it better? I don’t know, but if I had to blame anyone, I’d blame Naomi Inoue, whose home I live in. She has made me literary.

If anyone has been the love of my short life so far, it would be her. She, of the short dyed ash-blonde bob and the half-sad eyes, of the mouth whose lips carry fragile happiness. She is not really pretty. But to me, she is beautiful. For those who may one day read this entry, let me not leave you in doubt of what I feel.

“I’ve always liked it that you walk me to school every day. It’s been three years now, Kenji. Don’t you ever get bored?”

Her voice is light, girlish, a little mischievous. Under that, she’s tired, stretched by the hidden things that go on in her mind. I only know of a few of them, and there are many.

“No, I couldn’t ever be bored. I have to make sure you stay alive.” It’s a joke, it’s not a joke. It’s love, it’s not love. In English and in Japanese, you can twist those words to look quite like each other. I watch her smile, and realize that she smiles with relief more than happiness.

It’s a day on which the new Master’s student and the final-year humanities student will visit the Manga Museum in Kyoto and stay there for hours. The horrifying emo-ness of the characters in manga serials make my own life bearable. Thank God I’m not a character in one of those things.

But whoever reads my log will laugh. So boring, they will say. He spent months getting sadder and sadder or happier and happier for some girl who wouldn’t spend the rest of her life with him. How to explain that? How, Kenji? Yes, how?

A whole year now, since my sister died. For the second time, I’m standing by the grave, a quiet and lonely place. Naomi is still with me. She makes the pain bearable. She is wearing the black pearls that she gave Sachi, and which Sachi gave back. They are stark against her pale flesh. In the morning light, it’s as if they separate her head from her heart.

Next year, I’ll be here all alone, I can’t help but think. Somebody has already put flowers here, a sad little bouquet. Someone’s been keeping the grave clean. I doubt it was my non-father or my non-stepmother. I wish a blessing on whoever it was: may that person have a happier love-life than any of us, no matter how long it takes.

And then April passes, and takes its cruelty away with it.

May 2011:

Showa Day fell on a Friday, so the Golden Week break seems slightly longer this year. Natsume is visiting, and I’m prepared for another lonely-but-not-alone week.

“Hello, Kenji. How’s the new programme coming along?” she says. The usual business-like conversation. We’re waiting for Naomi to get ready before we go out. And then, something changes. Before I can reply to her first question, she asks, “Did she tell you about Australia?”

My rival doesn’t look happy at all. But I don’t rejoice at misfortune. Especially when I cannot understand its nature. “Not really,” I reply. “She seems to like Sydney a lot, though.”

“That’s what she says.” I have no idea why she sounds so gloomy, and there isn’t much time to ponder that, because Naomi joins us then.

A few days later, Natsume texts me: [Hey Kenji, you know MM, right?]

Cautiously, I respond: [Yes.]

[How well do you know her?]

That’s a hard question to answer. More so when you have no idea of the context involved. I hide in Kenji-ness: [Ha ha, how well would crazy Kenji know a hot girl like that?]

[She doesn’t think you’re crazy.]

This is not good. If triangles are bad, a rectangle is worse. I don’t reply, and when Natsume comes round at the weekend, we exchange very few words.

I spend the rest of May buried in the labs. It’s good to be doing work that doesn’t need so much thinking about humans and whether you love them or not.

June 2011:

I spend a lot of time running experiments in the lab. All that is recorded in logbooks that I don’t want to ever see again. I have to fill forms for permission to run experiments, for my supervisor to record that permission has been given, for security to be informed about all this. The list goes on.

I am glad that a few months into my Master’s course, Dr Tsuchida and Dr Takahashi have confidence that I am doing well. I cannot give their full names here, of course, but they are good mentors and I must acknowledge their influence. The latter is not related to a violinist I used to know, as far as I can find out.

At the end of June, I look at Naomi, and Naomi looks back. I think the question we want to ask is, “What happened to our friendship?” It’s not dead. It’s still alive, but somehow it is slipping away.

July 2011:

It’s hard to regain something you haven’t lost. But we try very hard. The ‘Gion Matsuri’ Festival is something that happens in Kyoto every year, but I’ve not bothered with it. Naomi makes it a point to bring me around. The Festival is all about appeasing the kami—spirits and gods—in times of disaster and disease. I guess Japan has not needed it more than at this time, if you believe that kind of thing.

Towards the last stage of the month-long process, I watch the huge carnival floats, and feel alive. I catch the moments, happy that her hand is in my hand. Even if it won’t be there some day, so what? Here is Naomi, dressed in a sea-green and dark blue yukata. Here is Naomi, most beautiful girl of my life.

August 2011:

The vacation comes, and I realize that this might be the last one I ever have with her. I think she thinks so too. I suggest something new. I hope it’s not pity that makes her agree to join me. She’s never been to Hamamatsu before.

“Truth,” she announces, “is a fragile thing.” She waves a tumbler in my direction, as we sit in the lair of the Black Dragon.

My uncle has decamped in his usual mysterious way, but not after meeting us first and having dinner and a nice chat. With his boyish grin and tall, ungainly gait, he reminds me of Mutou-sensei. It is almost as if they might be incarnations of each other.

But he is gone now, as of two days ago. He has given me the house keys, and access to a liquor cabinet. On my phone is a little message from ‘Setou M.’ It says: [She’s a keeper, dear nephew.] Bitter irony there, the forte of any black dragon.

“So we will make more truth,” she continues, as I put the phone back in my pocket. “We will challenge each other with truth, no dares, just truth.”

It’s a fearsome idea. I am armed with nothing but sadness and strange moods. She is armed with nothing but enthusiasm. Our weapons are envenomed with whisky, apparently a 35-year Macallan worth probably millions of yen.

After a while we’ve confirmed that neither of us is a virgin, and that I like her parents more than she does. She knows I’ve kissed Miki; I know she’s been intimate with Natsume. She suspects Natsume is cheating on her. I tell her I don’t think I’m a father yet. The questions get wilder, and sillier, but it’s almost as if they’re doing that to distract us from the main point of something. What?

It’s the eighth day of August. It would be Tanabata in Sendai. This we know because it has arisen in our drunken ramblings. “Do you love me, Kenji-chan?” she says, her eyes suddenly wide open. She places her empty tumbler on the polished petrified wood of the table. It makes a soft clicking sound, like a huge Go stone.

“I love you, there’s nobody else I can love,” I blurt out. I am appalled at what I’ve said, which is private. Not the first part, I’ve said that before a few times. But the second part. Oh, stupid Kenji, Kenji-baka. Surely she will laugh, this is a childish game anyway. And yet, it’s the truth, even if I don’t really know what it means. And truth must be chased relentlessly sometimes.

“Do you love me too?” I ask, recklessly.

She nods solemnly, then begins to cry.

In the morning, nobody knows anything. The gate of truth has closed. She spends the rest of August with me. We talk less and less. We will soon have nothing left but the ghosts of this August. We are desperate to preserve those spirits.

I now know she plans to go off to Australia, to the University of New South Wales. She’ll do her Master’s degree in Law, Media and Journalism. Kenji will be somewhere around Tokyo. He’ll likely be working for the government, just like his father did. I stare at her, lost. She stares back, uncertain.

She looks away. I look at her ash-blonde bob. The arcs of her hair sweep down past her ears, the left tip for chewing when anxious, the right tip always going messy on its own. I’ve known her for years. I’ve lived with her, fought with her, breathed the same air with her. When it all ends, does my world go with it too?

I decide to spend September in Sendai. It all began there, and there is nothing left for me in Saitama. I have to learn to be alone.

September 2011:

I go back to Yamaku a few times, and on the first day, Miyagi-sensei seems genuinely pleased to see me. “Setou! You seem much more, ah, mature these days. How is Kyoto? And have you made any special friends?”

How does she know, I wonder. It’s that damn feminine-teacher-mystique thing. Somehow, they always know.

“Honoured teacher, I have been greatly blessed by my time at Kyodai. I have a few friends. I’m doing my Master’s degree now. How are you?” Yes, my words are wooden. I think it is because I am used only to speaking with Naomi, and talking to other women is somehow not so easy.

“Good! I’m fine, thank you. Just a little busy. This very ordinary teacher has been given a few extra responsibilities, and they are somewhat difficult for my poor capabilities.”

The school organization chart shows her as Head of Humanities, which puts her at least on par with Mutou-sensei in seniority. She is truly modest. I smile bashfully at her, suddenly aware that she is probably hinting that I should go away and leave her to her work. I make some lame apologies and remove myself.

Some days later, I realize I really can’t be a character in a novel. If I were, I’d have encountered some girl from my past by now, and that girl would have swept all my thoughts of Naomi away, and… well, happily ever after, as they say.

Instead, I encounter Mutou-sensei twice: first time, he’s busy talking to some vaguely familiar girl with long silver hair; second time, he’s having a serious chat with Shizune Hakamichi. Both times, I can’t interrupt, because I’m not as rude as I used to be. If this were a novel, I’d end up with one of those girls. Ha ha.

I avoid the school office itself. Bad memories. I am tempted to visit the medical centre, to drop in on Chief Nurse Kaneshiro. I make it all the way to the main corridor, and then realize that his name has ‘On Study Leave’ beside it. What a waste of time.

Should I visit the dorms? I wouldn’t be allowed in, and my stuff is long gone anyway. Maybe I should visit the roof? I look up into the white September sky, trying to see a chain-link fence I shouldn’t be able to see. It’s then that the sadness I’ve been hiding comes down on me like all the darkness of the world. This place, it was where Sachi was last alive. And for some reason, she decided she had no friends, she was all alone, and she looked down from a very high place, and then, she… she was not.

I will never go back to Yamaku again. I reflect, in the true spirit of irony, that if I were in a novel, this would mean I’ve chosen all the wrong choices and am about to end up dead. I wouldn’t care that much.

The sharp sensation of a skinny finger makes me jump. Something has tapped me on the shoulder. My hair stands on end as I turn. But I have to look, so I adjust my glasses. What is it I’m seeing?

There’s a piece of paper in front of my face. [Hope you’re not avoiding me. Wanted to tell you personally that I feel sad for your loss. My brother hasn’t recovered yet. Thinks it’s his fault.]

Ah. My skin stops crawling as the focus adjusts. It’s Hakamichi, Shizune. Serious spectacles, beige top, smart jacket and long dark grey skirt. I can’t remember what I should call her. It’s difficult for me to remember my signs.

[Boss-san? Thank you. Not his fault.] It’s very low-quality. But she smiles a bit. She has nice dimples.

To my horror, I begin to cry. Such weakness in front of the feminist chief, old Kenji grumbles. I sit down on a step, unable to stand. When she pats me on the arm, it is surprisingly gentle. That makes it worse, at first. A long pause. Tap, tap. I feel her grabbing my wrist. She is surprisingly strong.

Another piece of paper, from her little writing pad: [Come. I have a car. Let’s eat.]

Her car is small and midnight blue. It has a weird yellow-on-green butterfly sticker on it, front and back. I never thought she would go in for such cute things. It is going to be a day on which I learn many things I never thought I would.

Shizune. How to describe her warmth? I am still surprised at it. She is very fierce. Her heat is not really sexual. It’s wanting to do things, it’s like how engineers define energy—capacity to do work, to keep doing work. But she cares for people, doesn’t want to see them wasted.

We take seats in the old Shanghai joint which I never much went to in the old days. She writes: [Respect for your great efforts. Didn’t think you would make it. Ooe thinks highly of you. Says you are kind and smart. Also you look after Inoue well.]

I find myself blushing. Fortunately, our food and drinks arrive, and I am not further embarrassed. In the background, someone drops a tray of food and there is a commotion. I hope they are not embarrassed either.

Maybe there is indeed a feminist conspiracy, but it’s not the wicked one I used to imagine. It’s just that women are better at information sharing than men when it comes to social things. I make a mental note of that: if you want to win information wars, get the women on your side.

October 2011:

It has taken me time to get my thoughts together. The new semester has begun in Kyodai, and I have a great resolve to keep what I can before it all goes away. That means working harder at the lab, burning my lamps till late, and somehow still desperately finding time for Naomi.

“When I go away, it won’t be me not seeing you for a month or something like that. It’ll be for a much longer time. And when I get home, you won’t be here. You’ll be in Tokyo, and I’ll have Nat—but only if she still wants to be with me.”

We’re swinging our legs out over the canal, from somebody’s rooftop. Things have changed. She’s musing, coming to terms with what will surely happen. So am I. And we’re still making sure each of us takes the right drugs at the right times. I’ve programmed a little application that reminds her (and me) to do that—in each other’s voices.

“When you go away, I won’t forget you. I’ll just work really hard, thus attracting further attention from Shizune Hakamichi. But I don’t think she’ll want to be my girlfriend. I think she’ll just employ me and send me motivating emails when I’m depressed.”

She laughs. Light, unforced laughter. It’s like a memory of the days when we were carefree. For me, there weren’t many. For her, it must’ve been back in high school. Or maybe, before either of us knew we had disabilities.

“Kenji, I always thought you were funny. Really fun to be with. And a few months ago, I was just thinking, when people like Satou and Nakai just didn’t end up together, did other people become sad? Will anyone become sad if we don’t? It would be so much easier for my life to just listen to my parents and marry you.”

Here we are, sitting in Gion, the historical geisha district, home of broken hearts and those who mend them. I am insane to feel so happy when I should be sad. I look down at the water below, and realize that the joke is on me. If I fall now, it will be into the waterway called the Shirakawa Canal, and I can’t remember how deep it is.

“Yeah, that would be good. But if you don’t want that, I won’t ask.”

Willow trees line the stone-paved roads. Lovely restaurants, glowing pale amber. The people of the night, on their way to work. Naomi smiles, and those things, they’re all dimmed by her glow, and fade away.

“Friends, Kenji?”

“Best ever.”

November 2011:

A year ago, I remember we watched Autumn come and go. This year, it really feels like Autumn. Everything is coming and going, especially going.

I have an interview to attend. My references are impeccable, my work is good. But I am nervous. It’s my life now, and it’s not automatic. You can’t just work hard. You have to talk properly.

Naomi helps me dress. She and Natsume take me shopping, buy me a proper suit. It feels stiff, it doesn’t feel like me. Both of them know what they’ll be doing next year. Me, Kenji? I have to pass this damn interview first. Nerves. Shaking. Stupid.

The interview is in Tokyo. Naomi comes with me. Natsume sends her best wishes. Irrelevantly, I realize I still can’t call her ‘Nat’ even though she prefers that. She has coached me, scolded me, spent a lot of time roughing me up verbally. If you can survive Natsume Ooe, you can survive a lot. Will it be enough?

“Everything we do is legal,” says one man. “Or we must make it so before we do it,” says another. Or maybe the same. They all dress the same way. My suit is too good, it stands out. I don’t see other interviewees.

“This is a technical division. We are open, transparent. We serve the public good. We are only a small part of the Ministry,” says the first man. He has a forgettable face. I can’t remember it even after staring at it.

“Ha ha ha, actually only four or five years ago, there wasn’t even a Ministry,” says the other. No, not the same. Sounds like the Chief Nurse at Yamaku, but looks different, has a very fleshy nose and a broad face.

Then they start with the questions. And the questioning.

It’s nightfall when I get out. Naomi has been waiting at the little café for a long while. Not for the first time, I think I am lucky to have such a friend. She looks tired, but her face looks up with a smile on it, pale in the evening. “Did you get the job?”

“I don’t know. They’ll let me know. They laughed a lot. Thank you for waiting for me, Naomi.”

“No, no. It is nothing for a friend. I would have done the same for Nat, I think.”

“Thank you anyway.”

She puts her work away and we find our way home, hand in hand.

December 2011:

I have the job. The girls and Naomi’s parents have a little celebration for me. It’s part birthday party, part coming-of-age-and-new-job. Even Natsume’s brother, Matsuo, has turned up. We are a family. At the back of my head, I soar into the sky, waving a jet-powered finger at my non-father. I am Kenji Setou, 23 years old. I am going to help defend my country even though I am legally blind.

All I have to do is survive the next few months and complete all my work.

January 2012:

“Happy New Year, Kenji!” she says. I am all curled up in my sheets. It’s not that cold, but it’s not warm either. What’s she doing in my room? Oh damn, the whisky. No, did we… ? No.

“Happy New Year, Naomi,” I say, carefully opening one eye, and then the other, hoping to figure out what exactly we’ve been doing.

She’s sitting on one corner of my bed in her dark green silk nightgown, which is currently modestly tied up at her waist. As I prepare to exit the bed on the other side, I manage to determine that there are cold areas. Probably there weren’t two people in it last night.

“You left the door open, and my parents said your snoring sounded like a bunch of buildings swaying during an earthquake.”

It is an insult too grave to ignore, even if true. Sneakily, I grab a cushion from the floor and toss it at her. Oddly, it’s our first pillow-fight ever. In the middle of it, she gasps, “My parents…” and takes evasive action just to close the door properly.

For some reason, New Year’s Day always has us sitting around tired on the floor. People would think we’d been up to it all night. She grins at me, reading my mind. “Yeah, my parents. They’re probably hoping I’ll get pregnant so you’ll have to marry me.”

I look at her, her nightgown askew. If I weren’t an honourable Japanese gentleman, I’d… I cover my loins with more layers of blanket. As always, I delete my lustful thoughts. Come to think of it, I should redact all my previous logs too.

February 2012:

I’ve done it. Made my deadlines, satisfied my professors. You can do a Master’s at Kyoto in two years, but some people get through in one. Kenji Setou is such a man. The Inoues are the first people to know, and they are incredibly happy. I will be sad to leave this household.

I also call the Fist, who is cheerful and enthusiastic: “Hey Kenji, congrats! Buddha’s balls, I think you’re the first one in our batch to get a Master’s degree. Managed to get the Tokyo job?”

“Ah, yeah. I have a few months to make arrangements, then I start officially on 1st May.”

“Golden Week? Shit, you’ve got cruel asshole employers, man. Why’d you bother?”

“I only have to report for work on Monday, 7th May.”

“Ha! That’s more like it. If I can bring myself ever to be in Tokyo again, I’ll come look you up.”

“That’d be nice, Miki!”

There’s a long silence. “Hey, man. In all the time… I don’t think you’ve ever called me by my first name.”

Have I offended her? What does she mean? Ah, I… am confused. I should apologise. “Miura-san, sorry for taking liberties.”

“No! Damn! No, didn’t mean that, Kenji. It’s just that I’ve always wondered if you’d ever call me anything except ‘Miura’ and ‘Fist’ and stuff.” She laughs. It’s a strange laugh, but I’ll settle for that.

Naomi takes me out for a Valentine’s Day dinner. I owe her one too, I say. We end up splitting the tab. She is wearing Sachi’s pearls, and a deep red dress with maroon panels or something. Whatever it is, she looks elegant, a high-class lady. When I tell her, she makes the usual ‘this old dress is not worthy’ sounds. But I know she is happy, and I know ‘this old dress’ was bought only after Christmas.

We’re not like Nakai and Satou. We’ve known each other a long time now. When it stops, will the screen just fade to black? If this were a game, I guess it would be the neutral ending, and the player would just feel empty after that.

March 2012:

Everything seems so final, but yet there’s much to be happy about. The cherry trees are in full bloom, and high up on Arashiyama, Naomi and I press our fingers together and look into each other’s eyes. It could be the end of our relationship, and yet somehow, because we’ve felt that way for so long, it doesn’t feel that way.

“I’m letting you go,” I say, even though I have rocks in my throat and stones in my guts. “I have to, because you’re not meant to be mine, Naomi.”

“I’m letting you go too, Kenji, and it’s not easy at all. I’m not letting you go for someone else, because I don’t know for sure if there will be anyone else.”

“Me too.”

Her parents have offered to house me until I have firmed up my plans. So has the Black Dragon. But after that, I will be on my own.

We keep looking at each other. We always knew there would be a real goodbye sooner or later. We grant each other one last kiss. It is like fire and ice, like something sweet and salty that will feed you for a long time. It seems to last forever. It is like trying very hard to remember the best whisky of your life. The better it is, the harder it is to remember anything at all.

Someone speaks: “I’ll always be your friend.”

“Always,” one of us replies.

Who speaks first? It doesn’t matter. We know happiness in the sadness. It’s a joy that we’ve had something we’ll always be able to keep, locked up in our hearts or set free to fly.

There’s a goodbye at the airport. But that’s just for her parents. The rumble of the final takeoff is almost imaginary. The separation is real. The rest of our life has begun.

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Last edited by brythain on Fri Aug 01, 2014 3:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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