Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 6 complete 20190527)

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 11, 2014 9:33 pm

azumeow wrote:Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuckk....

That....wow, that hit home. Especially the graveyard scene. I've never been to visit any of my dead yet. Not one. Not my friends, not my grandparents, not my uncle. Not one, because I couldn't bear it. I'd break before I reached the grave, and I'd need more people to carry me than usual. I could have taken off one of the worst days of my life to attend the funeral, but I didn't. I can't. I just can't do it. I'm ashamed, but I've never been very strong.

Kenji's got his work cut out for him. My parents still haven't mended their relationship after my dad got caught cheating. Kenji...Kenji you fool.
Yeah, in my job I get to see many of the effects of these broken relationships. For the record, I don't like writing about such things (or perhaps, I don't like the things that I write about), but they are in some ways true to life. Strange coincidences, acts of violence, oddly maudlin moments, dramatically broken friendships… truth is stranger, and often more painful, than fiction.
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 3-2 complete 20141010)

Post by Serviam » Mon Oct 13, 2014 12:42 am

"Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction."

Lord Byron was right, after all.
"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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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3a up 20141028)

Post by brythain » Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:37 pm

This is the beginning of the third instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji brushes past Death, going in opposite directions.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Three
(April 2017-May 2017)


“Sometimes you guard the melons and the birds eat the plums,” I once wrote to myself. You get caught up with something you think is important, and you make a terrible mistake because you are not looking in the right direction. And sometimes, it isn’t even that.

My wife once told me about our liberation of Singapore. They had big guns facing south to repel a naval invasion. We hit them from the north, on bicycles racing down through the Kra peninsula. That’s of course not all the story, but it’s a good one. They ran out of water and they were doomed anyway, although the Malay troops fought like lions.

Are we humans doomed? Is there a horrible disaster awaiting each of us? Surely it cannot be true. Times change. People change. We can try to be the better person in each case. These are my notes of the ‘quiet years’, 2015 to 2020. They did not seem so quiet then.

*****

I turn away from Sachiko. I am legally blind, but tears and mist make me even more blind than that. In the morning half-light on this cold April day, I see trees and stones. My sister is dead in the ground, and that happened seven years ago. But she has just told me not to give up. It is hard. I already want to.

Everything is saved if Kenji dies, I think. It’s not the first time I’ve thought like that. Look at my life. I have left people in no better condition for knowing me. I am also not a good person. My best friend these days is Hisao Nakai, accidental womanizer. And even he is better than I am, even if he doesn’t think so.

I once tried to kill myself, maybe twice, or more. I was closest to it when I went up Hodosan and put myself in a hole and waited to die. In the end, people saved me. But those people, I could do nothing for them. Sachi is gone, and Naomi might as well be, and Shizune is half the world away.

“Kenji?” says the voice. Oh God, not more voices. I cannot take this. I do not know if I am alive or dead anymore. In this place of dead people, a living voice does not make sense. I sit down. If a ghost wants to find me, of course it can.

Tired, I look up into the mists. Everything is pale and blurred. The outline is female, though. The ghosts, they’re all women. This one is quite a normal ghost, conservatively dressed, not tall or short. “If you’re going to talk, talk!” I have to raise my voice a little. Sometimes ghosts need to be shown who’s boss.

She comes closer. “Kenji. I thought it was you.”

There are times for which a man must be prepared. On principle, a man must carry a knife. I use mine only seldom. But I have one in my utility belt. It won’t hurt ghosts. I have other things for that. I don’t think this is a ghost. If it’s a ghost, that would be better. But it is not. It is a woman who only looks like a fox. An evil fox, with evil eyes. A fox that is married to my father.

“Aunt.” I speak the word as if it is a curse. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

She flinches a bit. “Visiting Sachiko. She was my favourite niece.”

“She hated you.”

She is silent for a while. “We didn’t mind each other’s company. I was her mother for a while, you know.”

“You were NOT her mother. NEVER.” I realize my voice is loud and high and nasal.

The woman lifts her hands, as if to appease me. “Perhaps not. Not really.”

In the past, I have had mostly bad feelings towards Aunt Midori. Sometimes, I have had kind feelings. But today, it is all black. The knife in my boot-sheath feels warm. Those hands, they won’t stop a ceramic blade. I can imagine the flesh opening, like salmon being skinned by a sashimi master.

By now, if you’ve been reading my logs, you know why this is happening. My aunt, she had a thing with my father. I do not know details. But one day my mother drove away with my brother. And crossing the long bridge, they were hit by a truck and killed. On the blackest days, I think maybe my aunt caused it. For years, I have blamed my father. The knife can break everything down now. It can cut the cancer out and make things new again. Make things good again.

There’ll be nobody left to mourn anybody.

*****

Dark outlines. Shadows of grave markers and the scent of fallen blossoms. The struggle is life, and life is the struggle. My blade is black, and wet and clean. The lightning pours in between the raindrops, the raindrops come in lines. It is an army of water, cleaning the land of old death and bad dreams.

There’s a woman sobbing. I can imagine her heart squeezing the last drops of blood out of a hole in her body, a narrow hole, a slit in which the life hides. The sounds are repulsive to me. I am repulsive to me. But my hands are washed clean, blood, rain, death. When I run, nobody will catch me, because Kenji is a black dragon all of his own.

My heart is dying. My ears are hearing sounds that aren’t real. Things are fading. Ending.

*****

There isn’t a knife. There is only sunlight breaking through the mist, and two people sitting next to a grave. One is me. My name is Kenji. One is not me. Her name is Midori, and she is my aunt. She is making words with her mouth, and I am listening. I think maybe I haven’t taken my drugs for two weeks? And also, no alcohol, I think. I think? I am clean, but also not myself.

I am listening, and she is making words with her mouth. Somehow, they are important. Somehow, that sequence is important. Maybe it’s my mouth.

“It was my fault. I killed my sister. I have to live with the guilt every day. We are not good people. We can only try to be, to pay it back, each moment, all the time.”

I don’t know who said that. But I want to punch something. Kick something. Yell, shout, until everything goes away.

“Kenji, will you forgive me?”

Now I know it’s the drugs. The sounds in my ears, they can’t be true. How can I forgive anyone? You have to be better than them. And I’m not. She looks like Mother, but she isn’t. She is thinner and older and there is fatigue around her eyes and in her lips. Me? Kenji is a weak and foolish guy who thought he could protect people, but in the end he hurt them all.

But Mother tried to forgive, didn’t she? She failed, she went away, she took my elder brother with her. What is the right thing to do? Or is there nothing right? Sachiko would have said, “I trust you, big brother. You’re all I have, now.” What a mistake she made, trusting me!

“Midori,” I say, because she is my father’s wife and also my aunt and I don’t know what to call her. “I don’t have that right. But I think Mother forgives you. And also Sachi.”

And then the midnight pit opens around me.

*****

“I may not love you any more. But maybe, um… You’re such an idiot, ah, such… Ah! Why?! You have two children, you should not do stupid things, you… I think you need help. When you wake up. If you wake up. Why did I marry you?”

The voice, it goes on and on. Kenji is tough stuff. He does not give in to the feminist conspiracy. He might as well die. Hell, if this was some kind of game show, I would vote for him to die. But I’m him. Is that allowed? Maybe I can’t die, so many tubes, so many lights, all the machines.

I think I’m dead, but being kept alive. I’ve been this way before. Kenji, he just won’t die. There are three women in this room, I know it. There are always three women. You think I don’t know my legends? Of course I do. Everyone knows them, they have names but you can’t use them unless you want bad luck. But they are always three, and they are all different. But who’s the third? I think one is my wife, and one is perhaps my aunt.

It’s all white, and sometimes black, and behind my eyelids, somehow, red. My eyeballs, they’re hurting. They used to be the eyes that had seen too much. Now, they’re the eyes that don’t see enough.

I sleep, and sometimes I wake. I can’t tell the difference. The women, they come and go. But they are the same.

Then one day, I know I am awake. I am looking into the eye of a tiger, in a forest, burning bright.

“Argh!” I scream. But it comes out weak, “Aaaaaaa…”

“Kenji?” says a voice, half familiar, iron-hard concern hidden in it.

“Glasses?” I whisper. I think I would like to see.

“Here.”

I fumble them on. It’s like putting on a condom for the first time. Everything feels wrong, and what you get is not what you hope for.

“Nat?” Her amber eye winks at me through scraggly, unkempt hair as she looks down at me.

“Yes. What a fool you’ve been. Naomi says hello, but she’s in Osaka, doesn’t want to see you. What did you think you were doing? It was like the last time up on the mountain.”

It’s as if she needs to get many words out at the same time. I have not heard Natsume sound like this before.

“I forgot my drugs for two weeks.”

“You’ve been in hospital for four.”

“Yuuko?”

“Asleep. She’s with your father and aunt and the kids at your old house.”

“Ah.”

“She rushed over to look after you. You didn’t deserve it. She wasn’t the only visitor you had. I kept a book. I’ll show it to you later if you’re good.”

“Oh.”

“Suzu came. Fortunately, everyone else had gone home. She said she regretted everything. I didn’t show her the book. I was very angry with her. With you, even more, because you’re my friend.”

She sighs. Her disappointment is so strong that it is like fire or acid. Nat… she looks as if she wants to slap me, but that it’s not in her to do that. Her look makes me feel… yes, I deserve it. But I also want to be different, to not need slapping any more.

It’s too much. I close my eyes. I hear her say, “Go back to sleep, Kenji. I’ll let Naomi know you’re recovering.”

*****

Life is very awkward a week later, when I’ve finally moved back to my father’s house. The children use Sachiko’s old room, and all her stuff has been packed away in little boxes, as if I never had a sister. My father, stern and superior for most of his life, is uncomfortable in my presence, almost apologetic. In this house, the women are now in charge.

My aunt rules the house, but she has a light hand. She walks like a winner who knows she doesn’t deserve what she’s won. My wife is the central figure, the mother of the two children everyone loves. I catch her staring at me sometimes, thoughtful, sharp. She says nothing to me for days. The pressure of her gaze overwhelms me, and sometimes I give up and go back to sleep.

“Setou-san?” she says, addressing me one day as if we have only just met.

“Yuuko?” I reply, hazily.

“No. You can call me ‘Wife’ or maybe ‘Shirakawa’. Ah… some day maybe again Yuuko, but not today.”

I bow, accepting my fate.

“I think I want to believe you’re… sorry. But you broke our love, you… ah, you put it away in a dark place. I don’t want to hate you any more for that, I’ve had months already. But I can’t trust you. Setou-san, things can’t be cured so easily.”

She breathes heavily for a while. Then she continues. I don’t dare look at her.

“I knew you were a bit broken when I married you. I chose to do it anyway. I have a little bit of… blame, there. We are all a bit broken, and we can help each other get fixed, sometimes. But, ah… you’ve had many girlfriends, and I’ve only had you. And now, not even you. That’s… that is… painful.”

I know she is peering at me with that sincere, direct look of hers. If I don’t say anything now, that would be wrong too. My heart feels very heavy, but I really wouldn’t mind if it died now. Except my children would have no father.

“Shirakawa-san, I will do my best. For you, and Masako, and little Koji.”

I look up at her. There is a trace of some deep emotion in her eyes, but her face is serious, stiff. She starts to say something, pauses. She has always tried to be careful with her words.

She tries again. “Setou-san. I will take your word for it.”

There’s something else. I can sense it.

“If you break your word again, there’s nothing else between us.”

“That is more than fair.”

She nods, and leaves the room. She has her own room, which used to be my elder brother’s.

In May, the last of the cherry blossoms falls. Their scent disappears into the night. I look at the little book that Natsume Ooe left with me, and I wonder at how a man like Kenji deserves such friends. Little pen-marks on paper—my colleagues from work, Hisao and Emi (but their names both in Hisao’s squiggly writing), and of all things, the fine penmanship of my father’s brother. I’ve had a number of visitors, some more than once. There are even get-well messages on my phone.

Kenji once thought he was a hero, someone who would save others. Now he knows—I know—that a true hero is one who does not betray a trust. Can I be that kind of hero? I can only try to do that one day at a time. The day I fail… is the day I lose everything I really wanted.

I will not fail.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Tue Nov 18, 2014 2:49 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 3-3a up 20141028)

Post by Solistor » Fri Nov 14, 2014 4:06 am

I've been waiting to read your After the Dream series until it was completely finished, but as an aspiring Kenji writer myself, I had to take a look at this. It was not what I was expecting. I was a little confused when I read some parts of this story, though I suppose you've done your job in making me want to read more of this universe you've painted. As for this story, or what's so far written of it, I have to say it's very bittersweet, and once I realized Naomi and Kenji were never getting together, I may have shed a manly tear.

This story seems to have resonated deep within my core, as after binge-reading all of the first two parts (five days and wings) all night without sleep, I developed a sort of contented melancholy. The kind that does not feel sad, but you are nonetheless not truly happy either. It's a sort of inner peace, although rather than a clear skies and sunshine sort of peace, it's a soft grey sky and light rain sort of calmness. The kind of contented melancholy that makes one want to sit against the wall and watch the world turn. A truly neutral and nebulous feeling that I've never felt before. So if you take anything from this post, be it that your writing was powerful enough to evoke an emotion within me that I've very rarely, if ever, felt before.

Can a feeling truly be neutral? Content, yet unsatisfied. At peace, yet with mild unrest. I may have to both thank and curse you for causing this feeling. It's an interesting conversational topic, at the very least.
~Links to recommended fics
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3a up 20141028)

Post by brythain » Fri Nov 14, 2014 7:15 am

Solistor wrote:I've been waiting to read your After the Dream series until it was completely finished, but as an aspiring Kenji writer myself, I had to take a look at this. It was not what I was expecting. I was a little confused when I read some parts of this story, though I suppose you've done your job in making me want to read more of this universe you've painted. As for this story, or what's so far written of it, I have to say it's very bittersweet, and once I realized Naomi and Kenji were never getting together, I may have shed a manly tear.

This story seems to have resonated deep within my core, as after binge-reading all of the first two parts (five days and wings) all night without sleep, I developed a sort of contented melancholy. The kind that does not feel sad, but you are nonetheless not truly happy either. It's a sort of inner peace, although rather than a clear skies and sunshine sort of peace, it's a soft grey sky and light rain sort of calmness. The kind of contented melancholy that makes one want to sit against the wall and watch the world turn. A truly neutral and nebulous feeling that I've never felt before. So if you take anything from this post, be it that your writing was powerful enough to evoke an emotion within me that I've very rarely, if ever, felt before.

Can a feeling truly be neutral? Content, yet unsatisfied. At peace, yet with mild unrest. I may have to both thank and curse you for causing this feeling. It's an interesting conversational topic, at the very least.
Hi! 'After the Dream' is already completely finished at the core; I think that once you've read Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha/Miki and then Rika/Mutou/Akira, you're pretty much done. But that world has lots of space, so I will keep adding little bits here and there, like new plantings in an old garden. Kenji, Natsume and Suzu (and a few others yet to come) are exceptions: they're arcs that don't affect the core very much but serve to flesh out some of it and answer some minor questions.

I think your response to Kenji's early life is described in a very poetic way. I feel a sense of wonder that you've had this kind of feeling, and it is an honour to me that I have written something worthy of that description. Thank you very much for reading my work, and letting me know how you've felt.
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 3-3b up 20141117)

Post by brythain » Tue Nov 18, 2014 2:49 pm

This is the continuation of the third instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji plays an important supporting role in some old friends' lives.

Notes:
1) The outcome of Kenji's secret mission in August 2017 can be found here.
2) The aftermath of that occasion can be found here.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Three
(June 2017-September 2017)


People talk a lot about work-life balance. They are stupid. Work is part of life. You cannot balance the part against the whole. Now that I’m much older, I know this. It is fantasy to separate the private from the public, the personal from the professional, because we are humans, and in us everything comes together. That is why one man’s corruption or nepotism is another man’s cultural solidarity.

But we have a world in which this idea of transparency, of cutting away everything except the raw achievement and ability, all measured in numbers and quantities, is all. We are mysteries to ourselves. What makes us think that exposing everything tells us anything?

As 2017 passed by, my life limped on. Old crazy Kenji did not win. New sober Kenji did not lose. I am still Kenji, and so are they. Here are some notes from the ‘quiet years’, 2015 to 2020. Much of it was quiet because I was hiding, and keeping things hidden.

*****

June 2017:

I’m back to work, crazy Kenji back on his meds, back on his job, keeping his head down. My colleague Ryu, the last contact I have from my old team, has learnt to ignore me. Damn, I have learnt to ignore me. I arrive at work punctually fifteen minutes exactly before we begin. I bow exactly to each person I work with. They are mostly faceless, except for my immediate co-workers and superiors. Foremost of these superiors is my base commander. He has been recently promoted; his family name is Shirakawa, and he is my father-in-law.

“Setou!” says my immediate boss, Colonel Kurita. “CO wants to see you, before this year’s sakura season.”

It takes me a while to understand. The cherry blossoms have come and gone. I need to be faster than fast. I nod, suddenly very apprehensive. The colonel has a firm, round, cheerful face. That face can turn stony in an instant, although I know she has a kind heart and a stellar career of giving good advice and help to everyone from NATO, to the UN, to the new country of Timor Leste.

“This person complies,” I bow. “The day before yesterday, I am there.”

She chuckles. “May you have good fortune today.”

In minutes, I am waiting uneasily in the stark outer office that leads to the lair of Major-General Masahide Shirakawa. His aide, some horse-faced guy whose name I cannot remember, puts down the office intercom and gestures sharply that I should accompany him.

Then I am standing even more uneasily in a room full of maps and papers. The general is smiling, like a tiger sucking air past his palate to see if something is tasty. “Setou-san!” he says, “I have been too busy to talk to my son-in-law for a long while!”

I bow deeply and he returns the bow, holding it for a ceremonious second. Then he gestures me to a hard wooden chair. I say softly but firmly: “General-san, this worthless junior officer has tried to get the work done. If anything is unsatisfactory, I accept my punishment.”

“Kenji,” the general replies, after making sure his aide has left the room and the door is firmly shut, “You are an idiot in some ways. But you are at least an idiot that I can rely on for other things. Let us talk.”

Dumbly, I nod. “You are my commander.”

“I am your father-in-law. My grandfather commanded an army in China. I am incapable of commanding my daughter. Nor do I want to, being quite a modern person. And you, the one man she might listen to, have lost your right to be heard by her. Such a mess. You idiot. You… idiot.”

He sounds almost meditative as he says those last words. He repeats them fondly, as if he likes the sound ‘baka’. Then he continues.

“That is not our problem. This is work. You have been recommended for a promotion, based on activities related to our big neighbour’s renovations in the southern part of town. You have given us sharper teeth and better eyes. I have discussed the matter with Colonel Kurita. You will be promoted to a rank equivalent to Major with effect 1st January 2018.”

I am stunned. “This humble research engineer is extremely grateful at the undeserved…”

“Shut up, Kenji. It is deserved. I am also trying to like you even though I want to kill you. It is a professional thing. Also, you must take six months of mentorship from Colonel Kurita before your promotion is approved. You will manage your team under her leadership. And you will not screw up. In any way.”

“This person understands that, and will endeavour to give satisfaction.”

“Look at me.”

I elevate my downcast gaze. It hardly matters to me, because I am nearly blind unless I make the effort to see. I wonder if he knows this. I wonder what he sees.

“Hai. Listen. You’re my son-in-law. You broke faith with my daughter. So I talked to her. She still says you are mostly a good man. Your colleagues also say that. Why should I believe them? You tell me.”

He is very tanned for a Japanese. I wonder what he used to do for the SDF. It is all a wonder to me, today. I have no idea why people say I am a good man. I don’t want to be an evil one, but I know I am not a good one.

“No words? No defence?” He sounds frustrated. The skin around his eyes is drawn tight into creases; the eyes themselves gaze at me with cold, hard blackness. “Dedicated, they say. Conscientious. When you came here, I requested the full report. Your strategic assessments run to an average of six compact and meaningful pages, each one compiled within three days or less. Hardly anybody thinks you have a personal life. When people need a quick and accurate summary of facts, they look for Kenji Setou.”

I say nothing. He returns my nothing for a while. Then he hurls my file across the room, into a pile of loose material in one corner.

“My son-in-law is a mystery. So I will just ask you one thing. And you will answer me.

“What is the goal of your existence?”

Oh. That is easy. Before I can think further, my mouth says, “To protect the cherry blossoms with my life.”

It’s as if somebody has cut the rope on a suspension bridge. He sinks back into his chair. I realize that both of us have been sitting on the edge of our seats, leaning towards each other. “Damn,” he curses softly, although what he says is sharper than what I am recording. “You surprise me. You might be worth saving. Go. I’ll get Captain Ishikawa to settle the details with Kurita.”

*****

July 2017:

I’m sitting in a little restaurant in Saitama. Nice place; it was where Nakai used to meet his lawyer. And it’s his lawyer’s sister I’m meeting today. I am dressed neatly, a light suit for the July heat, and a scarf that is less bright and less thick. Mother always said to keep the neck warm. It’s evening, but the sky is still bright.

I’m remembering clumsy old Kenji who used to blame everyone for colliding with him in the school corridors. In one universe, he collided with a fair-haired girl who couldn’t see him. In this world, he collided with a deaf brunette whom he didn’t see. In both worlds, he helped them pick up their stuff, strewn all over the floor. In both worlds, someone noticed.

A lady walks into the room. My mind splits into two. In one world, the lawyer’s sister is my old class representative, tall and blonde, and I have to raise my voice to let her find her way to me. In this world, the lawyer’s sister is Hisao’s old class representative, not very tall and dark-haired, and raising my voice is pointless.

It’s pointless because my friend Shizune spots me with her trademark efficiency, quartering the room with her gaze until she sees me in the corner. She is strikingly made-up, despite having next to no make-up on at all. Her pale complexion contrasts comfortably with her grey suit. She has a lot of those. I wonder if she’s angry with me. I stand and move away from my seat a little.

[Shizune] I begin, bowing. [Dr Hakamichi now? I congratulate you.] My signing has improved. Online courses help, and I have practiced a lot.

She smiles a little, a dimple appearing at the left corner of her mouth. [Thank you.] She returns my bow and the smile disappears.

[But you forgot my birthday! There was no cheesecake this year!] Her signing is emphatic, like swordplay.

[Ah. I was uncertain that you wanted to talk to me.]

[There is no uncertainty about cheesecake, for which you need not have opened your mouth at all.]

I’m not sure how serious she is. Over the years, I have found her to have a mischievous sense of humour. [Apologies, Shizune. I hope we are still friends.]

[Only if your wife has given us permission to be. Where is she?]

This time, she is serious. I reply equally seriously, unfolding the piece of paper from my pocket. [I followed your instructions. She has given permission for us to meet. See, it is written here.]

She adjusts her steel-rimmed glasses carefully to read, while I hold the paper steadily in front of her. Finally, she looks up. The smile is back.

[Good. One must rebuild broken faith carefully. So we are still friends, and we can have dinner like friends. Tell me everything.]

We order a simple meal of fried cutlets (pork for me, veal for her) and rice with egg and onions. She has an excellent appetite, it seems. I tell her what I can about my new work.

[Boring. Family?]

I tell her about the children and show her pictures on my tabphone. Her eyes light up. It’s almost as if she wished she had some of her own.

[Cute! Masako has your sharp features but she is feminine like Yuuko. And Koji, he’s amazing. He looks very naughty. He will grow up to be a master of romance, like his godfather.]

I am startled into laughter. Her humour always catches me from the side, like an ambush. But that reference to Hisao, it carries some sadness in it.

[How about you, Shizune?]

She carefully puts her chopsticks down again. One thing about eating with her is that it’s hard to converse unless you take well-defined turns.

[I’m going to be vice-principal at Yamaku from the first day of next month.]

What a bombshell to drop! I look at her, and then realize that the scrappy young girl I’ve known for more than a decade is more than a match for any school system.

[That’s excellent! Do they know?] Oh, God, she’ll be Hisao’s boss.

[If by ‘they’ you mean Hisao and Emi, then no. But I have told Mutou-sensei. It was he who made me think about that career option.]

[Congratulations again, Madam Vice-Principal.]

She blushes a little and favours me with her asymmetric smile. [Thank you, and congratulations to you too, Major.]

She laughs outright when she sees my surprise. That was one thing I hadn’t told her about. It embarrasses me when civilians use military rank. I am actually an Assistant Director, equivalent to a major, but not worthy of the latter title.

When I tell her, she merely waggles her chopsticks in the air and slurps some miso soup from its bowl. We are friends, and it is comforting to know that she thinks of me as one whom she can waggle her chopsticks at.

Later, I give her a ride home to save her the admittedly short bus journey. I disappear promptly after depositing her. I have no desire to meet her brother at this time. Nor her legendary father.

*****

August 2017:

“You’ll do it?” she asks.

I look at my lady wife, the lovely woman I don’t deserve. “Shirakawa-san, I cannot fail in any duty now, you know that. I have made promises.”

“Go, then. Um…” she frowns for a moment here, choosing her words carefully, as always. “One cannot let one’s friends down.”

Unlike some other people I know, she is serious about this. She is not making a sly dig at me. I say carefully, “I have not replied yet.”

“What are you waiting for, Assistant Director Setou?”

“Your permission, Administrative Officer Shirakawa.”

She smiles, but it pains me to see the wariness behind her eyes. “You have it, and also my blessings. Help your friend win a chance of happiness.”

I bow gratefully and make my exit. I sense her eyes on me as I leave her room. I am already speed-dialing a certain number.

“Hisao?”

“Hey, man. Did she say yes?”

“Yeah, we’re good to go. I’ll make the arrangements.”

And just like that, I’m off to Yamaku one more time. I can only hope that Shizune won’t kill me for what I’m about to do. On the last night of the Sendai Tanabata Festival, no less.

The days pass, and on Tuesday 8th August, we are ready. I grin to myself. I can’t be Hisao’s best man the way he was mine, but I can surely be his second in this particular matter. Just before 0900, I make my way from my hotel room to the rendezvous point, a little bistro in a small corner of Sendai, near a post office.

“Hello, Rin Tezuka!” I say. Her distinctive profile is only slightly different from the last time I saw her, years ago. Her hair is wilder, and yet it has braids in it. She is wearing something loose and comfortable. There is an older lady with her, someone who reminds me somehow of my mother.

Rin turns to look at me. “Hello, Kenji. It’s an engagement Rin. It was difficult to Meiko. Do you like my English jokes? Hisao said you like English jokes. I didn’t know what to say to you, so I thought I would get some jokes ready.”

For some inexplicable reason, I feel a bit sad. “Ah, those are good jokes,” I say politely. “It is very nice to see you again, Rin.”

“Is it?” she says, curiously. “Nicer than the last time?”

“It always is,” I say firmly.

“Hi! I’m Meiko! Don’t expect Rin to introduce us; she doesn’t do introductions. You must be Kenji, Hisao’s best friend.”

She is actually quite a beautiful woman, although she must be in her fifties by now. She not only reminds me of my mother, but her hair reminds me somehow of my wife. I feel very awkward now.

“Hello, Ibarazaki-san. It is my great pleasure to be of your acquaintance.” The line feels even more awkward than I feel.

“Ah, young man, don’t be silly! You’re doing us a great favour. Even Hisao hasn’t seen it yet, and he’ll only get to see it a short while before Emi does. Hopefully my daughter will then say the right thing, and we’ll all live happily ever after!”

Rin looks at me, her eyes unfathomable, deep wells of green. “We can’t trust Emi to say the right thing. But it will be fine if she doesn’t say the wrong thing.”

Meiko smiles and nimbly produces a little box. “Would you like to see it?”

“This person is honoured.” I am more curious than anything else. What strange thing could spring from the minds of Rin Tezuka and Meiko Ibarazaki?

A little shyly, Emi’s mother opens the box. I cannot help myself. I take a deep breath. The setting is some dark metal, with five little claws capped by five tiny stones: diamonds? They protect a smoothly polished and unfaceted gemstone in their midst, a large one. It must be a fire opal. I’ve never seen one before, but I’ve read about them. This one is mostly red and orange, flashing like fire. But in the morning light, it also glitters bright blue and green, like copper in a flame.

Inanely, I find some words. “How very beautiful! Is that thing from Mexico?”

Meiko laughs. “How did you guess?”

I didn’t. I know some of them come from South America. But the only country that came to mind just happened to sound a bit like your name, Mrs Ibarazaki. But I don’t say any of this. I just smile back, as if I am a secret gemologist.

Rin taps her foot, as if impatient. “Don’t lose it. It wasn’t easy to make. It wasn’t easy to keep the butterflies inside the stone. They don’t like it in there. But some day the stone will crack and they’ll fly out. Hopefully a long time from now.”

I solemnly promise to look after this treasure, and I take my leave. I have several tasks to perform before this day is out: keeping students away from a certain roof, avoiding Shizune (which gives me a twinge of pain) and making sure she knows nothing about this, and getting the ring to Hisao before he needs to use it.

Later, sitting in my secret lair in the room behind the library, I sneak another look at the fiery stone, flashing with colour, that I will soon be smuggling to Hisao. Green for him, I suppose, and if I remember correctly, blue for Emi. And a lot of brightly glowing warmth. I sigh, and say a little blessing over it. I pray that they’ll have good years and a long time together. Who knows if such things work or not? I don’t, but it is what a friend would do.

*****

September 2017:

Here we are, at an undisclosed location. Yuuko has given me permission to get my well-deserved scolding. I knew we would never be able to get away with it, Hisao and me, two old friends in cahoots. But Hisao, he’s not here today, and that leaves me alone to face the wrath that comes.

We have barely greeted each other and taken our seats—the nondescript civil servant with a light brown jacket and garish scarf, the school administrator with conservative blue-grey suit and hair neatly pinned back—when she begins.

[Kenji Setou, you got me into trouble.] She seems almost petulant. But there’s more to it than that, I sense.

[I did? I am sorry, Shizune.]

[Principal Yamamoto almost had a heart attack. He wanted to know who organized it. I had to protect the Student Council president, poor Hasegawa, from taking responsibility.]

[Ah, Hasegawa.]

[Yes, the innocent young lady that you suborned.] The light flashes off her glasses in a way reminiscent of swords at dawn.

[Hisao told me to make the arrangements with her.] I know Shizune already knows, so I am fine with giving up this information.

[Yes! I know! But I had the unpleasant task of disciplining Hisao and Emi!] She is frowning, and her elbows are quivering with suppressed rage.

[It was wonderful. All the students, and the fireworks, and the two of them up there on the roof.] I press ahead recklessly, indirectly trying to make the point that people have to have a life, that work is only one part of life.

She takes a deep breath, then lets it all out in a sigh. [I suppose so, Kenji. But I am offended.]

[Why?] The damn feminist boss, old Kenji is thinking, she never likes other people to have fun.

[Because…] There is a long pause. [Because you didn’t trust me. They’re my friends too, Kenji. And you too. But I was made to look foolish and had to officially take them to task for their behaviour. And…] Another pause.

She doesn’t continue. She has lapsed into uncomfortable silence. I wait for a while.

[Shizune?]

[Nothing, Kenji. Just old thoughts. Emi has never really liked me, and I did not want to seem as if I was bearing a grudge.]

[Were you?] I am genuinely curious.

[No…] She is frowning. [Well, not any more.]

[You once did?] I am a little shocked.

[I used to think Emi was bad for him. She had no sense of discipline. Maybe I was wrong.] She has an unhappy look on her face. For a moment, she reminds me of the little girl she once was, mouthing meaningless sounds at me in frustration as her stationery and books lie scattered around her, because I didn’t see her and barged into her along the school corridors.

I helped her pick her stuff up then. I will do it again now.

[Shizune, you did the right thing. I was wrong to not tell you. I was not being a good friend.]

[No, it wasn’t.] Now she seems forlorn, not angry. [I don’t have many good friends, do I?]

[It isn’t your fault.]

[It is. But to say it isn’t, that is you trying to be a good friend. Appreciated.]

She tries to smile, and succeeds a little. Then she surprises me by momentarily placing her bony fingers on my hands, which are clasped on the table between us. She squeezes my hands with unexpected strength, and then lets go.

[Thank you, Kenji. Thanks for trying to be everyone’s friend.]

I find it in me to smile at her. [Would you like some cheesecake?]

*****

Friendships, they’re too precious. It is especially rare to have friendships between men and women that do not involve nakedness, emotion, or naked emotions. When I look back at those years and realize that I was not to see Shizune Hakamichi again for a very long time, I think of how sometimes work is a curse. Work brings people together, but like a river or an ocean, it can also keep them apart.

But one can always imagine how much better one could have been. There is no end to that. Better to avoid thinking that way too much, if possible.

=====
prev | next
Last edited by brythain on Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:06 am, edited 3 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 3-3b up 20141117)

Post by Serviam » Wed Nov 19, 2014 6:00 am

Kenji now sounds like a penitent in this portion. Atoning for sins committed...
"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 3-3b up 20141117)

Post by brythain » Wed Nov 19, 2014 11:20 am

Serviam wrote:Kenji now sounds like a penitent in this portion. Atoning for sins committed...
*grin* you sound like a graduate from the Ateneo.
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 3-3b up 20141117)

Post by Gamma » Thu Nov 20, 2014 11:33 pm

I can see why Kenji retrospectively calls these five years his 'quiet years'. Kenji is incredibly serious about reforming in more ways than one. I wonder if he's ever going to get to the point where he can just sit back and feel satisfied with who he is. Considering the guilt he carries around, some of it well justified, I doubt that. Bit of a shame. Even if Kenji can't admit it, he's one hell of a good man. Unfortunately, that good man's few slip ups always have huge consequences.

I have to say, it was quite enjoyable imagining Kenji helping Hisao organise his proposal. I imagine Old Kenji had quite a few choice words about him organising that scene. And with the help of a probable feminists to boot. Kenji's friendship with Shizune really shows off all of Shizune's good qualities. Especially her playfulness.

For some reason I feel this chapter set up one or two really big threads for upcoming events. Of course, the reason I have this feeling is because of how many times I thought a detail was seemingly insignificant in one of your stories, only for that detail to become hugely important later on.

As always, I look forward to seeing what Kenji's quest to protect his cherry blossoms leads him to next.
Last edited by Gamma on Fri Nov 21, 2014 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3b up 20141117)

Post by brythain » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:51 am

Gamma wrote:I can see why Kenji retrospectively calls these five years his 'quiet years'. Kenji is incredibly serious about reforming in more ways than one. I wonder if he's ever going to get to the point where he can just sit back and feel satisfied with who he is. Considering the guilt he carries around, some of it well justified, I doubt that. Bit of a shame. Even if Kenji can't admit it, he's one hell of a good man. Unfortunately, that good man's few slip ups always have huge consequences.

I have to say, it was quite enjoyable imagining Kenji helping Hisao organise his proposal. I imagine Old Kenji had quite a few choice words about him organising that scene. And with the help of a probable feminists to boot. Kenji's friendship with Shizune really shows off all of Shizune's good qualities. Especially her playfulness.

For some reason I feel this chapter set up one or two really big threads for upcoming events. Of course, the reason I have this feeling is because of how many times I thought

As always, I look forward to seeing what Kenji's quest to protect his cherry blossoms leads him to next.
You've done a good job of describing Kenji as he is when properly medicated and alcohol-free. I'm grateful that you've taken the time to understand the Kenji that has emerged in this account, and rest assured that there is likely quite a lot to come—some of which you've probably already seen in Natsume's arc and other places. Thank you!

(Also, Shizune thanks you! :) )
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 3-3c up 20141125)

Post by brythain » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:29 pm

This is the end of the third instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji develops a new kind of vision.



Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Three
(October 2017-January 2018)


The quiet years were coming to an end, though I did not know it. But the neighbours were restless, and my country… well, we had learnt lessons in the art of defence that were both ancient and very new.

It was more frequently that I sat in my room and thought of the friends I could have had, the friends I’d left behind, and eventually the friends who passed on before I could spend enough time with them.

I was soon to turn 30. That age felt very old to me. I was a father, not a very good one, but one who at least tried to be. I was many things to many people; but many times, I felt I was nothing at all. Everything else was just too big.

Here are more of my notes from the quiet years.

*****

October 2017:

I’m lonely. There. Now that I have admitted it to myself, I can see the truth. I want a drink. I remember what whisky tasted like. But whisky doesn’t make you less lonely, it just makes you forget you are alone. So it is October, and that is a sad month because where I am there are trees that grow old and red and look like they’re dying.

So I make a pilgrimage, across the dry desert that is my hallway, to the oasis that is my wife’s room. I knock carefully at her door. I am afraid.

“Come in!” Her voice is cheerful. I hear noises of fun and laughter. Our daughter Masako turned two years old in the previous month, and our son Koji has reached nine months of age.

“Shirakawa-san?” I inquire, “May I make a small suggestion?”

It dawns on me, looking in on this scene, that my wife is somehow feeling very happy. She is smiling at me. Koji is crawling all over the floor and Masako is shaking his rattle at him. While I watch, with warm and messy feelings rushing through me, my son lurches into a semi-upright posture, yells “Baba!” at me and then sits down abruptly as he loses his balance. Everyone laughs.

“You may, ah… Setou-san.”

“I was thinking… perhaps it would be a good idea to have a family trip?”

“Um. A trip, Setou-san? As a family?” She sounds more curious than sarcastic. Not that my Yuuko has ever really often been sarcastic. My mind is running around itself. It is worse than being drunk. My words are all over the place.

“Ah… um. Yes.” Oh no. I am starting to sound like her. I quickly grab two handfuls of words and shape them into something like a proper statement. “Perhaps it is time for us to use some of our annual leave to bring the children to visit their uncles, your brothers, in Yokohama. And also their Aunty Azami.”

She is looking at me very seriously now. Masako is looking up at me as if I have grown a beard. Actually, I am growing a beard, come to think of it, and maybe I should shave.

“That is… ah, a very good idea, Setou-san.” She looks at the kids. “See, darlings, your father is a clever man!”

“Baba!” yells Koji, quite intelligently and appropriately. Masako giggles instead.

I am not so lonely any more.

*****

November 2017:

“Good morning, Yuuko,” she says, crisply. Her voice is like November in Yokohama: sun, rain, a refreshing breeze and some warmth. Her nod is informal but correct.

“Morning, Natsume,” my wife replies, nodding in return. It is clear to anyone watching that they are friends—as indeed they are, for they have no reason to be enemies.

“Aunty Nat Godma!” squeals Masako, bowing several times with her hands neatly held in her lap. The words come out a little scrambled, especially since ‘godmother’ is not a common Japanese word. This makes Nat laugh unceremoniously, a fact quickly covered by a more traditional hand to the mouth. She returns the little girl’s bows very politely, as if to apologise.

“Ma-chan, you’re very elegant today! What brings you to Yokohama?”

I myself am wondering about that. Natsume doesn’t normally have business here. It’s a conspiracy, whispers old Kenji.

“Visiting uncles, Godma! Are you visiting us?”

Nat bends down, her long slate-grey skirt crinkling out in a corona over the floor, and gives Masako a gentle hug. “We’re all visiting different people together. Aunty Naomi and I are visiting Aunty Misaki because she’s an expert photographer and we need one for a newspaper supplement.”

“She makes pictures on her phone? Mama and Baba do that too!”

To me, it is amazing that they’re having such an advanced conversation. Maybe it is only possible because Yuuko and I seldom use baby talk with our children. Or maybe Nat just assumes that little children speak Japanese fluently.

Without looking up, Natsume says, “Naomi says hello, Kenji. It’s a pity she’s at a meeting and was not able to be here with us.”

That’s to be expected, I tell myself. After all, we have had so much come between us already. I can’t help feeling a bit sad, so I just nod and say, “Unfortunate. Please send her our regards.”

Perhaps it’s something in my tone. She stands up, wincing as her joints creak, straightening her conservative white blouse. “Yes, unfortunate. Do keep in touch, Kenji. I have missed spending time with your family.”

“We miss you too, Aunty Nat Godma!” Masako pipes up, looking stricken that her godmother seems already to be going off. That brings an answering smile.

‘Aunty Nat Godma’ winks her golden eye. “I hope to come and visit you someday, Ma-chan! Be good and stay well.”

The rest, to me, consists of meaningless goodbye noises. Have I lost so much already? Thirty years, soon. All of it, wasted? I suddenly want to hug Natsume, but I realize it is not affection that drives me, but terror. I am a drowning man, and I am not sure if there is any lifeline to the past that will save me. As we wave farewell, Nat’s last look in my direction is like a lance in my heart—it seems to say, “Kenji Setou, were we really friends in that other life we had?”

*****

December 2017

By early December, we’re back in our cozy apartment south of Sendai. My father seemed sad to see us go from Saitama; he had taken surprisingly well to being a grandpa. Aunt Midori seemed even sadder; I could tell she genuinely meant it when she said we should come back for the Christmas break.

What surprised me was how much Father wanted to know about Yuuko’s family. He was actually happy to hear about Shou and Shin and Azami. I was surprised further when he asked me if I had heard from his brother, the Black Dragon. I hadn’t, not for a while, and I told him so. He said nothing in response, and our conversation dissolved.

Now here I am, sitting in the second bedroom, a small space which becomes bigger when I roll up my sleeping mat. And I’m looking at a strange message from an old friend: [Setou. Call me. Fist.]

What would Miki want? In our last conversation, she had made it clear that stupid Kenji had made her very angry by doing a very stupid thing. And that was it, our strange and delicate little friendship—it was all gone.

Hesitantly, I walk out of my room and knock on the closed door next to mine. Old Kenji is hissing in my ear, Weak! Not manly! and new Kenji is whispering, This is being a man, but I ignore them both. I am just Kenji, and Kenji made a deal.

“Um… what is it?” comes the mild response. I suspect Koji is asleep but Masako is not.

“Ah… may I speak with you?”

The door swings open. “Setou-san, is everything okay?” says my wife, my Yuuko in her cherry-coloured silk nightgown. Around her knees, our daughter cranes her neck to see her father.

I nod, a small bow in her direction. “Our old friend Miura called me. It seems important.”

Yuuko nods back. Her forehead wrinkles, the way it always does when she is feeling concerned. “Oh! You should reply quickly, then!”

“I thought I should tell you first, my wife.”

She looks at me searchingly for a second. “Ah. I understand. But sometimes, we must, ah, help our friends.”

“This is a woman friend.”

She giggles a little, hiding her mouth behind her hand. Perhaps this is for little Masako’s benefit, perhaps not. “Yes, she is the one with beautiful eyebrows whom you spent some days in Nagasaki with. Should I be worried?”

She has laughed, but I do not mistake this for a complete joke. “No, this will not ever be a worry to you.”

“I trust you to use your… ah, discretion… Kenji.”

She trusts, with an act of will that I admire. She knows I have been untrustworthy before. And are we back on first-name terms now?

“Thank you, Yuuko.”

She nods and begins to shut the door. Masako waves at me, already used to this odd arrangement. The door closes.

I take a deep breath and sit down at our little dining table. Then I call Miki.

“Kenji! Are we still friends?” is the first thing out of her attractive mouth. It is still recognizably her looking out at me from my tabphone screen, in a neat shiny red sports top with white piping, and all her unruly dark hair untied.

What a way to start a conversation, I’m about to say. Then, with a guilty sensation, I realize that it was I who aborted our last conversation, not Miki.

“Ah, honoured to be a friend. How can this unworthy person…”

“Aw, fuck, Kenji. I was mad at you, but I didn’t want to make you feel worse than you already did. I mean, don’t judge, right? But I was mad at S too, and…”

My turn to interrupt. “I must apologise. I was rude to you. Let’s be friends.”

Miki stops short, an uncertain half-smile on her face. “O-kay. Start over?”

“Please do.”

“I wanted to ask you a few questions. It’s important, because I need to know specific things about your health.”

How strange. Very intrusive, even for friends. But Miki is quite a special friend.

“…” is all I can manage.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” she says hastily, almost whispering to herself. “Aw… shit, this isn’t coming out right, as usual, way to go, Miki Miura…”

“It’s fine, Miki. You’re my friend, you can ask.”

She looks at me again, as if asking if everything really will be fine. I nod in reply, and she takes a deep breath.

“Have you been legally blind since birth? And can you see with those specs on?” She reels off a few more questions.

I sometimes forget I’m ‘blind’, because it’s normal to me. I laugh and answer her. Part of my answer is: “No, I was born sighted, but there’s a gene that runs in the family and I inherited it. When I was ten I started going blind, and one day I’ll really be blind. But I can see some distance in a straight line quite well with powerful glasses. And also at short range. See?”

I reach up.

“Wow… I’d forgotten what beautiful damn eyes you have, my friend.”

“Heh, me too,” I respond, somewhat uncomfortably, as I replace my glasses.

“Well. Yeah. Anyway, I work at the Fukuoka branch of Hakamichi Industries these days, you know, right?”

“I think I might have heard.”

“There’s a genius engineering team here, headed by a brilliant guy named ‘Old Kyu’—at least that’s what everyone calls him. They’ve developed a prototype eye implant that’s just right for people like you. It has a built-in computer interface and they’re looking for volunteers to trial it. Would you like to do that?”

I cannot imagine seeing differently. I can only try to recall vague memories of better, clearer, broader vision. But why not? Self-improvement is Kenji’s game now.

“Ah… if I can get appropriate clearance, perhaps? Also, is this a secure conversation?”

“Oh. Shit! Argh. Would you like to come over to Fukuoka in a couple of weeks’ time? Bring your family! I’ll entertain them while Old Kyu looks you over.”

That sounds wonderful. And it will be before my birthday too.

“Thanks, Miura. I’ll ask my family and get back to you?”

“You called me Miki just now.”

This conversation is becoming oddly familiar. But this time I know the right answers.

“Yes, Miki. Thank you, my friend. Have a pleasant evening.”

“Sure. Bye, Kenji!”

*****

January 2018

And here is the new year, with much to think about. I still have thick glasses. They are really polarizing filters, because my new eyes are too good. My father the General had his eyes done for cataracts, and in three days he was out driving around and making Aunt Midori insane. Eye operations these days? Like visiting the dentist, but less painful. But my eyes do not see the way real eyes do, I think. They show me data, numbers, and sometimes things I do not understand. My eyes, they are in the clouds.

This week, Koji is turning one. It is a big thing for us. I can only hope that the noisy neighbours in the Southern Ocean do not erect more buildings in unwanted places. I would hate to be summoned to the office on my son’s birthday. This kind of thought is on my mind a lot. It was not like this when I was young and single and a bit of a hikikomori—a social outcast stuck in my room with pizza and machines. And whisky, yes, the spirit of those times.

*

In December, I thanked Miki for what she’d done. She accepted my thanks with pleasure, and one of those big warm hugs I have always treasured. [Edit: now, looking back, it was the last one we ever shared. I am glad I kept its memory.]

I never think I have ever deserved such friends. I look back on 2016-2017 with dismay and also joy. It was the year I let Suzu into my life, even into my notes. This was a big mistake for me, and also for her. But I will not redact her totally out of my memories, because it would be dishonest. What redaction I have done, I have done because she was a good person in some ways and I was not.

On Christmas Day, I brought Yuuko and the children to visit my parents; and also to attend Mass at the small white church in Saitama, which I remembered from years past. Yuuko does not have faith as I do, but she has a form of it, and she has agreed to believe. We Japanese, we are complicated. There are too many layers of history wrapped around us. But this is true also of many other peoples, across the world.

At the end of Mass, there was a short message on my phone. It said: [Happy birthday, Kenji. I have no right to forgive, nor to withhold forgiveness. May we remain friends. Naomi.] It was not the only message; there were several others. Again: I always think I have never deserved such friends.

When we got home to our little apartment, there was a box on the table, about a foot square, 30 cm by 30 cm. I knew immediately what it was, even though brown and unmarked.

“What is it, Baba?” piped my little Masako, now old enough to be very curious and perceptive. Her mother, carrying a sleeping Koji, turned questioning eyes on me. It was likely a birthday present, and not all presents have had good memories for us.

“It is a cake,” I said. “It is a cheesecake, I think, although I do not know what flavour it is. I believe it is from Baba’s friend Hakamichi-san.”

And so it was. It was a big light fluffy thing, with green tea powder on top, a few bright raspberries and some sweet red bean filling. A little note said: [Sorry, not from Chicago. Hokkaido. Happy birthday, Kenji. Share with your family. Regards to Yuuko. Shizune.]

*

Here I sit, in my little room, because I have my own little room. It is like ‘the secret window whence the world looks small and very dear,’ if I am quoting the poet correctly. I am making resolutions. I am making plans. My daughter, my son, they will have a better country to live in. My religion, it teaches that in weakness there is strength—my friends are the weakest and most damaged people in Japan, but they can also be the best and strongest.

My heart, it’s physically weak, also maybe emotionally. I am not the wisest or the best of men. I once thought a lot about being a man. Yet I have learnt that it is really about being human. We have seen early death, too much of it. Many of us will die suddenly or too soon. But I am beginning to see a dream, something that not all the technology in my eyes can teach me. It is a dream that comes from Yamaku. One day, it will be reality.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:14 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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Gamma
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Post by Gamma » Tue Nov 25, 2014 5:48 pm

I've made it clear how much I'm in love with this Kenji route. I just want to reiterate how fantastic his journey's been. Man, this chapter just felt so, so good. Every word had my undivided attention. The line about Kenji's game being self improvement made me grin a lot.

I don't think there could have been a more fitting end to Kenji's "quiet years".

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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Post by brythain » Tue Nov 25, 2014 7:02 pm

Gamma wrote:I've made it clear how much I'm in love with this Kenji route. I just want to reiterate how fantastic his journey's been. Man, this chapter just felt so, so good. Every word had my undivided attention. The line about Kenji's game being self improvement made me grin a lot.

I don't think there could have been a more fitting end to Kenji's "quiet years".
Oh dear... Kenji tells me that his quiet years last till March 2020, so I'll have to tell him that he needs to find a more fitting end somehow. He is already looking at me suspiciously, as if I am a pawn of the feminists! But thank you, and I'll have a word with Kenji's editor too. That one has a most disconcerting gaze.
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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Solistor
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Post by Solistor » Wed Nov 26, 2014 6:31 am

I think it's just the nature of this story to feel finished when it's actually not. It's very masterfully written, in my humble opinion. Each segment of the story feels like a story in itself. I'm still getting that mysteriously contented neutral feeling that I described before, and I've even begun to get feels about this work from unrelated works. Very powerful stuff, indeed.
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brythain
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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Post by brythain » Wed Nov 26, 2014 11:20 am

Solistor wrote:I think it's just the nature of this story to feel finished when it's actually not. It's very masterfully written, in my humble opinion. Each segment of the story feels like a story in itself. I'm still getting that mysteriously contented neutral feeling that I described before, and I've even begun to get feels about this work from unrelated works. Very powerful stuff, indeed.
That's a high level of praise, and brings with it a burden of having to live up to it! I'm glad you're feeling that way. I think of Kenji as someone who scribbles in his notebooks, types into his computer... after each chunk of journalling, he nods to himself and puts his files away, then wanders off to have dinner. Or a drink. ;)
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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