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Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-5a up 20140814)

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014 9:58 am
by brythain
This is the first section of the fifth instalment of the second part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji's future looks a lot brighter after some dark moments.

This episode takes place around the same time as this piece from Hisao's life.
And if you need to look back eight years or so, you should look here.

Kenji 2: The Sound of Wings—Year Five (Part 1)
(April 2014-September 2014)

Looking back through these old archives, now that I’m far older than you’d think, I’ve felt a sense of loss on many occasions. Yet, there are some happy moments that I’ll always remember.

I don’t think of my time in the Inoue home as a sad one. And I’ll always be grateful for those who gave me a sense of family when mine was destroyed. As for the chance to even make a new family? Pure joy.

What you’re reading is taken from my redacted log entries, from 2010 to 2015. I call them ‘The Sound of Wings’. This section is, maybe, the bright end of a long and dark rainbow, the light at the end of a tunnel.


April 2014:

The arrangements for the last phase of Operation Hunter Gatherer are difficult, but necessary. My first idea, so long ago, was to conclude the operation at the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy of the Yamaku Foundation, my former high school. I’ve since realized that this is a silly idea, especially since I don’t want to go back. The memory of my sister’s death is still too strong.

For the last few years, I’ve visited Mother and Masaru only on the way to Sachiko. My mother, my brother, mere stops before the main event. Neither Naomi nor Natsume, my companions on those occasions, remarked on that. After all, they had only known Sachi, and not the others. This year, I’m back to Saitama with renewed sense of purpose.

“Turn right here,” I say, trying hard to focus as the world moves around me. She ignores me. In a car, Yuuko Shirakawa develops a very selective deafness. I have no idea why this happens. I clench my jaw.

But this time, she has let something filter through. “Kenji, I have been here before. I had to… ah, track you down, four years ago.”

I’m forced to admit, as she slows down at a bend, that she is headed in the right direction. I slump back in the seat of her little Suzuki and look at things within my limited range of vision. Hmmm. Pills, neat little detachable container racked under the air-conditioner vent. I take a closer look, almost banging my forehead on her dashboard.

As she clicks her tongue at me, I read some of the labels. They’re in her neat handwriting. I read some chemical names, realize that she’s taking meds for some chronic condition. What’s ‘FM’? It’s not her ear canal thing. Something stirs at the back of my mind, but before I can inquire further, the car stops.

Yuuko is dressed in appropriately sober colours today, a simple stiff black calf-length dress with a white sash. No jewelry, except her engagement ring, winking its steady fire as we walk up the path to the cemetery. She’s carrying the flowers and whisky, and I’m carrying the pizza. I’ve come to hate this part, because for many years Sachi and I were the ones who visited Mother and Elder Brother. No Sachi now.

This year, I mind less. Yuuko holds my hand gently, as if not taking it for granted. Yet it’s a secure grip, as if her hand belongs with mine. That reassures me, today.

I need this reassurance, that I have someone. I’ve lost so many. I can’t quite tell Yuuko this. It’s something I have to settle myself. In my mind there is sharper vision than in my eyes.

I see the two urns the General buried—in one, what’s left of my pretty mother, short hair, neat, sharp features; in the other, my handsome brother, stubborn, strong, dynamic. I see Saki Enomoto, whom I didn’t really know, like a leaf dangling by a thread, just before she was blown away. I see my sister, almost as if I myself pushed her off that roof. Behind them, in the distance, I see Naomi waving goodbye, perhaps for the last time.

Yuuko senses something of this. She squeezes my hand. Then we kneel next to the twin markers on this cool spring day. They’re not well-maintained. Maybe nobody except me comes every year. Maybe I should come more often.

“Mother, brother, this is Yuuko Shirakawa. She is someone special to me. She won’t let me neglect my duties. We love each other.”

Here, and later at Sachiko’s more distant grave, the cherry blossoms lie fallen. Some still fall. But somehow, there is a sense of things becoming new.

May 2014:

Even though it’s Golden Week, I’m not on holiday with Yuuko. She claims she’s got things to settle. Me, I’ve got my work too. And someone to meet.

“Kenji, you’re a lot more romantic than I am.”

“Baka!” I reply, using the time-honoured word that means a bit more than ‘fool’. It’s a serious insult, but between friends it’s not so bad. After all, this here is the Master of Romance, the one who seemed to get all the unattainable girls. “What the hell do you mean, Hisao?”

He laughs, maybe a bit ruefully. “Now you sound like Emi. Ibarazaki, if you remember?”

“Baka, baka,” I repeat. “Isn’t that the girl who kept hitting on people and giving them heart attacks? She almost killed me once!”

He looks a little angry and amused at the same time. “Yeah, that one. She’s the most beautiful thing on no legs, don’t you think? And she doesn’t ‘hit on’ people!”

“So what’s this about ‘romantic’, Nakai-san?”

“I’m in love with her, and you know what? I’m hopeless at it.”

I almost fall over myself laughing. If I help him, it will be the blind leading the sighted. “You’re the Todai graduate with everything in place, you bastard! You’ve got family. You’ve got a girl that lives with you and a girl that’s your girlfriend, and they’re not always the same girl. You’re like some hero from a manga!”

“Kenji, I can’t be a bastard if I’ve got family, unless you’re insulting my parents!”

I take a swig of the weird stuff he brought, and calm down a bit. “Eh, my apologies. Been a long time since I talked to a guy who wasn’t somebody from work.”

“No offence received. But you know what, there aren’t many people around my age I can talk to about this. I want to talk about Lilly. Satou, if you remember?”

“You’re repeating yourself. My memory isn’t that bad. I keep a log as auxiliary memory. If I don’t remember, my log does.” I wave my smartphone in the air.

He goes on to tell me his life-story from the time he left Yamaku. It’s too long to tell here. But I wasn’t that far wrong. The irony is that Lilly Satou is the one girl who never visited his apartment. He still thinks of her. He sometimes longs after her. But he’s in love with Emi Ibarazaki. Damn. I have to say something.

“Hisao, shut up,” I say slowly.

He grinds to a halt, somewhere between telling me how kind Hanako Ikezawa has been to him and describing the odd charms of Shizune Hakamichi. I know something about those varieties of kindness and charm, and I’ve no patience for hearing more. Before he can say another word, I continue.

“Once you’ve lost someone, you’ve lost them. Maybe you can’t accept it. But in the end, you move on, or you drown. You’re in the water. You can’t float forever. Here is a ship. It’s pretty and it works. Get on board.”

“Kenji, that’s a pretty blunt thing to say. It’s not even very romantic.”

“I’m not.” I think of Naomi, and I think of my database. “Men can’t afford romance until they get obsessed. Then it’s too late anyway.”

“Why water and ships, though? Mutou-sensei mentioned something like that.”

“Because it’s always a drowning man. The stories never talk about women drowning at sea. The men always drown. The women get the ships.”

It’s a long talk. Eventually, like two blind beggars, we help each other down from the roof. At least he’s agreed to the last part of Operation Hunter Gatherer. He’s got some good ideas out of this too, so it’s not like I’ve been selfish.

Some time in the middle of that night, I call Shizune. “Happy birthday!”

[Kenji, I can see you but what are you saying?]

[Damn, I’m an idiot.] I frantically type.

[Yes. You just tried to say ‘Happy Birthday’?]

[Double idiot, me. You can read lips?]

[Triple idiot score. It’s still the 5th of May over here. But thanks anyway. And don’t get Hisao drunk again!]


[He called before you did. Fifteen minutes ago. Made the same mistakes. He should know better. You, I forgive. Him, not yet.]

[Apologies. He says you’re very charming, you know.]

There’s a long pause. From her expression on my screen, I can’t be sure what’s on her mind, but she’s frowning a bit.

[Hah] she finally replies. [Not charming enough, it seems. And how come this year there’s no cake?]


June 2014:

I’m nervous. Goddamnit, which I was taught never to say. But I’m nervous. I’ve got my leave cleared. My boss has realized I really am serious about my work. I’ve been clocking in and out, working sixteen-hour days, even earning bonuses for achievement. But now I’ve got to make sure that God and the government will give this a chance.

Yuuko’s agreed to keep it small. She’s even allowed me to keep my secret surprise. Her wedding invitation list is fairly short: besides her parents, her brothers and her sister-in-law, just a few others. She doesn’t show me her full list, claiming a secret for a secret. That’s fine. All I need is the numbers, because I’m allowed the same number. She’ll look at mine and make sure there are no duplicates.

She’s very organized. Librarian habits, maybe. She’s got us filesharing on the cloud. A cloud, anyway. I hate that, it’s not secure. I’m nervous. Kenji Setou is nervous. Damn. I spend time making sure my end of things is secure. Otherwise, it will be the end of things indeed.

I almost miss the 13th of June, that’s how bad it is. But on Friday at lunch, eating by myself at the quiet library near Hisao’s old apartment, I remember. Thank God. I whip out my phone, hit the one number on speed-dial.

“Hello,” I begin, unsure of how it will go.

“Kenji!” she replies, sounding cheerful. “How have you been?”

“Ah, good. Life is different these days, very busy. Been working hard.”

Naomi’s voice dips into what sounds like sadness. “You didn’t call me in April.”

“Oh… I didn’t think you…”

“It’s OK, Kenji. I wore Sachi’s pearls for a day. Pearls need to be worn, or they go dry. Nat likes them on me, anyway.”

Right. Hit a man, hit him again. That’s good. I deserve it.

“Happy birthday, Naomi. Happy 25th birthday.”

I wait a while. Her voice seems very far away when at last she replies. “I’m glad you remembered, Kenji. How’s Shirakawa-san?”

“Ah, she is fine.”

“Don’t forget to invite Nat and me. Just a word of friendly advice? It might not be a good idea to invite my parents, though.” She chuckles, but it sounds bitter.

“You’re already on my list,” I say. “First name there.”

“That’s something, I guess. Take care, Kenji. And thanks again for remembering me.”

After she hangs up, it’s a long time before I do anything else. And when I do, it’s just a bit of editing on my invitation list.

July 2014:

Well, here we are. I’m wearing a suit. Wanted to rent. Wasn’t allowed to. Nervous? Worse than ever. 21st July 2014. A day that will live on forever in family. Or something like that. It’s Sea Day. The morning will be auspicious for a wedding, the afternoon not, say the soothsayers.

It couldn’t be worse. My bride has secrets. She keeps paper records. On index cards, which I can’t hack into. I had no idea Yuuko Shirakawa would be so hardcore. Her RPGs are all paper and dice.

When it rains after midnight, I almost panic. But the rain dies away, and the weather, while humid, is not too hot. It will be even cooler where we will be. I cannot sleep. But Hisao, my best man, he sleeps like a pig. Snores like one too. And he’s keeping secrets too. This will be a disaster.

Here’s what I know before the wedding, at 0300h. Yuuko’s wedding coordinator is someone Hisao doesn’t know. Some old friend from Yamaku. They communicate entirely by code, through Yuuko. At 0600h, three hours from now, Hisao the pig is supposed to send the GPS coordinates of my secret site to everyone on our list and Yuuko, and everyone’s to meet at 0900h.

I’ve got the priest. I owe it to Mother to get married sort of Catholic-style. He comes from the only Catholic church I know in Tokyo personally, the one in the far west that I once visited on Christmas Day. He will meet us there too. Very kind of him, considering it’s his rest day.

My big surprise secret is that we’re getting married where this whole thing began, almost two years ago. Yes, the Metropolitan Area Water Discharge Facility. The huge underground cathedral of our flood defence system. Thank God the rain has stopped. Thank the government that they’ve granted permission. I guess they’re used to weird requests from civil servants. Or maybe all my hard work has paid off.

Her surprises are… many. By the time we get there, she has everyone lined up. And I’ve heard her father’s name before. The Colonel is head of one of our test centres. Damn. “Setou? Ha. Pleased to meet you at last, sorry to not have met you earlier, have heard good things about your commitment, wonderful, glad to have you as a son-in-law. Meet my wife, Mari, plays strings in the orchestra. Also, sons and daughter-in-law.”

“Setou-san,” says the mischievous-looking lady before me. She looks like Naomi with black hair for a disconcerting moment. I bow appropriately to both parents. The Colonel’s wife looks nothing like mine, and also looks far too young. “I have taken the liberty of organizing the paperwork for Yuuko. Her friend was… unable to handle all the responsibilities. Such a pity she can’t be with us today. But she’s a promising colleague of mine, a violinist, so it’s fortunate I can help out. But no bridesmaid!”

There’s an unmistakable resonance in my head. It’s Sea Day, and for a moment, I am touched by the memory of auburn hair, an upturned face and English music. I shake my head a bit—surely it’s only a coincidence. I smile awkwardly. I accept the paperwork that has our signatures on it, and pass it to Father Hino.

Then it’s time to greet Yuuko’s brothers. Elder brother Shou offers a long bony hand and provides a hard, vigorous oscillation. Younger brother Shin has more meat on him. He offers a… fist bump? I must be getting old. Younger brother Shin is married to Azami, a sulky-looking bamboo of a woman. Can’t judge a book by its cover, though—she gives me a quick face-splitting grin before going back to sulk-facing. Strange.

Down the row. Kaneshiro-san, Mutou-san, nice to have you here. The Fist! “Hi Miki,” I say weakly, knowing I haven’t invited her myself. Behind me, the Black Dragon, looking very pleased, is also shaking hands. Where’s Yuuko? Where is she? I’m feeling queasy. And I haven’t had anything to drink, even!

Hisao gently takes me by the elbow. “Hey, we have other friends. Don’t worry, Yuuko’s got a few last-minute things to settle. I’ve been collecting the gifts and your rings are safe.”

I look back, feeling slightly dazed. Why is Father Hino chatting up the Fist? What could they possibly have in common?

“Kenji! I’m so happy for you!”

I feel the fingers on my arms and look down, already knowing what I will see. A smile I won’t forget. Hair that I’ve admired for years, despite its nondescript colour. Dark pearls. “Naomi… thank you for being here. Hello, Nat. Errm… Misaki?” The blue-haired girl smiles, although it’s clear the huge camera she’s toting is an awkward encumbrance. The whole cheer-Kenji-up gang from a while back is here. I’m quite sure Misaki wasn’t on my list either.

Natsume stays back, nods from a short distance away. Then she relents and comes over just as Naomi reaches up and kisses me on the cheek. I return it with a half-hug. It doesn’t make me less dazed, but somehow, I feel a sense of relief. It’s as if some dark shadow has gone away.

But that isn’t the hardest part. Yuuko and I are already married by law, and this is only a ceremony. However, my wife has more than one surprise. And with a heavy heart, I understand the nature of this particular one.

Stiffly, at the edge of the little crowd, he stands. Aunt Midori, now my non-stepmother, is with him. There’s a taste of iron in my mouth. “General,” I say, greeting him. “And Mrs Setou,” I add. Maybe that’s being rude. I can’t care. I bow, because it’s the Japanese thing to do.

He automatically returns the bow, minimally. Then he stares at me, steely challenge in his eyes. I return his gaze, because I’m Kenji, and you cannot break someone twice the same way. Seconds pass. “Kenji. Done well, I hear. Son.” Is it worth anything to hear that? His first direct words to me for… how long? Too long for them to be worth much, I feel. But worth something.

I don’t know what to say back to him. He averts his gaze, looks beyond me over to his younger brother. The Black Dragon waves austerely. I nod again at Aunt Midori, who nods back, an apologetic look on her face. “Thank you for coming,” I say to her. Maybe she doesn’t deserve such rudeness.

In the end, there are things worth much more. I’ve not seen my wife in pure white before. The floodlamps are on. Everyone else is a shadow at the edge. She shines, like a star, in the middle. My friends have set me up, it feels like. I will be destroyed by all that brightness.

Along the smooth-surfaced middle of the walkway, alone in the middle of this enormous dark vault of our flood-control system, she glides towards me. How did she come to be so beautiful? In the end, it doesn’t matter. “Forever and ever,” we echo. “Amen.”

August 2014:

“What?” I cannot believe it, but it sounds true. Yuuko is telling me about our time in high school.

“Um, yes. I did think I was pregnant. The test came back blue. Takahashi, my best friend, you know her? Helped us arrange the wedding, you know… She was sensible… ah, she made me see Nurse. Dr Kaneshiro, that is, now.”

The missing bridesmaid. A chill creeps up my spine. Eight years ago, it was. I’m beginning to remember now. Yes, a ghost from the past was indeed my wife’s best friend.

“But Kaneshiro-san helped me, did more tests, told me that it was a false positive. My drugs do that. Ah… um, they make it hard for me to have babies. When I found out, I cried a lot.”

“So we can’t have children?” This is the kind of thing that makes you feel that your head is full of gas. Well, full of something rude, anyway.

“I’ve stopped my meds for four months now. Since we visited the cemetery.” She looks mournful.

“Are you supposed to do that? Isn’t that bad?” I have awful memories of Naomi stopping her meds, and I have had even worse experiences of my own.

“The pain is bearable.”

“Pain?” Pain, Kenji. She has chronic pain. And you’re only finding out now! Fool.

“Fibromyalgia, it’s called. Warm showers help. Also massages.”

“You could have told me about the pain!” I didn’t mean it to sound that way. I think it’s the hurt, the feeling that I wasn’t trusted.

“It’s like migraines or something. One lives with it. It’s like the ear canal, very distracting, won’t kill me. Sorry. Please forgive me, husband. I thought it was too small to trouble you with.”

I am defeated. It is a big thing, but she thought it was too small. One thing I know about Yuuko: she is quietly stubborn inside. Kenji gives in, because Kenji knows that some things are more important. I hold her carefully, and we stay that way for a while.

“Um. Warm showers, also massages. Those help.”

Oh. A hint. Kenji is not very bright, sometimes.

September 2014:

“My father’s wife lives in Tokyo. His base is somewhere in Gifu. My brothers live in Yokohama. I don’t know why.”

We’re talking about family. I don’t know why either. Our courtship had been so quick and untraditional that I never found out much about her family. She, of course, had met the General before.

“So both our fathers have second wives?”

“Ah, yes. It’s OK, I think. My mother lost her mind when we were all quite young. Didn’t have a mother for years. She died before I… went to school.”

Shit! My quiet, dutiful, pretty wife, she says things like this without blinking. I didn’t know. I am stiff with shock. Yuuko has her glasses on, since we’re at home. Her spectacles tilt up at me, wondering. “Errr,” I begin, “doesn’t that affect you at all, dear?”

“Not really,” she smiles. “Just had to look after a bunch of… messy boys. Including my father. Heh. Then my health got worse and, well… um, Yamaku, and I met you. My first boyfriend, you know.”

“I do? Who was he?”

“No, no, silly Kenji. You know, you were my first boyfriend.” She gets up, a little stiffly, I think, and walks over to the oven. Our new apartment south of Sendai is partly paid for by the General and the Dragon—they’ve settled their bets and given me my share. I don’t feel so angry at my non-father any more. I guess it’s back to ‘father’ at least legally.

“It smells nice,” I say without having to think. It does. Home-cooked pizza. I can’t believe it. I could get used to this.

“I hope you like it. I like pizza. Used to cook for myself… ah, sometimes also my dorm-mates.”

It’s delicious. It’s a garlic sausage pizza with bonito flakes and seaweed. And two different cheeses, I think. She’d put it in the oven before I got home, way after nightfall. It’s tough commuting everyday, but at least my boss has assigned me to a centre a bit further north so that I won’t be late for work.

Who would have thought Kenji would be domesticated so easily? I am Kenji, and I definitely never thought so.

I remember the message Naomi sent with Misaki’s wedding pictures: [Dear Kenji, you two look so wonderful together. Nat thinks so too. Many blessings. Love, N.] And I smile at my wife, who is reading a book while I do the dishes. Even Kenji deserves some happiness, it seems.

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Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-5a up 20140814)

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014 4:34 pm
by YutoTheOrc
Loved it! I'm enjoying that things are finally going good 'ol Kenji's way. Sorry I don't have anything more to say, other than compliments :p. Looking forward to more good news from Setou family! :)

Interlude (20140815)

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014 10:17 pm
by brythain
Again, dammit. I'm quite sure my 18-year Scotch level was higher than this. I pick up the tinted glass bottle and swirl the liquid inside thoughtfully.


"At your service? Well, mostly the civil service, though. Good Scotch, not to be wasted."

"You could have asked."

"Ah, well, one only puts out offerings to ghosts and demons and other spirit beings. Me, I'm Kenji. Besides, I've been working hard."

"Working hard?"

"Redaction is hard work. You keep putting in things that I have to take out."


"Well, now that your computer's back from the shop, you can see for yourself. Ha ha ha, author-san!"


Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-5a up 20140814)

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2014 1:54 am
by Serviam
Father Hino chatting with the Fist?

Might Miki hailing from Nagasaki have something to do with it...?

And then there's that base in Gifu...the airfield?

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-5a up 20140814)

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2014 1:56 am
by brythain
Serviam wrote:Father Hino chatting with the Fist?

Might Miki hailing from Nagasaki have something to do with it...?
*grin* you got me there… I must admit, I love it when people find these things!

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2-5b up 20140816)

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 1:30 pm
by brythain
This is the second section of the fifth instalment of the second part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which Kenji realises that life is full of promise, and maybe happiness.

Kenji 2: The Sound of Wings—Year Five (Part 2)
(October 2014-March 2015)

As I re-read my old logs, it strikes me that this section brings my history to a decade after I started writing at Yamaku. Ten long years. My, my, as a certain restaurateur acquaintance of mine likes to say.

What’s alarming to me is how much went on in the background. I was just Kenji, trying to survive in a world gone mad, ducking out of trouble when I could. And my friends were in the same boat. We had so little control, and yet ended up with so much to live for. What insanity! What love and affection!

The piece you’re reading is taken from my redacted log entries, from 2010 to 2015. I call them ‘The Sound of Wings’. I’ve chosen to break my account in the spring of 2015, because at that time, I too had no inkling of what lay ahead.


October 2014:

Every morning, I leave while it’s still dark. Because I wake first, I make breakfast, ensure there’s enough hot water, chase squirrels out of the kitchen. I pack a meal from what ingredients Yuuko’s left neatly arranged from the night before. Sometimes, there’s a little list on the table, household items I might want to get if I have time or inclination, tasks to do. I put a mark next to ‘my’ items, and sometimes add a few of my own. When we got married, we decided neither of us would play dominance games—we’d had enough of that from our fathers.

I go back into our room, wash up next door, dress. It’s such a normal life. But it’s the only normal part of my life, really. I key the combination into my briefcase that will let the office know I’m still alive and coming in. I kiss my sleepy wife, tell her I’ll be back and that I love her. She normally kisses back. Not a morning person, needs coffee. I quietly let myself out.

And then ‘normal’ begins to fade away.

And then ‘normal’ begins to come back.

On the train home from my new office far north of Tokyo, I look around. Sane-looking tired people. Underneath, who knows? Any one of them could be like Old Kenji, nursing a bitter anger at the state of the world. It’s ten years after I started my life at Yamaku. I’ve learnt that whispers and giggles might be tinnitus. I know that what I see is not always to be trusted. I understand that when I feel anxious, it may just be my heart misbehaving. I’m older now. I’m a married man.

I take notes in my head. I try to understand the world. Sometimes, I rely on old friends. I don’t think I’ve lost more than others, more than say, the survivors of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake that hit Sendai. But I’ve lost enough to value my friends.

November 2014:

It’s been a hard week. Now, the weekend. I stagger home, to brighter lights, to warmer air. A fragrance of… cherry blossoms? I sniff the air suspiciously as I take off my shoes and carefully pass through the door. That’s not pizza I’m smelling, for sure.

Candles? Scented candles. Something’s happened here.

“Hello, Setou-san…”

“Yuuko?” It takes time for me to focus properly. The extra lighting helps. If that’s my wife, she’s done something to her hair. Also, a nice outfit, something in blue. I’ve not seen it before. It fits her well. Where’s the food, though?

“Um, do you like what you see?” She seems to not be wearing her glasses. And is that… make-up?

“Yes. Did you do something to your hair?”

“Just put it up into a ponytail. Can let it down if you prefer?”

“It’s fine.” She does look very pretty, but I’m hungry. Been a long day, had to skip lunch to get all my work done for the weekend.

“Are you hungry?”

“Is there seafood in Sendai?”

She sighs. For a moment, nothing happens. Oh shit, I suddenly realize. Kenji, your wife is doing special stuff. Naomi always got disappointed if you didn’t notice her doing special stuff. Women are like that. They won’t tell you, but…

“Kenji-san…” Damn, when they –san you a lot, it’s sometimes a bad thing. “If you don’t put your case down, ah… rest your backside comfortably… and, uh… appreciate your wife a bit more, there’s no dinner. Um. So there.”

She’s got this defiant look on her face. And she’s poked me in the ribs a few times. She means business. I’m cold and hungry. I have rights. This means war.

No, no. Kenji, you fool. This is exactly what your father used to do to Mother.

I don’t sigh, although I feel like it. I carefully place my hands on Yuuko’s shoulders. Is she trembling? Angry? Upset? I hope it’s not fear. I would hate myself for that. I’m not the General. I’m Kenji.

“I like your hair done up like that. It’s kind of sexy. And this is a new dress, yes? The material suits you.” One of my hands feels its way down behind her shoulder, tracing out her shoulder-blade. The fabric is smooth and fine. Even a blind man could tell it fits her well. There doesn’t seem to be anything between the dress and her skin. I pull her towards me, feel her breasts pressing against my chest.

Gently, she removes my hand from its new place on her waist. “Kenji, husband, you don’t need to force yourself to say all those things. It’s not… not you. Nice to be appreciated, but it’s not necessary. I just felt like, ah, doing something different tonight. Women do that. You have to learn.”

I’m hungry, dear, I want to say. And now I’m lustful too. This is very unfair. But of course, I can’t say any of that. Or should I? Argh! This is worse than being single. No, it’s not.

She laughs. It’s not the shy Yuuko laugh from the library. It’s something strange. Oh. It’s the sound of Kenji falling into a trap.

“Come on, Kenji, I know you think more than you say. Say whatever you want. And then I’ll say what I want, right? Ah… it’s not easy for me. OK, I’ll start first. Um… well, I hurt all over. And I was dizzy a lot today, and Kaneshiro-san gave me a lift home early and told me to rest. So… I didn’t buy groceries. And for no reason, I got angry at my husband for not being at home. Ah, yes, that’s about it.”

It all comes out at one shot. I sit down. “I’m hungry,” I say slowly. “And I got home and everything was warm and nice. But there was no dinner. For no reason, I wanted to blame my wife. But I didn’t buy groceries either. My wife looks beautiful and I want her very much. We should go out for dinner together.”

It’s not really that hard, although it’s not easy. We’ve had a lot of fights and quarrels over the last few months. I just don’t record them in my log, because keeping some things is not a good thing, I’ve learnt.

She sniffs at me. “Tobacco smoke… train smells. You… need a shower first. What do you think, civil-servant-husband-san?”

I think dinner will be very late.

December 2014:

“Takahashi was your best friend, right?” I feel awkward, asking her this question. I had a crush on that best friend a long time ago.

“Yes, she was my senior. When not playing her violin, she was a student librarian, in charge of the music scores and books. Why, Kenji?” She looks up briefly from the padlock that she’s reassembling.

“Eh, I saw her once in Hamamatsu. At the Musical Instruments Museum there. Just wondering how she was.”

“I don’t know. She has a problem with… memory. It was OK when we were in school, but it got worse. On our wedding day… you remember? She went for a rehearsal because her calendar was wrong or something. She’s back in therapy now. Very sad, husband.”

Yuuko has a big, warm heart. She is always sorry for people, and can be sentimental. This time, though, I agree. It’s sad that talented, amusing, beautiful people can get such a bad deal in life.

“Do you think we should visit her?”

My wife puts the padlock aside after taking a few seconds to squirt WD-40 into it. “That’s a kind thought, but Togami-san… ah, my father’s wife is a colleague at the orchestra… says she needs the rest. I miss her, from when she was… better.”

She sighs, and starts cleaning her glasses. I finish washing the dishes. I feel a bit rotten. All I wanted to do was ask about someone I used to know. But now I think maybe I’ve spoilt her evening. I start scrubbing the kitchen floor.

“What are you doing, Kenji?”

“Cleaning up.”

“Hee… you look funny with your bum moving up and down in the air.”

“Whaat?” I stand up, not looking. THUMP! Owww…

And that is why Yuuko wears a headscarf to work for a few days. She has this knack of banging her head into things. I’m picking it up too. It’s mutual, this time. Silly us. I hope people don’t think I’m beating my wife or something. Or that she’s beating me.

Fortunately, we’re both recovered a few days before Christmas. My first birthday as a married man! But Yuuko spends the whole week muttering to herself a lot. What have I done now? It must’ve been something quite bad. On leave, I wander around Sendai, feeling increasingly desperate. Lightning strikes. I grab my phone.

“Hisao! Manly conference needed!”

“Kenji! Are you insane? I have tests to grade. A whole pile of them!”

“Ah, come on. Mutou-sensei will give you extra time. He always does. A bit. Besides, this is urgent. Manly friendships are important, best man.”

“He’s my department head now, I can’t let him down!”

“Hisao… winter is coming…”

“Fine, seeing as it’s your birthday coming too. Not too long! Where do we meet?”

In the end, Hisao brings me to a weird little shop to get a Christmas present. I want to buy a music box, marked ‘Greensleeves’, but he just looks sad and says, “Not a good idea.” I think for a while of a particular musician, and nod sadly back. In the end, I settle for a nice string of polished turquoise stones. They gleam prettily, slightly darker than pale blue.

Hisao looks at them, says rather brusquely, “Nice colour,” and turns away. What the hell is wrong with him, I wonder. The old man at the counter gives me a mysterious look. I feel my hair stand—more than usual, anyway. Maybe after I step out the shop will disappear or something.

I buy him coffee. “At least it isn’t tea,” he says morosely. By this time, I’m really worried for him. I make it an Irish coffee. Eventually, it’s back to an earlier conversation. This time it’s worse. He’s been fighting with Emi, it seems. She is suspicious of all his female acquaintances, even Rin Tezuka. What a mess.

Before he goes back to his marking, I just say to him, “Tell her you love her. Keep saying it. But it had better be true.”

He nods, claps me on the shoulder, and walks away. I say a little blessing for him. He’s a good man, just too romantic for his own good.

I do some grocery-shopping, get back to the apartment before Yuuko does. Hide the present, spend some time preparing dinner. I whistle a little, although I’m no good at it. I read the list on our kitchen table to see if there’s anything else to do. My wife makes me nervous. I don’t know why.

It’s about sunset when the door opens. “Hah, you’re back,” Yuuko says. She’s carrying the mail. Oops, forgot to clear the mailbox. I keep thinking everything comes by email. Except physical gifts… Hey, that’s quite a big parcel. I help her with it. It has an Osaka postmark.

She puts her black leather sling-bag carefully down. She looks around. “Great! You made dinner!” Although she seems a little worn and weary, she embraces me, and I hug her gently.

“You… ah, going to open that parcel?” she murmurs into my shoulder.

“It can wait.”

And so it does. But she’s tired, and it’s an early night for us both. Come to think of it, it’s been like that for some time.

My birthday, when it comes, brings many surprises. So this part of my log is going to stretch just a bit more.

“Happy birthday, husband!” she says, waking me up. I open one eye, and just about make out the fact that she’s already dressed and offering me a package of some sort. Ah, a present! I attempt to kiss her, but miss. If you are looking with one eye, and your eyesight is bad anyway, this happens. She kisses me on the forehead, makes sure I don’t drop her present.

Carefully, I peel the tape off. Japanese people wrap things very carefully, so all this is double-sided, nearly invisible tape. I do it by touch, rolling the sticky stuff away. “Oooh, one of these! Excellent!” I am really very pleased. The 4x4-terabyte wireless-capable drive is just what I wanted. No wonder she was handling the box so carefully.

Breakfast is ready too, and Yuuko loves her turquoises. It feels like a good day. In fact, it is. Until I get to the damn parcel. My usual careful opening technique reveals a… silk-slipcased limited numbered hardcover edition of ‘The Tale of Genji’. Or at least, that’s roughly what the packing list says. It’s pretty fancy for a book. I have a digital copy, of course. But it’s from Naomi and Nat, and I’m impressed.

“That’s a… very… expensive gift,” my wife says slowly. She appreciates books, she should know.

“Yeahhhhh!” I reply.

“It’s beautiful… think it’s more beautiful than… ah, the disk drive I… um, bought for you.”

What? Where did that come from? Why is she crying? Kenji, get your brain together! “Ah, no, no, I… don’t read hard copy books, the drive is more useful!”

It’s no use. This is unreasonable! What’s she saying now?

“I’m… ah… ah… we…” she sucks in a deep breath. I look at her, alarmed. Her eyes are closed. I hold her uncertainly.

A thin sort of wail comes out. “Pregnant… surprise… birthday… ahhhh… unfair...”

“Pregnant?” I say, sounding stupid even to myself.

“Ah…” she says, “Ah…”

Suddenly I remember the advice I gave Hisao. “I love you, Yuuko,” I say. I try to be calm, although it’s not quite happening. “I love you.”

January 2015:

Now I look back to the last week of December. What a crazy time! I couldn’t believe what my wife was telling me. The test was positive. She’d missed her period. She’d done it before, but she felt different. She wanted to tell me after my birthday, so that I’d enjoy my birthday first.

All that, it leads to me being crazy Kenji for a while. Not old crazy Kenji, just a bit crazy. Do we tell the parents? Do we tell our friends? Yuuko looks at me and says, “Maybe we wait until we’re… ah, sure?” She looks a little frightened. Oh God, so am I. It’s frightening to think about what if it’s true and worse if it’s not. Or if true, and then later not. Argh.

It isn’t the only surprise, that week. A huge white chocolate raspberry cheesecake arrives, a bit late. Shizune’s earlier message on my phone had read: [Revenge tastes sweet. Happy birthday. Say hello to Yuuko for me. Also, congratulations. You win. First marriage from our year!] Now I understand the first three words, and laugh. Yuuko laughs too, after I explain.

She’s also able to laugh when I read Miki’s birthday message to her. Miki can seem like a threat to other women, because she’s an animal in some ways. But she knows when to play nice, these days. [Happy birthday Kenji! Thanks for never taking advantage of me. Ha ha ha!]

With Naomi’s message, it is different. I remember telling her in August 2011 that there was no one else I could love. I believed that, then. And Naomi still ends her long, well-written messages with: [Love, N.] An old habit. A reminder of things past. So dangerous, I think. You never forget the loves you’ve had.

Now, I have to prepare to be a father. My heart, it feels messed up.

February 2015:

“It’s her birthday, Kenji.”

“Oh God, you’re pathetic, Hisao. Don’t ever let Ibarazaki catch you thinking about that. I mean, it’s one thing to wish the Fist—I mean, Miura—a happy birthday, it’s another thing to pine after your first love from more than seven years ago!”

“Heh. Most days, I don’t think of her at all. It’s the dream of Lilly, the smell of her in the field on one cool Hokkaido day…”

“Hisao! Snap out of it. Damn! What if Ibarazaki catches you saying these things?”

He looks a little sad. It’s Saturday night, and Yuuko is happy to let me spend it out with Hisao. She thinks that kind of thing is normal. She’s gone bowling with Kaneshiro-san and his girlfriend, whoever that is.

“Kenji, she’ll never know. It’s locked up inside me, and in a secure safe. I can’t talk to anyone about this except you. And you don’t really know anyone near Emi, right?”

I don’t answer that question. I smash my head into my cupped hands. It’s not so hard if your elbows are resting on your knees, and I need to do it. “Gah, Hisao, pick one and stick to her. Listen. I haven’t been like you. I’m not so handsome, not so likeable. To tell you the truth, when I first heard Lilly’s voice, it sent chills into my soul. Then she became my class rep. That was tolerable, but scary. She’s human, even if she doesn’t act like it and incense smoke comes out of her ass.”

He looks at me, and for a moment I think he might shove me off the roof. What is it with me and roofs and evil thoughts? But I’m not going to apologise. I sit my ground, backside firm against the roof-tiles.

“Ah, damn. You’re right, and so is Mutou. Lilly’s a bad habit, but I cannot help but love her memory. She meant a lot to me, and she’ll never mean nothing. Do you understand that?”

I do. Naomi has that place in my heart. It’s like a shrine hidden in one of the chambers, so that my blood passes by it with each heartbeat. Drinking with Hisao on rooftops is a bad habit too.

I swig from my tumbler in silence, pour a finger for him. He likes Suntory, won’t drink Scotch anymore. I think that’s going too far. I look at the squat little bottle. It’s 12-year Yamazaki. Ha, a bottle of Osaka whiskey. Hisao’s revenge, I suppose.

I reflect that when I wish the Fist a happy birthday and sneak in some Valentine’s Day wishes, it won’t be anything like Hisao Nakai and Lilly Satou. It’ll be more like some characters from ‘Fate/stay night’. I chuckle as I imagine which two.

Later that night, I spoon up behind Yuuko and clasp her gently. “How was the evening?”

“Fun. Kaneshiro-san has a very… ah, wicked sense of humour. But he’s got his match in that woman! I didn’t catch her family name, she said just to call her ‘Meiko’. She reminds me of… um, my mother. Mentioned that she has a daughter about our age, studying for a higher teaching degree somewhere in Tokyo.”

“That’s quite funny. Old Kaneshiro used that humour on me a lot. Glad he’s receiving some of his own medicine. Ha ha!”

“Meiko’s a tough lady. Her husband died young, but she’s always had her own life, she’s very resourceful. She’s… ah, easy to respect.”

“Only three of you?”

“No… ah, that’s nice, my back hurts, rub a little further down… ummmm. Mutou-san was there too. They’re good friends from way back, I think. Ahhhh, Kenji… I’m tender… it’s dangerous to do such things…”

Damn. We’re expecting. I forgot.

March 2015:

The first ultrasound scan. It’s about eleven weeks, I think. I can’t imagine what that little thing will look like in September. It worries me. But I make backup copies of the digital images anyway. Baby’s first pictures! Argh! I’m turning into one of those parents, like the guy at the office who’s always showing his photos and posting them on PhaseBook. Terrible.

It will be Yuuko’s 27th birthday soon. Ibarazaki’s is also coming up, as I am not allowed to forget. This means Hisao and I have to go present-buying again. It’s a good manly brotherhood activity, I suppose. The wretch leaves it till almost too late—on the eve of his girlfriend’s birthday, a Friday night, he is out with me frantically searching for something.

“Where’s your girl, anyway?” I ask, a little irritated. I prefer quiet moments on rooftops, not fighting with crowds in shopping districts.

“Out with the team, after training. She’s going for it.”

“Shit, man. That’s really something.” Emi Ibarazaki decided years ago that she’d be an athlete, even though she’s got no legs. I know she can run fast. She’s also a menace when it comes to banging into people with heart conditions. But I have respect for someone who’ll be representing our country in Rio.

He dives into some jewelry shop. Dumbass! He hasn’t even proposed to her yet. Something small is fine, I want to tell him. But he’s the Master of Romance, so I sigh and find a quiet spot.

That’s when my phone buzzes, of course. It always is. Now really pissed off, I look down at the screen. Eh? A number I don’t recognize. How strange. I squeeze myself into a narrow space next to a staircase where it’s not so noisy, and answer.

“Hell-o,” comes a curiously disembodied voice. Of course it’s disembodied, but it sounds more so than that, somehow. It sounds low and mournful, like a ghost.

“Err, hello. May I help you?”

“Happy birthday, Setou,” says the ghost. That’s weird. I look up quickly to see if Hisao’s done, but he’s still inside the shop.

“It’s not my birthday. Who’s this?” I’m spooked. That voice is somehow very familiar, but I can’t figure out where I’ve heard it before.

“I know it isn’t your birthday. It’s mine. I want to tell you that I’m happy. Miki told me that you gave her back her arm. It wasn’t a very good arm, but I thought I had lost it and I was sad. I wanted to give it to her but you can’t give something to someone if you don’t have it. So I’m having a happy birthday, and since I have it, I thought I should share it with you.”


“Happy birthday, Setou. Thank you. You can call me Rin, I’d like that. Good night!”

Although I don't quite understand, I feel unreasonably happy. Even Hisao’s shopping problems don’t change that. “Happy birthday, Rin!” I whisper into the sky, raising my head to the stars. Warmth fills me. Everything looks new. And small, insignificant Kenji hears the sound of ah! bright wings.

prev | end of Book 2 | next

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2 complete 20140816)

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 2:12 pm
by azumeow
That was great. But that F/SN reference....I totally missed it. Went right over my head.

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2 complete 20140816)

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 4:33 pm
by YutoTheOrc
I want to buy a music box, marked ‘Greensleeves’, but he just looks sad and says, “Not a good idea.”
---I see what you did there ;)

End(for now), my initial reaction was "Oh, this is a lovely story; nice change of pace from heart-wrenching sadness." I spent the rest of the chapter paranoid something horrible was going to happen. Half expecting the baby to be deformed or stillborn-_-...I swear Brythain if it is... I'm gonna cry :(. Love the update, I've been working my way through the other arcs, as you've noticed :p. As Usual, love your writing!

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2 complete 20140816)

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 10:46 pm
by brythain
azumeow wrote:That was great. But that F/SN reference....I totally missed it. Went right over my head.
Thanks! I'll have to ask Kenji exactly which two HE was thinking of… it's quite rare to find him actually talking about that kind of stuff!
YutoTheOrc wrote:
I want to buy a music box, marked ‘Greensleeves’, but he just looks sad and says, “Not a good idea.”
---I see what you did there ;)

End(for now), my initial reaction was "Oh, this is a lovely story; nice change of pace from heart-wrenching sadness." I spent the rest of the chapter paranoid something horrible was going to happen. Half expecting the baby to be deformed or stillborn-_-...I swear Brythain if it is... I'm gonna cry :(. Love the update, I've been working my way through the other arcs, as you've noticed :p. As Usual, love your writing!
Thank you! Next arc will begin once I find a way to prevent Kenji from drinking my alcohol! :)

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2 complete 20140816)

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 11:05 pm
by Serviam
brythain wrote:Thank you! Next arc will begin once I find a way to prevent Kenji from drinking my alcohol! :)
Because it's your hard shit and not his? :D

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 2 complete 20140816)

Posted: Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:58 am
by brythain
Serviam wrote:
brythain wrote:Thank you! Next arc will begin once I find a way to prevent Kenji from drinking my alcohol! :)
Because it's your hard shit and not his? :D
Exactly! I need the stuff to write his stuff, but he keeps drinking my stuff! :D

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:26 am
by brythain
Here begins the third part of the saga of Kenji Setou.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums (2015-2020)

2015.04-2015.12 — Year 1 (1) — Kenji becomes a father
2016.01-2016.03 — Year 1 (2) — Kenji learns a lot about friends and family
2016.04-2016.09 — Year 2 (1) — Kenji's daughter turns one, and Hisao says many things
2016.10-2017.01 — Year 2 (2) — Kenji's son is born, and Kenji thinks a lot about work.
2017.01-2017.04 — Year 2 (3) — Kenji has to deal with a very bad mistake.
2017.04-2017.05 — Year 3 (1) — Kenji looks Death in the face.
2017.06-2017.09 — Year 3 (2) — Kenji is supportive to some old friends.
2017.10-2018.01 — Year 3 (3) — Kenji sees things differently.
2018.02-2018.08 — Year 4 (1) — Kenji learns more about the world he lives in.
2018.08-2019.02 — Year 4 (2) — Kenji helps people, not just those he likes—hi Misha!
2019.03-2019.08 — Year 5 (1) — Kenji thinks about friendship and makes decisions.
2019.09-2020.03 — Year 5 (2) — Kenji realises that the good years are ending.


This is the first half of the first instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
In which he becomes a father, and his friends do interesting things.

This instalment takes place before and around the time of this part of Miki's arc.
Natsume and Naomi think up the interview idea at the end of this part of Natsume's narrative.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year One (Part 1)
(April 2015-December 2015)

The sound of distant drums is always ominous when you read literature. It’s always war, or threat, or something bad. But the good thing, if there’s any good thing, is that they’re still far away. There’s time to get things done, to find allies, to prepare in times of peace what may be needed in a time of strife.

After Yuuko Shirakawa and I got married, I found I had something to live for. If you’ve read my previous logs, you know that Naomi Inoue was one of the first to show me that possibility. I didn’t really know what it meant, until I had a family of my own.

These notes come from the years 2015-2020. A lot happened in those years that was quiet, domestic and not too difficult to handle. Looking back, these were the years that prepared me for unusual and dangerous times to come. That’s why I’ve called this section ‘distant drums’.


April 2015:

Stress. A lot of stress. For some reason, Yuuko is less stressed than I am. She is like the ‘Mona Lisa’ and I am like ‘The Scream’. It’s just a few months and we’re going to be parents. How can anyone, especially bulging like that, be so calm? If I had all that sticking out in front, I’d fall over. From behind, Yuuko looks the same as ever though. “Ah, husband, I think you’re exaggerating? I’m only… that is to say, mostly, not showing much yet.”

There’s more to come? Argh. A lot, a lot of stress. At some point, I accidentally drop my glasses and step on them, and… I realize I’m equally blind with or without glasses. Or something. Damn. It must be love, they say love is blind. Could it be that I am losing my mind?

In April we do the usual cemetery visits, and tell my departed family members the good news. I am sure they are happy, if somehow they can hear it. Sachi in particular will like that it’s going to be a girl. Mother reminds me to get new glasses. It’s strange, I can see better now! But Yuuko insists on driving even though I can see fine and she’s got our daughter in that bulge in front.

May 2015:

May brings Shizune’s birthday. Am I insane? I think she gets playful with me in a way that isn’t quite her. I get a message: [I wished myself happy birthday from you. Saved you the trouble, now you can go look after Yuuko. Haha.] She actually uses many short forms. That makes them hard to decrypt, so I log them in proper words to save time later.

[Hello Shizune, thanks for the message. I was going to send a cake, but there’s no time! Very sorry!] I reply.

[Setou-san, I also bought myself a cake. A small one this time. One slice, actually. Thanks very much!]

[You’re welcome, Hakamichi-san!]

It’s nice to be able to joke with someone at a distance. Sometimes, however, I wonder why she and Nakai never got together. She’s a lot better than that foreign-looking cousin of hers. Not so snooty.

June 2015:

In June, Yuuko reminds me to wish Naomi a happy 26th birthday. Embarrassing, since I almost forgot. I remember my dear friend from the time she was sixteen, I’ve known her for ten years now. When I call, she talks about what I was like years ago. We laugh together at old times. Inside, my memories kick me in my feels. After that, I am moody for a while.

July 2015:

The baby kicks too. She does. It scares me. Inside Yuuko is a thing. It kicks. Half of her is me. When I feel the kick inside, it is me kicking my fingers. Or half of me. Yuuko smiles. She used to be such a stressed person. When did she become so stable? When did I start to think like Tezuka?

“Wife, you used to get flustered a lot in the old days,” I say lazily, as if it’s not important. I smile at her, which is important. “Now, not so much. Why?”

“Heh… husband, you used to be crazy in the old days. Scared me, that you were somewhere in the school being angry! And I had no money to pay for my fees, and I couldn’t control anything! I had to work as a waitress and a librarian and study like a freak at night, and I was always tired! I used to get scolded for forgetting to lock up the library or not paying attention to customers… and now, that’s all gone. What’s to be flustered about?”

Somewhere in there, I feel very sad. I take off my glasses to apologise. “I’m… very sorry, Shirakawa-san.”

She clasps my hand to her tummy and pats me on the side of the neck with her other hand. “It’s… all right. All of it is right now. We’ll do things together and keep each other from being crazy.”

It's Sea Day.

August 2015:

Tanabata. The streets are lined with paper kimonos and cranes on long bamboo poles. People bustle everywhere, being romantic. It’s night and we’ll be seeing fireworks along the river soon.

Ha! A silly excuse for people to dress up and make silly requests of soppy supernatural entities. Also, for feminists and their pawns to conduct unlawful conspiracies under the very eyes of the authorities. Those that haven’t been suborned, that is. So old Kenji reminds me.

But here I am, walking around with my very pregnant wife, and setting a boat out to sail off with my… our wishes for happiness. Hisao and Emi have joined us. They too launch a little lantern-boat into the Hirosegawa River. I guess they want some happiness too.

It’s funny watching Emi in a yukata. You could almost imagine her not being a death-dealing fembot engine of destruction when her plasteel legs are concealed by the jade-green material. It matches her phosphorescent eyes. Then she grins, that sinister smile of inhuman happiness. I show her my fangs in return.

She looks confused, but I see it for what it is, a deliberate attempt to distract me from my… Yuuko turns round to see why I’ve stopped moving. Then I realize that I’m not old Kenji anymore; my old habits are just being situationally triggered by walking around on Sendai streets during an August night.

Emi is just being pretty in a yukata. Lucky Hisao. Yuuko is beautiful, no matter what. Lucky me. We’ve each found a way across the river of stars.

September 2015:

When Masako is born on 11 September 2015, she is small and pretty, also red and ugly. The two are not mutually exclusive. Within a day or so, we have family visiting like a crazy circus even though we’ve tried to keep it quiet, the delivery in MGH Sendai.

Yuuko’s father is an active senior officer in the Defence Forces. My father is a retired senior officer. The two of them bow a lot and circle like wary dogs. My father’s wife is my aunt. She is kinder than I remember. Yuuko’s father’s wife is not her aunt, but she’s a nice lady, very cultured.

Yuuko’s brothers Shin and Shou are here too. Isn’t Shin married? Oh, there’s his wife Azami, skinny and harassed-looking, but with unnaturally big white teeth in her sudden grin. Why are there so many people here? Oh, damn, it’s the first grandchild on both sides of the family. That will always bring out the madness. A space opens up. I look up. “Ha, nephew, well done. Hello, Shirakawa-san, Yuuko, if you don’t mind? Glad to see you’re looking so good.”

It’s the Black Dragon, my father’s younger brother. His presence calms the dogs. Charms the ladies too, if my half-blind analysis is right. Yuuko smiles at me, smiles at him. She’s holding that little… strawberry of a baby. Aww, very sweet. I take pictures.

My uncle the Dragon leans in, causes my flash to trigger in his shadow. Masako yells, not like a normal baby-cry, but as if she’s learnt outrage at the age of two days. Precocious. I love my daughter. So does the Dragon, who coos in an unseemly fashion for such an illustrious academic figure.

Suddenly, a little window opens in the back of my mind. Dammit, the feminist conspiracy strikes again! Masako’s birthday is also Nat’s birthday. Groan. They’ll be linked forever. But maybe it’s a good thing? I ask Yuuko if we should appoint a godmother for the strawberry. Yuuko laughs. She hasn’t thought about it, but she doesn’t mind Natsume Ooe, she says.

Looking back at my notes of the last few days, they’re a bit disjointed. It’s hard to do a log when there are so many things to do. Clean out the autoclave. Make sure all kinds of supplies are topped up. Remember to take my meds. Yuuko’s too busy to remind me, and she’s suffering because she can’t take hers while breastfeeding.

We’ve moved to Saitama while Yuuko is on leave. My mother’s sister has offered to help look after Masako while I’m away at work. My damn father is all over the place, fierce bastard of a retired general suddenly turned into soft grandfather guy. Madness.

Each day, I go to work and worry, worry, worry. My daughter is so beautiful. Another cherry blossom to protect. Nat arrives a few days later and brings Naomi with her. There’s a warm gleam in Nat’s different-coloured eyes that I’ve not see before. She likes being a godmother, she says. We have many other visitors over in the later part of September and early October. I didn’t realize we had so many friends.

October 2015:

You might be wondering what Kenji does at work now. Ha. This part has pseudonyms. And also distortions. You can’t say certain things about certain things. So I won’t. But I can say certain things about other things.

Sometimes you look at the duty roster and you don’t see what’s in plain sight. The initials marking our watch hours are a dead giveaway once you notice the pattern. My new posting has me doing day shift with ‘Keiko’ and ‘Nobuhiro’ in Room 1001, which is next to the night shift in Room 1002. We actually overlap duties by three hours each way; it’s an 18-hour shift, broken up between three people, two at a time.

Kei is a widely-travelled person with a sinister glare and great skill at visual interpretation. Nobu is big and broad, moves slowly and thinks about a lot of things all at once. I’m good with either of them, and they’re kind enough to let me be first in, first out, on almost every shift.

Night shift is handled by ‘Ryuichi’, ‘Soragochi’ and ‘Chieko’. Ryu is apparently an expert at digital traffic. Chi claims to be an art historian. But somehow I’ve not met Sora since I arrived on 1st October.

Apparently there’s a good reason Sora handles the night shift; she can’t stay awake in the daytime. That’s just weird. But it reminds me of something Naomi told me. So one day, I work late and handle changeover to Sora. Kei gives me a funny look, but I tell her I would like to meet our elusive colleague. She laughs, whispers something to Ryu.

He grins broadly. “Hey, Sora, Kenji wants to see you. He doesn’t believe you exist!”

From Room 1002 comes either a moan or a groan of complaint. I can’t tell, because it’s very muffled. Ryu winks at me, slips into the room, and hauls Sora out. I can’t believe it. I’ve actually met her before, although I won’t say where. Her hair’s still dyed some mermaid colour.

Sora stares at me, looks at Ryu, says, “Yep, it’s him. Good night.” Then she shambles back into the room and slams the door. The rubber seals make it more like a thud than a bang. Ryu looks apologetic. Kei looks confused. I guess I look surprised. But I have a job to do, I have to spend three hours handing over day watch stuff to the night watch.

Over the next few weeks, I try a bit harder to get to know Sora. Yuuko also knows quite a bit about her, from a long time back. My wife is an adorable database. She has so much stored up there. She even remembers who borrowed what book when… wait, that means she knows which books I… never mind.

November 2015:

Things are more settled now. There were so many interesting conversations in the last few months, but I didn’t have the time to take notes. But this month, it’s different. Something really cool is in the wind.

The first person I hear from is the woman I call the Fist.

“Hey dude, I’m going to be on national TV!”

“Hi, Miki!” I whisper into the phone. The baby’s being rocked to sleep after a feeding. Yuuko looks up, her eyes inquiring.

“Nat and Naomi have this really scary idea,” says my friend from Nagasaki. “They’ve got me into a panel discussion with Shizune Hakamichi about Japan’s economic future.”

My ears prick up. That’s Sora’s specialty, dreaming about the world and drawing up future scenarios. “You and Shizune? They must be crazy! All the salary-men will be drooling too much to pay attention to the serious shit. I, Kenji, will be watching too! But not drooling, I assure you!”

Yuuko grimaces at me, carefully shifts the baby and raises a finger to her lips. I move into the corridor outside, shut the door gently behind me.

Miki’s still laughing when I resume the conversation. I want to ask her about Sora, whom she certainly knows, but I realize I can’t do that. So I listen to her story and… well, it’s very intriguing.

December 2015:

The televised discussion in December is interesting indeed. Miki is introduced as a developmental economist from Nagasaki, while Shizune is introduced as a research economist from Chicago. I point out the two women on the screen to little Masako. “There, dear, that’s Aunty Miki and that’s Aunty Shizune.” Of course they aren’t really aunts, but this is how we introduce senior ladies to children.

My three-month-old daughter blows a bubble with her saliva and says, “Mi-mi-mi!” followed by “Ah-ne!” So clever, she is. I record all of it with my smartphone, while Yuuko looks indulgently at me being silly.

Then she says, “Those two don’t really know each other well, but ah… you can tell they take each other seriously. Did you say they were classmates? Very interesting people! I remember Shizune. She could be very loud!”

“Loud?” I ponder aloud.

“Her friend Misha used to make so much noise in the library when interpreting for her. I got so nervous! It would have irritated the other users!”

Masako makes a face at us on hearing that name. “Mi-mi-mi-mi!” she shrills. Then she smiles and pats me on the face. “Eeeeee…”

Yuuko laughs. “Yeah, your daddy hasn’t shaved. Naughty man…”

The discussion goes in a direction I seem to remember vaguely. Something about how Japan’s got to start driving global consumer opinion so that we make useful tech that invigorates the economy, especially in healthcare and biomedical sciences. Everyone is getting older, people are living longer, nobody wants to die.

I keep waiting for Miki to say something profane, but I think they’ve coached her to avoid that. Or maybe it’s on delayed telecast so they can censor her. Ha ha.

Then they get into quality of life, and Shizune’s interpreted words appear in the bar at the bottom of the screen: “You are not alone, and you are not strange. You are you, and everyone has damage. Be the better person. That’s what we learnt at Yamaku, no matter how much or how little we disagree.”

Yuuko and I are both staring at the screen. Miki nods a moment later, and replies: “If the whole world could believe that, things would be a lot better. It’s not just about economics.” And that’s the end of their segment.

In the morning, the world is different. Natsume’s gamble has paid off. Everyone wants to know more about the two economists, one short a hand, one unable to hear or speak. Yamaku’s alumni are now in the spotlight, for better or worse. Things are changing in our country, and I hope the future will be brighter for it.

Damn! What a great birthday present those feminists have given me!

part 2 | prev | next

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:49 am
by azumeow
Aaaaaaahhhhhh niice Bryth! I'm just casually wasting time, then -BOOM- new post. So of course I check it out and omg its suuuzuuuuuu!!!! :D

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 6:28 am
by YutoTheOrc
I too have caught the fact of Sora's true identity!
[quote='brythain']It must be love, they say love is blind. Could it be that I am losing my mind?[/quote]
I love myself a good rhyme in the morning!

Also I'm glad to see that my horrific suspicions were proved wrong(I think), no stillbirths! As always, loved the chapter. Made me wake up to a smile when I saw, look forward to reading more!

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 upd 20140901)

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:45 am
by brythain
azumeow wrote:Aaaaaaahhhhhh niice Bryth! I'm just casually wasting time, then -BOOM- new post. So of course I check it out and omg its suuuzuuuuuu!!!! :D
YutoTheOrc wrote:I too have caught the fact of Sora's true identity!
brythain wrote:It must be love, they say love is blind. Could it be that I am losing my mind?
I love myself a good rhyme in the morning!

Also I'm glad to see that my horrific suspicions were proved wrong(I think), no stillbirths! As always, loved the chapter. Made me wake up to a smile when I saw, look forward to reading more!
Sorry for the disjointed nature of this section; Kenji admits that he hadn't much time to take notes when he was running around helping to look after Masako. But I think there's a lot more story left in this most unreliable of my narrators, who is about to pick up an even more interesting editor… :) Thanks, as always, for being enthusiastic and appreciative readers!