At the open door he pauses. “Okay, thanks.” His eyes lock with mine, the way they did in his mirror’s reflection. For a moment, other words seem to hover on his lips, and then he decides not to say them. He’s been doing this lately, leaving me to wonder what he would possibly want to say to me. Perhaps some day he will tell me, although if it’s something I’d rather not hear, then better he stays silent.
“Get there safely,” I say to his lingering form. I have my own ritual of unsaid things, one of which is, “Please stay home, Jun. You don’t have to go to that place. I’ll take care of you.” But I don’t speak out loud. When I’ve said it in the past, he’s resented it, insisting he needs to do this. He wants to be somebody and make something of his life, according to his own words. Yet, if he saw himself at all through my eyes, even for a moment, he’d understand how much of a somebody he already is. I cherish him and love him. Worship him really—just by virtue of who he is. He wouldn’t be so driven to make something of his life because he’d know he’s already accomplished his ultimate goal.
If he saw that, then he’d also understand what his working in Kabukicho does to me, how it makes me worry so much. How protective I feel of him. Though Jun is a grown man of twenty-seven, to me there’s something so little and vulnerable about him, I can’t help the eerie feeling that snakes through me each night he leaves for work. Tonight it’s especially strong.
“I will, Tomo. See you later.”
One more flash of his silver-and-black clad figure and the door clicks shut behind him. I sigh, listening to his boot steps on the cement walkway until the sound fades. Alone in the apartment, I go and kneel in front of my parents’ photographs. Smoke from the incense curls delicately into the air in front of their faces and emits a trace of sandalwood, a scent that echoes how wistful I feel. I look at my mother’s face. I was only five when she died. I don’t remember much about her except seeing her smile while she made sure I ate and was clean. She never knew Jun as my father did.
I turn to Dad’s picture, a portrait of him in the uniform he wore before he was promoted to detective and started wearing a suit to work. In fact, this is how I remember him dressed around the time he added Jun to our family register as a son, the act which I’m sure saved Jun’s life. After Jun was abandoned by both his parents, knowing that someone cared so much about him as to make him a son was very healing to his heart. I knew that for sure when Jun stopped calling my father “Nakadai-san” and started calling him Dad.
So why does Jun still want to go off and get a place of his own? Why can’t he let himself understand how much he means to me so he’ll be happy? Since we met, we’ve been best friends. In spite of our different interests—I loved motorcycles and Jun was into fashion—for the longest time he seemed happy just to hang out with me and Dad. Until Dad was killed. That’s when things changed.
I ask my father the questions silently to his equally silent image. When Dad was alive he used to say that Jun’s demons still haunted him even though being a part of our family had helped to make him happier. Dad said everyone has deep, driving forces inside them that remained a mystery unless they took the time to understand them. But, he would add, it doesn’t mean that you can’t always care about Jun. Dad had learned so much about human nature in his line of work. If anyone was aware of the dark side of human beings, it was my father.
Back in my room, getting ready to shower, I also stare at the one photograph I keep on my chest of drawers. To me the image encapsulates the great happiness of my life—me and Jun and my dad during hanami. We’re sitting on our plastic sheet in the park not far from our apartment, under an enchanting canopy of cherry blossom trees. In front of us are scattered the empty bento boxes that had held our meals of rice and barbecued skewers of pork. Dad had been taking a picture of me and Jun when a passing couple had offered to take the picture for him so that he could be in it with his sons. That night after we got home, Dad told me and Jun of his decision to put Jun on the family register. I owe the fact that Jun hasn’t gotten into serious trouble to that one act of love from my father. However, Jun is still hosting, and nothing I’ve ever said to him makes him realize he can stop. I just hate thinking of him over there in Kabukicho. I know too much about that area of Tokyo from having a father who was a police officer. I wish Jun had gone to work in a fancy hotel, which is what he’d originally planned to do, but he’s so determined to make something of his life that my pleas sink, unnoticed like stones in a murky pond.
I stare a few more moments at the photograph before heading into the shower. From there, my evening unfolds as it always does. Supper—tonight, it’s nikujaga, a simple stew of meat and vegetables from last night—followed by a walk around the neighborhood, watching the kids tumble about on the complex’s monkey bars and swings. After checking on my motorcycle parked in its space, I change for bed and watch some TV before I fall asleep on the sofa. I want to wait up for Jun, even though tonight is Friday and any other regular guy would probably be out on a date or something social instead of passing the time until his friend gets home from work. I’ve often thought of getting some kind of work that would put us on the same schedule, but the job I have pays well and it’s our security should Jun ever come to his senses and give up hosting.
Then he’ll know he really doesn’t have to worry about money. Perhaps it’s all a fantasy in my head, but it keeps me going day after day.
Tonight, I’m in a twilight kind of sleep, the TV droning softly in the background, when the ring of my cell phone cuts through the haze. At first disoriented, I hold the phone up and see Jun’s name lighting up on the ID. The darkness outside tells me it’s the middle of the night, not a time when Jun would normally call.
Icy fingers rake through my chest. My sleepiness dispels as I press the button. “Jun, are you all right?” I don’t even bother to say a greeting I’m so alarmed.
“Is this Nakadai Tomohito?” The voice is female. Not Jun’s. My alarm escalates to terror.
“Yes. Where is Jun?”
She pauses. “My name is Michiko. I’m the mama-san of the bar where Jun works.” Her voice wavers. It’s a smoky-sounding voice that without the stress would sound confident.
“Something…has happened. Jun was…attacked. He’s being brought to the emergency room at Meiji Memorial. I found your name on his phone as the emergency contact.”
Oh my God. “I’m on my way.” I throw on my jeans jacket over the undershirt I’m already wearing. My pajama pants will have to do. I grab my wallet, keys and helmet, shove my feet into my loafers and fly out the door.