Sato blinks as the sunlight streams through the blinds on the window, and sensing his discomfort a student gets up to help close them before returning to his seat on the floor.
“It’s been” and he pauses thinking about what he can say “Its been about a year since I left the military, a year since a learnt of my boyfriends death. That day won’t leave me alone and it stalks me like a ghost who can’t find its way to the next life”.
Looking around the class he sees expectant faces staring up at him and he breathes a sigh of relief. Shifting on his seat slightly he start to relax knowing that the students are not as scary as he thought they were and a smile momentarily escapes. All of the students look really smart in their bakogan uniforms perfectly neat and tidy something he could not get right himself when he was young.
“When I was at school, the teachers always told me off for being late or not tucking in my shirt correctly. Sato stand up straight when walking they said. Don’t shout in the hallways Sato. I didn’t really understand why I had to do these things and always thought that they were picking on me for some unknown reason. All I wanted to do was rebel against their conformity, their rules and regulations.”
A flood of memories came back to him while he was talking but thought that maybe this wasn’t the right time to talk about them.”I wasn’t sure what I would do once I left school. My grades were average at best and I didn’t seem to be good at anything imparticular.” He said looking down into his hands and rubbed them together hoping what he was saying wasn’t too embarrassing to those listening.
Thrusting up her hand a student requests to ask a question. “Was it hard to be in the army when the ‘Uprising’ occurred? and how did you feel afterwards?” her voice was calm and steady as she put down her arm and waited for a reply.
“Humm.. Well it was difficult for all of us the population had grown past the capacity for us to care for everyone. The police were no longer keeping the peace but trying to enforce rule to stop society falling apart…. and we had to do our job however hard it was for us to do… I think you know what happened after that and how many list their lives to the riots in the city’s. The world went mad for a time and we just had to go with the flow and do the best that we could. That was our reality day to day and we did the best we could.” Feeling a bit uncomfortable with his own reply Sato decides to wait for another question.
A young lad looks around and then puts up his hand. “Did you loose your family? Was there anyone you miss now that isn’t here?” His brown eyes look bright and full of hope and Sato remembers that look from his youth.
“Well… I lost my family and someone very close to me. He… “ and he stutters slightly thinking back to another time. “He was my lover and closest friend… I lost him when he got caught in a crowd stampede and got thrown off an overpass.. We were… we were meant to meet that day for lunch and he was coming to see me.” As he pauses for thought the now sketchy memory of that day comes to him and he shudders.
Ï’m.. I’,m sorry.” And they bow to show respect for the lost.
The teacher gets up off the side of the window ledge ” I think that is where we should leave it for today class. Let’s thank Sato san for coming in today” and he starts to clap and the rest of the class continues on.
” Students I want everyone to write an account of what you have learned today and hand it in by tuesday next week. Think about what our guest today has said and how it affects our life today.” And he opens the door for the class to depart for their next class.
“Thank you Sato, I know the subject is hard for you and I appreciate your help in passing on your experiences to the students.” And he bows deeply leaving him in a now empty room.
Memories are so hard to remember when you have lost someone close. His thoughts seemed to fade in and out with little snippets coming through one at a time. I was trying to decide at the time where we should go for dinner, if it should be the ramen restaurant or the pancake and ice cream shop. Ryio loved chocolate chip flavour and he could almost taste the crunchy chocolate pieces. We would walk along the path past the clothing shops and the dog that always barked at us from inside one of the alleyways and we would talk about whether cats or dogs were best.. Such a trivial conversation but one that was ours alone, together. And then the bell rang out across the school and he sharply pulled out of his thoughts.
Picking up his coat he decides that dwelling on the past isn’t going to do him any good. Look forward or to the here and now is what I was told by the priests of the local temple. Maybe it’s time for me to visit he thought as he crossed the school grounds and headed out towards the gate. I have a few hours now before I’m back on duty so I could go for a walk via the park and onto the temple.
As the concrete gave way to a line of cherry blossom trees he concentrates on the gates at the end where he knows he can relax away from crowds and able to get some space to breath. The black gates seem to allow him to pass from one world to another just like the threshold of heaven and hell he ponders to himself. As he reaches his goal he turns slightly and looks back down the road. How much more of this existence can I take, the world is surely cruel . Maybe I’m treading over the line between good and evil. The inequality and suffering of the world to the peace of the afterlife.
The sunlight was streaming through the leaves making them glow with a spectrum of colours that seemed almost alien and he though at least today I Have something to be grateful for. As he heads for the lake at the end of the park his memories came back with the colour of red blood on the paths and hand rails and he shakes his head trying to forget and just concentrate on where he is now.
As he arrived the priest was clearing leaves from the front of the shrine and greeted him with a bow and then a warm hug wrapping his arms around him.
” It’s been ages since you came to see me. I would say about eight months now so why so long?” The priests face was half serious and half joking as he held his shoulders. Not sure as what to say Sato said nothing.
” Well what ever the reason I would say that it’s a good thing to see you. Lets not waste this time come in and I will make you a cup of tea and you can tell me all about what you have been up to.” His smile breaks the tense silence and they both walk up the steps past the other priests who are gently reciting chants to the many gods and deities.
The inside of the shrine was painted with brightly colored anamorphic creatures on the ceiling and on cloth paintings on the walls.
” I wonder what these represent in today’s society Tom?” He asks in an almost rhetorical way and sits down at the low table and crosses his legs.
” They aren’t scary to people who are living today but at the time they were something magical, something to revere and wonder at. ” and he takes the ceramic cup freshly filled with the tea.
” But magic and folk law is still such a big part of our society, don’t you think?” And he pours himself a cup of tea.
” Though you might like this one as its got special herbs in to help with your throat and cough.”
Sato looks at the water in the cup and takes another sip.” How did you know I had a bad throat. I Don’t think I mentioned it to you? “
” Ahh well I had a dream about you the other night and well, it wasn’t that sort of dream so don’t worry. You were in bed and kept on coughing really badly and it seemed like you were having a bad dream, and then I woke up. I decided on the tea this morning as an after thought. Maybe I remembered the dream from last night. ” and he wags his finger in front of Sato.
” So now do you believe in magic and things we can’t understand?”
” We have been friends for so long, I suppose I can’t say it’s not totally without possibility.” And he smiles over the rim of the cup.
” Well then why don’t you pull a sicky and you can stay here tonight? I’m sure you could do with a rest right now, or am I wrong?” Tom continued while pulling a forlorn face.
” Now how could I refuse those puppy eyes, I have always had a soft spot for you Tom.” And he sighs slumping back on the mat to stare at the ceiling above.
” Let me phone in to your work for you and tell them where you are.” And Tom flips open his phone and walks to the back of the room.
* I sure I could do with a rest he thought closing his eyes trying to remember the shapes of the different monsters on the paintings above. As he relaxes his body he loses sense of time and slips into a dream.
I can see my breath but I can’t scene where I am.
It’s so dark in here but I’m not alone.
Who is there?
Moving forward he stumbles and trips over something unseen. Grabbing he finds grip on some fabric and with the weight of his momentum pulls them down revealing a dull red and orange glow from the window behind.
Mere meters from where he fell he begins to see an outline of a hospital bed and instruments lined up beside it.
Pulling himself up he regains his balance and walks over desperate to find out what he can’t say out loud.
As he touches the soft blankets he feels like he has experienced this before when he was hurt in the riots from his past. Squinting into the darkness he can see a figure laying on the bed before him and moves to get a better look. As the light starts to fall over his face he can see the features of his lost partner.
Wishing to hold him again he goes to touch his face and then a silent blackness rises from under the blankets covering the body with a snake like movement. He steps back and his partner’s eyes open but the normal colour is drained and only a dark blackness looks back at him.
What is this why am I being tormented by a ghost of my past. Gathering his emotions together he gently kisses his forehead and wishes that he could do more like when they were together in the past.
A scream escapes his partners lips and Sato wakes up with a start unable to resist the urge to scream in answer to Ryio’s call.
As his breathing starts returning to normal he realises that he is covered in sweat and the slight breeze from the garden caused a chill on his skin.
“Ugh. What was that about I can’t even get a good nights sleep in a place of serenity.” He said lifting his hand to wipe his face.
Pushing the covers off the futon he steps off and pulls on a kimono and heads towards the garden for some fresh air and to calm down.
The chill and sweet smell of the ferns growing fills his senses and he relaxes leaning up against the porch area the blue moonlight showing up his features as he turns his head to see his friend coming around the corner towards him.
” I thought I heard you wake up. Bad dream? ” he said. ” and do you know how heavy you are? I think you need to visit the gym a bit more.” And he chuckles to himself.
” Maybe you’re right Tom, I need to let go and live in the here and now. ” and he looks down at the floor resisting the urge to look his friend in the eyes.
” I had that dream again. “
” Ryio ? It was him?”
” Yeh, its like something was left unsaid and he is making me remember that he is still here. “
” Haunting you eh?” And he puts up his finger like he has remembered something.
” You remember that couple who lost their son in a car crash the other year?” And he goes to an ornately painted cabinet in the corner of the porch.
” I have been asked not to tell anyone about this but the parents asked me to write down a log of the things they remembered about their son for them and lock it in this cabinet.” And blowing off the dust he wipes the cover and opens the cover to reveal a brightly coloured illustrative pages.
” After I wrote down the words they wanted I passed it to another priest who drew the images while in a trace apparently he can contact the dead and record the memories on the page.” And he sighs.
” I can write you one too if you like? Though I can’t really say if it will help or not. ” and he smiles and holds Sato’s shoulder before pausing and then returns to his room.
” I will start on it tomorrow for you Sato. ” he calls out and shuts the sliding door.
As Sato opened his eyes he adjusts to the unusual surroundings and yawns deeply before throwing off the covers and slips into his spare workout clothes he keeps in the side cabinet just for this situation.
Jumping down off the steps in front of the shrine he waves in passing to the other priests cleaning the paths and turns on his music player and selects an atmospheric set of tracks.
The sun was still only just starting to peak over the buildings in the distance and was streaming through the trees as he jogs along the path by the edge of the park, following the river as it winds through each section.
The air was still warming and he was conscious that he better not push himself too hard or he will get too out of breath. He wasn’t in the police anymore and no longer needed to tire himself out he thought and he wasn’t getting any younger.
Reaching the main lake he stops to take a break and watches as a stream of people start to walk past on their way to work, bags and briefcases juggling cups of coffee trying to catch a sip as they move briskly on. As one went past he caught himself staring back at a face he thought was Ryio and in an instant had caught up to him and spun them around.
“What are you doing?” The man shouted back and drops his coffee on the path.
“Damn it you’re going to make me late if you carry on like that.” But it wasn’t him and he looked nothing like Ryio.
” I’m …. I’m sorry” he said bowing apologising profusely.
” I don’t know what overcame me, I just… ” And with that the stranger turns around and walks quickly towards the other end of the park and he watches as he disappears through the gates.
* I must be going mad he thinks back to himself before turning back on the music and resumes his jogging.
As the music plays he starts to remember fragments of his past and thinks back to when he wasn’t alone in the park and could run along side Ryio on a sunday, the sound of the other people enjoying themselves and the calm soothing water rippling by the banks of the river.
And then they were there standing in front of them right in the was as if to say stop what you’re doing I’m here. As he slowed down and came closer the man in a dark grey coak reached out to grab his hand and pulls him close.
” I understand that you are looking to speak to the dead? he said looking slightly cautious.
” I must… warn you that it won’t be plain sailing and there may some unpleasant memories from your past. ” he continues releasing his tight grip.
” But don’t let that put you off, shall we meet in a weeks time at the temple?”
Sato nods in response still a little dizzy from his run.
” Then that’s settled, please make sure that Tom brings the book of dreams with him.” and as he turned around he talks to his assistant and disappears into the crowd.
Over the next week Sato keeps himself busy with work and cleaning the house something that he never enjoyed much anyway but helped to keep his mind off the upcoming event. Each night he awoke in the night unable to remember the dream he had obviously just had, but could not throw off the feeling it was something important.
So when the day came he was to visit he looked a state not being able to keep it together quite enough not to seem anxious.
Tom greeted him as he climbed the steps to the shrine and throw his arms around and guided him into the main shrine area by the statutes and sat him down on the floor.
” The priest will be here soon and I have the book ready so you have nothing to worry about Sato. ” and he smiled back at his friend before joining him on a seat beside him.
The waft of incense got stronger and Sato closed his eyes trying to relax and took some deep breaths to calm his nerves. Everything went quiet for quite some time and he started to loose sense of how long he had been sitting there, the sounds of the day falling away as he entered a state of meditation.
” Sato…. Sato it’s me Tom… Do you remember anything about the last two hours? Sato…” an urgent voice came through the quiet and he woke with a start sitting back holding out his arms to steady himself.
” Tom, It’s over? ” he asked puzzled by the lack of his memory.
” Its been over for some time but we could not get you to come around it was if you wanted to hold onto your meditation in some way.” and he looked at Sato’s eyes to make sure he wasn’t dehydrated or unwell. ” Quite frankly this has never happened before but despite that it was positive for you. He explained as snuffed out the incense burners on the altar in front of them.
“I can’t seem to remember anything at all only the darkness, I suppose that’s a good thing?” and he chuckled slightly apprehensive of what he would find out.
” Well the priest had a look at the book and he said that the memories seemed fresh as if they were only just happened yesterday. He also said and I’m not sure how to tell you this but…. he said that Ryio isn’t dead.” Tom could see a puzzled look on his friends face obviously hurt that the priest could have said such a thing.
” Let me get you a robe so you can have some time in the hot spring and think about what you have heard.” he suggests and pulls out one from the cabinet at the back of the room. As Sato get up from the floor he pauses to think about what he was told.
” Tom how can he say that? Ryio is dead and I can’t bring him back. ” and he takes the robe from Tom and walks towards the spa area. Taking off his clothes Sato sinks into the warm waters and leans against a large rock by the side of the hot spring. The water was quite hot and made him feel sleepy again. Tom enters the water and sits opposite him and closes his eyes.
” Tom,” Sato asked “Umm”
” I buried Ryio long ago, in the ground. He is dead to me now or so I thought.” and he splashes his face to wash off the sweat.
” We buried an empty coffin Sato. We may have let go of our emotions that day but his body was never found. The police report was incomplete and many of the so called witnesses disappeared. ” and he sunk down further in the water letting it wash over his shoulders.
” You can’t be telling me that he is alive because you know how hard it is not to think about him every day. I look at the plants on the window sill and its a reminder. I look at the poster he got me for my birthday and it brings it all back.”
Looking over to his friend he asks ” Will it get better? WIll I ever be able to let go?”
Wiping his face he sighs and replies ” Did you ever let go? really…. truly? and are you ready to do that?”
A puzzled look came over Sato’s face and he furrowed his brow.
” Do you think he is actually dead Sato? or are you just holding on to the past.” and he rises out of the water and steps back onto the side pulling on his robe.
” Stay for as long as you like. You can have one of the guest room three tonight so make yourself at home. I have to get ready for the service tonight so I will leave the book in the room for you.”
” Tom,” he calls out ” thank you for understanding.” and slips back down into the water. What did he mean about Ryio still being alive? he pondered. But how could that be the case? I know Tom would never say anything if he did not believe it himself.
Feeling the heat of the water getting too much he stands up grabs his robe and heads off the the room allocated to him.
As the screen door slid open he could see that his friend had thought of everything and fresh drinks had been taken care of and a new TV had been set up on the wall opposite.
Neatly laundered towels lay on the bed and picking one up Sato dried off his hair rubbing it with one hand as he turned on the TV with the controller. The afternoon news for Tokyo flickered into life and Sato let himself fall down onto the comfy bed.
” In other news the government has had to issue an apology for the series of mistakes it made dealing with rioters in the uprising years ago. Minister Aoba Sinware said that shortcomings in the recording of incidents could be seen as a way to cover up deaths resulting in inaccurate reports of the numbers involved. “
” Lets move now to the weather report for your area of ……” and switching off the TV he yawns and rolls over closing his eyes.
Not able to clear his mind he thinks back to when he first joined the police force and the close friends he made and wonders why he still keeps going without Ryio to come home to. Forcing himself to calm his breathing he relaxes more and finds that he is more tired than he thought before drifting off to sleep.
Outside the crickets sang their song and the light from outside started to shine through the shutters. Feeling refreshed for the first time in many months Sato gets up and opens the shutters to reveal a new day just yards outside the shrine.
More office workers hurry through following the path that snakes through the park and laughter comes from groups of students on their way to high school. A blue tailed bird lands on the path in front of him and searches for scraps of food left from peoples lunches from the day before.
Hearing the door slide open behind him Sato turns around to see his friend behind him. “I hope you know what time it is because I’m sure you have a shift today at the police station.” and he taps his watch with his finger. A realisation crosses his face and gathering his things together he quickly exits the room and heads out towards his place of work.
Ugh I’m so hungry today and I have no time for breakfast he thinks crossing the main road and turning into the entrance flinging the door open and rushes up the steps to his office on the first floor.
“ahh nice to see you” Sato the commissioner |said and not late for once I see”.
“So listen up everyone, today we will be calling the families of the missing people outlined in the report on the news yesterday. I want total confidentiality when dealing with this as the families will be obviously upset and quite angry about the previous mess up. ” sternly looking at the room he moves his stare towards Sato.
“Sato you’re with me on this one so see me in my office in five minutes.” and with a slam the door shut behind him and the room returned to its normal rowdy atmosphere.
Spinning round his chair Sato sits down and leans back before his eyes catch notice of the bento box left on his desk.
Picking up the wooden box he notices a note underneath and folds it open.
“Don’t spend all day worrying, thought you might like a propper meal. Tom.”
A smile escaped his lips for just a moment and he chuckled to himself remembering back when they were at school and Tom stopped the bullies from stealing his lunch.
Gathering his paperwork from the desk he passes it to a colleague as he opened the door to the boss’s office and peeked his head inside.
“A time when life was a bit more simpler don’t you think Sato?”
” Sir? “
” You looked like you were in deep thought just then. It usually means you are thinking about the old days. Am I right?” he said indicating that Sato should sit down and he perched himself on the desk.
” Why not try out my old chair Sato? It’s a bit worn but I thought that maybe it was time for you to take over and for me to retire.” and he sighs deeply.
” I think.. I think this will be my last case Sato and I want you to think about taking on my old position. I know you are more than capable of doing it. My wife keeps on going on about my health and she is probably right for once.” and he passes his badge to Sato. ” Think about it today and give me your answer by the end of the week, and in the meantime let’s go see an old lady about her missing son.”
As he picks up his coat off the stand he pats Sato on the shoulder and both men head out of the office and down to the car park .
The lift quietly descended and as they got out it jammed the doors and Sato had to force it open. ” Your really going to miss that aren’t you boss?” he asked ” Is their anything else you will miss about the force?” Sato continued.
“Well now that you mention it” and he passes the keys to the car to Sato. ” This little lovely will definitely be missed. I was hoping they would give it to me as a leaving present but the force wont let it go just . Unlike me still has a few years left it.
The boss’s car was legendary and as they rounded the corner he could see why. Only catching glimpses of it at previous jobs everyone wanted to drive it and it was never in the parking bay for long.
“Is this the TE27 everyone in the office keeps talking about” Sato asked as he swung open the door and sat down in the re upholstered leather seats.
As his boss get in the other side and buckles up he passes him the address for the person they are going to visit and something seems to bother him with the name as he turns on the engine.
The minutes pass and the two sit in silence Sato concentrating on the road and the boss lost in thought.
“Sato, I.. I don’t know how to tell you this but the person we are going to see is Ms Maki. I thought it best if we both went as I didn’t want your private life in full display on the reports back at the office.”
As his boss turned to look over at him Sato glanced back “ok, its fine. I knew something bothered me about that name but I didnt want to think about it.” and he smiled slightly. “Guess I didn’t want to remember.”
The busy roads of the city gave way to small winding hilltop ones that snaked through banks of trees that looked like they had been there for hundreds of years. “I remember the way from here. Just follow the road to the right just passed the small shrine, Its the one with the black wooden door so pull up on the side here.” his boss pointed out and they drew slowly to a stop.
The house looked quite different from most of the other houses around and had a western feel to it with arched windows and stained glass with birds on. Even with these colourful aspects to it the house lacked feeling and had a cold dread about it.
Shivering from the cold he tries to push his worries aside and think logically about what he was about to do. The person that brought Ryio up as a child was going to be in front of him and he could ask anything he wished. So many questions but could he expect and answer from someone who rejected their own son?
As Sato looked up the path he remembered a few snippets of information Ryio had told him about his family, none of them good and some quite disturbing.
Sato recalled the conversation he had when Ryio told him about getting shipped off to see a psychiatrist when he came to tell his family that he was attracted to men and not women.
It had all of the normal cliches, like: it’s a phase and , it will pass, and how gay people must live sad lonely lives and never achieve anything including carrying on the family name, step up and move to the next level his mother would say, like it was the only option and the right thing to do.
Of course Ryio was stubborn and would not change his mind and his heated arguments with his parents would raise the tension in the house to almost unbearable levels. Thinking back to one situation Sato remembered holding Ryio in his arms as he cried uncontrollably in their room. Only just managing to talk between the tears he told Sato how the local builder a friend of the family had said when he was aged 13, that people who live that way end up dead in a ditch or disappear never to be found again and who were the worst dregs of society. Even now as an adult the mental torture from his parents still lingered and would not dissipate.
The feelings of Ryio’s self loathing and hate were evident to Sato, although he was no longer there the feelings remained with him and as he moved up the path to the house he felt unsure how he would respond to her inevitable arguments.
The door looked oppressive as the clouds gathered above blocking out any warmth and clarity of vision and then it opened before he had time to knock.
A short woman opened the door hunched up and carrying a wooden stick for support that looked almost as gnarled as her face.
“I … I watched you from the window, I have been expecting that you would come soon to ask me questions about my son. You better come in” and she walked off beckoning him to follow.
Closing the door behind him he takes off his shoes and coat and follows after towards the kitchen.
“Sit there..” and she points to where Ryio used to sit for dinner to eat his favourite ramen dish with potato, fish and mushrooms.
As he sat down on the chair he tried to clear his mind of the memories but it was so intense like he still had something holding on that wasn’t letting go.
He watched as the now older mother stood at the sink and started to wash the dishes.
Slowly she begins to hum a tune (Kojo no Tsuki) and mouths the words until she felt confident enough. “ Mukashi no hikari Ima izuko. Aki jinei no shimo no iro. Nakiyuku kari no kazu misete..” and the words trailed off letting the pots slip back into the water.
“How can you say…” she said and then turned around “how can you say you loved him?” her face showing a grimace that had no sign of compassion.
She starts to scrub the dishes again but as time passes she seems no further forward with getting them clean.
“He never talked about it..The fact that he was in a relationship with you and he didn’t tell us says it all.” Letting the dishes slip from her hand she stedies herself on the edge of the sink.
“Why did he not tell us? We gave him everything he wanted, a good school, extra tutoring, clothes, money. Why did he have to turn out .. That way?” picking up a knife in her hand she spins around, face red with anger.
“Your a policeman so you must have seen many of these deviants before in your line of work? Thats what you see right? It’s never a happy ending always so much pain and unhappiness” Glancing down she seems to be scared of looking him in the eye. “It’s a shame but he is gone now. I did warn him that his choices were going to be his undoing, but he would not listen.” Slumping down her shoulders she walks slowly over to the sink.
” I think its too late for him and too late for me. Its just another story you see on the news, another police report on a missing person. I think… I think its time you left this house… Go catch your villains and save those homeless people instead… Don’t waste time stirring up the past.