Localized from its original Japanese
His jaw hit the ground with a crack and stayed there. Nothing else he could do.
“We told you Mr. Sakurai–time and time and time again. If you can’t pay, we’ll make you pay.”
A swift kick into ribs.
Back alley Tokyo at night–trashbags and snack bars. Sakurai Shuu and three others.
His necktie wrapped around his head–a hand pulling him up by it. Shuu coughed.
“Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Shuu sputtered and said, “Please–for the love of–whatever you believe in. I’ll get you your money. I just need a little more time.”
Soft pats on his cheek. Between stinging sweaty eyes Shuu saw the wide sharp grins of the loan shark and his two buddies behind him.
“Hey. I get it man. Don’t think I don’t. But you know–this ain’t my house, it ain’t my rules. But you know whose house it is?”
The loan shark gestured for one of his buddies and they obliged–another kick into Shuu’s ribs. Shuu doubled over.
“I’ll let you take a guess Mr. Sakurai. What keeps the lights on in your shack you call your apartment? What takes you from there to the bars, what keeps you drinking yourself to a–come on stay with me here–what keeps you hopping from bar to bar, wobbling along the way? And tell me–what brought you to me after the tabs started adding up and what brings me to you here tonight?”
Shuu opened his mouth but he choked on his word. The loan shark gestured again–jaw-crack to concrete again.
All Shuu heard was “Check for his wallet,” and some shuffling.
More hands on him.
Into his pants and pockets. A phone and a wallet taken out.
“Nothing as in nothing. Motherfucker ain’t got shit on him except the clothes on his back and the smell that alcoholics have on them. You know, that smell.”
“Is that so?”
“Then that’s a shame.”
“You hear that Mr. Sakurai? A god–damn–shame!”
A kick for each emphasized syllable. A harsh cough each from Shuu.
“Well Mr. Sakurai, if that’s how it’s going to be–if that’s how it’s really going to be–then we’ve got this for you. Listen up. We’ve got for you a job.”
“A job you pathetic drunkard. We know how hard it’s been for you lately–shit, for everyone. But we’ll hook you up with something nice. It’s a job over at the sheet metal shop. And I’m not lying when I say it’s a good gig, because it is. In fact, we can take you over there right now and show you around. After all–says on the paperwork that you’ve been working there for at least a month.”
Shuu swallowed and found his throat dry.
“You’re late on the job Mr. Sakurai–we get it, it’s fine, but you know what? The boss gets that too. Lucky you huh? So what we’re going to do–what we’re going to do for you is–here, gentlemen.”
More hands on him again. Lifted and dragged.
“We’ll have you stay with us and we’ll clean you up so you can see the boss tomorrow morning bright and early. Simple stuff, sliding metal into the press, I mean anyone can do it. And with the insurance kicked in you could get up to–oh I don’t know–at least a lot per finger. So tomorrow just lop off what you don’t need and we’ll take it from there. Okay?”
Shuu balled up his hands and started fighting again.
“Hold him tight!”
There was laughter. There was strain and panic. Shuu wasn’t laughing.
A lackey on each arm–dragging him. The loan shark leading the way. The light out the alley to the main street brighter and brighter.
Shuu’s throat scraping together. He sounded weak but he managed a yelp like a puppy.
Then a sudden motion and his left hand was free.
The lackey hit a trashcan face-first–out like a light. The loan shark and remaining lackey startled and looked back–Shuu strained to look too.
They were framed by the neon lights of various advertisements. Three of them.
All three in outfits not unlike 1970’s sukeban gangs. All three with their faces obscured–a big mascot bear head, a mask with a completely blank facial expression, a standard medical mask and heart-shaped sunglasses. All three came equipped–boxing gloves, a bokken, and a phone held out like it was recording because it was, respectively.
The loan shark gave them a once-over and said, “What the fuck is this shit?”
The girl with the blank face looked at the girl with the heart-shaped sunglasses and asked, “Hey, you filming?”
“I am recording–is what I’m doing, more actually I’m streaming. When’s the last time anyone actually used film?”
“Shut up. Are you?”
The girl with the bear head said, “She just said she is.”
“I want to hear it from her.”
“Kumakuma just said that I am and I am–we are live by the way.”
“I’m sure and if you don’t do something we’re going to–we’re losing followers.”
The girl with the blank face reacted and said, “Shit!” and redirected her attention back to the men. She raised her bokken.
The assholes said nothing.
“We–and by we I mean us, the Vigilant Vigilantes and the tens of thousands of followers watching this right now–don’t at all take kindly to assholes being assholes. Because they’re assholes. So what we’re going to do–what we started our channel for–is to beat the shit out of assholes like you. And maybe go viral along the way.”
The loan shark said, “Oh yeah?”
“And what’s the fucking point of that?”
The girl with the blank face looked at the girl with the bear head–or Kumakuma–and the girl with heart-shaped sunglasses and said, “Did he not hear me?”
Kumakuma said, “I think he did.”
“What say you Heartbeat?”
“Doesn’t matter what I say–the comments are saying you should do something already.”
The bokken was straightened again.
“Um. I know this is the part where I’d say something slick but–I guess we’ll just beat you up now.”
Then they charged and caught the assholes on the backfoot.
Shuu was released and crawled away and only caught glimpses. He saw some action. A fist to a face and a swing and a miss and a phone camera watching all.
The loan shark threw a punch. It caught Kumakuma across her stitched cartoon nose and she staggered. The girl with the blank face swung her bokken and the loan shark fell back–into trash. Kumakuma caught her footing and moved in to box the remaining lackey’s face in–he staggered then fell back too.
The girl called Heartbeat said something Shuu didn’t catch but then heard from her a cheer.
The fight didn’t last long–it was sloppy and not choreographed. But the sukeban gang were still standing and the loan shark and lackeys were not.
Shuu on his butt with his back against a wall. He was breathing hard when the gang turned his attention on him.
The girl with the blank face said, “Everyone okay?”
Kumakuma said, “Fucking no–I think I broke my nose.”
“I think I broke my nose.”
“No you didn’t.”
“You really want to argue–ow fuck.”
“Guys–we’ve got hits coming out our eyeballs with this one.”
“My fucking nose.”
“Yes! And that’s how you do a stream! We got more where that came from soon, or we aren’t the Vigilant Vigilantes! Make sure to like and all that good stuff. Signing off!”
Heartbeat set her phone down and gave a thumbs up. The girl with the blank face cheered.
“Alright. Don’t be too loud or the cops will be right on our butts too.”
The gang started moving. They moved to Shuu. He shuddered.
He said, “Please don’t hurt me.”
Heartbeat said, “Why would we do that? We just saved your sorry ass.”
“Yeah. If anything you should be thanking us.”
“You–you saved me.”
“Exactly. Still waiting on that thank you.”
“My fucking nose is fucking broken–can we get a move on?”
Heartbeat looked at Shuu and said, “I suggest you get moving too.”
Shuu swallowed and blinked and shook his head and said, “How–why are you doing this?”
“Doing what? Saving you from not giving us a like and thumbs up for a job well done?”
“No–I mean–all that fighting and violence–you girls–you really did that.”
The girl with the blank face leaned in and stared Shuu right in the eyes. She said, “Hmph. I guess my response would be something like Picasso when asked about Guernica–no, you did that!”
Then Kumakuma pushed her shoulder and rushed. The gang started to peel out and left Sakurai Shuu behind.
We will follow the gang now.
They moved deeper through the alley and found their way over a fence and through a clearing and into an abandoned parking garage nearby. They took stairs up to a high level and stayed in a corner in the shadows. They had Heartbeat’s phone light lead the way.
“I think–I think we’re–yeah. We’re in the clear.”
“Fuck you guys I’m taking this fucking thing off.”
Boxing gloves tossed off–hands on either side of the bear head. With a firm motion it slid off–the blood made it easy.
Nanase gasped a deep gasp–then coughed out blood. She tossed the mascot bear head away and let her fingers float right above her nose.
Yuri took off her heart-shaped sunglasses and checked Nanase and said, “You’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be–ow. I’ll be fine after I get this looked at–which is going to be never basically.”
“Well. Let’s take a look at the numbers and see if we got any more of that delicious ad revenue.”
“Sure Yuri, let’s.”
Yuri moved her attention to her phone and tapped through it. Satomi moved to a concrete pillar and bent down and pulled into the light a case more suited for something like a bass guitar. She popped the case open and set her bokken and blank face mask inside.
Nanase raised her head and held a hand out. Satomi found a packet of tissues from her case and passed them to her. Nanase stuffed some tissues into her nostrils and left them there.
Satomi said, “Nana.”
“You gonna be okay?”
“It’s a fucked up nose–I didn’t lose a hand or leg.”
“No, like–your mom’s going to be okay with you looking like that?”
“She won’t but what am I going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. Something?”
“If I had time I would but I don’t so I won’t. Yuri.”
“How’re we looking?”
“We are looking–awesome actually.”
“Oh yeah. Couple more like these and we’ll finally be able to pay these fucking things off.”
Satomi said, “Who let furisode rentals become so expensive anyway?”
Nanase said, “The market. So shut up and dance.”
Yuri said, “Make sure you stream it while you’re at it.”
For a short beat they all worked on their individuals selves.
Then Satomi said, “Yup. We’re all just making spectacles of ourselves. Yuri–we can split the cuts later. For now we just have to split.”
“Sure thing comrade.”
Yuri set her phone down and got to packing and so did Satomi.
Satomi said to Narase, “You sure you,” and Nanase interrupted and said, “Not like I have any other choice.”
She laughed and left Nanase alone and walked. She kissed Yuri in passing and then ran down some steps and was gone.
Yuri waved a peace sign to Nanase and went in the other direction. Nanase waved back and wiped blood on her sleeve and ditched the spot just like that.
The park–pinked by the cherry blossoms. Nanase sat at a bench and watched the people pass. The old and the young and some her age.
She wore her furisode. She wore her zōri sandals. She wore a bandage over her nose that made her sound stuffed and look tough.
A snap of a polaroid. A film sliding out.
Nanase turned and groaned.
Her mother took the film and shook it and smiled. Her name was Shiori.
“If you think I wasn’t going to take some photos–you are sorely mistaken.”
“Could have told me you know–I don’t–I don’t like being caught at a bad time.”
Shiori said, “Those are the best moments,” and took another photo.
Nanase growled and put distance between her and her mother as she rounded the bench and sat down.
“Can you not?”
“Can I not what?”
“Can you not take so many photos of me?”
“You only turn twenty and celebrate your coming of age once. And it’s not everyday you do it with a nose like that.”
Nanase frowned and looked away. She scrunched up her face and then flinched.
Shiori looked at the new film and inspected and smiled again and set it and the camera away. She watched the children run and play around her.
Nanase glanced at her mother and said, “Where’s Dad?”
“That bandage is such an eyesore.”
“I already said I–sorry.”
“I know, I know. I’m just saying. Your father is on his way back home to start prepping your favorite.”
“Can’t be that hard to fry some chicken and make some miso soup.”
“No but he wants to make it hard so making it hard is what he’s going to do.”
Nanase breathed and then chuckled a little.
Shiori reached beside her and passed to Nanase a small can of PREMIUM BOSS BLACK COFFEE and said, “Here by the way.”
Nanase took it and said, “Right. Thanks.”
“Want to walk?”
So they got up and did just that.
The park path winded around and the petals of the cherry blossoms were at their feet and in the wind and smelled of sunlight. The can was cold in Nanase’s hand and she did not open it.
Shiori said, “Weather’s nice.”
“I never get tired of the color.”
“Your friends. How are they?”
“Yeah. I mean–yeah. Yuri and Satomi were there because of course they were. They were great. It was great. The ceremony–we all had a great time.”
Shiori said, “Great,” and smiled again.
“If you’re hard-pressed to come up with stuff to talk about you don’t–you know–have to talk about stuff. Just walking is nice too.”
“Oh it is. But can you blame me?”
Nanase looked at her mother. She was shorter, she had lines on her face, she held her shoulders straight and head high.
Then Nanase said, “No. Guess I can’t.”
They walked for a while longer. Hold on this visual for a beat.
The path began to wind toward a shrine. Old and small and modest. Shiori noted it among the trees and said, “Nana.”
“I want to take your picture there.”
“No. Come on. We’re going.”
Nanase groaned but followed her mother there.
They reached the shrine. There was another mother and child there praying. They waited. Then they left and Nanase and Shiori had their turn.
“More to your left.”
“You mean your left. I’m blocking the thing.”
“Just do it.”
“Are you done?”
“That was a grimace.”
“It hurts to smile!”
Then Shiori said, “That’s life!”
It made Nanase pause and she thought about that. Then for her mother she did smile.
Nanase hurried out of the camera’s view and toward her mother–Shiori shaking the latest photograph.
Shiori watched as the picture developed for a bit and a bit longer. Then she said, “Hard to believe you’re already an adult now.”
“I’m right here Ma.”
Shiori looked from the picture to her and said nothing–she just looked.
Nanase didn’t maintain eye contact for long–she squirmed. She saw another parent walking with their child in hand.
She said, “Actually.”
“I wanted–I’ve always–just something of a um–a curiosity of mine.”
“I really don’t know how to put it.”
“Well–put it how you can and we can work it out from there.”
Nanase swallowed and considered her words and then said, “I want you to tell me about her,” and then paused and then said, “Please.”
Shiori blinked and looked away. She stared at the shrine.
The wind picked up around them.
Shiori said, “Her.”
“My–my older sister.”
“You’re older than she ever would have been. Taller too.”
“Okay. What do you want to know?”
“For starters. What really happened to her?”
“I really don’t know. I wish I could tell you.”
“Okay. What was she like?”
Shiori said, “She–I–your,” and then she sighed.
Nanase said, “Never mind.”
“It’s not. No. It’s not.”
Shiori needed to take her time and so she did. She breathed.
“I can tell you this. You’re a lot like her–or she was a lot like you. You’re both stubborn and reckless and you never listen when I tell you things the first time and you both give me the exact same kind of headaches.”
“Love you too Ma.”
“But you’re both so bright. Two lights of my life and you both burn differently. Words fail me here but just know that it’s true and that I mean it when I say it.”
“But the glow–the glow is warm all the same.”
No words came to Nanase so she said nothing. She looked at the shrine and heard the branches bristle and smelled the wind and felt the cold coffee can between her fingers.
Shiori blinked and touched at her face. She wiped her fingers on her light sweater.
“It’s been so long. So long. I kept photos but when I close my eyes to think about her I can’t keep her face in my head and I have to open my eyes and look at them again to right myself. It’s been so long now.”
“This might be a weird–do you–uh–do you love her more than me?”
Shiori looked at her daughter.
“Do I what?”
Her daughter looked away and said, “Wait. Sorry. I didn’t say that. That is a weird question. Pretend I didn’t–yeah.”
Shiori checked around her and saw another couple coming for pictures at the shrine. They stepped aside and refuged to the shade of a tree.
Then Shiori said, “That–you’re an adult now. What you just asked was an adult question and I will give you an adult answer. And the answer is I love you more.”
“I loved–love you both the same. But I didn’t give myself the chance to give her the love she needed, and that fault is mine and mine alone. It was my fault. I wasn’t ready to be a mother when I had her–I was too scared or I was too much of a coward and didn’t do what I was supposed to do and I’m sure it caused her as much grief as it does for me now and the years since. And in life you regret the things you don’t do. I regret not giving myself the chance to love her as much as you. That will always weigh heavy on me. Always.”
Shiori’s voice cracked at that last word and Nanase almost coughed from the growing lump in her throat.
“But–I think–it was a battle I had to lose. Destined to. Because when I had you I was twice scared–but I promised myself I wouldn’t be twice the coward. I would be the mother you both deserve. For you Nanase. And for you Alexis.”
Nanase looked down and her nose hurt when it sniffled. She clenched her jaw and that hurt too.
Shiori said, “I just hope I lived up to that promise.”
Nanase said, “With words like that? Doubly so.”
“But with the trouble you get into? Who can say for sure?”
They both had a soft laugh as soft as the birds chirping and the petals touching ground.
Nanase opened the can of coffee and began to drink it.
“It’s black coffee.”
“Yeah but it’s the good kind of bitter. Guess I am an adult now.”
“You still have a lot of growing up to do.”
“You say you know but you don’t.”
Nanase finished her drink and held onto the can.
“I miss her.”
“I never met her but it just feels like there’s something there that’s missing and I can’t find the thing that can fix it and it sucks.”
“If she–like if she came back, right now and right here, as she was–would you have anything to say to her?”
Shiori opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by a father and his son. They asked if the mother and the daughter wanted to have their picture taken and the mother looked at the daughter and they both nodded. The mother passed her camera to him and the camera was lined with light sweat.
They moved toward the shrine. The mother and the daughter standing together in front of the shrine. The camera pointed at them.
They both smiled. It hurt but they both smiled.
Then Shiori and Nanase moved to get the camera back. The photo in her hand. Shiori shook it. The father and son still there.
Shiori looked at the camera and saw her daughters in the lens and what she had to say was, “Thank you very much.”