WARNING: Adult language and themes
Sagramore’s right foot tapped the floor to the beat. His arms were crossed, his back leaned against the metro station wall. He had been listening to Bloc Party on shuffle since he left home. Four had really been growing on him. Eyes closed, he didn’t bother looking down at his watch. Sagramore knew it was well past 15:00. It must have been at least 5 after. Punctuality was an underappreciated trait in Japan, judging by his circle of friends, anyway. A hand tugged at his elbow; he opened his eyes.
Nana looked up at him, expectantly, breathing heavily, as if she had just finished running a marathon. She spoke, but Brit rock poured forth from her lips. Sagramore pulled the earbuds out.
“Sorry I’m late.”
Of course, in Japanese she literally said, “I made you wait.” It’s not even an apology, which had always bugged Sagramore. Anyway, idioms are what they are. Nana grabbed his right hand, and led him away from the wall.
“Come on, my dad is very impatient.”
“Whoa now, you’re the one who was late. Don’t shif—wait.”
She turned, and looked directly at Sagramore. The right edge of her mouth curled into a smile that would have been perfectly innocent, if it weren’t wholly mischievous. Her eyes were large, unmarred by any red veins, two giant spheres to which the rest of her face clung.
“Umm…you didn’t tell me anything about your dad today.”
“Of course not. You would never have agreed, had you known.”
“Umm…right. And you don’t see anything wr–”
She exhaled deeply. It was a sign to shut up. Sagramore swallowed, and gulped down a bit of abject fear. He knew where they were going. It was a coffee shop built from a renovated Machiya, which were traditional downtown Kyoto homes. Charming place, really. A spot he had introduced Nana to, originally. Now it was to be used against him, as the stage for whatever the hell was going to take place that day. The gods have their sense of humor.
She stopped in front of the entrance.
“Don’t be nervous. It will be fine. Just answer anything he asks, and only tell the truth, OK?”
“What? There’s rules and questions? Is he a sphinx?”
She furrowed her brow in confusion yet also complete disinterest.
“Sphinx. You know, the monument near the pyramids.”
“My dad’s not an Egyptian statue.”
“No, I know. It’s based on myth. A creat–”
Nana rolled her eyes, and pulled him inside. She strode right past the staff to a table in the back, as if she were homing in on some signal imperceptible to our helpless hero. They turned a corner and halted in front of a table for four, at which a middle-aged man was seated drinking a coffee. He looked up at Nana, smiled, then noticed the boyfriend. His eyes tripled in size. His mouth sagged open a bit. Sagramore was beginning to suspect Nana hadn’t shared her plans with her father, either.
“Daddy, this is Sagramore.”
Our noble hero extended his hand across the table; Nana’s father stared at it as if it was a malarial blanket. Wait, the natives actually accepted malaria-infested blankets. Let’s say it was more of a rotting carcass.
“Sagramore, this is my father.”
No name was proffered, and Sagramore cleared his throat before reclaiming his hand from the empty expanse between the two men.
“Nice to meet you, Toyoda-sama.”
He thought it would be safest to use a higher honorific at the end of the name. Not that it mattered, anyway, since his voice had cracked about six different times and rendered the sentence and awkward pubescent groan. Nana shoved Sagramore into the chair across from her father, and then took the other seat beside the young knight errant.
A waitress stopped by, providing some respite from the cement-thick tension. Nana ordered a caffe latte. Sagramore needed an espresso. They only went up to a double shot, so he ordered two of them.
“How long have you two been dating?”
Nana piped up, “Since April.”
“And what do you do?”
“Sagramore works for Globorcorp; they just opened a Kyoto branch in January, and he moved here then.”
“Can he not understand Japanese?”
“Of course. His Japanese is very good.”
“Then why don’t you be quiet, and let him answer?”
Nana puffed out her chest, girding herself for an argument, but then thought better of it. She pouted, and looked down at her coffee.
“Lets start with something easy. What do you like to do with your free time?”
Sagramore looked at Nana, but she wasn’t concerned with anything other than the mug in front of her. He shifted his gaze right past her dad, hoping that would give the illusion of eye contact, without having to actually looking into the demon-maw-hell-forges that are old man eyes.
“Umm..well, normal stuff. I like traveling, of course. Seeing new countries. And then the usual. Watching movies, playing the guitar…”
“Amazing. Very interesting.”
Awkward silence #1
“So, how did you two meet?”
“Ahem, well, Toyoda-sama, we me-”
She nudged Sagramore with her elbow. “Oh, you can address him with san, don’t be so formal.”
Our noble hero relaxed visibly.
Awkward silence #2
“Right. Well, Toyoda-sama, as I was saying…it was last April, right in the thick of cherry blossom season, and–hmm, this might sound strange, but I believe in luck. And by extension fortune and, of course, fate.”
Nana coughed, and spit some coffee onto the table; she scrambled frantically to dry it with a napkin. Her father raised an eyebrow, and started reaching around as if he were looking for something sharp to weaponize.
“You see, I lost my wallet…”
The old man froze.
“It’s never happened before, and certainly hasn’t happened since. But for some reason, I lost my wallet that day. It must have just dropped onto the ground… and your daughter returned it to me. I don’t want to embarrass anyone with details of what exactly I was thinking. Frankly, I’m not sure I even know. But I just went for it, and asked for her phone number right there. It was on the banks of the Kamogawa. Pink petals were falling all around, and it just seemed like…well, fate.”
Awkward silence #3
Her father stood up, and looked right at our romantic lead.
Sagramore was stunned. Nana’s dad was definitely talking to right to him, not her. His gaze shifted.
“You, go home. I’ll be back later.”
Sagramore stumbled out of his chair, and walked after Nana’s father. Wait, no one had paid yet. He fumbled in his pocket for his wallet, but her dad was already out of the coffee store. Fuck it. If her dad was going to kill him in an alleyway, she could foot the bill. Our proud hero ran out of the shop, turning around at the last minute to look at Nana. You know those war movies where the young soldier leaves his young, pregnant wife for the front?
Mr. Toyoda moved at a brisk pace. “Brisk” meaning Sagramore had to sprint just to keep up. He weaved and navigated the narrow streets south of the old emperor’s palace with something beyond familiarity. Sagramore streaked past old two-story houses all connected to each other by organic additions and wood and time. Eventually, the old man descended into an entrance to the metro, finally coming to a stop in front of the ticket machines. Sagramore caught up with his legs, but not yet with his breath.
“So, which station is it?”
Sagramore breathed out an incredulous grunt.
“Which station for what?”
“Your home. WHERE–DO–YOU–LIVE?”
Mr. Toyoda had stressed the second sentence as if he were addressing an infant.
“My ho–we’re going to my house?”
Sagramore handed Mr. Toyoda some slippers, and asked him into the apartment. Oh no! Sagramore’s remembered his computer, which was very visibly placed in his living room. The wallpaper was set to a half-naked anime girl. He couldn’t let Nana’s dad see it. Not that there was anything wrong with it. It was from a really good video game.Catherine was one of the top 5 PS3 offerings out there, OK? He doesn’t owe you an explanation. Sagramore dove into his living room, ready to–Oh, thank God. The computer’s screen was black, in sleep mode.
“Well, your apartment isn’t bad.”
“Thank you. Please, have a-”
Mr. Toyoda plopped down on the couch, and looked around.
“That’s a nice painting.”
“Oh, thanks. My mom made it, actually.”
“Really? Impressive. Is she an artist?”
“No, just a hobby of hers.”
Sagramore offered a drink, but Mr. Toyoda didn’t need anything.
“Why don’t you play the guitar for me.”
The sentence carried the structure of a question, but came out sounding more like an order. Sagramore was a bit stunned.
“Yea, you said it was your hobby, right? Play it.”
“Well, it’s not really something I do in front of other people…”
“Fine then. Put on a movie.”
“You said you liked watching movies.”
Our noble knight errant had no idea what was happening, but started browsing through his Blu-Ray library. All he had was sci-fi action, nothing that would seem to appeal to middle-aged Japanese man. Sagramore was pretty sure they just watched Shall We Dance on repeat. He settled on Gattaca, since it was the only offering that didn’t include people’s heads getting exploded off.
Sagramore pressed play, and Mr. Toyoda walked over to the fridge. He sat back down on the couch holding a beer. A single beer. Nothing for our nervous-thirsty hero. Sagramore grew a little miffed.
“Please, help yourself to anything in the fridge, sir.”
After getting his own beer, Sagramore sat back down and enjoyed another viewing of the greatest science fiction classic ever all time. He almost teared up at the ending monologue, but held fast. Showing emotion (read as: weakness) was not an option right now.
“Well, I hope you liked it. The movie’s very dense with meaning an-”
“I’m not big into science fiction.”
Well, OK. Sure, Gattaca is a masterwork of speculative sci-fi cinema, but…OK. Not for everyone. Mr. Toyoda sipped the last of his third beer, and leaned back against the couch.
“I see you have some whiskey over there…”
Sagramore was beyond the point of trying to rationalize why his girlfriend’s dad would be getting plastered at his house.
“Yea, I have some bourbon.”
“Bourbon? Is that American? Do you have any scotch?”
“Why don’t I pour you a glass, and then see if you want some scotch?”
He didn’t. After pouring Mr. Toyoda a second glass of Woodford Reserve on the rocks, he went into his bedroom, and then came back out with his guitar and amp.
“I only know rock songs, OK? Current rock, not the Beatles, or whatever you listen to.”
Nana’s dad arched yet another eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Sagramore chose to start with some Taking Back Sunday, since he knew their stuff best. It wasn’t the most appropriate for the situation, but…well, what was? He plucked the first few notes of MakeDamnSure, but screwed up leading into the first verse.
“Are you sure you know those current songs?”
“I’m just getting warmed up! A little nervous, is all.”
The second play through went perfectly. He segued into some Interpol, and even sang a bit, which was probably a mistake, but he was drunk, and so was the audience. Sagramore was out of music he knew. Hmm..if he found the tablature online, he could probably play some Bon Jovi or something the old timer might enjoy.
Our forgetful hero leaned over, and shook the mouse to wake up the compu–the half-naked anime girl! Mr. Toyoda sighed very audibly, but said nothing.
“Ahem, it’s from a video game I like.”
The old man still didn’t respond.
“I mean, it’s not a sex game. She’s almost naked, but that’s just one character fr–well, it is about sex, but like thematically. It’s a puzzle game, but also about relationships.”
“Not that relationships necessarily involve sex, of course! Many relationships don’t feature any kind of physical interaction…”
“I mean, I personally never have sex with girlfriends. Unless, the girl is fine with it and clears it with her parents.”
“…but even then, I would refuse. I mean, I think it’s best if people wait until they’re 30 and married, to do…sexual things…with…someone’s daughter.”
Mr. Toyoda took a sip of bourbon. Sagramore laughed nervously, like a shock victim, and surfed the internets for 80’s hair rock. He played a few more songs, and Mr. Toyoda’s occasionally twitched into what might have become a smile under other circumstances.
Finally, Sagramore put the guitar back down. Mr. Toyoda immediately reached for it, and launched into…something. Sagramore had no idea what the old man was playing. Mr. Toyoda was good, though. His fingers moved effortlessly across the neck, showing no symptoms of three beers and two glasses of whiskey. He finished the song, and handed the guitar back to Sagramore.
“I was in a band in university. We played at my class’ graduation ceremony.”
“Oh, that’s just lovely. You’re very good. What were you playing?”
“Do you know The Outlaws?”
The old man’s dead stare revealed the humor had been lost on him.
“I mean, no. Did they play at Woodstock or something? Are they from the 60’s?”
“70’s. You should listen to them. Very good.”
“I’ll give it a shot, but I’m not big into oldies. Like you and sci-fi, I guess.”
“Maybe so. I’ll rent a sci-fi movie if you get one of their CD’s. How about that?”
“Great. We can compare notes next time.”
Mr. Toyoda immediately got up, and headed for the entryway.
“Thank you for the movie and music.”
Sagramore rushed after him.
“No, uh…thank you for–sorry, what just happened?”
Mr. Toyoda leaned down to put his shoes on.
“I mean, why did you come here?”
The old man walked outside, and let the door swing back shut, turning down to address our hero as it closed.
Kaz brushed a cherry petal off his shoulder, and sighed. Nana was still droning on about her ex-boyfriend. It had been nearly three days now. He hadn’t even known she was dating. She just showed up that night, already crying. If only her mother were here–she’s the one who should be dealing with...these things. Sometimes he regretted never remarrying.
The little prick was apparently a classmate of Nana’s at university. He seemed to have thought he could get away with dating two best friends simultaneously. Unfortunately for him, they found out. Unfortunately for Nana, her friend was more than willing to continue dating the guy after he had revealed she had been his “favorite” all along. There were many more details, but Kaz hadn’t really cared enough to file them all away to memory.
Oh, she had been talking to him.
“Of course, Sweetie.”
The whining continued. His only hope was that this whole mess would somehow end up as character building, maybe strengthen her a little. Life wasn’t nice, especially to girls. In all likelihood, the situation would blow over once she graduated next month. Kaz had been looking forward to today. Work had been extremely busy lately with the restructuring. There would most likely be more layoffs and closed plants in the near future, as well. He remembered when Blade TV’s were prized. No one ever complained about how expensive they were, back then. People had money, and wanted quality. He fell into the nostalgic trap of reminiscing on the boom years.
But today was supposed to be a free day, one entire day off to be with his daughter…and she was a mess. He didn’t blame her, of course. It was the asshole’s fault. Still, a little self control would be appreciated. They were in public, after all.
“Nana, please stop. Look around, ok? It’s a beautiful spring day. Try to focus on other things.”
She cleared her throat, and rubbed her eyes.
“…OK. Can I have the bread?”
He handed her the bread for the ducks. This too, was nostalgia in action. He and Mariko would often take Nana to feed the waterfowl in the river when she was a child.
Kaz stumbled, and looked down. The ground was littered by pink petals, falling from the nearby trees. Something stuck out next to his left foot.
“What’s that, dad?”
“A wallet. It was on the ground.”
“Well, keep it. We should turn it into the police.”
Kaz surveyed his surroundings.
“Hold on, it might be that guy’s over there.”
He pointed to a tall man standing under a cherry tree. The stranger turned around, facing their general direction. Kaz could barely make him out. Oh, he was white. Of course, he’d be a foreigner.
“Look, Nana. Why don’t you take it over to him. Your English is better than mine.”
“Dad, he might not even be American. I don-”
“Just do as I say.”
Kaz shoved the wallet into Nana’s hands, and she stomped off after the man in the distance. He spotted a bench nearby, and sat down. The bushes in front of him rustled, and a large river rat scurried out, rushing towards the water. It stopped suddenly, sniffing the air, and turned to look at Kaz. It was huge and hairy and…well, a rat. He looked down at the bag of bread he was holding. It was meant for the ducks. He tore a piece off, anyway, and threw it to the thing. The rat gobbled the food up, and then jumped into the water. It did not utter a word of thanks.
The wallet in his back pocket made the seat uncomfortable. Inside the clear credit card flap was a picture of Mariko, one of the few remaining windows through which Kaz could still see her. The others were scattered around the house in frames of various sizes. Nana was still talking to the foreigner under the tree. Kaz shifted in his seat. She’d come back when she was ready.