MINUS • PLUS
July 07, 2004
It was exactly 10:26 pm when the strangers first arrived in Tokyo.
It was a rainy day, but the streets of Tokyo were crowded as usual. The traffic lights were frantically blipping, and the people were eager to go home. The sounds of the thunder were so loud, one could feel its buzz all around them. And so, no one noticed when the end of a dim neon-lit alley suddenly became full of people.
Only they were not people.
One look at them would’ve made someone think they were humans. After all, they were standing on two legs, had two arms, and wearing raincoats like many of the other people on the streets. But if one became curious and looked underneath the hood, they would’ve discovered the stuff of their worst nightmares.
The leader of the group was carefully observing all the other members. Each one of them had specific tasks, so it absolutely wouldn’t do if one of them was absent. After he was satisfied, he gave a short speech in a language unknown to humankind. The others were completely motionless, and the moment the speech was over, they started vanishing.
When there were only two of the strangers left, they slowly pulled over the hood of their raincoat to cover their faces completely, and got out of the alley.
As they were standing on the footpath and discussing something in their alien language, a drunkard was approaching them. They stopped talking after noticing him, and slowly started moving.
The drunkard was in high spirits, as he tried to push one of them unsuccessfully. “What were you saying?” He shouted, “What language was that?! I have never heard anyone talk like that! What country are you from? China? Russia?”
The leader and his companion were silent. When he was done, they started walking, but another shout from the man forced them to stop again.
The leader looked at the man and spoke in almost perfect Japanese, “Look, we’re foreigners who live here for work. We were just talking about that. If that’s all…”
“You still didn’t answer me!” The drunkard was persistent, “What language was that? Can people even speak like that? It sounded like you were making weird sounds from your throat and-”
“Okay, it was Russian. Now then-”
The next time the man tried to push him, the leader caught his hand and swiftly planted a chip behind his ear. As he turned and walked away, the man kept cursing at them. When they were at a safe distance, the companion asked, “Sir, are you just going to leave him like that?”
“Absolutely not,” The leader said without breaking his stride, “He was doomed the moment he heard us. He shall be our first test subject on Earth.”
The companion let out a weird howl, which was supposed to be a laugh.
Matsumoto was walking as usual, and occasionally cursing at random passersby. As he was passing an intersection, his mind suddenly felt dizzy.
It was different from what he usually felt. Matsumoto was so used to having sake after work that he often boasted to his co-workers that he can even drive in that state without causing a single accident. But it was a different feeling; there was something wrong with him. It was the middle of the road, and the signal was about to become red, but still, his legs weren’t moving. And it wasn’t like they were stuck there or something. He… just didn’t want to move.
He knew that he needed to move. But for some reason, he didn’t want to.
As the signal turned red, Matsumoto looked at the cars coming towards him.
Sorry, Honey, he thought, you were right. Your husband really is good for nothing.
And then it was over.
20 years later
On the first day of his new school, Yukio woke up late.
The magazines were still littered on the floor, and the tissue box was lying at a corner, innocently. His sleepiness was gone in a moment, and he quickly started gathering them and putting them inside a cardboard box. When he was done, only then he remembered that he doesn’t live with his uncle anymore.
Megumi-san won’t be cleaning his room. He’ll have to do it by himself.
Yukio became an orphan at age 8, when both his parents died in an accident. Ever since then, he had lived with his uncle and aunt in Fujimi, Saitama. But it was mostly him and their maid, Megumi-san, who lived in that house. His uncle was the founder of a large telecommunications company, and his aunt also owned a small start-up; part of the reason they were able to take his custody without any problems. But it also meant none of them were home most of the time. Their only daughter, Kimiko, whom he called Onee-san, lived with him for a while. She had married four years ago, and shifted to America. She was the only friend Yukio ever had, the only one with whom he could share anything and everything.
But all that was over now. His uncle had forced him to change schools, shift to this apartment in Tokyo, and even Onee-san had stopped talking to him. Well, they had a good reason for that.
Yukio smiled as he thought that. A smile of disgust. He didn’t want to think about his old school anymore.
After getting fresh, he ate two half-burnt toast with a glass of orange juice, all the while thinking about how his new school life is going to be. Will he be accepted? Will he make any friends? Or will people still make fun of his hair, or his name? And everything would remain as bad as they were?
He tried to take another sip of the juice, only to find the glass was already empty.
Yukio had no idea that it would take him almost 1 hour to reach the school. The apartment wasn’t far from it, and he even knew where it was. But for some reason, he just couldn’t find the entrance. And being the way he is, he couldn't ask someone for help. He was already getting a lot of looks due to his reddish hair.
He let out a sigh after seeing a girl wearing the uniform of their school. As he followed her, it never crossed his mind that it could be a problem. The girl didn’t notice him at first, but when she did, she went straight to a Policeman. Before Yukio could say anything, he was dragged to the side of the road.
“Openly stalking, huh? Got no shame at all?”
Yukio almost shouted, but then decided against it. “What are you even talking about?” he explained, “Look at our uniform! I couldn’t find the entrance to our school, that’s why I was following her. I should’ve told her something, that’s true, but-”
“Shut up!” The Policeman roared. Yukio had no idea what to do. He hurriedly got his school ID from his bag, “Look at this! I’m really a student of St. Martin’s High!”
“If that’s true,” the Policeman said, “How can you not know the way to your school? Is it your first day or something?”
“Actually, yes,” Yukio sighed.
The Policeman looked at him with curious eyes.
“I’m a transfer student, and today is my first day. Now can you please let me go?”
“Wait a minute,” the Policeman called someone. “Don’t move.”
As he talked on the Phone, Yukio grew restless. Other students were passing by them, whispering among themselves. Seriously, he thought, on the very first day I’m being detained by Police? Good god.
If morning shows the day…
By the time the Policeman let him go, he was really late. There were still one or two students on the road, but they were all hurrying. He followed a boy this time, and in a few moments, the entrance was in front of him.
St. Martin’s High School, also known as Martin’s High, was a popular catholic school in Tokyo. His guardians thought that this was the perfect place for him to “change his ways”. They didn’t care a bit about the cause, they just wanted to eliminate the effect.
As Yukio reached the entrance of his class, he was huffing. Taking a few deep breaths, he slowly opened the door. It was just as he feared; the teacher was already in the class.
He stood at the door with an embarrassed face, as the teacher observed him carefully.
In the end, she flipped her head, “Who are you again?”
“I… I am the transfer student,” he somehow let it out.
Her eyes suddenly sparkled, as she said, “Yes, yes. We were supposed to have a new student today. Come on in! Why are you so late?”
Yukio kept his head hung until the teacher turned towards the class. “Everyone, we have a new member of our class with us today. For some unfortunate reason, he had to change schools mid-year. His name is Sawada Yukio, and I hope you will-”
“Takanashi,” he stopped her. “It’s Takanashi Yukio.”
“Huh?” The teacher was confused, “But I thought… it’s even in the register!”
“Then there must’ve been some mistake,” Yukio said, “It’s true, I was adopted by Sawada Kenji, but I use my mother's family name.”
“Oh, I see,” she said as the whole class started whispering. “Did he say Sawada Kenji? Of the Sawada Telecom?” He could clearly hear them.
“Silence!” the teacher said irritatingly. “Alright, Yukio, why don’t you do a self-introduction?”
He started taking deep breaths. This was the moment, the moment that can change everything. If he is seen as a normal, friendly guy, maybe they’ll warm up to him…
Clearing his throat, and smiling as much as he could, Yukio said, “Hello everyone. My name is Takanashi Yukio. I like reading, both novels and manga. I hope we can…”
His eyes finally fell on the girl.
She was looking directly at him, but he didn’t care. It was the first time he saw someone naturally blonde, and clearly not Japanese. She was returning his gaze as well, with her big, blue eyes.
He knew it wasn’t the right place or time, but he was suddenly reminded of his father. With his blue eyes, his head full of red hair. His smiling face.
He returned to the present with a jolt. The teacher was asking him something.
“So?” she repeated, “How do you write it?”
Oh god, Yukio thought, do I have to do it?
Reluctantly, he wrote the kanji of Takanashi vertically on the blackboard.
“Small birds playing?” The whole class began whispering.
(Takanashi is written with the kanjis of ‘small’, ‘bird’, and ‘play’.)
“Yes,” Yukio explained, “it is called Takanashi. And Yukio is-“
“Why is your hair red?” Someone stopped him. Yukio looked at the teacher, but she just smiled at him.
With a sigh, he said, “I didn’t dye it. My father was German.”
Everyone started whispering again, “Wait, he’s a foreigner? Like Amy-chan? Why does he have a Japanese surname?”
“No, stupid,” someone else corrected him, “Amy-chan is British. He’s just mixed.”
“Silence, silence!” the teacher tried to stop them, unsuccessfully. “I think that was enough for today. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask him later.”
Then she turned towards Yukio. “I’m Hagiwara Kioko. I’m your homeroom teacher, so if there are any problems you can visit me anytime. In fact, come to the teachers' room after school, since you want to fix your name. And Takanashi, this is your first day, that’s why I’m overlooking it. Don’t be late from now on, okay?. We take discipline very seriously.”
He nodded, and started walking towards the girl others called ‘Amy-chan’. He was hoping that Hagiwara Sensei would naturally make him sit beside her, since they are… alike in a way.
“Where are you going?” Hagiwara Sensei said.
Yukio stopped in his tracks.
“Hirata, Takanashi will sit with you,” she said to a girl on the second row, “He’s new, and probably not well prepared, so help him. Okay?”
Dammit, Yukio cursed in his head.
The girl Hagiwara Sensei addressed, gracefully asked the girl beside her to find another seat, and looked towards him. She wasn’t bad-looking either, he thought. If anything, the glasses increased her charm…
What am I thinking?!
Yukio quickly took his seat.
During the lunch break, he got to know that the girl beside him is Hirata Aki. She is the class topper, so she’s automatically the class representative. She helped him with the books, and gave him all the notes that he needed. She helped him in every way, but ultimately Yukio could plainly see that she was doing all that out of obligation. She felt distant the whole time.
Just like the rest of his classmates.
During the lunch break, no one came to him. Even in his last school, where his intro was even worse, some had come to him to ask about his family, his uncle, and obviously his hair. But the people in this class clearly had no interest in him.
Not that it mattered to him.
He had already given up.