Jiro’s mind brings him back to when he was a child, running frantically through Shinjuku’s Memory Alley. Not necessarily running to anything, but certainly running away from the place he was forced to call home.
Ever since he gained the ability to recall memories, Jiro could only remember going from one foster home to the next. In a way, his recollection of each home blended into one another. They all were the same - using vulnerable and parentless children as pawns for hoarding government money. Kids like Jiro were obvious targets of this subjection, and they were unable to do anything about it.
Aged just six years old, a young Jiro wiped at the sweat forming above his brow with the back of his right palm. Moving his small legs as fast as they would go, Jiro sprinted through the small lantern-lit alleyway. Pedestrians that were strolling and idling about shot expressions of distaste and confusion to the young boy.
However, these looks did not stop the traveling Jiro. The only thing he was concerned with was getting as far as his body would allow. At a bar up ahead, a middle aged police officer stepped out of the entryway. The sudden appearance caused Jiro’s heart to drop to his stomach in fear, but he continued running. Before he stepped out into the alley, the officer looked both ways. In doing so, he caught the eyes of the young boy that was sprinting to his heart’s content.
“Hey!” The officer called out, not in a commanding tone - but more in a curious, intrigued way. “Stop, running kiddo!” Half listening to the officer and half completely exhausted from sprinting, Jiro slowed to a jog until his legs came to a full stop. Placing his hands atop his weak knees, Jiro looked to the ground with his head hung - as he heaved deep, quick breaths while he stood in front of the curious man.
The officer stood there and waited for Jiro to catch his breath. Once that time came, the man asked, “What’s your name, kid?” Before Jiro answered, he hoisted himself up by pushing off of his knees and came to his full, short height. He threw his eyes onto the officer, and met his questioning gaze. “Jiro,” He answered shortly. The bluntness of the response took the man by a visible surprise, and his eyebrows raised at the answer. “That’s it? What’s your full name?”
“That’s all I got,” Jiro admitted, not being able to look the man in the eyes any longer. “Don’t be smart with me, boy,” The officer reprimanded, not letting the topic go, “Tell me your last name, or I’ll bring you down to the orphanage if you really don’t have a last name.” Jiro struck his eyes back to the man while fury laced his gaze. Scoffing to himself, Jiro angrily retorted, “I live in a foster home already, so don’t waste your time.”
Having caught the man by surprise yet again, a soft hum came from the officer’s chest as he gazed down at the tired boy in front of him. After a moment of silence, and Jiro awkwardly shifting his weight from leg to leg, the officer decided to speak up: “Is that why you’re running away?” Jiro kept his gaze on the ground beneath him in a bashful, shame-filled manner. Slowly, without speaking, the young boy nodded at the question.
“How old are you?” The man asked another poking question, having felt he was slowly getting through to the boy. “Six,” The officer received quietly in response, which caused him to open his eyes at the number. “Only six?” He asked, “You’re pretty mature for a six year old, Jiro.”
“Don’t really have much of a choice,” Jiro shrugged, still not able to meet the man’s eyes, “Growing up in foster care kind of forces you to grow up fast.” The officer stared down at this seemingly young boy, but his aged heart carried years unable to be seen by the naked eye. Sighing at the thought of what Jiro may have been through, the officer’s heart tightened.
“My name is Mamoru Fukumoto,” The officer finally introduced himself to Jiro - causing the boy to snap his head back to the man, “You hungry, Jiro? I was about to grab something to eat before I headed home. Want to join me?” Jiro’s eyes gleamed under the lantern light as he stared up at Mamoru. Unbeknownst to him, Jiro was actually starving, and his stomach was quietly murmuring underneath the surrounding ambiance.
The pureness and innocence that lay deep within Jiro’s eyes had poured out in that mere moment, before the expression was washed away by one filled with that familiar coat of shame he famously sported. “I don’t have any money,” Jiro admitted weakly, then prepared himself for the officer to take his leave - never to meet again.
Instead, the man let out a friendly chuckle and insisted, “My treat, kid.” At the declaration, Jiro’s stomach growled lowly, but just loud enough for the two to hear. Mamoru chuckled heartily at Jiro’s embarrassed stance from the noise, and placed his large hand atop Jiro’s small head. After he rustled the boy’s hair, Mamoru pulled him alongside as they walked towards their next meal. “Come on, kiddo,” Mamoru enthused Jiro as they journeyed along the dimly lit path.
Just over an hour later, Mamoru and Jiro sported full stomachs and big smiles as they ventured back to Jiro’s foster home. Walking through the beaten-down, residential area of Shinjuku, the place Jiro was so desperately running from just a short while ago was nearing once again.
“She’s your age too, you know!” Mamoru conversed with the now stuffed boy, “She has albinism, so her hair’s this really pretty shade of white. If she didn’t have it, I’m sure she’d look just like me!”
Jiro smiled at the man’s sweet ramblings of his beloved daughter. In his mind, he drew up an image of what the girl must have looked like, given Mamoru’s descriptions. However, all Jiro came up with was a shorter version of Mamoru with white, long hair. He shook his head of the ludicrous thought, and continued along the cracked sidewalk alongside Mamoru.
They continued walking for a bit longer before Jiro’s gaze uncomfortably settled upon one specific house. Mamoru sensed the newfound stiffness that ran down Jiro’s spine. He laced his gaze through the damaged home and the fragility it portrayed. “That’s the place?” Mamoru asked, looking down at the hesitant boy. Jiro nodded after a moment’s time - his eyes not straying from the distance between the house and himself.
“Listen, Jiro,” Mamoru began, as he rustled his hand into the side pockets of his work bag, “This is my phone number. If you ever need me - or even just want to talk - don’t be a stranger, okay?” The officer offered as he handed the young boy a small, fragile piece of cardstock. On it held the man’s name, phone number, and place of work. Taking the gift within both hands, Jiro humbly accepted the proposal.
As if too soon, Mamoru found himself and Jiro standing just outside the doorway to Jiro’s foster home. Having knocked just a minute ago, they waited anxiously for someone to open the door. What Mamoru was not expecting was an elderly, short and stout man to have shakily opened the entryway.
“Oh, hello, officer!” The man greeted Mamoru in a raspy, quiet voice. He dragged his eyes onto the stiff Jiro standing next to him, “Jiro, my boy! Where did you run off to!? I was worried sick!” The old man slowly reached out his arms, beckoning Jiro to stand beside him within the confines of the broken home.
Jiro visibly hesitated - not wanting to go back to the den he recently attempted to escape from. But, with a kind hand from Mamoru guiding Jiro’s back, the boy found strength to stand with the aged man in front of them.
“Jiro’s a good kid,” Mamoru complimented, nodding to the boy, “It was a pleasure spending my evening with him.” The old man smiled, and shortly chuckled at the statement. As he tensely placed his wrinkly hands atop Jiro’s small shoulders, he leaned in close to Jiro’s ear. “Why don’t you go ahead and thank the nice officer for everything he’s done for you today? Huh, Jiro?” He whispered his demand as he gripped Jiro’s shoulders tighter with each passing second.
Mamoru’s mouth fell just a fraction as he held eye contact with Jiro - whose eyes held a sense of fear only this elderly man had brought out. “Thank you, officer,” Jiro spat out robotically. It may have been the glare of the full moon, or just a glint from the overhead streetlight, but Mamoru could have sworn he saw tears forming in the heavy eyes of the young boy in front of him.
“I-I’ll be on my way,” Mamoru stuttered out in declaration, as he stepped backwards towards the front gate, “Don’t forget what I told you, Jiro.” With that, Jiro kept his yearning and fearful gaze on the back of the retreating officer. Jiro threw his hands into the pockets of his pajama shorts, and felt the crispness of the cardstock with his right grip. He curled his lips inward as the old man shut the door in front of him.
The next night, Mamoru was just outside of his home’s front gate when he heard his cell phone ring. Stopping in his tracks, he pulled out the device and was greeted by an unknown number. He scrunched his eyebrows together as he answered this call, “Hello?” He asked curiously, “Who’s this?” As he stared straight ahead, he saw his daughter, Junko, rip open the front door with a wide smile on her face. Subconsciously, Mamoru smiled back at his six year old daughter.
“Mr. Fukumoto,” A small, trembling voice calls out over the line, “It’s… It’s me, Jiro. Do you remember me?” Mamoru’s expression dropped to one that held shock mixed with confusion as he heard the sound of the young boy. “Of course I remember you, kiddo,” The officer responded, as he placed his free hand atop Junko’s head as she approached her returning father. “Are you okay, Jiro?”
“Who’re you talking to, daddy?” Junko asked in her small, compacted voice. Instead of answering her, Mamoru continued to stroke the top of her head as he awaited Jiro’s answer. “I’m where I found you yesterday,” He finally responded, sounding more shy than he was a minute ago, “I thought… I thought you would be there again.”
Mamoru’s heart physically tightened and dropped into his stomach - worried for the young boy alone in the streets of Shinjuku. He looked down to his daughter, who held a curious look on her face as she stared back up at her father. “I’ll be there soon, stay there,” Mamoru affirmed, moving the hand on top of Junko’s head to her small shoulder.
“I’ll bring a friend or two.”
Jiro paced outside of the now closed shop where he first met Officer Fukumoto. The January night air held an icy chill that tickled Jiro’s skin. Having thrown his hands into his sweatshirt pockets, the cold air still poked and prodded against his exposed face. Only a few pedestrians still wandered about Memory Alley alongside Jiro.
However, just as Jiro was about to ask yet another stranger for their phone to dial Mamoru, he heard his name being called, “Jiro! Hey, Jiro!” As he turned his head to the root of the noise, he spotted Mr. Fukumoto jogging towards him with a petite, white-haired girl following suit.
Jiro’s face released a smile at the sight, and he turned his full body towards the approaching figures. Soon enough, Jiro stood in front of the officer he had come to know, and the daughter he had heard much about. Having now witnessed the girl after much description, Jiro could confidently confirm she looked nothing like he imagined. If anything, she was a lot more beautiful.
“Jiro,” Mamoru began, bringing the young boy’s attention from Junko to himself, “This is my daughter, Junko. Junko, this is Jiro.” Jiro looked back to the white-haired girl, and the bright smile that welcomed his gaze made the tips of his ears fade into a cozy red. “Hey,” Junko chirped, “It’s nice to meet you!”
Jiro simply nodded in return - not having been able to mutter an actual response due to his newfound bashfulness this girl brought out of him. All she wore were green cotton pajamas - and her knotted hair was a mess - but her pure aura lifted Jiro’s heart, even if just a fraction.
“My partner, Takashi, is going to join us, too,” Mamoru added after a moment, “I told him all about you at work today, and he mentioned how he’d like to meet you. You remind me a lot of him.” Jiro’s heart tightened once again - having apprehended that he was to meet yet another new face.
“Okay…” Jiro commented quietly, whilst he mentally attempted to gather his thoughts. His face portrayed an obvious anxiousness that Mamoru and Junko easily picked up on. “Mr. Shimizu is really cool, don’t worry,” Junko assured Jiro, as she stepped one foot closer to the visibly stressed boy, “He lives alone, so he probably had nothing better to do anyways.”
“Now why’s that little brat talking bad about a police officer?” A third party spoke from a distance away from the three individuals that idled within Memory Alley. As they turned their heads to the obtrusive voice, they saw a middle-aged man with black hair cut down to a buzz slowly approaching them. Junko and Mamoru’s faces curved subconsciously into ones that emitted joy, while Jiro stayed naturally anxious.
“Mr. Shimizu!” Junko jubilantly cheered out, as she jumped into the open arms of her father’s fellow deputy. “Hey there, Junko,” The incoming man greeted the little girl. As he looked back up after happily embracing his friend’s daughter, his eyes landed on Jiro - who tensed at the sudden eye contact. “Hello there, Jiro,” Tekashi greeted hesitantly, “I’m Officer Shimizu. But you can call me Takashi, if you want.”
“Officer Shimizu is fine,” Jiro assured, not allowing himself to overstep any boundaries. Takashi nodded and curled his lips inward at the safe response. He glanced towards his partner and chucked a smile his way - having seen him just an hour ago. Takashi shot his sight back to Jiro, and perceived the young boy as he stood.
“So, Jiro,” He began, not confident in his communication with children, “Why’d you gather us out tonight?” The question made the surrounding individuals look to the young boy - awaiting his response. However, Jiro did not wish to admit the real reason he ran away from home for the second consecutive night. Instead, Jiro rolled his eyes and crossed his arms nonchalantly.
“What’s it to you?” He bluntly remarked, “Aren’t little boys supposed to call the police if they get lost?” Mamoru’s eyebrows raised as a sly smirk appeared on his face. As he looked at his fellow deputy, Takashi had the same expression lacing his own features.
The little girl standing in front of them sported a wide grin rather than a knowing smirk. “You’re absolutely right, Jiro,” She agreed, making her fists fill with excitement in her grip, “So, now that we’re all here, let’s go for a walk!”
At her words, they did just that. Walking against the brisk winter breeze, the four individuals paraded through the empty night streets of Shinjuku. Junko entertained Jiro ahead of Takashi and Mamoru, who waltzed behind the children. She told him of her brother, Niko, and her cat, Noodle - as well as how much she wanted Jiro to meet them. Jiro told her stories of the many stray cats he has befriended in his short lifetime, which caught the young girl’s interest.
The two straggling men watched over the two new young friends and admired their innocent interactions. Takashi shared a knowing smile to his fellow deputy and friend: a smile that told a story in which words were not needed. Mamoru nodded his head, having understood the man that walked alongside him.
The group came across a twenty-four hour convenience store, and they all decided to stop in for a quick midnight snack. Jiro and Junko raced through the automatic doors - then chasing after one another in the direction of the ice cream aisle. Mamoru and Takashi took to the newspaper and magazine rack as they waited for the children to pick the snacks of their choosing.
About twenty minutes later, Jiro and Junko sat perched on the bench just outside of the convenience store as the two men conversed idly in front of them. “Ugh,” Jiro grimaced, causing Junko to look over, “I lost.” Jiro held up the stick of his ice pop, showcasing a losing popsicle. Junko looked between her nearly finished ice cream, and her new friend’s own stick.
Quickly, she gulped down the rest of her frozen treat - causing Jiro’s eyes to shoot open. Swallowing the cold substance, Junko looked to the wood clasped between her fingertips. “This one’s a winner!” Junko cheered as her eyes lit up in joy. The boy next to her offered a warm, congratulatory smile. In an instant, Junko handed the stained popsicle stick over to Jiro.
“Here,” Junko insisted, “Have this one.” Jiro’s eyebrows raised, and his mouth fell agape. He stared at the girl in front of him: lips smothered in a sugary syrup, teeth colored a blood red, and tired under-eye bags supported her closed lids. Jiro regained his composure after being taken by surprise, and he gratefully accepted the stick.
Soon thereafter, the party arrived at the doorstep of Jiro’s foster home. Junko attempted to hide a tired yawn as Mamoru knocked on the door positioned in front of them. A minute or so later, that same old man greeted the group as he slowly opened the door.
“Ah! Jiro!” The elderly man stated in a disappointed tone, “What has gotten into you lately?”
Instead of waiting for Jiro to join him inside, Jiro’s foster parent reached out his fragile hand and gripped Jiro’s shoulder. As he pulled him closer, Jiro nearly tripped over his own feet. Takashi’s eyebrows scrunched together, and a grimace had been painted on his face. “I’ll be sure to keep him on a tighter leash, officers. Thank you, again!” The old man assured as he tensed his grip tighter onto Jiro’s shoulders - causing an obvious discomfiture in Jiro.
Mamoru bowed his head slightly, not uttering a word to the man. “Bye, Jiro,” He managed to the boy, “Just always remember what I told you, okay?” Jiro nodded ever so discreetly to Mamoru as the three remaining individuals began to take their leave.
Junko waved goodbye before she hopped off of the raised doorstep, and the two brooding men staggered after her. Takashi shot one last look over his shoulder towards Jiro. Through this, he caught a heavy tear rolling down the young boy’s cheek. In his already taut fist, Takashi gripped his fingers together even tighter.