Satomi Number Seven
Each one of our lives is written by an innate desire to increase our chances at happiness. Whether I hunger for this life or not, I’m afraid my own chances are hinged on the success of those who rely on me. And now I have to take responsibility for that.
* * *
The summer heat stretches in heavy, shimmering waves across the pavement. We're about two kilometers into the abandoned, industrial ward which circles all of New Tokyo like a buffer layer. We’re probably over a hundred kilometers from the sea by now. Here, the wet, salty air of Satomi feels telescopically far away.
We watch the desolate shape of an old warehouse building skeptically from the shaded cover of a bridge.
“That’s the place I guess,” I say.
Hatsu stops behind me, wiping the sweat off his brow. “They sure had to drag us a hell of a long way.”
“It’s good to see things other than the three establishments our town consists of don’t you think?”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “You can’t include Hana’s house, it’s not a restaurant just because she gives us food.”
“I hate the city.” He says.
We both stare distastefully at the walk ahead of us. I pat Hatsu lightly on the back as I walk past, the shadow of the old industrial building looming no more than fifty yards ahead.
Hatsu watches me for a few strides to make sure I don’t burst into flame before coming out from the shadow as well. “How do people even live in this place?” He scowls. “We’ve been dodging from one spot of shade to the next all morning.”
“Air conditioning,” I say stepping over the wire remains of what was once a security fence.
The metal jingles as Hatsu kicks it with his boot. “I’ll be glad when we can go back to the coast.”
“Haven’t you ever been curious what’s outside our district in Satomi?” I ask.
“When I was a kid I guess?” He vaults an empty bullet casing into a stack of melting tires as we walk. “We used play along the sea wall, make up stories about what was on the other side,” He takes a breath, the glaring sun skims across his hazel hair. “We were just stupid brats though, too young to climb over and see it was nothing but the sea.”
“I remember,” I say carefully, the hazy melded line of sea and sky, blossoming in and out of my brain. “Climbing over and wondering what it was like,” tendrils of blond hair blowing against my forehead in conjunction with the thunderous roaring of waves. “On the other side of that, what seemed to be ever-spanning, ocean.” Salt and wind and water violently throwing themselves where my toes gripped the rough top of sea wall.
Hatsu makes an amused sound and sticks his hands in his pockets even though it’s over one-hundred degrees. He flicks his eyes to me and cracks a grin. “You never change, you were always looking at things like they were far away. Even back then.”
Somewhere a cicada buzzes. I step over a piece of wood, crooked rusting nails pointing toward the sky. “I never figured you for the observant type,” I say.
“I’ve been out of school for a year already, maybe I picked up a thing or two.” He says.
The cracked concrete glitters like a stove top. The few defiant weeds that have sprouted through sway slow and dully, not due to wind, but by the massive heat.
“You never should have left,” I say squinting up at the sun.
In a few more feet we’ll be enveloped in shade.
“Are you sure you’re not talking about yourself instead of me?” He asks.
I stop, the sudden darkness of the building’s shadow waving over me. I wipe the hair off my forehead. A scar beneath trails from my temple to my brow. So far my prospects at happiness are not looking good.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I say glancing back at Hatsu who’s leaned over, hands braced on his knees like he just ran a marathon.
“I mean,” he breathes. “That maybe you should never have come here.”
“You came with me,” I point out.
He squints up at the peak of the warehouse, his pupils swelling to the lack of light, and then turns his eyes on me. “How are you okay with this?”
I run a hand lightly down my arm and nudge the button undone at the cuff. “You know I’ve never really been bothered by the heat.” I say rolling the sleeve up. “And the city well-”
“Not that you idiot,” He says straightening. “Tell me what you’re thinking!”
The air tingles against my bare skin, my hands pause. “Sorry.” I give him a look I hope I haven’t used before. “I’ve never been good at those kinds of things.”
His eyes flit to my forearm, the pressed white fabric folded neatly up to the crook of my elbow. “There’s no reason to do a blood rite, we can make it on our own.”
The dilapidated warehouse groans as its steel beams expand in the ever-rising heat. It’s creaking unkempt shadow seems to waver for a moment.
“You know Hatsu,” I say measuredly. “It’s almost as hard to survive in this world as those few pesky weeds withering up between the cracks of scalding concrete.” I run a thumb across my shirt seam as if I could make the fold straighter.
I turn my eyes onto him. “The group is too small to compete with Petra, unless we want to be beaten back into the earth, this time seven feet under, we have no choice.”
For a second my desire to increase my own chances at happiness almost swallows me. I think about reaching out to him. I don’t though. I let the thought pass through me, burning more than the heat, and do nothing. The only thing I can hold on to is the belief that in the end, all of this will pay off. All I can do is trust that my choices will be the right ones, or at least end with the fewest amount of regrets.
“Worry not,” I say letting my arm drop. “A blood rite isn’t going to be the end of us. The only tragedy today, is that I chose to wear white.”
* * *
Until recently all of us were able to live our lives peacefully. Satomi, a fishing village on the eastern wharf, consists of a bar, a laundry mat, and a convenience store. There’s other services that you can get there, but mostly it’s just neighbors who know things or own things and are willing to share them with you. The mountains and rolling hills creep directly out from the sea. Small roads that no one really drives on, crisscross and wind up the slopes dotted with old houses until you’re high enough to view the sprawling, glittering ocean framed by sky. Most of the coast line is protected by fifteen-foot concrete walls, after a series of typhoons hit and decimated every living soul seventy years ago, but people still find ways to get over them and reach the shore. There’s a lot of old timers who’ve never seen another part of the world, and love to talk about when you could see the wavering line of blue from a decently paved road, actually marked with lines.
For generations that small plot of land has occupied its miniscule part of the world, not attracting a shred of interest from any of the inner circle gangs. Everyone thought they would grow old never having to leave the sight of that walled off sea. Even though I grew up looking absently at the view beyond, I thought the same.
The territory war, the factions and gangs, the rampant brutality and suffering of the people near New Tokyo was nothing more than the static radio blaring, trying to get it’s small poorly received voice out against the overwhelming sounds of the crashing sea. All we had in common with the rest of the world was our gang. For Satomi though, the gang was just a name passed on from our families. The old men with tattoos on their arms played shogi on makeshift, milk-crate tables by the simmering, summer-heated streets. They paid little attention to anything but the game, showing no signs of ever lifting a gun again. They wouldn't stand a chance against the other territories gangs, especially those close to New Tokyo.
“Hey how come all you do is play games all day?” Hatsu would yell at them. “What if an inner city gang comes to attack us!”
“Hahaha, you’re a spirited kid, I’ll give you that." They would laugh back. "But Satomi hasn’t seen blood shed since the storms seventy years ago, and that was from the raging sea.”
Me and one of the older girls, Yagi stand in our usual position behind Hatsu's loud mouth, used to the exchange. When I was in middle school, Hatsu was still a grade school brat, but despite that he never had any problems butting his way into the center of the group. Joking, laughing, and rough housing with no boundaries.
One of the men nods at Hatsu. “Isn’t that Yako’s boy?”
“Have something to say about my mom you old bastards?” Hatsu yells, fists balled.
“Yep that’s him, he’s just like her.”
Yagi sighs and tries to pull Hatsu away.
“Hey kid, you’ll make a good sidekick to the boss someday, maybe a little fire would do this town some good.”
The other man pushes a shogi piece across the board laughing. “Hey what are you saying to the brat? The last thing we need is to break our quiet days of retirement.”
“Yeah that’s why he’s the sidekick. Now that boy, see the blondie behind him?" The geezer points at me. "Doesn’t have a shred of emotion right? That’s Tsuko’s boy. That’s the next head, whatever that title means these days.”
Yaji pulls Hatsu from throwing a punch in earnest. He flails comedically, the old men laugh. I glance away absently to see a cat running along the sea wall, chasing fat, lazy seagulls just out of its grasp. And beyond that? The edges of the glittering emerald sea.
“Hey dead eyes back there, how about you learn to control your friend?”
I glance back. Hatsu is fuming at my insult.
“That one, he’s had that same look in his eyes since he was born, spooked me out the first time I saw him.”
“Hahaha to think a coward like you once worked next to the boss’s side!”
Yagi grabs my arm, already holding Hatsu and pulls us away. "Come on let's go," she says.
“Hey it’s not like we ever saw any real action anyway," The geezer continues, "it’s these kids who’re gonna carry on this useless legacy now.”
I stop, cutting them off. “Hey…. what do you mean by useless?”
Everyone pauses startled by the tone, by the look in my eyes. Hatsu quits flailing and Yaji looks stern, the old men raise their eyebrows.
From the open shop door next to the make-shift shogi table, the shop owner, Yukio steps out. A rough looking man with a scar on his face, a cigarette in his mouth, and a house-wife apron.
“Heh,” one of the old men starts to laugh. “Hahah and I thought your friend was the spirited one, but as it turns out it’ll probably be the others having to calm you down!”
Above the men's laughter, Yukio looks intently at me, arms crossed over his aproned chest. “What are you guys hanging around here for? Grade school's in the other direction.”
I whip on my heel, walking away. Hatsu shakes Yagi off, following in tow. Yagi turns to the men, does a quick bow and then runs after us. The old men wave her off smiling.
“Nicolo,” the shop keep calls.
I stop in my tracks but don’t look back.
“Someday you’ll decide for yourself what it means to be in Satomi’s gang.”
I turn my head slightly to give him a piercing gaze. The old men who have resumed their game smile without looking up. The shop keep looks stern. “Don’t forget that.”
Yagi and Hatsu look on with equal determination. Somewhere running along the wall the cat jumps into the air, nearly catching the feathers of a bird in it's claws. Too far, it falls back to the concrete uselessly.
Satomi's population was dwindling. Of the younger generation, the only kid older than me was my brother Togo. He didn't stay for long though. It was one of those “wind in the night” sort of escapes. All that was left was his open window, curtains billowing in the early morning air. My father never forgave him for that, they told me he had met a girl near the city and gone there. We never heard from him again.
From that moment on, my father who bore the numbered tattoo "six" named me the next head of Satomi’s gang. Seven.
For a long time, nothing really changed. We all stuck together like we always had, the only kids left in a town where there were no more children being born. No one wanted to bring a child into this world anymore.
For a reason I could never figure out, all the kids always stuck within my sight. Was it because my father had given me the tattoo for the Seventh head? It was a meaningless gesture to the older gang members. Was it something I could even protect? Back then, I had no interest in taking care of the last generation of kids to grace Satomi's shores.
When we rode the creaking, old train back from school, the noise of all of them was background buzz to the fields and hills and ocean slipping vacantly by. All of it crossed my eyes impassively but I still managed to engrave every sign post and dip in the land to my memory. I was probably the only one who noticed what was on the other side of the reflecting glass.
I wonder... When was it that that began to change?
* * *
Letting the past fade away, I step through the doorway into the old industrial building. Lines of windows on the ceiling let in a filter of yellow-gray light through their dusty frames. The sound of splintering glass accompanies every step of my boots. Bits of cable and wood and broken machinery cover the long expanse of floor.
“Quarter to two,” I say to myself scanning the shadows along the far wall a hundred or so feet back. “It’s always refreshing to be early.”
Hatsu crunches in behind me. “Nobody’s here yet…”
“I’m relived you’re done sulking.” I say still looking around the complex.
“I’m not done,” he says harshly. “You have no idea how hard it is to follow you in here.”
“Perhaps you should stay outside,” I say my eyes running over the length of ceiling.
For once I don’t hear him say anything, I finish my mapping of the lofted windows and look back to him scowling at me.
“I’m not some kid,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows at him and wipe my hands against each other from the consciousness of dust. “That’s good then.”
A sound echoes from the other end of the building cutting Hatsu off. The tall figure of a woman flanked by another woman and a well-built man emerge from behind a bank of rusted machinery.
“Ah Nicolo Wesley,” she calls closing the distance between us. “Prompt as usual I see, I figured maybe the circumstances would allow me to see you late.” Her heeled boots pierce through debris on the floor like two small trash pokers.
“Petra,” I say agilely. “Of course, you couldn’t have thought I wouldn’t show?”
“Not at all, I know what a strong sense of responsibility you carry for your group. I had no doubt you’d accept my deal.”
I can feel Hatsu bristle beside me. I raise my bare forearm, fingers splayed towards the vaulted ceilings. “Shall we then?”
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