Chapter 1:


Kill The Lights

I’m getting tired of fresh starts.

Okay, I get how this sounds coming from a somewhat-rich, somewhat-white guy. Especially when he’s queueing up for customs at the third-best (used to be second-best) airport in the world. It’s the kind of first world problem that gets you ‘I hope the first class hors d’oeuvres give you explosive diarrhoea’ death stares. Which would’ve definitely been the case, had I eaten any. I’m deathly allergic to fish.

But hear me out: I don’t hate travelling. Controversial, I know. Here’s an actual one: I don’t hate moving either. Partly because I’ve never had to handle any of the packing, carrying and unpacking – we have great ‘family’ friends – and partly because this particular lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to gathering loads of material possessions. And with my sister, Anna, and I being born and bred polyglots – again, ‘family’ friends – the language barrier tends to be more of a language bollard.

So what’s the issue then? Well, the issue is just that – there are no issues. Now please put your privileged pig pitchforks down and listen. Talking from experience, this is gonna take a while.

It all starts at the immigration desk. The lovely, fresh-out-of-college intern is looking at me like I’ve got three heads, which would probably be more believable than having 16 visas at my age. But really, she doesn’t get paid enough to worry about that. With a shrug, she gives me stamp number 17, returns my soon-to-be dust passport and wishes me a shaky, “Welcome to Japan!”

As for the shadow looming over me, I think now is as good a time as any to acknowledge the existence of my father. Not as a person, mind you. He’s this suit-and-tie wearing back of the head that Anna and I rendez-vous with at baggage handling, then follow in single-file to the underground parking lot. There, he introduces us to our indigenous flavour of ‘uncle’, the name and face of which I promptly forget. Not like I’ll ever see him again.

‘Uncle’ hands father the keys to our ride– an all-black sedan, from wheel rims to tinted windows – helps us with our non-existent bags, then that’s it. We climb in and for the hour-long journey between Haneda and Chiba we never interrupt the radio’s white noise.

Sooner than expected, we arrive at our new lodging. It’s this very tan, very square two-story brick bang in the middle of a reasonably affluent neighbourhood – the kind with a 7-Eleven right next to a fusion bistro. Father walks right in, double-checks the locks on every door, then takes a seat at the kitchen table, ready to say his goodbyes.

Here’s the thing about Richard Blakeley. I love him – or, at the very least, I love the part of him that got his ‘cousins’ to teach me ten different martial arts before I turned ten. The part I got to know through the little notes he writes on the memo line of my allowance checks. The part that’s a widower Interpol agent who really, really tries his best to be there for his twins. But ultimately, we only get to see him twice a year. When he helps us settle into our new orphanage, and a week before that, on the exceptionally gloomy evening when he tells us we’re leaving for a new country.

It doesn’t help that Anna and he share the love language of physical affection. From the shadow of the stairwell, I watch him hugging Anna goodbye like a redneck watches a bear tangoing with goldilocks – jealous curiosity. And when I’ve had enough of that doting blend of weighted silence, I clear my throat. Once, for a signal, twice, for effect. God, I’m awful.

A rueful grin splits his lips. Anna looks up, all doll-eyes, and he rubs the blush off her blanching cheeks. With a sorrowful tightness in his voice, he releases her with an, “I love you” and an empty promise, “I’ll try coming to one of your recitals.” And even if Anna nods like she believes him, all three of us know better. When she passes me on her way up to her room, the same habitual tears are streaming down her face.

I remember our farewells used to be longer. Bullet-point lists of household chores, useful contacts and procedures in case of everything from a category five hurricane to a stomachache. Nowadays, it’s just a bare-bones routine.

He sizes me up from a distance, making it seem like he’s marvelling at how big and strong I’ve gotten, at the man he’s made me into. In return, I burn his image into my retinas. He is a lot of who I am – I have his blonde curls in my hair, his dimple in my right cheek, his waddle in my walk. And yet, he’s not a person, as much as he is a mirror. The ghost of future me.

Next, comes the disarming pause. It varies in length each time, as does the number of steps he takes down the hallway and the pocket he ends up reaching into. But he always, always, throws that one knife at me.

I catch it in my mouth, hoping that he’ll be impressed. But this literal motherfucker isn’t even fazed when he turns back around. Instead, he smiles, nonplussed, nonchalant.

“Impressive. Love you, Luca.”

I sigh, “Love you too, dad,” although with how hard I’m gritting my teeth, it sounds a lot like ‘dick’. Common nickname. Very appropriate too, considering that I don’t understand why he keeps testing me. Maybe he’s overly cautious or – maybe he doesn’t trust me enough.

Can’t ask him about it anyway, because by the time I lift my gaze off the floor, he’s gone. I spit the knife back at the closed door, then empty my lungs with a sigh. It’s the one thing that still manages to take me by surprise.

Lucky for me, this isn’t unlike any other goddamn pains in my life. They’re all ephemeral and if time can’t make them go away, crossing half the globe usually does the trick. But since we can’t wait for the nuclear option of coping every single time we get down, Anna and I have each developed our own techniques to help us weather the rainy days.

Which is why as soon as father drives off, my violin virtuoso sister starts rocking the house with an all-new breakdown special – a symphonic cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. And honestly? That’s pretty sick. Really makes me wish I could scream my feelings like that. But alas, she and I drank from the same gene pool, so when she slurped up all the wild and rambunctious, I was left with the emotional effervescence of a tall glass of milk. In return, I made her stop growing at 5’2. Small victories.

At any rate, the old dilemma strikes again. See, Anna typically goes through a whole album before she settles down, at which point she comes downstairs and I braid her hair over takeaway dinner and Netflix – locally-subtitled Frasier is our comfort binge. But, at the same time, I work my way through the same fear of abandonment by taking a nice, quiet walk through the neighbourhood. Scout out the area, you feel me?

So, am I that kind of brother? The kind to leave his sister alone in her hour of need? No, I’m the kind who writes her a note.

Out for a walk. Back in an hour. Don’t burn anything while I’m gone. Signed, onii-chan. Written in plain English too for extra linguistic damage. Now, with my bases more-or-less covered, I grab my bag from the sofa, a couple thousand yen from the pre-filled change bowl, then step out of the house.

And not even a second passes before the city takes the reins.

At once, the soothing fragrance of pears arrests me, whisks me away and releases me into the sensory cornucopia of a flower market in full bloom. There, the sun’s perfumed mead plays hide and seek among stalls flooded with waterfalls of wisteria and plum blossom ponds. And the crowd is thick, but ever-flowing; a haze that curves around me as I slice right through it – a kireji to the kigo.

Deeper inside the square, there comes a gentle slope. The soft scents of the mountain depart and usher in the earthen musk of the plains, roots and legumes. Voices sluice the reverie, the pleasant conversations between old, goading salesmen and young, yet tired housewives. The atmosphere thrums lightly, pulses a tender calm.

Towards the very end, the sea kisses the land. Cold, ice-laden counters awaken me to the musty tang of mackerel and eel, then ferry me to the heady aroma of batter sizzling on griddles. I line up without much thought. One of the cooks spots me, rips me from my own world. He asks me for my order. I shrug my shoulders, lost. He nods and finds words for me. “Ta-ko-ya-ki.” Fried octopus balls served in a paper boat. “300 yen,” he says. I nod and buy another serving, then tip him an even thousand.

Why? Because I’m bored.

Because, to make this whole rant come full circle, even fresh starts can become stale after a while. You end up knowing everything before it even happens. The people are always nice. The sights are always beautiful. The –


– yeah, those are everywhere too, shut up.

Even when I seek where that cry came from, the sight feels expected, somehow. Your wonderbread delinquent girl – pink hair, crop top, tight shorts, face mask – carrying a brown paper bag and running from what look to be the East-Asian equivalent of bald silverback gorillas. To make a long story short, no way in hell they’ll ever catch up to someone with that pair of legs under her. Not without a bit of help, at least.

This is where my hereditary pathology – a mild hero complex – comes into play. Spotting a nearby empty table, I wait for the proper moment, then throw it right in the middle of the girl’s escape path. Now, normally, she’d freeze, startled, and I would grab a hold of her until those apes arrived.

But, mildly inauspiciously, I’ve stumbled upon the only pickpocket with a masters’ degree from ParkourU. Because, not even batting an eye, she skips up on the table’s edge and kicks. Hard. And the next thing I know she’s soaring over me, doing a flip too for a bit of pizazz.

If this were a love story, I’m pretty sure it’d all begin here. When this mysterious street rat and I locked eyes, her suspended in midair, me suspended in disbelief, and I realised that – no, I knew she was smirking.

And there’s no way in hell I’m letting her get away now.

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