Chapter 15:

"Thin Moon Rising"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

While Kentaro and Ayako head home with their friends from Kenji High, the Yamazakis drive Shizuko and I back to their place for a bath and dinner. Once both the former and the latter are all set, we sit around a table in their living room. Inside, the television plays highlights from Mabuchi’s comeback victory earlier today; outside, crickets chirp beneath a thin moon.

“When you signed up this morning,” Mrs. Yamazaki says to Shizuko, “I thought your name was just a coincidence. I didn’t recognize you with the dyed hair. But then, when I saw you keep up with the frontrunners at the start of the race, I started to think it really was you. You doing a great job and coming in second place confirmed it for me.”

She leans over, gray hair done up neatly. “We were all so sad when you didn’t run your senior year. Three victories in a row and a new record for time…but it’s your decision.”

Shizuko sips from a glass of water and gives a relaxed nod. “It’s alright. I had fun today. I forgot how beautiful the fields and hills around Tsukamoto are.”

Mrs. Yamazaki gives a slight nudge to his husband, who just chuckles. “Shunsuke, we had our own fun in the fields and hills today, didn’t we?” As I nod, he stands up, knees cracking, and grabs a photograph off the wall. He slides a finger across the glass frame, pointing at himself, his wife, and two high school-aged children, a boy and girl. “This was from a couple of years ago. Both of them are around your age. They go to university in Tokyo, too. My son and I used to go into those hills all the time.”

I recall the look of joy on the officer’s face as we rumbled around the countryside. Perhaps I was the first person in his passenger seat doing that alongside him in a long while.

“They’re coming back to visit later in the summer,” Mrs. Yamazaki tells us. “They love Tokyo. No doubt, they’ll stay there after graduating. Another pair of brains drained from Yoshiaki.” She shakes her head, and I can see things are about to get political. “We could use a man like Governor Eguchi again. Those were the best years of my life.”

“The Eighties were the best years of everyone’s life, dear,” Yamazaki chides her. “And were in elementary school. And besides besides...Eguchi was corrupt."

“But he came back,” she points out. “He could’ve stayed in Tokyo all his life, but he came back.”

If I recall correctly, Eguchi - missing since 1991 - grew up in Yoshiaki and then went to school and served as a bureaucrat in Tokyo.

Yamazaki gives her a good-natured smile. “Ah, if they want to leave, let them leave. Beginnings and endings aren’t important. It’s about everything along the way. If this is the slow end of Yoshiaki, then let’s just enjoy it while we can.” His eyes grow bittersweet as he looks at the picture of his children. “‘Course, that don’t mean I’m not sad about it-”

Fireworks go off outside. We hear crackles and pops and then an array of orange glows through the window. Yamazaki immediately jumps to his feet, grabs a nearby broom, and storms off through the front door. I quickly follow him out and see the commotion out on the street. A trio of students dressed in plain-clothes had set up a little firework launcher in the middle of the suburban avenue, but by the time Yamazaki and I get out there, they’ve already packed it away. The three stick their tongues out, hop on their scooters, and peel away into the night, leaving Yamazaki shaking his head and waving his broom.

Mrs. Yamazaki, shaking her own head, and Shizuko join us outside. On a nearby wall, mixed in with yellowed recruiting posters for the JSDF, is a newly taped poster depicting anime girl Che Guevara.

“The Tsukamoto Guerilla Theater Troupe,” I realize aloud. I had started to doubt their existence by this point, but they were alive and well. Next to Guevara they taped a few more posters proclaiming broad statements of reforms ranging from LET KIDS BE KIDS to STOP TIGER PARENTS to EQUAL RIGHTS. Too bad I couldn’t see any guerilla acting.

Yamazaki gives his broom once last wave, then sighs and smiles. He taps the wooden handle on one of the posters. “Typical. They didn’t get permission to tape these.” He leaves them up, however. He then hands the broom back to his wife and sits on the front steps to his house. The bittersweet look is back on his face.

“One day, those kids will move away, or I’ll actually catch ‘em,” he says. He glances up at the thin moon. “Either will be the saddest day of my life.”

Mrs. Yamazaki gives him a sympathetic pat on the back. As for Shizuko and I, it’s about time for us to head back to the ryokan. Yamazaki offers us a ride, but Shizuko says it’s only a ten minute walk. It’s a nice night so I don’t really mind, either.

“Take care, you two,” Yamazaki calls out to us. Mrs. Yamazaki waves goodbye, and we leave the officer and his wife to their bittersweet chase of life in this small town in this forgotten prefecture.

Unlike Tokyo, you can actually see a decent amount of stars here. They shine down on us as we take up a slow walk down suburban roads. Cars drift by, bathing us in yellow light; crosswalks glow reds and greens on our faces.

“How come you wanted to walk?” I ask. “I don’t mind, but aren’t you tired?”

Shizuko shakes her head and speaks softly. “I am. But you’re supposed to do cooldown runs after your race. I didn’t today. So this makes up for it.”

“Running after a run?” I rub my chin. “I’ll never understand you athletic types.”

She giggles. Green light briefly covers her face. “Thanks for your help, Shunsuke. I wouldn’t have ever ran that race if we hadn’t talked yesterday.”

“You made the decision not to run, not me. Just like you talked about with Ume.”

We stop at a crosswalk. “Because you’re my friend, I was able to make that decision,” Shizuko says. “Today was fun. Everything was beautiful. I want to keep seeing the world that way. I want to understand it like you do.”

I give her a surprised smile. “Me? I don’t have anything figured out.”

She shakes her head. “You’re able to see that vibrant world. You don’t let all the muck and grime cover it all up. You know about people forgetting about their true feelings. About why they do things in the first place. For the rest of this month, can you teach me about it? How to see all the vibrancy?”

I tug on my collar. It’s not something I can just easily describe, nor do I really have it all figured out like she’s thinking. I used to live without thinking - but now I have to deliberately remind myself about it all. I have to actively search for it. Recently, “good” seems like it’s in short supply.

But it’s Shizuko asking me. We’ve only known each other for about a week now, but I don’t think I’ve been this close with anyone since my friend Suga started staying in his room once high school ended. Come to think of it, I’ve talked with more people in this period of little less than a week than the entirety of my collegiate career in Tokyo. In a city of nearly 40 million, I felt utterly alone.

I smile and nod. “Alright, I’ll give it my best shot.”

The traffic - a lone car - stops as the crosswalk signal changes to green. Then, something unexpected happens. As we step off the sidewalk, Shizuko subtly bumps into me. Nothing more than the tiniest of hip checks. Not even enough to sway me. Just enough to make contact.

“Huh?” I mumble aloud.

Shizuko’s in the middle of the crosswalk now. She glances back at me. “Nothing,” she says, orange streetlights mixing with white headlights across her body, a green glow washing over her smiling face, creating a living kaleidoscope right there in front of me. 

Steward McOy