Chapter 26:

"Screen Over Troubled Water"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

We do a round of bowing and handshakes as we all introduce ourselves to one another. The teenager - though she couldn't have been out of middle school yet - is Yuka, Governor Daisuke’s youngest daughter. Considering my only frame of references for teenage girls recently is the Girl - that ball-busting sailor-fuku wearing member of the Tsukamoto Guerilla Theatre Troupe - and Ayako, who is...Ayako, Yuka’s personality is a surprise. She’s fidgeting awkwardly on those stone steps, pulling on the collar of her sundress, her eyes darting towards the ground. As our group follows Daisuke into the building, I notice Shizuko quietly settling in and walking alongside her.

“How was the drive here?” Daisuke asks in his booming voice. He’s dressed sharply in a jet-black suit that matches nicely with his jet-black hair. He’s the tallest among us and, despite being the governor, walks casually, carefree. Alongside him, Mayor Takeuchi walks with a slight slouch in his brown suit, his dark eyes burning with ambition and regularly glancing up at Daisuke.

“It was…alright,” I answer. I hesitate because it was certainly the weirdest drive I’ve been on - and I’m also talking to a governor. I’m talking to the man in charge of Yoshiaki. I’m talking to the man who orchestrated me coming to the prefecture in the first place. I know politicians are important, but he’s somebody, and that’s why Shizuko doesn’t say anything and that’s why I speak slowly and carefully.

Daisuke nods in understanding. “I bet you think the driver was a little odd. He’s my cousin. Had to get him a job somewhere - that’s politics!” He laughs at his own joke and honestly, I find myself laughing too. Daisuke is a pleasant sort of infectious - I can see how he got elected. I’ve only met him for a few minutes and I find myself relaxing in his presence. 

We pass by a clerk who gives an appreciative smile to Daisuke. One look from Mayor Takeuchi shuts her up. Shizuko and Yuka are still walking side-by-side, and the young girl fidgets when Daisuke suddenly says her name. “Yuka, why don’t you tell Shunsuke about your little project? He can even put it in his book. It’s something about cooking, right?”

She twiddles her thumbs and then grasps a strand of her black bob cut. “It’s, uh, not cooking. It’s circuitry. I, um, like electronics. Wires. Computer stuff.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Daisuke realizes. “I can never keep up with the doohickies you play with. What’s that computer thing…you want to be a streamer or what-cha-ma-call-it, right?”

Yuka shakes her head. “N-no. I want to work for JAXA.”

“Ah, that’s wonderful. I’ll make some calls for you.”

Yuka just lets out a long sigh. Shizuko has a dismayed look on her face.

We get to a lobby and Daisuke stops us with a clap of his hands. “Right. Shunsuke, I’d like to speak with you privately about your project. This will take a decent while, so Yuka, why don’t you show Shizuko around the plaza outside? And Takeuchi, keep doing what you’re doing, my friend.”

Takeuchi’s eyes indicate he does not consider Daisuke a friend. But then his gaze turns to me. “Shunsuke, let’s meet in the city park this afternoon. We have some pre-festival activities I can show you for your book.” His mouth smiles; his eyes do not.

I tell him sure, and that’s that. We all go our separate ways. Daisuke takes me to a spare office; I take a seat he offers me, while the governor himself strolls over to the windows to look outside. We’re a few floors up and the city hall overlooks a large plaza - there’s a crowd growing there, all of them looking up at one of the city’s few skyscrapers. Sprawled across its front is a huge LED screen like the ones at Shinjuku or Shibuya; it’s currently dark, turned off.

Daisuke has his hands folded behind his back and speaks at the window. “The gubernatorial election will be here soon,” he begins, his voice calm but more serious now. “During your travels, have you noticed how the people are feeling?”

I know this man will have a say in who wins the contest. But somewhere along the way, the contest itself became less important to me. I’m writing to write now because there are things to be written here. Because I have a story and because I met some nice people along the way. So I tell him like it is.

“A lot of people think Yoshiaki is dying,” I admit. Since he’s facing the window, I can’t see his expression. “I’ve been hanging around mostly with kids, and they all want something to change. As for the adults, they say there’s this Shinkumekai group who’s gonna run a candidate against you. And a lot of them…they say Nobuhide is angry.”

“Nobuhide,” Daisuke repeats. He rubs his chin in thought. “In times of uncertainty, people need some sort of tangible idea to direct their fear towards. Everyone understands boogeymen more than economics or politics. The current fear of Nobuhide is no different than the American clowns of 2016 nor the Mothman of the 1960s.”

I don’t know what either of those things are, but I get his point.

Daisuke continues his spiel. “And you must present things to the people in a way they understand as well. Big projects. Flashy names. The Mabuchi-Soga Railroad is one such project. My Rescue the Prefecture project is another. And you’re about to see the launching of another one - the Soga Screen.” He steps back and makes a dramatic gesture towards the skyscraper on the other side of the plaza.

I raise my eyebrow. “You’re going to get people’s support by installing a huge screen?”

His eyes glow at the sight. “Not just any huge screen. The huge screen. This will be the biggest skyscraper LED screen in Japan. And you know why I gave it to Soga? Because they have concerns, and I need their votes. They’re afraid of Nobuhide, so I gave them a screen. That’s politics!”

“They’re afraid of the prefecture dying,” I remind him. “I don’t know if a big screen will solve it.”

“It’s a start,” Daisuke answers, but he never provides the next step. Instead, he looks at his watch and the peppiness subtly vanishes from his voice. “I just hope Yuka likes it. My older children have already graduated college, but Yuka’s still young. I just don’t understand her. I really want to.”

I try to give my advice as neutrally as possible. “You could pay more attention to her.”

Daisuke nods in understanding. “If only. I have a prefecture to save, Shunsuke. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Steward McOy