Chapter 27:

"Honky Tonk Woman"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Daisuke adjourns our meeting. He’s heading up to a balcony to make a big speech before the screen turns on, while I head down to the plaza to find a good view. Theatrics, smoke and mirrors, politics. I don’t know.

I also don’t know where Shizuko is. She’s somewhere in the plaza, but when I get out of there, I’m immediately slammed by the carnival atmosphere. Hundreds of people are mulling about the flat concrete; flowing water rolls down fountains and metallic statues of old samurai heroes line the area. A helicopter hovers overhead, its rotors swirling with a constant droning noise. There’s no way I’ll find Shizuko in this crowd on my own, so I send her a message on my phone.

Well, I pull up the message screen. I got this phone in college; I don’t think I’ve ever messaged anyone outside of my parents or the club, and those are always on the formal side. How do the kids do it these days? But Shizuko and I aren’t kids, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. I remember my heart always skipping a beat when I messaged the Class Prez in high school because it seemed so important to get every singular word right, especially that first message, because I got her contact info during a class outing to a karaoke booth and therefore needed to send a karaoke-related pun. Crafting something smart took a long while.

But with Shizuko - maybe it’s because we’re older, maybe it’s because we’re so comfortable with each other, but I don’t feel the need to say something witty. I admit though, I did get a rush of adrenaline when I sent that first text out.

Shunsuke: Where are you? Currently at the plaza next to the city hall.

Her answer comes quickly.

Shizuko: waiting for Yuka to go to the bathroom lol she’s be in there for a while lmao

Shizuko: i’ll lyk when we’re out

Amazing how different people can be in-person versus online.

Well, I got time to kill, so I decide to take in the sights. On one side of the plaza, I see the two pop culture references from Mabuchi Castle again - the girl in the pink tracksuit and the drunk woman. They’re covering a Molotov song and have drawn a decent amount of the plaza’s attention. I wonder if they’ll get shut down, but I see several prefectural police officers dancing and cheering in the crowd.

I leave them to their business and check out one of the fountains - and come across a familiar face.

“Buy the story of the century!” Ayako calls out, waving a disc in her hand, a stack of them resting behind her. She has her director’s beret on and sunlight glints off the disc. I don’t see Kentaro, but Ayako’s loud enough for the both of them. She pulls out a plastic megaphone to get the crowd’s attention even further, but nobody’s coming, especially since the references go hard on the bass, guitar, and moe. Ayako frowns at the development and screams into the megaphone just as I arrive; I give it a light flick so the mouthpiece taps her face.

“Damn pig-oh, Shunsuke!” Ayako’s face immediately lightens up now that she’s no longer alone in the crowd. She gestures toward the stack of discs. “I’m selling my first film. It’s a short piece, just fifteen minutes, but I’ve put my blood, sweat, tears, and other fluids into it.”

The stack seems pretty high. “How’s the sale going?”

She tries to act proud, but her shoulders slump. “I haven’t sold a single one. There’s no chance of me going viral, let alone exiled.” Ayako practically drags her feet to the fountain and she sits on the edge, water rushing behind her. Rock music drifts over us and she slides a loafer across the ground. “Was I born too late? Does nobody care about the message anymore? The world’s on fire, and all we can do is watch moe blobs play music.”

Ayako lets out a long sigh. “I want to start a revolution. I want my 1968. I want my Bastille, I want my Winter Palace, I want to tie myself to trees and get assassinated in Mexico. But nobody cares.”

I take a seat next to her. I’m watching somebody grow up in real time - that first realization that things can go wrong, that things don’t always work out, that your dreams aren’t going to line up with reality. It’s just as painful as I remember it to be.

“I think people care more than you think,” I say. “You just gotta find the right people. You’re only sixteen. I only found the right people this past month.”

“I feel like it’s already too late,” she mumbles. “There are people younger than me who are already more successful. There just has to be something wrong with me. I bet I’d get more attention if I didn’t walk pigeon-toed, or have crow’s feet around my eyes, or get avian flu last month.”

I give her a long stare.

After a moment, Ayako lets out another sigh. “Okay, I just made that last one up. I just want to be interesting. Or maybe I just want people to be interested in me. Am I attractive, Shunsuke?”

Answering that would be tough…for a number of reasons. So I decide to give her the best answer I can.

“I think you’re fun to be around. I wish you could’ve been my friend in high school and I'm glad you're my friend now. And you do have people interested in you - Kentaro’s your friend, isn’t he?”

Her shoulders slump even further, and she pulls her beret downwards to cover her face. “Yeah. But I want him to take me to the festival tomorrow. Not for the contest or for a film. Just to go. And watch the fireworks.”

“Why don’t you ask him to go with you?”

Ayako glances up. “He’s supposed to ask me. If he asks me, I know for a fact I’ll say yes. But if I ask him, then maybe he says no. And then everything gets ruined.”

“Maybe he says yes.”

A blast of guitar and drunken yelling from the bassist interrupts our conversation. We would’ve stopped anyway - Kentaro emerged from the crowd, carrying two cans of juice. Ayako immediately perks up and puts on her usual war face; Kentaro slips a can into her hands and takes a sip from his. “Hey, Shunsuke,” he greets. He lowers the can from his mouth and offers me some. Ayako’s face turns red; I don’t get it, but I’m not thirsty.

When Kentaro sees the stack of CDs and how Ayako’s pretending like she doesn’t care, he sighs and sets the can of juice down. “Play Entrance Ceremony,” he tells me, then cracks his fingers. I share a glance with Ayako, but I do as instructed and play the song out of my phone.

The initial wave of music draws a few eyeballs our way, then Kentaro keeps them on us by immediately doing a split. With each beat of the Eighties city pop song, he spins around the ground, doing the hardest breakdancing I’ve ever seen. Even dressed in a dress shirt and slacks, he’s killing the beat, spinning and spinning to infinity, deft hands and shoulder twirls keeping him in motion. All of a sudden, he’s back on his feet, moving like a robot, his legs looking like he’s stepping forward but he’s actually sliding backwards. A crowd’s gathered now; Kentaro speaks while not missing a beat.

“Do you guys like films that show how the world really is?”

A high schooler with a Seiko-chan haircut from the Eighties - hair rolling down the back of her neck and below the ears - raises her hand. “I do!”

Kentaro nods back at Ayako, who starts passing out her discs. By the time Kentaro finishes his dance and the crowd disperses, she’s handed out five or six. I can only join the crowd in their applause as everything winds down. With his audience gone, Kentaro slams his entire can of juice, then asks Ayako if he can finish hers. She’s so astounded that she can only offer it to him with wide eyes.

“Did you do that just for me?” Ayako blurts out. Her face is heavily dipped in red. “I didn’t know you could dance.”

“We had to get people’s attention somehow,” he answers, trying to look cool by gazing off into the distance. “And yeah, usually I don’t break out the moves. My mother was an instructor and taught me when I was growing up. But I haven’t danced since she passed...”

His voice trails off when Ayako starts crying. She pulls her director’s beret down to cover her eyes. “It’s really not fair, Kentaro…when you go out of your way to be kind to me…and I didn’t know about your mother, I’m sorry…”

She can’t help it; he’s taller, so she stands on her toes when she hugs him. Kentaro’s face is a mixture of red and confusion. “Thanks, and my mom’s alright. I was saying she passed her medical license exam and now works as a nurse. That’s why she doesn’t teach dancing anymore.”

I hear his spine pop when Ayako tightens her grip. “So…she’s really alright?”

“Yeah, she’s all right. Because she lost her left hand in a car accident. She was inspired by the paramedics to become a doctor-”

Ayako looks like she’s about to suplex him. But then she realizes how long she’s been holding him for and slowly retreats. She slides her loafer across the ground. “Hey, Kentaro…you want to go to the festival with me tomorrow? Not for the contest. Just going together.”

Her fists are clenched as she speaks. He just nods. “Sure. I think it’ll be fun.”

What a fun interaction. By this point, both Kentaro and Ayako remember I’m there too - I can’t help but be that guy and clap for them. Ayako sticks her tongue out at me, so I go to grab the back of her collar and pick her up, but then - it’s showtime.

Daisuke appears up on the balcony, his arms spread wide.

Steward McOy