Chapter 29:


Vibrancy x Vibrancy

More banners unfurl across the stage. One reads EMBRACE THE ENDLESS YESTERDAY. Another one depicts that peculiar extinct bird - the Yoshiaki Crimson Sparrow. One more, in bold black letters, shouts to the world SHINKUMEKAI, and I’m instantly brought back to my conversation with the old man in the Hoshinomori park.

Takeuchi is really revving the crowd up now. “Join the Crimson Sparrow Society, and together, we’ll preserve Yoshiaki for all time!”

This earns him more cheers. Across the crowd, people clap and whistle and Takeuchi soaks it all up from behind the podium. "My name is Takeuchi. You may know me as the Mayor of Soga. You may also know me as the catcher on the 1978 Soga High team that made Koshien."

A group of older salarymen nod in approval.

"You may also, also know me as the man who stood on the front lines during the raccoon incident this spring."

Somebody starts crying patriotic tears.

Takeuchi points to a reporter in the front row, who coughs and then proceeds with his question. "As governor, what will you do about problems concerning the youth of today? Climate change, environmental issues, freedom of speech?"

"I love speaking," Takeuchi jokes. " Some people say I speak too much. But let me tell you something. I love Yoshiaki. I love Japan. And let me tell you something - the rambling man who loves Japan is here with a plan to save the land, and that's something I hope you understand."

"He's hip!" a gaggle of college kids exclaim. 

It's tough to describe - Daisuke is incredibly charismatic, but there's that political smarminess that goes with it that keeps him from totally being genuine. But Takeuchi - he's shooting from the hip, but the fact that he's showing a side like that in an era of bland, copy-pasted officials makes the park go wild with applause. 

Next to me, Ume just shakes her head, but then I see some commotion at the front of the stage. When we go to investigate, I can’t believe my eyes - and neither can Kentaro, who's apparently here and following Ayako through the maze of people. An utter look of disbelief crosses his face as she wrestles a microphone away from a rather useless reporter who looks suspiciously like the cousin taxi driver and the cousin cop.

“Ayako, Kenji High,” she declares into the microphone with no hesitation. The crowd quiets down at the sight of this diminutive high school girl speaking with authority at the man on the stage. This is her moment, and she’s not backing down. I actually kind of feel proud.

Before Takeuchi can answer, Ayako presses her opportunity. “Are you prepared to answer the rumors involving your personal and business life?”

The huge man in the brown suit also standing on the stage snorts like a bull. A few people in the crowd boo her, but Takeuchi quiets them with a hand. No doubt, he sees his opportunity - to quell these apparent rumors about him when his opponent is a mere high school girl. “I welcome this kind of questioning, especially from the youth of today. They’re invested in Yoshiaki’s future, too. But let me be clear - in all my years of public service, I have never obstructed justice, nor made ill-gotten profits. People have a right to know if their governor-to-be is a crook. And I am not a crook!”

Ayako survives his barrage and speaks crisply. “Thanks to my sources found by scrolling through social media, are you prepared to explain about the time you killed your wife?”

Takeuchi immediately turns white as a sheet. The crowd goes dead silent; someone awkwardly coughs.

“Your soon-to-be-wife, rather,” Ayako corrects. “You see, on the eve of your marriage, you were getting cold feet, and your fiance wanted to send out wedding invitations by hand. Since there would be over two hundred invitations to send, you decided to choose the cheapest option - old envelopes known to be defective. Your wife licked the envelopes, one-by-one, unknowingly exposing herself to a toxic adhesive, until she expired. When the doctor told you the news, you reportedly reacted with a “'restrained jubilation.'”

All eyes dart Takuechi’s way. He’s sweating profusely and has a white-knuckle grip on the podium. “I told her to use glue,” he huffs out.

Ayako wags a finger. “And that’s not all. While you were dating a different woman, you and your best friend Jiro went on a double date at a hot springs. While there, your girlfriend crossed over to the men’s side to retrieve something and Jiro ended up seeing her topless. You were out running errands, and when you learned of this from Jiro, you demanded to see his girlfriend naked as recompense. He refused, so you barged into her room, only for her to kick you out. When she later accidentally stumbled upon your room, she saw you nude and reportedly laughed at the size of your nether regions-”

“There was shrinkage!” Takeuchi interrupts. “I just got back from the springs!”

“That’s what said back then, too. When Jiro’s girlfriend told your girlfriend about the incident, your relationship eroded. As revenge, you secretly fed her meat while knowing she was a vegetarian!”

Veins pop out of Takeuchi’s head. He grips a stress ball as tight as a snake coiling around its prey. “Jiro,” he curses under his breath, but then he collects himself enough to speak coherently. “People, please. Let’s remember something real - remember when we used to go golfing all the time in the Eighties? It was fun, wasn't it?"

As the crowd is momentarily distracted by memories of yesterday, Takeuchi quickly ends the gathering with a triumphant final playing of Entrance Ceremony. I expect him to make a quick beeline for the exit, but when I go to regroup with Ayako, I suddenly come face to face with the big man from the stage. Ume instinctively steps in front of me. I appreciate her gesture, but my pride is also kind of wounded.

“Shunsuke,” Takeuchi says as he emerges behind the big man. “Come. Let’s talk, as promised.”

He turns around, expecting me to follow. I’m not following him - I’m gonna follow the dude who could pick me up by the scruff of the neck like a toy. Wait, isn’t that what I do to Ayako? Life’s just one big irony circle, and yes, I am rambling to distract myself from the potential horrors that await as I follow the two men. I nod back at Ume - yes, I’ll be alright. As long as I don’t lick any envelopes.

We set up shop backstage. As workers haul away banners and electronic equipment, I sit in a folding chair across from Takeuchi. The big man’s shades glint in the stage lights.

“This is the Hawk,” Takeuchi introduces.

I decide to put on a brave face. “What prison you haul this guy out of?”

Takeuchi grins. “Stanford Pre-Law, actually. His full name is the Hawk, Esquire.”

“Indubitably,” the Hawk declares in a voice as deep and gravelly as a blues singer. He hands me his business card.



Nearby, a stagehand eats a rather good-looking sandwich.

“Now let’s make this quick,” Takeuchi begins, glancing at his watch (and still squeezing his stress ball). “I want you to put in a good word for me in your book. When I win the governor’s seat, I’ll make your story the winner. You’ll be the centerpiece of Takeuchi’s own Preserve the Prefecture campaign.”

“The winner gets chosen before the election,” I point out.

Takeuchi brushes my concerns away. “I can just say it was rigged.”

The smugness radiating out of this guy reminds me of my older cohorts at college. “What exactly is your platform?”

“To bring back the old days.”


“Do I need anything more?”

I frown. “And what makes you think I’d write anything for you?”

The Mayor leans in real close. “Because we’re the same, you and I. I could smell it on you when you entered. You’re afraid of letting go of the past. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone, isn’t it? Every day, it slips further and further away. Let go? Why would we ever let go of the best times of our lives? A past we know was great versus an uncertain future? Both of us - we can answer that question in a heartbeat.”

The stage lights are too bright. I wipe my face, because I know he’s wrong, because the past wasn’t all that cracked up to be, no past is perfect - but then I pause. No past is perfect. But wasn’t high school perfect? Wasn’t I happier then? Just Suga, the Prez, and I. Endless summer days and deep blue skies. We were all alright.

Weren’t we?

The whole crux of my problem is that I’m worried that today won’t be as good as yesterday. I came to Yoshiaki because I have this deep need inside me to make today as good as yesterday. But if I’m selectively remembering yesterday - just the good parts, none of the bad - then…

What the hell am I doing here? What the hell am I actually searching for?

I stand up. I can’t take these lights anymore. “I’ll write about you,” I tell Takeuchi. “But I’ll call it exactly as I see it. You’re just someone stuck on yesterday. Who also killed his wife.”

The stress ball pops in his clenched hand. The gunshot-sounding noise is enough to make a worker drop a prop; the Hawk doesn’t even flinch.

“That was never proven,” Takeuchi retorts. But there’s ambition in his eyes. “You’ll understand soon enough. Or rather - I suspect you already do.”

I shake my head and storm out. All of sudden, the Hawk blocks my path. He’s easily two heads taller and two bodies wider than me. He raises a hand, and I expect to wake up in the hospital, but instead, he mutely hands me a sandwich.

I march out of there and collapse onto a public bench. I have nothing better to do than stew on my woes and eat the turkey club the Hawk gave me. I hate to admit it - this the best sandwich I ever ate. Even the bread is lightly grilled to perfection. Just the right amount of tomato, too.

Steward McOy