Chapter 35:

"The Riders on the Storm"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Unfortunately, the women kick me out of the tent so they can get changed in peace. On the outside, I’m greeted by the organized chaos of the festival - the sounds, the smells, the sights. Ayako and Kentaro also greet me; they had arrived to check in on Shizuko. Well, Kentaro greets me with a nod of the head, but Ayako is currently bouncing off the walls. She’s doing some sort of happy little dance, enough to nearly shake herself out of her loafers.

“That was amazing!” she exclaims breathlessly. “Super-duper, ultra, awesome, spectacular, fantasmic…Kentaro, you’re a writer, can you give me another good word?”


“Incredible!” Ayako’s fists are clenched in excited little balls. “And this is just the start. Let’s, let’s do something just as awesome! Like…polar bears! You ever see those sad photos of the polar bears adrift on melting ice caps? Let’s go film that! And…the ozone layer! Did we ever fix the hole in it? Let’s go film that, and the aurora borealis, and penguins marching, and the Amazon, and, and-”

For old time’s sake, I lift her up by the back of the collar. She doesn’t protest; instead, she’s mesmerized by the view. And it’s ironic - the higher up she is, the more down-to-earth her dreams are.

“I want to drink something, Kentaro! I want to get my driver’s license! I want to graduate and go to college and miss the last subway home!”

“Your mother would kill me if I let that happen,” Kentaro points out. Ayako just sticks her tongue out at him. Kentaro shakes his head, but the way he’s smiling, the way he’s looking at her - something is in the air. The way Shizuko glows when I see her, maybe that’s how Ayako appears to Kentaro now.

And then Shizuko and Ume emerge from the tent. Ume’s wearing normal street clothes, while Shizuko’s dressed in a crimson kimono that utterly shines.

“Shizuko, that was…tubular!” Ayako cries out, escaping my grasp. “I want to be just like you when I get older.”

Ume laughs; Shizuko just nuzzles Ayako’s black beret with the palm of her hand. “Believe me. You should try to be just like yourself when you get older.”

“Affirmative, captain,” Ayako answers, puffing out her chest in pride. And then she pauses, because a few suit-clad staffers emerge out of the crowd, escorting none other than Daisuke and Yuka towards us. They both walk with happy strides, with the same gait, father and daughter side-by-side.

“Are you alright?” Daisuke asks Shizuko. She nods and it takes her a moment to speak.

“I’m fine. I just hope you live up to your promises.”

Ayako nods vigorously, and even Kentaro glances at Daisuke expectantly. Ume, who’s actually old enough to vote in the upcoming election, crosses her arms.

“I’m going to try my best,” Daisuke declares. “A Daisuke never leaves a fellow Daisuke in the cold. And, if I’m the governor, that means I should consider the whole prefecture my fellow Daisukes. It’s time to clean things up. My cousins will have to earn their jobs, and no more random expenses.”

I resist the urge to vomit as I hear my wallet cry out. Yuka promised that I could expense the thirty thousand yen’s worth of supplies. But, as Daisuke says - that’s politics!

“But, more importantly,” Daisuke continues. “I want to thank you all for taking good care of Yuka. Did she tell me what exactly happened tonight? For legal reasons, I’m completely in the dark. But I know you helped both her and I grow closer. You can’t hide behind a screen, whether it’s the prefecture, or my own flesh and blood. And let me be clear - my daughter is a goddamn genius! I’ve never been prouder.”

Yuka goes red from the praise and scratches her nose. “I’m not a genius. I’m just a Daisuke.”

They both let out that infectious laughter. Then Yuka approaches Shizuko and looks up at her. “When you talked about parents yesterday, you helped calm me down. If you need it, is there anything I can do to help you with yours?”

Shizuko taps her fingers along her yukata and looks away, but it’s just because there’s a happy dance going across her face. She manages to look back at Yuka and speak gently. “Thank you. But you’ve already done so much for me. If you can make up with your father, then I can make up with mine. That’s the last thing I need to do to move on.”

Yuka places her hands behind her back and shuffles backwards, bowing her head in respect. “Thank you, everyone, for everything.”

“Going to the polls is the Yoshia-key to success!” Daisuke declares, and he’s so charismatic that even something like that lands. “Thank you, everyone!”

With that, he waves goodbye and disappears into the crowd. 

Yuka bows and follows her father into the maze of stalls. I wonder if I'll see her in a rocket one day.

“I can’t believe she fixed the screen,” Ayako muses. “She’s so young, yet so amazing. I guess, even if I’m older, I’ll just have to keep working hard as well.”

This is a far cry from the Ayako who felt so down about herself yesterday. Maybe the charged atmosphere of a festival helps emotional moments along, helps people grow up, creates a clear marker in your head of “before” and “after”. Everyone here will certainly have distinct memories of this festival for a long, long while.

“Good luck, Shizuko!” Ayako declares, and then she shakes my hand. “See you, Tokyo cowboy!” She salutes, hand across her beret, and gestures for Kentaro to follow her into the crowd.

Kentaro lingers for a moment. “I’ll still beat you in the contest,” he tells me. But then he grins. “But even if I don’t, I’m still happy with the way things are going. Yoshiaki’s changing, one day at a time.” He then says his farewells to Shizuko. “I’m sorry I called you mommy when we first met. That wasn’t right of me. You’re still a mommy, but more importantly than that - you’re my friend.”

Shizuko lets out an amused sigh. “Go be the future Proust.”

“You know it!” With that, Kentaro follows Ayako, who’s waving to him at the edge of the crowd, and they disappear into a sea of sighs and good fortune.

“Mommy?” Ume asks with a raised eyebrow. 

Shizuko just laughs and waves it away. Then she grows a bit more serious, a satisfied, content look on her face as she gazes at Ume. “It wasn’t your fault. What happened in high school, I mean. It was your lousy dad.”

Ume shakes her head. “I still made the decision to do what I did that day. So I’m making the decision now to atone for it.”

Shizuko slides a sandal across the ground. “I’m glad. I forgive you, Ume. I’m looking forward to seeing you this year.”

The women hug, having crossed the last barrier to rekindling their friendship. They’re a long way from their last meeting, standing far from each other, Ume tossing the medallion across a patch of green grass.

“See you around,” Ume says in farewell. Then she looks my way. Her long hair billows in the August breeze. “And Shunsuke? Thank you.”

“Are you making the most of life in Yoshiaki?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

She gazes up at the skyscraper, all lit up in pretty colors. The corners of her mouth resist the urge, but they turn upwards all the same. “Maybe.”

And with that, she departs. Once again, it’s just Shizuko and I. The whole world’s so loud, but when I’m with her, I feel like there’s a hole in the noise. Incredibly peaceful, incredibly tranquil, incredibly calm.

“I know a good place to see the fireworks,” she says. “I bet they’ll be starting soon.”

Steward McOy