Chapter 50:

"Shizuko of Yoshiaki"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

We arrive at the Mabuchi station with plenty of time to spare. This time, no getting drunk on the train - no more cigarettes, no more boozing for me. At least, not until there's a good occasion for it. It’ll be a quiet train ride home, watching Japan pass by on the other side of the window, taking a train to another train to another train and then, just like that, I’ll be walking into my apartment like nothing happened. Like I was never here in Yoshiaki. But I most certainly was, and I’ll always cherish these summer days. But you know what? Bring on autumn. Let’s do it. To quote someone dear to me - approaching escape velocity.

Shizuko and I sit on a bench, waiting for the train. She kicks her legs idly while I look through my bag. “I can’t believe you simply gave up Ken-chan for adoption like that,” I tease. “Our own child. We need to be more careful with Aki-chan.”

Our hips touch as we sit there. Shizuko sticks her tongue out at me. “I’m not a neglectful mother. I swear. But Aki-chan can stay with you.”

“A souvenir and a memento?”

“So you won’t forget me.”

“Like hell I could.”

I have our child, she has my shirt. Neither of us will be forgetting anything. Not for a long, long time.

Shizuko stops kicking her legs and slowly nods. “I promise to work hard while you’re gone. Whatever my Aunt puts me up to, I’m ready for a project.”

“Same here,” I answer. “I’m actually excited for the semester. I wrote all my club members off as jerks, but I never really got to know any of them. I was too stuck in my own world.”

We look out at the tracks. “I’m sorry I gotta leave you, though,” I say quietly. “Lousy timing.”

Shizuko holds my hand. “You inspire me, Shunsuke. Who knows where I'd be right now if you didn't give me the strength to run that race. I wouldn't have reconnected with Ume, made all these friends, gone back to Soga, or found closure with my parents."

I feel the warmth of her hand. "And I wouldn't have moved on and found closure if it weren't for you, either. I'm excited for Tokyo. Now that I've met you and know myself a little better, I'm ready to see what I can do there this autumn."

"I’m going to work hard for you," Shizuko says. "And I’m going to work hard for myself. The next time we meet, I want to show you all the paintings I’ve done. All the races I’ve ran.”

 “And I’ll show you all the stories I’ve written. And all the places I’ve seen.”

And then we hear it - the sound of the train pulling in. Reluctantly, we stand up, hand-in-hand. We kissed all we wanted to back at that riverside ryokan - now it’s time for the formal farewell.

“Maybe you’re not such a loser after all,” Shizuko admits.

“Glad you finally think that way.”

Heart to heart, hand to hand. Shizuko takes in a deep breath, and gives me an earnest smile, a smile I’ll never forget.

“Thanks for coming to Yoshiaki, Shunsuke.”

I want to laugh and cry and hold her close and take her back with me. All those emotions get mixed into the bittersweet feeling running through me, into the way I run a thumb slowly across her palm.

“Thanks for having me, Shizuko.”

The train stops; the doors open. I hoist up my bag, sling it over my shoulder, and soak in Yoshiaki one last time. This is supposed to be a travelogue, so let me just say - I recommend it. Fully, honestly, one-hundred percent recommend going to Yoshiaki. Going anywhere. Meeting anyone. Just doing something, even if it’s just putting on your shoes and walking down the block. It might just be the perfect day for it.

I have a window seat on the train. Shizuko and I wave to each other through the glass. Wouldn’t it be nice if she sprinted down the platform, calling out my name? But what happens on that platform today is just as nice. Because on that platform, as the train picks up steam and departs, I see her smile at me, and she sees me smiling at her. Ripples of wind run through her dark hair. The last sight of her face is enough to keep me smiling like a fool all the way back to Tokyo.


Well, what happens next? It’s a few weeks into September now, so a couple of updates:

I went to Yoshiaki with a university fund of ten thousand yen. I walked away seventy thousand over that. So I’m typing this up on my phone during my break at the local konbini.

As for the university itself - President Frogface is still President Frogface, but the other club members are pretty nice. It just took some opening up on my end, and conversations about the odds and ends of Yoshiaki are the perfect social lubrication. In a city of forty million, I’m friends with about three people, and it puts a spring in my step every single day.

Had to turn down karaoke with them tonight, though. Tonight, I’m seeing Suga. Or, at least, I’m gonna go knock on his door. Speak with his parents. Maybe I’ll even get to speak with him. Because he was my friend, and because he is still my friend. 

Kanako. Wherever she is, I hope she’s okay. And if she were to ever turn up again, needing help or needing a friend, I’d be there for her. But I no longer stand at train crossings pretending to wait for someone on the other side. It still hurts, but I’ve treated the wound; all that’s left is the slow healing process.

In political news, the Takeuchi campaign refuses to close its doors, but Daisuke has a near-insurmountable lead in the polls. The Soga Screen continues to play and has been dedicated to the heroes of the heart-wrenching raccoon incident. 

Yuka’s entering her final year of middle school - she’s been asking me about high schools in Tokyo. I have little advice to offer because I didn’t go to school for rocket science (or in Tokyo), but I tell her that Tokyo’s not so bad - as long as you go in with an open mind and understand things might be tough at first.

There are rumors of a vagabond in Yoshiaki who will dance on the grass for hours. Come rain or shine, he'll be there, slipping and sliding across blades wet with dew. The happiest man in Yoshiaki, they call him, and his happiness is the kind that spreads easy. For some reason, the new teacher at Kenji High, the one that owns a new boat, seems to know him.

The contest finalists won’t be announced for another month. Azawa said she liked my travelogue and will judge it fairly along with the others. I read Kentaro’s entry - I don’t know about copyright or how that works, so go read his if you want something raw and heartfelt. Like somebody putting boosters on a rocket, getting ready for takeoff. Some more stories, some more practice, and he’ll be writing with the best of them.

Ayako died on the way back to her home planet sends me a link to her amateur films of the Tsukamoto Guerilla Theater Troupe. In one of them, they get chased by Yamazaki and the Hawk - I honestly can’t tell if they’re in on it or not. Despite their amateur credentials, they’re all smiling during the vigorous chase scene, and I suppose that’s all that matters.

Ume's an assistant manager at her kobini now, so she's always giving me tips on how to work at one (coincidently, it's also not rocket science). She's been restoring the old Nobuhide Garden out in the mountains - when I ask her if gardening is something new she's trying out, she only responds with a "maybe (smiley face emoticon)".

As for Shizuko - her new job during her gap year from school is half-administrative, half-creative. Hauling around boxes and going through records in the morning, painting for government programs in the afternoon. And she’s been painting a whole lot - Mabuchi, all the towns and villages, Ume, her mother, the ridge. She sends me pictures, sneak previews, usually with funny captions, but today she says (edited for proper grammar):

Shizuko: You really inspire me, you know. I think it started with the summer race. You showed me I could confront the past and change.

Shizuko: Is that a little corny? I’m a painter, not a writer.

So, today, I’m saying something too. I’ve been going through the full version of this story, making little edits here and there, because somebody’s going to see it - Shizuko herself. When she visits me, or when I visit her, it’ll be her gift, a bow wrapped on it, with a title inspired by the calligraphy on that rock at the Temple of the Eternal Flame.

From Mabuchi to Eguchi, from Ume to Yoshiaki, from Kentaro to Ayako, from Shizuko to Shunsuke, from the ends of the earth, to the moon and back, from sun-up to sundown and then some - go out there and enjoy that vibrancy. You might just like what you find.



Steward McOy