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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Take Another Road," Chapter 11...Looking Back

Well, hurricane blogging is done, and it's time to get back to our story.  Thus far our tale:  we have traveled along ten chapters of "Take Another Road," and I hope I have held your interest.

Chapter 11 follows now...again, I hope for your thoughts, comments and critiques...all the previous chapters are in the Older Posts.

Away we go...

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Chapter 11--Looking Back

            Dear Kira:  I’m sorry I haven’t written much lately, but Finals Week has been stressful on me, mentally more than anything.  Even though we only have one per day, they last a good two hours each, and this term they were tough.  Thankfully, Friday has arrived and Kaz, Mei and I are down to the last one, science.  I think I’ve done well so far, though I’m a little worried about the history exam I took yesterday.  I should pass okay, though.

            Without the other’s help, I would not have made it.  Midori would join us, and we’d meet at each other’s houses every day, to go over what we had to know.  We feel like we know the study material that much better, and that should translate to the exams. 

            We even helped Mei while we were at her house as she worked out in the back; we took turns holding the pads for her while she practiced her kicks.  Mei has gotten stronger; she knocked poor Midori over the first time she tried to hold for her!  Then we watched Mei work the posts--no wonder she scares people at times.

            I have also found a little free time to read again.  I borrowed A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Mom’s bookshelf; not that I’m trying to impress anyone, but I do like a good challenge.  Minoru will probably have a comment on it, should I mention this.  In any case, he is always interesting to talk to.

            Our “new” club will go to Kaldera’s tonight, and then we’ll go sailing over the weekend.  It’ll be great fun, and I’m excited.  The club idea went down well with Asuka and Minoru, too; they love it.  We’ve become such good friends; I wish you could meet them. 

            I love you, Kira, as always…Aimi.

            Aimi, Kaz and Mei walked down the street from Masuyo High.  The last final had been completed, and all were relieved.  “I think I passed,” Kaz said, “but not without your help, you two.  I owe you.”

            “Don’t worry about it,” Mei replied, “we all did fine, believe it.”

            “Yes,” Aimi agreed.  “So ends the first term.”

            “It’s been strange not to see Asuka or the others,” Kaz noted.  He paused slightly, then continued, “I wasn’t over at Kaldera’s all week, because of the exams and studying.”  He re-shouldered his backpack; he and Aimi were also carrying the gear they would need for the weekend, and Kaz of course had brought his guitar.  “I’ll be glad to get away for a couple of days.”

            “I’m sure it’ll be fun,” Mei added, “and I am interested in Kaldera’s place.  A pity Midori won’t be with us.”

            Aimi could tell by the sound of her voice that Mei was sad.  They hadn’t seen Midori much this week, as her exam schedule was different, and her last one had taken place Thursday.  “It does seem a little quieter without Midori,” Aimi admitted, “and by the way, I’m really happy for you and her.  You make a cute couple.”

            Kaz laughed, and Mei returned, “We are not a couple, I’ll have you know!”  Mei then joined in the laughter and added, “But yeah, I do like her, she’s a great kid.  That will never diminish how much I love the both of you, and I’m glad you guys have taken to her as well.”

            “How can we not?”  Aimi asked.  “Midori is so sweet, and she really needed a friend when she got here.”

            Mei nodded, and her thoughts drifted back to the early spring.  It was the first day of the new school year, and Mei wondered about just how all of that had happened, and the way it did.

            The incident occurred in one of the narrow hallways of Masuyo.  It was actually the second day of the term, but the first had only been a half-day, for registration and orientation.  Mei and her friends had been passing through one of the crowded halls on their way to homeroom.  It was easy to spot the first-year students, though all classes wore the same uniform.  Funny, they looked so young and small to Mei, now that she was second-year.

            Mei had spotted Midori, as she walked a short distance ahead of them.  She was loaded down with her books, and looked like just about every other first-year kid, nervous and a little bewildered as she looked around.

            Then it happened.  Near the end of the hall were four boys, a group of second and third-year kids.  One of them Mei knew well; his nickname was Kai, and he had a bad reputation.  He was tall and thin, and preferred the Emo hairstyle.  He also had a mean, pockmarked face, and the former adjective matched his attitude. 

            Seeing Midori approach, Mei saw him cast a glance at his buddies.  His foot shot out at the last moment and he tripped Midori, but he also put his hand between her shoulder blades and shoved her over, hard.

            Midori’s momentum sent her to the tiled floor at a bad angle; her head struck the floor, and her books and papers flew every which way.  Everyone around her backed off, and there were intakes of breath from some of the kids, but no one did anything to help her.

            Midori slowly pulled herself to her knees.  Her hand went to her face; even from a distance and with others in the hall between them, Mei saw she was bleeding.  Kai and his friends just laughed.

            “Stupid Zainichi,” he cracked, “can’t even walk straight!”

            Midori was bent over, gasping for breath; it was obvious she was trying not to cry.  Mei dropped her book bag on a nearby bench and made straight for Kai.  Her temper was always right beneath the surface, and Mei was not afraid to show it. 

            While Aimi and Kaz went to Midori’s aid, Mei got in Kai’s face.  “Pick on someone your own sex, Kai!”  She snapped.  Mei only came up to Kai’s chest, but she was broader in girth, and that made up for it.  “Or perhaps you’d like to try me?”

            Kai’s friends backed off; they knew Mei, and what she was capable of.  Kai knew as well, but his demeanor did not change.  “What’s it to you?”  He sneered.  “This little bitch can’t even stand up; but I guess you need to get it where you can.” 

            His hand came up in a flipping-off gesture, and it was just close enough to graze Mei’s nose.  That was all Mei needed. 

            When attacked, martial arts practitioners are taught to make the most direct response.  Mei did just that, and grabbed his wrist with her left hand.  Having already set her feet, Mei pulled Kai to her and struck him in the solar plexus with a straight punch.  As Kai doubled over, Mei grabbed him by hair and delivered a knee strike to his face, then twisted his right arm.  As Kai went to the floor, Mei threw all her weight down on the back of his shoulder and arm, and straightened the limb into an armbar. 

            Everyone was taken aback as they heard the cracks of Mei’s knee into Kai’s face, then his arm after he hit the floor.  Kai kicked and screamed, but with Mei’s weight on top of him, there was nothing he could do about it.  His friends weren’t about to intervene, either. 

            Aimi and Kaz were helping Midori to her feet by this time, and after about thirty seconds of further torture, Mei decided that was enough.  She released Kai’s arm, went to retrieve her bag, and headed down to the Main Office.  She’d been there before.

            Mei went into one of the vice principal’s offices, a man she got along with.  Fortunately he wasn’t seeing anyone, and Mei sat down and explained what had just taken place.  Needless to say, the VP wasn’t too happy, and made her wait in his office while he went to inform himself of the situation.

            Midori had been shepherded to the nurse’s office by Aimi and Kaz; they then arrived themselves, to report what had occurred.  After speaking to them in the outer office, the VP returned and sat back down at his desk.  “You know what this means, Miss Maeda.”

            The man’s voice was stern, but his expression was at least somewhat sympathetic.  “Yes, sir,” she replied evenly.

            “Could you not have found another way to diffuse the situation,” he asked, “without resorting to violence?”

            “At that moment sir, no.”  Mei looked him in the eye.  “I’m sorry this had to happen, but after what I saw and what Kai said, something had to be done.  He’s done and said things that are not supposed to be countenanced in this school.  Why he’s still here, I have no idea.”

            “That is beside the point.”  The VP was filling out a pink document, which Mei knew was a suspension form.  “His matter will be dealt with in due course, I can assure you.  As for you, while your record until now has been decent, I am afraid I have no choice but to suspend you over this action.  I will contact your mother and inform her of this.” 

            The VP signed the paper and passed it to her.  “Take this to the Security Office,” he ordered.  “They will see you to your locker for whatever items you require, then the front entrance.  You are not allowed on this campus for five days, for any reason.”

            Mei stood up and accepted the document.  “Yes, sir,” she replied and bowed.  She then walked down to the Security Office near the front doors and presented the form.  One of the guards escorted Mei to her locker, then back.  All the way through the process, Mei was still seething.  The guard sensed this and told her that Kai had gone first to the nurse’s office, then the hospital. 

            “It looks like you broke his arm, as well as his nose,” the man commented.  At the door, however, he winked at Mei.  “Good for you, Mei.  It’s about time somebody let that piece of shit have it.”

            Mei smiled back at the guard, but it was thin one.  “I’m not proud of it,” she said, “but I’m sure I’ll hear about it when I get back.  See you.”  She passed through the empty courtyard (the first period having already started) and out to the street.  Mei was about to walk home, when to her left, she saw the girl:  she was sitting on a bench, her hands in her lap on her bare legs, with her head down.  Her book bag lay on the ground by her feet. 

            The kid looked so pathetic; “Hey,” Mei asked as she slowly approached, “mind if I join you?”

            Midori looked up.  Her eyes were puffy and red, and there were still flecks of blood around her nostrils, but there was no discharge. 

            “Sure,” she replied, her voice as small as her build.

            Mei sat down beside her.  “I’m sorry about what happened in there,” she said, “that guy treats everyone like crap.  It wasn’t anything you did.”

            “I suppose.”  Midori sniffed and again looked down at the pavement.  “I’ve been through it before,” she went on, “but my courage failed me.  Normally I can just walk away from things like that, but I couldn’t today.”

            Mei looked at the girl; she was Korean, obviously full-blooded.  Mei knew how hard it was, just being mixed-race in this country.  “Well,” Mei suggested, “a new school, the first day, you’re thinking about a thousand other things, you just don’t expect something like that to happen.”

            “I know,” Midori replied, “I was just hoping it would be different.  The Vice Principal sent me home; he said with all the excitement, I should just come back tomorrow and start over again.  Oh, by the way, I’m Midori.  Thank you for what you did in there,” she added, as she offered her hand.

            Mei shook Midori’s hand and gave her name.  “It’s not something I do as a habit,” she said, “but when I saw you being taken advantage of, I had to.  Don’t worry about Kai, he’s not gonna be here much longer if I have anything to say about it.  He’s been a troublemaker ever since I knew him; he thinks because his parents have a little money and political clout, he can do whatever.  After today, it will be easy for the school to get him out of here.”

            Midori nodded, but did not seem so sure.  “Your friends,” she replied, “Aimi and Kaz.  They were very nice; they helped me back there.  I need to thank them.”

            Mei smiled and put her arm around Midori.  “They’re my best and oldest friends,” she explained.  “We live on the same block, they’re good people.  Stick with them, if you need someone to hang out with.  I’ll be back in a few days, so we can hang, too.”

            “I’m sorry you got suspended,” Midori told her, but Mei cut her off. 

            “Not your fault,” she said, “besides, five days’ suspension is five days’ rest.  Aimi and Kaz can keep me up on my classes.”

            “How about your parents?” Midori asked.  “They’re probably going to be mad about this.”

            “Nah,” Mei quicily replied, “they’re divorced.  Mom’s gonna be cool with it, once she knows why.”  Actually, Mei did wonder how she was going to explain it to Reiko, but believed that her mother would at least understand.

            Midori smiled, and Mei did as well.  “You’re very kind, Mei,” she said, “thank you.”  She then looked up the street.  “Oh, Mom’s here,” she added.

            Both rose as a late-model Toyota pulled up to the curb.  Mei stood aside and watched as an attractive, well-dressed young woman got out.  Her first thought had been: this is her mom?  She’s Japanese, and she can’t be older than 30.  Midori must be adopted…but if Midori is about 15...that’s kind of weird.

            The woman immediately went to Midori and asked if she was all right, a look of real concern on her face.  Midori indicated she was fine, and introduced Mei to her.

            Seeing her daughter was okay, the woman smiled, shook Mei’s hand and bowed.  “Thank you for helping Midori,” she said, “you’re very kind.”

            “No problem.”  Mei returned the bow.  At the question of whether she needed a ride, Mei replied, “No, thanks.  I live in walking distance.”

            Midori then put her arms around Mei.  “Thank you again, Mei,” she said, “I’ll see you when you get back.”  Mei remembered the feeling of the girl’s arms around her as she returned the embrace; it was unlike the embrace of friendship, the type she felt from Aimi, Kaz or her other friends.  It reminded her of Shuji, but she shut out that thought.

            “You got it.”  She waved as they drove off, then Mei turned for home, feeling better about it all.  Fighting is not what I took martial arts for, but sometimes you have to.  I’m glad I could fight for someone else, someone who needed help.  Kai also did get the boot; he was expelled, but his folks can always pay to send him someplace else.

            “Here we are.”  Aimi’s voice brought Mei out of her reflections.  They were across the street from Katsuhashi, and Asuka and Minoru were waiting for them by the main gate.  Both were also carrying gear for the trip, the latter his shamisen as well.  They crossed the street, and all greeted one other.  Presently, the white Vanagon rolled into sight, and Kaldera pulled alongside. 

            All climbed aboard as they gave their hellos to the man and Kaz called shotgun.  Once their equipment had been stowed, Kaldera pulled into traffic and turned down the J-rock station he’d been listening to. 

            “All done for the year?”  He asked.  At their positive replies, Kaldera replied, “Right, then.  Tonight we ride!”

            Everyone laughed as the Vanagon headed down the street.  Aimi thought everyone was in a good mood, as was she.  It was time for some fun.

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