Chapter 9--Society’s Children
The night was winding down, and most of the club goers were headed home, or off to the after-hours establishments. The main table was still populated, less a few patrons. Keru and Daisuke had gone upstairs; Midori and her parents had gone home, and Mei accepted a ride from them. Everyone else stayed behind, and Nanae took her husband’s spot at the table.
Kaz and Minoru had also come out from the backstage area, and both received praise well deserved for their performances. Kaz was still buzzing from it, and Aimi thought he looked happier than she’d ever seen him. Minoru said little; he sat with Asuka, more interested in listening to the others than talking about himself.
Kaldera was also there, the band torn down and the members upstairs to the bar or out the door. He’d remained backstage, though he did come out of the wings to accept congratulations and talk with some of the customers. Back in his everyday, casual wear, Kaldera was much more relaxed, a snifter of cognac in hand as he discussed the show, as well as the roots of several of the songs.
“I’m glad you guys enjoyed it,” he said as he sat with Saki, who had also joined the table. “I’ve played all over, but really, here is the one place I feel more welcome, in fact I think, needed. Music has been my life, and I don’t have any misconceptions about what I’ll do here. The taste of the ‘big time,’ as they say, is long past. I’m most happy doing my own thing.”
“So, what exactly were you doing in America?” Nanae asked. “You have never given us much in the way of details, Kaldera.”
Kaldera chuckled and finished off his drink. “Well, there’s not much to say.” He thought for a moment, then continued, “I’ve done all of it. I’ve been in bands, played on sessions, written songs, toured in my friends’ groups; I was a jobber. I was fortunate to play in bands with some big names, and help them out in different ways. I was never going to be a star, I knew that early on. Once I got used to that fact, it was much easier.”
“What brought you here?” Saki had posed the question to him. “Forgive me, but I have to ask.”
Kaldera shrugged. “I had toured here a few years back, with another band,” he explained. “I loved the country, and the people. Then awhile back, I realized I needed a change. So I let go of everything in the States that I didn’t need anymore, and came here. That’s it, end of story.”
He said no more. Aimi and the rest of the table got the idea he didn’t want to say anything else about it. Kaldera motioned with his glass to one of the waitresses for a refill, and said, “Now, might I ask around about what I’ve been hinting at, with you kids?”
“You have been hinting at quite a lot, Kaldera,” Aimi replied. “What have you in mind?”
“You’re all done with exams next Friday, according to what Kaz and Minoru have told me, right?” When Aimi and her friends nodded, he said, “Well, I’ve been wanting to take the Kudo out for her first run of the season. I kind of need a crew; I thought next weekend we might sail out to Yasukuni Island. It’s not a long trip, and the island is uninhabited. I’ve been there before, and it’s a great place to hike and camp. A little adventure among friends would be good, wouldn’t you say?”
All seemed very interested, and Aimi was particularly excited. “I think it would be fun,” she said, “Mom, Dad, what do you think?”
Her parents both were agreeable. “It would be good for you,” Goro replied, “and I think we all know Kaldera well enough.”
Kaldera nodded his thanks. “I appreciate hearing that, Goro. Not too many parents would let their kids be taken off to a strange place by some crazy American.”
Everyone laughed, and Nanae said, “You are one of us, Kaldera. You should not worry about that. Asuka, how about you?”
Asuka looked to Aimi, and she smiled. “I would love to go, if Father will allow it.”
“Don’t worry,” Nanae said with a knowing expression, “I’ve taken care of him.” She said it in such a way that all had to laugh, but the statement and Nanae's tone had a certain seriousness to it.
“Then it’s settled,” Kaldera replied, and he stood up. “I’ll be in touch; we could spend the night at my place Friday, and get an early start the next day. This quest,” he added, “will be good for all, and I’m not ashamed to admit, me as well.”
The waitress had returned with another cognac, which Kaldera accepted. Raising his glass (the others did the same with theirs), he said, “To all of you--thank you, and may we walk the spirit trail together.” He downed the drink in a gulp, set the glass down and made for the backstage area.
As he left, discussion returned to the performance, and particularly what had happened during the song Kaldera alluded to. “That was quite the lighting work,” Madoka commented.
“That wasn’t the lighting, Okuda-san,” Minoru replied. “I was wondering if others had seen what I saw, too.”
Minoru’s expression looked perplexed. When others inquired of what he meant, he said, “I asked the man on the light board about that. He said he didn’t do it; whatever that light was…it came from Kaldera.”
Aimi chose not to put in what she had witnessed, regarding Kaldera’s image change, but then Nanae spoke. “I have known Kaldera well for some time,” she said, “and he is a very spiritual man. I have had many deep and stimulating conversations with him. I saw the light, too--it did come from him, as did that transformation.”
It was clear to Aimi, that everyone else at the table had seen what Kaldera had turned into. Nanae continued, “Kaldera has a great internal energy about him. What we saw tonight was a manifestation of that. Hearing him sing, perform as we have--if you met Kaldera on the street and did not know him, you would not expect it. It is a power that he can call on, to bring out his best, but he does it for others. I do not profess to understand his spirituality, but it shares commonalities with the faiths in this part of the world.”
Nanae took a sip of her white wine. “There is more,” she said, “to Kaldera than we know. I have always felt that while he has been associated with my husband, Kaldera is still searching for something. It is something he has lost, and needs to find again. I think that is why he is here.”
“You say Kaldera is an associate of your husband,” Madoka replied. “How so?”
Nanae smiled mischievously. “He is Keru’s business partner, and is half-owner of this establishment. There is no way Keru could have bought it without him.”
“Now there’s an ‘Odd Couple’ if I ever saw one,” Goro joked.
“Well, they do keep that quiet,” Nanae said, “but Kaldera arrived at a time when Keru was interested in buying and turning this place around. Kaldera had the money; Keru told me there was something about this strange gaijin that told him he could trust the man. Trust,” she pointed out, “is something my husband is not good at giving, but he did with Kaldera. I feel Kaldera would never harm anyone, even if he had to.”
The gathering broke up not long after; Keru and Daisuke had returned from the upstairs, the former looking as though he’d had a bit more to drink up there. But he was polite to all and thanked them for coming. Nanae embraced Madoka in parting and said, “I will come to your place of business,” she said. “I must see more of your work.”
Aimi did the same with Asuka. “Thank you for being here, Aimi,” she said. “I can’t wait for next weekend.”
“Me, neither,” she replied, “we’ll talk before then, I’m sure.”
Minoru was getting a ride back from Kaldera, and Kaz elected to go with them, as the Okuda’s truck only had cab space for three. Nanae, Asuka and Saki showed the family to the door and said their goodbyes. As they walked up the street, Aimi noticed the street was still active. A number of the bars were still open, and there was a fair amount of pedestrian traffic.
She walked near the edge of the sidewalk, so her parents could be together. “A very interesting night out,” Goro said as he held his wife’s hand. “I felt I was amongst ‘the big people.’”
Madoka chuckled as she put her free arm around Aimi. “I hope you’re joking again, my dear,” she replied. “Both of you are ’big,’ in your own ways to me. Each of us has done the best with what circumstances are put before us. That is big, in itself.”
Aimi smiled as she leaned against her mother, as the three walked through neon lights of the district. This night has been fun; I feel we’re coming together, my friends and our new ones. I’m still not sure I understand what Nanae had to say about Kaldera, but I know what I saw. I wonder if Kira would know what it was--I must ask her.
Mei stood on the porch of her home, Midori at her side. She had walked Mei to the door, and the two made their farewells. “I had a great time,” Midori said. “I was glad to spend it with you.”
“Me, too.” Mei smiled at her friend, then added, “You know, I was wrong about Asuka. She really is nice, and so is her mom. I’m not so sure about her old man yet, but I think what Aimi and the others said was right--she just didn’t know about us.”
Midori appeared to agree and was about to reply when a slight breeze came up. Even in just her Bleach outfit it should not have affected her, but Midori suddenly put her arms around herself as if she were taken with a chill.
Mei quickly pulled Midori to her. “Are you okay?” She asked. “You’re not catching cold, are you?”
“No, I’m alright,” Midori said. “It just got cold for me all of a sudden. It affects me like that.”
“Hold on,” Mei said as she turned to unlock the door. “I’ll be right back.” Midori saw a light go on in the house, and she watched as Mei moved toward a room in the back on the toes of her boots, so as not to disturb her mother.
A moment later Mei returned, bearing what looked like a school jacket. “Put this on,” Mei said, “I don’t want you coming down with pneumonia.”
Midori pulled on the jacket; on her, the coat was a little large, as well as long; it went past her hips, with the hem resting barely above her miniskirt. “You look good in it,” Mei said with a grin, “it’s yours. I don’t wear it anymore.”
Midori’s eyebrows went up. “Oh, no,” she said. “Borrow it, sure; but I can’t take this. This obviously means a lot to you.”
“It did, once,” Mei corrected, “but I have to let it go. I would rather a friend wear it.”
“How do you mean?” Midori was searching Mei’s eyes. Under the dim porch light, she could tell there was more to the story, and Mei had to tell it.
“I’ll make it quick,” Mei explained, as Midori’s parents were in the car waiting. “It was a gift from an old boyfriend; he went to the high school at the time. I was in my last year of middle school. It didn’t work out.”
“I’m sorry.” Mei couldn’t hide her pained expression. “Was it a breakup?” Midori asked.
“Something like that.” Mei took a deep breath. “His name was Shuji, and he played basketball. He took martial arts at my dojo, that’s how we first met. We were friends, though I don’t think we ever dated. Hanging out for coffee and talking about Tae Kwon Do and Bruce Lee movies doesn’t really count as a date.”
Midori chuckled, and Mei smiled as best she could. “Shuji was from a pretty well-off family,” Mei explained, “and he was very cagey about them. He never brought me to his house to meet them. I wondered why at first, then I found out.”
Mei brushed back her still-teased hair with her hand and sighed. “His mother came to pick him up at the dojo one day, and Shuji introduced me. I got the look of death from her; being a kid, I didn’t know why. Then Shuji changed his Tae Kwon Do class, and he began to avoid me.”
She leaned against the porch rail. “I finally caught up to him at the dojo about two weeks after this,” Mei said. “He apologized to me, and he became very upset. Shuji told me his parents had ordered him not to see me again. If we were to meet, he was to be nice, but that was all.”
“But why?” Midori’s face had changed during the explanation, from sadness to an understanding that this was a like experience.
“I’m a half-breed, and working class.” Mei looked down at Midori, as she pulled her lip between her teeth. “That what he said they said. He didn’t buy it, but his parents were pretty strict. They threatened him with military school after he argued with them. So anyway, he gave me the jacket and said he wanted me to know that he’d always be my friend, no matter what. He and his family moved to another district not long after.”
Midori put her arms around Mei’s neck and pulled her close. “I’m sorry, Mei,” she whispered.
“It’s okay. I’m one of ‘Society’s Children,’ or something like that.” Mei held to Midori and added, “That’s what they say about us, not enough of one nationality or another. But I know who I am, and I don’t care anymore about that.” Mei hoped the way she said the last sentence was enough to convince Midori.
Midori looked over at her parents’ car. “I have to go,” she said, “but know that I am one of those children, too. No matter what, you are my friend, and always will be.” She quickly leaned up to hug Mei once more, and kissed her cheek. “Take care.”
Mei waved and smiled as she watched Midori hurry down the steps for the car. Then they were gone.
Going back inside, Mei shut off the porch light and locked the door. Going into the living room, she sat to unlace her boots. Before she did, she sat in silence and thought about the conversation, and what Midori had said.