Chapter 17--The Common Thread
Aimi set up the sign outside her parents’ shop, which declared it open for business. It was mid-morning, the start time for most establishments in the Ameyoko District. Monday didn’t look like it would be a good day though, a sentiment agreed upon by her folks. The cloud cover was heavy, and it looked like another wave of rain was set to hit the region. She wondered if perhaps she should have dressed more warmly, as she wore just a miniskirt and a cotton t-shirt, her legwarmers and sneakers.
She looked around, once the sign was locked into place. The first shoppers of the day had already hit the streets to look for early deals or just avoid the crowds that would come later. Aimi found herself thinking again, back to last night.
Kaldera’s story was moving; no one who left his home could say they hadn’t changed after hearing what amounted to a confession. He seemed deeply relieved after recovering from what he and Marlie had told. Kaldera said as much, and he asked no one to feel sad for him. “I feel like I have had a great weight taken from my shoulders,” he told them. “You are the first to truly hear the story; you may of course share it if you wish. It matters no more, as it is no secret.”
All four opted to take the Metro home and turned down Kaldera’s earlier offer to drive them. He and Marlie obviously had more catching up to do, though it was also clear there was nothing more than friendship between them. Marlie shook hands all around after, but pulled Aimi to her as she was about to leave.
“Remember what I said,” she whispered, “be here. That’s all he needs.”
Aimi had nodded as imperceptibly as she could, while Marlie complimented the boys on their musicianship. “You guys are damned good,” she told them. “Keep working with this one,” she added as she poked Kaldera in the arm, “you’ll learn a lot.”
Kaldera had laughed, Aimi recalled as she and her friends walked into the night. The rain had tapered off into scattered showers, so they walked to the Metro stop without much concern for getting wet. All were loaded down with their gear and silent, as each went over what they had heard.
“The trip was wonderful,” Asuka ventured, “but that story was rather disheartening.”
“I don’t think Kaldera meant for it to be,” Minoru replied. “He had to let go at that very moment. We just happened to be present for it.”
The four separated at a crossing point; with hugs and goodbyes, Aimi and Kaz saw Asuka and Minoru off. They caught their connection, and rode home largely in silence. Kaz was in thought, and he stared down at the floor of the bus. Aimi felt herself becalmed, but also troubled. The tragic circumstances of Kaldera’s life weighed on her now; that was not unusual, she knew where it was coming from.
Once back on the street, Aimi asked, “Kaldera continues to fascinate, doesn’t he?”
“When you think you have it hard,” Kaz replied as they walked the damp, darkened streets, “someone comes along with a story that’s even worse. It must have been terrible,” he added, “to learn like that, your wife and child were gone.”
“I know,” Aimi answered. They walked on in silence before stopping in front of Kaz’s house. The porch light was on, and there was another lit in the living room. “Well, I’ll see you sometime tomorrow, I’m sure,” Kaz said, and gave her a hug.
“Yes,” Aimi replied. “I will see you, once I know when I’m going to see Kira.”
Kaz nodded slowly, though he looked doubtful. “That’s cool,” he said, “let me know.”
Aimi didn’t realize that she had gone back inside, and had turned her hands to help Madoka unpack some new supplies for her painting. Her thoughts had been wound up in the night before, plus her planned visit this week. Then again, some of the work in the shop such as this was simple; it took Aimi’s mind off from this and other matters.
An hour passed, and there had only been one customer, whom Goro saw to. A local musician who often busked in the district, the man had come in to try out a couple of Goro’s flutes. There followed a lively “battle” between the Aimi’s father and the younger man. It of course was in fun, and the fellow did leave with one of the instruments that took his fancy. Beyond that, it was a quiet morning.
Aimi was in the cramped rear office making sense of the desk (Goro and Madoka differed on organization, the former having little) when she heard her parents’ voices, and a familiar third one.
“Aimi,” Madoka called, “your gentleman friend is here!”
Giggling, Aimi came out of the back to find Minoru sharing the laugh with her parents. He was dressed in his typical black, including a long wool coat that made him look almost medieval, his book of Poe’s works under his arm. “I was passing through,” he said, “and wondered if I might steal your daughter away for some coffee, or whatever suits her tastes?”
“I don’t see why not,” Goro replied with a laugh as he returned behind the counter. “Madoka, do you think we should send for an escort for these two?”
Both laughed again, and Madoka replied, “Off with you both, take your time! I don’t think we’re going to have much for customers today, anyway.” Smiling, the elder couple watched as Aimi picked up her school jacket and the two walked out.
“I think,” Madoka told her husband after they were out the door, “that young man quite likes Aimi.”
Goro, who was busying himself under the display case, replied, “I believe so, too. And I like him; he’s one of those ones that come along so infrequently.” As he stood up, Goro placed a holder for rings and costume jewelry on the counter and began to realign the unsold product. “I find it hard, I must admit,” he continued, “to worry about Aimi.”
Madoka nodded as she came over to the counter. “We’ve done well by her, Goro. She knows how to handle herself, and Minoru certainly is aware of that. I understand that he is also very close to Asuka--I wonder about their relationship.”
Goro nodded. “From what little Aimi told us last night,” he replied, “it is hard to say. They may just be close as friends.”
“Still,” Madoka said, “it is not our business, not yet. Aimi must have room to experience things, and to grow. She has in the past, and now there’s more opportunity.” She sighed. “Just the same, I cannot but worry about our daughter. I don’t want to see her hurt, not again.”
“All we can do,” Goro replied as he leaned over to kiss his wife, “is what we have done all along. Aimi will do just fine; look at how we’ve done!”
The two laughed, and they kissed again.
“I hope this suits you,” Minoru said, as he and Aimi took seats near the glass-enclosed front of the coffee shop near the Metro station.
“Well, I was around, and to borrow a phrase, I am perfectly satisfied with your company if you tolerate mine.”
“Ah! Hound of the Baskervilles,” Aimi exclaimed, “the scene where Holmes and Dr. Watson follow Sir Charles and Dr. Mortimer down Baker Street.”
Minoru bowed in her direction. “Excellent! So you see, my reading does go beyond Poe,” he said.
Minoru bowed in her direction. “Excellent! So you see, my reading does go beyond Poe,” he said.
The two laughed as a waitress came over with glasses of ice water and two damp cloths. After exchanging pleasantries with the young woman, Aimi and Minoru each made their order. As they wiped their hands with their oshibori, Aimi asked, “So what are your plans?”
“I don’t know,” Minoru said, “at least for today. Kaz and I are supposed to be with Kaldera later this week to work on the Kudo again, and to practice. I don’t know when he is playing next, but Kaldera wants Marlie to join him if her schedule permits.”
“She was very interesting,” Aimi replied, as the waitress returned with two large ceramic cups, plus cream and sugar. Once she left, Aimi continued, “I loved her voice, it was very different.”
“Marlie is indeed a different sort of woman,” Minoru replied as he stirred his drink. “I’m not sure where in America she is from, but from the sound of her voice, I wanted to say New York. You know, that certain accent? She reminded me of a female DeNiro.”
The two laughed, and Minoru did an exaggerated version of that famous line from Taxi Driver. “But seriously,” Minoru went on, “she got Kaldera to open up, more than I’ve ever seen. He has only allowed us to hear and see so much.”
Aimi nodded as she sipped her coffee. “So he did not let you or Kaz into any more than the rest of us saw? Even though you knew him longer?”
“That is so.” Minoru seemed to think before speaking, then said, “All the same, I do not sense any great mystery with Kaldera. I never have; since we first met, I’ve found him to be a source of stability I needed. After my mother’s passing, it was not there.”
“You say,” Aimi asked, then paused, wondering if she should, “that you live with a relative now?”
Minoru nodded. “An uncle,” he replied, “but to be honest, he is more of a benefactor than someone I live with.”
Aimi watched Minoru’s eyes. He had become evasive at this line of questioning. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly, and reached out to touch his free hand. “It’s not my business; please forgive me.”
“No, that’s all right,” Minoru said. He took Aimi’s hand in his. “You have every right to ask. I guess I’m just not very good at talking about things that bother me. Kaldera set a great example last night--he let the most tragic part of his life out before our eyes. ‘Oh, with what intensity of regret,’ Poe would have said.”
Aimi sipped her coffee, her other hand still held by Minoru. She felt no intense intimacy from the gesture, and she could not imagine there being anything more behind it than simple affection. “It is something,” she said, “to think about. We all have those skeletons in our closets, don’t we?”
“I think I’ve come to learn something,” Minoru replied. “All of us in the club, Kaldera included, share a common thread. I believe that’s what Kaldera was getting at last night with his song, as well as his story.”
Aimi said, “Go on.”
“Well,” Minoru explained as he used both hands to make his point, “we all have these things in our lives. Sad, tragic or just plain strange events that we experience and live through, you see? Sometimes these things are too much to bear alone, and you need someone else to help, or to at least understand what you’re going through.”
“That’s it,” Aimi replied, “the common thread that runs through all of us.” Minoru, she could tell was watching her eyes, but something distracted him and made him turn away. Aimi followed his eyes out the window and across the street, where four girls were standing.
They were high school students; three were wearing windbreakers, all with the logo of another school. They were staring in their direction, with one pointing right at them while talking excitedly to the others. “Do you know them?” Aimi asked.
“Yes, damn them.” Minoru turned coolly to face her, and gave no hint of concern about the four. “They are friends, more Asuka’s friends than they are mine,” he said with a measured, casual tone. “Don’t look at them; three of them are her teammates in field hockey, and at least two of them are perpetuators of what I would consider to be a cult.”
Aimi’s eyebrows went up. “A cult? What of?”
“Personality,” Minoru explained. “You see, Asuka and I are considered to be the most glamorous couple at Katsuhashi; we are in certain circles called ‘the Golden Pair.’ Those girls are among the ones who have circulated this stupid, and juvenile hero-worship of us. We are treated like royalty at school.”
Aimi could tell with each passing word from Minoru, he was getting upset. “Are you sure,” she asked, “it is as bad as that?”
“Oh, yes,” Minoru replied, and tilted back his cup. “Asuka,” he continued at length, “because of her background and family are considered among the highest of the top class there. She revels in it; she loves having everyone look at her, and notice her. That is,” he added, “until recently. That is where you, Kaz and the others, the club, have made a change.”
Aimi listened as Minoru went on, “I believe Asuka explained to you the situation surrounding her father, am I correct? Well, for the first time in her life, Asuka is seeing the world by walking in another’s shoes. Much like Prince Siddhartha was shocked by the suffering he encountered outside his father’s castle walls, Asuka is now seeing how the other half, or should I say, 95 per cent of Japan lives. Please don’t think I am insulting her, or her family, I am not--but she needs to know, and you, especially you, Aimi have been the best thing to happen to her.”
“Oh…” Aimi smiled and tried to hide her blushing face.
“Don’t hide it,” Minoru replied, and he smiled in response. “You have been the best friend she could ever have wished for. I love her very much, and she has such admiration for you, Aimi.”
Aimi checked her watch. “I should get back,” she replied, ‘I’m sorry.”
“No problem.” Each finished their coffee, and Minoru left a thousand yen note to cover the cost and tip under his cup. As they walked back to the shop, Minoru said, “One more thing, Aimi--if any of those girls, or anyone from Katsuhashi gives you trouble about being seen with me, please let me know about it. Don’t think you’re ratting them out; those girls need to be told in no uncertain terms what the situation is, and that it’s not their place.”
“All right,” Aimi said, rather confused about this as they approached the shop. The street was now starting to gain a greater volume of shoppers, and she could see a couple heading through the curtain. “Thank you again, Minoru,” she told him. She put her arms around his shoulders and added, “I hope to see you soon. Give my love to Asuka, if you see her first.”
“I shall indeed,” Minoru replied as he held her, then kissed her cheek. “You are a dear friend to me as well, Aimi,” he added, “I’ll see you.”
Aimi stood among the passing crowds as she watched Minoru walk away, his bearing and pace as always the same. She smiled, then turned and walked inside.
There you have it! Please let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!