Chapter 3--“Do You Like Shakespeare?”
The Thursday afternoon foot traffic through the Ameyoko marketplace was heavy, and Aimi watched it as she swept up the front entrance of her parent’s shop. Bargain-hunting housewives, some with small children, teenagers, salary workers plus tourists of many nationalities jostled their way through the narrow paths beneath the signs and banners.
Nearly anything one could want was to be found here: food, clothing, electronics and other luxury items made Ameyoko the place to shop, at least for this part of Tokyo. Aimi swept up dirt and some paper debris into a dustpan, then stood to take a closer look around her.
Music blared from a shop across the street that boasted low prices on the latest stereo equipment, and there was a song she recognized from the radio. As Aimi listened, she again thought about her new friends. At least Aimi considered them friends; while Asuka had been “aloof,” as Kaldera mentioned, Aimi sensed a warm personality from the girl. Minoru however, was the one that remained foremost in her thoughts.
She stepped back inside through the brown paper curtain with Kanji characters, and Aimi deposited the refuse in a waste can. Since the sarin attack on the Tokyo Metro in the nineties, public garbage cans were almost impossible to find. Some Japanese, but especially the tourists tended to drop their trash wherever they felt like it, though this was certainly frowned upon. This meant a bit more cleaning up around the outside of the shop, but Aimi didn’t mind. It was a part of life, and a changing one at that.
She wound her way through the interior of the small main room and passed some of the curiosities that brought the customers inside. There were prints of pleasant Japanese landscapes for sale, plus originals painted by Madoka. Aimi thought her mother’s work was exceptional; she would have thought that anyway, but Aimi felt they were quite special. Madoka’s works were detailed and showed fine brushwork, something that was commented on by many who had browsed the place over the years.
Her calligraphy painting was also quite good. Off to the side of the main room, Madoka was now at her easel and crafting a custom painting for a young Japanese couple. She explained the technique to the pair, and stressed how such a simple painting required a great deal of concentration.
Madoka then turned to the fine paper she favored, and began to paint. The character formation was a popular one, but Aimi watched as her mother momentarily tuned out her customers, dipped her bamboo brush into a container of black paint, then deftly crafted the work. The audience of two watched, and by the sounds they made, were clearly impressed; Madoka then took up a thin brush and signed her name in the bottom right corner.
Aimi smiled as she continued to the back, and passed a rack of musical instruments. This included four taiko drums of different sizes, two shamisen and a pair of acoustic guitars. There was an empty space, marked by a bright orange “Sold” ticket, which hung in the hook that had once held a specific instrument. Kaldera’s guitar had been there, an American brand that Aimi could not remember the name of. The buyer had evidently come in during the school day.
Goro was at the small counter near the back of the room and showing pieces of locally made jewelry to another couple, an older one. Aimi thought by the sound of their voices they might be British, or possibly Australian. Goro was conversing in English, something that a number of shopkeepers might not do with tourists.
English was a compulsory subject in all schools, and had been for some time. Goro often said the Japanese loved any gaijin who at least attempted to learn the native language; if they were still not quite fluent enough in it, he’d gladly speak theirs.
Along with his “Business English,” Goro had picked up a working knowledge of Chinese, as well as a little French and German over the years, and he considered it a learning experience. Add to it, Aimi gathered as she passed, these two were quite interested in making a purchase, something Goro would gladly help with.
After placing the broom and dustpan in a nearby closet, Aimi looked over the shop. Everything seemed to be in order at this moment; her parents were occupied, so Aimi again headed to the front to greet any new customers that might chance by. As she did, the curtain swept back, and Kaldera entered, with Minoru behind him.
Aimi found herself smiling right away. “Hello again,” she said, and bowed as they came in. “Welcome.”
“Hello again, indeed,” Kaldera responded, and Minoru made a similar response. They stood to the side in the narrow aisle to let Goro’s customers pass (they had indeed made a buy), and Aimi’s father followed.
Taking Kaldera’s hand, Goro shook it as one would shake that of an old friend, and the two bowed. “Wonderful to see you, Kaldera-san,” he greeted. “I have your money.”
Kaldera laughed, and he introduced Minoru. “That’s good,” Kaldera then said, “less your cut, of course, Goro-san.”
“Of course,” Goro said with a laugh, “but you know, one must make a living somehow.”
The two men headed for the back office of the shop, still laughing. Finding they’d been left alone, Aimi said, “It was nice to meet you today, Minoru. Asuka as well; she seems a lovely person.”
Minoru smiled. “She is, both inside and out. Oh, I’m sorry if Asuka came off as not herself today,” he added quickly. “Asuka is naturally nervous around people she has never met before. Really, she is most kind.”
“I felt that,” Aimi replied. “It is always uncomfortable in an unusual situation.”
Minoru’s eyebrows rose slightly, but Aimi noted how quickly they returned to their normal field. “You felt that? Well,” he went on, “that is interesting. You pick up on other’s feelings, then?”
Aimi wasn’t sure what to say, and for some reason she found herself especially uncertain when talking to this boy. Was it his eyes, or did he suddenly just look right inside her?
“I understand it’s called empathy,” she said, “but I don’t claim to know for sure.”
“That’s okay. I guess I sometimes have that happen with me, we all have that capability on a certain level,” Minoru replied as he adjusted his instrument case and the book under his arm.
Aimi looked down at the latter. She at first thought the book was a bible, as it was black and leather bound, with gilt lettering across its face. “Ah,” she remarked, “you’re reading Poe.”
He smiled. “Yes,” he explained as he displayed the book for Aimi, “I am quite an admirer of his work; my mother gave me this years ago. She encouraged me to read from an early age, and I find his writings, though rather dark, very inspiring.”
Aimi nodded. “Kaz told me you read the classics.”
Minoru laughed. “I read a lot of things,” he admitted. “Kaz says you are quite the reader, too. What are you into now?”
Aimi told him about Amy Tan’s book, which she had finished reading on the train ride over. “I don’t think she’s quite in the same league as Edgar Allan Poe,” she said, “but it was a fine story.”
Aimi told him about Amy Tan’s book, which she had finished reading on the train ride over. “I don’t think she’s quite in the same league as Edgar Allan Poe,” she said, “but it was a fine story.”
“She is a good writer,” Minoru said, “I liked The Hundred Secret Senses best myself. A little different from my usual tastes,” he added, “but a fine story, nonetheless.”
Aimi could hear through the open door the music from across the street. It was a song she had heard on occasion, a Japanese version of an American tune. “Do you like Shakespeare?” She suddenly asked.
“Yes.” Minoru smiled. “What else do you like?”
Aimi was about to reply, when the Japanese couple passed, their painting now dried and carefully stored in paper. Madoka saw them off, and Aimi introduced Minoru to her mother.
Minoru behaved once again with all deference and politeness, and Madoka said, “Aimi, you can head home if you wish. I know you have studying to do.” There was a wink that she gently passed on as well, and Aimi saw it.
As her face reddened, Minoru could not stifle a chuckle. “Your mother is a fine person,” he said, “in fact, both of your parents are. Must be nice to have that.”
The way Minoru made that comment had caught Aimi off guard. “I’m sorry?”
“Oh, you don’t know; my mother passed away about four years ago,” he explained. “It was very sudden.”
Minoru’s expression was not a sad one; it was matter of fact, from a person who had accepted such loss. For Aimi however, hearing such news made her feel that way.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “No, I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay; Mother’s passing was a terrible shock,” Minoru admitted, “but I’m okay, really I am. I live with a relative; my father and mother were not together long after I was born. He is out of the picture, but I am well, and I do appreciate your kindness.” Minoru gave a slight, polite nod. “Thank you.”
He then smiled, and Aimi was able to again. “You too are very kind,” she said. “Asuka is a lucky girl, to have you.”
His head turned downward, Minoru again laughed, but it was under his breath. “Yes,” he agreed, “but I too consider myself much in that line; Asuka is an old and dear friend. Her mother and mine were very close, and Asuka and her family have looked out for me. You and your friends seem to do the same for one another; that’s an exceptional thing.”
“It is.” Aimi was about to say more when Kaldera returned to the room with Goro. The former said as he approached the pair, “Well, that is settled. I’ll give you a run back home, Minoru, if you want it.”
“Actually,” Minoru said, “I will take the train. I believe Aimi has been let go for the day. If you wish,” he continued as he looked to Aimi, “I would gladly see you back toward your direction.”
Goro smiled and kissed his daughter, and Madoka also came over to give her farewell to Aimi. “It sounds like you have an escort,” Goro said to her. “See you at home; thank you as well,” he added as he shook Minoru’s hand once more.
“The pleasure is mine,” Minoru replied, and bowed to the Okudas. “Very nice to meet you, and to see your place; I shall be back.”
Aimi was barely aware of the short walk through the streets to the Metro’s Yamanote line. She and Minoru spoke more of the show that Kaldera would do Saturday, and Aimi said she thought her parents might be up for a night out.
“That’s good,” Minoru said. “I hope you can come; Kaldera is something to behold in concert.”
The traffic into the station was building, as commuters queued for the afternoon rush. Stopping in the main concourse, Aimi motioned to the escalator she would need to take to catch her line for home. “Thank you again, Minoru,” she said. “I appreciate your walking me down.”
“No problem,” he replied, “and by the way, don’t worry about what Asuka, or anyone will say. I consider you a friend, and I know she does as well. We trust one another, so there will be no trouble.”
“Oh, I didn’t think there would be.” Aimi noted that Minoru seemed to take pains to explain this, and she wondered why. “Thanks again,” she added, and she put out her hand.
“Thank you.” Minoru took her hand, then bent and kissed it. “I consider it a fine day to have made so many new friends,” he added. “Do take care.” He then straightened, turned and walked across the tiles to disappear into the crowd.
Aimi held the hand Minoru had kissed in her other, then turned to take the down escalator. No one had ever done anything like that to her before; it was so romantic, but she thought, this must be just how Minoru is. He is so polite to everyone. I really like him, but it is clear that he belongs to Asuka. That is a line I would never cross.
She caught her train and found a seat. Aimi then dug her iPod out of her school bag, plugged in her ear buds and cycled the unit to a certain song; guitars and drums slowly faded up to full volume, and an American woman’s voice sang:
“I saw you there, so beautiful
You stopped and stared, so magical
Aimi nodded in time to the song; it was the same one she had heard from the shop across the street. So ironic it played at that exact moment…
Then you asked me for my name
And we took an uptown train
Before you leave, get up to go, I wanna know…”
Aimi smiled and closed her eyes.
“Do you like Shakespeare, Jeff Buckley,
Watchin’ movies on a Sunday,
Do you like kissin’ when it’s rainin’
Making faces in the station, do you like…”
She mouthed the lyrics as the train streamed along, and the lights of the underground flashed by.
“I need to know
What do you like
Before you go…”
The Jaguar pulled into the circular driveway before the large suburban home, and pulled into its space beside the flint-toned Mercedes-Benz. Asuka alighted and slung her school bag over her shoulder. The driver, in a dark suit and tie also got out and removed his shades.
“Thanks for picking me up, Daisuke,” Asuka said as they climbed the front steps together.
“No problem.” Daisuke Yamazaki smoothed back his longish, Western styled hair and adjusted his tie. Opening the heavy, ornate door for Asuka, he asked, “Is Minoru coming to dinner tonight?”
Asuka nodded. “Yes. I’ll be happy to see him here.”
“Yeah,” Daisuke replied, “your father is having a couple of the sales crew over. I’m sure it’ll be boring as hell, but that’s the business. Fortunately for me,” he added with a grin, “I‘ve got the night off.”
Asuka smiled, but said nothing as they passed through the foyer into a main hallway. Unusually, the Japanese tradition of removing one’s shoes was not observed here. Passing a grand staircase on their right, the two continued down the immaculately polished hardwood floor, and beneath a large crystal chandelier.
Daisuke excused himself from Asuka’s presence, and stepped through an open door to his right, into a large office. Asuka looked in, but did not enter herself.
An Oriental rug covered most of the floor, and facing the hallway was a wide, mahogany desk, with two padded chairs before it. Against the wall was a large, matching shelf, upon which were stored several books, ledgers, plus a number of plaques, civic awards and honors. Asuka watched as Daisuke took one of the chairs before the man seated there.
He was a large man, tall and broad in stature. His slicked-back hair was black with streaks of gray, and his neatly trimmed beard confirmed the appearance of an individual severe in look and bearing. A black, pinstriped suit jacket hung on a tall stand to the right of the desk; the man wore the rest of his three-piece suit and tie, even though it was warm in the house at this time of day. His head remained down as he examined a series of papers. He made no welcome to Daisuke, nor did he look at up at any time.
Asuka turned and walked down the hall to the next door. Her knock was answered; a woman’s voice called, “Come in.”
Asuka stepped into a small drawing room. The floor here too was covered with another, smaller Oriental. A fireplace, which employed a gas jet flame rather than a wood fire was the central feature of this room, though it was not being used. To her left was a finely carved table with two chairs, and a small antique lamp burned atop the former.
The woman seated at the table rose and embraced Asuka. “Welcome home, Asuka,” she greeted with a kiss. “How was your day?”
“It was good, Mom.” Asuka returned both affections. “And yours?”
“Good.” Nanae Tanaka was in her late thirties, and looked more like an older sister rather than Asuka’s mother. Though a shorter woman, Nanae had handed down her lean build, long black hair and facial lines to her daughter. The woman wore almost no makeup, and those who viewed her for the first time would have guessed Nanae had more than Japanese in her background, possibly a hint of Thai. Her nails were long daggers, expertly manicured and painted silver. She wore a silken blue dress with matching stiletto heels, and the ring on her fourth finger bore a large, almost gaudy diamond.
The two seated themselves, and Asuka noted the cards that were placed before Nanae on the table. “You are reading,” she noted.
“Yes.” Nanae smiled as she looked over the tarot cards. These were of a Buddhist-inspired deck, arranged in a spread Asuka knew was called the Tree of Life. Her mother noted one of the central cards, the Nine of Lotuses. “This one here,” she said, “denotes sacrifice. It seems to be the one that is at the core of the theme.”
Nanae went on to explain what several of the other artfully composed cards meant, in the context of the full reading. Asuka was interested, but had never fully understood tarot. She did however know that her mother was deeply intuitive, and Nanae’s readings were popular amongst family friends.
“There are several cards from the Lotuses,” Nanae went on, and she pointed these out. “Pandara, the Sakti of Lotuses, denotes purity. The ace card means a new beginning.”
“What question did you ask?” Asuka ventured.
“I just did a general reading,” Nanae replied, “but tell me: did you meet someone new today?”
Asuka’s eyes widened. “Why, yes I did. Daisuke didn’t tell you, did he?”
Nanae laughed, and her daughter joined in. “No, no!” Nanae replied. “I’ve learned nothing from anyone today! Tell me of it.”
Asuka related her meeting at the public school with Minoru’s friends. “They seem to be nice people,” she said in summation, “though I gather Father would not think much of them.”
Nanae sighed. “Yes, well,” she replied, “I’m still working on Keru. I would not worry about that. As we know, your father is stubborn and resistant to change. Afraid of it, I think: he is in fact, here.”
Nanae pointed to a card depicting what looked to Asuka like a Buddha, or a representation thereof. “Aksobhya, the Buddha of Vajras,” she explained, “represents unshakable characteristics. The other vajra cards here denote one in need of healing, and one of restraint. But here,” she added, “are the two that are to me the most intriguing.”
She motioned to a card that showed a man, possibly the Buddha, giving a sermon. “This is Judgment, a major card,” Nanae said. “This is the wakeup call; and here,” she motioned to a card of a half-naked woman playing what looked like a lute. “The Dakini of Double Vajras: she depicts a ‘skywalker.’”
Asuka thought about these things. “How interesting, Mom. New beginnings for me,” she posed, “could be these new people I met. I’m not sure about the judgment or the skywalker, though.”
“Well, you must also remember,” Nanae said as she carefully gathered up the cards, “that the tarot does not predict anything, good or bad. These are things that may have already happened, and we are not always conscious of them. I think this reading has a little for each of us to consider.”
Asuka rose as her mother gathered up the cards. “Well, I have homework to do before the party,” she said. “Minoru did say he would come over, at least to play.”
“That’s good.” Nanae placed the deck in a silken pouch, and then secured it with a long, black ribbon. She then stood and again embraced her daughter. “I enjoy talking to you,” Nanae said as she held Asuka to her, “and I appreciate your listening to me prattle on over such things. Your father would never hear of it.”
“I do enjoy it,” Asuka assured her. “Any time I have with my mother, I cherish, and I mean it.”
Nanae kissed Asuka. “As always Asuka, you are a dear. I must go get ready for tonight myself. I’ll see you later.”
In the hallway, Asuka watched her mother as they parted. Nanae walked with such ease, and her heels made almost no sound on the floor. Walking back toward the staircase, Asuka cast another glance into her father’s office. Keru was still seated there, in close conversation with Daisuke. Driving was the least of the younger man’s duties; Daisuke was also her father’s right hand. Though Japanese, Daisuke had gone to America for his education and returned with a law degree. He was Keru’s closest advisor on business, legal and other matters.
Asuka climbed the stairs and walked down the carpeted hallway to her room at the end. At the high, carved door Asuka paused; then she walked on, to the full-length window just past it. She leaned against the wall and stared out at the neighborhood, the city skyline, and the setting sun.
(Author's Note: "Shakespeare" is written by Susan Cagle and Jay Levine; appears on Cagle's album, The Subway Recordings, 2006)
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