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Monday, September 12, 2011

Take Another Road, Chapter 13--"Off to See the Lizard"

Here we go, with Chapter 13 of "Take Another Road."  Again, the earlier chapters will be found in the Older Posts of this blog.  Please backtrack if you wish and find out what our heroes have been up to, which bring us to this point.  Also, please leave comments for me, either here, on Facebook or elsewhere.  Thank you very much.
And without further ado:

Chapter 13--Off to See the Lizard

            Neighbors who lived on either side of the Maeda residence could hear the shouts, grunts, and sounds of hard objects being struck, but paid it no mind.  They knew Mei was working out, and had long since grown accustomed to it. 

            The backyard, like nearly all the others in the neighborhood was a small square of grass.  What made this one different were the two heavy posts driven into the ground, two meters apart from one another.  Both nearly as tall, each was wound from top to bottom with thick, heavy rope.

            Mei was working with these now.  Her hair tied back, and wearing only a sport bra and baggy basketball shorts Mei fired a series of low, middle and high instep kicks against one of the poles.  After doing a series with her right foot, she switched to her left, snarling at her “target” with each kick.  Her feet, toughened by years of such training cracked against the pole, and any first-time watcher would fear Mei would break something.

            The sets over, Mei stepped back.  She was covered in sweat, and her hair was saturated with it.  Yet she was not breathing heavily; Mei picked up a towel from the ground, wiped her face and arms down and drank from a bottle of water.  Dropping these, she stood in the middle of the yard and began a series of moves, her forms.

            With each higher rank, a Tae Kwon Do practitioner learned a new form.  The next was more difficult than the previous one, and involved specific moves and sequences.  Mei always started with the first form and did each one in succession.  This practice was for some veterans was time consuming and not often done, but for Mei it was important.  She’d seen fellow students screw up the easier forms in class, and was not about to let that happen.

            Mei approached each step, punch and kick mindfully, and put her full force into the latter two each time.  It had gotten really hot out here, but Mei mentally pushed herself through it.

            The last form done, she returned to the set position, her fists before her, just below the beltline.  After a moment’s pause, she picked up her towel and bottle and headed inside. 

            As she entered the back door, she heard activity in the kitchen.  Reiko was making tea at the stove.  “I’ll have this ready in a just a moment, Mei,” she called.

            “Thanks, Mom.”  Mei stepped into her room, toweled off again, and did a series of stretches.  Reiko still didn’t look good; she was walking slowly, with the help of her cane. 

            For a woman who was only 41, Mei thought it just wasn’t right.  The doctors don’t know what to do for her; herbal specialists have helped some, but their prices are expensive.  Mom doesn’t want to spend the money, especially when we really don’t have it.

            Her stretches finished, Mei undressed and tossed her workout clothes into a large basket by the closet.  I could care less about that; I’d get more work at the dojo or somewhere if it would help alleviate Mom’s suffering.  I hate to see her in agony like she often is, but she never says a word about it.  She’s my role model, but I still haven’t learned to keep my mouth shut at times.

            Mei pulled on a blue silk robe, and picked up a fresh towel from the stack on her dresser.  Heading into the kitchen, she joined Reiko at the table as her mother poured green tea for the two.  “I feel sad for those posts,” Reiko told her daughter with mock pity.  “You beat on them mercilessly.”

            The two laughed.  “I don’t think they feel it, Mom.  How are you doing today?”  Mei asked as she sipped her tea.

            Reiko sighed.  The lines on her face made Reiko look older than she really was.  “Not bad, not good,” she admitted.  “I’ll probably go lie down after this.  By the way, how did that event at Kaldera’s go last night?”

            Mei thought for a moment.  Her mother had already been in bed by the time she returned home.  “Interesting,” she replied at length.  She described the vision quest, and the discussion thereafter.  “It reminded me of Sensei’s meditation sessions,” Mei explained, “where you allow thoughts in, and then let them go.  But this was different:  we were really going somewhere, and I’m still trying to figure out just what it was that I saw.”

            Reiko listened with interest.  “It sounds like each of you had a different vision,” she observed.  “Did you recognize any of it?”

            “Well, when Kaldera had us at the center,” Mei told her, “I heard the question of was there anyone there for us.  There was,” she added, “but I am not sure who it was.”

            Reiko nodded and smiled as she affectionately brushed her daughter’s hair out of her eyes.  She couldn’t fool Reiko; Mei had recognized something, or perhaps someone. 

            “You don’t have to tell me, Mei,” she said.  “I think I know, but that is your business.”

            Mei nodded as she sipped her tea.  “I’m hoping to learn soon.”

            “Do you wish,” Reiko asked, “that you were on the trip with the others?”

            “Yes.”  Mei and pushed her empty cup aside.  “It would be fun I suppose, but I have responsibilities, here.  I guess,” she added, “I like being close to home.  It feels a little safer here.”

            “I could not ask for a better daughter,” Reiko said as she stood up, with the aid of her cane.  “I just wish you would not push yourself so hard, at least not for me.”

            Mei stood and embraced her mother.  “It’s not hard at all,” she replied and she kissed Reiko.  “You’re my mom, and it is the least I can do.  You’ve always had my back, and I have yours.”

            Reiko smiled; even that seemed an effort to Mei.  “I must lie down, I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t worry,” Mei said as she slowly left the room, “I’ll get this.”  After clearing away the tea items, Mei grabbed her towel and headed for the bathroom.  She needed a shower, and there was more to do later.  It would take her mind off what she’d discussed with Reiko.

            “Prepare to cast off!”

            Kaldera shouted the good-natured order as he climbed into the seat before the round metal wheel of the Kudo.  The boat’s engine was humming, and he watched as Kaz and Minoru untied the lines at the bow and stern, while Aimi and Asuka prepared to take them in. 

            The group had risen at dawn.  Kaldera roused everyone from their places on the couch, the two chairs pushed together to make a bed and a large air mattress.  Following a quick breakfast all dressed and boarded for the trip to Yasukuni.  The island was not too far out to sea, and close to the shipping lanes.  Unlike the popular Ganryujima Island, there were no services at Yasukuni, but it was a spot favored by hikers and campers willing to “rough it,” and provided one had the means to get there.

            Kaldera spun the wheel, and used the throttles to nudge the bow to starboard.  At dead slow speed, the Kudo made its way out into the harbor.  Kaz and Minoru, both in swim trunks had jumped aboard at the last moment (practiced in this art, unbeknownst to their female friends) and helped the girls secure the lines. 

            Aimi watched as the boys then rushed down the deck, and began to unfurl the main sail.  Beyond them, Aimi looked at Kaldera; he was very much in his element.  His lean, but muscled back and chest were brown in the morning sun, and he wore a pair of wraparound shades and a red bandanna.  He was focused on the channel; as the wind came up he lowered the throttle and called, “Raise the main’sl!”

            “Aye, aye, sir!”  the boys shouted in response and began to work the line to bring the sail to its full extension.  Aimi and Asuka got into the spirit of things too, and joined Kaz and Minoru to accomplish the task. 

            Argh!”  Kaldera made his best pirate growl as he grinned at the scene, and Kaz and Minoru did the same in response, which made Aimi and Asuka laugh.  Kaldera then began to sing what sounded like a sea shanty, and his male counterparts joined in.

“Argh, say I, and ‘Aye’ says he

We’ll stand on board as brothers

We’ll rule the sea, just you and me

Let the devil take another!”

            Kaldera guided the Kudo into the main sea lanes, and they followed a small speedboat (at a much slower pace) out into Tokyo Harbor.  Moving forward to the bow (but not onto the extended pulpit), Aimi stripped off her t-shirt and stood there, Asuka beside her.  It was a great day; the sun was out, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.  In addition, there was very little swell, at least here.  Holding to the lines and the rail, the two surveyed the water and harbor activity around them.

            As she looked over, Aimi found herself admiring Asuka, but not in a sexual way. 

She was wearing a string bikini, dark blue with floral print, and she looked lovely.  Aimi could not but admire the girl’s beauty.  As for herself, Aimi was in good shape, the product of Masuyo’s physical education program, but didn’t have a body like Asuka’s. 

            Aimi had no bathing suit of her own; the one-piece she wore was the “uniform” suit issued by the school.  But Aimi knew she looked good in it, despite feeling a bit like a human billboard in the school’s colors, with the nickname Orcas emblazoned across the garment’s front.

            Asuka was looking across the water, her hand shading her eyes in a classic model’s pose.  “This is so much fun,” she said, “being on Father’s boat is one thing, but this is under sail, at least partly.  It’s been a while since I’ve done it.”

            “I never have,” Aimi replied, “it is exciting.  By the way,” she added, over the noise of the rippling sails in the wind, “thanks for being with me last night.  I appreciate your doing that.”

            Asuka slid an arm around Aimi as they held to their spots over a slight rise in the bow.  “No problem,” she replied, “you looked a little upset.  That quest didn’t scare you or anything, did it?”
            Aimi shook her head.  “No,” she said, “but it took me to a place I hadn’t been in a while.  It’s kind of personal, but it’s all right.  It just made me think.”

            Asuka seemed to accept the answer.  “Well, whatever the case,” she said, “we’re gonna fun have this weekend.  I’m so glad to be with all of you.  I’m loving this.”

            Kaz and Minoru joined them at the bow, on either side of the girls.  “We are at sea,” Minoru declared, and all cheered.

            Seated at the helm, Kaldera smiled as he cycled his iPod, which was connected to the boat’s radio, and a strange song with a reggae beat blasted out across the water, which somehow seemed appropriate.

“I was raised by a maid who came from Martinique

She wore geckos ‘round her neck, and bracelets on her feet

A superstitious woman from the land of sugar cane

She’d sing the sun to bed and dance out in the rain

Dance out, dance out, dance out in the rain…”

            The sea kicked up a little more, and the spray flew up over the bow.  All more than a little wet, the four headed back down the deck.  Kaz and Minoru saw to the sails, while Aimi and Asuka joined Kaldera at the helm.

“We’d mount an expedition, headin’ out into the bay

Superstitious children playing pirate for a day

Off to see the lizard

Off to see the lizard

Déjà déjà déjà vu

Believe and it will come true…”

            “A little Jimmy Buffett is always good,” Kaldera explained over the music, “I opened for him years ago, and sailed with him.  Perfect on any water!”

            The girls smiled and laughed in agreement.  Neither knew any of Buffett’s songs beyond “Margaritaville,” but this one fit well.

“Veja veja veja du

What works for me might work for you…”

            Mei piled her pillows up against the headboard of her bed, and lay back against them.  After she tidied up the kitchen, Mei got her shower in.  Reiko had gone back to bed, so Mei kept the music on her stereo down.

            She had debated going out, and had dressed in a short, pleated black denim mini, her fishnets and a B’z t-shirt, but then decided against it.  Mei didn’t have the money, and there was no place to go that would be any fun alone.  She wondered how the sailing was going for the gang, and how Midori was making out with her relatives.

            Then the doorbell sounded.  They weren’t expecting anyone, and Mei quickly moved through the hall to the door so the sound would not wake her mother.  At the door, she peered through the eyehole, and Mei did a double take.  “What in the world--”

            She hurriedly unlocked the door, and slid it back.  Midori was leaned against the door jamb.  “Hello, Mei!”  She greeted, with a big smile.

            Mei just stared at her.  Midori was dressed very nicely.  Under Mei’s school jacket, Midori wore a white crop top, plus an extremely short corduroy skirt, white leg warmers and her school shoes.  She was also carrying a small gift bag in one hand. 

            Midori giggled at Mei’s long, silent stare.  “So, can I come in?”

            “Yes, of course you can!”  Mei stood back as Midori stepped inside and wrapped her arms around Mei.  “Surprised?”
            “I am,” Mei said.  She gave Midori a squeeze, then let her go so she could remove her shoes and jacket. 

            “This is for you,” Midori said as presented the bag, then turned to remove those items.  “I thought I owed you something for inviting myself over.”

            Mei accepted the bag and looked inside.  “That wasn’t necessary,” she replied, “but thank you.  Ooh,” she added, “you know what I like.”  She pulled out a long box of Pocky, a favored stick candy among anime fans.  “Well, come in,” she continued and led Midori into the kitchen, “I’ll get us something to drink.  But what are you doing here?  I thought you were in Yokohama.”

            “Plans changed,” Midori replied as she leaned against the counter.  “My cousins both came down with the flu yesterday, so the trip’s off for a while.  Anyway, I knew everyone else would be away with Kaldera, so I thought I’d come visit.”

            Mei smiled in Midori’s direction before she looked in the fridge.  “You are more than too kind,” she declared, “but I’m happy you did.  I was afraid it was going to be a rather boring weekend.”

            “Hopefully not anymore, at least today,” Midori said.

            “Nope,” Mei replied as she pulled a glass pitcher out.  “How’s green tea, with honey?  Mom makes this up herself.”

            “That sounds great.”  After pouring glasses for the two, Mei led Midori through the hall to her bedroom.  “We’ll go back here,” Mei explained, “Mom’s sleeping and I don’t want to wake her.”

            Midori nodded as she looked around the house, and especially Mei’s room.  The latter closed the door and moved some clothes and books off that side of the bed before she slid onto it.  “Sorry about the mess,” Mei said, “I’m a bit of a clutter bug back here.”

            “Don’t apologize,” Midori assured her, “you ought to see my room!”  She gazed at the black walls, and saw the framed poster. 

            “Ah, the Great Maeda,” she commented as she motioned to the fighter that graced it.  “Hey, you’re not--”

            “--no.”  Mei grinned as she held up her hand.  “I get it all the time, especially at the dojo.  Guys who think they’re hot shit back off when they find out my last name; they’re afraid I’ll shoot on ‘em.”

            Midori laughed as she sat on the bed.  “Well, I’ve seen what you can do,” she replied, “first-hand.  There was plenty of talk around Masuyo after what you did to that guy.”

            Mei shrugged.  “That,” she said, “is the only time I’ve ever used it.  My sensei has always taught that the art is only to defend.  I got just enough license to do what I had to.”

            Midori sipped her tea.  “Yes, well that’s over and done with.  Let me ask,” she went on, “is it hard at the dojo, being a girl and all that?”

            “Not really.  The dojo is nearly all male,” Mei explained, “but there are some women.  At first, you really had to prove you were good enough to be there.  Not in Sensei’s mind of course, but the other guys.  I think I’ve done that.”

            “How did you get into it?”  Midori indicated Mei’s gi, which hung in the open closet, the worn red belt around its shoulders.

            Mei chuckled.  “It’s kind of a long story.”

            Midori laughed and put her glass down on the night table.  “I have time,” she replied.  “I hope you do.”

            Mei smiled and put her glass down as well.  Midori slid onto the bed beside her as she said, “One of the reasons I’m so close to Aimi and Kaz is because they were my only friends when we were little.  In case you didn’t notice, I’m a little large.”

            “Oh, stop!”  Midori put her arm around Mei and said, “You are strong, you are not large!”

            “Thanks.”  Mei pulled her legs to her chest.  “Anyway, I was ‘the fat kid,’” she went on, using her fingers to make a quote, “growing up.  My nickname at elementary school was ‘Sumo.’”

            “God.”  Midori sighed.  “Kids can be so mean, and they don’t even know.”

            Mei looked at her friend, and her face was indeed sympathetic.  “I had to deal with it,” she said, “but it used to really piss me off.  I’d hold it all in; Aimi and Kaz stood up for me, but it was hard.  Even worse was when teachers would tell your parents I needed to see a doctor because they were afraid I was being overfed, or had something wrong with me.  One of them even called me ‘Sumo‘ in class by mistake.”

            Midori shook her head.  “You’ve never mentioned any of this,” she replied, “it still bothers you, doesn’t it?”

            “Yeah.”  Mei nodded slowly.  “I got into martial arts when I was about eight,” she continued.  “A kid at school was giving me shit one day, and I just snapped.”

            “What’d you do?”

            “I shoulder-tackled him in the schoolyard,” Mei said, “and then I sat on him!”

            Midori’s jaw dropped as she imagined the scene.  “Oh, my God!  Did you hurt him?”
            Mei grinned, then laughed along with Midori.  “No,” she replied, “but I knocked the wind out of him good.  He never bothered me again; but I got in trouble of course, and my folks put me into Tae Kwon Do.  They thought it would help me work off the anger I had. 

            ‘It did help,” Mei went on, “but I fell in love with the training.  My sense of self is so much better, that’s why I can dress like I do.  I know who I am; I’ve had Sensei Matsunaga from the start, and he’s been great.  After Dad moved out, he became another father to me.  Sensei is a great teacher, and he’s given me work; hopefully I’ll soon be teaching myself.”

            Midori smiled.  “He seems like a fine man,” she said.

            “He is,” Mei replied, “you’d like him.  Then again, you seem to like everybody, no matter what happens to you.”

            “I guess,” Midori replied.  There was a silence, and she looked again at Mei.  “So, tell me about last night--what did I miss?”

            Mei went over the evening at Kaldera’s and described the vision quest.  Midori was interested, and asked a few questions about it.  The last was the inevitable one, however. 

            “When he gave that question,” Midori asked, “what answer did you get?”

            Mei turned and looked at Midori.  She right next to her, her face close, and Mei felt what she had felt before, last night and at other times. 

            “It kind of worries me,” she replied.  “Because, despite all that Kaldera said, and what I know is true, I feel at a loss.”

            Midori’s expression showed she understood.  “In what way?”

            “When Kaz started hanging out with Kaldera,” Mei explained, “I thought it was good.  He needed someone in his life, the way I needed a sensei.  Now, everyone in the club is drifting toward Kaldera.  I don’t have a problem with him; I like him, and I think he’s a fascinating guy.  But,” Mei stopped as she swallowed hard, “my not being able to cut loose from my life the way he and the others can, that leaves me lonely.  That’s very selfish of me; I should not think like that.”

            She felt Midori’s other hand stroking her hair, and Mei raised her head slightly.  Midori was even closer now.  “Do you feel,” she asked, “like you’re losing Aimi and Kaz?  Or that you might?”

            “I don’t know.”  Mei’s body started to tremble, and she tried to control it.  “I know one day we’ll all go our separate ways.  We can’t stay together all our lives.  But I don’t know where I’m going, and I’m resigned to certain things.”

            “You aren’t.”  Midori had taken Mei’s face in her other hand, her brown eyes looking deep into Mei’s.  “We all have a life ahead of us,” she said.  “We need to be open to it, but it’s too soon to even worry about that now, Mei.  We must live each day, each moment, and not be afraid.  We have to try and enjoy these things, even if they’re very small things.”

            Mei was now shaking visibly.  “What’s wrong?”  Midori asked, and her hand moved to Mei’s shoulder.

            She couldn’t speak.  Mei was breaking down and couldn’t stop it.  She again tried, but no words came out.

            Midori pulled Mei’s head to her chest, and held her.  Mei wrapped her arms around Midori and clamped her eyes shut.  She set her teeth behind her lips, and hung on as Midori molded her body to hers and whispered in her ear, “It’s all right, Mei…it’s all right.”


(Author's Notes) 
"Aargh" is written by Tom MacKenzie, and was recorded by the Woods Tea Company; it appears on The Woods Tea Co. -- Live! Collector's Edition CD, 2005.
"Off to See the Lizard" is written by Jimmy Buffett and Jay Oliver; it appears on Buffett's CD of the same name, 1989.

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