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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Take Another Road," Chapter 18--Perfect for Mei

Here we go, with another chapter of "Take Another Road."  Before so doing, I must do a bit of an update on things:

The Dharma Fools will again be back onstage Wednesday evening at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, aka HMAC.  Open Mic Night starts at 7:30, hosted by the amazing Mike's a lot of fun and a great to be had.

Now, onward we go...enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Chapter 18—Perfect for Mei

            Mei turned in her seat on the Metro, and tried to see ahead to the approaching station.  She was decked out once again in her Gothic Lolita rig, and headed for Harajuku, where she’d meet up with Midori.  There was a still a few minutes to go, and she cycled through her iPod while waiting. 

            The car she was riding in was full of cosplayers, Furries, and just about every anime show or film one could name was represented.  There was also a knot of Ganguro girls, a curious bunch that (allegedly) emulated the Southern California lifestyle, by caking on layers of dark pancake makeup to make them looked tanned.  Pre-cancero Girls, Mei called them, generally because they were obnoxious, even by Otaku standards.  That, plus their platinum blonde and other wildly colored wigs attracted the most attention of the car. 

            She hid her smirk as she looked at some of the more conventionally dressed Japanese, plus the few tourists who looked absolutely frightened, like they’d walked onto the set of Night of the Living Dead.  Mei found the song she wanted and sat back.

“I can’t help it, you’re perfect for me

I could care less, you’re perfect for me

I’ve been waiting, you’re perfect for me

Right now…”

            The singer sounded like an aging punk rocker with a young hardcore band behind him, but Mei didn’t care.  The song reminded her of Midori, and the lyrics, though a little goofy at certain points was perfect, for her.  She nodded in time to the beat, and thought about her discussion that morning with Reiko.

            Mei had done an early workout, and then made sure her mother would be all right for a few hours.  Reiko assured her she would be, and added as they sat on her bed while Mei wrapped her right wrist, “You need some time with your significant other.”

            Mei laughed as she lost her grip on the Ace bandage, and had to rewrap Reiko’s hand.  Both of Reiko’s wrists tended to swell up, and the bandages gave her support to take hold of items. 

            “Yeah, well,” she commented, “I’m glad you are joking about it Mom, instead of being mad at me.”

            “How could I be angry,” Reiko replied, “when my daughter radiates a light I’ve never seen from her?”

            Mei’s eyebrows went up.  “A light?”

            “Yes.”  Reiko ran her free hand through Mei’s hair.  “Midori is a charming girl, and she has needed someone as much as you have.  I don’t know much of her life, but from what you have told me, you two girls have a great deal in common.  If you are in love, then so be it.  I will always support you, Mei, whichever path you choose.”

            “It’s a different kind of love…”  Mei smiled as she thought of the conversation.  The train was slowing up, and she was on her feet to get to the door quickly.  Mom’s cool; she has always been, but I am so thankful she’s on our side.  I wonder how Midori’s parents will react when they find out.  They seem pretty open-minded, but still…something like this is generally accepted here, but not always.

            The train came to a stop, and Mei strode in her “bitch boots” to the stairs through the crush of commuters.  She tucked her earbuds inside her school bag, made sure her long hair was out of the strap and stepped into Harajuku. 

            Immediately, Mei was in an element familiar to her:  most of the people here were in costume, apart from the tourists and those who actually worked in the area.  Each time was different here, Mei knew, a surreal wonderland of color and outlandish fashion.  Shops with brightly colored awnings and window dressings promised good deals on top-line merchandise; street musicians, particularly kodo drummers and shamisen players vied for attention and tips amongst the revelry.  But Mei was not looking at, nor listening to any of it.  She was making for the boardwalk area, where she and Midori were to meet.

            Then she saw her.  Midori’s costume was a little more subdued today, a very short grey skirt (almost completely covered by Mei’s old jacket), white hose with black ribbons that went to mid-thigh, and a pair of patent leather shoes with chunky heels.  Mei started to have that feeling the moment she saw Midori…but who was this she was talking to?

            Mei ducked behind a news pillar.  This person was not in costume; that was certain.  It was a woman, but Mei could not ascertain her age, due to her shaved head and androgynous red and orange robes.  It was a Buddhist nun, and there were a group of others standing nearby, apparently waiting for this one to finish her conversation with Midori.

            Mei continued to watch.  The woman was several years older than Midori, but the two were speaking to each other in a very personal manner, and both seemed extremely happy to see one another.  Midori never told me she knew a nun; I wonder if this is a relative of hers.  I’d love to meet her, but this talk looks like a private one.

            After a few moments more, the two held each other in a long embrace, and kissed one another on the cheeks.  The nun waved and rejoined her colleagues, and all walked off.  Mei watched as Midori stood there, her hands together in front of her, smiling.  The meeting with this woman was obviously unexpected.

            Mei casually walked around the pillar as if she’d just arrived.  Midori saw her immediately, ran to her and practically leaped into her arms, hailing her friend and kissing her lips.  “I’m so glad to see you,” she said, “you’ve just missed an old friend of mine.”

            “Oh, really?”  Mei hated to lie, but feigned knowing.  “Who was it?”

            “Her name is Lobsang, but that’s really her divinity name,” Midori explained.  “It’s Sherpa for ‘kind-hearted one,’ and she was.”

            “How did you know her?”  Mei asked.

            “Well,” Midori began to explain, then paused.  “Lobsang was a mentor to me when I was little.”  Then she stopped again.

            “What is it?”  Mei reached out and took Midori gently by the shoulders.  A haunted look had come across Midori’s face.

            Midori looked up at Mei, and there were mixed emotions in those huge brown eyes.  “I need to tell you,” she said, “come on.” 

            Taking Mei’s hand, Midori led her onto the long wooden walkway, and they traveled a distance down it in silence.  Mei understood that something big was coming, and they needed some sort of privacy.  Eventually they found an open spot, and Midori slid her legs onto the second rail of the fence-like protective barrier.  As she leaned on the top rail, Mei joined her in a similar fashion. 

            “I haven’t told you about certain things,” Midori said as she stared forward and rested her chin on her forearms.  “Seeing Lobsang today brings it all back.  Mei, you’ve noticed that my Mom and Dad are pretty young?”

            “Yes.”  Mei watched Midori as she spoke.  “I assumed you had been adopted at an older age, not as a baby.”

            “You are right,” Midori said.  “I was adopted when I was nine.  Something happened in Osaka, where I used to live.  We’d moved here just before you and I met, but that’s where I was born.

            ‘My father,” she continued, “I never knew.  He split from my mother when I was very small, and I barely remember him.  So it was just my mom and my sister and me.”

            Mei turned further in surprise.  “You have a sister?”

            “Had.”  Midori continued to stare ahead.  Her fingers now shook, and Midori gripped the sleeves of her jacket to make it stop.  “Her Japanese name was Takako, but I used to not be able to pronounce it, so we all called her Taka.  She was three years older than me.  Anyway, after our father left, it was the three of us in a tiny apartment. 

            ‘Mom didn’t have much education, and being Korean it was pretty hard to find work,” Midori explained.  “She worked two jobs a lot, and I don’t remember seeing her much.  We couldn’t afford a babysitter, so Taka was the one who looked after me.”

            “That’s awfully young to have that job,” Mei commented.

            Midori nodded.  “But Taka really was good to me,” she replied, as she turned to face Mei.  “We got along so well, never fought or anything.  She also told me a lot about how things were:  when I’d ask about Dad, she would tell me that he had to leave, and that Mom was working really hard for us, and that I should not ask for anything too special or expensive for my birthday or for the holidays.  The money just was not there.  I understood, as best as a small child can, but then again it didn’t matter.  Taka and I were so close; having her in my life made it all right.”

            Mei slid her arm around Midori’s shoulders.  She had stared off again, and Mei knew there was more to come.  “What happened to them?”

            “It was what happened to me, Mei,” Midori replied.  “I was five years old at the time.  It was winter, and I remember it being very, very cold that season.  I remember that Mom seemed to be home more than usual.  Taka told me that she’d lost one of her jobs, and that things were even tighter than before.”

            Midori had set her teeth behind her lips, but only for a moment.  “Then one night,” she continued, “Taka took me into our bedroom and got me dressed to go out.  I didn’t have a winter jacket, and neither did my sister.  But we did the best we could with what clothes we had.

            ‘I asked where we were going,” Midori continued, “and Taka said Mom was sending us to the store for a couple of items.  I didn’t think anything of it; we often did that for her.

            ‘But soon…” Midori shuddered slightly before going on, “I realized we not going to the grocery store near our apartment; we were going in a different direction, to another neighborhood that I’d never been in before.”

            Midori reached over to Mei, and took her other hand in both of hers.  “I asked Taka why we were going this way,” she said, “and she turned and looked down at me, with the saddest look on her face.  She finally said that Mom needed a couple of things at a certain store that we could not get at the other.  I had no reason to doubt her.

            ‘It was getting very dark, and very cold now,” Midori went on.  “There weren’t many streetlights in this part of the city, and it was spooky.  We got the things Mom wanted, and we started for home.  After a block or two, Taka turned to me and said, ‘Hey!  Race you home!’”

            Mei gasped inwardly as Midori continued, “We did that all the time, and I told her, ‘You’re on!’  Taka took off running and of course she got ahead of me quickly.  She kept running, and she didn’t look back.”

            “My God,” Mei breathed as she pulled Midori to her.  Midori continued to stare forward, dry-eyed as the story tumbled from her lips in a slow rush.  “Have you ever felt so completely alone, so lost and unwanted, as that?  I ran after Taka, yelling for her to stop, she was going too fast.  But she ran off into the night, and I never saw her again.”

            Midori rested her head in Mei’s arms as she continued:  “I didn’t know where I was.  None of the streets were familiar, and I kept running, hoping to catch Taka or to find a street, a building or some landmark I recognized.  I found neither.  I ran till I was exhausted; I was in the street, alone and knew no one.  I had no money; I didn’t even know my phone number.  I tried to stop someone for help, but for a long time, no one would.  Who’s going to help a Korean?”

            Mei massaged Midori’s shoulder with one hand and ran her other through the girl’s hair.  “All these people,” Midori said, “just walked past me.  They acted like I didn’t exist.  Finally, a young couple did stop.  They calmed me down and called the police.  Two officers drove up, and I gave my address.  They took me home, and said they would find out why this happened.  But when we got there, all we found was the landlord and one of our neighbors from the floor.  I was told that Mom and Taka were seen leaving the apartment, each with a suitcase.  The landlord told the police Mom was behind on the rent, and that he was going to evict us.

            ‘I remember being in a state of shock.  Mom was gone, Taka was gone, and I felt like nobody wanted me.  The police could not get a hold of anyone from Child Services that late at night, so they took me to a temple run by Buddhist monks.  I was taken in, while the police tried to find my family.”

            “Did they?”  Mei asked.

            “No.”  Midori shook her head, raised it slightly, and then leaned on Mei’s shoulder again.  “They disappeared.  I don’t know what became of them.  Anyway, the elder monks assigned Lobsang to look after me.  There were other orphans there, mostly Korean children.  Lobsang told me that one of the missions of the temple was to help the children that nobody wanted.  She made a space for me in her tiny room, and she looked after me for four years.”

            Midori sat up, but she clung to Mei.  “That’s where I learned about meditation,” she explained.  “I used to follow Lobsang to the hall, and seeing everyone sit and do it, I thought I should as well.  That delighted everyone, and I became inseparable from Lobsang.  The others called me her ‘Shadow,’ but it was meant well.  I made friends with the other kids there, but Lobsang was everything to me—my second sister, my second mother, my only real friend.

            ‘I thought a lot about what had happened.  I don’t blame Taka, nor do I hate her for what she did, Mei--I know Mom ordered her to lose me on the way home.  Maybe she thought one less mouth to feed would make it easier.”

            “Still,” Mei replied, trying to suppress the anger and sadness in her, “that’s not the way to do it.”

            “I know,” Midori said, “and I once asked Lobsang why Mom would do such a thing.  She said she didn’t know, and we can’t always know the mind of another in a situation like that.  Lobsang said she thought that Mom must have been so stressed out that her mind made decisions she wasn’t aware of, or didn’t understand.  Anyway, I feel worse for Taka.”


            “Taka would be 18 now,” Midori said, “and I wish I could know how she is.  She protected me, watched out for me so well.  To be told to get rid of her little sister must have been terribly painful.  I wonder how she has borne that.”

            Midori slid her feet back to the walkway, and Mei joined her.  As they walked back toward the crowd, Midori held to Mei.  “Mom and Dad visited the temple when I was nine.  Believe it or not, that couple that helped me that night in the street?  It was them; they were looking to adopt, and Mom remembered that night, and wondered where I had ended up.  They made inquiries, and found me.  Mom said she knew we were meant to be a family.”

            Mei smiled.  “That’s amazing,” she said, “but yeah, she was right.  I’m ashamed to admit this, Midori,” she continued, “but I did see Lobsang with you.  Just the very end of the conversation, and it looked like something I should not intrude on.  Was that the first time you’d seen her since leaving the temple?”
            “Yes, we’d stayed in touch by letter on occasion,” Midori explained, “and she is well.  She is mentoring another little girl now.  I do wish you could have met her,” she added as they stopped along the beginning of one of the crowded streets, “you would not have interfered.  I did tell Lobsang about you, and she is happy for us.”

            They stopped, and Mei smiled as Midori leaned her body against her.  She felt the girl’s arms go around her waist.  “I’m even more astounded now,” Mei said as she stroked Midori’s cheek, “by you.”

            Midori smiled in response.  “How?”

            “You didn’t cry or break down while telling me that story,” Mei said, “and you are so forgiving of Taka.  Add to it, your happiness and kindness towards others, me especially is touching.”

            Midori bowed her head on Mei’s shoulder and said, “It is what I’ve learned.  In Buddhism, you learn to love, you learn to be kind, to yourself and others; and you learn to forgive, truly forgive once you understand everything.  I have nothing to complain about:  I’m alive, I have a family, I have friends and I am in love.”  She looked up and kissed Mei on the lips.  “That’s with you, you know.”

            Mei smiled and kissed Midori back, and the two held to each other as a costumed world turned around them, not knowing or caring about it, for the moment.


(Writer's Note:  "Perfect" is written by John Cale, and appears on his CD, blackAcetate, 2005.

There you have it! 

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