Photo by Geoff Stearns on Flickr
Nobuyuki was at his desk. His sister was sitting in the client's chair.
“Have you been on any interesting stakeouts lately?” she asked.
“That’s what cops do.”
“Little brother, tell me.”
“Why’re you so interested in what I do?”
“My life is so boring. Show me some naughty photos.”
His sister played the role of an inexperienced, wealthy housewife who lived in a big house in Tachikawa, but beneath all her trappings of privilege--the Mercedes CLS, her elegant Mitsukoshi clothes, the Mikimoto pearls--he knew she was still the conniving girl who had grown up in Kesennuma, a fishing town in Tohoku, northeastern Japan, that had mostly been wiped out by the 2011 tsunami: their ancestral home, gone, their father, dead, their mother now living with her sister in Sendai, a city down the coast.
Nobuyuki leafed through a stack of photographs on his desk. “My client’ll be happy with these,” he said, taunting her. "I caught her husband going into a Shibuya love hotel with a bar hostess. They'll do the trick. Easy divorce. Hefty settlement. Money in my bank account."
“They're not something a married woman should see.”
“I’ll buy you lunch," she said. "Bring the photos.”
A free lunch, her way of bribing him, he had to admit, was a better way of spending his afternoon than sitting in his office answering telephone calls from wives who wanted to know why their husbands were coming home late so often. Or not for a few days.
Nobuyuki lit a Seven Stars. "Let's go," he said.
"First a walk in the park around the pond," she said.
He gathered up the photographs, putting them in an envelope, and they left his office and went over to Ueno Park. When they reached the pond, Ayako said, "Let's walk some more."
"What about the lunch you promised?" Nobuyuki asked. "I want some soba noodles."
Ayako started to walk around the pond. Nobuyuki followed her. It was early in November. A breeze came up, rippling the surface of the pond. Some yellow and red maple leaves blew past. They made Nobuyuki recall the brown maple leaves that piled up in the gutters of Kesennuma every autumn. The leaves there, unlike those in Tokyo, were often accompanied by the stench of a fish market where their father had worked unloading the day’s catch. Nobukui had come to realize that if he had stayed in Kesennuma he probably would have ended up working alongside his father, shoveling the guts of sharks and tuna into a wheelbarrow for a few thousand yen a day. He had made some bad decisions in his life, but getting the hell out of Kesennuma by joining the yakuza hadn’t been one. Neither had becoming a private investigator.
Ayako had found her way out of Kesennuma, too, by marrying Yuji Uno, who had been the manager of a high-end sushi distributor that had an office there. She had worked part-time as a clerk. Her first child, Kentaro, had come suspiciously too soon after her marriage, but Nobuyuki had never mentioned this to her.
He sat down at the next bench they came to, watching Ayako. She had remained at the rail guarding the pond. Something was on her mind, he knew, and it wasn't lunch. After a while she came over to him and sat down. She smoothed out her gray wool skirt, tugged at the hem of her red sweater. A cool breeze rising off the pond caused a blush to spread across Ayako's cheeks.
She sat there, poised, elegant, looking out across the pond. Nobuyuki was certain that those walking by mistook them as lovers who were quarreling. He took pleasure in this. A breeze lifted Ayako's hair off her shoulders. Two Mikimoto earrings, worth more than what he made in a couple of months, glistened in the clear autumn air.
“What’s bothering you, big sister?” he asked.
She took a deep breath, looked at him, and said, “I’m in love.”
Nobuyuki had no idea what to say. He felt as he had one night when a rival yakuza gang member had stabbed him in the gut with a knife. He'd been a bag man then, collecting for the Yamaguchi-gumi gang.
“You’re married,” he said.
Ayako said, “You're right about that, little brother, I am married.”
“Why did you tell me this? It isn't right.”
“I know about you and your girls, you going to love hotels. I'm not stupid, you know?”
He said nothing. He couldn’t stop himself from thinking of his sister as a woman who probably frequented love hotels as well with this man of hers. He wanted to teach him a thing or two, having her say that she loved him. He knew about men. The thought disgusted him, his sister in a kitschy love hotel room with this man.
“I need your help,” Ayako said.
“So that's what this is all about?”
“I’m not sleeping around, like you or your clients. I’m in love. There's a difference, you know? Or do you? Probably not.”
"I'm going back to my office.”
“Please, little brother, please. I'm sorry. Forgive me." She looked at the envelope of photos that he was holding. “I need a divorce,” she said.
He saw in her eyes the look of trust, and it frightened him. He tried to find something in the distance— an advertisement, the corner of a building, a streetlight—to focus on, so that the dizzying feeling would stop, but all of those things seemed to swirl around before him in a mixed-up way that he could only associate with drunkenness. Then his eyes came to rest on a crow perched atop a concrete utility pole, and for some reason the drunken sensation went away.
“You’ll help me, won’t you?” she asked, “so that I can marry Kenichi.”
Nobuyuki couldn't speak.
“I think you know the right kind of girl,” she said.
“I know some girls,” he mumbled.
“A cute, childish one will work, like those fantasy ones in computer games, avatars with big breasts. Just a few photographs, please. That's all I need. Can you do that for your big sister?”
Nobuyuki kept his eyes on the crow, but he couldn't stop himself from thinking of his sister in bed with her lover.
James Roth, an English Language Fellow in the U.S. State Department's EFL Program, is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His first novel, “The Opium Addict,” is forthcoming in late 2022. A second novel, “A Prayer for My Daughter,” set in modern Japan, is a noir/literary mystery. He lives in Zimbabwe but will be heading to Amman, Jordan, in October. @Tweet_JRoth. www.jamesroth.org.
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