I arrived early at Capital Toyotei. I wanted to have a drink and watch my client arrive. I’m not sure why. When she did, I probably stared just like the guy next to me did. And the guy next to him. Her hair was down and the dress she wore was elegant, but understated. She didn’t scream “look at me!” the way so many pretty women do, but she was very lovely. There was that something, again, that maturity about her. She was polite to everyone, from the valet who escorted her in, to the coat check girl, to the maitre d’. Everyone got that same sweet smile, those same guarded eyes. I rose and met her in the lobby and she greeted me warmly, took my arm and we were seated. This was a bit of a surprise. Capital Toyotei may not be the most exclusive restaurant in Kyoto, but you’re never just seated. Except for today.
Our table was apart from the others; at least one table had been removed to give us some privacy. As we arranged ourselves, nearly everyone in the restaurant surreptiously stared. A few meaningfully envious looks were thrown my way, I didn’t notice if any were thrown at my client.
At last we were left alone and the murmur died down. Silence fell between us. I belatedly remembered to hand over the printed report – Miss Himemiya thanked me but did not open the envelope.
“Let’s enjoy ourselves, shall we? Business later.”
I nodded and we placed our orders. I tried not to look at the prices, but decided that as this was her call, she could pay. Call me mercenary.
Dinner was good. I’ll never be a huge fan of French cuisine, but this chef had made it onto Iron Chef. He deserved it too. By coffee, I was pleasantly sated with rich, unhealthy food and reasonably reasonable. I suggested we commence with the business portion of our meeting since it was getting late.
My client raised her tea to her lips and nodded. “By all means.”
I began to describe my meeting with the Kiryuu’s and she made no comments. When I finished up with the little chat in the elevator, her only response was, “Ah, Nanami. How I miss her.” I tried, unsuccessfully, to hear the sarcasm in her voice; I’d have to swear there wasn’t any. When I mentioned that Kaoru was here in Kyoto, however, Miss Himemiya changed completely. Her smile faded and her face grew bleak.
“When? How long? Does he know I’m here?” Her knuckles were white as she gripped her teacup.
“About 6 months ago. I don’t think so. But,” I cautioned, “I don’t think you’ve been hiding, have you?” She did not answer and I pressed. “Why, Miss Himemiya? Why did he tell me he couldn’t remember your face, or Tenjou’s? Why does Kiryuu Nanami warn me away from you?” I leaned forward and lightly touched her hand.
The shock that ran through me threw me backwards into my chair. It was all I could do not to topple over. I felt as if someone had laid a defibrillator against my chest – while my heart was still beating. I sucked in some air, trying not to be obvious, and waited while my client’s face thawed. The look I had seen in her eyes in that one moment would have made a charging rhino take a step back. I didn’t much feel up to challenging her.
That was it for dinner. She was all business, waving away my insistence that I pay – exactly what I was hoping for; she took care of the check briskly and we were obsequied out the front door.
“Please walk with me,” she requested, and gestured to her side. I took my position and she threaded her arm through mine as we walked. The botanical gardens were lit, but not open. We strolled along the street in silence. Light traffic passed, and neither of us wanted to say anything that would confuse, or hurt. Anything at all, really. I was still keyed up from the earlier shock and too tense to think clearly.
After a few blocks, I felt myself calming down. As if that released her from her silence, my client began to speak. “Once upon a time there was a Princess…”
I always hated fairy stories, but I guessed hers was not your average story. A Princess who wanted to save Princesses and thus become a Prince. And a Prince who had sacrificed himself to save Princesses and had become sick. And a Princess who was a witch and did terrible things to save the Prince. Lots of Princesses. Lots of unhappiness.
I looked down at my client as we walked and saw to my surprise, that she had tears on her eyelashes. They glittered in the light from the streetlamps. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and offered it to her. Glancing up at me, she thanked me with a small smile. Her eyes wet with tears, that sad smile of gratitude as she looked up at me — she was beautiful. My heart stopped beating and I felt as stricken as anyone ever had by anyone they had ever loved. My god, she was beautiful.
She turned away again, but I could not stop seeing that face, so lost and alone, in my mind. I found myself thinking that if I were a Prince and she was the Princess, I’d die to save her too. Eventually I remembered to breathe.
We walked in silence again. At last I found the strength to ask the question I had wanted to from the first time we met. “Who are you?” I whispered into the night.
“I am the witch.” She said.
My head spun. When Kiryuu Nanami had called her a “witch” I thought, well, obviously I thought she meant it as an insult. But…
“There’s no such things as witches,” I began, but Miss Himemiya put her hand on my mouth to stop me. She pulled it away slowly. I could feel the warmth of her fingers on my lips.
“Please.” She sounded terribly sad and old. “Let’s just walk.”
We walked. I left her at her apartment and she asked me to keep trying to find Utena. “At least interview the last two Student Council members…then you are free to drop the case.”
“I won’t drop the case.” I said, then leaned down to kiss her cheek. When I last saw her, she stood at her door, her hand pressed to her cheek where I had kissed it.
I slept that night more deeply than usual. I awoke refreshed and vaguely remembering a dream about castles and Princes and Princesses and lots of other things I didn’t believe in.
I never even heard the alarm the next morning. I mean, I probably did, and somewhere in my fogged brain I found the energy to roll over and shut it up, so that I slept long past my usual brisk hour. Waking didn’t do anything to clear my head, so I decided to give myself a day off. It’s not that I’m lazy, but yesterday had been a trying day, full of weirdness, and I needed to recharge before I moved on with the investigation.
Investigation. Just who was it that I was investigating? I was beginning to think that this Tenjou Utena never existed and that it was my client I was tracking.
I skipped breakfast to take a short run. The Yura River is always nice in the morning, and mist shrouded the streets. It was going to be a thick day and I was glad to just kick back and let it slide. Back home for a light breakfast, some household chores and a few phone calls. Nothing stressful. Nothing interesting, either. I thought that what I needed was a good physical workout – something to occupy my body, so my mind would have to follow.
I stopped by my friend’s dojo, and looked in the window. He was conducting a class, mostly women. I stepped into the school and watched as the students tossed each other around. He looked up and nodded at me, but didn’t leave the mat. I nodded back and tried to make myself inconspicuous. A quarter of an hour later, class was over and he walked up to me. Furuhata was a short guy, kind of thick, like a barrel – in fact, “Oke” was what we called him in school. Time and joking had changed it to OK and that was the name I used now.
“Hey, OK.” I bowed and stretched out a hand to shake. He shook and bowed and then he gave me a quick hug, to boot. Always a touchy guy – kind of unusual in our crowd. OK invited me in, we sat and sipped tea and he waited for all his students to finish changing and leave before he asked me what had brought me there.
I told him that I wanted to work on some ukemi and he grinned. Gods, there’s nothing as horrifying as a judoka with a fresh uke. My smile slipped a bit and I remembered the last time we worked out – I think my sprained ankle was my own fault, but the bruises were his. He kept grinning until I groaned out loud and then he laughed.
“What’s the deal? You only come here to work out when you’re upset about something.”
I glared at him and he grinned.
“A woman, huh?” He whistled. Well, I think I can wipe her out of your mind. And my mat needs a good cleaning. C’mon – I got an extra gi in the back.” And he rose, smoothly and gracefully for such a blocky guy. I scrambled up behind him and we went to get me properly attired.
OK was a good guy – he’d never hurt me seriously. I kept telling myself that for the next hour and half, as he tossed me across the mat, around the room and straight down. I worked on making useful, committed attacks – smooth, good energy that he could react to. He worked on slamming my ass as hard as he could into the mat. It worked for us.
At last he let me go. I felt like a convoy had run over me, but I felt better than I had in a while. There’s nothing like a really good, tough workout to remind you of all your muscles. We showered and changed and OK invited me back to his place for an early dinner. I accepted happily and off we went.
OK’s wife was a really, really good cook. I always liked that about her – and she was an old school friend of mine. We had taken a lot of classes together in college. I can’t actually claim credit for their successful marriage, but I’d like to think I had at least something to do with getting them to meet. They had two kids – one boy, five, and a girl, two. Cute kids. I played with them while OK and his wife made dinner. We were building a block castle. Tasuke wanted it to have towers, but we only had square blocks, so I took a few pieces of scrap paper and made cones for the top. It made his day. Ari was busy making her own tower, which kept falling over. Tasuke, all responsible big brother, helped her. It was nice to watch kids play. It made me feel part of the family.
Dinner was amazing. Fancy restaurants may be the rage, but when it comes to my taste just give me old-fashioned home cooking any day.
By the time I got home, I was tired, sore and happier than I had been in several days. For a few hours, I hadn’t had a dark-skinned beauty looking up at me with teary eyes. As soon as I walked into the apartment, though, she was back. And I knew that I couldn’t put off the next step any longer.
A few phone calls later and I had a ticket for a plane to Kagoshima to see one Saionji Kyouichi. I spent a few minutes tracking him down, assistant Mayor and Customs Official at the port. I managed to find an inn that would take the late reservation and settled down with the file on Saionji.
Another Student Council member, with the exception of a hiatus. School records sealed – that always meant being expelled. I wondered why. Probably something to do with a girl – always was. Grades good, not tops, good looking enough guy, if you liked that type. Saionji had weak, thin lips and mean eyes in his photo. I wondered if he had become the supercilious, pompous official in his little nowhere town. Kagoshima…I picked up a map and found it fairly easily. Volcanic mountains, Izumi and its Crane Park, Mt. Sakurajima…sweet potatoes. I decided to pick up some souvenirs while I was there. Sounded like a beautiful place, at least. My eyes were closing and I had a long day ahead. I popped a few ibuprofen for my aching muscles and drifted off to sleep. If I had any dreams, I didn’t remember them.
Morning began long before I was able to deal. My whole body screamed at me while I shuffled around, getting things together for my trip to Kagoshima. I called Nikki at home and gave her the day off, changed the answering machine message at the office and generally puttered until it was time to get to the airport.
Kagoshima was a big port and tourist area, but my flight was small, just a few businessmen, mostly higher class than me. I settled into my seat and prayed we didn’t hit turbulence. I wasn’t sure my muscles would be able to stand it. The flight was uneventful. I didn’t sleep, though – the two young men behind me were practicing their negotiating skills the whole trip.
By the time I reached Kagoshima I was more than a little prickly. My body hurt, my head hurt, I was hungry and irritated. I figured this would be the best time to call this Saionji character and insist I see him immediately. I love doing that to “important” officials. There’s nothing so satisfying as walking in to their offices, looking like a rumpled rag doll and watching their carefully constructed masks crumble.
Unfortunately, luck wasn’t with me and Saionji wasn’t in. Either office. Or home. I decided to give it a rest and find my inn, maybe get some food and take a long soak in the bath. And that’s what I did.
I was just returning to my room, feeling marginally more human, when the hotel manger called me to say there was a phone call. I stepped out to get it, conscious of the passers by pretending not to listen in. It was Saionji and he sounded pleased.
“I’m glad I caught you before you went to bed.” I checked my watch – it was only 21:00, but hey, maybe he went to bed early. “I was wondering if you could come to my house tonight. I’d rather meet you here than in the office – too much paperwork and people always interrupting, you know how it is.” Yup. I knew how he wanted me to see him, anyway. “I’m having a little party here – nothing formal, a few business contacts and I’d like you to come over. The drinks are good, at least.” His laughter was genuine, and my eyebrows rose a little. Who was this guy fooling? He was trying to soft-soap me. I wondered why.
I agree to come over and he gave me directions. A short cab ride, outside the city proper. I looked forward to meeting him. Not. Yawning, I dressed in my new good suit, gave the shoes a spit polish and popped some more painkillers. Not every muscle in my body hurt anymore, just nine out of ten of them. I asked the cabbie to drive carefully, as I wasn’t in a rush, but you know how they are. I think I picked up a few bruises on my bruises from being slammed around in the back.
The house we pulled up to was nice, no more. Upper middle class, spacious without being a mansion. Neatly kept, very pleasant garden – nice mix of traditional Japanese and Western. I was expected and the door opened as I approached. A kid of about 15 with a serious face ushered me in and offered me a drink. I accepted. Saionji had been right – the drink was *very* good. I sipped happily enough and pretended to be invisible. The conversation around me was mostly business; taxes, tariffs, trade, the like. I looked for the ringleader and my host, but couldn’t see anyone who matched the picture. At last the kid approached me again and asked if I would follow him.
We walked through the living room, and out the side door, where a covered walkway led to a largish shed on the edge of the property. We stepped in and immediately I felt a rush of air as a man went charging by me, wielding a shinai.
I stepped back, but he had already come to a halt, his strike parried, his opponent’s sword at his throat. The match was over; the two men saluted, bowed, then smiled and shook hands. Laughing, they turned towards me. The man who had lost the bout bowed briefly and walked past me, shaking his head ruefully. The other man stepped up with a greeting for me and a rumple for the hair of the 15 year-old, who bore it with good grace.
I checked out Saionji. He was tall, his hair pulled back into a loose unruly, ponytail. The thin lips I had noted in his photograph were fuller now and his smile no longer cruel. His eyes were the big surprise. In that picture from ten year ago they were bitter, unfulfilled; now they radiated good humor and contentment. I was feeling a little irritated – I was 0 for 3 so far on my interviews. I might as well pack it in on reading people.
Saionji clapped me on the shoulder familiarly and asked me if I’d accompany him to his office. He waved the kid along with us, which made him stand just a little taller. Nice guy. I wondered what had happened to him that had changed him so much.
We made ourselves comfortable, Saionji, the kid and myself. After drinks were refreshed, we got down to business. Saionji smiled broadly and said, “You say you’re looking for Tenjou Utena? How extraordinary. Who hired you?” Then he realized what he had just asked and blushed a little. Waving his hand in front of his face, he looked abashed. “Sorry, sorry – client privilege and all. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I can’t tell you, of course, but I’ll say that it is…a friend of hers.”
His eyebrows rose. “A friend? She was very popular.” He grew thoughtful. “I owe Tenjou, I guess. I hardly remember her, but when I think about the Council – you’ve talked to Touga and the others, I suppose?” I nodded noncommittally. “Well, now. I don’t know that I’m going to be able to help you much. I remember her, of course – popular girl, very athletic, we didn’t get along well at first…”
“Why not?” I interrupted.
He looked up, surprised. Resting his hands on the desk in front of him he stared at them for a while. Then he looked at the kid and smiled ruefully. “Because at that time I was a very unhappy person.” He turned back to me. “We quarreled over something…someone. It got me expelled for a while.” His eyes closed and he pressed his hands to his face. Pulling them away, he looked me in the eye and said, “I had some problems then. But I don’t care about that kind of stuff now. I left the Student Council before I graduated, focused on my grades, my kendo and got myself into a good college, far away from Ohtori. I found something more important than power, or even prestige.”
“What was that?” I asked. These Council members hadn’t yet ceased to amaze me. I wonder what fireball Saionji was about to launch at me.
He smiled again, the weariness falling from his face. “Love of course. What else can do that to us?” He glanced again at the kid, who chuckled. “When I was in college, I fell in love with an older woman. She was everything that the girls my age weren’t. I asked her out and she refused. She said it wouldn’t be seemly. I had never been refused anything before and it stung. I went away and brooded, then realized that brooding wasn’t going to solve the problem. I spent several years just trying to figure out who I really was, stopped comparing myself to other people – and I started to realize that you can’t find happiness in things. I worked hard at kendo and realized that my teacher had told me that along time ago…right before he had…before he denied it.”
Saionji sighed. “Pour Touga. I hear he’s a shadow of his former self.” He sighed again. “I found myself. You have no idea how important that was to me.” He sipped from his glass, his face serious again. “And when I had, I came back and asked her out again. And she agreed.” The smile he shot me was infectious and I grinned a little with him. “We celebrated our third anniversary last week. Daiichi here,” he gestured at the boy, “is her son from her first marriage – and my good friend. Isn’t that right, Dai?” And Dai nodded and agreed.
Despite myself, I liked this Saionji. He had gone through a lot, I could see that. But unlike the others, he had gotten *through* it all and come out the other side, a winner. Good for him. But that didn’t solve my problem.
The same thought must have occurred to him. “But that doesn’t help you much, eh?” He began to fiddle with an antique tanto that sat on his desk – a dangerous paperweight, I thought. “I’m not sure I can tell you anything that might help you find Tenjou. She wasn’t really one of us – I remember that. After we…quarreled, I harbored a grudge for a while, but when I left, I felt nothing towards her. I can’t even remember what she looked like.”
“What about Himemiya Anshi?” I asked. The change in him was astounding. Once again, my client’s name worked like a magical incantation.
“That was it! That was her name! I remember now!” Saionji looked as surprised as I felt. “My god, I’ve been trying to remember that name for years!” He stood and walked around the desk. Taking my hand he pumped it convulsively as he spoke. “Thank you – that was it! I can’t believe I forgot her.” At last he released my hand and stood, a saved man by all accounts. He shook his head in wonder and pleasure.
“Well, now, that was it.” He came back to the present and smiled that infectious smile again. “I may seem a simpleton to you, but I’m not you know. Himemiya Anshi was the name of the girl we quarreled over. I remember it being very important at the time. I thought I loved her, but you know – I never really did. I feared her. I feared them all, because I was always comparing myself to them. The last time we fought, I felt, I don’t know, freed somehow and it all became so much less important to me. I tried to tell Touga…” his voice petered out and he stopped, staring.
“Tell Touga what?” I prompted.
“I don’t remember.” He said, his brows drawing close. “Something about…” He clicked his tongue against his teeth, frowned, then his face cleared. “Nope. Sorry. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago now and not very important, you know.”
Not to this man, perhaps, but to the others, it was still an unanswered puzzle.
“So you can’t tell me anything about her that might help me find her?” I asked, sounding more defeated than I felt.
Saionji looked unhappy at not being able to help me. “I am sorry. I hardly remember them.”
“That’s okay.” It wasn’t, I was getting nowhere, but it was all interesting, wasn’t it? I stood and thanked him for his time and the drink. He offered to get me a cab, but I decided to walk back to the inn. I do my best thinking when I walk and I needed to get my sore muscles warmed up. The night air was warm and wet, and sounds were muffled.
As I left the residential neighborhood that Saionji lived in, the night around me grew darker, more unreal. I was pretty well lost in thought when something behind me made a noise. I turned just slightly too late and the last thing I remember was the darkness of the night going sickly green, then black again, as I passed out, and the noise I made as I hit the ground.
I awoke in a tidy little Japanese room. The futon below me was comfortable enough and I decided to sleep again. I figured that whoever went to the trouble of putting me here shouldn’t be insulted by me trying to mess everything up and leave. On that note, I passed out.
The sunlight was filtered by the rice paper, but bright enough to hurt through my eyelids. I rolled over and immediately regretted it. My head hurt in three places and my whole right side was throbbing. I lay back, gasping with the effort and trying not to throw up.
“If you get sick, there’s a basin to your right.” The voice was cool and composed. “It might make you feel better, you know.”
“Thanks,” I hissed and hissed again as the pain of drawing in a breath took all my concentration.
“You’re pretty beat up, you know. You were lucky I happened to find you.” The voice held some private amusement of its own – I wanted in on the joke.
“Thanks again.” I tried to crane my head around to see the speaker, but it was no use. I gave up trying, closed my aching eyes and let the pain wash across me. “Any chance of telling me your name, so I know who to send the thank you note to?”
The voice laughed – a pleasant, deep chuckle. If she was as lovely as her laugh, she was a knockout.
“My name,” she paused for a second, “is Arisugawa Juri. I believe you were looking for me anyway.”
I could feel my strength ebbing. Great, so much for the element of surprise. My last thought as I slipped into a deep sleep was, what the hell was she doing in Kagoshima?
“Tokyo?” I said, astounded. How the hell did I get here? “How long was I unconscious?” I croaked.
Arisugawa Juri leaned forward and handed me a celadon cup with aromatic tea. I drank from it and was amazed again, this time by the flavor. I suppose by then I should have stopped being blown away by this woman…but it hadn’t all sunk in yet.
I had woken up to find the light almost gone. Somewhere, the sun was setting. The room I was in had turned pleasantly cool and I sighed. At that, the shoji had slid aside and my erstwhile hostess had entered. From my position on the floor, she was all legs, right up to her armpits. I thought to myself that if *she* had been the one who came into my office, I’d have never come to Kagoshima. She screamed “femme fatale” from her burnished copper curls to her arched eyebrows. In a remote way, she was gorgeous.
“Good morning. I was getting worried.”
“Thanks.” I said. She must think I have a one-word vocabulary.
“It really is no problem. So far, you’ve been a delightful guest.” She knelt down and proceeded to wipe down my face with a cool cloth. Her fingers were long and tapered. I’d have been glad to have them anywhere on my body.
I sighed again. “I didn’t plan to spend another day here in Kagoshima.” I said, my mind wandering a bit.
“We’re not in Kagoshima. We’re in Tokyo.”
You already know my reaction.
Her response was to hand me some good tea and wait for me to calm down. Her looks were long and searching, like she was looking for something in my face that should have been there, but wasn’t. Or maybe I just had two black eyes and looked like a tanuki.
I sipped my tea and contemplated. I’d obviously been unconscious a lot longer than I thought. “How long have I actually been out?” I asked in between sips.
She smiled. “About two days. You slept through the entire ride here. Given the state you were in, I’m not surprised. The doctors were afraid of internal injuries when they looked at you.”
“Doctors?” I asked. “Did you bring me to the hospital?” I didn’t think I could have been out that bad, but…
“No. My doctors. They are on call.”
I sipped more tea and let the steam ease the tension in my face. I had at least one big lump, maybe more. I must have been a sight.
“I expect you’ll want to know how I found you.” She said, sipping her own tea. I glanced at her from under my lids. She was long and lean and feline. A jaguar in human form. I could see plenty of strength in her, and more than a little killer instinct. I wondered why she was being so nice to me.
I nodded, and she continued. “I’ll be honest. I’ve been following you for days. Since just after you met with the Kiryuu’s. I saw you leave the building and something about you, I can’t quite put my finger on it – or at least, I couldn’t then. I think I can guess at it now.” She fell into a reverie, as her voiced faded out. A moment passed and she snapped back into the present. “In any case, I followed you to Kyoto. I’ve been following you since.
“I am sorry. I expected something like this would happen and I wasn’t able to prevent it.” She sounded abashed. “You gave me the slip there, by walking back to the inn. I was waiting in a cab, but when you crossed the tracks I couldn’t follow. At least I got there quickly. Otherwise no one would have found you until morning.”
I nodded again, and found that it didn’t hurt my head too badly. I poured myself more tea. “So,” I said slowly, considering every word. “Thank you again for saving me. But that still leaves a few questions unanswered.”
She looked away, her face solemn, withdrawn. Her profile was sculpted, sharp features, large eyes, high cheekbones. She could be a model and make the other girls around her look insipid.
“Like, how did I get from Kagoshima to Tokyo unconscious? You look strong, but I doubt you carried me on your back.”
I hadn’t intended it as a joke, but she laughed again and it transformed her. She looked less cold and aloof, more like a person I’d like to be around.
“By helicopter, if you must know. That’s how I got out to Kago…” she stopped and cocked her head. “Excuse me one moment.” And in a blink she was standing, then gone.
I could hear voices, one lower than the other. The shoji slid back and Juri walked in, followed by a shorter woman, whose pierced nose and short hair proclaimed her more modern than her friend. Their relationship was immediately apparent, and for some reason this made me kind of glad. The younger woman kneeled down by my side and laid a cool hand on my brow, then cheek. Just like my mother used to when I was a child.
“You look bad, but you feel much better.” She grinned at me and bowed, slightly. “I’m Miiko, Juri’s wife.” I tried not to show how much that turn of phrase startled me, but she kept grinning and I realized that she did it to startle. Juri came to sit by Miiko and I could see by the pinkness in her cheeks, that she wasn’t all that blasé about it, either.
“So,” Miiko continued. “I hope you’ve enjoyed our hospitality so far?”
“Yes, I’m greatly indebted to you and Miss Arisugawa.” I responded.
Miiko laughed out loud and nudged Juri. “Miss Arisugawa. Huh, reminds me of the days when you were my teacher.” I thought Juri was going to turn beet red at this abominable behavior, but she just smiled and clasped Miiko’s hand in her own. Instantly, I knew that, like Saionji, Arisugawa had made it through. I was happy for her. Whatever demons still trapped the Kiryuu’s and Kaoru, these two at least had escaped.
“Miiko sat with you the entire first night, you know.” Juri said to me. “She may not look it,” she ignored the rude noise the younger woman made, “but she’s a highly trained nurse. She felt responsible – even with the doctors saying that all you needed was sleep.”
“You were burning with fever – and bruised all over. I was worried!” Miiko interrupted.
“Oh, well, the bruises were from a tough judo workout a few days ago.” I said, a bit sheepishly. Both women stared at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. After a second I found myself laughing along with them. It felt good. I guess I haven’t laughed a lot recently.
I bowed deeply. “Once again, my thanks to the two of you. I really do owe you a lot.” They protested, but I felt like the least I could do was treat them to a nice dinner. They asked if I could eat Indian and I agreed. I hadn’t had a good curry in a while. Japanese curry is too sweet for me.
Moti, by all accounts, is the ultimate Indian dining experience in Tokyo. We went to the Shinjuku branch. The food was excellent and the company pleasant. Juri turned out to be a retired teacher who had taken up modeling when her university had disapproved of her moving in with Miiko, an ex-student.
“It wasn’t worth the hassle.” Juri said. “I had had modeling jobs all through school. I don’t need to work, but I hate being idle. And modeling gave me a chance to travel. But it’s hard work and ultimately empty. Now I’m a photographer myself. It’s much nicer on this side of the camera. And I enjoy it.”
“And she’s great at it!” Miiko jumped in. “You’ve probably seen her work and never known it. Her photography is everywhere…make sure I show you when we get home tonight.”
“Um, actually, I was thinking I should be leaving…” I began, but Miiko interrupted – the usual state of affairs, I had gathered by this time.
“No. I absolutely forbid it. You had a really bad concussion. At least one more night – I insist.”
I reluctantly agreed. But the last thing I wanted was to be indebted to one of the people who was most likely to have caved my head in in the first place.
Glossary of Terms:
Oke: Bucket or Barrel, prounounced “oh-ke.”
Ukemi/uke: In Martial Arts, the person who attacks, and thus receives the technique being practiced is called the “uke.” Practicing attacking and receiving techniques is referred to as “taking ukemi.”
Judoka: a practitioner of Judo. “-ka” as an ending means a person who does something…karateka, ikebanaka, etc…
Gi: The two piece uniform worn by practitioners of Japanese Martial Arts. Judo and Aikido gis are usually thicker and padded where they would be grabbed, and thrown.
Shinai: a practice sword made of split bamboo, as opposed to a “bokken” a practice sword made of wood.
Tanto: a Japanese single-edged knife
Shoji: A sliding screen door, of traditional Japanese design. Wood frame covered in rice paper
Tanuki: a raccoon-dog, or badger, usually seen as a fertility symbol