14 • A FREUDIAN Trip
We stepped out of the airport and into the warm Okinawa air. It was a welcome break from the frigid cold of northern Kansai. Only three days earlier, we had been bundled up on a train braving a winter storm in Kurama. I took off my jacket and stretched my arms, my sternum cracking loudly as I arched my back. Everywhere around us, there were flowers and palm trees and greenery. The sun was high in the blue sky, warming our faces. The change in climate was more than welcome; it was essential. I needed a new direction, a new course. I couldn’t think of a better place to start than the most beautiful islands in Japan.
Gōda-sensei told me that I needed to identify times in my life when I had been overwhelmed by the negative emotions associated with the chakras. One of those emotions was guilt. The event in my life that evoked the most guilt would have to wait. I wasn’t ready to face Kaori. I didn’t even know where to find her. Okinawa had become a source of guilt that consumed me in the years since my first visit. What I did was unforgivable, but I had to find redemption to move on. It was strange to think that when I was living in the U.S., I never did anything as condemnable as the things I had done in my time living in Japan. I had never thought of myself as a bad person. At the same time, my life in the States had been as uneventful and passionless as that of a zoo animal.
Come one, come all! See the wild yellow-bellied moocher. Notice how this animal must accept low-level minimum-wage employment in a bookstore. Look kids, you can see his anthropology degree gathering dust on the wall. Don’t get too close folks. It’s mating season right now, which means the animal will pleasure itself three to four times a day out of sheer boredom. Oh, he’s quite pathetic isn’t he folks? Thanks for visiting and have a nice day.
In truth, I hadn’t had the opportunities to commit the wrongdoings that my roller coaster life in Japan had afforded me. And, I seized those opportunities. I told myself that I was living in the moment. I was taking advantage of every opportunity and making the most of each new experience. In retrospect…
「And at the time.」
…and at the time, if you insist, I knew that I was just using those Generation X-er “carpe diem” slogans as excuses to mask my indifference. I did them knowingly with merely a comfortable level of self-delusion, with the exception of one. I honestly believed that leaving Kaori was for the best.
I paused and waited for Iago to butt in with his standard “you’re an idiot” remark, but it never came. His silence concerned me. Something about it was eerie. He had been silent the day I went to see Gobō-san at Daisen, but I had assumed it was because I was doing the right thing then. Did it mean I was doing the right thing now? It seemed unlikely. He had always been particularly critical of my misdeeds involving Kaori. I tried to put it out of mind and focus on the task at hand.
“Oh my god,” Tresa belted out, stretching her arms above her head and breathing in the salt-tinged air. “This is more like it. Why didn’t we come here sooner? It’s beautiful.”
Bad memories, I answered in my head. “Because you wanted to waste your vacation helping me find my heart.”
“Oh yeah. My mistake."
I let my eyes fall toward the concrete beneath my feet. I shouldn’t have dragged her along. She had already done too much for me and she hardly knew me. Though, she was beginning to know more and more about all the terrible things I had done.
“I’m just kidding. Jeez. Lighten up.” She punched my shoulder playfully.
“Sorry. It’s just hard for me to be light-hearted about confronting the memory of what I did here.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m not ready to tell you.”
“Well, how am I supposed to help you then?”
“You’ve done enough for me already. Just try to enjoy your time here.”
“Hmph,” she snorted disapprovingly.
We hopped on a small shuttle bus with a broken radio that spent equal amounts of time spitting out crackling white noise and cheesy Hawaiian-themed pop music. The highlight of the trip was a ukelele cover of Elvis Costello’s “Red Shoes.” It was hard to stomach, but the trip was relatively short. The capital city of Naha wasn’t much to behold. It was, without a doubt, the ugliest place in Okinawa. The massive U.S. military base in the middle of town imposed itself on the city like a terrible scar. American service men crowded the streets in packs, detracting from the exoticness of the island. Aside from the military base, the rest of Naha was dirty and dilapidated. Most of the native Okinawans were donning coats and jackets as if it was cold outside. They reminded me of Angelinos, wearing down coats and ski caps in 50-degree weather. They wouldn’t survive a day in a Chicago winter. I laughed quietly to myself. We pulled into the car rental lot just as a chorus of Polynesian men on the fuzzy radio sang, “you know the angels wanna wear my red shoes.” I cringed.
We lost almost an hour in waiting and paperwork to get the car, but soon we were cruising along a northbound highway in a lime green Nissan March. The interior reeked of cigarette smoke mixed with the headache-inducing blast from air-fresheners that were inserted over the air-conditioning vents. We rolled down the windows and found an Eighties station on the radio. As we left Naha behind, the highway led us along the beautiful coastline, through rural fishing villages and surfing towns. There were huge expanses of semi-tropical jungles blanketing molehill shaped mountains. This was the Okinawa that I remembered.
Dusk began to settle in over the water and cast a beautiful spray of vibrant oranges and purples across the glittering ocean surface. I pulled off the highway just before the Kadena exit as the Cure was playing “Friday I’m in Love.” The air became cool as the darkness of the evening grew around us. I pulled into the parking lot of a large three-story beach house.
“I’ve stayed here before. It’s the off-season right now, so we should be able to get a room. C’mon.”
I could hear the gentle waves on the ocean on the other side of the beach house. The house itself was quiet. It was made of unpainted light-colored wood and looked a little like a giant log cabin. It was trimmed with bamboo, probably fake, and walls of floor-to-ceiling windows enclosed the ground floor lobby. We strolled in through the front door and kicked our shoes off in the genkan. The room was large and filled with Hawaiian and surf décor. There was a little girl, no more than nine years old, lying on a big comfortable-looking red sofa fidgeting with a pink balloon and half-watching cartoons on a big screen TV.
“Konnichiwa!” the little girl shouted loudly.
“Hi. Are your parents around?” I asked in Japanese.
No sooner had I asked than the woman I remembered to be the owner’s wife emerged from a curtained doorway that led to the kitchen. She smiled a bright, genuine smile.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Nice to see you again,” she said with another effortless smile.
“You remember me?” I was astonished.
“Of course. I remember everybody,” she laughed. “But…there’s something different about you…” Her words trailed off as she gave me a long look-over.
“Yeah, I just found out recently that I’m heartless.”
“Oh…” she raised her eyebrows like she was expecting more of an explanation to follow and then gave me a wide smile. “Nah, you’re not so bad.” She followed up with a pleasant giggle.
“Thanks. Is the third floor corner room available?”
“Sure. All the rooms are available. You’re our only guests.”
“Great. Is this the form I need to fill out?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. We know you,” she smiled at me again. Her smiles were beginning to border on inappropriate. “The total is 12,000 yen.”
I opened my wallet and pulled out the three bills. “Is your husband around? I wanted to ask him if I could use his computer again. He let me use it the last time I stayed here. I just need to look something up on the net.”
“No, he’s away at a convention in Fukuoka for the week, but you can use the computer. It’s in the office,” she pointed to a small room with a flimsy bamboo door.
“Thank you.” I scooped up the room key from the countertop and handed it to Tresa, “why don’t you head up to the room and I’ll bring the bags up when I’m finished with the computer.”
“Okay, but don’t take too long. I’m starving. We haven’t eaten since breakfast you know. I don’t count those weird Japanese airline crackers as a meal,” Tresa replied, patting her stomach.
“Is she hungry?” the owner’s wife interjected.
“Yeah, we forgot to eat lunch. Are we too late for dinner service?”
“Technically yes, but it’s no trouble. We just finished dinner. Everything’s still laid out in the kitchen. Is Yakisoba okay?”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
She turned and shuffled off into the kitchen through a curtained doorway behind the counter.
“Is she gonna make dinner for us?” Tresa asked.
“Yep. Picking up on a little Japanese are you?”
“Not a bit. But she just ate and then darted back to the kitchen after she saw me pat my belly. It’s called deduction my dear Matthew,” she teased with a smirk and a wink.
“Makes sense. How’d you know she just…” I cut myself off upon remembering the first conversation Tresa and I had at the Art Institute of the Chicago. “Oh yeah. I forgot…you have superpowers.”
“It’s not a superpower. Anybody can do it. Anyway, what kind of lame superhero would I be with a power like that? Telling people things they already know probably wouldn’t be considered a service to mankind,” she laughed as she finished. “What would my superhero name be?”
I smiled and tried to come up with something clever, but my mind was preoccupied with the task that lay ahead of me at the computer, “I have no idea. Tell you what, why don’t you work on that while we wait for dinner and I’m gonna slip into the office to use the computer for a bit.”
Her smile faded quickly, “before, I couldn’t get you to take any of this seriously and now I can’t get you to take a break from it.”
“I’m scared. Aren’t you at least glad that I’m taking it seriously now?”
“Yeah, I am. Just don’t forget about me in the process.”
“How could I forget you? You’re the whole reason I'm here.”
Her smile returned and she sat down silently at the dining room table, crossing her legs slowly. I turned and pushed open the bamboo door to the office. It swung open like it was made of feathers. It was obviously fake bamboo, but it was the most realistic kind I’d ever seen. The room was tiny and mostly filled by a heavy-looking wood desk in the center. The desktop was littered with papers and printouts and envelopes. Amongst the wreckage was a blue Toshiba laptop lying closed under a box of tissue. I sat down in the creaky office chair and shoved the box of tissue off the computer. I fired up the laptop and the screen came to life. It took me a minute to navigate the Japanese keyboard, but it quickly came back to me. I opened the Internet browser and searched Google for “Kadena May 2001 rape Kuriyama Hiroko U.S. army.” My stomach churned as I typed in her name. The memories of what happened that night resurfaced and I closed my eyes trying to swallow them back down.
The search turned up 1,357 results. It had been a widely publicized tragedy in the news, despite the frequency with which similar tragedies occurred in Okinawa. It was something that had made me ashamed to be an American ever since I first learned of it during my maiden visit to the southern islands. In the towns that hosted bases, U.S. military men were infamous for raping Japanese women, especially underage girls. I never looked up any hard statistics about the matter; I really didn’t want to know. It happened often enough that proprietors in the nightlife districts in Naha wouldn’t allow Japanese women to leave their clubs alone at night. It sickened me. The point of the American presence in Okinawa was partly to protect the people of Japan, whose constitution expressly forbade the organization of a formal military. And yet, instead of protecting the Japanese, they preyed on the weaker members of their communities like sexual scavengers. It only strengthened my hatred for the military. There hadn’t been a draft in America since the Vietnam War and I had become increasingly convinced that only people with gross emotional problems willingly signed up for military service. It was a fantastic combination; take the most unstable, emotionally disturbed, desperate, and power-hungry men in a country, arm them, and train them to kill people. God bless America.
I browsed through the results on the computer. Most of them were in Japanese, but I finally found some English articles. I read through the summaries of the crime, looking for names. I would never forget hers, but I couldn’t remember the names of four men responsible. They weren’t hard to find.
…being brought up on assault and rape charges are Private First Class John Hayes, Private First Class Steven McCoy, Private David Marquez, and Corporal Channing Mills. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army told reporters that the men would be court-martialed at Kadena Air Field and not extradited to face prosecution in Japan. This report comes days after…
Despite having forgotten their names, I could still see their faces. I could still feel the rush of adrenaline as I watched them attack, trying to will my body into action against the fear that paralyzed it. The shame flooded back from the past and became tangible once again. It was something that was never far removed from my thoughts, but I had learned to live with it just out of reach. The memories hovered right outside the sphere of conscious thought. Now, the wounds were fresh again, like it had happened only yesterday. I couldn’t even imagine what she had been dealing with for the past eight years.
I clicked back and scanned for articles about the result of the court martial, but couldn’t find anything. The military loved their secrecy. However, if the result was anything like all the other reported incidents, the soldiers had simply received a slap on the wrist and a lecture about getting caught. It was infuriating. And now, I had nothing to go on, no way to find them. I couldn’t just walk into Kadena Air Base and demand to know the location of four soldiers. I tried another search for “Okinawa Kadena Kuriyama Hiroko.” The results turned up most of the same Japanese and English articles from the previous search as well as a few different ones. I skimmed through the articles, but there was no information about what happened to her after the court martial. It made sense that the papers wouldn’t want to publish her location, but all of the news stories just ended with the court martial; there were no more details after that. I heaved a sigh and leaned back in the desk chair. It creaked and squealed under my shifting weight. I wanted to give up and avoid the whole thing, but I knew that wouldn’t bring me any closer to being whole again. I clicked back and tried to think of some different search criteria when I noticed several links for Facebook pages under the name Kuriyama Hiroko.
“Oh, what the hell,” I mumbled as I clicked the first of the links.
The picture that came up on the profile was of a chubby white cat wearing a top hat and an eye patch, which was very unhelpful. I clicked on the photo albums and waited as the bad connection slowly filled in the page. I scanned the pictures. It wasn’t her. I clicked back to find the “Current City” field filled in with “Kurashiki, Okayama.” That should’ve made it pretty obvious. Although, it was entirely possible that she wouldn’t want to live in Okinawa anymore after such an ordeal and had moved elsewhere. I went back to the search results and checked the other links. The next profile was a girl living in Okinawa, but it wasn’t her in the pictures. I moved on and skimmed through the remaining profiles.
“Hey, I think dinner’s ready,” Tresa yelled from the other room.
“Yeah, okay. Be right there.”
I rushed through the rest of the links, standing at the desk as I searched. “No. No. No. Nn…” My mouth seized up as I found myself looking at her picture.
She was…smiling. I didn’t know how to feel. I guess it was pretty unreasonable to expect she would’ve only uploaded sad pictures of herself, but the image of her in my mind had been one of a joyless weeping broken girl for the last eight years. It wasn’t what I had expected. Standing between her legs with an equally bright smile was a little boy that looked about seven or eight years old. My stomach tightened and my head hung lifelessly between my shoulders. I was responsible for a fatherless child in the world. I couldn’t believe it. My father’s flaw bore itself through me again and again. I destroyed everything and everyone around me as effortlessly as drawing breath. How could I possibly redeem myself? Was there even anything left in me to redeem?
As I lifted my head back up, I noticed the little girl standing in the doorway staring at me with disbelieving eyes. I quickly closed the laptop and stood up straight.
“Is dinner ready?” I asked with a smile as I made my way around the desk.
Her voice was tiny and innocent and had the faint hint of a lisp when she spoke, “What’s wrong?”
“What’re you talking about? Nothing’s wrong.”
“What happened to you?”
“I don’t understand wha…”
“You’re all empty.”
I could feel my own face sour. I stopped and knelt down in front of her. “You can see it?”
She nodded, her eyes arched in sympathy and her lips pursed slightly as if pouting.
“What do you see?”
“Chiaki-chan?” her mother called from the other room.
The little girl ran out of the room and I followed close behind. There were two place settings on the table, but no food. I could here the woman banging around in the kitchen as the little girl ran through the curtain to answer her mother’s call. There was a brief exchange in Japanese and the girl reemerged from the kitchen. She ran up to me and asked us what we wanted to drink. I said tea would be fine and she grinned, exposing a missing tooth, and ran back behind the curtain. I sat down at the table and looked over at Tresa.
“Some kind of stir fry with noodles and a sweet sauce,” she blurted out suddenly.
“That is, if we’re eating what she ate.”
“Your powers continue to amaze me. You can even read a meal when you don’t know the name,” I said, my tone slightly sarcastic.
She shot me a childish look as the woman and girl strolled out of the kitchen carrying our meal. The woman set a big tray down on the table and laid out our meals in front of us, a large plate of Yakisoba, a bowl of Miso soup, and a salad with sweet sesame dressing. The little girl set our cups on the edge of the table and clumsily poured hot Japanese tea, all the time with a big satisfied smile on her face.
“Thank you,” I said in English to the girl. She giggled and bobbed up and down on her heels. “Thank you very much,” I repeated in Japanese to the woman.
“No problem. Please eat,” she replied with her easy smile, sitting down at the far end of the table.
I ate the pan-fried noodles in big slurps. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. In a few minutes time, I had laid waste to the meal in front of me. I even ate the bright red bits of pickled ginger used to garnish the noodles, which I normally despised. I leaned back in the chair and relaxed.
“Gochisōsama deshita,” I said with a slight bow. It was the customary Japanese post-meal “thank you.”
Tresa was still eating slowly and quietly, unaware that it wasn’t considered impolite to make noise when you ate noodles in Japan. The woman was staring blankly at the TV at the far end of the room and her daughter was sitting in her lap staring at me.
I turned back to Tresa and said, “it’s really beautiful here. You could spend the rest of your vacation laying on the beach and relaxing, you know?”
“Trying to get rid of me again?”
“I’m not trying to get rid of you I just don’t want to waste your vacation with all this existential mumbo jumbo. You deserve to get something out of this too.”
“And…I don’t really want you to know the things I’ve done, as if your opinion of me could sink any lower.”
“A bit of honesty. Anyway, my opinion of you isn’t that low.”
My serious expression began to crack in a hesitant smile.
“Still pretty low though.”
The smile melted.
“You could have left me in Kōbe, you know? I told you I wanted to spend some more time there.”
“Kōbe’s not such a safe place for…”
“Jesus. You did something bad there too?”
“Not bad, so much as stupid.”
“Are you going to tell me what it was?”
“I borrowed money from some rather unscrupulous people and I haven’t exactly paid it all back.”
“What? No. I borrowed the money to go to school. Remember my friend Joe that I introduced you to?”
“We met in school. We were both studying to be translators. He finished, I didn’t. That’s why I took the journals and letters that Gōda-sensei gave me to him. He’s not just a translator; he’s gifted. He has a talent for language and nuance that I never understood. Plus, I figured he’d cut me a deal.”
“So…you owe money to who? The Japanese mafia?”
“No, no. Just some shady guys that operate in dark finance. They deal in short-term high-interest loans with no questions asked, but they can be a little overzealous when it comes to collecting. The truth is they’ve probably forgotten all about me…” I paused at the end of my explanation wondering if the yamikin had really forgotten about me or not. They had made a big deal about me being their first gaijin customer and how they were taking a big chance on me to open up a new market.
“Why were you so desperate to become a translator?”
“The salary of an English teacher wasn’t enough for two … er … three people to live on. We were planning to get married.”
“How very conventional of you. It’s a big step.”
“It turned out to be a small step.” Donald Sutherland’s monologue from Little Murders played in my mind. “Any step that one takes is useful.”
“Hmph,” she snorted, staring right through me like she did on our second meeting at the bookstore. “Sometimes, I just can’t figure you out.” She stood up and gave a curious bow to our hostess and walked toward the front door, “I’m gonna go take a bath.”
She unloaded her suitcase from the car and noisily dragged it up the outside stairwell out of sight. I looked back at the woman at the end of the table. She was fast asleep with her head hanging down lifelessly from her neck. The little girl was awake and still staring at me.
“Do you still see it? The shadow?” I asked in a hushed voice.
She hopped down from her mother’s lap and bounded over to me. She looked up at me with her small eyes, but they didn’t strike me as young. She seemed to carry the weight of several lifetimes in her glance. She pressed her open hand against my chest, over my sternum.
“Here.” Her tiny voice carried no weight at all.
I looked down at her hand, resting over the empty place where my heart was supposed to be. There was no shadow, but her touch made me aware of the emptiness. This act of genuine affection stirred nothing at all inside me. There was nothing inside to stir. This little girl was able to see what I couldn’t.
“Why do you got a shadow on your heart?” she asked. Her voice was tinged with the innocence and bad grammar of childhood.
“You wanna know a secret?”
“You’re not supposed to tell secrets.”
“It’s okay. It’s my secret.”
“I lost my heart. It’s gone.”
“Yeah. I’m here looking for it.” I smirked and asked, “you haven’t seen it have you?”
“Iduno. What does it look like?”
Not the answer I was expecting; I figured she wouldn't play along. I was terrible with kids. “Well, if my past relationships are any indication, probably small, cold, and black,” I answered with a laugh.
“That’s not what hearts look like!” she shouted.
Her mother jerked her head up at the sound of her daughter’s raised voice and looked over at the two of us, “Chiaki. You’re being loud. And, stop pestering our guest.”
“Oh, no. It’s okay. She’s not pestering me. We were just chatting about…”
“Mommy! He doesn’t have a heart!” the girl reported enthusiastically.
“Chiaki! Don’t say things like that. It’s rude.”
“But…he said he lost it.”
Her mother looked up at me puzzled and waiting for an explanation.
“Uh…yeah. I did tell her that…”
“Oh…hahaha…” she laughed in a pleasantly contagious giggle. “Well, if anybody can find it, Chiaki can. She loves hunting for things. No matter where I hide my make-up, she always finds it and makes a mess. She’s a little Sherlock Holmes.” She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. “Will you keep an eye on the place while I go run a bath for Chiaki-chan?”
“Um…sure. Yeah.” Something about this woman’s willingness to trust people was making me uncomfortable. It just wasn’t normal. Most people were distrusting and suspecting and some were downright paranoid. She had simply assumed we were on the same page. For all she knew, I was a serial killer. I couldn’t tell if her faith in people was the result of naivety or denial. Maybe I was just being cynical.
She walked out through a door on the opposite end of the room, near the TV. Chiaki looked up at me with sympathetic eyes and pulled a box of Pocky candy from her back pocket. She flipped open the lid and held it out to me as a little grin emerged on her lips.
“My mom says chocolate makes everyone feel better. Take one.”
I reached in and pulled out one of the slender chocolate dipped cracker sticks, “thanks. Your mom sounds very wise.”
“She likes you. I can tell.”
“I like you too.” Her grin blossomed into a smile that shared the same effortlessness as her mother’s. “I wanna help you find your heart. I’m really good at finding stuff.”
“I have no doubt,” I stopped to think of an excuse, but nothing convincing came to mind. “but…it might be dangerous.”
“It’s okay. I’m really strong and I’m the fastest runner in my class.”
“I’m sure your mom doesn’t want you to run off and help a stranger.”
She immediately ran out of the room after her mother, calling out, “mom! Mom? Mom?”
Shit. Her mom would be freaked out. How did I get myself into these situations? The room was quiet now, with the exception of the cartoon playing on the TV. I slipped back into the office and flipped open the laptop on the desk again. The Facebook page slowly reloaded as the computer woke up. The picture struck me again. She looked genuinely happy, while I had spent the last four years of my life in overwhelming apathy. It didn’t make sense, but a part of me was relieved. I looked at the “Current City” field. It read, “Kadena, Okinawa.” She hadn’t moved. She didn’t run away. Her birthday was listed as 1985. She was 16 years old when the soldiers raped her. That cold sick feeling swelled up in my stomach again. My fists unintentionally clenched and my jaw became stiff. I wanted to find those soldiers and beat them to death. Sick fucks!
She was 24 now, but she still looked like a child to me. I browsed through her pictures. School clubs, vacations, family, friends, snowboard trips, beaches, and her little boy filled the albums; all the scenes you would expect to find documenting a “normal” life. I’m not sure what I had expected.
I looked around to see if there was a printer connected to the laptop. Sure enough there was one buried under a pile of papers on the far edge of the desk. I flipped it on and loaded a blank page. I pulled up one of the more recent pictures from her profile and printed it out. I set the page next the computer to dry and clicked back to the previous search results. There was an article about the case dated “November, 2001.” It was six months after the incident. It mentioned nothing about Hiroko, but said that one of the soldiers, Corporal Channing Mills, had been convicted, dishonorably discharged from service, and sentenced to fourteen years in a federal prison. The other three soldiers were cited for violations of military codes and received trivial punishments. It was pretty much what I had expected. In order to maintain good relations with Japan, the U.S. military, and by extension the U.S. government, had satisfied the illusion of justice by identifying the highest ranking soldier as the “mastermind” and dumping all the charges on him. Instead of losing four soldiers, they only had to sacrifice one. The other three received a slap on the wrist and some strong words from their commanding officer. One of the privates had been transferred to a base in Germany and the other two were still stationed in Kadena. It was despicable. I wrote down the names of the two soldiers who had remained in Okinawa in the margin of Hiroko’s picture. The page was still wet with the ink from the ancient-looking printer. I set the page back on the desk to dry some more.
I closed the windows and shut down the computer. I yawned as I walked out to the lobby area. Tresa was probably still in the bath. I laid down on the couch and feigned interest in the cartoon on TV. It was one of the Doraemon movies. He was one of the most popular characters in Japan, the subject of comics, TV series’, and movies. Doraemon was a robot cat from the future whose ears had been bitten off by rats. Japanese anime usually made about as much sense as David Lynch films, but weren’t nearly as pretentious.
As I started to fall asleep, I could hear the approaching pitter-patter of tiny bare feet on the wood floor. Before I had time to sit up, Chiaki jumped up on the couch and planted her knees firmly in my stomach, producing a deep breathy grunt. “Mom said I can help you! I’ll find your heart!” she shouted, digging her bony knees into the bottom of my ribcage. She was wearing pajamas with red hearts and pink skulls all over them and her long wet hair hung down in wavy clumps, dripping on my shirt.
“I said you can help him if he says it’s alright,” her mother clarified as she walked into the room.
“Can I help? Please?”
I looked into her hopeful eyes and, for the first time in a long time, felt moved. It was a small feeling, barely noticeable. It burned like a match on a windy day, struggling to survive the flickering until it vanished almost as quickly as it had struck.
Her face was small and round with small dimples in her chubby cheeks. Her eyes were dark little slivers arched in curiosity. She had a small flat nose that shifted when she smiled. Her smile was bright and natural like her mother’s. She had a few crooked teeth that stuck out slightly, but were oddly endearing. She was downright scrawny and was practically swimming in her oversized pajamas.
“You really want to help me?”
“Yes!” she shouted as she jumped up and landed on my stomach again, producing another unpleasant guttural noise.
“Okay, okay. No more jumping. You can help me.”
“Yay!” she shouted and ran back into the other room as her mother sat down on the end of the sofa and started mindlessly flipping through the channels on the big TV.
“Thanks for being so nice to Chiaki. She likes you. I can tell.”
Her daughter’s exact words echoed from her mouth. Weird.
“No problem. She’s a sweet girl.”
“You don’t have to worry about her tagging along. She has school tomorrow anyway.”
“It’s really not a problem,” I said, hoping she could read between the lines. “Are you originally from Kadena?”
“No. My husband and I are both from Kochi.”
“Oh. Have you lived here a long time?”
“About ten years…” her voice trailed off when she finally stopped on one channel. She huffed a high-pitched victorious squeak as a satisfied smile emerged on her lips. “Do you like Arufureddo Hicchicokku?”
“Alfred Hitchcock? I’m ashamed to say I’ve only ever seen one of his films, but I love old movies.”
“Rear Window,” I said in English, not knowing if the title was translated into the phonetic alphabet for loan words or Japanese proper. Her blank look told me it was obviously the latter. “Ura mado.”
“Ah. I love that one! Je-muzu Suchuwa-to is in all of the good ones.”
“So, this must be a good one. Isn’t that James Stewart?”
“Yep. It’s called Ro-pu. It’s one of his early movies.”
“Rope? Never heard of it.”
“I wish I could stay up and watch it, but I’m exhausted. Feel free to stay here in the lobby and watch TV. Goodnight.”
• • • • •
The first thing that came to my senses the next morning was the sound of the waves hitting the beach outside and for a moment I forgot where I was. The early morning sun poured into the room through the lobby windows. I was still on the sofa. In the warm sunlight, it looked more orange than red. The TV was off and the room was silent, except for a gritty scraping sound. I pulled myself up, squinting, and looked over at the table. Tresa was sitting at the far end buttering a piece of toast.
“Morning. Why’d you sleep down here?” She set down the toast and sipped a cup of coffee.
“I didn’t mean to. I was watching a movie on TV. I must have been more tired than I thought. Sorry.”
“Was it good?”
“Sleeping on the sofa?”
“Oh. Yeah, it was some Hitchcock movie I’d never seen. Rope.”
She responded with a smile and a staccato sound of approval like a hum as she bit into her toast. I looked around the room, which seemed to have taken on new life in the daylight. I stood up and felt momentarily lightheaded.
I gave Tresa a quick nod and gestured that I was going to the room. She was too involved with her toast and coffee to notice. I silently retrieved my bag from the rental car and dragged it up to the room. The shower made me feel half human again. I looked at myself in the cloudy mirror. The effect of dismantling the mechanics of my former life had showed itself on my face. I was still a young man, but my cheeks and eyes were sunken in and my face was crowded by hard lines. I had a jaw full of thick, unkempt stubble that kept track of the days spent in Japan. I thought about shaving, but decided against it. I threw on a pair of army green chinos and a grey T-shirt, then headed back down to the lobby.
As I got to the bottom of the stairwell, I could hear raised voices inside. I dumped my bag next to the car and rushed in through the front door to see what was happening. The owner’s wife was yelling at Tresa and pointing repeatedly to a piece of paper she was holding. Tresa was waving her hands in front of her face and repeating, “I don’t speak Japanese.” I kicked my shoes off and headed into the middle of it. As soon as the woman saw me, she turned to me and shoved the paper in my face.
“Why are you looking for this girl?” she shouted, pointing to the picture of Kuriyama Hiroko that I had printed from her Facebook page. “Are you a soldier? Are you a reporter? You should just leave her alone! Why did you come here?”
“For forgiveness,” I squeezed in.
“You are one of the soldiers! I’m calling the police.”
“I’m not a soldier!” She stopped and hesitantly looked back at me. “I’m not a soldier. But…I did do something wrong and I have to ask Kuriyama-san for forgiveness. Please don’t call the police.”
“What did you do?”
“It’s private and it’s not something I’m proud of. So, if you don’t mind I…”
“I do mind! If you don’t tell me what you did to Hiroko and exactly what you’re doing here, I’ll call the police and you can explain it to them,” she threatened, walking to the counter and picking up her mobile.
“Wait! Okay. Okay.” I could feel the sweat forming on my brow. “I was here eight years ago. It was my first time visiting Okinawa. I stayed here,” I said enthusiastically, hoping to stir some good will in my favor. “My second night in Kadena, I went out alone. I’d been drinking and it was a long walk back from the club, some live-house over by the coast, Fujiyama or something. I don’t remember.”
「Get on with it.」
“It was really quiet in town. I could here the waves, even far from the coast. I heard some voices and rustling around coming from a narrow street that ran between an office building and a tall fence. When I looked down the alley, I saw four U.S. soldiers and a young Japanese girl. It was dark and I couldn’t figure out if it was an assault or just playful flirting. Then, three of the soldiers restrained the girl and the fourth hit her. He hit her again and again. I…”
“I wanted to help her, but…I…I couldn’t. I was terrified. I couldn’t move. The four of them would’ve killed me. I tried to find my cell phone, but it wasn’t in my pocket. I figured I must’ve left it at the club. There were no pay phones around. I didn’t know what to do.” My eyes became heavy and wet as I took a deep breath. My stomach was twisting itself into a knot. “I panicked. It was like I lost control of my body, I stepped into the alley and shouted at the soldiers. They didn’t hesitate at all. They just let go of the girl and came walking toward me. I hoped the girl would seize the chance to run, but she slumped to the concrete like a rag doll. She wasn’t moving. I knew I couldn’t beat them in a fight or even stop them from hurting her, but I wanted to attack all the same. When they got closer, I ran…”
「There it is.」
It felt like the knot in my stomach exploded and my whole body became charged with adrenaline. My skin was on fire. “I ran. I fucking ran!” I shouted in English.
Upon hearing my shouting, Tresa jerked herself from her seat and slowly stood up. She couldn’t understand my story, but she had witnessed me being overwhelmed by the emotions of my past before and she was right to be cautious. The woman looked at Tresa wondering if there was something to fear, then turned her attention back to me.
“She was raped that night because of me, because I didn’t have the courage to stop them. I was…” I stopped and snorted a quiet laugh under my breath. “I am…weak. I’m a coward. I should’ve done something. I should’ve fought. I should’ve died…”
She set her cell phone back on the countertop and looked up at me. “Why are you here now? Why did it take you eight years?”
“For a year after it happened, she was impossible to get to. She was harassed by reporters and photographers, bullied by military officials and lawyers. The police and her family were guarding her 24 hours a day. I spent all that time trying to forgive myself. I couldn’t. Next I tried to forget what I did, or rather, what I didn’t do. I couldn’t. Eventually, I buried it all away. But, it was always there, stinging at me. I learned to live with it then. I can’t live with it anymore. I lost something that night and I have to get it back.”
“Your heart?” she asked with a stutter of hesitation.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“My daughter told me something strange last night. She said she could see a shadow over your heart, like a blurry dark spot covering the middle of your chest. She’s a very imaginative girl, but she’s never made up anything like that before. It scared me. Did you tell her that?”
“No, she told me that.”
“I was afraid you would say that,” she heaved a sigh and sat down and set the picture of Hiroko on the table. “If you talk to Kuriyama-san and she forgives you, what will change?”
I sat down at the table as well, followed by a still-cautious Tresa, “I’m not sure. Maybe it will help me. And maybe it will help her.”
“I know Hiroko. Her son and my daughter are friends. I could arrange it, but I don’t know if I can trust you. Chiaki doesn’t lie. I believe what she told me. But, she is naive. I don’t know what’s happened to you or what your true intentions are.”
“I just need to be forgiven. I can’t forgive myself for…”
“And what if she doesn’t forgive you? What if she decides you don’t deserve it?” her voice was losing its sympathetic tone.
“I don’t know,” I felt defeated and it showed on my face. I hadn’t even considered that Kuriyama-san might not forgive me. I was so focused on getting her forgiveness any way I could it simply hadn’t occurred to me that she might refuse. After all, she didn’t even know I existed. My account of that night wasn’t in any of the police reports. I never acted as a witness. I would be telling her eight years after the fact that there was someone else there that night, someone who should have done something, but didn’t. I had no idea how she would react. “I have to try,” I pleaded softly.
“I will talk to her first and see if she will agree to meet you and…”
“You can’t. I needs to be me. And…”
“I won’t tell her what happened. I’ll simply tell her that an American man wants to meet her and give her some new information about the crime. That will be enough for her to decide if she wants to meet you and relive that night.”
“What should we do until then?”
“Surf? Scuba dive? I don’t know. Be a tourist.” She stood up and went behind the counter to retrieve something. Then, she came and dropped a key in my hand, “this is the front door key, in case I’m still out when you come back. Lock up when you leave.” She marched out through the front door and stopped with the sliding panel still open. Without turning around she said, “this doesn’t mean I trust you. You’re a guest here, that’s all. Don’t read into it.” She slid the door shut loudly and sped off in her little SUV.
I picked up the paper with Hiroko’s picture on it and looked at the two names written in the margin. It felt wrong to see their names under a picture in which Hiroko looked happy. I tore off the bottom margin of the page in one long strip and shoved it haphazardly in my pocket.
• • • • •
“Please. I’m John’s brother and he doesn’t know we’re here. It’s a surprise. We just got married and we decided to spend our honeymoon in Asia and we wanted to surprise John since he couldn’t come back for the wedding. C’mon…”
The young solider stood as stiff as a board, squinting in the sunlight. His uniform was neatly pressed and seemed to move independently from his body as if it was doing all the work of being a soldier for him. He tucked a clip board under his arm with quick mechanical movements. “I’m afraid I’m not authorized to disclose the whereabouts of military personnel to civilians.”
“But, we’re family. Okay. Okay. How about this? You recommend a good bar nearby and we’ll go there tonight around…” my voice pitched up waiting for him to fill in the blank.
He scowled and said, “1900 hours.”
“…seven-ish and you give Private Hayes a message that someone very important is waiting to meet him there. Simple, and you don’t have to break the rules.”
Tresa leaned over the seat and gave a big smile, “Please…”
“Alright, fine,” he huffed. “There’s a bar down the road called Miho Miho. Be there at 1900 hours.” He pulled his clipboard out and wrote something furiously. “I can’t guarantee he’ll show up. Now, sir, if you would please back your car away from the gate and move along.”
“You got it boss. Thanks!”
I could see him roll his eyes as we backed away from the guardhouse. We pulled away from the gate with a wave and drove down the road in the direction in which the soldier had pointed.
“Who are you?” Tresa asked abruptly with a furrowed brow; her eyebrows were arched like caterpillars on the move.
“What? What do you mean?”
“That whimsical cheery voice, the big goofy grins, the convincing lies; you were like a totally different person back there.”
“Yeah, I think I was channeling a bit of my stepfather. Creepy, huh?”
“Yeah, mom got remarried to this straight-laced, cheery, goody-two-shoes bible thumper named Peter. It was an odd combination. My mom, the deep-thinking, brooding artist, and Peter, the biblical equivalent of a care bear. He was simply nauseating. With him, it was always, ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and ‘you win some, you lose some.’ He made us go to church with him every Sunday and go on bible retreats. As soon as I graduated high school, I was out of there. I tried to find a college as far away as I possibly could. NYU and UMASS turned me down. So, I went to the University of Chicago.”
“You have a real beef with religion, don’t you?”
“I watched my mother succumb to guilt and self-loathing for years while my stepfather rammed religion down her throat. She would cry and tell me things like, she was going to hell because she’d had a child out of wedlock; in other words, me. Or she’d say she was a terrible mother for not having me baptized. She would cry at night when she thought no one could hear her. She stopped painting. She stopped traveling. She stopped playing records. Religion drained the inspiration right out of her life. So yeah, I have a beef with religion. It took my mother from me and made her hate herself.”
“I don’t know what to say. Maybe, you just n…”
“There it is! Miho Miho,” I yelled as I swerved across the road and into the adjacent parking lot. It was a large rundown building painted in bright tropical colors. The sign was written in neon lighted English lettering. The parking lot was empty and there was a “Closed” sign hanging from the doorknob. The building was bordered by the street, the parking lot, an industrial-looking building, and a thick grove of banyan trees.
“What are you planning to do when you meet this soldier? You’re not gonna go all Death Wish on me, are you?”
“The Charles Bronson movie?” I huffed a short laugh through my nose. She was versed in the classics.
“Just promise me you won’t do something you’ll regret later, okay?”
“I promise. Look, I just want to talk to him. That’s all.”
I drove to the coast, which wasn’t far, and we sat on the seawall overlooking the beach. We didn’t say anything. We just watched the waves roll in, one after another. We bought some snacks and canned coffee from a nearby Family Mart convenience store and laid out a spread of karinto and rice balls flavored with sour pickled plum. We sat quietly and ate with disinterested hunger. The sound of the waves was mesmerizing. I felt like I was in a trance. We watched the sun dipping ever closer to the ocean as the wind turned cooler. I don’t know how long we sat there, but it seemed like a lifetime. The waves washed in and washed out, carrying away the years in increments of moment after moment. I felt like an old man, waiting for something. Of course, I was waiting for something. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
The high-pitched voice snapped me out of my trance and I nearly fell off the wall. After regaining my balance, I turned to find Chiaki, the little girl from the guesthouse, standing on the walkway next to the seawall. She was wearing a navy blue school uniform and her hair was done up in pigtails.
“Did you find your heart yet?” she asked in an inappropriately loud voice.
“No, not yet. Does your mother know you’re here?”
“No, I just got done with Shūji club and I saw you sitting here. I tried to get out of school today so I could help you, but my teacher didn’t think it was a good enough reason to miss class. Sorry.”
“You told your teacher about me?”
“Yeah, but I’m here now. So, where should we start looking?”
“Well, we’re going to meet someone at a place called Miho Miho, but you can’t come with us.”
“It’s a bar.”
“My dad owns that place. I go there all the time after school to eat takoyaki. It’s no problem.”
I smirked and looked over at Tresa who was shaking her head. Chiaki leaned in and swiped a karinto, munching loudly with her mouth open. She climbed up on the sea wall with us and unexpectedly pressed her ear against my chest. It struck me as odd that a young girl would engage in such invasive affectionate gestures with someone who was essentially a total stranger. It was odder still for a Japanese kid. Most Japanese children, and adults for that matter, were not very touchy-feely. My first impression, 12 years ago, had been that the Japanese were very cold and unfeeling people. Upon my second, and significantly longer, stint in Japan, I realized that the Japanese people felt very deep love for family and friends, but that those bonds were understood and didn’t need to be constantly reinforced by outward acts of affection. Their love was unconditional in every sense of the word. I had gotten used to it and when I returned to the States years later, I became disgusted with how insecure American couples behaved around each other, pandering to the need for constant reassurance of their partner’s love. Still, this strange scrawny little Japanese girl with her ear pressed to my chest made me feel genuine warmth, if only for a moment.
“Where did it go?” she asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know. I think my dad took it.”
“Is your dad in Kadena?”
“I don’t know where he is.”
“Oh. My dad’s in Kyushu,” she chirped proudly as if it had some relevance to the conversation and popped another karinto in her mouth.
I looked down at my watch. It was almost seven. I started gathering up our leftover snacks and trash and took the last swig of cold coffee from my can of Boss Black. Tresa helped Chiaki get down from the seawall and the three of us walked back to our car. What an odd-looking little family unit we must have made, a white American man, a black American woman, and a little Japanese girl. I felt like I was in a photo shoot for some American university’s cultural diversity campaign. As we walked, Chiaki took hold of my hand and swung it back and forth until we got to the car.
“I don’t think this is a good idea, Matthew,” Tresa said as she opened the car door.
“She said her dad’s the owner. Who are we to tell her she can’t come?” We were talking over the roof of the car while Chiaki situated herself in the backseat.
“Not that. Well…that too. I mean I don’t think you should try to meet this guy. Remember what happened in Kurama? This guy did something terrible that you feel responsible for. You have every reason in the world to hate him. So, hate him. I just don’t see the point in this.”
“Look, I said I just want…”
“I know. I know. You just want to talk to him,” she interrupted, waving off my response. “Why do you want to talk to him? What good could it possibly do now?”
“I need to know him. I need to know what he felt and how he could’ve done something so damaging to another human being. I have to know that there is a difference between him and me. Tresa, I need this.”
“I don’t know,” she huffed in front of drooping shoulders.
We both got in the car and I took us back to the bar. The parking lot was still mostly empty. There were a handful of mini pick-up trucks and small sedans parked close to the building. We got out and I surveyed the cars, wondering how many people were inside. I started to get that familiar burn behind my ribcage, the rush of adrenaline. My glands had been working overtime, storing up for this encounter. Chiaki ran up and took my hand again as we walked up to the door. My hands were like stone, but she held on with her tiny fingers. I could feel Tresa’s palpable nervousness as she walked just behind me.
I pulled open the door and Chiaki ran inside ahead of me, shouting what I assumed was the bartender’s name. He greeted her with a smile and the two of them kicked up a conversation. Tresa closed the door behind her and I scanned the patrons, looking for Private First Class John Hayes. He wasn’t among the blue-collar workers and salary men that populated the tables in front of the bar. The bar itself was sparsely decorated in a Hawaiian theme, something very common in Okinawa. There were a few brightly colored surfboards mounted on the walls next to kitschy pictures of beach landscapes and some dilapidated ukuleles and sanshins hanging by precarious-looking threads. The walls were unpainted and made of a dark wood. There were no windows and the interior was dimly lit. There was a stage area set up in one corner with lights and sound equipment; only a lonely-looking drum set occupied the stage. I walked over to Chiaki who was perched on a tall bar stool.
“…and this is him. Mashu-san,” Chiaki gestured at me as I sat down next to her.
“Matto,” I corrected.
The bartender, a stocky man with a long bread, reached his giant claw of a hand over the bar and said, “the man with no heart, ne. Nice to meet you. I’m Lippu.” He nearly broke my arm off at the shoulder with his shake.
“Lippu?” I echoed.
“Yeah. Lippu Ban Uinkuru. That’s what the soldiers call me.”
“Lippu Ban Ui…Winkle. Oh. Rip…Rip Van Winkle. Because of the beard?”
“No, it’s ‘cus you fall asleep at the bar all the time,” interjected another bar patron, who was obviously listening in on our conversation.
“Shut up,” Rip protested.
I laughed at the mental image it conjured, “it’s nice to meet you too.”
“Not for me. Tresa, what are you drinking?”
“Awamori and water.”
Rip chuckled and asked, “you sure?”
“Yeah, make it strong,” I said with a fiendish smile.
I watched him go to work. His arms were as big around as my waist, but they moved with precision and grace. It was like watching the Hells Angels perform Swan Lake. He was a bear of a man, but he took great care with his craft. He was devoted to the art of alcohol, as was evident from his waistband. He finished the drink with a few turns of his long bar spoon and set it on the bar. I handed it to Tresa who was now sitting at a table near the end of the bar.
“How do you know Chiaki-chan?” Rip asked abruptly.
“We’re staying at Beach House Beta.”
He responded with a nearly nonverbal note of acknowledgement and walked through a doorway curtain into the kitchen.
“Is your friend here?” Chiaki asked excitedly.
“Not yet. And, he’s not a friend.” I was starting to think Tresa was right.
“I’m gonna eat takoyaki. Want some?”
“No thanks, but I think Tresa would like to try it. I’ll send her over.”
I walked back over to the table where Tresa was sitting and said, “I don’t want you to be here when we talk. Please. Will you go sit with Chiaki at the bar and wait?”
She didn’t say a word. She stood up, looked me in the eye intensely for a moment, and walked toward the bar. I sat down in her place at the table. Tresa started talking to Chiaki in a high-pitched voice and Chiaki exchanged confused looks with Rip. She shoved a takoyaki into Tresa’s mouth and giggled as Tresa juggled the steaming-hot dumpling around with her tongue, making ridiculous noises. Almost as soon as I settled into the uncomfortable wooden chair, the front door swung out and let in the remaining dusk sunlight. In walked Private First Class John Hayes.
He was wearing beige cargo pants and a grey T-shirt covered by a black hooded sweatshirt with “US ARMY” written on it in big yellow letters. He took off a Boston Red Sox cap and looked around as he let the door close behind him. If the gate guard had done things right, Hayes had no idea who was waiting for him. He wore a nervous look on his face. His head was shaved down to a buzz and he had a long nose that came to a sharp point. His lower jaw stuck out slightly like an ape.
I remembered every detail of how he looked that night. He looked possessed, like his only purpose was to take everything good about that girl and strip her of it in one violent act. When he and the other three soldiers had marched toward me in the alley, Hayes was the most focused among them. He moved without hesitation; he moved with purpose. He was a monster. The burn in my chest expanded and electrified my skin. I saw him as I did that night, holding the girl’s arm over her head, struggling, as Mills hit her over and over. Was he smiling while he did it? It was dark in the alley. I couldn’t see. I think he was smiling. I wanted to unscrew the microphone stand on the stage from its base and smash every bone in his body. I wanted him to suffer, like she had suffered. It wasn’t even comparable. Nothing I could do to him would even come close to her pain. He had taken something from her. He humiliated her and stole something precious, something that should only ever be given. My rage stirred.
“Private Hayes,” I called in a stiff voice. I held up my hand.
He quietly walked over to the table, “It’s specialist. Who are you?”
“You don’t recognize me?”
“Have a seat. You want a beer?”
He hesitated to respond and then sat down uneasily, “not really.”
“Rip. Two beers please.”
There was a moment of silence between us as we waited for the beers. He looked at me through squinting eyes as if try to make me out from far away. He periodically looked away as I stared at him. My eyes never moved from his for even an instant. His mannerisms were those of a nervous man. Rip came and set the beers between us.
“So, what’s this all about?”
“I read about you in the paper. I know what you did…”
He immediately stood up from the table and started to turn to walk away.
“Sit down!” I shouted, slamming my hand palm down on the table and producing a thunderous noise. The beer glasses jumped with the impact, spilling a little of their contents on the tabletop. The other patrons fell silent and looked over in our direction. I repeated myself in a quieter voice, “sit down.”
I could see Tresa jerk around to look suddenly in my periphery.
He turned back toward me and sat down slowly, “everybody knows. Everyone in this whole town hates me. I don’t even leave the base anymore. I haven’t been to this bar in six years. So, go ‘head. Say what you came here to say. I’ve heard it all.”
“I know more than they do. I know what you know.”
“What? What the hell do…”
“I know that a young man caught you in the act. I know that he yelled at you. You came after him and he ran off to call the police. I know that you were stupid enough to stick around and finish the deed. I know…”
“How do you know that?” his voice was shaken.
“That young man was me. I saw you hit her, saw you rape her. I yelled at you. I ran off and called the police.” I allowed my eyes to deviate from his as I looked down at the table and continued in a low voice, “I…was too late.”
“Wha…Why? Why now? Why’d you come find me and tell me this eight years later?”
“Because you took something from me that night too, and I came to get it back. I have to understand how you could do what you did. What compelled you? What were you feeling? Tell me why.”
“Why?” he was physically trembling. “There is no why, man. I didn’t wanna do it. It was the corporal. He’s the one that started it all. We went along with it, ‘cus we thought he was just messin’ around. I swear man. I’m not like that. I’m from Holland, Michigan. I’m a Baptist. I’ve got two little girls of my own. I didn’t wanna hurt her. I’d never even been in a fight before. I would never choose to do something like that. Mills pulled us into it and everything got way out of hand. The whole thing is like nightmare now. I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t know why I did what I did, but I didn’t rape anyone. I swear!”
“You just held her down so someone else could. Yeah, that’s much better. You’re a fucking saint.”
His question caught me off guard. He wasn’t what I expected. My image of him from that night was of an animal that felt no fear, no remorse, and no sympathy. That’s what I had been hoping for. That would’ve been easier; it would have made the contrast between us more stark and the line easier to decipher. Instead, he turned my question back on me. I was about the furthest thing from a saint. He was weak and he did a terrible thing. I was weak and I had done a laundry list worth of terrible things. Maybe he really wasn’t the animal I had painted hate-filled portraits of in my mind for the last eight years. Was I a saint?
“No, I’m not.”
His voice was broken and breathy, “you wanna know what I felt? Sick. I felt sick. I still feel sick, like everything good inside me is used up. I crossed a line and it doesn’t matter what I do to make up for the thing I did, I can’t never get back to the other side.”
Rip walked up to the table and leaned in slightly, “Matto-san. He isn’t welcome here. We don’t want him here.”
Hayes stood up and pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes, “I was just leaving.”
I stood up and followed him outside, waving a hand at Tresa to stay in the bar. The sun was just a pinch of light peaking over the horizon now. The air was cool and I could hear the ocean in the distance. A breeze rustled the palms surrounding the parking lot.
I watched him walking silently away from me. His gait was not that of a remorseful man. He walked with pride, with purpose. He moved as though every step was carefully thought out and exe
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