Was this really the right decision?
This question remained in Misao’s mind for a long time.
She didn’t even know why she kept thinking about it over and over again. The reunion had been much more smooth than she had envisioned, and in many ways it was a great success.
Mio didn’t show any particular ill will towards the young man who was her biological younger brother– on the contrary, she acted quite nonchalant towards him. It was the same for Shougo. For someone who had been suddenly presented with a complicated past, he didn’t seem particularly distressed about it, and it appeared he was genuinely happy to be able to reunite with his sister.
It was unclear if the two would see each other again at a later date. They exchanged contact information, and they said “see you” to each other; however, it was a mystery even to her whether they’d actually want to get together again sometime in the future.
Even then though, that didn’t change the fact that those two who shared blood ties had realized a fated reunion. Even if they never again saw each other, that should at least be acknowledged, Misao thought.
But there was something that weighed on her mind. No matter how hard she thought about it, she couldn’t figure out exactly what that was.
After finishing a lunch that lasted for approximately two hours, they had left the restaurant in Aoyama and parted ways with Shougo. She had flagged down a taxi so that she could see off Mio, who told her that she was going to go back to the café in Hiroo where she worked part-time. During the taxi ride, she made no attempts to hide her desire to know what Mio’s thoughts were.
Mio said: “It was just as you said. He was a pretty nice kid.”
Mio had never called her aunt “Auntie.” She always called her by her first name.
“Misao-chan”… every time she was called that by Mio, she felt a deep bond with her. Mio was neither a niece nor a younger friend nor a daughter she doted on. There was always the shadow of the man who was her father that surrounded Mio, and every time she was called “Misao-chan” by her, she was reminded of him. At the same time though, it also made her feel a deep love for the daughter that the man felt such affection towards.
“But he isn’t just a ‘nice kid,’” Mio continued. “I have a feeling he’s not an easy guy to deal with. It made me think though that I shouldn’t have expected anything else coming from someone who’s my brother…and who’s the son of my father.”
Misao asked what she meant by that.
Mio shrugged her shoulders lightly and said “There’s nothing more to it. It just means that’s that.”
Mio pulled up the collar of her dark blue trench coat, and as if attempting to end the conversation, she shifted her gaze outside the window. Seeing the cold, beautiful side profile, Misao swallowed back her next question.
It couldn’t be helped. This wasn’t just a matter of reuniting with an old friend. The person Mio had just seen was the younger brother who had suddenly vanished one day from the Shimada household. Not only that, but he was also the victim of the incident that had brought the Shimada family much grief.
Remembering back to how Shougo had said he didn’t like celery and pickled plums, Misao gave a carefree smile and commented how there was no doubt the two were siblings. “It surprised me though. Does that kind of thing ever happen? I guess it’s the blood tie that you have. When you share the same blood, perhaps things like this do happen. Even if you have lived apart for many years, perhaps you still end up liking and disliking the same things.”
Mio nodded and gave a weak smile, but that was all.
After dropping her off near the Hiroo subway station, Misao returned to her law office in Ginza. She returned the calls of the clients who had called while she was away, and she quickly skimmed through the documents that had begun to pile up. She met with the client who had booked an appointment in the meeting room, and she read through the documents for the lawsuit, and during her break, she made advance arrangements over the phone.
This was her daily routine. When she was at the law office, there was no time for a break. There was not a moment for her to day dream or to have her head in the clouds; she was always pressed for time. There were always things to do and people to see. At times, preparation of the documents for the lawsuits she was currently handling ran into the small hours of the morning. As long as she wasn’t in the court room, those days would continue.
Just then, she received a phone call from Kusuda. It was a call saying that the client that he was supposed to meet tonight had cancelled at the last minute, and that if possible, he wanted to see her, if only for a short time.
Kusuda Katsuhiko was a forty-seven year old law professor at a private university. Misao became acquainted with him two years earlier when she attended a law-related symposium that was held in the city. He asked her for her number at the banquet dinner that was held afterwards, and although she gave him the information without much thought, by that time, it may just be that she had already started to become interested in him.
As they met each other for dinner and went out drinking together, they quickly became very close. He was a man though who had a wife and child. He also had other jobs in addition to his work as a professor. They both led busy lives, and although it was no easy task to find a time that worked for the both of them, they still saw each other about once a month. She had even introduced him to Mio, and they had all gone out to dinner together.
If she were asked if he was her lover, there was no other reply she could give other than “yes, he is,” but the word “lover” felt strange to her. It was true that she felt excited every time she saw him, but on the days she didn’t see him, he didn’t even cross her mind. Not only that, but if she were pressed to say when she last saw him, she would have a hard time remembering.
“This is pretty last minute, so I guess you’re busy?” Kusuda asked.
Misao was at a loss for how to respond.
She had one appointment with a client to meet for dinner that night. Even if that were to end early, she wouldn’t be back home until after 9:30. If he were to come to her place then, they would be able to spend about an hour together, but that still felt like a little too much of a hassle.
Concerned about the secretary next to her office who might be listening in, she whispered quickly that she thought her work might run late that night. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back home. What should we do?”
He replied, “In that case, I’ll try calling you on your cell phone. If it doesn’t work out tonight, that’s fine. How does that sound?”
His voice sounded a bit hoarse. The way he spoke was always calm and collected, and at times he could come across as a bit indifferent, but there were times that that very indifference drove her to desire.
Although it was true that she had no deep, passionate feelings for him, it was also true that she didn’t find him off-putting by any means. On the contrary, there were times she missed the feel of his skin, and the words of affection that he whispered in her ear. There had been times in the past when she was the one to initiate contact, telling him that she wanted to see him and pleading for him to come to her that very moment.
“Fine then,” Misao said. “Can you call me later? I’ll make sure to leave my cell phone turned on.”
“It’d be great if we can see each other,” he said. “We haven’t seen each other in a while, isn’t that right?”
The moment she said this, she suddenly felt an undeniable urge to see him. She wanted to be embraced by him and exchange fevered kisses with him.
For a short while after Kusuda said his goodbyes, Misao absentmindedly played with the gold cell phone strap attached to her cell phone.
She thought back to his embrace, the feel of his lips, and his skin. Because of the additional work she’d had to take on regarding Shougo, she hadn’t seen Kusuda in almost two months. She hadn’t even wanted to see him really. When she dragged herself back to her apartment exhausted, there were many times when she didn’t have the energy to call him back even when she noticed that a message from him had been left on her answering machine.
But now that the case of Mio and Shougo had been settled, she found herself being drawn to his offer as if it were sweet honey; it had been a while since she felt this way.
The phone began ringing in the secretary’s office next door. The call was redirected to her, and she was startled back to the present.
It was a call from a client who had a slightly troublesome case. Misao switched gears, and as she handled the case, the part of her that felt herself being sucked in by Kusuda lessened until it eventually faded.
That was how she was able to juggle her daily routine as usual, and at the same time, she was wondering of if bringing Mio and Shougo back together was truly a good idea.
It was while in the middle of a divorce lawsuit that she had been placed in charge of that she became acquainted with the young man named Iwasaki Shougo.
The lawsuit itself was a commonplace one. A 45-year old man who worked as the manager of an amusement park on the outskirts of Tokyo submitted divorce papers between him and his significantly younger wife, stating her infidelity as the reason for his request. She vehemently denied this claim, and there was a fierce confrontation on both sides. They were not able to resolve their case at the family court, so an official lawsuit had been filed.
It was through the introduction by an acquaintance that the wife of that case came to be a client of Misao’s. She was seeking parental rights of her eight year old son and a divorce settlement. She told her that if he was willing to give her both, then she would quietly agree to the divorce at that very moment; however, the amount she was seeking for the divorce settlement was too high. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it was an excessive amount. Meanwhile, the husband showed a readiness to battle it out with her to the very end.
The wife said to her: “Although I became pregnant with his child, I had a miscarriage in the early weeks. Because of it, he began to harbour doubts towards me. Every single one of the suspicions he held towards me were all in his head.”
For someone who dressed in a flashy way and who enjoyed going out with her friends to karaoke until the early hours of the morning, once Misao met her and talked to her, the wife turned out to be a naïve, country-raised downright honest woman. She didn’t particularly look like someone who went out and partied with men. She was someone who just enjoyed going out and having a fun time with her friends. She seemed to be someone who took proper care of the house as a wife and as a mother. It seemed it was because of her earnestness that the wife couldn’t stand being suspected of things she had never done by her husband. Misao instinctively felt early on that there was truth in her words.
And on one day, the wife came to the law office with a tall young man by her side. She introduced him as the young man who worked part-time wearing a Bugs Bunny suit at the amusement park where her husband worked as a manager.
The moment she took one look at him, Misao was momentarily left speechless. He was the exact image of Mio’s father, Shimada Keiichi when he was younger.
But at that time, she brushed it off as being only a chance likeness. It was not as if she readily associated the young man standing in front of her as the boy from the Shimada family who had been kidnapped so long ago.
The wife began to explain that he was someone who had taken her to the hospital when she had the miscarriage in which she lost the child she had been carrying between her and her husband.
Although she found the story a bit off, Misao listened silently.
The woman continued “It happened on a Thursday. My husband had left for work in his car, and he drank alcohol after work so he had left his car behind and got a ride home in a taxi. Since my husband had to go on a business trip in a neighbouring district the very next day, he said he would ask someone to bring the car back home, and he ended up asking Iwasaki-kun. It seems to be the case that he’d had been getting Iwasaki-kun to do similar odd jobs for him in the past, and Iwasaki-kun readily agreed, and so it was decided that I would hand over the car keys that were at home to Iwasaki-kun while my husband was off on his business trip. But shortly after he had left for work, I suddenly began experiencing stomach pains. It was a pain unlike anything I had experienced before, and I started feeling sick… just when I was panicking wondering what I should do, Iwasaki-kun dropped by and he quickly called a taxi and accompanied me to the hospital.”
It seemed to be the case that she hadn’t realized that she was pregnant, and she had only thought that she had simply gotten food poisoning from something she had eaten the night before. When she found out she had had a miscarriage, she sobbed silently against Iwasaki-kun, who had come with her to the hospital. She told Misao that she had no idea that she was pregnant, and she blamed herself for not being so careful of the gift she had received from God, and that she didn’t know how to begin to apologize to her husband for what had happened.
If the miscarriage had been of a baby that had been made between her and another man as her husband had so claimed then it would’ve been highly unlikely that she would have shown so much grief in front of a complete stranger…some young man who worked at her husband’s workplace.
The young man named Iwasaki-kun listened to her words and said it was exactly as she had described.
Although he was a man of few words, it didn’t seem as if he was lying. And it was also true in the first place that there was no reason for him to show loyalty towards this woman. He simply worked a side job at an amusement park while attending university, and he had only been given odd jobs to do by his manager. He said this incident had been the first time he had met his manager’s wife.
That was how Misao met Shougo for the first time. She would think many a time later on what a wondrous thing meetings could be. The mysterious workings of the countless gears of life… a slight off balance of the gears could lead to a person never meeting another person.
If she hadn’t taken on this divorce case, there would never have been a chance for her to run into Shougo. No…it wasn’t only that. If it weren’t for the wife who brought him with her as a way of proclaiming her innocence… and even if that was a meaningless thing to do in the eyes of the civil law… there would never have been an opportunity for her to come into contact with him.
The case of the wife and the husband who worked as a manager at an amusement park was brought to trial, and the result was “no sufficient evidence supported an infidelity committed by the wife.” It was found that due to the husband’s abnormal, unsound suspicions of his wife, the wife was inflicted with mental anguish and the verdict was reached that not only would she receive parental rights but the husband was also ordered to pay a fourth of the divorce settlement that the wife had been seeking.
Because the husband did not file an appeal, the trial drew to a close in a length of time that was rarely seen in a court case.
It was shortly after that Iwasaki-kun came to visit her at the law office.
When he had called her saying that he wanted to seek her advice regarding a serious matter, she assumed it was to seek legal advice— she thought it was probably along the lines of him having been in some kind of bike accident. Perhaps both sides were demanding compensation for damages. Since he had just happened to become acquainted with a lawyer, he probably wanted to seek some words of advice regarding it; that’s what she thought.
It was common that when you worked as a lawyer, people who weren’t very well acquainted with the workings of the law would come to seek legal advice after being recommended through an acquaintance or a friend. Among them, there were those were at their wit’s end and who needed something more than just advice. There were even those who initially just casually dropped by her office who ended up becoming a client of hers and asking her if she could prepare a lawsuit for them; however, most tended to be of the type who were overly emotional about the problem burdening them, and who had come seeking help from the law because of it.
Because of this, there were many times when there would have been no end to it if she had taken each person’s problem seriously. There were times when due to the sobbing person who unloaded their circumstances onto her, her later appointments were greatly affected.
She thought his case was similar and it was probably something along the lines of a settlement out of court having gotten a bit complex. Even if that was the case though, it wasn’t as if he was a stranger to her, so she couldn’t bluntly turn down his request for help.
She was reminded of the fact that this young man named Iwasaki-kun so greatly reminded her of Mio’s father, Shimada Keiichi. There was also a part of her that wanted to see him again.
She agreed to his request on the grounds that she would only be able to give him thirty minutes, but on the inside she was wondering what it is that she was trying to do. So the young man is a spitting image of Shimada Keiichi— so what?
It was something that was supposed to have ended. The memories of the passionate love she shared with Keiichi was something that she had already chosen to lock away deep inside her, and she was long supposed to have left those memories behind her in the darkness.
The day Shougo came to see her was still fresh in her memory. It was on a sunny afternoon in July, on the first break of the long spell of rainy weather.
Because the office’s cooler was too effective, she had left the window slightly ajar. The muffled sounds of the liveliness of Ginza trickled into the room, and it reminded her of the sound of languid waves off in the distance.
“I’m here regarding my mother.”
Shougo began by saying this as he sat down on the sofa in the reception room. “This was something that happened a few days before my mother’s death, but she tearfully confessed something to me while she was in the hospital. ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t the one who gave birth to you. Someone else gave birth to you, and your name isn’t really Iwasaki Shougo.’ It felt like I was in the middle of some cheap, boring soap opera. At that time, I brushed it off by telling myself that it must have been hallucinations caused by the medication my mother was taking, but I couldn’t help but be affected by her words… and it made me think that perhaps what she said really is true… and so…”
Misao raised her eyebrow. She already sensed where this was going.
Although it may be hard to believe, there are quite a few people out there in this world who confused lawyers for personal detectives. When she thought that this young man, who seemed quite bright, was one of those people, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
“I’m a lawyer. I’m not a detective who specializes in finding missing people.” She said this in a slightly annoyed voice as she folded her arms in front of her. “If you came here asking me to find your biological mother, I’d recommend that you go to someone else. There are numerous places that specialize in those kinds of cases, and besides…”
“I’m well aware of that,” Shougo replied to her words in a respectful manner. “I’m well aware that you’ve taken time out of your busy day to listen to my problems. I didn’t come here with the thought to ask a lawyer to help me find someone. It’s just…I’m not sure how to put it, but when I came here the other day because of the divorce lawsuit and I met you, I had this feeling that if it was you, you would at least be willing to lend a ear to what I have to say; that’s why I came.”
This appointment that she had somehow managed to squeeze into her schedule was thirty minutes. No matter the circumstances, thirty minutes was thirty minutes. “I’ll only listen to what he has to say for thirty minutes,” she kept repeating to herself.
The young man continued: “I’m not trying to search for my biological mother. After all, it does sound a bit ridiculous to try to find her now when I’m of this age. The only mother I have is the one who died, and that’s fine. That’s what I think. But… there’s still this feeling I have that something hasn’t been resolved. There’s a part of me that wants to find out what that is. …I’m sorry. I know I’m only causing you trouble by telling you this. I know that this isn’t something I should tell you, a lawyer, but…”
“No, that’s all right,” Misao said. “Say what you want to say. Okay, so say you find out what’s causing those feelings. Then what?”
“I don’t know. To be honest, I really don’t even know myself what it is that I want to do. But… if what my mother confessed to me is the truth, I have a feeling that I have a slight idea of what it’s about…”
“Oh? For example?”
Shougo gulped down the barley tea that was on the table in one gulp, and rested the cup slowly back onto the coaster before continuing: “It’s nothing that has to do with something concrete like the law, but rather something more abstract. No matter how I think about it, my mother who passed away was always unusually kind towards me.”
“Are you an only child?”
“Yes. I have neither a sister nor brother.”
“Then that kind of case is a dime a dozen,” she forced a smile. “She loved her one and only son from the bottom of her heart. There are many mothers out there like that. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, but it’s certainly nothing unusual. Am I wrong?”
“If that were the case though, I think that she wouldn’t have just been kind— there would’ve also been a strict side to her that I would have disliked. It could’ve been possessiveness, or complaints over small matters or trying to control her son as she pleased… that’s normal, isn’t it? But as for my mother, she didn’t have a side to her like that at all. She really was unusually kind, and she gave me an unusual amount of freedom. In some ways… I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, but it was like she was my domestic helper than a mother.”
“And so that’s how you came to the conclusion that she’s not your real mother?” Misao asked as she kept one ear on the phone call that the secretary next door was receiving. She chuckled inside, thinking how she was like a counsellor. Her work was piling up by the minute; she wished that she could just wrap this up quickly and send him off on his way.
“What is your father doing now?”
“He divorced my mother a long time ago; it was when I was eight. He’s currently working for a trading company as a mid-grade employee.”
“And the place of birth?”
“Oh, mine? Utsunomiya city.”
“So your mother was the one who supported you financially when you attended university in Tokyo?”
“No… my mother wasn’t very well off, so I worked and saved up the money on my own… that, plus the scholarships I got were enough for me to just scrape by.”
“What about your relatives? Did they ever give off some kind of feeling that you weren’t your mother’s child?”
“I’m sure that you probably had plenty of chances to look at the family register transcript since you need it for school entrance applications and what not, but was there anything that you found suspicious on it?”
Misao let out a small sigh and shrugged her shoulder lightly. “It sounds to me like it’s nothing I can help you with then. Even if by some small chance your parents really did adopt you because your mother couldn’t give birth, there would surely be a record of it on the family register.”
He nodded his head in agreement. He seemed as if he was deep in thought, but he didn’t say anything more.
Just then, a call was routed to the phone in the reception room. When Misao returned to her seat after finishing with the call, Shougo had his head down with his back straight as if he had come to a decision. “I’m very sorry.”
“I knew that telling you something like this would only cause you trouble. Even as I was telling you all this, I couldn’t help but be disgusted with myself wondering what it was that I was trying to do. Please feel free to tell me that it’s not my place to act like a spoilt child, because those couldn’t be any truer words.”
Misao brushed it off saying, “Who cares about that.” She felt guilty for hurting this young man, who seemed to be reaching out to her for help. “You don’t have to worry about that. I believe it’s some kind of fate that we got to know each other like this. In the near future, I’ll try to set a time so I can properly listen to your story — that is, only on the condition that it’s not as expert and client, all right?”
“No, that’s all right. I don’t want to be any more of a nuisance to you. Thank you very much for listening to what I had to say. Well then, I think I’ll get going…”
“Wait,” Misao said, stopping Shougo who had stood up to leave.
He froze halfway, and gazing at Misao, he sat back down onto the sofa.
“Do you know why I decided to meet you to listen to your story today?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look so much like someone I used to know. You don’t look exactly alike, but your atmosphere and your features… when I first met you, I was taken aback. It was as if his son was…”
Her voice trailed off. His son?
Inside her mind, countless jigsaw puzzle pieces shifted at rapid speed. It can’t be… she thought. The association she was making couldn’t possibly be.
“How old are you?”
“I turn 24 this year.”
It would take her time to remember how old Masao would be if he were still alive; however, she remembered clearly when Keiichi had died as if it had happened just yesterday. She calculated backwards to the year Masao was kidnapped… in other words, it was quicker for her to remember when Masao had been born.
1977… 24 years ago…
“Can I ask you one question?” She started forward. “Is ‘Iwasaki’ your father’s last name?”
“What is the maiden name of your mother who passed away?”
“Her maiden name? Why?”
“No reason really. It’s just a pointless question.”
“It’s Kanaya,” he replied. “The kanji is the character for ‘gold’ and ‘valley’.”
Kanaya… As she silently mouthed the word over and over, she felt her heart stop momentarily.
She remembered that last name very well, because the last name of the man who the girl named Kimi, who had been working as a domestic helper for the Shimada family, had been so in love with also had the last name “Kanaya.”
When Masao had been kidnapped, Kimi had been off seeing this man named Kanaya at the local park near the Shimada family’s home. He worked at a glass factory, and she had heard that he was married at the time to someone else when Kimi had been seeing him.
Kimi blamed herself saying if only she hadn’t been so absorbed in him, none of this would have ever happened. For a period of time right after the incident, there were looked into by the police on the possibility of them having plotted this crime together, but because of Kimi’s suicide and the fact that Kanaya himself was found to be innocent, those suspicions quickly faded.
Because of the nature of her profession, she was used to putting up an emotionless front no matter what was thrown at her. Misao continued her questioning: “Does your mother have siblings? Say an older brother…a younger brother…”
“She has an older brother.”
“And where does he live now?”
“In the Minato district of Tokyo. He worked as an employee at a glass factory for a long time, but he retired due to health issues.”
“Did he work as an employee at a glass factory in Tokyo?”
“Yes, that’s right. Have you heard of a place called Ichinohashi near Azabujuuban? He used to work at the glass factory in that area. He still lives in that part of the city. I’m not sure what this has to do with…”
“Oh, nothing in particular,” Misao replied but she couldn’t stop the rapid beat of her heart, and she pretended to look down at her watch.
“My! Look at the time. But my, life is full of mysteries, isn’t it?”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s just that my older sister used to live in a house in the Shirokanedai area, and the glass factory employee who used to come into the house also happened to be named Kanaya-san. He was a very skilled worker.”
“And is that man…my uncle?”
“I’m not sure. As far as I can recall, he was a glass factory employee who worked in Azabujuuban…so it might just be that he is your uncle.”
“Is that right?” He commented politely, but he didn’t seem to show any interest.
“Well then, I better get going. I’m sorry to bother you on such a busy day.”
“I want to see you again— no, it might just be that we might be placed in a circumstance that’ll force us to meet again.” She swallowed back these words and pretended to be nonchalant as she asked for his contact information when she stood to see him off.
He swiftly jotted down his phone number and address on the memo paper that was handed to him, and he said without having been asked: “I’m left handed, but when I hold chopsticks, I use my right hand. It’s strange, isn’t it?”
Misao thought: so is Mio. Excitement, doubt, and hope built up inside of her, and although she could feel heat rising to her face, she continued to play it cool.
Shougo turned to Misao and bowed deeply before he headed out of the office. His features and the beautiful form of his back that made her want to reach out to him reminded her somehow of Keiichi.
In that moment, she could feel herself shaking slightly on the inside.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[UP NEXT: Chapter 3 – 47-68]