The day that Shougo visited Misao’s law office was on a warm afternoon in mid-March.
It was an unannounced, sudden visit. She was worried that something had happened between him and Mio, but he wasn’t acting any different from usual, and the manner in which he announced his unexpected visit didn’t give anything to make her feel that something was amiss; but the way in which he came to visit was odd.
“Well, what a surprise, but I must say, what perfect timing. An hour later, and you wouldn’t have found me here; I was just about to step out.”
“If you’re busy, I can come back another day.”
“You know you’re welcome any time, but I wish you’d called before you’d come. Since I’m in the line of profession that I am, I’m always rushing about so there are days when I wouldn’t be able to see you even if you did trouble yourself to come all the way here.”
“I’m sorry. It’s not that I came here on a whim.. but I should have still called regardless.”
She opened her mouth to begin to ask “What’s wrong?” but swallowed back her words. She sensed the presence of the young female secretary pouring tea in the office kitchenette. Until the tea had been brought over to the room, Misao continued with small talk.
She gazed at the clear blue sky so rare for Tokyo that was stretched itself out outside the window and commented, “Spring is fast approaching. They do say that in spring, one sleeps a sleep that knows no dawn… at this time of year, I have a hard time just trying to stay awake. I’m always afraid of nodding off on top of the mountain of written complaints and leaving drool marks everywhere.
Shougo’s well-formed lips turned up into a gentle smile and he chuckled softly.
“So, how have you been?”
“Oh, the same as ever.”
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and have a good long chat with Mio in a while. I live in the same apartment complex as her, but our work schedules are completely different. I can’t even remember the last time I talked with her on the phone.”
“Mio-san’s doing fine. I meet up with her from time to time.”
How do they meet… what kind of conversations do they have… how have their feelings changed… she had an endless list of questions she wanted to know the answers to, but she didn’t dare ask. She couldn’t help but feel strange how she ended up treating Mio and Shougo as if they were lovers without even realizing it. She would at times forget that they were brother and sister, and she always had to watch out for the one or two teasing comments that were about to slip out. It was amusing, but at the same time something undeniably frightening to such a feeling.
Her secretary brought tea over to the low table. There was steam rising from the Imari ware cups. Misao said to Shougo: “please, have some.”
She reached over to her cup and took a sip, but Shougo didn’t make a move to touch his.
“To be honest with you… I came here because there’s something I needed to tell you.”
She returned her cup to its holder, and turned to face him fully.
His eyes met hers unwaveringly and he said this in an expressionless, low voice: “My uncle passed away.”
She had already prepared herself for surprising news, so she had the same neutral expression on her face as Shougo did as she said, “Is that right?”
“When did it happen?” She asked.
“About one week ago. The wake and funeral service have already been completed.”
“I didn’t know that he was battling a life-threatening illness… what was the cause of death?”
“It was hepatocirrhosis. They said he suddenly began to feel ill one day, and he had been in critical condition since the beginning of March, but I was only contacted two days before he passed away.”
“Were you able to… talk to him?”
“Somehow, yes. I only wished they’d contacted me earlier though. My aunt and I never really got along. Even when I went over to see my uncle when I was younger, she hardly ever said anything to me, so I guess when my uncle was in such a serious state, it didn’t cross her mind to contact me.”
“No, I don’t think that’s the case,” she said gently. “She was probably in a state of shock. There are very few people in this world who would be able to calmly go about contacting relatives when someone close to them is on the brink of death. Most people would be confused, and fly into a panic, and when they’d come to their senses, it’d already be too late– there are many cases like this.”
“Do you really think so? What I thought was that maybe he opened up to her about me… and maybe that’s why she didn’t contact me. Maybe it’s because she thought that there was no point in contacting someone who’s not even related to him…”
“Did Kanaya-san say anything that made you suspect something like that right before he passed away? Something that makes you suspect that he opened up to his wife about you…?”
“No, he didn’t mention anything. On the contrary, we couldn’t even really have a proper conversation. He just held my hand and told me to look after myself. It was like a line right out of a scene in a yakuza movie or something.”
“It’s probably the case he didn’t tell anyone about the truth,” Misao said. “I’m quite sure of it.”
Although she had no proof, she felt confident of it. This was, after all, the same man who continued to guard in silence the sin that his sister had committed. She found it hard to believe that a man who had managed to overcome the burden of carrying such a heavy burden for so many years would blurt out the truth to his wife in the last moments of his life.
“At the funeral service, did you run into any of your relatives from Uchinomiya?”
“Did any of them give the impression that they suspected the truth?”
“The only one who knew the truth was Kanaya-san. And now that he passed away without telling anyone, the one person who could leak out the truth of your real roots to the outside world is now gone. It feels a bit surreal, doesn’t it?”
“I guess you’re right.”
Misao smiled. “You should just continue to live as you always have— as Iwasaki Shougo. That’s fine. Shimada Takao is no longer on this earth; he didn’t even exist. You should live your life as you have thinking that.”
“But I’m Mio-san’s biological brother, and my real name is Shimada Takao. It’s strange, isn’t it? It still doesn’t have a ring of truth to it, and I can’t help but feel confused at times.”
“I can understand that,” Misao said. “I understand why you would say that. But there’s a beautiful thing about habits. Even something that seems completely disconnected from you, once it becomes a habit, will feel like something that’s been that way since a long time ago.”
He had a serious look on his face as he nodded, and he lapsed into silence. He took a sip of the tea before placing it back on its coaster. Glancing at his watch, he got up saying, “I should get going.”
“You, Mio and I should get together for dinner some time soon.” Misao said. “Oh… and I’d like to express my deepest condolences about Kanaya-san. I can’t very well go to his house to light an incense stick, so please let me go visit his grave to offer my prayers. I’ll go with Mio, since to both of us, he was someone very important. He was the one who confirmed that you were Mio’s brother, after all…”
He nodded in agreement, and a light-hearted smile that was a stark contrast to the topic at hand formed on his lips.
I want to have a deep conversation with this person. Misao thought. She wanted to know what this young man was thinking, and how he felt.
There was no denying that he had experienced a state of utter confusion from finding out the truth behind his birth. And yet, he maintained a calm composure on the outside– he hadn’t ever tried to show the part deep inside of him that had been shaken by this.
The person he had regarded as his mother had been an utter stranger. Not only that, but the person he had considered to be his uncle was in fact someone who had no relation to him by blood. On top of that, a female lawyer and her niece who had suddenly showed up him his life had irrevocably changed his life. She couldn’t imagine the extent of the shock he must have felt.
A person who had lost all memories of his past only to be one day told of that past might have reacted in the same way as Shougo. That person may have just simply tried to digest the fact without thinking of the implications it would have on the future; and he might have made the effort to push himself to take in that information, however disorienting it felt. That may just be why it might seem to outsiders that he was unaffected by the situation.
If that were the case, Misao wished that she could take a look deep into his true feelings. It didn’t matter if what she found there was a fumbling mess; it didn’t matter if all that lay there were confusion. She wanted to know the real him, as told by the person himself.
As she saw off Shougo, who left her office with a polite goodbye, she realized there was one thing that she had forgotten to ask him.
Did Mio know that Kanaya had passed away…?
When she thought about it though, she decided there was no way that she wouldn’t know. It was very likely that Mio had been the first person Shougo had told about Kanaya’s death.
Mio and Shougo… they were brother and sister; yet in her mind, the two acted as if they were a couple. There was a passion to their gazes; it was if they were desperately trying to get across to the other what was inside their hearts. They were beckoning… touching… embracing. The extent of her imagination stopped there– it was because any further would be a taboo.
She thought back to that hot summer afternoon when she had visited Kanaya at the hospital in Shinjuku. He had a clean shaven face that had been shaved of his sparse stubble, and he had leaned into her as he said, “Did you know, that for humans, what you see on the outside is only a fraction of that person? The tip of the iceberg. There is no one who can reveal all of a person, and there is no need to. There are things that we are better off not knowing— no, it would be more correct to say we must not know.”
It felt a bit silly to agree to his comment now, but she couldn’t help but think that he was right. If that were the case, what was it that she had done? She had planned to uncover the truth behind what happened to one person; she had wanted to prove that this man named Iwasaki Shougo was Shimada Takao, who had been kidnapped so long ago. What is more, she had reunited him and Mio.
And yet, even now, there was a part that remained hidden in fog. The more that was revealed, the deeper and darker the darkness became. She could sense the something that was hidden deep, deep within a person that would never be revealed whirling about in front of her; and that something went beyond law or common sense.
As long as humans were humans, there would be that sediment-like thing that would forever remain submerged at the bottom… and that something was what she was facing right now… that was what she sensed.
She had reunited Mio and Shougo and had forced the position of sister and brother onto them; she had even felt satisfaction from the act. And it was also true that they had both been joyous about having been reunited.
It wasn’t as if she had tried to bring the crime to the spotlight, so Shougo’s family register remained as it was. Even if Mio were, god forbid, to die before her time, not a cent of the Shimada family fortune would go to Shougo. And yet, they had accepted each other’s presence, and they had slowly become used to the fact that they were sister and brother. It seemed to Misao that they enjoyed the sibling bond to its full extent.
There were no problems… at least, there shouldn’t be as far as she knew. But there was a feeling she couldn’t shake off… this feeling might just be coming from the motherly instinct of wanting to meddle in another person’s business. It must just be the influence she had gotten from the dime-a-dozen mediocre novels and movies that gave rise to this feeling that Mio and Shougo had crossed the boundaries of brother and sister to fall in love, and were suffering as a result…
Something like that couldn’t possibly happen in real life; Shougo and Mio must just be taking their strange way in which they reunited in an amusing manner. If they found out that she was worried about things like that, they would probably exchange glances and burst out in laughter.
Just as she was preparing to head outside for a change of pace, the cell phone she had placed at the edge of her desk began to ring; it was a call from Kusuda.
Lately, she had been receiving frequent calls from him. There were times she seriously pondered what kind of position this man named Kusuda should be placed in her life. Was he a lover? A friend with whom she had sexual relations? Or was it neither of those and he just happened to be a man who was no more than someone she met by chance in the last half of her life who she had sex with?
Kusuda asked in a lively voice, “Why don’t we go to dinner sometime soon? Or better yet… why not an overnight trip? It should be warm in Izu by now; and if we go now, it’ll probably be the time when the cherry blossoms have started blooming. I’ve been thinking… one night at Shuzenji might be a good idea too. I know a luxurious hot springs resort there. All of the rooms are separated on the land, and each comes with a small hot spring bath outside.
Misao held her cell phone with her right hand, and as she bundled the thick stack of documents into a binder with her left hand, she let out a chuckle. “I was just about to leave to head to a prison facility, and you’re talking about something like that?”
“Is the client you’re going to see a murderer? Or is it a drug addict?”
“It’s a woman who hit her husband with a golf club in retaliation for the abuse she had been suffering at his hands; the husband was seriously injured by it. It was a while back, but it was treated like some joke on TV gossip shows; have you heard of it?”
“I’ve never watched TV gossip shows. That just goes to show though that for those kind of things to happen, there must be all sorts of people in the world, huh? Does that mean you’ll be busy for some time yet? You won’t have the time to go on a vacation?”
“Well, I didn’t say that… if it’s dinner, I can go.”
“Then in that case, why don’t we reserve a hotel room the night of that dinner? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“What’s gotten into you?” She laughed. “You’re acting like a dog in heat.”
“Well, when it comes to a certain beautiful female lawyer, I’m always turned on.”
There was a knock on the door, and her secretary peered into the room. Misao hastily switched to a polite manner of speech and said, “Then I will contact you in the coming days regarding that matter.” before ending the call.
If Keiichi was still alive… she thought. She probably would have never met Kusuda. Even if she had, their relationship would have never reached a point where they would go on vacation together or where they would book a hotel room.
It was strange. Every time she would think back to Keiichi, she felt thankful of Kusuda’s presence in her life. Even though, when it came right to it, he wasn’t able to completely fill the hole that Keiichi’s death had left in her heart, he was able to at least add a dash of color to the empty cave in which cold wind would pass through; she was grateful for this. There was nothing more she could hope for.
She decided that she would contact Kusuda tomorrow. She would ask him if he wanted to have dinner somewhere. She hadn’t yet introduced him to Shougo yet, but she had told him just the bare basics of the circumstances after having him swear that he wouldn’t speak about it to others. He had even told her previously that if possible, he would like to meet him one day.
To introduce him to someone like Shougo with whom she had formed a bond that couldn’t be broken, had in and of itself certain implications. By doing so, it also meant confirming the decision in her heart to continue her relationship with Kusuda for some time yet.
Misao ended up choosing a laid-back Italian restaurant in Ginza.
It was located on the basement floor of a building that faced the main street; it was spacious and the lights were brightly lit, and there was a casual atmosphere to the place. The tables which were generously set apart from each other had a relaxing feel to it, and they couldn’t hear the conversations of those sitting in the neighbouring tables. The voices of others sounded far away as if they were the sound of the flapping of wings of a bumblebee; and it wasn’t something that interrupted conversation, rather, it was like comforting music playing in the background.
As luck would have it, it was raining that night, and the temperature was unusually cold for that time of year. Mio arrived shortly after Misao. She was wearing a short winter sheepskin coat and she was sniffling.
“Oh no. Did you catch a cold?”
“I guess you could say that. I’ve been having a bit of a fever since yesterday.”
“You should have just called me to let me know. We could have changed the dinner to a different day.”
“Don’t mind me; I’m fine. And besides, it’s been a while since you’ve gone about making a dinner reservation for us. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Kusuda-san too, so I was looking forward to this.”
Mio looked a little pale, but she had become even more beautiful lately, so thought Misao. Perhaps it was because of her cold, but the melancholic expression on her face seemed to be hide behind it a deep fire. And even though she was trying to hide it, glimpses of it would appear from time to time from every pore of Mio’s body.
Mio took out a cigarette and lit it; she appeared impatient as she kept glancing at the entrance.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t smoke when you’re sick?”
“Yeah. I’ve been smoking less than usual, so I should be okay. Kusuda-san hasn’t arrived yet?”
“I got a call from him just now saying he’s running about ten minutes late. Why don’t we order an aperitif in the meantime?”
“Let’s wait until Shougo-kun gets here.”
Misao told Mio about how Shougo had suddenly come to her law office a few days earlier. Mio nodded and smiled listlessly. “He went to tell you about how Kanaya-san passed away, right? He told me about that.”
“Since this isn’t something we can talk about once Kusuda-san is here, I guess I’ll just tell you now. I’ve already told Shougo-kun this, but with Kanaya-san’s passing, there’s now no one else other than us who knows the truth of Shougo-kun’s past… that’s what this means. When you think about it that way, it all feels a bit surreal, doesn’t it?”
“I went to see Kanaya-san last summer. It’s only been a little over half a year since then. If I’d waited another six months to see him, it would mean that the only person who could confirm that he’s your brother would have already departed from this world.”
“Oh,” Mio nodded. “When you put it that way, I guess you’re right.”
It was a half-hearted response. She had an expression on her face as if she was being made to listen to an everyday incident of an acquaintance of hers. She tapped the ash from her cigarette onto a tray, and let out a small sigh.
“He’s my brother… right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Shougo-kun. More than anything that has to do with Kanaya-san, for me, the fact that he’s my brother feels the most surreal of all.”
“Are you saying he doesn’t feel like a brother to you?”
“I guess you could say that… he feels like a lover. No– he is a lover in every meaning of that word.”
Mio had thrown such a direct statement her way that Misao was at a loss of how to answer; she was dismayed. “Well that’s a problem,” she managed to force a smile on her face. “I can’t say it’s very healthy to turn your own brother into a lover.”
“I know,” her voice was void of emotion. “I realize that all too much.”
She had to say something… she had to ask something. It was when Misao leaned into the table towards Mio that she caught sight of Shougo. He was wearing a light khaki jacket. He was smiling as he approached their table, and took a seat next to Mio.
“Can you believe Mio? She’s sick,” Misao said.
She wasn’t sure if he already knew of this, but Shougo turned to Mio and asked, “Do you have a fever?”
“Just a little. See?”
As Misao watched, Mio turned her cheek in his direction. Mio’s eyes were closed, and her expression was as if she were waiting for a kiss from him. Her long black eyelashes created beautiful faint shadows on her cheek.
Shougo reached out to touch her cheek as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do so. As he did this, he gazed intently at Mio’s face. “You have a slight fever.”
His hand which was resting on Mio’s cheek then moved to touch his own face. Then once again, he reached out to touch Mio’s cheek and commented, “I’m guessing it’s around 37.5 degrees.”
Mio didn’t reply to his comment as she slowly opened her eyes. She flashed a blissful smile his way before facing forward once again.
It was a brief exchange. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a younger brother to touch his older sister’s cheek to check if she had a fever. To be disturbed by a relationship that would cause a sister to turn her cheek to her brother’s way so he could take her temperature… the person who had such thoughts could be said to be the impure one. If the siblings were close, it might just be a common action that melted into the fabric of daily life.
And yet, Misao couldn’t help but think that wasn’t how it appeared to her. Mio’s words of him being a “lover in every sense of the word” left a sticky residue that continued to simmer and refused to dissolve.
“Once we’re finished dinner, you’re free to head on home,” Misao said. “Why don’t you get Shougo-kun to see you home?”
“I’ll do that,” Misao said as she once again closed her eyes blissfully.
It took every fibre of her being to pretend that she hadn’t noticed the scene she had just witnessed. She reached into her bag and took out a carton of cigarettes and lit one. She realized she was restlessly smoking her cigarette, but there was nothing she could do to stop it.
It was a short time later that Kusuda arrived. He was wearing a thick black sweater that day along with a pair of jeans, and perhaps it was because of the outfit, but he looked younger than he usually did.
Misao played it safe in the way she introduced Shougo to Kusuda: “This is Iwasaki Shougo, Mio’s brother. It may seem a little strange that they have different last names, but since you already know the circumstances of that, I won’t go into details here.”
Kusuda nodded. He didn’t touch upon the circumstances as he turned to smile at Shougo and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Kusuda.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Shougo said as he returned the greeting and bowed.
His calm demeanour made him appear that much more mature. But his demeanour didn’t stem from the same source as adults who had grown up seeing the underbelly of the world, but rather, gave off the refreshing feel like that of a man who had grown up pure.
Shougo was aware of Misao’s relationship with Kusuda. It must be that Mio must have told him about this, so even if she didn’t say in a clear cut manner her relationship with him, he would probably be able to deduce the nature of the relationship.
That’s why the resulting dinner that the four shared was a relaxing one. No one attempted to bring up the kidnapping incident, and no one even showed the slightest signs of bringing it up. It was as if they had been sharing meals since many years back; the table had the comfortable atmosphere like that of a family.
It was so that at times, she almost forgot that Kusuda and her were, in the end, nothing more than strangers. Despite this atmosphere, she continued to keep a close eye on Mio and Shougo.
When Mio, who didn’t have much of an appetite because of her cold, would leave on her plate some of her meal, Shougo would nonchalantly reach over and put on a small plate food that she could eat, like risotto, and would silently place it in front of her. Mio would smile, nod, and send a warm gaze his way before turning to the plate.
Mio was more of the silent-type, whereas Shougo was more socially inclined. But between those two, was a ripple in the water that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye and it appeared, from time to time, as if they were both straining to hear the sound of the waves.
The four of us sat around the circle table, and although the four of them were having a conversation, it felt as if Mio and Shougo were on a separate universe. She became convinced that it wasn’t just her reading too much into things, and at the same time that conviction led to a frightening conclusion…
…that the two had fallen in love.
The moment the main meal had ended and the espresso and sorbet for dessert had been served, Mio suddenly leaned into the table and held her cheeks with both hands.
“I feel sick. I’m sorry, Misao-chan, Kusuda-san, but do you mind if I leave ahead of you?”
“You’re not feeling well? Are you okay?”
“My head hurts, and it feels like the fever’s getting worse.”
“I’ll see you home,” Shougo said as he peered into her face with a concerned expression. “Can you get on the taxi right away? Or would you feel better if you walked outside a bit first?”
Kusuda didn’t wait for Mio’s response before he took out his cell phone from his pocket. “I know an excellent taxi driver who I use from time to time; I’ll try and get a hold of him. I’m not sure if he’ll be available, but if he is, he should be able to get here in 30… no, 20 minutes. You’d probably rather not have to wait in line for a taxi, right?”
“It’s all right, Kusuda-san. If it’s at this time of day, we should be able to catch one without having to wait.” Mio smiled, and reached out for her bag and stood up. “I’m sorry to interrupt what was such a lovely dinner.”
“You look pale. Make sure you bundle up when you go to bed. Would you like me to stop by later? It might end up being a little late though.”
“No, that’s all right; you don’t have to do that. You should just enjoy your date with Kusuda-san, Misao-chan.”
It had been already decided that that evening, after the dinner with Mio, her and Kusuda would go to a hotel in the city. She hadn’t told Mio of this, but she probably guessed what would happen to Misao and Kusuda after being left alone.
It didn’t seem to her though that Mio was worried about disrupting Misao and Kusuda’s plans. On the contrary, her words felt as if she was saying to Misao to not disturb her and Shougo’s time together.
She wondered if she was trying to read into things too much; but as she and Kusuda watched Mio and Shougo leave, the way Shougo reached over to wrap an arm around her waist and hold her close to him raised goosebumps on her arms.
She wondered if Kusuda witnessed what had just happened. Had he witnessed Shougo’s passion-tinged gesture… the way he wrapped his arm around Mio, who was feeling weak from the fever, as if he was driven by some deep inner need to protect her?
But the way Kusuda was reaching to take a gulp of his espresso made her think that that wasn’t the case. A short while later, he turned to her and said, “well that was a good looking boy if I ever saw one. He sure does remind me of Mio-chan though. Seeing them back there walking side-by-side like that, made them look a bit unapproachable. If it was just a person passing by on the street, they might’ve thought them to be a couple rather than siblings.”
She replied in a nonchalant manner, and reached for her sorbet.
She wanted to ask Kusuda how Mio and Shougo’s relationship appeared to him… if it looked as if they had crossed the sibling boundary into something more… and if he noticed anything, to tell her what.
However, she couldn’t find it in herself to ask. The moment she asked a question of that nature, she had a feeling her doubts would crystallize into shape, and she would become crushed by the weight of it.
For a short while after, Kusuda continued to talk in an easygoing manner about Mio’s beauty, and the mysterious wheel of fate that would lead to a brother and sister reuniting after twenty four years. Eventually, he glanced over at his watch and said, “Well, why don’t we get going? It wouldn’t do to check in too late, don’t you think? I plan on staying the night– what about you?”
“I don’t think I’ll stay the night; I’m worried about Mio.”
“Mio-chan’s not a child. And she has Shougo-kun who’s looking out for her, after all.”
“Well, it’s not as if they’re living together, you know.”
“Even if that’s the case, I’m sure he’ll prepare medicine and all those things for her. There’s no need for you to be worried, so why don’t you stay the night?”
She felt his heated gaze on her.
She could feel herself wavering, but she shook her head.
“I don’t want to show you what I look like in the morning; I told you a few times before, didn’t I?”
“Even if I told you that I want to see it?”
Misao nodded and smiled and him, “It’s still a no.”
“I’ll see it one day, just you wait.”
“You’re so silly. What would be the point of seeing it?”
“I’ll see you in the morning and then we’ll make love. A morning romp, you could say.”
She liked the direct way he said things. It was these moments that made her feel that she wanted to continue to have a connection with him in someway.
“One day, perhaps,” she replied and smiled once again. “One day, let’s go on a ten or so day trip to Europe; it doesn’t matter if it’s when we’ve become ancient. Even then, would you be able to make love in the morning to the old and wrinkly me?”
“It wouldn’t just be in the morning, but night as well.”
She felt light-headed from the wine. She could feel the tenseness draining from her body and the doubts that she felt about Mio and Shougo melting away.
When they left the restaurant, the rain had begun to pour down onto the streets. As Kusuda held an umbrella over her, Misao thought about Mio. She wondered if Mio and Shougo were at Mio’s apartment drinking hot cocoa together right about now?
And then? After they had finished drinking the hot cocoa? What then?
There was a need for her to put a halt to her imaginations. Misao reeled in her imaginations which were beginning to run wild on her, and she let the warmth of Kusuda’s hand with which he had reached out to grab onto hers as if he couldn’t wait until they got to the hotel seep into her palm.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 13 – 255- 268]