Chapter 33: Where Home Is (9)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
From Friday night until Sunday morning, Kei slept like a log. Even though he slept well, when he woke up, his arms and eyes would always seek out Ushio on their own. In front of other people, Kei could protect himself from his emotions by putting up a strong front, but when he was alone, he felt so lonely, so sad, so helpless that he turned on all the lights and blasted the heat in his apartment—all while telling himself, I’ll be okay, I have things I have to do.
Ushio’s grandmother (confirmation pending) had sent a letter, and Kei faintly recalled the address on the envelope. Mainly just the name of the ward and that the name of the housing complex looked Western-sounding like ratatouille or mille-feuille, and when he searched the net for information, he was able to find it easily. It was an assisted-living retirement complex called Sofille, and Kei was sure that this was the place. He didn’t know her phone number or apartment number, but he might find some leads if he went there first to take a look. That was what he had learned from his job at least. If he didn’t make a move, he would be stuck spinning his wheels forever.
Kei wanted to bring a small gift with him for the sudden, unannounced visit, but he had no knowledge about what she was like or what her tastes or preferences were. And with her age, she could have health-related restrictions over what she could eat. Kei decided to message his mother, freshly discharged from the hospital and an upcoming older lady herself.
“Is there anything you want right now?”
Well, that was unhelpful.
Kei got himself ready to go out and first stopped by his workplace. He filled out a sales voucher to purchase network promotional materials and bought an Asazou hand towel, an Asazou multi-colored ball pen, and an Asazou plastic file folder. They were limited items not for sale to the public. The gifts could act as proof of his identity, and it was probably better than bringing food that she might not like.
Kei switched trains and arrived at the housing complex. He circled behind the building to check the nameplates on the mailboxes first. Apartment 705, Tsuzuki. Kei was glad to find her name there. He went back to the front entrance and entered the apartment number for the intercom.
“Yes?” A gentle-sounding voice from an elder lady answered.
Kei also put on his best voice so as not to alarm the person he was meeting for the first time. “I apologize for the very sudden visit, but my name is Kunieda. I’m here to see you about your grandson, Tsuzuki Ushio-san—”
Tsuzuki Sayako’s voice suddenly went up in pitch as Kei was unable to finish stating his business.
“Um, would you happen to be the TV announcer?”
“Oh, my word, I always watch you on TV! Oh, oh, please come on up.”
The door unlocked for him, and Kei took the elevator to the seventh floor. Ushio’s grandmother was waiting for him with the door open. He was glad that he was on TV.
“It is very nice to meet you,” Kei said.
Ushio’s grandmother didn’t seem to hear his greeting and said, “You’re more wonderful in person than on TV.” His likeability meter had already hit MAX for her. Kei was used to this kind of reaction, but he felt a little embarrassed about it knowing that she was a relative of Ushio’s.
“I’m embarrassed that it’s quite untidy inside,” she said, using a common set phrase for such an occasion, and showed Kei into a simple and neat 1-bedroom apartment. There were trophies and plaques lined up in the entryway—probably the ones that Ushio had won for his work. Kei handed her the Asazou goods, and she exclaimed happily, “Oh, how cute,” and made him some tea. She looked like a normal, modest, and nice grandmother.
“I heard that my grandson has worked on your show before.”
“Yes, that is how we met.”
“Ushio never told me that he is friends with you. I’m sure that he probably didn’t want to bother you with autograph requests.”
“—Yes, I came to see you about Tsuzuki-san today.”
Kei took a sip of tea in order to create a pause in the conversation and returned the teacup to the saucer before speaking again.
“Last week he returned to his parents’ house, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with him. I was wondering if you have heard from him at all.”
“I haven’t, I’m sorry,” she said apologetically, her eyes widening. “I’m afraid I haven’t been in contact with that side of the family very much… Would you like me to call the house for you?”
It was surprising that Ushio’s grandmother did seem to have some relation to the Wakamiya family.
“No, but thank you. I think I can manage it somehow. It’s just that I don’t know very much about his circumstances, and so I thought I would come to see you and try to learn more about him if possible.”
Don’t tell any blatant lies—that was one of the ironclad rules for gathering news and information.
“Yes…” Ushio’s grandmother gave a faraway look. “I understand what you mean,” she said as she smiled wryly. “He’s a strangely stubborn child… But you do seem to know at least a few things about him…?”
“I know that his mother died early and that he did not have a very good relationship with his father. He ran away and cut ties with his father at 15 and hasn’t spoken to him since.”
“That’s right. But he didn’t want to tell me anything about his time at the Wakamiya household. I never had much contact with them either. It’s never a good thing to meddle with the in-laws’ affairs, and I could barely see my grandson even once a year back then…”
“Then what about the time after Tsuzuki-san left his parents’ house?”
“I was very surprised. He put his head down and said that he wouldn’t give me any trouble and to please let him stay with me. For me, my daughter had just died, my husband had passed away the year before, and I wasn’t in the best of shape mentally. But now that I think back on it, Ushio was probably worried that his father might bring him back at any time. He was always working or at school, and so he was barely ever home with me. Every month he would always put in money for rent and expenses, and on the rare occasion that he asked me for things, it was to give my stamp on documents as his guardian… You must have also felt at times how closed off and distant he can be, right?”
“Yes.” Kei smiled and nodded.
“He is, isn’t he!?”
After the mood in the room relaxed, Kei tried to probe further and asked, “May I ask about some slightly more personal matters?” He didn’t have his work as an excuse, and he didn’t feel very good about furthering the conversation in this premeditated way, but he pushed away his guilt into a corner of his heart and said, “I’d like to hear more about Tsuzuki-san’s father.”
“Oh, Homare-san. He’s become quite an important and distinguished figure over the years.”
According to Ushio, his mother lost her life supporting his father’s bid for re-election. Kei thought that her daughter’s husband might be a delicate and sensitive subject for his grandmother, but she had no hesitation talking about him.
“They say that circumstances make a person, and it seems to be true for his case. He used to be such a carefree and easygoing person.”
“Carefree and easygoing…?”
That was not Kei’s impression of him.
“Homare-san was the second son of his family. He had a fine older brother who was expected to succeed the family and become a politician, following after their father. The brother worked as his father’s secretary back then, and Homare-san worked at a design firm or some sort. He liked to paint in his free time. It’s difficult to say given all that has happened, but he had lived a free and happy life. If he wasn’t that way, he would have never married a daughter like mine from such a normal family.”
She held up her hands spaced far apart to indicate the difference between them.
“The lineages of our families were this different. The head of their family took very little notice of us—of my family or of Homare-san. But that was probably very convenient for Homare-san. He moved out of the household to start his own family and soon Ushio was born. …I think Ushio was around 2 years old when Homare-san lost both of his parents and older brother in a traffic accident.”
—Tragedy just seems to fall on that family a lot…
Kei now understood the meaning behind Eba’s rueful words.
“I wonder how I should describe it. It was a very large and impressive funeral.” Ushio’s grandmother sighed. “Politicians came calling one after the other to offer their condolences. It was like they could open a session of the Diet there… I truly felt out of place among those people. The worlds that we lived in were like night and day. I am sure that my daughter had felt it even more than I did. Perhaps Homare-san had felt it too.”
He had grown up as the second son in the family, and in exchange for being mocked and looked down upon, he had been discharged from his family’s duties and functions, but with a single accident, they suddenly came crashing down on him all at once.
“I could never imagine what Homare-san had to be thinking at the time. But he quit his job and chose to walk the path to becoming a politician.”
“Did your daughter ever say anything about it to you?”
“Just that Homare-san was running for office and that my husband and I should be more careful about our behavior. Honestly, I was very offended. I thought, ‘Why should my child being warning me about my behavior?’ When my husband asked her, ‘Do you think you’re fit to be a politician’s wife?’ she answered, ‘Even if I’m not, I have to do it anyway.’ She was such an absent-minded child. It was like she became a different person. After that, we became too humiliated to associate with their family. …It looks like the tea’s gone cold. Shall I make us some fresh tea?”
Kei didn’t particularly want any, but it looked like she needed a break from the heavy emotions, and so Kei answered, “Yes, please.”
As she stared at the fresh steam rising off the tea cups, she began to talk again.
“Sometimes I would receive letters from her. She probably couldn’t say anything that sounded a complaint to anyone. Things like I can’t arrange flowers. I can’t perform tea ceremonies. I can’t prepare fancy meals and entertain guests. I feel so embarrassed and pathetic compared to the other politicians’ wives. I don’t want to make my son to face these same feelings that I have… And of course, our family was normal and I had only taught her how to do normal housework. But it was starting to affect Ushio too, and I wanted to yell at my daughter for it, however—”
Ushio’s grandmother started to get choked up for the first time during their conversation.
“She was always going Homare-san this and Homare-san that. She absolutely loved him. When I think about how much she devoted herself to him, I can only feel how sad that it all was… And I can’t hate or blame Homare-san for it.”
It was ironic, but Kei understood very well how tough it was to lead a life with an outside image that had to be tightly and perfectly controlled. Especially when it was a path that they might not have wanted in the first place. The pressure that Kei had felt when he was forced to carry the reputation of a show on his shoulders came suddenly rushing back to him. Maybe it couldn’t even begin to compare to the conflicts and anguish that Ushio’s parents had faced. That was probably why they had to throw away the normal married couple that they were—the normal mother and father that they used to be. They became “the politician and the politician’s wife” that Ushio had described. They probably couldn’t bear it otherwise. When Kei met Ushio and the balance between his two sides started wobbling, he was incredibly distraught. In order to keep himself from lurching back and forth, he had to fix one end of the seesaw to a counterweight.
No matter how Kei looked at Ushio’s father, he looked like an impressive politician without any flaws. Kei wondered how many hurdles he had to overcome in order to reach the person that he appeared to be.
“Does Tsuzuki-san know about any of this?”
“No, he doesn’t. His attitude was always he didn’t want to ask and he didn’t want to talk about it. He probably understood that his parents were placed in the situation that they were.”
“That’s probably true.”
Ushio respected his father, but he couldn’t share his feelings. He could probably understand him, but still, he couldn’t forgive him. But maybe, just maybe if he were in his father’s position, facing all the pressures that his father had faced, it could clear the ill feelings that he had for him.
…But that doesn’t mean I’m going to back off a single inch.
“I’m sorry to have taken so much of your time. Thank you very much for today.”
“Oh, are you leaving now? Was anything useful?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Please come by together with Ushio some time.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
Kei left the housing complex. He still had some time, and so he headed inside a library near the train station. He chose a few books and magazines related to politics and searched for written accounts about Wakamiya Homare. He entered politics by succeeding his father, Wakamiya Kai, and retaining his constituents. There were upper House elections that same year. His father died in February. A special election to fill that seat was held in April, and the upper House elections were in July. At the time, the ruling party was also facing a strong wave against them.
I see, Kei mouthed without using his voice. It was a well-established theory that a special election held before the general elections was a “warm-up” or a “preview” for the main event. If they could win here, they picked up traction. If they lost, it was a prolonged bloodletting. They could also not afford to lose the Tokyo 1st District. He might have been a greenhorn second son, but he could win if he ran under the banner to avenge the loss of his family. On the other hand, if the party had sent a different candidate and lost, the defeat would be a huge blow to them.
…If I was in charge of the election campaign strategy, I would make him run even if I had to lock him up to do it.
Kei wouldn’t be surprised if at the funeral, he had already faced enough mounting pressure, threats even, to accept his fate. Perhaps he had heard the swirl of heartless words and whispers that would similarly reach the ears of a 15-year-old Ushio.
His special election was a complete victory. Whether his win helped the party or not, they held on by the narrowest of margins in the summer elections to maintain their majority in the House of Councillors. With his fanfared debut into the political world, people had a preconceived view of him at first, but he didn’t rest on his laurels, just relying on his parents’ good name. He worked steadily for his constituents to earn a solid reputation for himself, served in prominent roles such as committee chair and parliamentary secretary, and established Tokyo 1st District as the stronghold of his support. That was the rough summary that Kei had gleaned from his research. His character and conduct were unimpeachable, which meant that there was nowhere for Kei to attack. Kei wondered wishfully if he investigated the people around Wakamiya, would he be able to dig up anything convenient like a mistress or an illegitimate child, but he guessed that he would likely come up empty-handed.
There was a computer that could search through past newspaper articles, and so Kei looked up the photo that Ushio had mentioned. The one where Wakamiya visited his wife’s grave.
It was indeed a beautiful photograph. A man in a black coat stood facing a gravestone against a snowy landscape. The background was incredibly white, and it brought his full figure into focus. Kei thought that from the back, he looked a lot like Ushio.
Kei understood Ushio’s feelings of hatred that his mother’s death was turned into a tale of tragedy for the public to consume. But maybe it was because Kei was an outsider that he felt a deep sense of grief from Wakamiya Homare’s back. Shitara had said that cameras don’t lie, but everyone had a face that they only showed themselves, their own places where they could only be themselves.
What do I do? The question had repeated itself until it was etched into Kei’s head. It was a deep dusk that filtered through the clouds outside, and a voice on the PA system announced, “The library will be closing shortly.”
It was a late night several days after Ushio had returned to the estate when Ushio first saw his father in person since his return. His father hadn’t been home the entire time, and Ushio wanted yell, Where the hell have you been? According to Saijou, during the weekdays he had stayed overnight at the Diet offices studying up on a lot of important, upcoming bills. Over the weekend, he attended special local engagements and various ceremonial occasions. His busy schedule was probably a reflection of his prominence as a political figure.
“Ushio-san, you were still awake?”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to do here.”
Ushio exchanged words with Saijou, but his father merely glanced in his direction. It made him want to laugh that this was their reunion scene after 14 years without seeing each other.
“I want to talk.”
“What is it?”
There was a response when addressed.
“I don’t want to be a politician.”
“Then get out.”
The words made him so furious that Ushio raised his voice.
“Fuck you. And if I leave, you’ll make good on your sleazy threats. That’s the only thing keeping me here.”
His father handed the shoehorn to Saijou, stepped up into the hallway, and stared back calmly at Ushio.
“You came because my threat could cause you real harm. So why must you drag me into a conversation like you’re reconsidering your decision? Don’t tell me that you only came back to settle matters for now and you think you can spend your time slowly trying to change my mind?”
He had easily seen through his son’s intentions, causing him to stiffen, and his father continued with an even voice. “Are you stupid? Do you think you can really succeed? I have nothing to say to you as you are now.”
“…Then what are you, huh? If I’m so stupid, when why are you forcing me to succeed you?”
“It will take some time, but I will train you enough so that even though stupid, you will at least not embarrass yourself in front of other people.”
Although Ushio had expected it, it was a response that showed that there was no reasoning with him. He fought down the vicious urge to hit him. He could beat his father in a physical confrontation now, but resorting to violence because he couldn’t answer back made him feel too pathetic and miserable. At any rate, it was true that he came here without thinking too deeply about what he would do other than to keep the claws away from Kei.
There was only a desk, chair, and a bed in the bedroom that he had once used as a child. It was an excessively large estate, and he couldn’t feel any sign of people after closing the door to the bleak and desolate space. As he threw himself on the bed and tried to calm his anger that had no outlet for it to go, he heard a knock on the door. He sat up on the bed.
“Ushio-san, may I come in?”
Saijou entered the room and asked, “Would you like some coffee?”
“No, I’m fine. If you want some coffee, Saijou-san, I can go make it for you.”
“There is no need to trouble yourself.”
Saijou sat down on the chair, and his shoulders started shaking with his chuckles.
“What’s so funny?”
“…It is just too amusing how bad your relationship is with your father.”
“I’m gonna get angry.”
“I apologize… What did you do today?”
“Cleaning,” Ushio answered. “I don’t have anything to do here. I thought you’d drown me with lectures and whatnot, so now I feel even more restless.”
“I am still very busy and do not have the time to dedicate to your training yet. You can think of it as some time off for now. Or are you dissatisfied with the job that the housekeepers have done?”
“To be more accurate, I was searching the house under the guise of cleaning.”
“What were you searching for?”
“Anything I could use against the old man… Hey, quit laughing.”
“Did you check his political financial reports? There might be some dark money that you can find there,” Saijou teased with a solemn look on his face.
“I can’t tell just from looking. Anyway, why don’t you take over the seat for the old man? Your face is well-known enough, and you already know what to do.”
“It would be absolutely implausible for me.”
“Why? There are plenty of secretaries who run and take over the seat for retiring House members.”
“Because my only wish is to fulfill my duty. For argument’s sake, say that you somehow refuse to take over, there are much younger secretaries available that would be suited for the job. There exists the possibility to raise one of them to be a politician.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing… I just didn’t know he had other secretaries besides you.”
“He does. He has two other government-paid secretaries and a policy secretary. They are recognized as official government workers, so they mainly conduct their work at the Diet offices. They don’t normally show their faces here.”
Saijou, his private secretary, was probably the most important and highest-ranked of the group.
“So he has a total of four? Does he really need that many?”
“There are some House members who carry 10, so it is not considered to be very many.”
“What do they do every day?”
“That is a very direct question. They attend meetings and events on behalf of your father, coordinate his schedule, analyze elections and policy measures—they essentially act as his eyes, ears, and limbs, all five senses if need be, and there are all sorts of functions that they perform. Conversely, you could say that a single body is not enough to seriously fulfill the duties of a politician.”
Ushio heaved a sigh.
“Did it spark your interest a little?”
“The opposite, in fact. I’m not great at using other people. Plus, won’t they lose their jobs if I can’t hold the seat? That scares the hell out of me.”
Saijou’s eyes had an inner glow to them. “That is what makes elections so interesting.”
“I’m not cut out for it.”
“Maybe you are not cut out for it now, but life waits for no one. It will cram itself inside of you until it overflows from the top, so you accommodate all you can and seal up the cracks. That is what your father has done all these years. There is no one who would look at Wakamiya Homare now and say that he is misshapen and unfit for the job.”
“You really have a response for everything I say.”
“You could say it is something that I picked up from my line of work— By the way, I watched some TV at the Diet offices today. The nightly news, in particular.”
“Kunieda-san is quite a person of tremendous talent. He possesses a persuasive power in his words. I imagine that he must be an exceptionally hard worker.”
“…Well, I’ll just say that he’s probably very different from what you imagine, Saijou-san.”
“Were you two able to speak before returning here?”
“You’re the one who split us apart, so don’t go asking me about it.”
“I suppose that is true, I apologize for my rudeness. I should get going.”
The door closed and after Saijou’s nearly silent footsteps disappeared, only a stillness was left surrounding Ushio once again. The house had an endless stream of visitors when his mother was alive, but maybe his father used the lack of female presence in the house to reduce those ties and obligations. Without anything to keep his mind busy, Ushio could only keep remembering the hollow, soulless face from when Ushio last saw Kei, and he couldn’t fall asleep.
The bitter cold continued to plague the city, but daybreak steadily rushed forward. The get-together for drinks started a little after midnight and ended just before 6 am. The late-nighter didn’t help, but the sunrise was bright and blinding.
“Senpai, will you take the train home?”
“No, I’ll take a taxi back to the network.”
“I have a lot of videos that I borrowed from the library to watch.”
“You’re always so hardworking~ Did you learn anything useful from today’s get-together?”
“I’m not sure yet. I still need to sort everything that I heard.”
House dissolution speculation, gossip about individual politicians, battles within party factions—it was a little technical, but it was all chatter shared around drinks at a private party. He didn’t get anything special about Wakamiya Homare. His affairs were clean. He was a leader among the key figures in the Diet, and he was friendly to even the new reporters on the political beat… None of that information was useful at all.
“Do you want to schedule another one?”
“One of the girls there was interested in a singles meetup with you.”
Kei showered at the network to wake himself up. He secured himself a video booth, partitioned similarly to a manga cafe, and started checking the tapes that he had pulled from his search on Wakamiya Homare. He was probably the same age as Ushio now when he won his first election, and Kei could see a far stronger resemblance between the two. That was the most Kei could say about his impressions because the rest of the tapes were boring legislative inquiries and election images that weren’t anything special. There were barely any materials that touched on his private life. Kei watched the tapes playing at twice the speed, feeling his head become heavier and heavier until he dozed off.
Ushio didn’t appear in his dreams, but his aliens did. They were wandering through the pitch blackness of space in their UFO.
Oh, yeah, your creator went off somewhere, didn’t he?
Somewhere out there, there had to be a new planet, a new home for them.
“—It is all thanks to everyone’s help and support that I am able to win this election.”
Wakamiya Homare’s voice suddenly cut through deep space.
“What are your thoughts now looking back at the election campaign?”
“People describe Tokyo 1st District as a stronghold of the party’s base, but to me, it is the place where I grew up, the place where I was born—its entirety is like a colossal home to me.”
Screw you, who asked you about your home? You’re the one who took your son’s home away from him—
Kei’s elbow moved with his arms folded, and he knocked over the mountain of tapes piled on top of the desk. At the same time, his headphones slipped off, and everything crashed onto the floor with a clatter, waking him up in an instant.
“…Are you all right?”
Although it was early, the room was not empty, and several heads peeked out from the booths to look over at Kei.
“I am very sorry for the commotion.”
Kei hurried to pick up the tapes, checking the labels to make sure that he didn’t mix the tapes up in different cases.
Ahh, that scared the hell out of me. My heart felt like it had run off…
Hold on, this pulse that I’m feeling. Is it really just out of surprise? It feels more like agitation than just my heart running away. More like something else.
What was I thinking just now?
Kei clutched his heart over his clothing and stared at the monitor.
Kei issued his pawn, err, Tatsuki rather, his second mission.
“Give this to Old Man Eba for me. He should be here today.”
Kei handed over a blank envelope, and Tatsuki asked, “What is it? A love letter? A challenge for a duel?”
“I’ll kill you if you open it.”
“I’m gonna look suspicious hanging around the BS studios without any business there.”
“Don’t you get lost sometimes?”
“How dumb do you think I am?”
“Once you find the old man, you can say it’s a thank-you for the candy or something. Anyway, you just need to give it to him.”
“Man, so bossy~”
“This should be the last time.”
Tatsuki placed the envelope in the inner pocket of his jacket and suddenly put a serious look on his face.
“I don’t mind running errands for you, but please don’t go disappearing on me too, Kunieda-san.”
Kei really couldn’t underestimate this side of him.
“…Don’t say something so stupid.”
“Oh, there’s one more thing I need to tell you, Senpai.”
“Remember the ramen place where we ate at the other day? They put up a sign that says, Announcer Kunieda ate here.”
“Go and burn it for me right now.”
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.