Chapter 11: Side Profiles and Irises (11)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
His cell phone was ringing. Shin didn’t even register that he had reached for his phone. He was still pretty much asleep, but his deeply ingrained habits made him tap on the icon to answer the phone.
“Where’re my smokes?”
This was another force of habit: the moment he heard that voice, it flipped the switch for him to wake up.
“I’m in Room 605.”
He only spoke a handful of words, but this was the Sakae that Shin knew. He was nothing like he was last night. Shin sat up out of bed, confused for a moment when he didn’t see his apartment or the office sofa. Then he remembered he was at Tatsuki’s place. The sofa where Tatsuki should have been sleeping was empty, and the floor was littered with his suit jacket, dress shirt, and tie, like he had molted them off. Shin could hear the sound of water from the bathroom. He was probably taking a shower.
I hafta go.
Shin quickly changed back into his clothes, folded the ones he had borrowed, and left the apartment. He locked the door and placed the key through the newspaper slot. Then he sent a short message on LINE that said, I’m off to the hospital. He felt he would drown himself in self-loathing if he tried to write any more, so he left it at that. It was 8 am. The late August sun was already high in the sky. Even the dark shadows that fell on the asphalt shimmered in the light. Outdoor filming on location in the summer tended to be grueling—sometimes it felt like maybe his life was at stake—but he mainly remembered how refreshing the water tasted, guzzling it down after a long day of filming.
Under the morning sun, the hospital didn’t look as bleak as it did last night. There were plenty of people going in and out of the building, like it was a perfectly normal, routine thing, and Shin felt a little relieved. He knocked on the door and entered Room 605. Sakae was lying down on the bed of the private room, but once he saw Shin, he pressed the remote to raise the bed into a sitting position and demanded, “My smokes,” as if he was obviously entitled to them.
“I didn’t buy any.”
“Why not? What happened to the ones I had?”
Shin gave Shitara’s name, and Sakae clicked his tongue in irritation.
“Why did you even call him? You trying to harass me?”
It seemed like he didn’t remember anything when he had been half conscious.
“I didna know what to do, so I called someone for help.”
“That damn thief,” Sakae grumbled, but he didn’t seem to be truly mad.
“Have ya eaten breakfast yet?”
“The doctor is running tests soon.”
Apparently Sakae had been skipping his annual physical exams for the past few years. His results probably weren’t good.
“Should I open the curtains?”
“Leave them. It’s too bright out.”
Sakae closed his eyes. Shin wondered if he was sleeping. He didn’t remember them ever really exchanging small talk before, and he couldn’t think of anything to talk about outside of work. Maybe leaving it like this was easier… But then Sakae started talking with his eyes still closed.
“You said you wanted to know what I was really feeling, huh?”
“Honestly? When I heard the decision to end the show, I thought, ‘It’s finally over.’”
Sakae’s voice was gentle and quiet. Up until now, it was unimaginable that the voice could have come out of him.
“It horrified me to think that. But once it pops into your head, you can’t take it back. I had thought about the show 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The nights after delivering the tape were the only times I caught any real sleep, and then the process would start again the next morning. I hated looking at the ratings, wondering when the viewers would get sick of the show, when they’d move on and say, ‘Oh, I used to watch the show a lot.’ But once you start getting scared, it never stops hounding you, so I just kept running. I knew that once I stopped, I could never get it running again.”
Thanks to his conversation with Shitara last night, Shin was able to take this confession without breaking down. Shin had been the one covering his ears and blocking it out the whole time.
“But now it will finally end… I don’t have to worry about our ratings sliding, getting worse and worse until programming taps me on the shoulder to show me out the door. It can end as a hit show that everyone still loves, and that single thought drains everything I have left inside of me.”
Sakae had already stepped down. It was impossible to continue this line of work once the drive and passion were gone. In the unlikely event that Go Go Dash could continue, Sakae was no longer there. If that was the case, then let it end. Let it end and make a great final episode to send the show off. That was what Shin wanted to do, and that was what he thought when he heard Sakae’s words.
Sakae squinted his eyes open when Shin stayed silent, and he complained. “Hey. Make a more devastated-looking face, would you?”
“I’ve been pretty prepared for this.”
“Is that so.”
Sakae looked bored, but somehow a little relieved. Maybe he had thought it would be wrong to tell Shin how he really felt. That he couldn’t show any weaknesses to his underling.
Suddenly Sakae started chuckling to himself, as if a screw had come loose.
“What is it?”
“I never thought you’d lose your temper at me and yell, ‘Don’t sneer at me!’ You surprised me so much I fell over. You were like a complete 180.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
It had surprised himself too. Shin was always too scared to say anything. He couldn’t believe that he had yelled at Sakae to tell him his feelings.
He didn’t have to think to know who had shared their courage with him.
“Do you remember the time when you interviewed?”
“You told me that the show was kind. I never thought anything like that when I made the show, so I thought you were weird. But it strangely made me happy. I couldn’t give a shit if people think I’m kind or not, but it made me happy to hear that the show was kind. That’s why it has always stayed with me. I didn’t want to make a show that you don’t think is kind.”
Shin bowed his head deeply. His forehead almost hit the bed.
“Thank you very much for everything…”
For teaching me how to do this job. For treasuring my words. For bringing me this far with you.
“Please take care of your health and please get better soon. I really love the videos you make, Souma-san… I would really love to see them again, even if it’s only 30 seconds or a minute.”
“What are you acting all stiff for? You quitting the business? Well, it’s up to you. Do whatever you like.”
Shin was relieved that Sakae didn’t tell him what to do.
“Yes,” Shin raised his head and looked Sakae in the eye. “I will do as I like.”
Sakae finally gave him a fond and nostalgic smile.
Shin ran from the station to Tatsuki’s apartment. Somehow the words, I’ll do as I like, made him strangely giddy. His body was restless as if he couldn’t help but break out into a run down the slope of the road. He hadn’t made a final decision yet. GoGo was the place he had loved and had the most fun. There was no place he could work that would ever be better. If that was what he thought, then why not quit and move on? But at The News, he didn’t just put together video clips. It taught him how much fun it was to be the floor manager and direct the flow of the show. And maybe if he stayed, he would enjoy it even more. With each step, he would find something new about himself.
But he would do as he liked. He would make his own decisions. He was done using someone else’s back as a landmark for himself. He hadn’t felt restricted up until now, but he took a deep breath of freedom as it spread out in front of him, and he ran.
Shin pressed the intercom at the entrance of the building.
“May I ask who’s calling?”
The voice that answered sounded extremely disgruntled. He had a video monitor, so he had to know who it was.
“I don’t know who that is.”
“Ya the one who gave me the nickname!!”
At the end of their ridiculous dialog, Tatsuki finally let him in.
“What do you want?”
“I came to get somethin’ I forgot.”
“The sketchbook. I’ll take it after all.”
Tatsuki’s hair was tousled, not brushed or styled yet, and he ran his fingers through it, messing it up more. “No way!” he yelled, making his feelings clear.
“I changed my mind.”
It was rare to see Tatsuki with his feelings this hurt. Was it because he had left without saying anything? But he did leave him a LINE message, and it was marked as read. Shin thought that Tatsuki would be happy because the sketchbook wouldn’t be going to waste.
“Fine, whatever. I’ll order it myself from Askul when I get to the office.”
It was just their usual banter, but Tatsuki grabbed his shoulder as Shin turned to leave and pushed him roughly against the door.
“What the fuck!?”
“Minagawa, my shoulder hurts.”
“So I say something, but you don’t care to listen. But then you just trot off to the hospital from my apartment? To see Souma-san? What? Did you hear something nice from him that made you change your mind and come back here? So you decided not to quit after all? What am I? Just an idiot? I can’t take it, okay!?”
Tatsuki’s default volume was already loud, and he was a professional announcer. Having Tatsuki yell at him at close range, the intensity of it overwhelmed him. His ears and his scalp trembled. What was Tatsuki so steamed about? Seriously, why? As far as Shin knew, no matter what anyone said about Tatsuki, Tatsuki never showed his anger to anyone.
“I get out of the shower and find you gone. How do you think I felt when I read that snide little message!?”
“…I wasn’t bein’ snide. It was justa normal message.”
Shin tried to argue back in a low voice, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. Tatsuki’s fingers dug harder into his shoulders. There was nowhere to escape, and Shin gave up trying to struggle to get away. He was scared, so he looked at the front of Tatsuki’s T-shirt as he spoke.
“I didn’t really hear anythin’ nice. I went to put somethin’ to rest, an’ I came back after I finished. That was all there was to it. Souma-san didna tell me to keep workin’, an’ I still dun know what I really wanna do… It was 5 years of my life, ya know? Maybe from ya point o’ view, I was draggin’ my feet not knowin’ what to do, but somehow or another I had spent 5 years workin’ there an’ then suddenly it’s gonna cease to exist? Of course, I hafta think ’bout what I’m gonna do for the future.”
Tatsuki had flipped from shouting to silence, not stirring in the slightest, and it was another scary sight. Where had his loud, boisterous energy gone?
“—For the final tapin’, it’s supposed to be an extra-long special. I’m gonna ask them to let me direct the floor, even if it’s only for part of the time.”
That was the first thing that had popped into his mind when he thought, I’ll do as I like.
“Since ya bought me the sketchbook, I wanna use it. I’ll decide what I’ll do after that later.”
Shin nervously brought his hands up to grab the cuffs of Tatsuki’s T-shirt. Tatsuki didn’t shake him off, so Shin looked up at his face. He still looked grim, and it made Shin sad. Shin couldn’t work up the urge to dig his heels in and yell back at him.
“I’m sorry,” Shin said. “I’m sorry, dun be mad. …When ya mad, I dun like it.”
Tatsuki knitted his brows together further and said in a low voice, “You play dirty.”
“You play dirty, Nacchan. It’s so unfair.”
Shin tried to say, What is, but his mouth was sealed. By Tatsuki’s lips. For a moment, he was scared that Tatsuki was going to bite him, and he tried to twist his body away, but Tatsuki held onto him tightly, and it became harder to breathe in more ways than one.
With a kiss pressed to his forehead like a stamp, he could interpret it as teasing or friendly affection, but this one was clearly different. Their mouths came together deeply, and when their teeth grazed each other, it was as if his spine had sprouted feathers, and electricity spread throughout his body. Outside the maddening rush of Tokyo and their overcrowded trains, this was the first time he had ever been pressed up so close to someone else’s body. And this was the first time he had ever kissed someone.
Shin moved his tongue to try to call out his name, but Tatsuki captured that too. His physical experience had amounted to a big fat zero over his entire life—not even the slightest bit of a touch—but he was getting a giant dose of it right now, and it made him lightheaded.
Even with that single word, he heard the sounds of saliva sweetly assaulting his ears. It was all Tatsuki’s fault, but Shin found himself flushing in embarrassment.
“Um… I’m not okay with just anybody as long as they’re a man, ya know.”
Shin said the words half to himself. Tatsuki had forced this kiss on him, but Shin didn’t hate it at all and it scared him.
“Don’t be stupid,” Tatsuki whispered, so close their breaths brushed against each other. “That goes for me too.”
Tatsuki kissed him greedily again. Shin had to keep his eyes squeezed shut—it was the only thing he could do. Shin heated up in the narrow entryway with their bodies pressed together, and he had just come running from the station. He worried about all the sweat that he was making.
A hand crept behind his back to slip under his shirt. When it made contact with his moist skin, Shin felt his entire body melting, like ice cream slipping off a popsicle stick, and he found himself sunk onto the floor.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Tatsuki had reverted back to his normal, cheery self as he asked the question, and Shin wondered what he was going to do with him.
“I ain’t okay, ya dumb nut…”
Shin could still feel Tatsuki’s sensation inside his mouth. Tatsuki went into the apartment and brought out the sketchbook. He crouched down in front of Shin to meet his eyes and held it out to him.
“Here. It’s fine. Do whatever you think is best for you, Nacchan. I won’t say anything more. I’ll wait for you until you’re ready to answer. But in return, when you decide what you want to do, I want to be the first to hear it.”
The corners were crisp and fresh, and Shin held the brand-new sketchbook to his chest and nodded.
Shin ran into Tatsuki as he headed to the studio.
“Are you heading to the taping?”
“Yeah. I forgot my stopwatch, so I went to get it. What about ya?”
“I’m headed to the ballpark~”
“Huh? This early?”
“I have pre-game coverage, meetings, and other things to do.”
“Oh, okay. When I finish up here, I’ll go over too.”
Miraculously enough, the taping for Go Go Dash’s final episode and Tatsuki’s play-by-play debut overlapped on the same day. Tatsuki’s new beginning and Shin’s final ending.
“But you won’t make it in time, right?”
“If it wraps on time, an’ I fly out o’ the studio, I can prolly make it. I’ll prolly miss the beginnin’ though.”
“It’s fine, it’ll be too much of a rush. I’d rather have you listen to it here. When I’m done, I’ll come back to see you. I’ll be happier knowing that you’re waiting for me, Nacchan.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
“You too, Nacchan.”
Tatsuki raised a hand to go for a high five.
“It’s still too early for that,” Shin protested.
“Okay, want to do a group huddle then?”
“Ya can’t huddle with just two people.”
“Oi, Tatsuki! The elevator’s here!”
The crew that was heading over with Tatsuki called him over, and Tatsuki left after saying bye to Shin.
Ok, let’s get to work, Shin said to fire himself up.
Sakae had several perforations in his stomach and upper intestines. Due to his fatigue from overworking and several of his medical results bordering on critical, he was essentially half-forced to remain hospitalized. That was why he wasn’t here to even be an observer, but Shin wasn’t disheartened. He was happy enough if Sakae watched the show without knowing about the behind the scenes. He hoped that Sakae would find it funny and maybe even get a brief moment of joy from it. Even Sakae must have run all this time wishing something similar in mind. Please watch. Please laugh. Please want to watch this again. Those wishes had reached Shin, and that was why he was here.
Just outside the studio, Shin took a deep breath. They had already gone through the technical meetings and rehearsals, and the audience was seated. The taping would start very soon.
“Are you nervous?” Shitara asked, having exited the control room.
“No, I’m not… It’s a Saturday today, but thank you for coming to watch us.”
“I’m just a curious onlooker, no need to worry about me. Are you telling yourself to do a good job out there?”
“I’m telling myself to enjoy myself out there.”
Because as the floor manager, he wanted to enjoy himself and let the performers enjoy themselves too.
“That sounds good, and it sounds very you, Nawada. Go out there and enjoy yourself.”
Shin pushed the door open. Today was the final time he would ever see this view. Lights lit up the space brighter than the midday sun. He wasn’t a performer, but yet he had to stand here under those lights. The floor manager was a strange role if he thought about it. He was the frontmost spectator who didn’t appear on camera. The performers watched the floor manager, seeing the television viewers, looking for the answers to their questions—Am I funny? Did everyone get what I said? Do you hear my voice? My words? And Shin’s role was to give them their answers, using everything but his voice, and to support them.
Tatsuki’s sketchbook was waiting for him just a short distance away. Shin headed for it and pressed the switch for his headset. He heard the noise from the studio and the conversations from the control room in separate ears. This was the time that excited him the most. What fun and hilarious things would happen here today?
“5 minutes to taping!”
His heart raced, but it felt exhilarating. Shin hoped that Tatsuki felt the same way at the ballpark.
It proved lucky that they had arrived early at the stadium, because Tatsuki got to talk to players as they arrived out of uniform and watched their pre-game batting practice, and it really hyped him up for the game. Unlike sports reporters who followed a single team for their beat, Tatsuki didn’t have any PR clout, so he went around all the areas introducing himself and making himself known. As he went about his work sorting out the coverage details and record keeping, time flew by, and there was only an hour until the start of the game. Up in the broadcast booth on the second floor behind home plate, Tatsuki could see the scoreboard and the sky beyond it. It was still light out as the spectators filled the stands and waited for the call of the first Play ball. Once the stadium lights came on at dusk, it would probably feel more like a game night. Tatsuki wondered how Nacchan was doing. Was the taping almost over?
There was just one hour to go. The opening pitcher was Oonishi for the Titans, a right-hander with a 6.28 ERA. For the Dolphins, the pitcher was Nikaidou, a right-hander with a 3.25 ERA. The starting members were… Tatsuki reviewed the data one more time that he had drilled into his head.
The pitcher throws the first pitch.
Tatsuki had chanted the line like a spell over and over again. He wanted to hurry up and say the line in real time as he watched the pitcher wind up. But on the other hand, his heart roared at him. He practiced some vocalizations, Ah, ah. His voice was okay, it wasn’t scratchy. He could speak properly— But could he really? What if he couldn’t? If it happened, then it happened. It wasn’t like it would kill him. But for some reason, today he couldn’t settle down with this thought, even though it had always come to him so naturally.
That’s strange. Were the eggs that I ate this morning old?
Were ballparks really this huge? This wasn’t his first time in one, and he had served as an assistant to senior announcers in this same stadium. He was supposed to be used to this. But somehow everything looked cold and remote to him.
How many people will be listening to me? How many people will think—Hey, can’t this guy talk? Or this guy knows nothing. Or I can’t feel any excitement of the game from this guy.
His heart thumped harder and harder, ringing in his ears. It almost hurt. It did hurt. What was this?
“Oi, Tatsuki! It’s time for our meeting,” the broadcast director called out to him.
Tatsuki asked, “Um, my heart has been pounding like crazy. Do you think that I might have something wrong with it?”
“Aren’t you just nervous?”
“You’re just feeling the jitters, that’s all.”
“Oh, I see~!”
So the racing of his heart, the shortness of his breath, the distant feeling of the view and sounds—this was all nervousness. He was so restless, he wanted to run a lap around the outside of the stadium.
“So this is what people mean by feeling nervous. This is a novelty…”
“You’re the bigger novelty.”
Tatsuki clung to the glass of the broadcast booth and looked outside. This was the world that he had to convey to his listeners. A world where Shin didn’t watch him like he usually did—moving around with his sketchbook, watching Tatsuki’s every action, asking if he wanted water or more air-conditioning. No, Shin wasn’t here today.
—My biggest fear is that the audience dun laugh. It’s so scary I could die.
Tatsuki remembered the words that Motor Coil had told him.
I understand. Not so much that I could die, but I understand now.
And yet they would go out, get up on stage out under the lights. If they didn’t go out, then nothing could begin.
But thinking that maybe something was out there—that was far scarier than thinking there was nothing.
I’m going to go too, Nacchan. Watch me, okay? No, wait. Listen to me, okay?
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.