Chapter 13: departure
He stood facing the ocean and yelled. It was stupid, but he felt better. Maybe he felt better because it simply was stupid. Air expelled from his body, like he was deflating or purging or something. No, maybe what left him was the bedrock that supported him—the bedrock named “Minagawa Tatsuki.” Whenever he was feeling down, he would dive down to look at it up close, and if the bedrock surfaced, he couldn’t help but turn his head to check the distance between them. That had been Kotarou’s bedrock, his foundation.
But once that bedrock was removed, all he saw was a vast sky that stretched out forever into the distance, and he felt endlessly lost, not knowing what to do.
What do I do? How do I live my life from now on?
Maybe it was an over-exaggeration, but that was how he felt.
“Hey, next Thursday after the broadcast, we’re having a farewell party. Do you want to come too?”
In response to Tatsuki’s invitation, Kotarou pointed to his own head and asked in all seriousness, “Are you stupid?”
“Isn’t the farewell party for me?”
“Yeah. It’s at my place. A small one, about 5 or 6 people.”
“Then shouldn’t I be the guest of honor, the one you absolutely need there!? Why are you inviting me like, ‘oh, just come if you can’!?”
Kotarou still had more complaints.
“Plus, it’s a weekday. So after the broadcast, you want me to stay up until some godforsaken hour before dawn next Friday? My flight is that evening, you know.”
“Then it’s perfect,” Tatsuki said without a shred of shame (not that Kotarou had ever seen him with any). “Come into work that day with your suitcase, and you can leave for the airport from my apartment. Let’s have an overnight farewell party with everyone.”
“Quit running your mouth! Try thinking about me and how I might have my own plans!”
When Kotarou flared up at Tatsuki, Shin entered the conversation with his hands pressed together in apology.
“Everythin’ was so sudden, an’ we had to coordinate a bunch o’ different things… Thursday is the only day the others can come. What d’ya think? Can ya make it?”
“I will go no matter what it takes.”
“So you didn’t have any plans.”
“You, shut up!”
“Okay, so we’ll see ya there next week.”
Shin smiled, looking relieved, and Kotarou couldn’t see any hint of sadness from him. Well, yeah, that wasn’t a surprise. Kotarou understood this. He understood this, but still. Kotarou had fallen in love with Shin for what was a short amount of time, he would be able to get over it soon—but it didn’t seem like it would be the case. Shin had rejected him clearly, and he accepted it, and he didn’t resent him for it, but his heart still ached from the pain. The New York branch office had told him that he could come after the new year. Kotarou was the one who told them that he wanted to go as soon as his visa was issued, but now that the day was nearly upon him, his heart welled up with regret.
Maybe he shouldn’t have backed down regardless of what either of them said. Technically, Kotarou hadn’t declared defeat yet, but Shin had already made up his mind, and there was probably no changing it, and that was what upset him the most. But when he looked at Shin’s face, he was too cute. When he heard his voice, he was too cute. Kotarou wanted to burn as much of him as possible into his memory, but when he followed him with his eyes, his rival was automatically there in the frame with him. But well, when they were together, that was when Nawada-san was the cutest. How painful was that?
If Shin were to hear him, he would probably say that Kotarou had simply imprinted himself on him. But once Kotarou had gotten to know Shin and learned how to do the work from him, he thought that Shin was someone who could put him at ease. It was incredibly misleading to say that he was obsessed with Minagawa, but it was true that he had been seething with rage when he pulled up the Asahi TV website and saw that they were hiring. He had applied in anger, and the selection process proceeded without a hitch and he was hired. It wasn’t like he was unhappy with his previous job, and to suddenly jump ship to a very different occupation in Japan known for its black, exploitative labor practices, Kotarou of course had worries of his own about whether he could do the job. But from that first day at work, Shin had been kind to him, putting so much effort into looking after him whether it was praising his work or correcting his mistakes, and Kotarou had earned a sense that things were slowly falling into place for him here. Whenever he did something well, or conversely didn’t go so well, he wanted to report it immediately to Shin. Naturally, his feelings ought to have been nothing but gratitude and respect.
But the moment he watched Shin touch his finger to his lips, he thought, Oh, those look soft, and he had to turn his eyes away. Because they were sentiments that clearly gave him a guilty conscience. He was suddenly aware of how cramped the editing suite was, and his breathing became shallower. Even if he squeezed his eyes shut, he could feel his presence because Shin was still so close, and it felt like he had committed some kind of secret crime.
If that were the case, then Nawada-san would be his accomplice, and that thought had made his heart spin more and more out of control (although afterwards he mentioned a forbidden word, which made his heart leap in a very different sense).
Kotarou had never been aware of men in that way until now. Maybe, just possibly, at the time somewhere inside of him had already sounded an alert that Nawada Shin was someone special to Minagawa Tatsuki. How annoying. He had fallen in love with the Shin who had fallen in love with Tatsuki, and that was the truth of the matter. And he hated Tatsuki who loved Shin all the more so. It was annoying that this “hate” of his would probably never ever change.
Yes, I was probably making things worse and more complicated for myself.
And it did hurt. But those complications would unravel, straighten out, and scatter away; and afterwards, there would be nothing left—and that thought scared him. On his last day at The News, Kotarou walked into the staff room pulling a suitcase behind him, and Shin came to take the suitcase to stow it away.
“Here, I’ll put it away for ya. Lemme put a plastic cover over it first.”
“But it’s not raining.”
“But ya never know if someone might get it dirty.”
Ahhh, he’s so nice, and so cute today. I can’t believe I won’t get to see him again after tonight. I wonder if I can take all my stuff out and pack him into my suitcase to take with me…?
While Kotarou fantasized about something obviously impossible, he felt something smack him in the back of the head. There was only one idiot who would do something so rude. That was why he unleashed all his anger as he turned around.
“That hurt!! What did you do that for!?”
Sure enough, it was Tatsuki.
“Oh, I just had the feeling that you needed a hard smack right now.”
How petty was he? It would be one thing if I had said it aloud, but I’m not allowed to even think it? Ugh, he got everything anyway.
“Hey, quit horsin’ around, the sports desk’s callin’ for ya.”
“Okay~” Tatsuki answered shamelessly like a young child, but then he turned to Kotarou and warned, “Don’t screw up just because today’s your last day~”
God, how good would it feel if I could smash the CUT button—cut him off mid-sentence with that shit-eating grin of his and throw him to commercial.
But things would never come to such drastic measures as Kotarou’s last broadcast went smoothly without any problems, and after they wrapped, he gave a simple thank you and goodbye to the presenters and staff gathered in the studio. His stay was short, yes, but this last day felt like it was over all too soon. That was probably how things usually went.
They rode separate taxis over to Tatsuki’s apartment, and after spreading out the side dishes purchased from a place by the office and snacks from the convenience store, the little farewell party began.
“Look, look, Kota-kun~ It’s the bed that Tatsuki-kun uses~ Why don’t you lie down on it for the memories~?”
“Please stop it with those jokes!”
Yeah, he probably uses that bed, even when he’s not alone. I just might break my teeth from all the grinding if I think about it too much.
“Tatsuki, you get him a farewell gift? Why don’t you give him something here as a momento?”
“Huh~? Hmmm, let’s see… Okay, you can have my 24-Hour Television T-shirt.”1
“You can keep it! Why do you even have it anyway?”
“I got it at a get-together for commercial broadcast announcers. Hmm, then what about a book? I have In Osim’s Words—right now I can write a few of Tatsuki’s words in it as a special bonus.”
“Apologize to Osim.”2
The party got underway without a hint of gloominess, and after about an hour, Shin spoke up and said, “Hey, I think it’s ’bout time to start it.”
“Oh, that thing you mentioned?”
“Turn off the lights, turn off the lights~”
“What do you mean, ‘that thing you mentioned’?”
But Shin didn’t answer Kotarou’s question as he pulled out a DVD from his bag and loaded it into the player. After briefly waiting for it to load, Tatsuki appeared on the screen. He was dressed in a suit and holding a microphone.
“This is the place that I’m visiting today.”
The camera panned from the bust shot of Tatsuki to the direction where he was pointing, capturing a shot of a very, very familiar house.
“What the… Oi!!”
But his sudden outburst would not reach the images on the screen.
“This is a very splendid residence, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at the nameplate… Megumi… That’s right, I’m here at Kotarou-kun’s parents’ house~! Wow, this is such a mansion where he grew up. The nerve of the guy~!”
Why is he filming in front of my house?
But it seemed like he was the only one surprised here as everyone else just simply enjoyed the video.
“Let’s go in for a visit~”
Tatsuki pressed the button for the intercom without hesitating, and there was his mother’s voice answering “Yes?”
“Oh, hello there! I’m from the show Surprise! What’s for Dinner?”
“Oh dear, but I haven’t gone shopping yet. What should I do?”
“Ma’am, you’re very quite funny~ I’m Minagawa from Asahi TV. I believe I’ve spoken to you about our appointment today.”
“Oh, that’s right! Yes, yes, please come in.”
Tatsuki stepped into the entrance hall, and before they knew it, his parents’ new golden retriever rushed over wagging his tail. Kotarou was a little irritated by the sight.
“What is the dog’s name?”
“His name is Tarou.”
“Tarou! But the human is Kotarou though!?”3
“Mind your own business!”
Everyone was roaring with laughter. At any rate, when had they filmed this? His older sister and his father were there in the living room, so it must have been a weekend.
Oi, don’t sit there flipping through the photo albums, going “Oh, this is me” and getting all excited about it.
After spending a merry time without their son there, Tatsuki spoke up to segue into the next topic.
“Kotarou-kun has only just returned to Japan, but he will start his new job back in the U.S. Please offer him a message that might otherwise be hard to say face-to-face…”
“Let’s see, well—…”
His father cleared his throat with a nervous-looking expression.
Hey, it’s fine, it’s not like it’ll air on TV.
“Kotarou, you suddenly announced out of nowhere that you were going to the U.S. for college. And then after a while, you announced you were changing careers and moving back here. Honestly, I don’t really understand what’s going on in that head of yours. But your colleagues at work have come all the way here just for you, so I’m sure that you’re working hard at your job. We’re glad to see that you’re doing just fine. Don’t ever forget to thank the people around you and take care of your health. Do your best over in the U.S. again. Your family will always be rooting for you.”
Text popped up on the screen that said, Kotarou-kun, take care and good luck, and the short video ended. The living room filled with a quiet applause. Kotarou bowed his head feeling incredibly grateful.
“Um, well… Thank you very much for doing all this for me.”
Kotarou now knew how many hours of work it took to produce just a short, few-minute video. He did think for a moment that they didn’t need to do all this for him, but that wasn’t the right response. He had put in the same amount of effort and thoughtfulness that they had put into this gift that they gave him. Even if he had to do it from far away.
They played PS4. They played UNO, and soon Kotarou dozed off until he suddenly realized that Shin was gone. But the blinds were still raised, and he immediately saw the figure of his back outside on the balcony. Kotarou quietly got up, trying not to wake everyone. They were sprawled together everywhere, on the bed, on the sofa, all over the floor, like packed sardines spilled from a can.
Outside, the air was clear like it had been washed over the night, the world covered in a deep, endless blue. There was a pale glow coming from the east, and stars twinkled faintly on the border between night and dawn.
“Oh, ya awake?”
Kotarou borrowed the sandals on the balcony and stood out next to Shin.
“Thank you very much for the video. You edited it together, didn’t you, Nawada-san?”
“How’d ya guess?”
“The colors of the captions and the taste in music… They all reminded me of you.”
It wasn’t just his wishful thinking. Shin didn’t confirm or deny it verbally, but he smiled. Kotarou leaned up against the railing and stared up at the daybreak that Shin was watching. If he were to tell him “I still love you,” it would probably shatter this momentary balance between them. That was why Kotarou stayed silent as he stood there next to him.
“I’m glad ya didna quit,” Shin told him.
“I thought that maybe ya mighta burned out, or maybe ya had enough o’ everythin’ here. It made me a lil’ worried.”
“I suppose that I can’t exactly say that I didn’t have those thoughts…”
Everything as far as the eye could see was filtered through a faint blue hue. But even if the morning cleared it away, it would still be beautiful.
“I promised you that I would come to like this job, didn’t I? So I won’t quit until I fulfill it.”
“Whatta ’bout after ya like it?”
“Well, if I’ve come to like it, then I can’t quit.”
What do I do now?
Kotarou was at a loss for an answer, but there was one thing that sparkled in that vast, endless sky—the promise that he made with Shin. Even if the stars burned out, the light would remain; all because they were so far away. Even if Shin forgot Kotarou, even if Kotarou forgot this love, the promise they shared would never disappear. This was the one thing that Kotarou had that Tatsuki didn’t.
What was it that Kotarou would search out next? Was it a bedrock, a ceiling, a wall, or a pillar? He didn’t know the answer, but nevertheless Kotarou would keep walking forward.
Kotarou decided to head to the airport without waking anyone up.
“But ya still have tons o’ time.”
“I’ll nap at a capsule hotel there.”
“Okay, be careful.”
Shin walked with Kotarou out to the front of the apartment building and tugged on the sleeve of Kotarou’s coat to stop him.
“I’ma take this back.”
When Shin took the plastic cover off of the suitcase, Kotarou was surprised once again.
There were messages written in white marker all over the silver gray suitcase. Take care, good luck, be well, you’ll be a great reporter in the future… People had probably taken turns yesterday writing the messages in secret. Kotarou hadn’t noticed anything at all.
“It really stands out.”
“Yeah, ya won’t have problems findin’ ya suitcase at baggage claim, huh?”
The messages would probably rub off with the rough handling at the airport and the baggage transport. That was why Kotarou crouched down to stare at the messages. He didn’t need to record any of it—he just had to remember that people had written these messages all for him. Like Shin’s message that said Good luck. Or Tatsuki’s message that said Take me sightseeing sometime. Kotarou grumbled, “Like hell I will, stupid.”
Kotarou looked up at the sky as he remained crouching. It had seemed so far away a little while earlier, but now it felt so close to him. And before he knew it, Tatsuki had come out onto the balcony, waving his hand at him. Kotarou couldn’t make out his expression, but he was probably smiling.
Tatsuki couldn’t do anything from this distance, so the thought occurred to Kotarou that he could pull Shin into his arms right now and kiss him. But it was only a thought.
“Thank you very much for everything. …I guess that I’ll be going.”
“Yeah, take care o’ yaself.”
Kotarou pulled his suitcase and started walking. The sound of the wheels on the pavement echoed through the streets half-dawned. This wasn’t goodbye forever. For now, he would walk forward under this sky that he saw.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- 24-Hour Television is a charity event fundraising program.
- Ivica Osim was the manager for Japan’s national soccer team, and the book In Osim’s Words is a collection of his quotes.
- Kotarou means small eldest son. Tarou means eldest son.