Chapter 34: Where Home Is (10)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Kei had made up his mind. He didn’t know his chances for success. He only had a somewhat vague idea of what he would say, but he would play it by ear—similar to picking a time to go to commercial or to move on to the next segment. There was no staff to coordinate with and nothing to rehearse.
But he would do it anyway.
Kei checked his cell phone several times during the taxi ride, but he didn’t receive any calls or messages. He had included his cell phone number in the message for Eba. If Eba was busy, he would probably call Kei to let him know, but he didn’t even call to ask what the message was about. There was the possibility that he just plain ignored it. It was a gamble, the first of many, but Eba was surprising compassionate, and he seemed to have taken a liking to Kei. But whether it was enough to accept his meeting request, Kei wasn’t too sure.
Kei could see the taxi approaching the hotel where he had stayed at with Ushio. Kei prayed in his heart, Please be there, as he took the elevator up and arrived in front of the guestroom that he had prepared.
Kei knocked on the door twice before using his card key to enter the room. The light was on inside.
“It sure feels strange to see in person someone who was just on TV a little while ago.”
Eba was watching TV leisurely in an armchair with his feet up on an ottoman. On the table, there were cans of beer, wine, and small bottles of whiskey from the refrigerator.
…Damn geezer, did you drink through the entire minibar?
“I didn’t think that announcers made so much. I still only use business hotels for my election campaigns.”
“This isn’t something that I routinely do.”
“By the way, how am I supposed to watch the adult channels if they don’t sell TV access cards here?”
Kei didn’t answer and turned off the TV, but it didn’t anger the old man.
“So?” Eba raised an eyebrow. “Let’s hear why you specially called this senile old fool all the way here.”
“I have a personal favor I would like to ask.”
“This is a lot of arrangements for a favor.”
“I didn’t want to fuel any more rumors or speculation if people were to see us speaking.”
“So what’s the favor?”
Kei sat on the bed and met Eba’s gaze.
“I would like to visit Wakamiya-sensei’s residence.”
“Wakamiya? Why that again?”
“It is for a personal matter.”
“If you want to visit, then go by yourself. Don’t tell me you don’t know the address?”
“I know it.”
Kei had checked the premises using Street View. The estate looked like the property taxes alone could blow through a new graduate’s annual salary.
“However, I would likely be turned away at the door if I were to go alone. I wish to avoid any fuss that could get me reported if things happen to go awry, and there is also the matter of the neighbors who could be watching.”
“Then you can make up some business there. Like an interview or news coverage.”
“I do not want to involve the network. My business with them is strictly personal. As an uninvited guest, I think your help would allow me to get inside, Eba-sensei.”
“In short, you want me to smuggle you in behind me.”
Eba took a gulp of whiskey directly from the bottle and glared at Kei like he was searching Kei’s inner thoughts.
“You shouldn’t ask for favors so easily from politicians or yakuza. You never know what they’ll want in return.”
“It would be true for the latter, yes.”
“The secretary there is a pain in the ass to handle. I’d rather not incur his wrath if I don’t have to. What’s in it for me if I do you this favor?”
“You will have my gratitude.”
“You will have my utmost gratitude, Eba-sensei. That is all.”
“Don’t waste my time then.” Eba waved his hand like he was shooing Kei off.
“Any exchange of cash, goods, or favors would be problematic. It would infringe on the network’s compliance policy.”
“It’s a personal favor, not business.”
“Yes, but I am still a network announcer.”
Kei showed a smile. It would probably go smoother to challenge the old man than to get on his knees and beg.
“Well, I suppose I can pay for the room charges.”
“You’re the one who called me here in the first place!”
“I didn’t expect you to drink up such a storm. By the way, I believe you owe me a favor yourself, Eba-sensei.”
“What’s that about?”
“You received your regular spot on the BS channel because of the popularity from the panel discussion that I had hosted, correct?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!! You really dare say that!?”
And look, he’s happily arguing back.
“Asahi’s on-air contributor pay is just chicken feed, you hear? It won’t even cover the electric bill for my office. It would be a different story if I was actually on the regular channels.”
“Are you sure that you’re just not scared?”
“I’ve experienced it many times myself. People whom I’ve only spoken with a few times who go around and say, ‘Oh, I have a friend who’s an announcer.’ I suspect that you may not be as close to Wakamiya-sensei’s household as you say you are.”
“Goddammit! I used to change Homare’s diapers, you know!? Every time Kai had to steamroll votes for a bill, we would knock all the heads together that opposed us!”
“Tch. Just you wait.”
Eba reached inside the front of his kimono and pulled out a flip phone attached to a long cord. It appeared to be a lanyard strung around his neck.
“After losing my phone about 3 times, my wife yelled at me to wear it like this.”
Maybe he was embarrassed about it, but after his explanation, he called a number.
“…Yeah, it’s me. I’m a little drunk, and the wife will yell if I don’t sober up first. It’s been a while, so let me stay over a bit. I’ll be over in 30 minutes. Thanks.”
After the brief call, Eba stepped into his sandals and said, “Let’s go.”
“You tried to call my bluff, so be grateful.”
“Thank you very much.” Kei stood up and bowed his head deeply.
Eba laughed at him. “What good is that bow for?”
Kei hurried to check out the room. When he climbed into the taxi, Eba said, “Just tell me one thing. Was that Homare’s son that I saw last time?”
Kei hesitated to answer, but he admitted, “Yes, that was him. He remembered you too, Eba-sensei. I think he was sorry that he couldn’t greet you properly.”
“I don’t care about that.” Eba was surprisingly kind in his reply. “I’m sure that he had gone through a lot. Homare too. Whether they can see eye to eye, that’s a different question, but everyone has their own issues that they have to deal with. Don’t you think so?”
The row of traffic lights started turning green one after the other in the distance. He remembered how he had taken the taxi to Ushio’s house like this and that the house was no longer there, and it made him choke up. But Kei no longer wished they could have spent their time together without him ever knowing anything about Ushio, without ever having the opportunity to meet his grandmother.
Because right now, he was going to bring Ushio back.
“Here, take this.”
There was a piece of candy held in front of his eyes: the one with the distorted, silly face of Honor-chan.
“What is this for?”
“Candy always cheers up children who look like they’re about to cry.”
“…I won’t cry.”
But Kei gratefully accepted it and made a show of crunching it up between his teeth.
Damned shrewd old geezer.
“Sensei, do you have children?”
“Two sons and five grandchildren.”
“Did you want them to be politicians too?”
“They said outright said they would never want to be one. They had seen everything that their mother had gone through, and I don’t blame them for not wanting to put their wives through the same experience. Not that I could say anything to them about it.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“There’s not much I can do if they don’t want to be one. Unlike the Wakamiya household, who has been in this for generations, I’m just piddling stray-dog politician. …Oh, driver, you can stop the car here. Thanks. Give me a receipt, will you?”
After exiting the taxi about one block away from the residence, Eba started walking briskly, leading the way. A towering walled fence extended endlessly until they reached the front entrance of the estate. They stopped in front of what could only be described as a majestic-looking traditional Japanese-style gate, and Eba pressed the intercom button without a second’s pause.
Fine, whatever, but you could have asked if I was ready first.
There was no reply, but the latticed wicket gates slowly slid open. Once they stepped beyond the gate, it slowly slid shut and automatically locked behind them. It was surprisingly high tech in contrast to its appearance. They followed a long stone-covered pathway that led to the front door with sensor lights illuminating the way as they walked, and Kei could see a gardenscape of trees and plants that looked carefully manicured even to the untrained eye. He remembered Ushio’s grandmother’s words: the worlds that we lived in were like night and day.
The front door to the house did not appear to be auto-locking, but it was large enough that it could probably accommodate a horse carriage. Eba casually threw it open with a clatter.
There was a man standing in the entryway. He said without a trace of a smile, “You are causing quite the imposition, Sensei,” as Eba slightly raised his hands in appeasement.
“Don’t be so harsh, Saijou.”
So this was the pain in the ass secretary.
“He was in the middle of a meeting when he received your very sudden phone call. I returned ahead of time by myself to receive you.”
“I see. I’ll wait for him inside then.”
“You appear perfectly sober from what I can see.”
“Oi, oi, you’re leaving a senior citizen out in the cold? Even you can’t rest well at night if I freeze to death on the side of the road.”
“By the way, may I ask who this gentleman is?” Saijou completely ignored the comment and gazed over at Kei. From the way he looked at him, it was obvious that he knew exactly who he was.
“Oh, him? He’s a new secretary I’m training. I brought him along to get him familiar with people. Help him learn the ropes, will you?”
“…Well, is that so?”
“Let’s not stand around in the doorway chatting. Come on.”
“Are those not the words of a consciously uninvited guest? Allow me to say once more, but you are causing quite the imposition, Sensei. I do not know how you and your new secretary know each other, but I must ask you to leave.”
Eba rubbed his chin as he responded to the cold refusal. “Oi,” he said in a steely voice. “I remember you were just a greenhorn who didn’t know your left from right until just recently, but look how far you’ve come, huh? You’re just a damn secretary and you think you can talk to me like that?”
There was a threatening quality in his voice that could cause the ground to tremble. It was far beyond the temper that he put on for TV as Old Man Eba. It wasn’t even close.
“Or is there a problem that you have with letting him into the house?”
“Of course not.” Saijou made a show of heaving a sigh and said, “Please come in.”
It didn’t appear that Ushio would come out. With the size of the house, he probably couldn’t hear most conversations.
They were shown to a Western-style drawing room. But shortly after sitting down on the sofa, Eba got back up again and said, “I’m going to the altar to give my regards. I have a lot of things I want to share with Kai. Oh, I don’t need any tea, so don’t bother with the trouble.”
It wasn’t obvious if he intentionally left the room or if he just didn’t care, but Kei was left alone in the room with Saijou.
Saijou opened his mouth to speak first.
“Have I seen you somewhere before?”
Kei brushed off his question lightly. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“By the way, I have not asked you for your name yet.”
“You’re so transparent.”
“I said you’re freaking obvious.”
Kei stood up and took a deep breath, consciously releasing from his diaphragm.
My voice will reach him.
“Come on out, you stupid wayward son——!!”
Kei yelled at the top of his lungs at full volume—even the glass of the display cases shook.
Sounds of footsteps came running towards the drawing room. The door flew open, nearly knocking it off its hinges, and the stupid wayward son showed his face.
And look, he could hear me perfectly fine.
“What the— Why are you here…?”
Kei ignored the stupid wayward son and gave Saijou his most brilliant smile.
“I am sorry for the late introduction. My name is Kunieda Kei.”
“…I see.” Saijou nodded slowly. “He is indeed different from what I had imagined.”
What the hell’s that supposed to mean?
“So may I ask what business brings you— Oh, sorry, please excuse me for a moment.”
There were sounds from the front door. It seemed that the final boss was finally home. When Saijou vacated the room, Kei suggested to Ushio, “Why don’t you sit?”
Panic, bewilderment, and an uncontrollable happiness were mixed up on Ushio’s face. Ushio was usually the one springing surprises on Kei, and it felt exhilarating to pull a fast one on him, but Kei didn’t have the time to savor it or explain.
“Sit. And don’t you dare say a word during what I’m about to do. I promise you, it will all work out.”
Ushio seemed to understand that it was something that he couldn’t quite see yet and answered, “Okay.” He sat down directly across from Kei. At nearly the same time, the master of the house entered the room. He sat down silently in the seat at the head of the room and gazed at Kei with emotionless eyes.
“Please state your business.”
But he had no intentions of talking, it seemed, because it was Saijou, standing behind him, who opened the conversation.
What is he? The emperor?
“I came to offer my thanks and greetings,” Kei said.
“What do you mean?”
“Thank you very much for circulating the rumors about my intentions to run for office.”
“I am sorry to say that I do not understand what you are referring to.”
“It did anger and cause me a lot of trouble at first, but it soon sparked my interest in politics. I am even considering running in the next elections.”
Ushio almost rose to his feet, but he seemed to have remembered Kei’s words and clasped his hands in front of his face.
“Well, that is unexpected news,” Saijou said, his voice not taking Kei’s words seriously in the least as he gave a faint smile. “I wish you the best of luck.”
“Would you happen to know of a good real estate agent in this area? I would appreciate it if you could introduce me to someone.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Like I said.” Kei tapped his nails to each word on the table in front of him. “I’m running for office. For this seat. For Tokyo 1st District. As an independent. I don’t know when the House will be dissolved, but first I will need to set up residency in the district. I will also need an office.”
Saijou’s eyebrows immediately furled.
“And this is what I meant by offering my greetings. I don’t know if Wakamiya-sensei or that stupid son of his will be running in the next election, but whichever it is, I have no intentions of losing.”
Because Ushio had assured him that when he became serious, he would never lose to anyone.
“Did you come to tell us such a joke this late at night?”
“What joke do you mean? I am just exercising my right to run for public office.”
“With all due respect, but it appears you are unaware of the basic principles behind elections. You will face a large handicap by running as an independent. Do you really intend on winning?”
“Of course, I am well aware of it. Without access to television coverage, independents are limited at best to flyers and posters for campaign promotion. But let me ask you this question: why do you presume it to be a handicap for me? My name and face appear on the top news show every night across the nation.”
He didn’t have a base of support, but he had gigantic billboard called Kunieda Kei.
“I believe that you clearly denied all intentions to run for office on that news show.”
“It’s a little white lie that an adult has to tell sometimes. I’m sure I’ll be forgiven.”
“You appear to have quite the confidence in your popularity.”
I gonna damn well say it to his face. If I show any sign of an opening, weakness, or hesitation, even for a moment, I’m done for.
Kei was dealing with a pro when it came to bluffing; there was no way he could match him in experience. That was why he would keep attacking. Attack with everything that he had.
Don’t hesitate. I’m in control. I’ll make my voice pierce through it all—overpower them all. My job forces me to understand that there is no such thing as an easy win when it comes to elections, so I don’t care if it’s a tiny pinhole. As long as they can see me as a threat, that’s all I need.
“You can leak all the oppo1 that you have on me. It’s fine by me. But on the other hand, when it comes to the source of the leaks, everyone will likely believe that it comes at the hands of the opposing candidate. I believe that it makes us pretty even in the end. What will you do?”
Kei directed the question at Wakamiya Homare who had not yet spoken a word.
“Even if I happen to lose, I can work as an independent announcer after the elections. I’ll have plenty of work waiting for me. I believe you will have far more to lose than me if you were to lose the election. Or would you prefer to place the seat in the proportional blocs to safeguard it?2 Though it would be a humiliation for the invincible Wakamiya Homare to do so.”
Saijou’s face twisted in displeasure. “How dare you—”
“How dare you? That’s my damn line, dumbass!!” Kei slammed his palm on the table and stood up. “You’re the one who came to pick a fight with me! Here I am accepting it. Aren’t you honored? You come to take away the place where I belong!? Then I’m gonna do the same thing back to you! Tell me, what the hell is wrong with that!?”
“Let’s see how you like it,” Kei continued. “I’ll steal your precious, precious territory—tear down and burn all posters of Wakamiya Homare until there’s not a single one left. All the dogs in Tokyo 1st District will be wagging their tails at me, not you. So pick. Do you want to keep sticking your nose in our business? Or do you want to fight it out in the elections?”
Kei stared down the man, preventing him from gleaning even the slightest hint of a bluff in his words. Cold sweat rolled down the back of his neck. All eyes were on Wakamiya Homare, and no one opened their mouth.
What broke the silence was the ringtone from a cell phone.
Wakamiya answered the call like no one else was in the room.
“Of course… I see, I understand. It would be my pleasure. Yes. Thank you, goodbye.”
Wakamiya ended the brief call and before he could return the cell phone to the inner pocket of his jacket, Kei said, “Congratulations.”
It was the first time that Kei detected a slight tremor in the man’s face. At least, that was what it looked like to Kei.
“I believe that the call was from the Prime Minister, correct? I have seen previous footage of you speaking with him on the cell phone. It was the same ringtone just now.”
It would be a weak conjecture to make, if that was his only clue, but a call at this time of night, answering the phone without hesitation during a situation like this? It had to be someone he couldn’t ignore. And then there were the words, It would be my pleasure. Kei decided to press further.
“We were just discussing the elections just now, but it appears that the dissolution will not be happening in the current Diet session at the very least. That would be the plan that the Prime Minister is considering, is it not?”
For the first time, Wakamiya faced Kei and opened his mouth.
“Because right now Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Ozaki appears very gray on the financial front. There is talk of an investigation and a possible indictment against him. He was merely appointed to appease the loud, senior-aged faction of the party, and now fortunately, he can cut him loose and appoint you to be his successor. With the rumblings from the opposing parties threatening a motion of non-confidence against the Cabinet, and it would do well to make the first move here and submit a motion of confidence for the Cabinet ahead of them.”
If the motion of confidence passed, then the motion of non-confidence could not be used. However, acceptance of the confidence resolution was ultimately a temporary stopgap; the party wouldn’t be able to win the following elections—or so the prevailing theory went.
“When the Prime Minister referred to the ‘jinx’ over and over again, he was not speaking about the tax hikes. He was speaking about the motion of confidence, correct? He only appeared to press the urgency of a dissolution. First, he needs the House to pass the confidence resolution. But in order to do that and not spark any backlash between the factions, he would have you, Wakamiya-sensei, make the necessary arrangements within the party in exchange for a Cabinet post. Over the course of the process, ferreting out the party infighting and cutting ties with old party stragglers, he can make an appeal to new reforms. Then after closing the current session of the Diet, he can reshuffle the Cabinet in the way that he’s always wanted. And of course, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Wakamiya would slide right in. That is why the earliest a dissolution can happen is in the fall or later.”
In the middle of Kei’s conjecture, Wakamiya had closed his eyes. He rested his body in the back of his chair, looking relaxed, like he had fallen asleep, but Kei suspected that he did it to hide any perturbation that he might have felt. Wakamiya then slightly lifted his eyelids and asked, “Whose gossip have you been listening to?”
“No one in particular. It is what I had pieced together myself from all of the talk that I had heard. I suppose you could call it what I would do if I were Prime Minister.”
“If you were Prime Minister?”
Kei smiled knowingly, completely aware of the thoughts directed at a person of his position.
“Announcers aren’t just a damn mannequin who can speak nicely.”
Surprisingly, Wakamiya laughed at his comment. It wasn’t a cheerful, manufactured laugh made in politician-mode; it was a tiny chuckle made from an unexpected encounter with a funny sight. His shoulders shook like he was hiccupping, but he quickly regained control of himself. “Saijou,” he said in an even voice.
“Call for a taxi and show them out. Both of them.”
Wakamiya stood up and started to head out the room. Ushio called out, “Oi.” Wakamiya didn’t turn around, but he did stop in his tracks. Seeing this, Ushio hung his head down for a moment, looking troubled, but he immediately looked back up again and spoke.
“Thank you for taking care of me for 15 years.”
Wakamiya didn’t respond to the brief expression of gratitude and farewell. He only said one thing in parting.
“It seems I’ve run afoul of something unimaginable beyond belief.”
They waited for the taxi that Saijou called for in front of the gate. Powdered snowflakes started falling—a light snow that signaled the end of winter and the start of spring.
“Ushio-san,” Saijou called.
“I was the one who called the press corps that time in front of your mother’s grave.”
Ushio stood there silently with both hands thrust into his coat pockets.
“When the predecessor died, I blamed Homare-san for it. Yelling, ‘Why wasn’t it you? You should have died instead.’ I am sure that the question torments him to this day.”
The response was quiet and pensive, barely audible, but then Ushio gave a strangely wry and open smile. “But he still pisses me off,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Even now, I don’t hate you. On election days, I remember you staying out from morning until night in front of the polling places. But the old man, he just… well, it’s all a mess in my head. Maybe it’s the same for him too. When I wonder why it’s like this, it’s probably because we’re father and son. We’re blood, and so we can’t come out cleanly to each other. We can’t be civil; we can’t get along. But well, there are other fathers and sons out there who are probably like this.”
“…If it is fine by you, then all right.”
“Brrrrr, it’s cold! Oi! Where are the bedding and blankets?”
Eba, who had vanished without a trace, reappeared outside all of a sudden. He must have heard Kei’s shout, but it appeared he was going to treat it like it was none of his concern.
“The bedding? But you will be returning home tonight?”
“Homare said that I could stay over… Oh!” Eba looked at Ushio and smiled brightly. “Hold your hand out.”
Ushio bewilderedly held out the palm of his hand, and like magic, a shower of candies poured one after the other out of the sleeve.
“Let me give you lots.”
Then Eba reached out his hand, ruffled Ushio’s hair, and crinkled his eyes gently.
“…Thank you very much.”
“You’ve really grown up. Oh, you’re so grown up now. It’s wonderful to see.”
It was like the 15-year-old Ushio that Kei had never met was standing there. Taxi lights approached the estate.
When Kei climbed into the taxi, Ushio whispered in his ear. “I’m pretty sure I’m the one run afoul here. Especially since you jumped in front of my bike when we first met and tried to blame it on me.”
“Shut up, you stupid son.”
Kei hadn’t thought about what he would do after a successful rescue. He was actually a little nervous, but after the light banter, they returned to their usual pace as always. It felt like a luxury to have something they could call “as always.”
But when Ushio gave the driver his address, Kei grabbed his arm without thinking.
That address was now just a vacant lot… Did Ushio really not know anything about it? Kei started another bout of cold sweat, different from earlier.
It was really hard to say. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
Oi, oi, how the hell am I supposed to handle this? Maybe I should have punched his old man after all?
“Um, have you decided on the destination?”
“Please head to the address that I gave,” Ushio answered the driver, making it clear, and he gave a light pat to Kei’s back to calm him down from his suspicious behavior. “It’s okay, I have a pretty good guess of what happened. I want to see it with my own eyes.”
Kei wanted to tell Ushio about all the things that had happened, how he had visited his grandmother, how his mother had surgery, how he had talked with Eba, but he was too riddled with anxiety, and during the ride he could only bring up trivial conversation topics like, “What’s the baseball thing in Osaka?”
They arrived in front of the vacant lot where a house used to stand a little while ago. Ushio took in the situation and looked up at the sky.
“Crap, they got everything, huh? Well, at least I moved my computer and equipment into storage beforehand…”
After some light grumbling, he turned to faced Kei. “I’m sorry. You must have seen this all by yourself. It must have been a huge shock. I’m sorry about that.”
Kei slapped Ushio across the cheek. It wasn’t as hard as the slap from a long time ago, but it made a sharp sound and Ushio stared back at Kei with his mouth open.
“That’s not it, right!?”
An uncomfortable warmth spread through his hand, and snow fluttered and melted as soon as it landed. When he clenched his trembling fingers into a fist, he pushed it into Ushio’s shoulder.
“That’s not what you have to say, right…?”
Are you really going to do this? It doesn’t make happy to see you worry about me at a time like this.
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
Ushio cautiously wrapped his arms around Kei, as if he were holding an egg.
“I’m devastated. I lost my home. But I have the most important thing here with me. It’s all thanks to you, Kei.”
Kei squeezed his eyes shut and clutched Ushio in a hug with all his might. And finally, finally, he thought, Now it’s okay, and he cried in Ushio’s arms.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Oppo – Opposition research, i.e. information on a political opponent that can be used to discredit or weaken them.
- 300 of the 500 seats in the lower House are directly elected, but the remaining 200 are placed in blocs that are elected in a proportional representation system. The voters vote for a party, not a candidate. The seats are then given to the parties’ top ranking candidates.