An Ending in Tokyo
October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
Nakata rings me in the early hours and says, “It’s okay to kill a murderer, isn’t it?” He’s distraught, drunk. “I mean to say – he would not stop killing. I have saved lives haven’t I, by taking his?”
My third month working with the Tokyo police force and Nakata is my partner, my buddy. It’s early Saturday morning now, about two, and on Friday night he shot dead the notorious child killer Sandez, a Spanish-American.
Nakata’s first kill.
I remember mine. New York, winter, street punk who had a needle. He came at me and I wasn’t taking chances. One bullet in his chest ended his time on earth there and then. I was twenty-two.
A killer at twenty-two, standing in the snow with a smoking gun.
I’d been on the force a year and often thought how I might feel when the time came to take a life. If it ever came. I’d known guys nearing retirement who’d never shot anyone. Other guys, younger, had done it many times, hardened to it. They didn’t care. Or at least, appeared not to.
But I did. I didn’t want to have to kill a person.
Maybe I didn’t have to shoot him, I could have used my unarmed combat training to disarm him, but I wasn’t risking AIDS. So I shot him. Bang, dead. And it never affected me in the way I thought it would.
I refuse to hide behind my badge. I will not morally justify my actions. What it was, I took a life to save my own. It’s happened a few times since. I cope with it, I sleep nights. Because I’m still here.
But Nakata, he’s a different case. Sensitive guy, probably in the wrong job. Nakata won’t sleep, I know that. He’ll blame himself and question his motives and pray to his god. He’ll ask whether he has the right to take a life, even if it means saving the lives of others. Should he have that responsibility?
I could argue that, yes, he does have that responsibility. As soon as he joined the police he took on that obligation. Protect the innocent, even at the expense of your own soul. We are God’s cruel enforcers.
Instead, I say to that lonely, frightened voice, miles away in the night, “Never forget how you feel right now, Nakata-chan.”
He says nothing. I wish I was the one who had shot the child-molesting bastard. But I wasn’t. And I’m not about to let this one incident destroy a good man.
Sandez was one sick mother. I’d been chasing him a year in New York. We tracked him to Tokyo and I went there. The Japs didn’t like the idea of a foreign child killer on their turf so they co-operated. Gave me a partner and a car, a desk and free rein.
In fact, the Japanese don’t really like foreigners of any kind in their country, which is why over ninety per cent of the population are what you might call true Japanese. Of what’s left, less than half are Westerners.
Sandez proved surprisingly difficult to find, given the foreigner situation. He must have had help.
But three months later we found Sandez and took him down. Or rather, Nakata took him down.
We grew close as friends and colleagues during that three months. The Japs never gave me a hard time on the force and they were always polite. It’s what they pride themselves on. But I got the feeling, I dunno, like I was a gaijin. An outsider, which I was.
But my friend Nakata Endo treated me like a brother.
Family name Nakata, personal name Endo. They don’t use their personal names like we do, not even with friends. He is Nakata-san, or to those close to him, Nakata-chan.
Nakata showed me all the best parts of Tokyo. He took me to the National Museum, the Imperial Palace and around the Tsukiji Market, biggest fish market in the world, shopping for seafood. Hell, what a place that was. I couldn’t get the stink of fish out of my nose for days.
We went to bars and sang karaoke and drank sake.
But the place that gave him most pleasure to show me was Senso-ji Temple, built around the golden image of Kannon, which was supposedly found in the river. Nakata loves this place, though I have to say, temples leave me a little cold. Too much like churches. Except that the Japanese aren’t as easily offended if you commit a faux pas in one of these places as our Western clerics are.
You know, the Japs consider the major characteristics of Westerners to be laziness, dirt and superstition. This certainly summed up that son of a bitch Sandez, always mumbling into his rosary beads, the freak. I mean, what goes on in a mind like that? Twisting religion into such a mutation?
It’s good that Sandez is dead. This way he won’t ever get out to start his filthy work over again. I’d have shot the bastard anyway, even if he hadn’t pulled his gun. But that’s me. I don’t take risks, not with kiddie killers. Son of a bitch can fry in hell.
“Listen Nakata-chan,” I say, “I’m coming over. Don’t do anything stupid. Drink some coffee. Promise me?”
A pause. “Okay,” comes the almost whispered reply. “Bronson-chan?” It always makes me smile, the way he says my name.
“I haven’t eaten. Please bring food.”
I pick up noodles from a Thai take-away and make my way to Nakata’s place across the city. The noodles smell good, there on the passenger seat. I wish I’d bought enough for two.
I drive along Shuto Expressway and I hit the gaijin clubbing district of Roppongi as my cell phone rings. It’s Nakata, so I pick up, holding the phone between my shoulder and jaw, trying not to hit anyone as I steer through the mass of drinkers.
The O-Bon Festival is in full-swing tonight, the Festival of the Dead. I see paper lanterns bobbing all around, even the gaijin join in the fun. O-Bon, when ancestral graves are cleaned and offerings of food and flowers are placed before the family altars to welcome back the souls of the dead.
“How you doing, my brother?”
It starts to rain without warning, heavy, like it does in films. I hadn’t seen such rain in Tokyo and reckoned it was something that never really happened. Don’t know why. Not when they get earthquakes and eruptions tidal waves and all sorts of stuff. But tonight it rains like a movie and my windshield wipers struggle to cope. Paper lanterns collapse and die as their flames are snuffed out.
“I have disgraced my family,” says Nakata.
This is serious.
“My father taught me all my life never to kill. Never to take a human life. To follow the teachings of Siddhartha. I have condemned my soul.”
Think, Bronson. “You took a life to save lives, you know that.”
“That is not an excuse, not a reason.”
“Would you rather I was dead? Because I would have been. He was going to kill me.”
“I have ruptured the fabric.” Of the Universe, he means.
“Sandez was doing a hell of a lot more rupturing.” Silence. The wipers scratch across the windshield and my teeth grind in response.
I speak again. “You killed him, yes. But that’s something you have to learn to cope with, Nakata-chan. He wasn’t worth a damn, anyway.”
“Everyone is worth a damn.”
“Some people are beyond redemption.”
He says nothing. “I got noodles,” I say, “can I share them with you?”
Another pause. “Yes.”
I will soon be going back to New York, back home, and I’ll miss Nakata. He’s a gem, bound for greatness. He may never make a great cop, he’s too good for that. But he’s smart and quick, got strong moral fibre and he will someday make a great something, but I don’t know what that something will be. I’ve just got to get him through this black patch.
He’ll make it, he’s got a head on his shoulders. I know I’ll keep in touch once I get home. I’m terrible at doing that normally, but Nakata is one of those people you want to keep. So I’ll stay in touch.
Be nice to remain here. There’s a certain peace in Japan that’s completely opposite to America. Just as violent and nasty and riddled with all the worst crimes, but I feel a tranquillity here. Perhaps it’s Nakata’s influence. That Zen-like calm. I think about honour a lot. Would be nice to stay.
As I leave Roppongi I drive around a group of dancers that the rain could not disperse and I’m finally through the crowds and heading out towards Nakata’s home. I should have picked up the noodles out here, they’ll need reheating now. I try to call my buddy but the battery cuts out. The car wipers seem louder than ever.
Four minutes later I’m parking outside his place. The lights are on. I grab the take away and run through the rain, hunching my shoulders like it’ll keep me dry.
It’s cold. I shiver, and shake the drops from my hair as I ring his doorbell. Water trickles down my spine inside my coat and my trousers are soaking up to the thighs. I wait.
All of a sudden something occurs to me. I try the door and it’s unlocked. Course, he knew I was coming and it’s torrential. Wouldn’t keep me waiting out here.
I curse my stupidity and go in, squeezing rain from my hair and kicking off my shoes. Wonder if I can arrange some kind of transfer, find a place near here? Nothing to go back for, really. This case has ended here, in Japan, and so has my desire to go home.
Also, I’m looking forward to Nakata’s poetry reading in a couple of week’s time at the Moon-viewing celebration. He read some to me last week, his work in progress. I couldn’t understand a damn word, but I liked the sound of his voice. It should be good – poetry, sake and friendship.
I can hear restful traditional Japanese music as it floats down the stairway and I follow. “Noodles!” I shout. “Hope you got two plates.”
At the top of the stairs I reach the doorway to Nakata’s living room. It stands ajar and I can see the framed kanji on the wall that depicts eternal existence and peace. I love Nakata’s home. Spotless, peaceful and clean.
When I push it open the first thing I see are the dark red stains on the cream rug.
“Oh Jesus no.” I drop the noodles, they make a mess on the floor. I look at the mess but I’m still seeing the bloodstained knife in my Japanese friend’s cold hand.
I can’t bring myself to look back at the prone figure slumped forward sitting cross-legged on the red sheet that was white. His hands reaching out to me palms up, begging forgiveness. I try to speak, but words fail me.
The first thing that occurs to me is to call in and report the incident. My cell phone is dead.
I go to the house phone, avoiding his body and trying not to step in any of the blood.
As I report in, I stare absently at the soroban, the customary abacus, and for some insane reason my mind is overtaken with thoughts of how traditional these people are and yet how modern too.
I can’t help looking round the room at the sake-server, the kanji on each wall, the fantastic sound system and television. Nakata kept this place tidy. He even washed the sake cup he’d been using.
The only mess he’s left is himself.
There’ll be no moon-viewing poetry. No more visits to the holy temple, no more karaoke.
I walk to the window and look out through the streaked glass at the house across where an O-Bon celebration is taking place inside, away from the rain and the blood.
I raise my hand to the cold glass pane and emptiness threatens to suck away my guts. I am far away from home.
I decide to take the soonest available flight back to New York. Japan has lost its magic, and it feels like there is no safe haven anywhere.
I belong in New York. It’s in my blood.
© Chris Young October 2011