Fiction 1. (WARNING: QUITE LONG)

I stepped out and took a deep breath. The door closed itself behind me. I always take a moment to absorb the world around me before walking out anywhere. Am I the only one who does that? Can’t be. After all, what other uses can a porch have? Maybe people use it some other way but, not me. For me, the porch is the middle ground. A loading dock. A lookout to see what the day might bring. Nothing much really. Just like any other day.
A car pulled up and out came a man from the depth of its belly. The man reached into his pocket and with one swift motion he’s got a phone by his right ear. A testament to his professionality. I started moving and my phone started ringing.
“Yeah. I saw you out front. I’m coming down.”
I took the stairs for no reason. Maybe I thought I’d feel different if I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I don’t know why I had that ridiculous idea but I thought it was pretty smart. I can assure you taking the stairs 12 floors down was not that smart. As I reached the ground floor, the man from earlier was standing in front of the elevator. I waved at him and he rushed to me.
“You took the stairs? I was about to go up!”
“Yeah. Please don’t ask why I did that. I have no idea.”
He looked at me with a fatherly look. At least it looks fatherly to me. It could be his annoyed look and I won’t even know. He raised his hand to look at his watch.
“We still have some time. Want to grab a drink?” he asked me.
“Let’s just buy something and have it in the car.”
The man nodded softly and turned around. Next destination, vending machine. I followed suit. He might not seem like it but he used to be a bodyguard. That’s right, a real bodyguard. How cool is that? Once, I tried telling strangers I worked as a bodyguard. Most of them are amazed and asked if I have ever worked for the prime minister or celebrities. I would just say yes. I wondered if that was really the case. Does a bodyguard only work for prime minister and celebrities?
“Mr. Sazae. You said you used to be a bodyguard right?”
“That’s right. Used to but it was already almost ten years ago,” he said with a hint of a laugh in his voice. I saw his soft smile through the reflection on the vending machine. He pushed the button in. Two coffee. I wanted a coke. “Are you going to ask if I worked for any celebrities?”
Bingo.
He laughed. This time out loud. Meanwhile, I was still eagerly waiting for an answer. “I must say, I did not expect you to ask me that,” he told. He held out a cup of coffee for me. “Well, truth is, no. I have never work for them. My company was a small one. Those people. Ministers, celebrities, they don’t ever bother with us. They already have huge security companies to take care of them on top of the police that generally just guards them during events. If you’re a young female idol, then you might have your fan clubs forming a security team. That’s another level though. My company, we deal with smaller clients. Usually some rich middle aged women, with too much money to spent, they hire us to guard from an imaginary stalker or sometimes paranoid salarymen thinking someone higher up is out to get them because they saw something they shouldn’t have. It is ridiculous. The only thing they will do is buy them into shutting their mouth.”
Huh. That was way more banal than I imagined.
“You’re not wrong if you think it’s boring. Life is never as colorful as the movies you know,” I nodded to say I’m listening. Though I must say, I didn’t quite understand how a bored bodyguard can switch to becoming an actor’s manager. I wouldn’t say his job now is more interesting than before. Maybe I’ll ask about it later.
I took a sip of the coffee. Refreshing. Was what I’d like to say but honestly it was really bland. We headed towards the car parked by the road. If it was not so early in the morning, I’m pretty sure we would already get a ticket. Mr. Sazae open the door on the driver’s side, me the other. It was a black, 1965 Pontiac Lemans. An absolute beauty. Mr. Sazae didn’t like her. He said the car was too old and he was more interested in getting a brand new Ford. Yuck. I could never get around modern cars. They look as if they are trying too hard to look edgy. They’re not.
Mr. Sazae put his foot on the pedal and off we go. Next destination, no. 302, Baystreet.
“Can we stop by a convenience store? This coffee is pretty bad.” Mr. Sazae said.
“Thank God. Let’s go. We have time right?” I replied. I checked the clock above the car radio. 45 minutes. “We have more than enough. I’ll need some drink too.”
Mr. Sazae put on the right signal light and off we go. Next destination, Seven Eleven.
He pulled over in front of the shop and asked if I need anything else. Just water was fine. In a moment he disappeared into the store. I was left alone in the car. I looked around inside the car. I thought Mr. Sazae must be lying when he said he hate this car. The car was so clean. Even the inside looked brand new. It looked as if it was poured with buckets of love every day. I could tell it is happy to be used by Mr. Sazae.
I was looking for some music to play. I was tired of listening to the songs in my phone. It was amazing that I could get bored when I have more than a thousand songs in my phone. I turned on the radio. Surprise surprise. Katy Perry on replay. On every channel. I think that’s a song lyric isn’t it? Anyway, I turned off the radio immediately. I looked around to see if Mr. Sazae kept any cds. Everyone needs music. Especially for a long drive. The glove compartment seemed suspicious. Sure enough, there were a bunch of cds in there. Happy End, The Blue Hearts, etcetera, etcetera. The Blue Hearts looked promising. I took it out, closed the compartment and put it in the cd player.
The Blue Hearts.
I checked out the back of the album. Track one, Linda Linda. That was it. Track two to twelve were written in Japanese. Mr. Sazae must have brought it in Japan. It was not bad. I couldn’t sing along but the chorus was really catchy. No. By the final chorus, I changed my mind. It was not “not bad”. It was amazing. What’s up next? Unreadable.
“Here you go. Mizu. It means water in Japanese,” he explained as suddenly as he entered the car. I reached out for the water in his hand and offered a smile as thanks. “Is this The Blue Hearts? I didn’t know you listen to them. I thought kids your age only listens to Katy Perry and those other guys?”
“I saw the cd in your glove compartment. Hope you don’t mind.”
Mr. Sazae adjust the rearview mirror. “Not at all.” He drove the car back onto the road. As careful as ever. Next destination, no. 302, Baystreet. This time for sure. “Do you like them? The Blue Hearts? Pretty good don’t you think?” he asked me.
I smiled like a kid. Who doesn’t? It’s not every day that you come across good music. “Yeah. I don’t understand a word they say but I like their sound a lot,” I explained. They don’t sound like they recorded it in a studio. The guitars and drums were rough. The vocal was spontaneous. It sounds raw. “The chorus is really catchy too,” I added.
Linda, Linda. Linda, Linda, Linda.
We drove on forward. The clock shows 7:35. Still quite early. The Blue Hearts was still playing on the stereo accompanied by Mr. Sazae’s soft singing. Boku no Migite or in English, My Right Hand. Mr. Sazae told me the title but I can only wonder what the song means. Maybe I should try learning Japanese in the future. Move to Tokyo in my 30s. That would be cool. Anywhere is better than this place anyway. Do you ever go anywhere and felt as if you don’t belong there? That was how I felt. I have a home here. I work here. But still it just felt wrong. This place was not home. Never was and never will.
I told a friend about this once. He said home is wherever I want it to be. He also said he couldn’t really understand what I’m saying. And I am pretty sure that he was quoting a housing loan commercial. Is there really a place out there for me? Being an actor, I moved a lot. One, I prefer to have a smaller house since I live alone. Two, these places don’t really want to keep me in their room once my fans know where I live. So I move before that happens. Mr. Sazae helped me with moving my stuffs. I don’t have a lot. Two bags at most. I don’t think it’ll be a problem if I was to move overseas. If I go to Japan, I might be able to bring Mr. Sazae along with me.
“Mr. Sazae. Do you ever think of going back to Japan?” I asked. Mr. Sazae was focusing chewing on some gum. He used to smoke but I told him not to smoke in front of me. So he quit.
“I guess sometimes,” he said. “But I move here for a reason you know?” He took a glance at me. I guess my face must be filled of eagerness as he continued talking before I got the chance to ask the question. “I was on a job. Bodyguard job. I got a phone call from my wife and she said my son was in a hospital. I wanted to run to the hospital but there are procedures, as you know. I called my boss, explained what happened and waited for my replacement. It must have been about an hour before my replacement came. It was late at night; I think it was almost 11 o’clock. I headed straight to the emergency ward. ICU is it? My wife was waiting and crying. My son was bullied by a couple of seniors. They must have been playing around. Picking on smaller kids for fun. But they accidentally hit my son’s head. They didn’t know what to do so they called an ambulance and ran.”
Mr. Sazae picked up his bland coffee and gulped it down before reaching for the water he bought earlier and took a sip of it. I could see him trying to hide it but the pain in his heart somehow found a way to manifest itself physically. I didn’t say anything out of respect. He put the water bottle by the door.
“Those kids. The ones that hit my son, they came to our house. When they told me what they did I swear I was about to do the same to them. My wife was far more tolerant than me. She understood those kids. I have to admit they have guts to come and apologize to us. My wife told them my son didn’t make it. I looked into each pair of eyes. They were all scared. Scared of me. Scared of their future. Regretting what they have done. They got on their knees and apologized to us. I told them these things happens and that they have to learn from their mistakes. They cried their eyes out that night with my wife. How can I still hate them after all that? After that, we met with their parents and they were all as devastated as we were. They offered us money as much as they could offer. My wife turned them down. It’s better for her to just be friends and look out for each other. She has a big heart you know. Unlike me. The only person I could blame was myself. There I was protecting a stranger when my own son was being bullied. What kind of father protects others more than his own son? Every day in Japan was a reminder of how horrible I am. I decided to leave. My wife understood and admitted that she too hadn’t moved on from my son’s death. After another teary night, she went back to her home and here I am telling my story to you,” he finished the story with a smile. A sadder smile than usual.
I sat there silenced. What do I say? “I’m sorry.” I muttered under my breath. Was that really the best thing to say. As far as textbooks go, I am pretty sure “I’m sorry” is the standard thing to say after a story like this. I stayed silent. Not knowing what to say next. Mr. Sazae let out a short laugh that sounded more like a cough.
“You don’t have to be sorry. You’re not even there when it happened,” he smiled. This time, with less sadness mixed in there. I could only smile back as a reply. I didn’t know his painful pass until then, but the fact that he was in the car with me and can still have a carefree smile was really amazing. I looked out the window of the car. I decided to roll down the window. I wanted to take in the air. Maybe I would feel different about this place. It didn’t help. I rolled the window back up.
“Do you think I can live in Japan?” I did not mean to ask that question. It came out by itself. “I feel as if I don’t belong here. Like a fish out in the sky. Isn’t that weird?” I elaborated. I gave myself an A+ for the bad metaphor. Good job!
“Why Japan?”
That was a good question. I don’t know. “I don’t know. Maybe it sounds right.”
“If it’s right for you, why not? Not everyone has the luxury of being born in the place where they belong. It’ll do you good to look for that place you can call home.”
Mr. Sazae was right. I have to look for my place. This place has been good to me but as far as I can tell, it secretly hates my gut. Maybe it’s my fault for not being able to fit in like everybody else so I’m sorry. This is it. Once I’m done with this job I’ll move to japan. I guess all those moneys I saved from living in a small apartment were all meant for this moment. This place is just a middle ground. A loading dock before I prepare myself to find a place. Everything tied together in the end. Very cool.
The car drove into a housing area. Mr. Sazae looked around for the house no. 302. The movie we were shooting was an indie movie. This was supposed to be the director’s house. How poetic was that? Me looking for a home and the final shoot of our movie being in the director’s home. That was pretty cool too. We pulled over in front of a blue colored house. Time on the clock, 7:55. I finished the water Mr. Sazae bought for me and offered to throw his empty coffee cup along the way. I walked over to the trash. I threw the bottle and the cup somewhere in there. I think I need to throw some stuffs out too. They say when travelling, only take the essentials with you. The camera crew had just started to arrive. We were quiet early. Mr. Sazae came out of the car with a notebook in his hand. Could only be his or my schedule for today. He walked slowly towards me as he studied the notebook.
“Hey. Mr. Sazae,” I called out to him. He raised his head a little bit to sign he was listening. “Want to go to Japan with me?”
He raised his head towards me. I thought he might want to go back and let things pass. He had been running away from his guilt for a long time after all. I wouldn’t preach at him. I just want to offer him an opportunity to go home. He thought about it long and hard. Felt as if he was making a hole in my face.
“Sure. Why not?” he said as he returned his gaze to the notebook. “But first, let’s settle things here, okay?”
“Yes. Sure,” I replied.
Essentials, checked. Next destination, Japan.

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