I’ve never been outside of Japan before. It felt weird to be in Thailand. The boat trip there only reminded me of how bad things had gotten in Japan. It started when my master, Akira-kun, and I made it to the harbor. Mikado made his way to the captain.
“Let me do all of the talking,” he said. I kept Akira by my side as my master spoke to the captain. After a short conversation, he returned to us.
“We are all good to go,” he said.
“Yay!” Akira-kun said. I patted him on the head.
“Let’s go,” my master said. We boarded the ship with the other refugees. They all looked tired. I could understand their pain. They’ve lost someone dear to them to the plague. Their homes reek of death. All means of transportation have been cut off. No trains, no cars, and no airplanes. What was left of the government order those who were left to leave as soon as possible. I shivered as I remembered learning the fate of mom and her boyfriend.
I think we were in Sapporo at the time. I pleaded with my master to try and take me to Okinawa.
“I have to my mom again,” I said. “Please! I have to know if she’s okay.” Mikado would try not to look at me or change the subject altogether.
“Look,” he told me one day. “You don’t want to see what happened to Okinawa and your mother. It’s not good.” I pressed my lips together as I stared at him with big eyes.
“But I have to see it for myself!” I said. “I haven’t been able to call her in months. It tears me up inside not knowing. Even if she is dead, I will feel better knowing the truth. Please, I have to see. Take me there. I don’t care how. Just get me there.” My master sighed as he flicked out his cigarette in the ashtray by the window sill.
“Do you really want to see it?” he asked. I slowly nodded my head. He sighed and rubbed his forehead.
“Fine,” he said. “We’ll go in the morning.” I quickly bowed my head.
“Thank you!” I said.
“Please,” he said. I sat up and cleared my throat. Mikado took another smoke.
We took the bus down to Kyushu. We got to see more of Japan dying along the way. There were virtually no people on the streets. The bus was almost empty too. Aside from us, there were only three people onboard. I think it was a mom and two small children by her side.
“Wow,” I whispered. “It’s so quiet on here.”
“Yes,” my master said. I looked out the window at the dead or dying landscape. There aren’t any animals in sight anymore. The buildings looked abandoned with their lights turned off. This happened in the course of six years? I shivered as I kept my eyes down.
It took about a week to get down to Kyushu. We took a boat to Okinawa. I didn’t think that that trip would be so silent. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. What if Mikado was right and the plague had spread down that far? That couldn’t be right. This plague couldn’t be airborne, could it?
“This is not a normal plague,” my master said. I looked up at him with big eyes. Mikado had stern look on his face as he turned to me.
“It changes and evolves to claim its victims,” he said. “They designed it that way to wipe entire populations except those like me.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Who made this plague?” My master lowered his gaze.
“The Tandeki Group,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“They took everything me. My friends, my home, my parents, my gang, they even took the woman I love.” My master shuddered as he looked out at the water.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
“I had to fight to get my son back,” Mikado added. Akira-kun rested his head on his dad’s lap. We didn’t speak for the rest of the boat trip.
When we got to Okinawa, it looked deserted. Not many birds sang in the sky. Already, I had a bad feeling about this. My master put her hand on my arm.
“We can turn back if you want,” he said in my ear. I shook my head.
“I can take this,” I said. “I have to know the truth.” I took in a deep breath and walked forward. My master and his son followed behind. I felt like I was walking through a horror movie. We couldn’t see a single soul in sight. I tried my best not to say a word. Something inside of me wouldn’t let me think the worst. Maybe mom and her neighbors were fine and holed up in their houses. There’s no way they could be dead from the plague.
I kept looking at my master as we walked. The look in his eyes showed me what he really wanted to say. I could guess what he really wants to say. I shoved my hands into my pockets and kept my eyes forward. If only I could just make the call to the house. I turned my head.
“Can we stop by and make a call?” I asked.
“Sure,” Mikado said.
“Thank you,” I said. We found an old payphone along the road. I dug into my pockets and pulled out my phone card. The ringing on the other end of the line made my stomach turn. To my fear, nobody picked up.
“She’s not picking up?” my master asked. I forced myself to smile as I turned around.
“It’s fine,” I lied. “She’s probably in the other in the house or outside.” I couldn’t even believe the words that were coming out of my mouth. I turned my back and tried again. After about two more tries I hung up the phone.
“Tell me,” I said at last. “You don’t think that she could’ve…”
“Do you really want me to tell you or do you want to see for yourself?” he asked. “Think hard about that.” I pressed my lips together.
“Just take me home,” I said.
“Okay,” my master said. The walk to my neighborhood felt like walking up to an execution. The more we walked, the more doubt sank in. I didn’t know how I would take finding out my mother was dead. We had been keeping in touch until earlier that year. I don’t why we stopped talking. I didn’t think much about it at the time.
It should’ve been a relief to make it back to my neighborhood. But instead, I felt like crying.
“You can let it out if you have to,” my master said with his eyes. I smiled and nodded.
“Thank you,” I said back with my eyes. The silence around my neighborhood didn’t help. I couldn’t see any cats or dogs running around. In fact, the trees looked like they had more life to them compared to the houses. I shoved my hands into my pockets. I silently prayed that there would be someone in sight.
“Jessie?” I heard in the distance. My heart jumped in my chest. Wait, is that…? I lifted my head to see an old woman wearing brightly colored sweats running towards me. My jaw dropped.
“Mori-san?” I asked. “Mori-san, is that you?” The old woman jogged over to us. She stopped to catch her breath. I backed up as she looked me in the eye.
“Jessie? Is that really you?” she asked. “Oh my lord! It is you! We thought you died in the city!” I looked around at the empty neighborhood.
“What happened here?” I asked. “Where is everybody?” The glow dulled from my former neighbor’s eyes.
“Most of them are gone,” she said.
“What?” I asked. Mori-san lowered her eyes.
“That plague took over the mainland and some of the people came down to Okinawa,” she said. “They brought raids and chaos with them. Your mother and Jun ended up trapped here. Jun couldn’t go home to his parents in Yokohama.”
“Are they still…?” I started to ask. The old woman sadly shook her head.
“No…” I murmured.
“I’m so sorry, dear,” she said. I fought to keep from crying, but my eyes welled up with tears.
“What happened?” I asked. Mori-san looked down at my hands.
“Your mother and Jun had plenty of supplies in their house,” she said. “They stayed locked in with the news and your voice on the phone. But back in spring, a group of thugs broke into the house in the middle of the night.” Tears welled up in her tired eyes.
“They killed your mother and Jun and robbed them,” she said at last. She started crying before I did. The whole time, my master didn’t say anything. I don’t even think Mori-san even looked up and saw him once. Part of me thought that Mikado and Akira-kun turned invisible when they saw Mori-san walking over to me. At the time, we were too wrapped up in the grief to take notice.
I don’t know what happened to Mori-san after that. I would love to believe that she got off of Okinawa when the plague and loneliness became too much to bare. But more than likely, she’s probably dead just like the others.
I spent the rest of the day crying. My master left me to get it out of my system. Akira-kun rested his head on my lap. If it wasn’t for them, I would truly be alone.
I looked around at everyone on the boat. They are just like us, displaced and robbed of life as they knew it. The people looked so cold and tired. I don’t think they’ve eaten in days. My guess is that they just wanted to get out of Japan just like we did. They have no idea where they are going. They know they just can’t stay there. As I looked around, something else caught my attention. The children here only speak broken Japanese. They looked more feral if I had to be honest. They only seemed to know how to say “cold” and “hungry”. When I offered one of them food, they looked at me like I had two heads.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Here. Just take it.” The little girl I was talking to just stared at me. I had to place the candy in her hand before returning to my spot on the boat. Akira-kun looks prim and proper compared to them.
“They’ve been left to fend for themselves,” my master said. “The adults are too busy being worried about themselves. They’ve stopped caring about the children.” I looked at the little children on the boat.
“Then who brought them on here?” I asked.
“It wouldn’t be right to leave them behind either, would it?” he asked.
“I guess not,” I said. I look back at the children who didn’t seem to know where they were or how to deal with their current situation. At least, they will get a chance to live. But where will they go?
“That is not our place to worry,” my master said.
“But…” I said.
“What can you do for them?” he asked. “Will you be able to do anything for them?” I opened my mouth, but then closed it again.
“Exactly,” Mikado said. “I don’t mean to come off as sounding cold, but that’s how it is now.” I drew my knees to my chest. I hated when he had a point sometimes.
It felt good to be on dry land again.
Just looking at Thailand sent me for a shock. There was actually… people here. I blinked several times. People were acting normal here. They had cell phones. The streets looked so packed. I backed up, covering my mouth.
“Is this a dream?” I asked.
“No,” Mikado said. I turned when I noticed how his tone sounded.
“You don’t think this will last long, do you?” I asked. He didn’t answer me.
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t be like that. You know what we need? Let’s go get something to eat. Are you hungry?”
“Not really,” he said. I frowned as he turned to me.
“Oh,” I said.
“But, I don’t see why not,” my master said. I breathed out as I rested my hand to my chest.
“Thanks,” I said. But then, I paused.
“Don’t about money,” he said. “I will have it covered.” Akira-kun tried to take my hand, but I pulled it away. Please don’t, little dude. I don’t feel like speaking my thoughts aloud again. Instead, he walks over to his dad. Mikado patted him on the head.
I had a little trouble adjusting to life around downtown. Japan had been so quiet and empty for so long. Even some of the stores were cleaned out. There was no one to stop the people from raiding them. I knew because I did it once or twice for my camera. Hm, maybe I should film around Thailand later. Thinking about it now, I couldn’t help but feel that my master could be right. How long before the plague takes over here too? I shuddered at the possibility.
“They should be fine by now,” my master said. I turned, frowning.
“Why do you have to do that?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear your thoughts this time,” Mikado said. “I just noticed the look on your face.”
“Oh,” I said.
“What do you want to eat?” he asked. I shrugged and shook my head.
“Do you like spicy food?” my master asked.
“Kind of,” I said.
“What exactly do you want?”
“I don’t know. Some noodles, maybe.”
“Okay, we will get noodles then.” Mikado put up his hand when I started to speak. “I took you not to worry about money. I ’ve got it covered. Don’t ask me how.”
I just closed my mouth.
We found a small noodle booth near the “spice area” in the middle of downtown. My master ordered the food. His Thai almost made me think that he was a native. I could barely keep up with him and the vendor. Part of me hoped that the food would at least be edible. I felt a little hand on my shirt. I looked down to see Akira-kun looking up at me. I patted him on the head.
“There, there,” I whispered. “Lunch is coming.” The little boy perked up. Mikado returned to us with the food.
“What did you get us?” I asked.
“Pad Thai,” my master said.
“Is it good?” I asked. He gave me a look asking if I was being serious. I rubbed my forehead.
“Of course it will be,” I said. “You ordered it after all. Forget I asked.” The pad Thai actually tasted pretty good. I felt my master’s eyes on me as I was chewing.
“This is good,” I said. I could’ve sworn I saw him smile for a second. Akira-kun sat beside him eating up his lunch.
“So, what are we going to do here?” I asked. Mikado put his hands behind his head.
“Stay around for a few days,” he said. “Look around for a bit. And then leave.”
“And go where?” I asked.
“Anywhere, really,” my master said. This time, he only had tea.
“Is that any good?” I asked.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s not Japanese tea.” My master took another sip. “I will check us into a hotel for the night. After that, see where staying here will get us.” I looked down at my food.
“You’re not eating again,” I said quietly. He looked down at his tea.
“Oh,” my master said.
“I’m worried about you,” I said. “I don’t want you to waste away.” My master glanced away.
“I will be fine,” he said. I gave him my usual look.
“Come on now,” I said. “You always say that.” He looked in my eyes.
“You don’t have to,” my master said.
“Yes, I do,” I said. “You and Akira-kun are all I have.”
“It shouldn’t be that way,” I heard him mumble. I gave him a curious look.
“What did you say?” I asked. He didn’t say anything as he takes another drink of his tea. I made myself finish my lunch. How would these kids fare here in Thailand? Did Mori-san finally leave Okinawa? How long before the plague comes for us here? Would we have to keep going like this for the rest of our lives?
I glanced over at our master. I had a guess about what he was going to say.
“Go on,” I said. “Spit it out. I know you want to say it.” My master glanced up at me.
“Do you really want me to say it?” he asked. I lowered my eyes.
“Do I have a choice?” I asked. My master shrugged.
“Why do you want me to say it?” he asked. “You already know what I am going to say. So, what would be the point? Or maybe, you don’t really want to hear it yourself.” I frowned as I finished up my noodles.
“Can we just drop it?” I asked. I put down my chopsticks.
“Up to you,” my master said. Akira-kun finished his lunch.
“Yummy!” he shouted. I lowered my head to hide my smile. This little dude has become the glue that is keeping us together. Without him, I think my master would drive me nuts sometimes. I patted Akira-kun on the head.
“Are you ready to go?” my master asked.
“I will follow anywhere,” I said. Mikado finished his tea and placed his cup in my bowl. Once we cleaned up everything, I followed father and son into the busy crowd of Bangkok.
I can forget about how crappy things are just enjoy having at least one constant in my life.