“You mean Kay as in K. A.Y.?”
“No, K as the letter K. What is your name?”
Unusual, but I wasn’t that interested to probe further for what the K stood for. There were much more important matters I was hoping to discuss. “I’m Nik.”
“Where are you from, Nik?”
“Oh, that’s a nice place, isn’t it?”
I sighed. “I suppose so. How did you know last night I wanted to speak with Fujiwara?”
She smiled. “It was pretty obvious. Your intent was easy to see, besides you were staring in his direction.”
“So you were observing me?”
“I just noticed it.”
“Why did you and your guys prevent me from contacting him?”
“I told you, it’s not the way to do things here.”
“And you beat me up for that? You could just let the man himself refuse me.”
“Well, it’s my responsibility to make sure Fujiwara sama is not bothered by such nuisances. And you were persistent. Besides, your arrogance rubbed me in a bad way, so perhaps I exaggerated a bit.”
“My arrogance….” I chuckled and finished another cup.
“So…tell me, Nik from Holland, what do you want?”
“Easy. I want to fight for Yamato Damashi.”
She snickered. “Huh, which fighter doesn’t? We have our agents in Europe. If you were good enough you’d be contacted by them.”
This time I took the initiative to fill the cups and emptied mine before I answered. “I made a mistake.”
“Oh? What mistake?”
I didn’t want the conversation to go this way, I only wanted practical information. Her curious eyes, though, demanded a truthful answer, and somehow I knew she wouldn’t settle for less. “I lost a fight.”
I was ready to be laughed at or ridiculed, but she remained serious. “What do you mean?”
“I lost the fight that would get me noticed by the agents of Yamato Damashi. That’s why I came here. To seek another chance.”
“Hmm…” She continued to observe me with a thoughtful mistrust. “Not very self-promotional of you, but, it’s a sincere answer. Who told you about Fujiwara?”
“A friend did me a favour. I was told to come to this club and contact Fujiwara. That’s all.”
“But why Fujiwara sama?”
“I don’t know…Isn’t he the person that can get me to Yamato?”
She nodded. “He’s one of them. Who’s your friend?”
“I don’t think it matters. She only asked somebody else on my behalf.”
“All just a coincidence, then.” She lowered her head while her fingers played with the cup. “Omoshiroi desu ne, interesting….I had you down as another one of those visiting, cocky fighters…” She continued muttering something in Japanese, more to herself than to me, while emptying the flask into our cups.
My body began to feel soft and my head light. I leaned my forearms on the counter, transferring some of my body weight onto it. I was surprised to find myself affected by the sake so soon.
“It’s the last piece of sashimi. You sure you don’t want to try it? You know, there’s a real sushi chef behind the bar that makes it. For the club exclusively…”
“No, thanks.” I was suddenly very tempted to slump forward and rest my head over the counter. As I slowly slid downwards, a glass with transparent liquid and ice cubes was pushed in front of me.
“Let’s play a game!” suggested K, who all of a sudden became very energetic. “Take these two pairs of chopsticks and hid them behind your back. Then take a random number of them in one hand and hold them up without showing them to me. The other person -- which would be me, needs to guess how many chopsticks you’re holding up. If I guess right you need to drink up this glass. If I fail, I need to drink it. Then I’ll do the same.”
“Umm, okay…how ---” Before I could say anything, she pushed two sets of chopsticks in my hands. “What is this drink?”
“It’s called shochu… Japanese traditional liquor. It tastes good. Trust me.”
The exaggerated grin on her face didn’t inspire me with too much confidence, but I complied and held up two of the four sticks. She guessed wrongly and drank. It was my turn to guess and I failed as well. I downed the glass. While the liquor definitely tasted better than the sake, it was also much stronger and surprisingly energizing.
“So, what exactly you do for Fujiwara…apart from preventing guys like me approaching him?”
She seemed to be more concerned with guessing the number of the sticks I held behind my back than by my question.
“I’m his proxy,” she replied focusing her eyes even more, as if she was trying to see through me.
She grinned. “Three! You have three chopsticks!”
I revealed my hand and she was right. She clapped, poured more of shochu in my glass, and waited eagerly for me to drink it.
“Why don’t you tell me about the fight you lost….oh, and it’s my turn again.” She repositioned herself on the stool a few times to make sure there was no way for me to see behind her back before she chose the number of sticks.
I leaned with my elbow awkwardly on the counter, almost slipping down. The game became quite enjoyable. “It was the most horrible thing that ever happened to me. It almost destroyed me.”
“Fighting is something I need to do. It’s almost as if I had no choice. I can’t imagine not being able to fight. You know, like saying to a writer not to write, or to a singer not so sing…” The damn liquor definitely got me talking. “Yamato Damashi is the best fighting organization and the mere thought that I would never be able to fight for it because of that one mistake I made… well, life didn’t make sense anymore.” Oh, shit! What the fuck am I babbling about!
“These are some big words. You have to guess!”
She showed me one stick in her hand and proudly shook her head. I drank yet another glass.
“What about your family? Your parents? How do they see your fighting ambitions?”
“They…they don’t understand. I left because…”I momentarily lost my train of thought. “…. It’s better for me and for them. I don’t plan to go back. I stay here and I fight or I die.”
“Ooo, big words again. Three!” she announced, looking excited.
Shit! Another glass went down my throat. “Look, I would never do this for anything else or anybody else…but… I’m asking…no!…I’m begging Yamato Damashi to give me a chance. Let me talk to Fujiwara. I promise, I won’t disappoint….One.”
She kept smiling. I already reached for the glass, when she showed her hand and this time I was right. Giggling, I pointed my finger at her.
Her next guess was right again though, and as I raised the glass to my mouth my hand faltered a bit too much. She placed her hand on top of mine to steady it, and help me to bring the glass to my lips.
“I wanted to ask you…did you tell that guy to kick me in my face?.. Six…”
“Baka, stupid…” she giggled. “There’s no six…we only have four sticks max…drink!”
“Why my face?”
She grinned. “You keep touching your jaw.”
“Like checking it, if it’s all right. And you kept protecting your face first when they come at you. It was an easy weakness to spot. A recent injury, maybe?”
I gazed at her in awe, mostly because I was drunk, even though I had to admit she impressed me with her keen perception. I was not aware at all that I was showing such an opening when fighting.
“You’re right. It’s an injury that happened in the fight I lost. It was pretty bad.”
“Well, nothing happened now, did it? Even if you got hit at the same place. You don’t need to be afraid.”
“Right,” I agreed, although I didn’t feel as confident as she did about it.
“You cannot fight well if something like this holds you back.”
“Yes, right…right.” I suddenly turned into her most eager consenter.
“Three, is it?”
I lost the count of how many glasses I poured down my throat. The next time she revealed her hand, I had a hard time discerning how many chopsticks she held. As much as I tried to focus my eye, their number seemed to be constantly changing.
“Hey, you okay? Your face looks kinda yellow.”
“Yeah…sure…have I guessed correctly?” I reached toward the glass and tried to bring it to my mouth, but to no avail. As if there was a delay between my perception and the actual movement. “Fuck…Why does everything have to be so hard here?”
“What do you mean?”
Finally my lips managed to catch the rim of the glass. As I took a sip, the whole image in front of me – that of K, James and Ela at the end of the counter, and the counter itself tilted sideways. The glass slipped from my hand and a hard surface hit my face.
“I’ll be just fine,” I heard myself whisper, realizing my left cheek was pressed hard against the counter.
Hands on my body, I was being pulled up.
“I’m fine....leave me, I just….let me to speak to Fujiwara.”
“Can you walk?”
“Yes…let me go….”
“Sunny…a little help please?”
“Oh my gosh, K, why did you get him so drunk? Can’t you see he’s unwell?”
“I…I didn’t really plan to…”
“I think he should see the doctor…”
“Kuso! Get Shin, let’s take him out of here…”
“I can walk...”
“Couldn’t find Shin...”
“Grab him under the other arm…”
“Oh, he’s heavy…So is he a real fighter? What’s his name?”
“Sunny …. could you rather open the door? And call a taxi.”
“W-where…are you taking me?”
“I did already…It will be fine, mister, don’t worry…”