Without a doubt, the car we drove in was the ugliest car I had ever seen. Its dull white colour and box-like shape went hand in hand with its outdated dashboard and hard seats with brown, worn-out covers. Despite Shin’s careful driving, we got acquainted with every small bump on the road. There was no suspension system whatsoever. Staring at K’s head from the backseat, I couldn’t help but wonder, how was it that somebody who belonged to Yamato Damashi, could possibly drive around in such a car.
“Do you have enough space for your legs?” asked Sunny, who sat with me on the backseat. My legs were squeezed against K’s seat, which was pushed far back. I was pretty sure she was aware of my discomfort but blatantly ignored it.
“I’m fine,” I replied and leaned closer to Sunny. “Is he K’s boyfriend or something?”
I noticed a peculiar relationship between K and Shin. K talked a lot while Shin listened, nodded from time to time, shook his head, or turned briefly in her direction, without uttering a single word.
A nervous laugh escaped Sunny and her face turned all red. “Oh my God, no! They are just friends, childhood friends, but never…oh no…no no…”
“Okaaay,” I said loudly, stretching the word. Realizing I sounded way too much like the doc, I cleared my throat and asked in a quieter tone: “Is he mute?”
“No, he just doesn’t speak.”
“Right,” I said, nodding with my lips pressed together. ’Cause that’s perfectly normal.
“Why was he waiting outside the doc’s house?”
“He and Sueno san don’t go along very much. Sueno san makes fun of him,” Sunny whispered, covering her mouth with her hand.
The car stopped abruptly on the side of the road.
“I need the address of your hotel. Soon we’ll get to Tokyo,” said K, looking back at me from her seat.
I passed her the hostel’s card, which I always kept with me in case I’d get lost, and quietly observed the ensuing comic K’s verbal and Shin’s non-verbal debate on entering the address into GPS on Shin’s phone. For some unfathomable reason, it took them quite a long time to do so.
Once we finally hit the road I turned to Sunny. “Last time you said you’re K’s fan?”
“Hai, yes.” She nodded with a smile, grasped a strand of her hair and pulled it forward. “I even coloured my hair the same. Isn’t it nice? She has such a good taste…even the way she dresses… I’m so lucky she allows me to follow her around.”
I wisely withheld my comments. Such fascination with another person was new to me.
“Why are you her fan, though? Is K some sort of a celebrity?”
“Oh, yes…K is-“
“Sun-mi!” K’s sharp voice cut into our conversation. Hearing her actual name Sunny froze with her mouth open. Without facing us, K made a whole speech in Japanese, and Sunny eagerly nodded like a good soldier, uttering the word hai several times until K finished.
A forced smile appeared on Sunny’s lips before she resumed the conversation with me. “K is the first female proxy of Yamato Damashi. That’s why I admire her so much!”
“A proxy? I heard that before, but nobody cares to explain to me what that is.”
She paused and glanced over to K. When K didn’t budge, she asked: “You really never heard of proxies before?”
“Nope,” I shook my head. “Should I?”
Confusion showed on her face. “Hmm… I suppose outside Japan they might not be so known,” she muttered. After a thoughtful pause, her voice picked up energy again: “Let me explain to you a few things then. The proxies are responsible for handling the fighters. They in charge of selection, training, scheduling the fights, they are the ones standing in the corner when you fight. Here in Japan, they are almost as famous as the fighters themselves. More importantly, they are representatives of the oyabun. You cannot be a fighter for Yamato Damashi if you don’t have a proxy.”
“Wait, what’s an oyabun?”
She opened her eyes wide at my apparent ignorance. “Oyabun are the heads of the four clans of Yamato Damashi. Mr Minamoto Akihiro… you must have heard of him?”
“Oh yeah, that I did. He’s the president, right?” I never cared much about Yamato’s organizational structure. The information was scarce and there was also the issue of the language. But I did know the name of the main man behind it.
“Yes, and he is also one of the four oyabun. His clan is the strongest at the moment, not only financially, also his fighters are the champions in most categories. The other three oyabun are Mr. Taira, Mr. Tachibana, and Mr Fujiwara.”
“Yes,” Sunny nodded. “The man you wanted to meet in the club.” She put her hand before her mouth and giggled. “That was so random, by the way. Nobody dares to approach an oyabun like that.”
“Yeah well, how’s was I supposed to know.”
“Fujiwara sama is K’s superior. You see, every oyabun has his own proxies and they have their own fighters. If you want to compete in Yamato Damashi tournaments, you need to join one of the four clans. You can only join them if you are selected by one of the proxies. Fighters are almost never directly in touch with the oyabun, only with the proxy. That’s why K could not let you approach Fujiwara sama. It’s just how things are done here.”
It’s how things are done here…I began to hate that explanation. “All these clans, titles, and rules…it sounds a bit medieval, don’t you think?” I remarked casually.
Sunny turned to me not just with her head but with her upper body too and faced me with a serious expression. “Everything in Japan is closely connected with its past and traditions. The clans have a very long history. Of course their structure, titles, and their position in the society changed and adapted over time, but we are talking about centuries of continuous tradition. They went through wars, took part in major changes of this country, served under different Emperors…when you think about it it’s fascinating and commendable –“
“Ok, ok, I get it. I don’t need to know the whole history. So, K is going to be my proxy?”
“Yes, isn’t that exciting?” She was about to clap but stopped her hands in the air when K turned, placed her elbow on the top of her seat, and observed us from that position.
“Umm….she’s going to be such a wonderful proxy,” added Sunny, glancing back and forth between K and me. K, her eyes half-closed, nodded at her words, and grinned through her teeth.
Sunny’s enthusiasm was as usual over the top, while I still wasn’t sure what K being my proxy meant in practical terms. K was a person I didn’t get at all. Most of the time I found her irritating and she certainly didn’t have the vibe one would expect from a trainer or an agent. Frankly, I was a bit sceptical of depending on a woman in such a male-dominated environment. Her decisions seemed to be very random and on the spur of the moment. I just couldn’t imagine her holding an important role in an organization like Yamato Damashi.
On the other hand, the fighters who kicked my ass in the club followed her command, so maybe there was more to her than met the eye. I chuckled inwardly remembering the shadow that surrounded K in my dream. Maybe my subconscious was on to something.
I directed an intense gaze at K. Her drowsy eyes countered me boldly. Without breaking away from this unplanned staredown, she placed also her other elbow over the chair and leaned her chin on top of her hands. She seemed to be completely at ease in this position, while I was becoming increasingly self-conscious. Luckily, the car stopped and K changed her pose to look out of the window.
“Is this your hotel?” she asked
“My hostel, yes.”
“Get your stuff and check out. You have ten minutes.”
“Check out? But if I check out, I have nowhere else to sleep… and my work…I have no income...”
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,” said K in an overly polite manner. “You better get going …nine more minutes.”
I opened the door. ”And if I don’t get back in nine minutes, then what, hmm?” After going through all the trouble of taking me to the doc and now to the hostel, I was sure they wouldn’t just leave if I didn’t meet K’s stupid time limit.
She smirked but said nothing. I scoffed, shook my head at her, and got out of the car.
I rushed up the stairs to my room, grabbed the suitcase, and started packing immediately. I was about to close my suitcase when the door opened and Emile burst in.
“Fuck! It is you!” he cried out. He took a step closer, looking at me weirdly for a moment and then hugged me.
“Geez, man, what’s the matter with you!” I pushed him back and took some distance. Hugs, with men, not my thing.
“Where were you, Nik? It’s been like a week since you disappeared!” He passed his hand through his sleek hair and pushed them behind his ears. “I thought two things! That Sato or his thugs got to you or that they killed you in that strange club.”
“You’re close, but, everything’s fine now.”
“Fine?” He tilted his head to the side. “You know, I went to that club after you were gone for two days, but I didn’t get past the entrance. The thugs at the door would not let me in no matter what. I even asked Ogata sama for help. I was sure you were…” He paused and shook his head, looking downwards.
He waved his hand in dismissal. “But, here you are… so tell me, what the fuck happened to you, mon ami? ’Cause you sure don’t look fine...and what on Earth are you wearing?”
“I’m sorry, I got…. held up. But things resolved really well for me, better than I expected.” I closed my suitcase and placed it on the floor.
His eyes followed my movements. ”What’s with the suitcase? Look, if it’s work, don’t worry, I can easily arrange for you to come back.”
“No need, I’ll be leaving this place and also the work. “
He stroked his forehead, frowning. “I don’t understand…are you going back to Holland?”
I smiled. “No, I’m staying here. I’m going to start fighting again.”
He looked at me incredulously. “Here? In Japan? Huh…you never really told me anything about it, Nik…”
I started checking around the room if I forgot something.
Emile was observing me, confusion growing on his face. “So, that’s it? You’re leaving me? Just like that?”
“I’m not leaving you, Emile, I’m simply leaving this place. I mean, you have your own life I have mine. Sure, you did me a favour, but I believe I repaid it. We don’t owe each other anything.”
He scoffed. ”Bien….If that’s how you see it.”
I picked up the suitcase. “I have to go, sorry. Good luck with your plans.” I extended my hand to him.
He nodded and walked away without returning the gesture. At the door he stopped and gave me a sombre look “I thought you were my ally. Japan is not an easy place. Can be very cruel sometimes. Remember that, Nik.” With those heavy words, he left the room.
I didn’t expect Emile to get so upset over my leaving. Perhaps he wanted to keep me around to use me for another one of his selfish intentions, or maybe he was lonelier than I thought. I shrugged at the thoughts and took one last look at the room, hoping I was not doing a huge mistake by leaving.
The clerk at the reception desk immediately called Miss Isoyama after I said I want to check out.
“Torusten san, you look nice today. Japanese clothes suit you very well,” the old fox complimented me with a sweet smile and then put on a worried face. “Why you want to leave? The room not good?”
“No, no, it’s not that. The room was fine.”
“So, you going home?”
“No, just to a different place here in Japan.”
“I see….” She glanced at the computer screen. “You paid for the whole month and you have a week and a half left. You can’t receive money back.”
“That’s fine.” It was no use to argue with her about that. “But I’d like to have back my key money.” I pushed the room key to her over the counter.
“Please, wait,” she said, flashing the most polite smile while searching through the drawer below the reception desk. She pulled out an envelope and gave it to me only after I signed some form.
The envelope contained a month’s rent. It was the security deposit I had to pay before renting the room. Since I didn’t have much money left it came in handy. “Thank you, Miss Isoyama.”
She stepped from behind the counter and gave a deep bow. “You’re welcome, Torusten san. Please, take care, and come again.”
I bowed too and headed towards the exit. I was relieved to see the ugliest car on the planet was still on the parking lot.