K rubbed her hands contentedly as I put the plate with raw fish before her.
“How come you get the sashimi plate? I didn’t see it available at the self-service counter.”
She grinned. “We proxies sometimes get a special treat.”
The pieces started to disappear in her mouth. She ate fast and, in my opinion, a lot for such a skinny person.
By the time I started on my second bento, she had already finished her plate and was now watching me eating.
“You need to be careful about weight,” she remarked.
I scoffed. “Don’t worry, I’m well within my weight class.”
Few seconds passed before I realized her remark might have been more meaningful than just a provocative comment. “Why did you mention that? Do I have any fights planned in the near future?”
I waited for her to expand on her answer, but it stayed at sharp no. Although slightly disappointed, I didn’t try to discuss it further. I haven’t even started with the proper training yet, and despite my growing confidence, I knew I wasn’t nearly ready for a serious fight.
I nodded my head and continued eating, with K staring at me over the table. I hated it when somebody was looking at me like that. I paused, grasped my chin, and made slight movements with my lower mandible. “Can I ask you something?”
“Go ahead,” she said.
“Where are your other fighters? Other proxies seem to have several.”
K leaned her forearms on the table, intertwining her fingers. “I only have one fighter. You.”
“I prefer to work with one fighter at a time.”
“I see.” I kept on eating while musing over her answer. If I was really her only fighter, she certainly didn’t give me much of her time and attention.
“There’s another pressing issue….my visa, it will expire soon.”
“It’s being dealt with. You’ll get a working visa for one year with the possibility of extension. Until you’re the fighter for Yamato Damashi, you don’t have to worry about that.”
“Great.” I finished my bento and placed my elbow on the table, supporting my head in my hand. “You said we have some things to discuss?”
“Yes, we do. But before that, could you please take the trays away and bring me a beer?”
She looked at me sharply and replied very slowly. “Yes, a beer.”
Putting on a displeased face, I did as she told me, and returned with a bottle of Asahi and a cup of green tea.
“So…” She opened the bottle and poured the beer into a glass. “You will start with the training. In the gyms I mean.”
“Tomorrow. After breakfast.”
“Ok.” I nodded, trying to hide my excitement. “I could also get up earlier, and do a short training before breakfast like others do-- “
“After breakfast I said.”
“What kind of training are we going to do?”
A sudden ruckus diverted her attention towards the entrance. Following her stare I saw the flashy suit proxy entering the hall with a group of his fighters, talking and laughing loudly. He and the ponytail guy sat down at the nearest table, while the remaining three fighters continued to the food counter and started to pile dishes on trays. Once their trays were full, they joined their proxy at the table and unloaded some of the meals in front of him and the ponytail before they sat down to eat theirs.
“I see some of the fighters also get served,” I remarked looking over my shoulder at their table.
“Yachi is Kentaro’s prime fighter, that’s why. You met him in the club, remember?”
“Barely,” I lied. How could I forget such an annoying fucker.
“Kentaro, the guy in the bright blue suit, he’s the third proxy of our clan.”
“Yeah, I’ve met him a few days ago.”
When I turned back I saw the surprise on her face. “Yes, right here in the dining room.”
“Kentaro…” She let out a sigh. “He can be a real ass. You better stay away from him.”
I remembered his mocking attitude towards me and the way he spoke about K. “His surname is Fujiwara, right? Is he related to the oyabun Fujiwara?”
“He’s his nephew.”
“We should go.”
“Because of him?”
“What?” She frowned dismissively. “No, not because of him.”
“Okay,” I complied and followed her.
K tried her best to avoid the table where Kentaro and his pals sat, but the moment she came the closest to it, Kentaro stood up and put himself on her way.
“K,” He made a slight bow and addressed her in English: “I’m surprised to see you here. How have you been? It’s been long.”
“Kentaro.” K reciprocated with a quick bow and tried to get past him.
“Hey, K, wait, wait… Is this your fighter, then?“ His eyes shifted at me.
K ignored him and walked right past him.
“Why in such a hurry, K? Pubs don’t open this early...” he called after us, loud enough for the entire hall to hear. Snickering and muffled laughs erupted from all sides, the loudest coming from Kentaro’s corner at the table.
K stopped. Our eyes met, and I nudged my head slightly, trying to convey to her that if she wanted me to do something I was at her disposal. That prick got on my nerves too.
She pressed her lips tightly together, turned, and marched back to Kentaro. I followed closely behind, ready to intervene if things escalated. But K seemed calm and her voice was slightly condescending when she spoke.
“Kentaro kun, do you still remember those three girls, your classmates in high school? The ones that kicked your ass in the alley behind the school gym?”
Kentaro’s eyes grew bigger and his lower lip slightly dropped.
“No? Cause I do. I remember it very well because I saved your ass back then. You were crumpled up on the ground, crying, while the three of them were kicking you.”
Kentaro hissed some angry-sounding Japanese words.
“Why am I bringing this up now?” K continued in English, tilting her head patronizingly to the side. “Because, Kentaro kun, it seems that this memory stayed with you for much longer than I expected. I heard you still like to play it out sometimes, at certain establishments, where you ask the girls to kick---”
“Shut the fuck up, K!” he growled.
She chuckled and leaned closer to him. “Those pubs and night clubs you like to throw in my face so much…people there talk…” A condescending smirk appeared on her lips. ”Stay out of my way and leave my fighter alone and we’ll be fine…Got that, cry baby?”
Kentaro looked stricken and searched for support with his fighters, who, unsure of what to do, awkwardly averted their stares from their proxy. His face wrinkled in frustration and anger as he blurted out his response: “You’re a filthy drunk and a liar. You’re lucky my uncle cares about you so much. He should have never appointed you a proxy…What do you hope to achieve anyway?” He pointed his finger at me. “You think he’ll help you to get your shit together? Is he some kind of sick replacement for your stupid policeman?”
His words provoked a sudden change in K. The condescending attitude, which permeated her before, vanished, and she became very, for lack of a better word, serene. Then something strange occurred. The sound in the room disappeared and the quietness that followed was so absolute, I thought I went deaf. A strange tickling sensation in my stomach appeared just before all the air seemed to have been sucked out and then pushed back into the dining room, creating a crushing density. I felt its weight on my body, in my head, in my ears, as if I had dived deep into the water without equalizing the pressure.
K turned to me, her eyes searching for mine. I met her stare, and let myself get distracted by the deep green of her irises, until all the buzz of the dining hall returned. Noticing her brow furrowing and her quizzical look at me, I realized I had my hands pressed against my head. I felt extremely silly and immediately put them down.
Everything seemed normal and unchanged, except for Kentaro, who must have sat down sometime during my horrifying experience. He looked beaten, his stare was blank and cast downwards, and his face was drained of colour. I wondered what K said to him to make him so meek.
K tipped her head towards the exit. “Let’s go!”
I gladly obliged.
As soon as we stepped out of the dining hall I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled all the air, still questioning whether it all happened for real or it was just some sick trick of my mind. Worrisome thought began pestering me. What if K was right and I still didn’t fully recover? Perhaps it was the trainings...too soon and too intense…or the liver injury...maybe it’s permanent and I won’t recover at all?
“You’re okay, Nik san?”
“Yeah…” I swallowed the saliva. “I’m fine.” Maybe I just got dehydrated?
“See you tomorrow then.”
“Sure…” I replied, still distracted by my thoughts.
I kept vigilant during my walk to the lodging house, fearing any strange signs might reappear. But nothing happened and I felt perfectly fine physically-wise. I relaxed a bit and went over the incident between K and Kentaro in my mind. They obviously didn’t like each other for reasons that extended beyond the expected professional rivalry. Whatever it was I was pretty sure K wouldn’t tell me even if I asked. Things were complicated enough, without getting into K’s personal shit anyway, but I had to admit I was rather proud of my proxy today.
When I arrived in my room, the first thing I did was search for the small bottle doctor Sueno had given me, and hastily drank the disgusting liquid in it.