“Hi Shin, you arrived just at the right time! Have a sit,” Sunny greeted him and pushed a pillow towards him.
He sat across me and looked at the dishes before him. His eyes moved up from the table and briefly settled on me before they turned to Sunny. An appreciative smile appeared on his lips before he expressed his satisfaction with a nod.
“Hey, Shin, what’s up?” I greeted, only to receive another expressionless look in return.
“Shin is my neighbour. He’s living in the apartment upstairs. That’s how we’ve met, and that’s how I’ve met K, even though I knew about her before—“ Sunny paused uncomfortably in the middle of her sentence. “Erm…well… as you see I invited him for lunch too. Hope you don’t mind.”
“I was wondering about how the three of you got together… now I know. Shin, no mask today? I barely recognized you.”
I expected a less gentle face to match those intense eyes. His skin was almost as pale as K’s and contrasted with bangs of his black hair, which in a messy emo style hung over his forehead.
“So you live upstairs, mmm? Is your apartment the same size as Sunny’s?” I continued to taunt him with my questions without expecting an answer.
Sunny took one of the small bottles she brought to the table earlier. “This is soju, it’s a light alcoholic drink from Korea. I think the plum taste is the best, but there’s also soju with grape and the basic one with no special taste. You guys want some?”
Shin immediately held out a glass. After filling it up, Sunny turned to me. “Nik?”
I shook my head. “Thank you, but I’ll pass. I’m still taking the doc’s medicine. I shouldn’t mix it with alcohol.”
“Oh, right! Of course. You definitely shouldn’t. I’m sorry, I forgot.” Sunny quickly retracted her hand and poured some soju into her glass.
I smiled. “It’s fine. I’d like to try it one day, though.”
Sunny and Shin took a long sip, almost emptying the glass, then we all dug into the food.
The dishes were delicious. After I ate most of the fried pork and several rice balls, I took some marinated salmon that just melted in my mouth. I ate another one and eagerly reached for the last, third piece, but before I could grab it with my chopsticks, Shin snatched it and put it on Sunny’s plate. His doing made me feel slightly ashamed for being so inconsiderate and caused Sunny’s face to turn red. She thanked him with a timid, nervous nod, trying her best to avoid looking at him.
After we emptied all the plates on the table, I leaned back against the wall, feeling like I was going to explode. “Sunny, you’re a great cook,” I proclaimed, stroking my belly.
“Oh,” she smiled. “It’s nothing really. I’m glad you liked it.”
“Too bad for K to miss this one out,” I said, taking a cup of warm tea, which Sunny just poured from a teapot.
“Yes, too bad. I miss her. She seldom comes here anymore, right, Shin?”
Shin nodded, sipping from his cup.
“Before when she – umm…”
I tilted my head forward in anticipation of the rest of her sentence.
“Well, I just wanted to say, that she’s very busy lately.”
“Busy with what?”
“Well, you know, the clan matters.”
“Oh, I see… the clan matters,” I replied in a mock-serious tone and gave a pensive nod. “By the way, Sunny, do you know Miyu Akizawa?”
“Miyu? Of course, who doesn’t!” she exclaimed, looking relieved by the change of topic. “She is the current number one female fighter in Yamato Damashi’s biggest and most popular Super atomweight category. Her fighting score is 8:0, and she’s defended the title five times during the past two years. She likes to take the fight to the ground and her preferable technique is the armbar. Her nickname is the Arm Eater because she finishes most of her fights with this particular submission technique. She’s amazing!”
I listened astounded. “So you’re not just a fan of K but also a fan of Miyu, I see.”
She waved her arm dismissively and grinned. “Not really, I only know the basics. Why do you ask about Miyu? Do you like her?” She playfully nudged my shoulder, which earned me a stern look from Shin.
I chuckled. “I saw her yesterday…umm…at the spa below the gym, and I was wondering, is she from Fujiwara clan too? Is she living at our compound?”
“No, she’s with Minamoto clan, you know, the clan of the big boss…and she’s staying at their facilities in central Tokyo, close to the Imperial Palace. The fighters signed with Minamoto clan are all residing in a rather fancy five-star hotel near their training compound.”
Sunny nodded. “Compared to the Minamoto boss, Fujiwara sama is more old-style, adhering to such virtues as simplicity, modesty, and hard work. He treats his fighters accordingly. ”
“Well, I don’t mind that. Right now I have all I need at Fujiwara’s compound. So what would be Miyu doing at our gym then?”
“Don’t know… I guess she came for a specific training with one of Fujiwara sama’s coaches. Each clan has its own specialists.”
“Hmm… does that mean I can go for a training in the gyms of the other clans?”
“Huh, I’m not sure. I know that Fujiwara sama allows fighters from the other clans to train at his gyms, but I don’t know if other clans are open to this as well. You’ll need to ask K. Only your proxy can make such arrangements.”
Sunny rested her chin on her hand and gazed at me with a naughty smile. “So, about Miyu…don’t you think she’s very pretty?”
I shook my head smiling. “She is, but you know, all that matters for me now are the trainings.”
“Of course…” she replied, adding a few slow nods to it to emphasize her sarcasm.
“Tsk, Sunny…” I reached toward her head in an attempt to ruffle up her hair but she was quick to lean back and avoid it. A playful scuffle ensued until I managed to flick her on her forehead.
“Ouch!” She scratched her head and tried to make an angry face, but started to laugh instead. Suddenly a pink plush monster flew at me. I was able to catch it and throw it right back at Sunny.
I laughed out loud until I remembered we were not alone at the table. We both turned our eyes at Shin, who was calmly sipping his tea, looking serious and being predictably quiet.
“Well, this was fun, but I think it’s time for me to leave,” I said, patting the table.
Sunny protested and insisted all the three of us spend an evening out in downtown Tokyo. Feeling tired and a little bit uncomfortable by Shin’s sudden, sharp glances I politely refused.
She accompanied me to the train station, once again leading me through an intricate maze of streets in her neighbourhood. We paused by a small shrine hidden at the end of a narrow passage between two houses.
“The streets here don’t make much sense, do they? Do you feel lost?” she asked me, clinging to my arm.
“Totally,” I admitted.
“Not many people know, but this small neighbourhood once belonged to a family of shinobi… the ninja. The shrine that you see here is theirs.”
“Oh, so you live among the ninjas?”
She laughed. “No, they don’t exist anymore. It’s just a part of cultural heritage, a curiosity.”
“I like it, though, your neighbourhood,” I said as we continued down the street. “No high concrete buildings…”
“Yes, it’s nice living here. And I like my apartment.”
“I bet you do.” I smirked, remembering her red face as Shin gave her the salmon. “Must be fun having Shin for a neighbour.”
She averted her eyes and smiled.
“What’s his deal, anyway? Is he a student?”
“He’s an apprentice currently. He’s learning to make traditional pottery. The lovely teapot and the cups in which I served the tea at lunch were made by him. Didn’t you notice how beautiful they were?”
Shin making pottery? How random… I tried to remember the cups, but such things hardly ever caught my attention. “Umm…not really, sorry.”
“I know he might seem strange at times, but Shin is a really good guy. He didn’t have an easy life. He became an orphan in early childhood, you know, just like K.”
We reached the entrance to the subway station and we both stopped. “Do you remember which line you have to take to get back to Shinjuku station?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I said, my mind slightly distracted by her mention of Shin’s and K’s situation.
She gave me a flowery bag filled with food containers. “Don’t forget to give this to K. Tell her to warm it up before eating.”
“Not sure she deserves it. Thanks again for the lunch!” I remarked smiling and departed down the steep stairway.
“I’ll call K later to make sure she got it,” Sunny yelled from the top.
“Byeee Sunny!” I shouted back waving my hand at her.
The air became stuffy, and once again I found myself in a sea of people, rushing from one station gate to another. The train was crazy crowded, and only several stations after Shinjuku I was able to find an empty seat. I dozed off and almost missed my station.
When I walked into the park of the compound, I took a deep breath in, feeling appreciative of the nature around me. If I had been a bit envious earlier about the five-star accommodation of the other fighters, I was now perfectly happy with where I was.
I went directly to K’s place. With a smug smile on my face, I watched the guard as he passed his finger over the names on the list. A couple of days earlier I managed to convince K to put my name on it.
“Toru…Torusuten san…” he mispronounced my surname as his finger stopped at the end of the page. “Identification?”
I showed him my Yamato Damashi ID, even though I was quite sure he knew me already. Sticking duly to the procedure, he took a long look at the ID before he gave me a nod of approval. “Thanks,” I said and sprang up the stairs towards K’s room.
I knocked several times and tried the handle, but the door was locked and nobody answered. A sudden noise of the wooden floor creaking beneath the steps surprised me and as I went back to check on it I saw a large group of people coming up the stairs. Leading the way, in his traditional attire, was Mr. Fujiwara.
I quickly returned to K’s room and in a desperate attempt knocked on the door again. Still no response. Fearing my presence in this building might somehow rub Fujiwara the wrong way, I sneaked onto a small balcony at the end of the corridor just as the group appeared at the beginning of it.
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