• Visitors (a short story)

    Ladies and gentlemen!

    I have been working on this short story over the past few months. I wanted to take a break from the grisly horror stories about the femme fatale Hanako. This short story could rather be described as a drama. It's also a homage to Japanese Yakuza stories from the nineties. In order to freshen things up, the story takes place in rural Taiwan. Enjoy!  

    Visitors

                Today was the day.

                It was a brisk Sunday morning. Akira was sitting by the window of his small apartment. He could overlook the dirty backyard of the building. Trash cans were piled up in the left corner. A rusty bike lay in a puddle of mud. The old pickup truck near the entrance was partially covered by a light blue canvas. The quiet neighbour from downstairs was hurrying towards the bus stop on the windy old country road. He used his suitcase to protect his head from the increasingly heavy rainfall. The plum rain season had just started in late May and the upcoming typhoon season was predicted to be quite intense.

                Akira took a sip of his lukewarm liquorice tea. He had used his last teabag this morning. He took a look at his watch. It was eight o’clock.

                Someone knocked on his door. Akira tried to ignore it at first. But after a short break, the visitor knocked more vehemently. Akira sighed but tried to ignore the noise in the hope the visitor would just give up and go away. The knocking turned into banging and Akira could distinguish an irritated voice.

                ‘’Open up! I know you’re in there!’’

    Akira didn’t speak much Mandarin but he could tell that the visitor was getting increasingly impatient. As a matter of fact, Akira hadn’t adapted to Taiwanese culture at all even though he had spent the last four years of his life in the southern suburb of Kaohsiung. Akira had never wanted to live abroad. But after avenging the brutal murder of his boss, the leader of the Fujimoto clan, he needed to leave Japan in a hurry four years ago. The last message Akira had received from the son of his boss who had taken control of the small Yakuza clan in Kagoshima was already nine months old. He was told to stay put and wait for further instructions. Akira had been waiting patiently but started to wonder whether the members of his clan had forgotten about him.

                Akira looked at his watch. It was five minutes past eight. The elegantly dressed man in his early forties stood up and walked through the spartan living room towards the tiny floor with the old wooden door. He looked through the peephole and recognized his landlord. He was a small man in his early sixties with a grumpy attitude. His long grey hair looked as chaotic as the nervously spasming muscles in his face and his twitching hands. Akira opened the door just a little bit and his landlord hectically pushed his foot into the small opening.

                ‘’Mister Yamamoto, this is my last warning!’’

    Yamamoto wasn’t Akira’s real last name. He had told his few acquaintances to be an independent writer. The landlord always spoke very loudly and slowly to Akira as if he were a little bit deaf and stupid. Akira could understand this attitude since he actually didn’t speak much Mandarin. That didn’t mean that he didn’t understand what people were telling him. He was just a man of few words.

    ‘’You haven’t paid the rent for the last three months. I will give you until Friday evening to pay your debts. Do you understand?’’

    Akira nodded very slowly but didn’t show any emotion on his face. His calm demeanor seemed to confuse the landlord at first and then to startle him. He raised the index of his left hand.

    ‘’You better take this seriously! My patience has its limits! You have until Friday to settle your debts!’’

                The landlord turned around and Akira slowly closed the door. He went back to his chair in the living room and looked outside the window. Akira felt bad for not paying his rent but the last time his clan had sent some money was nine months ago. He hadn’t found a job in Taiwan. As a matter of fact, he had come illegally to the country on a fishing boat. Akira wanted to keep a low profile and prevent getting caught by authorities.

    The rain had intensified. The old lady from the apartment block across the backyard hurried to take her dresses from the retractable clothesline that reached from her window into the backyard. The grumpy old man from the apartment block on the left side of the backyard stared at Akira. This wasn’t the first time that the old man observed him. It seemed that he didn’t like strangers. The first time Akira had come across him when they had been waiting for the bus, the old man had spat right in front of his feet.

                Somebody knocked on Akira’s door again. Akira briefly looked at his watch. It was quarter past eight. He stood up a little bit faster than just minutes earlier and smoothly paced towards the door. He couldn’t see anyone through the peephole. Akira opened the door carefully and looked around. Nobody was there. The anonymous visitor had already left. Someone had left a small package behind. Akira took the small package and saw the crest of the Fujimoto clan on it. He smiled very briefly and went back inside his apartment.

                Akira went back inside the living room and saw a man with a long dark coat leaving the backyard. Akira went into the small but functional kitchen and took a cutter knife out of the bottom drawer. He meticulously opened the package and saw a little black box. Akira opened it very slowly and saw two objects. One was a teabag and the other one was a short letter. Akira was disappointed that there was no money in the box. He sighed and calmly read the letter to himself.

                ‘’A man will visit you today. He will be asking you for weapons. Serve him a cup of tea.’’

    Akira looked at the small teabag that was filled with dark herbs and smiled just a little bit. This was the first time in four years that he had a job to do.

    He took a lighter and burned the short letter in a small ashtray. He opened the kitchen window a tiny bit to get rid of the faint smoke. He went back to the living room, sat down and finished his cup of cold tea. It tasted terribly but he didn’t mind. A few young children were playing in the rain and throwing mud at one another. A housewife from the apartment block on the right side yelled at them. Akira took a small booklet from the desk and grabbed a pencil. He wanted to kill some time by writing a poem. This was Akira’s favourite pastime activity. He usually wrote one poem per day. His new poem was going to be about a man on a mission. Akira thought about some key words, a specific poetic form and possible stylistic devices. He decided to write a haiku. It was going to be short but efficient, just the way Akira liked it.

    Somebody knocked on his door yet again. Akira looked at his watch. It was almost ten o’clock. He put the booklet and the pen away. He breathed in profoundly, stretched his back and arm muscles a little bit and breathed out very slowly. Akira felt ready to accomplish his mission. He went to the front door and saw an elegantly dressed man who was holding a religious book in his hands. Akira felt a slight disappointment. His visitor certainly wasn’t the one who was going to ask for weapons. He hesitated briefly but decided to open the door nevertheless.

    ‘’Good morning, sir, would you have five minutes for me to talk about God?’’

    His visitor didn’t even wait for an answer and paced inside the apartment. He made a few superficial compliments regarding some decorations and introduced himself. Akira hadn’t even said a single word and was only listening to half of what the visitor had to say. He didn’t want to be impolite to the visitor. He was thinking about offering him a cup of tea until he remembered that he had run out of teabags earlier today and that the new teabag was for a special occasion later that day. He decided to offer the visitor a glass of plum juice instead and they sat down in the living room. The visitor only stopped talking after several minutes when he took a first sip of his plum juice. Akira didn’t want the visitor to overstay his welcome. He decided to take the opportunity of this brief moment of silence to ask his visitor some questions

    ‘’Tell me, do you have a family?’’

    ‘’Yes, I do. I have a wonderful wife and three daughters. We live in downtown Kaohsiung.’’

    ‘’Do you have a regular job?’’

    ‘’Yes, I do. I’m an administrator at the sugar factory. I work there from Monday to Saturday.’’

    ‘’Do you have any pastime activities?’’

    ‘’Well, talking with people like you is my pastime activity.’’

    ‘’How did you even get here today?’’

    ‘’I took public transit. It had two bus transfers. It took me about two hours to get here. I will visit all the apartment blocks of the suburb today.’’

    ‘’Do you get paid for this?’’

    ‘’My only reward is to get people interested in my religious community.’’

    Akira smiled just a little bit and then looked very seriously at his visitor. He seemed to be uncomfortable to be asked so many personal questions. His visitor was used to be the person who asked all the questions but not to be the one who needed to answer them.

                ‘’To keep it short, you spend every Sunday away from your beloved family. Despite a busy regular job, you are forced to spread religious propaganda to strangers every week. Due to your busy lifestyle, you have no pastime activities. You can’t afford a car and your religious community doesn’t even give you one which means that you need to take public transit for many hours to spread your messages. You don’t get any financial reward for what your doing either. And I suppose most people aren’t even mildly interested in the things you have to say. Your life seems to be quite pitiful to be honest. Who would possibly want to have a similar lifestyle by joining your community?’’

                This was the longest speech Akira had ever delivered in Mandarin. He paused for a while and waited for his visitor’s reaction. The man had his eyes wide open, opened his mouth as if to speak but closed it nervously when he didn’t know what to say. He made Akira think of a stranded fish.

                ‘’You have a wife and three daughters to take care of. Stop bothering strangers on a Sunday morning. Go home and spend some quality time with your loved ones.’’

                His visitor stood up, nervously walked past Akira and paced through the living room towards the door. Akira smiled faintly as he saw his visitor running across the backyard. He stopped briefly, turned around and looked Akira who was looking outside the window. Then, he abruptly turned around, hectically left the backyard and ran towards the bus stop. The visitor had left several things behind. Akira picked up his umbrella and his religious book, put both objects in the trash bin outside his apartment block and went back inside his apartment.

    It was about time to finish his haiku. Everything was ready but Akira didn’t know how to start. His mind was blank and he didn’t have any inspiration. He felt the void growing inside of him. It made him feel more and more uncomfortable.

    Akira decided that ne needed something to eat. He went into the kitchen. Akira had been eating instant noodles for the past two weeks. He would eat some more of them today. Akira was running out of money. Maybe his clan would send him some more money once he had accomplished his mission. Akira realized that his own life wasn’t so different from his last visitor’s life. He was also working for an institution that didn’t seem to care about his own personal well-being. The only difference was that the visitor had a family but Akira didn’t even have that. His brother got assassinated during a conflict with another clan six years ago. His mother had suffered from depressions since then and was slowly dying in a poor retirement home. His father had left her and Akira hadn’t heard from him for nearly five years.

    Akira slowly ate his noodles. The warm meal in combination with the humid atmosphere made him sweat. The noodles filled his stomach but were completely tasteless. Akira had run out of vegetables half a week ago and had emptied his last bottle of soy sauce last night. Akira stared at the empty bowl. He still didn’t have any inspiration for his poem.

    Someone knocked on his door with determination. Akira quickly rose from his chair as if he were awakening from a nightmare. He cleared his throat, wiped the sweat off his forehead and put his hair back in position. He looked at his watch. It was quarter past noon. Akira was ready to do his duty.

    Akira was surprised to see a woman when he opened the door. Then again, the letter from his clan didn’t specify the visitor’s gender. The woman in front of him made a tremendous effort to look younger than she actually was. She had dyed blonde hair. She wore heavy make-up. She was wearing a colourful dress that was much too small for her and would have rather fit on a young girl’s body. Akira estimated that she might be in her early thirties but tried very hard to look as if she were in her early twenties.

    She didn’t look unattractive to Akira but her eyes behind her make-up looked tired and her body language could be described as exhausted. Akira felt that he might have met the woman before but he couldn’t recall the circumstances. Taiwanese women often looked quite alike to him.

    Only now Akira saw that the woman wasn’t alone. A shy young boy was hiding behind her and looking at Akira with big and curious eyes. He was holding onto his mother’s dress.

    ‘’You have no idea how long it took me to find you!’’

                The woman spoke with an aggressive undertone but Akira didn’t react to that. He was a man of few reactions as well. His visitor seemed to be infuriated by his lack of emotions.

                ‘’Don’t you even recognize me?’’

                Her voice expressed a mixture of anger and disappointment. Akira thought about the women he had encountered since his arrival in Taiwan four years ago. And suddenly he remembered. The woman in front of him had been a waitress at a sushi shop in Taipeh where Akira had been twice or thrice shortly after his arrival in Taiwan. He recalled that the woman had looked very sad when he had met her because she had been going through a difficult break-up. Akira had tried to recomfort her and she had brought him to her modest apartment. They had made love all night and the next morning they both felt better. None of them had been interested in a serious relationship however and their paths hadn’t crossed again – until today.

                ‘’This is your son Wei-ting. I’ve taken care of him for the first three years. It’s your turn now.’’

                She pushed the young boy forward who still hadn’t spoken a single word. He looked back and forth at his nervously upset mother and his stoically calm father. He didn’t seem to understand what was going on.

                His mother nodded as if to convince herself that she was taking the right decision. She briefly looked at Akira again and he could sense the disdain in her eyes. The moment only lasted a second and the woman whose name Akira didn’t even recall turned around and walked towards the staircase. She hesitated briefly, expecting a reaction from Akira which never came and turned her head to look at father and son one last time.

                ‘’By the way, he is mute.’’

                Those were the last words she said before rushing down the stairs in disappointment. Akira looked at his son and still didn’t know how to react. He opened his door a little bit further and smiled at the boy in an attempted encouragement to make him come closer. The boy hesitated briefly, looked behind him and then stepped forward very slowly.

                Akira led his permanent visitor to the living room and saw his mother at the entrance of the backyard, looking towards Akira’s apartment before turning around and walking towards a small motorcycle. Akira knew she wouldn’t come back again.

                Akira silently invited his son to sit on the couch and gave him the paper and crayons he had planned on using for his haiku. He still hadn’t written a single word on this eventful day. The boy slowly drew something and Akira could distinguish a distorted face with gigantic tears rolling down its cheeks.

                ‘’My name is Akira. Do you want something to drink?’’

                The man on a mission knew that what he was saying was pitiful to comfort his child but he felt the need to break the silence for once. His son nodded slowly without looking up from his drawing. Akira smiled hesitatingly.

                He went to the kitchen and prepared a glass of plum juice. The man on a mission realized that he needed to buy something to eat and drink for his unexpected visitor. Akira was used to not eating for days but he couldn’t expect such a thing from a young boy. The young man had hidden a few coins inside a book in his bedroom. It wasn’t much and was supposed to serve in emergency situations only but Akira told himself that this most likely was an emergency. The coins might be enough to buy some fresh fruits. There was a little market about thirty minutes away from the complex building. Akira thought about going there immediately but then recalled that he was expecting yet another visitor. He couldn’t miss him. His loyalty to his clan was more important than family ties.

                He went back to the living room where his son had finished his drawings and carefully took the glass of plum juice that was offered to him. Akira smiled when his son drank it eagerly. His son seemed to like it. Akira had just finished that thought when his son puked the plum juice on the carpet. Akira sighed. Maybe water was the better option.

                Akira went back to the kitchen to get some towels in order to clean up. He suddenly heard some banging on the walls. A woman was screaming frantically and got interrupted by a yelling male who sounded furious. Akira didn’t understand what they said but he was clever enough to realize that they weren’t getting along at all. The noise intensified as the man seemed to hit the wall that was shaking. The glasses on Akira’s kitchen counter collided and made a high ringing sound. Akira realized that his son had come to the kitchen. He didn’t say a word but was staring at the shaking glasses. Akira looked at his watch. It was close to one thirty in the afternoon now.

                The man on a mission couldn’t ignore those disturbances. He opened his front door, went in the hallway and knocked on his neighbour’s door. The yelling of the man stopped but the faint crying of the woman didn’t.

                Akira heard thunderous footsteps and his neighbour cautiously opened the door. He only knew that his neighbour was a divorced construction worker with a serious drinking problem. The man stood bare-chested in front of him, was smelling of alcohol and sweating profusely.

                ‘’What the hell do you want from me, you dirty Jap?’’

                Instead of giving an answer, Akira’s left fist hit the neighbour right between the eyes. He kicked the door open with his left foot. The force of his entrance surprised the neighbour and before he could react, Akira used his right fist to punch him in the jaw with such force that the neighbor flew through the floor and was only stopped by a couch in the living room. Akira paced forwards and used his left elbow to break his neighbour’s nose with an ugly cracking noise. His opponent started to bleed profusely as the grey carpet got covered with red spots. Akira grabbed his opponent’s arm, bent over and sent his opponent’s body flying across the couch onto the glass table that shattered into a myriad of pieces. The neighbour’s surprised scream turned into a painful sigh as he sank back and momentarily lost consciousness.

                Akira didn’t move and tried to distinguish whether anyone in the building reacted to the fight. The walls were so thin that the fight must have been heard by at least a dozen people. But nobody walked down the stairs, knocked on the door or yelled anything. Everything seemed to be quiet.

                There was one thing Akira heard however. He could hear a woman cry. The young man now took a closer look around him. The apartment looked shady. Empty bottles were lying on the floor of the living room. Akira saw a used syringe on the kitchen counter. A pornographic magazine was lying on a chair. The door to the bedroom on his left side had been opened just a little bit. Akira turned around and his heart missed a beat when he saw his son standing in the entrance to the apartment. He almost looked like a ghost.

                Akira suddenly felt bad for his son. His furious mother had abandoned him like a used glove. His father had offered him ugly plum juice. His son didn’t even get anything to eat. And now he had to witness a violent physical fight between his unknown father and his rude neighbour.

                The man on the mission snapped out of his somber thoughts and focused on the crying woman that seemed to be in his neighbour’s bedroom. Akira slowly went towards the bedroom but looked at his son who wasn’t moving.

                ‘’Please go back to our apartment, Wei.ting.’’

                His son hesitated but turned around and went back to their flat. Akira sighed with relief. His son couldn’t speak but they understood each other rather well.

                Akira now went into the bedroom and saw a young woman who was only wearing a pantie and who had been chained to the bed. Her mouth was covered with a gag. Her upper body was reddish and covered in hot candle wax. A leather whip was lying on the floor. An unused condom could be seen on the bedside locker. The woman’s clothes had been thrown through the entire bedroom.

                He had seen a lot of violence in his life but what he saw here made him feel angry. Treating a woman like that was abominable. Akira looked at the woman. She was almost still a child. He supposed she was about ten years his junior. She had beautiful silky hair, soft peachy skin and particularly long legs but Akira was oblivious to her beauty under those grisly circumstances.

                He took the cloth out of her mouth and the woman immediately started to cry. Akira freed her from her chains. He picked up her clothing and brought it to her. The woman was rolling on the bed and suffering from pain and shame. Akira didn’t want to startle her, sat on the corner of the bad and waited for her. She slowly turned around and looked at Akira. Her mouth formed a faint smile and Akira sensed a feeling of gratefulness in her eyes. It had been many years since someone had last expressed thankfulness to Akira. He knew he wasn’t a good person but he would have liked to change a person’s life for the better just once in his lifetime but everyone who knew him ended up suffering terrible fates.

                The woman’s eyes suddenly opened widely and Akira immediately realized what that meant. He quickly pushed himself to the side and the baseball bat hit the spot where he had been sitting just half a second earlier. Akira grabbed the vase on the bedside locker and threw it into the surprised face of his opponent who stumbled backwards against the wall. Akira could hear the glasses break in his kitchen through the shaking wall.

                Akira took advantage of his momentum and stormed forward. His neighbour attempted to hit his face with the baseball bat but Akira had come so close that it only hit the side of his body. His left fist then exploded into his neighbour’s face and Akira felt how his neighbour’s shattering teeth cut into his fist and made it bleed.

                The neighbour screamed in pain but was still trying to resist his opponent. Akira had underestimated the tough construction worker. He grabbed his sides, lifted the shaking neighbour into the air, made a few steps around the bed and threw him through the closed bedroom window that shattered into numerous pieces.

                Akira heard the surprised scream of the neighbour that was interrupted by a muffled impact. Akira looked out of the shattered window and saw that his neighbour had landed in a trash container behind the apartment complex. His bones weren’t broken but his body was covered by fine glass cuts. The neighbour looked at Akira in terror before his eyes turned white and he lost consciousness yet again. This time, he had passed out for good. Akira grabbed the baseball bat next to the window just to have an improvised weapon with him. He had become a little bit rusty but was now prepared to defend himself viciously.

                He turned around and looked at the sobbing young woman. She looked at him and didn’t seem to know whether she should feel relaxed or scared after what she had just seen. Akira nodded towards the woman’s clothes.

                ‘’Get dressed and come with me.’’

                Akira thought about calling the police to help the woman but immediately refuted the thought. He was still an illegal immigrant and didn’t want to get questioned by investigators. The neighbour had passed out for a while and was surely not ready to attack them again. Before he could have his revenge, Akira wanted to make sure that the woman had safely left that filthy apartment complex.

                He didn’t bother to clean everything up but made sure to close the door behind him when he left the apartment with the shivering young woman. He had also brought a bottle of milk and some chocolate bars from the neighbour’s fridge. Akira at least wanted to be able to offer something to the woman and his son.

                Wei-ting was patiently sitting on the couch and opening his eyes widely when he saw his father and the unknown woman. Akira only realized now that they were also covered in bruises and cuts. Akira hurried to the bathroom to grab some disinfection spray, two cloths and a few small plasters.

                He sat down with the scared woman and took care of her wounds. He was able to disinfect the cuts but couldn’t do much about the hot candle wax that had burned her smooth body and the hits that had swollen her lips and jaws. It was only after taking care of the woman that he disinfected his own wounds. He threw the cloths away, went to the kitchen and prepared three glasses of milk and three chocolate bars. His son’s eyes shone brightly at the sight of the meal and Akira felt proud for the first time in a very long time. The woman didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything which didn’t surprise Akira. He felt quite exhausted himself.

                The woman touched his arms hesitatingly.

                ‘’Thank you.’’

                Her voice was merely a whisper and Akira smoothly patted her back. He wanted to give her the opportunity to start a conversation instead of forcing it upon her. He lay back, took a faint sip of his milk and a small bite from his chocolate bar.

                ‘’You came right on time. He wanted to rape me.’’

                The woman looked down and felt ashamed. Akira took her in his arms and looked at her swollen face. Only now he realized that the woman didn’t look like other Taiwanese women. She seemed to come from a southern country. She interpreted the question on Akira’s face.

                ‘’I didn’t even introduce myself. My name is Dara. My mother is from the Philippines. My father is from South Korea. They met at the university in Taipei. My father left us, went back to Korea and took all the money with him. That’s why I started working as an escort.’’

                Akira listened carefully but didn’t make any comments. He could empathize with the young woman. In a certain way, they were both outcasts in Taiwan.

                Dara looked at Wei-ting who was chewing on his chocolate bar. She smiled sadly and turned to Akira.

                ‘’Is that your son?’’

                ‘’I assume so.’’

                ‘’I wish I had a son. A happy family is all I had ever wished for. If I had more money, I would want to become a nurse and help babies and children.’’

                ‘’His name is Wei-ting. I’m sure he’s longing for a happy family, too.’’

                Akira and Dara looked at Wei-ting and everything seemed to look unusually harmonious. Akira had a son who seemed to feel at ease in his apartment despite his eventful arrival just hours earlier. He had a young woman in his arms who admired him. And Akira felt that he had a positive impact on two people around him for once. But he also knew that those whom he loved always ended up getting disappointed, hurt or murdered.

                Akira suddenly thought about his mission again. The scary thought interrupted the idyllic situation. The person he was waiting for could arrive at any moment. Akira didn’t want Wei-ting and Dara to witness what he had to do. And he didn’t want them to be exposed to any more dangers.

                Akira looked through the window of the living room. It had stop raining and a few rays of sunlight were reflected in the puddles of mud of the courtyard. New clouds were gathering however and it was going to be a stormy night.

                ‘’Why don’t you two go outside and play while the sun is shining?’’

                Dana looked at him with a bright smile and even Wei-ting lifted his head in excitement. Akira also sensed how Dana’s positivism faded into fear. He knew exactly what she was thinking.

    ‘’I will take a quick shower and keep an eye on both of you. He is not going to hurt you anymore. But I can’t protect you forever. Dana, if you want your dream of a happy family to become true, you need to get out of this place and you need to change your ways. Are you willing to do that?’’

    Akira looked very closely at Dana’s reaction. She nodded quietly but firmly. She then stood up, waved at Wei-ting who rose quickly and took his hand.

    The man on a mission waited until Wei-ting and Dana had arrived in the courtyard. The usually busy and loud complex building was suddenly calm and peaceful. Akira smiled happily but also felt a sting of regret that he was getting prepared for his mission while his son and the young woman were enjoying themselves. Akira was sick and tired of disappointing people, hiding his identity and lying to everyone around him.

    Akira took a quick shower. Since he had promised Dana to keep an eye on her, he only took five minutes even though he would have wanted to stay there for at least five hours. His bruised body needed some rest. But he had a mission to accomplish.

    He put on his best trousers and shirt and went to the kitchen to prepare some tea. Akira looked through the window of his living-room. Wei-ting was chasing after a stray dog and Dana was observing the scene with belly laughter. The nightfall was getting closer now. Akira looked at his watch. It was almost six o’clock now.

    A man who was entirely dressed in black entered the courtyard. It was obvious that he didn’t live in the apartment building. He was sharply dressed, moved very smoothly and looked around very slowly to get accustomed to his new surroundings. He seemed to be looking for a specific flat and when he saw Akira standing in front of the window, the man had finally found it and nodded with a quick smile.

    Wei-ting and Dana were unaware of the man who entered the apartment complex. Wei-ting was tickling the stray dog while sitting on Dana’s laps. Akira still smiled when the last visitor of the day knocked on his door.

    Akira opened the door and even though he had never met his visitor, Akira felt that he knew much more about him than the visitor could anticipate. The man was perhaps five years younger than Akira. He was Japanese, dressed elegantly and looked sharp. He reminded Akira of himself when he had come to Taiwan four years earlier.

    ‘’Good evening. I was told that you are selling something I am interested in buying. Do you have a few minutes?’’

    The man spoke fluid Japanese and Akira felt a painful sting in his heart when he realized that he hadn’t spoken Japanese to anyone but himself for more than four years. He was longing to come back home. But he knew that it wasn’t possible.

    ‘’We can take as much time as we need.’’

    Akira saw a long shape on the left side of his visitor’s pants. He knew that it was a knife. The members of his clan were specialized in knife fighting. They only carried those weapons when they were on a mission. Akira immediately knew what that meant. He had expected this and was yet severely disappointed. His own clan had turned against him. His visitor had been sent to assassinate him. He had been sent to cut loose threads.

    But Akira wasn’t the only one who had been targeted here. The clan was obviously attempting to get rid of the visitor as well. Akira wished he would have had his fate of a quick demise instead of living in obscure loneliness abroad for more than four years.

    Akira thought about the absurd situation. His visitor had a sharp knife. He had a teabag. It was an uneven duel. Akira needed to be extremely careful.

    He led his visitor into his modest apartment while always keeping an eye on him. Akira took a final look through the window of the living-room. Dana and Wei-ting weren’t there anymore. They must have left for a short stroll with the stray dog.

    Akira went to the kitchen and offered his visitor a seat. His visitor stared at the neighbour’s baseball bat that was in the corner. Akira smiled at him.

    ‘’I have been a quite solid setup pitcher in college.’’

    His visitor nodded and took his seat. He put his briefcase on the table, pulled a paper and a pen out of his jacket and touched his hidden knife so briefly that a normal spectator would have missed it but Akira’s trained eyes immediately sensed that his visitor was getting prepared for his own mission.

    ‘’Do you mind if we drink some tea before discussing business?’’

    His visitor nodded hesitatingly and smiled nervously. Akira took his two most beautiful teacups and poured the hot tea into them. His visitor noticed the broken glasses and rose his eyebrows.

    ‘’This is a terrible place with terrible walls separating terrible neighbours.’’

    Akira gave his visitor the teacup, put his own teacup in front of him and sat down smoothly. While his visitor was particularly nervous, Akira felt relaxed. Despite his crucial mission, he didn’t think about his clan anymore and imagined Dana and Wei-ting playing with the stray dog instead.

    His visitor looked at the teacup but hesitated. Akira smiled, took his visitor’s teacup, drank from it and gave his visitor his own teacup. His visitor felt visibly better, nodded with a smile and took a sip himself.

    Akira felt the almost unnoticeable bitterness in the aftertaste and knew that the hot feeling in his throat wasn’t only the heat. His visitor also seemed to sense something unusual. He looked at his teacup and then at Akira’s face.

    ‘’This is spicy liquorice tea. It’s a local speciality. Not everything about this place is bad.’’

    His visitor nodded, opened the suitcase and took a folder out of it. He opened it slowly and showed Akira a picture of his mother who was sitting in a wheelchair in a retirement home and looking at two elderly women playing chess.

    ‘’Our boss is taking care of his clan members and their families in Japan.’’

    Akira nodded with a smile. He understood exactly what the visitor was attempting to tell him. His mother wasn’t in danger. Akira felt a sharp sting in his stomach. It almost felt as if his inner organs were slowly set on fire. His head got slightly dizzy and his view blurred. He had trouble focusing on what his visitor had to say.

    ‘’Let’s talk about the weapons…’’

    His visitor stopped and touched his sweating forehead. He then looked at Akira who was sweating profusely as well. Akira smiled and pointed towards his visitor’s pants.

    ‘’The deadliest weapons are those that are invisible.’’

    It took Akira an incredible amount of focus and strength to pronounce these few words. He observed how his opponent tried to pull his knife but he could barely get it out his pants and let it slip through his fingers. It fell on the ground with a sharp ringing sound that echoed painfully in Akira’s head.

    ‘’Best regards from our boss.’’

    Akira’s final message was a painful whisper. He leaned to his left side, fell from his chair in slow motion and hit his head smoothly against the counter before softly hitting the ground.

    His opponent tried to get up from his chair to grab his knife but the quick movement was too much for his body. The visitor tumbled backwards, tried to grab the chair and sank uncontrollably down with it. The chair broke with a muffled cracking. The visitor lay helplessly among the pieces of broken wood. He turned his head towards Akira and the shocked surprise on his face turned to bitter sarcasm.

    ‘’I didn’t expect it so soon.’’

    Akira smiled but that faint movement of his stiff face seemed to make his head explode. He could see a myriad of explosions before his eyes. The suffering face of his visitor faded and Akira thought about the beautiful but fragile Dana and the quiet but quick-witted Wei-ting. If this world were a better place, they could have been a family. It wasn’t meant to be.

    His last visitor had stopped moving but Akira pushed a final sigh of relief knowing that Dana and Wei-ting had each other and wouldn’t be harmed anymore due to his fateful loyalty.

    When Akira closed his eyes once and for all, he was finally in peace.

     Today was the day.

    The End

    « Brightburn (2019) - Family ties can blur and erase the truth - 7/10 (10/06/19)Hanako at the international school »
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