When Akihito just can't figure Asami out, he grows tired of the status quo and slips away from Asami's grasp.
Even in this weather, the view, the juxtaposition of the new and the old structures was breathtaking. Here, concrete monsters did not compete for height; it was not a civilized rainforest, each and every steel and glassy structure striving toward the canopy for superiority and sunlight, overshadowing all else. Here, buildings were a function of both aesthetics and function.
From where he stood near the balcony, a trail of watery footsteps could be traced back to the bathroom. A large white towel was wrapped around his waist, revealing a body that was sculpted beyond perfection. Michelangelo would have risen from his grave to see this particular specimen. The deltoids of his shoulders, the triceps and the biceps of his arms, his pectorals of his chest, the obliques and even the ridges across his abdomen, they were all defined, firm, and taut, steel cables disguised under human skin.
Asami finished what was left of his conversation and hung up, wiping the cellphone, which was wet from his ears, on the towel wrapped around his waist.
Tokyo was still Tokyo; minor events could be handled with or without his presence. He trusted his men to be capable enough.
He took one last look at the view outside before tossing the phone onto the plush bed. The covers were twisted and tangled, evidence of a hectic sleeping pattern. And to think that he used to sleep so well before. Nowadays Asami forced himself to sleep, inducing it with heavy exercise during the day. He refused to resort to “unnatural” means, as he liked to call them.
The suite was decorated in the heavy Louis XVI style, antique furniture with gold leaves and embroidered yellow and peach curtains that hung lavishly, held aside with plaited cords. He wasn’t particularly fond of such traditional luxuries (they cluttered the room in his opinion), leaning more toward the modern, contemporary styles, but it didn’t really matter. It was the service, the staff per guest ratio, that counted. Sometimes, it was having the right men under you that mattered.
Asami walked into the closet. Some of the clothes were hanging in plastic bags on wooden hangers, unopened since its arrival from the dry-cleaners. He picked out a pair of clean, pressed black pants, no need to look fancy for the photograph exhibit in the afternoon. He pulled the leather belt through the loops, almost missing the loop behind his back but catching before he made a fool of himself. It would not do to ridicule himself with such trivial matters.
There was not a single wrinkle on the clean white shirt, the collars stiff and straight as he buttoned it downwards. Meanwhile, he went through the day’s plan. First, he had a morning conference with two high ranking members of the Met; it was always useful to have allies in the police force. At noon, he had lunch with some up and coming politician who had influence over some of the back and forth movement between England and Spain. Afterwards, he would head to the photo gallery. It wasn’t a hectic schedule, much more relaxed than in Tokyo. To Asami, this could very well be considered more of a vacation than a business trip.
He tucked in the shirt and fished out a pair of black socks from the drawers and picked out a pair of polished black shoes. It was really pointless if one thought about it. The snow would probably ruin them regardless of how shiny they were. He picked out a black tie and without a mirror, fixed it with his experienced, expert hands then slipped on his vest and over that, the holster. Rather safe than sorry. He unhooked the hangers with the jacket and coat and tossed them on the bed. He didn’t need them for now at least.
There was a knock on his door. Morning service he guessed but checked anyway, peering through the hole. A hotel employee was waiting with a tray. Ah, that’s right. His breakfast.
Asami opened the door.
“Your breakfast, sir.” Like I couldn’t figure that one out. “Where would you like me to leave it?”
“On the table would be fine.”
The employee did as he was told and added, “The papers you requested are also on the table.”
You’d better hope they are.
“Enjoy the meal, sir.”
When the door had closed, Asami glanced at the tray; no grapefruit. They always forgot the grapefruit somehow. And this was supposed to be a five-star hotel. What a joke. They probably didn’t realize that missing some details could get you killed. At least in his world. Either that or go bankrupt.
Asami sat down to eat. It should have tasted superb, knowing the standards of the hotel, but it tasted dry and bitter in his mouth as if he were eating paper and cardboard boxes. He was tempted to just leave it but forced himself to swallow, one could not go without his supplements.
You’re no child, Ryuichi, shut up and eat.
With his freehand, he shook open the newspaper. International Herald Tribune, The Times, Wall Street Journal to name a few, Asami flew through the stack, soaking in the day’s news. If one couldn’t keep up with the world, one fell behind.
With the breakfast finished and papers read, at least the relevant articles, he called up his men as he slipped on the jacket and coat.
“Good morning, sir.”
“And to you, Kato.” He replied dryly, “Is everyone ready?”
“Yes, sir. We’re waiting at the end of the hallway, sir.”
He flipped the phone off and walked around the bed to where the pillow was. Reaching under, he felt for the cold plastic and metal. The pistol was loaded, the safety in place so that it wouldn’t accidentally go off. Nevertheless, it took Asami a split second to draw, unlock, and fire the weapon.
It slid in easily under his arm, as if it belonged there near its master and owner. He had grown accustomed to it, the subtle bulkiness. It was reassuring. Comforting. It had been nearly twenty years now since he first began this daily tradition.
It was good to have bodyguards, but self-protection was more than just a decoration. It was essential. Besides, he garnered more respect from his own men this way.
Asami clicked the cellphone into its belt compartment and slid his arms into the coat as he made his way out of the hotel room.
Strong arms were wrapped around his naked body, curled around his chest and stomach. He could hear the deep, regular breathing, hot air blowing down his hair and neck with every exhale, followed with a tickling sensation.
He was growing too accustomed to this, waking up with another warm body in bed. And he was afraid of it, terrified that one day he might wake up and there would be nothing beside him. Carefully, he lifted Gyles’ limp arm, holding the wrist with the tips of his fingers. The exhibit was today.
Suddenly, the arms wrapped tighter around him, trapping him into the hot chest against his back.
“You…” Takaba looked back to see Gyles with a grin on his face. “I have to get ready.”
“Stay in bed, Sei.”
“But-” A gentle kiss melted the protest. When the kiss finally broke, Takaba pouted, “That’s cheating.”
Gyles’ body shook with a chuckle, as his lips began moving down. Down the groove on his neck, to the nape, to the shoulders. “I never play fair.”
“Stop!” Takaba grabbed a pillow and wedged it between him and Gyles, snaking out of the embrace. He stuck his tongue as he clamored out of bed, a bit sad to leave the warm spot. “I have to take a shower and get ready.”
Gyles climbed out of bed, stretching his stiff body, “Make sure you dry your hair afterwards.”
“I know.” Takaba answered as he closed the bathroom door. There was a full length, floor to ceiling mirror on one wall of the bathroom, and he always avoided looking at it. He was afraid to meet eyes with that identical stranger he saw, copying his moves, mocking him endlessly for his cowardice, and so, he purposely averted his eyes, staring down at the tiles that felt icy on the soles of his feet. The sight of himself, the changes he saw, sickened him at times.
Who are you…
Quickly, to distract himself, Takaba stepped let the water run, not waiting for the temperature to adjust. Inhaling sharply as the cold water washed over his body, he waited for the water to warm gradually. His skin prickled when the hot water ran over the cold skin, steam and vapor quickly filling the bathroom, fogging the dreaded mirror, erasing the foreign and unrecognizable figure that he knew was his reflection. He was glad when he no longer had to see himself in his peripheral vision.
Gyles listened to the sound of the running shower as he rummaged through the closet, going through some of his shirts. His lover had been complacent enough to come of the past few days and sleep over for the nights. He had even gone to the doctor together to get his prescription filled out again, having spilled all the pills.
The doctor didn’t say much, but the pity in his eyes for the young Asian man was clear and evident. The conversation had gone something like “Mr. Tanaka… do you need a psychiatrist? Because I can refer you to-”
At the mere suggestion, Takaba had stormed out of the office, fuming with indignation. How dare he? That’s what must have cross his mind. Gyles apologized as he rushed out to follow his rather upset lover. The ride home had been…awful, for lack of a better word. Gyles replayed with episode in his mind with a sigh, fishing out a pinstripe suit from the rows of clothing.
What am I to do with you…
Takaba glanced at his watch, the same one he had since long before his escape. It was the only article on him that spoke of distance days, a link to the past he had only half buried. He was running a last minute round through the exhibit, making sure everything was in order, the lighting, the positions. He would go home to change into a fresh set of clothes before lunch and come back by metro for the exhibit. He hadn’t planned on attending, but Gyles had convinced him, saying it might be good for him.
This wasn’t his first solo exhibit by any means, but for some odd reason, he was nervous as a rookie batter would be going up to the mat. He always was. His intestines felt tangled in his gut, butterflies colliding against the walls of his stomach. In the morning, Takaba had purposely skipped breakfast; there was good reason for it. His past experiences had not been so pleasant.
The five photos that he needed, he had chosen from the stacks and stacks of photos from Japan, thin negatives strips stored away in the many binders that lined the shelves of his darkroom. It had taken hours upon hours to sort through all the snapshots, trying to find adequate ones.
They brought back memories of his stakeouts, the escapes, the chases, and most of all, Asami. He thought he had thrown out all his pictures, but there was one left. Asami’s face wasn’t even in it, in fact.
The man’s back was turned to the camera, and he was standing at a train platform while everyone else moved around him. Takaba cried when he recognized the negative, even in its distorted color and image, and realized that it was no doubt Asami and a very lonely one at that. The broad back, the slicked back hair, the confident, fearless stance. The figure was too perfect, too pristine to be anyone else. It screamed of prestige.
Takaba recognized it by instinct and intuition. Just as one beast knows when another has stepped into his territory.
And only Takaba knew the true significance of the photograph as he looked up at it, hung up against the white gallery wall, titled, “Nostalgia.”
The morning conference had been an absolute disaster considering how inexperienced the two counterparts had been, despite their rank. Apparently, they seemed to think that they were the ones with leverage, not Asami, a notion that Asami quickly shattered thirty minutes into the conversation. Evidently, having the home field didn’t do much to help these two blockheads. To quote their ignorance, “How much influence could you possibly have all the way from Japan?” Asami had had to remind them that it was the twenty-first century and that, although personal, geographical proximity certainly had a place in business, that pretty much the entire world was wired together now.
Honestly, these Londoners…
The lunch with the young politician had not gone much better. Rather, it was probably one of the most frustrating and aggravating experience that Asami had had in a very, very, very long time; the fellow had an inflated head with an overgrown sense of ego and unjustified confidence. It was nice to be confident, but there came a point when it simply had to stop. The fool. He may have had access to some of the routes, but with his so far young political career, he came nowhere near Asami in terms of influence, but the idiot didn’t seem to recognize that crucial fact. It took the entire meal to pop the thick bubble and overall, nothing productive came out of it, and there was nothing more frustrating to Asami then unproductiveness and inefficiency. Asami left the restaurant rubbing his temples from the sheer frustration at having to talk to idiots for hours on hours. He found it more than difficult to communicate with people of such low intelligent.
He was glad to be going somewhere quiet, although he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a photography exhibit. For the past two years, he has both intentionally and subconsciously avoided anything that brought back memories of Akihito. Going to a photograph gallery, Asami almost feared that he might be reminded too much.
Takaba watched the lights go by in the dark tunnel of the metro, taking comfort in the rhythmic rocking as he sat quietly, unmoving. He had missed five stops in his daze and was having to ride back to the station where he would transit onto another line to get to the gallery.
A psychiatrist…what does he think I am, insane?
But Takaba knew that the doctor was right to an extent. He hated himself for it, that he relied on pills to ease the headaches, and that the bulge deep in his jean pockets where the yellow, translucent container was comforted him. He wasn’t addicted to the medicine or anything, but without it, the headaches were unbearable.
But still… a psychiatrist…that was pushing it.
The insomnia was improving though with the help of Gyles. That was the first night, in their entire year of relationship that Takaba slept over at Gyles’ house. Gyles had on special occasions stayed at Takaba’s, but it was never the other way around before. Even after making love, Takaba would get up, get dressed, and go back home.
Why did I do that…
It was cruel of him to have left like that every time. Even that Monday night, he was prepared to leave, despite being both physically and mentally drained and exhausted. That is, until Gyles convinced him to sleep the night.
At first, it angered him for some reason, the fact that Gyles should ask him to stay. Then Gyles asked him, “Why not? Why won’t you stay?” and Takaba wondered really, why won’t I… and realized… “I don’t know, Gyles. I don’t know.”
They argued after that. Full-fledged shouting at the top of their lungs argued.
“Why won’t you stay with me for one night? Do you know what you’re going to do when you get home? Do you? Because I know. You’re gonna sit up all night, staring at those bloody neon stars on the ceiling and cry yourself to sleep and wake up two hours later and do it all fucking over again!”
“So what if I do? What’s it matter to you whether I stare at neon stars or not?!”
“What’s it matter to me? What’s it matter to me? Sei, my love, it’s everything to me! You’re everything to me!”
“Then let me go home! Why won’t you just let me go?”
“And watch you slowly kill yourself?! You’re asking me to watch you die?! How can you possibly ask that of a lover, Sei?!! How am I supposed to stand here and do nothing while you edge closer and closer to the cliff? You’re poisoning yourself, Sei. Do you not realize that? You’re poisoning yourself! You’re deteriorating right before my eyes and you won’t let anyone help you!”
“I’m already dead, Gyles! Look at me!” Takaba could still feel the heat of Gyles’ cheeks in his hands when he had held Gyles’ face. “Look at me! This is decay! This is calling rotting! I’ve been dead! And I can’t remember the last time my heart was beating.”
“Then let me help you! Let me revive you! I would go to the underworld and back to bring you back!”
“Why would you do that?”
“Why? WHY? Sei! Look at yourself! Listen to yourself and realize how you sound, how you look! Then you might understand, then you might understand why.”
“I saw myself today, Gyles,” he had pointed to the bathroom where the mirror was, “I saw myself and I’ve seen myself and you know what? It’s not ME anymore. My reflections aren’t me anymore! What can I do when I see a ghost of myself, a phantom, a vague silhouette! I look into a mirror every goddamn morning and what I see is a mockery of what I used to be! My reflections are mocking me! Do you understand? They might copy, they might move the way I do, but they’re… they’re like… caricatures or something!”
“Just…” he was exhausted then, “I’m going home…”
“Sei, you can’t even walk straight…” Gyles was walking towards him.
“Stay back, don’t. Oh don’t, Gyles… just let me be.” He had pushed Gyles away then. Fought him. Fought him until Gyles pinned him to the wall and sealed his mouth with a hot kiss. And when that kiss broke, Takaba fell to his knees sobbing, Gyles holding him close. He cried that night like he’d never cried before, until his eyes refused to weep but his mind continued, shaking his body with hiccups and sobs that didn’t cease until Gyles put him to bed.
That was the night when his walls had begun to crumble, when the cracks began to form.
Since that night, he had slept at Gyle’s place every night but not necessarily making love. There was such a difference between him and Asami. Takaba had expected to have sex every night, but Gyles let him be, never initiating it unless Takaba showed the very subtle signs that he wanted it; it didn’t have to be anything explicit. Gyles read him like a billboard sign, and nothing escaped his senses. It was then that Takaba had realized, wait a second…it’s up to me?
The metro hissed to a stop and Takaba stood; he was late already.
Perhaps it was for all the frustration that Asami found the gallery to be a refuge and break from the irritation. The place was quiet and calm, with people spaced out across the wide area, whispering among themselves about the photographs. The exhibition hall was essentially designed like a simple labyrinth, thin walls protruding from the real ones to provide more surface area for the photos. The ceiling was high, and footsteps and whispers echoed like secrets whispered behind sheer curtains.
Mr. Merrett had been right about the photograph exhibit; it was brilliant.
Brilliant and… familiar...
Nostalgic, if he were to put a word to it.
He recalled seeing some of Akihito’s random photographs in that cramped apartment, the ones that Akihito called “useless.” At first, Asami had thought that they belonged to someone else. The photographer he knew in Akihito prior to the discovery had been a nosy scoop chaser, not exactly an artist.
But alas, Akihito lived up to his name of highest honor photojournalism graduate, and Asami had wondered if Akihito wasn’t wasting his talent chasing old politicians that couldn’t tell the difference between women, drugs, and guns.
These photos were uncannily similar, and walking through the exhibit was like stepping into what might have been Akihito’s mind. He had never had the chance to do that.
Except… these photographs…were more sinister.
Tenebrous like the inside of a cave.
There were photographs he was sure he had seen before. Perhaps not physically, not in reality, but there was a sense of déjà vu when he stared into the black and white prints, as if he should remember the locations and the events portrayed, but he couldn’t.
Every image was dark and passionate and spoke for the artist that had taken them. To the photographer, looking through the viewfinder was a secret way of lovemaking. Capturing the image was the climax. And the last process of developing, that was resolution, the catharsis of a Greek tragedy. The photographs were civilized and raw, contradictions in and of itself, fragile and damaged. Everything clashed.
Such fierce contradictions.
It was as though the photographer was screaming blasphemy at the world. The same kind of internal conflict that Akihito used to show when making love.
Making love… is that what we were doing back then? Or was it just carnal satisfaction, devoid of emotions…
The tiny cards next to the photos revealed where they were taken, and so far, Asami was rather impressed at the extent the photographer had gone to capture such images. Sudan, Iraq, the Gaza strip, Lebanon. The grit and dirt. Not many would have spared the trouble.
But Akihito, you would have, wouldn’t you?
There was no mention of the photographer’s name or identity anywhere.
Asami made his way through the exhibit, carefully examining the photographs, dissecting them to the last element, a full-fledged autopsy, and putting them together, piece by piece. He didn’t realize it, but he was trying to see Akihito in them, to find a cell that spoke of his lost lover.
There was one particular photo of two Muslim women, leaning over merchandise in an open market, neither aware of each other while standing nearly back to back. One wore a full-fledge burka, all covered except for dark, expressive eyes. The other, on the other hand, was wearing a long cloth skirt and a sleeveless shirt. Her hair was let loose and free-flowing like her spirit, refusing to die down as dusty wind threw the dark strands about, swirling around her young face; she was glancing sideways, having noticed the photographer and there was envy in her eyes. That and subtle indignation contradicted and accompanied by pity and pride.
There was no implied violence in these image. Rather, there was a sense of quiet intensity, balance and restraint. Self applied shackles. The battlefront existed because it was clear that the photographer seemed to have no qualms about throwing himself into danger. Did he not fear death? Or was it that he just didn’t care anymore?
These photos… they bled exhaustion and weariness, a sort of decay and disintegration engrained into the black and white curves and angles and lines, as if the chemicals attached to the photographs might oxidize with the air, with venomous oxygen, to fall apart and wither away.
The artist was undoubtedly an individual gravitated toward trouble, fast paced and impatient with a fire that was threatening to go out. One could tell that every photo had been taken with ecstasy, with drive and determination unbeknownst to the outside world.
And then, there were some that wept.