When Akihito just can't figure Asami out, he grows tired of the status quo and slips away from Asami's grasp.
“I will,” Takaba smiled meekly, “I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He turned toward the apartment only to be stopped by Gyles’ voice calling out his name.
Gyles paused, admiring Takaba’s slender form, then smiled back, just tell him you love him… “Goodnight.”
Takaba shivered as he waited in the elevator, watching the red number count up until it hit the fourth floor, and the door slid open slowly. It was absolutely freezing outside. He could almost feel his bones and his marrow constricting and crystallizing from the still, icy air, and all he wanted was to get inside. Although… his apartment was probably just as cold since he hadn’t left the heater on.
Takaba fumbled with the keys, his fingers resistant to his commands in their numb state, the tips of his flesh tingling as they touched the warm metal key, which had been hidden deep in his pocket. He finally it into the hole and turned the lock with a faint click.
The first thing he did, even before turning on the light, was rush to where he knew the temp control was and adjust it so that he wouldn’t be cryogenically frozen or otherwise an ice block when he woke up (or didn’t wake up) the next morning. They would probably have to get an ice pick and chisel, maybe a blow dryer, to crack and melt the layer of ice he would accumulate if he slept in the cold like this.
Then he took off his shoes and carefully arranged them near the door. Two years ago, he would have just tossed them aside, kicked them into a dusty corner. He hung the damp coat on the stand near the door and looked around into the quasi darkness, the light from the yellow street lamps filtering in through the cracks of his navy curtains, before flicking on the light.
It was a rather small place, a bit dark for his taste (the old European apartments had a knack for having little to no windows), but it suited his needs well enough: a kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms and one bathroom. It was certainly more spacious than in Tokyo. He had furnished it with what little budget he had back when he first moved, adding different items one by one with time, filling in the gaps.
The process was… fulfilling. He remembered throwing out the furniture in Tokyo, how much it had ached when he watched them driven off to the landfills. Watching the empty corners of his new apartment slowly being occupied by something tangible… By fleeing from Tokyo, he had torn apart a puzzle set, and as he filled the gaps of his new residence, he was slowly starting to see the image of the puzzle, something he had forgotten long ago, piece by piece. The furnishing of his new apartment was a sort of cure, a haphazard antidote….but not quite…
Three black leather recliners sat around a coffee table that looked more like a huge black cube sitting in the middle of the living room. It was supposed to be “contemporary.” The flat screen TV and DVD player were purchased only about a year ago; Gyles and Takaba watched a DVD together for the first time the day they were delivered.
Random photographs were hung on empty white walls, mostly ones he took himself and was unwilling to exhibit but liked. Exhibitions meant he lost them forever as they were almost always auctioned or sold off. Perhaps one day he would return to the negatives and bring to life those photos again.
As for the darkroom, anyone entering it would see most of the wall occupied with shelves and dozens and dozens of albums of negatives. He had collected his photos for months and mailed them to London before his departure, boxes of them. There were several desks and sink-like apparatus where he could wash the developed pictures. In addition, there were two metal cabinets where he stored his equipments and materials. All in all, a mundane room, just like all the rest.
The kitchen had a small table with two chairs on either side along with a medium sized fridge that was usually half empty. It was probably the most unused quarter in the apartment. He bought a three person meal set with spoons and forks just in case, but he used it so little that he often had to wash the plates before hand to make sure the food wouldn’t be set on dusty plates. The pantry was empty save for a box of cereals past its expiration date but hadn’t even been opened yet.
His bedroom was just as scantily clad. The bed was a decent, comfortable size for two people if neither moved too much during sleep. Like his curtains, it came with a dark navy color theme to it. Navy sheets, navy comforter, navy pillowcase, etc. etc. The work desk where his laptop and external hard drives were stacked was positioned against a wall, near the window where sunlight could illuminate the surface. It had several drawers beneath it, and the bottom most drawer had a false bottom.
It was in that secret compartment that Takaba kept proof of his past existence: his real passport, his real identification card, two pictures, one with his family, another with his two best friends. His friends… I wonder if they remember me even… His parents didn’t know where he was either. If he died now, woke up cold and lifeless the next morning, would he be buried in Japan or be cremated here, an unclaimed body diminished to ashes. His secret would be revealed then, wouldn’t it?
And the gun.
Next to the desk, there was a bookshelf containing books on… photography. Not much surprise there. There was a night stand to one side of the bed with a lamp that was fitted with a light bulb needing to be replaced; he had bought the wrong watt two weeks ago and it was just too dim.
His closet was half empty, a reflection of his inner state. His general style and taste hadn’t changed much over the course of two years. If anything, they were even more casual and geared toward comfort and movement; his travels had taught him that. He still wore his t-shirts, his vintage jeans, and his hooded sweatshirts with pouches where he hid his hands. And most of the time, his feet were clad with a pair of running shoes or something along those lines. Comfort and movement.
But with the first chance he got, he had thrown out all of his old clothes he had brought over from Japan. Dumped them into a large cardboard box, sealed it with masking tape, and out the door they went. It had nothing to do with physical capability. He could physically still wear them.
It was the smell. The scent. The aroma.
It was like incense, a drug that induced and triggered memories and images he would rather forget. They did say that olfactory memory was the strongest and most enduring of all, didn’t they?
There were two sets of suits in the closet, one black and the other dark grey. He had bought them for random occasions and still considered them a waste of money. Putting on these suits, these formal attires only reminded him of him. The cuff links. The buttons. The tie.
The tie especially. Takaba could envision those strong, forceful hands, those expert hands snaking through the silky texture. Working their way past the collar. Tearing apart buttons. Brushing against his stomach. Down. Down. Past the belt, past th-
Takaba lowered himself onto the mattress, settling in motionlessly into the plush comforter. He hadn’t been on his bed for almost a week, and it was just… nice to feel the same texture beneath his fingers. But on the other hand, what he had dreaded was true.
There was no heat in this bed.
And him alone.
And those… wretched… awful… neon stars on the ceiling. One of them had fallen off while he was gone, near the pillow.
Did you miss me? He picked it up and held over him.
He lay down completely, his back against the bed, an arm over his eyes. Gyles had literally forbidden him to go home alone (upon hearing that Takaba almost got hit by a taxi), giving him two choices. Either he took Takaba home or Takaba would wait to go home with him.
Takaba didn’t really want to make Gyles leave the gallery and opted to stay. People didn’t realize that they were whispering with the photographer right behind their back. It was a cunning little advantage, and he had been able to pick up a handful of good constructive criticism.
Though he had to admit, some of the comments he had heard had really… hurt. Words like “immature” or “ambiguous” felt like stakes going through the back of his hand, severing the ligament of his index finger that pressed down on the shutter release button. He would have to live with such criticisms however… critiquing was something that every artist had to go through, whether it was music or art or literature, and that was the life he had chosen.
And he had other things on his mind: Mr. Carthen’s offer. Gyles had recognized something in Takaba; he had realized that his lover wasn’t meant to be sedentary, that if his life in London wasn’t fast paced enough, it would drive Akihito insane. He would end up hunting for thrills and danger like before. If Gyles was willing to make amends, to sacrifice six months for the sake of his lover’s recovery, then Takaba should at least be understanding and grateful enough to accept Gyles’ plans… shouldn’t he? It was probably safer, as Mr. Carthen had said, to be touring Europe than war torn zones where he woke up every other day to the sound of explosions.
But he didn’t want to leave.
You’re growing complacent, Akihito…
Takaba buried his nose into the pillow and inhaled a lungful of Gyles’ cologne.
So what if I’m content…but…
Was he losing Asami? Was that private chamber he had reserved for his previous…lover…being taken over by Gyles’ overwhelming presence?
And so what if it is…
He propped up his head with his right elbow, letting the injured arm rest against his body. It had begun to heal fairly well, except for a thin puckered line of scab. Another scar to add to his collection. Gyles wasn’t too happy about it though. Ironically, the man blamed himself for it.
If Takaba hadn’t been so previously preoccupied, and even if he was, Gyles was still the perfect lover that anyone have could asked for. He had unlimited patience for his troubled lover.
How do you put up with me…
Even he grew of his very self sometimes. For someone else to stand beside him with such devotion…
Gentle and forgiving, passionate and compassionate, Takaba couldn’t help but melt into Gyles’ embrace.
…What should I do…
Gyles watched the Takaba disappear into the complex and waited, waited for the light of the living room to flicker on before finally driving away.
It was necessary.
A little less than a year ago, the boy passed out in the elevator, only to be discovered half frozen at four in the morning by a trio of girls returning from a night of clubbing. They had to call the landlord who recognized the young Asian tenant as his and called a random number from Takaba’s cellphone after taking him to the hospital. That number was none other Gyles.
The doctor wasn’t quite sure how to diagnose his patient and ran blood tests, CAT scans, ECG to name a few but eventually gave up and called it “exhaustion,” which was probably closer to the truth than any of the modern, conventional diseases that pharmaceutical companies liked to make up to boost their profit. Gyles’ sister-in-law could testify to that.
The doctor called Takaba “slightly underweight” and “malnourished,” asking rather obvious questions like “has he ever been diagnosed with clinical depression prior to the incident?” or “did he experience any trauma in the past few years?” All in all, he showed little genuine concern for Takaba.
The bloody hypocrite.
Gyles was rather anxious to take him home and away from all the medical hodge-podge; anyone with a good eye in their right mind could tell the constant surveillance was doing him more harm than good. And the hospital food… He still felt rather guilty about it, but the night he brought Takaba back to the apartment (Takaba’s apartment), they ended up having sex together, giving Takaba little time to recover. He didn’t really seem to mind and only teased Gyles for his “healthy maleness.”
Gyles grinned at himself, the car stopping at another red light. Healthy maleness…pft, what was he thinking…
Then the cellphone went off.
A bit late to be getting calls…
“Gyles Tennison. Who am I speaking to?”
“Mr. Tennison,” the voice had a slightly foreign accent that he couldn’t quite put his finger on… “Are you the head of the central London gallery?”
“Yes…” who is this? “I am.”
“Perfect. I’m calling on behalf of an anonymous collector.”
“Does this have to do with the exhibition?”
“It does in fact. The collector wants to purchase the-”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.” Better to cut them off before they got any ideas in their heads.
“The photographs were either sold to private galleries priors to the public exhibition or have been contracted with the auction house already.” There was no lie in that “Except for one.”
“May I ask which photograph was withdrawn from the auction?”
“‘Nostalgia,’ the photographer personally requested that it be withheld and only exhibited.”
“Very well, it was pleasure, Mr. Tennison.” The voice was replaced with the familiar busy tone.
That was quick…and a bit strange…
He frequently received calls from “anonymous buyers.” His lover’s enigma as a photographer seemed to attract a lot of those. Gyles personally felt a bit reprehensive toward these mystery buyers although he had yet to have any serious experience with any; most of them came out in the end.
When will you come out to the world, Sei?
After the meeting with the TIMES representative, Takaba had come out a bit shaken, if not disturbed, and Gyles was starting to have second thoughts about the proposal. Takaba was probably feeling obliged to accept since Gyles had been the one to arrange it for him in the first place. That wasn’t at all what he had intended though; he wanted Takaba to have choice and to choose his own path. Gyles only wanted to be the catalyst for a change that had to occur because Takaba couldn’t hide from the world forever.
His “name” was already growing in the genre of fine arts photography and photojournalism. The lot of photos that Takaba had taken in Iraq revealed a certain daredevil attitude that the political and news magazines jumped at. It was a phenomenon rather, like a hidden cult movie that garnered acclaim beneath the table. There was a clean list of private collectors that reserved many of his photographs, and auctions usually started at five hundred pounds if not more, a price that usually went to the older photographs. It could be owed it to some degree the fact that Takaba developed only one, a practice that was gaining him a kind of… infamy and perhaps a tinge of notoriety.
Gyles never told Takaba that he was frequently bombarded with calls, mails, both physical and electronic, or even personal visits, usually after exhibits or auctions, with people demanding to meet the photographer, adamant on unearthing Takaba’s identity. There were articles as to who the “question mark man/woman” could be, quote a photographic journal.
If he told Takaba just to what extent he was bearing the grunt of the masquerade, Takaba would probably climb up to the top of the Eiffel tower and declare himself to the world. Well, maybe not to that extreme… but he would certainly either completely plunge himself into a market where his name would be required for publishing means (i.e. magazines, journals) or drop the initials and pick up his name, neither of which Gyles wished for his lover. There was simply too much talent and gift in Takaba to just throw him to the dogs like that.
Gyles swiped his entrance card over the scanner and waited for the gate to the underground parking lot to open. He had purchased the top floor of the flat years ago, much to his parents’ dismay; they wanted him to inherit the family residence, a large estate in the countryside.
Whether or not he liked it, he was probably the family black sheep. His younger brother was a lawyer, who moved to Germany with his wife and took up a job as a contract reviewer for a company; the older sister went on to become a doctor, graduating from Cambridge and now head of research in some California facility. Gyles grew up for the most part like his siblings, educated in the “elite” way, polo, horseback riding, golf, tennis, sent to Harrow school, an experience he didn’t always enjoy but his competitive nature kept him in the top percent, a part of him that most people didn’t quite seem to catch. He graduated from there, rather reluctantly but still with high academic recognition and against his parents’ wishes took up university in the US where he pursued a degree in law, obtained it, and somehow (this still amazed him) managed to squeeze in an economics degree.
He worked a year and a half for a firm in London and found that… he wasn’t quite fond of the job, a farfetched understatement. Just in time, a colleague from Harrow had inherited a long standing art gallery from his recently deceased grandmother and was having trouble double managing it with his career as an engineer at BP, being sent to the actual sites, sometimes stranded in petroleum oil rigs in the middle of the ocean for months. He called it “stranded” despite the fact that those oil rigs were gigantic and even had supermarkets on them and practically functioned as a community.
Regardless, he asked Gyles to share the management, making him the other proprietor of the gallery. When he died in an accident at a rig site, a storm had blown over and three people from the floating rig had drowned, the friend among the victims. The friend had a half-sister, but she had a particularly bad relationship with her late half-brother and made the ultimately unwise choice of refusing to quote “touch anything that foul man ever dealt with” unquote. Once Gyles had full control over the management, he made some drastic adjustments and the profit nearly doubled. The half-sister came back one time and tried to file lawsuit for “manipulating the economic status of the gallery” or something along those lines, but the court rebuffed her ridiculously outrageous claims. Gyles was still working part time at the company as an advisor from time to time and hence reaping the benefit of the stock shares, but most of his time was devoted to the management of the gallery.
God that feels like so long ago…
The car’s vibrating stopped as he turned off the engine and pulled other the key, his chain jiggling then settling quietly into his palm. He grew tired of sitting in the cramped compartment and eventually made his way out, the car honking twice behind him as he locked it from the key chain attached to his keys, the echoes of the honks resonating in the basement, maneuvering around the concrete and steel columns.
Genji stood at attention behind Asami, who was looking out into the same London scene, except darker, and in Asami’s opinion, grimmer. He could still see the snow, but it looked jaundiced, bathed in the yellow glare of the street lamps. The edifices that had looked so aesthetic were now jagged blobs of rectangles and geometric shapes with eerie silhouettes.
He held a glass of scotch in his hands, his second glass. Not that it really mattered to Asami with his tolerance.
“Did you find out who the gallery owner was?”
“Gyles Tennison, a lawyer.”
“You contacted him, correct?”
“Unfortunately, the photographs have either been purchased or are already scheduled for auction. All except one, sir.”
Asami’s muscles, which had been so carefully arranged, suddenly tensed.
“Which one?” The intensity.
“Which one’s not being sold?” Voice was edged with a blade, a rough, jagged, serrated blade. Like the teeth of a saw. It was…intriguing. The edge was different. Not icy and razor like, but hot and jagged, crooked.
“Mr. Tennison called it ‘Nostalgia,’ sir.”
Glass shattered on the marble floor, barbed and jagged shards of crystal thrown down like die, scattering light on the warped marble. It was as if the amber liquid had detonated in Asami’s hands, as now it pooled and spread like a quiet stain, marking its territory with converging pools of liquor.
Genji winced, the shrill sound piercing his ears; he had been with Asami for a year and a half now, and this was probably the only time Asami had let something other than his cool, frigid exterior show. He couldn’t understand why his boss was obsessing over a photography exhibit. He had seen some of them, and admittedly they were extraordinary even to the untrained eye, but they didn’t seem like something that would leave Asami-sama so pressed.
“Tell him I’m willing to pay a hundred thousand pounds for the last picture on the condition that the photographer deliver the work. Leave my name out of this, is that understood?”
Asami was silent for a moment, his back still turned to Genji. “Now get out.”
Genji bowed slightly as he hurried out. He was more than glad to; the atmosphere was asphyxiating him. He had heard a quiet rumor among the subordinates that Asami had lost a lover two or three years ago, someone that he became emotionally involved with. It was hard to believe, Asami letting himself be carried away like that.
So Akihito…it is you, isn’t it…
He felt a bit of... hope and pride that Akihito had withheld the photograph. It meant…it meant that he still had a chance with the boy. It meant that Akihito was unwilling to let go of a memory of his past lover, that it was held too many connotations, nuances, to hold a monetary value. The photograph transcended that. Because it was Asami.
And because he was Akihito.
Have I gotten anywhere…
He glanced down at the pool of amber at his feet. It had stopped spreading.
Gyles was in the living room, catching up on a bit of news when his cellphone went off again. It wasn’t Takaba.
“Gyles Tennison, who am I speaking to?”
“Mr. Tennison, I’m terribly sorry to call you at this late hour, but we talked about two hours about the exhibition.”
“I’ve already went over this. This is non-negotiable.”
“It’s about the last photograph.”
Nostalgia…“Which isn’t for sale.”
“The collector is willing to offer a hundred thousand on the condition that the photographer delivers the photograph.”
What?! “Are you really referring to ‘Nostalgia’?”
“Yes, of course.”
Why would anyone offer so much on the first request… “I’m afraid for the safety and privacy of the photographer-”
“Mr. Tennison, the collector has assured that the safety and privacy of the photographer will be completely respected. He simply wishes to speak with the artist who took the photographs.”
“I’ll have to discuss this with the photographer directly regarding this matter.”
“Very well, we will contact you tomorrow afternoon then.”
“I’ll be expecting.”
It was clear that the other party wasn’t willing to give out any names. Gyles closed the phone and held it in his hand. I was inexplicable that anyone should offer such a huge sum of money for one photograph. This wasn’t something from the fifties or earlier; modern photography rarely exceeded four digits, five at best. Something ominous was rising, he could feel it from the base of his cut.
Takaba sat quietly in the back of the taxi. It was the only way to get to the gallery at three o’clock in the morning for him. To be honest, he was exhausted, trying to call sleep that didn’t and wouldn’t come, and the pills. He couldn’t bring himself to take them after a week without. So for about five hours, he looked up at the stars on his ceiling doing absolutely nothing except thinking. About everything and nothing all at once. He thought about Tokyo, his past life. Then about London, his current façade. And went back. And forth. And back. And forth. Until he felt he’d rip his hair and finally got dressed again and headed out alone into the night, bumping into the same trio of girls that discovered him about a year ago, passed out in the elevator.
His apartment was a bit of a walk from the nearest metro station, which was closed for night maintenance anyway, so he had had to walk to a nearby area where there were pubs and bars open. That was about half an hour of walking in the snow, which had his hair nearly wet and his clothes damp.
“You can drop me off here.” He told the taxi driver, who glanced back and pulled up in front of the gallery. The only person there was the night guard, a young fellow a few years younger than Takaba. From the outside though, the gallery looked dark and abandoned.
“Are you sure? Didn’t you want to go a bit further to the-”
“No, no. This is fine.” Then he added, “I’m exactly where I want to be.” The driver shrugged as Takaba counted the money and handed it to him, “This is a bit too much, young man.”
“Keep the change, it’s late out,” Takaba ducked out into the cold and closed the door. He pulled his coat tighter around him, puffs of air escaping his lips as he went around the side of the gallery through the side door, where the sentinel wouldn’t spot him come in.
He had the keys of course. It was among the four keys he had: his apartment key, the mailbox key, Gyles’ apartment key, and the gallery side door key. It was broad and flat with odd, rectangular shaped teeth. He slid the key in where the key pad lit up, added for security reasons with codes that even the sentinel didn’t know. With his hand trembling from the cold, Takaba managed to type in the four digit number and the lock clicked, inviting him.
The back hallway leading into Gyles’ office was empty and desolate, Takaba being extremely careful so that the wet, rubber soles of his shoes wouldn’t make squeaky noises against the slick floor. This was the first time he had been here at night, and the mood was entirely different. Shadows were still and dead, the ventilation hummed with a different timbre. The hushed voices of people no longer echoed back and forth from the high ceiling. The lighting on the photographs was no longer lit, and every image was blurred into the darkness, lit only by the faint moonlight that crept in from the spaced out sky lights on the ceiling. When the clouds passed over the moon, then even that meager source of light was destroyed, leaving Takaba treading softly in the black labyrinth hall to where ‘Nostalgia’ was, and it didn’t take long to find.
He knew exactly where it was.
The floor and the wall felt raw and frigid even through the layers of clothes as he sat down quietly, leaning back so that he could face the photograph. In the quasi darkness, Asami was even farther away. His back was broader and his stance more domineering, militant almost. He stood, undaunted by the world around him.
If I went back now, Asami…would you take me again…
The soft light cast on the photograph went black again, and Takaba fell asleep, holding his knees to his chest, gazing up at the photographer a lover that won’t look back.
The night guard had seen Takaba come out of the taxi and walk around to the side entrance. He knew there was no malevolence in him, coming out at three in the morning to the gallery. He didn’t really know who the man was, but on the few occasions that he saw him, it was with Mr. Tennison, his employer, and there was a silent acknowledgement between the two, a sense of trust that ran deep beyond the superficial. Indeed, the young Asian man was striking, his body, his face, the air about him was graceful and somehow crude at the same time.
He had had suspicions as to what kind of relationship the two had and his questions were cleared up one evening when he was checking in for his night shift. He had been wanting to ask Mr. Tennison something and was heading into the office when he heard some noise from office. Curious, he peeked through the slightly open crack to see the two lost in a kiss, their lips locked in passion, lost to the world around them. He forgot then what he wanted to asked and slipped out, never uttering a word of it to anyone.
So when he saw his employer’s lover walk around to the side door, he thought better of it and stayed where he was. The man obviously had a reason for being there, and if he went through the side door instead of simply asking the guard to open it, then he probably wanted privacy in the moment.
He waited then, for the man to come out and leave, but no one did. He waited for twenty minutes, then thirty, then forty, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five, and an hour. It was probably cold inside the exhibition hall, and the night guard was going worried.
Sure enough, there he was, crouched against a wall, asleep, bathed in the little bit of sunlight.
Do I wake him up or what?
He knew Mr. Tennison’s phone number though. Better call the man. Tell him his lover’s sleeping in the gallery.
At four in the morning, Gyles’ phone went of again, drawing him out from less than peaceful slumber. He groaned, flipping on the lamp, which temporarily blinded him, then grabbed the phone. If it was that collector again…
“What…” his voice was a dry croak, dragging on lethargically.
“Mr. Tennison, this is the night guard at the gallery and-”
Gyles bolted up, suddenly called to attention.
“Is there a problem?”
“Do you know that young Asian man who visits the gallery frequently?”
“He’s here, Mr. Tennison.”
“I’ll be there in half an hour. How is he?” Gyles stood up, heading towards the closet in his boxers. He yanked a nearly folded pair of jeans from the shelves and shook it open.
“He’s sleeping, sir.”
“Don’t wake him up. Just wait.”
“Yes, sir.” He closed the phone and slid up the jeans the rest of the way, zipping it up and buttoning the end. His car keys were also on the night stand; he shoved it into his pocket along with the cellphone and took the jacket that had been hung over the back of a chair.