Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis

a ticket at centre court

by tong 0 reviews

Yanagi/Kirihara, Yanagi is an investment banker, when we were younger only words were simpler.

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Sanada Genichirou,Yukimura Seiichi - Published: 2007-12-07 - Updated: 2007-12-07 - 6233 words - Complete

In the middle of a calm and balmy spring as beautiful as a silkscreen painting, there came, suddenly, a rainy day. After weeks of clear skies and mornings drifting like a lonely wave through a sea of quietly walking people, suddenly the sky was grey and drizzling and umbrellas were spinning slowly through the streets colliding and puddles were splashing shoes and trouser cuffs wet with a million hesitant steps. Navigating gingerly from my apartment to the train station, I felt like an atom in a cloud of gas, performing a Brownian dance helplessly in the company of a million other atoms, all holding tightly to their umbrellas and stepping through puddles in their good working shoes.

It wasn't an analogy I would normally have made, although I like science, and I had a good friend who liked science too, and I had promised that day to have lunch with this scientific friend, so it would have made sense if I had thought of atoms colliding because I was thinking about my lunch appointment with him. But the more time I spent spinning over sidewalks and down stairs and through the turnstiles at the train station, the more my umbrella bounced off other people’s umbrellas, the more the sidewalks and stairs and train station and other office-bound people seemed to spin away from me; as if with each tiny collision I made, I was trying to gather enough energy to push the next umbrella I encountered, out of my way completely; to leap through a space occupied by no umbrellas at all, and disappear from this regular old world entirely. Where would I go?

I stood on the platform waiting for the train, my umbrella dripping in my hand, someone else’s umbrella pressed against my leg, there were too many people now, there was no longer any chance to escape. After the cool feeling of rainy air on my face, outside in the street, there was only miserable heat and humidity inside the train station, generated by the people crowding the platform, trapped by the walls and ceiling enclosing us. A young woman talking on her mobile phone complained about the rain and how it was the source of all the gloom and misery and discomfort she was feeling right now, with her pretty hair damp and her high-heeled shoes waterlogged and her make-up clogging up with sweat. But all I could think about was going out of the station, back into the rain, not caring what it caused or what consequences I would later have to suffer. I turned around and tried to find my way out of the station; it was very difficult, as no one wanted to give way to me for fear that the person beside him would wriggle into his place, and he might miss the next train (and remain here for the next five minutes, sweaty, damp and waterlogged) by the space of an elbow or shoulder. In the end I could not make it; the faces that looked at me when I tried to struggle against everyone’s accepted direction (trainwards) were impassive, immovable, and in struggling against them I was also struggling against twenty-odd years of training in being polite towards other people and as much as possible trying not to touch them.

Standing in the train, my head began to hurt with the strangest ache, one I had not experienced for the longest time; as if it had been triggered by the same sensations of warmth and humidity and physical exhaustion, and the memory of wet, grey skies fresh in my mind. The train stopped; by a miracle, a few people left and no new people got on, and the man next to me sighed and unfolded the rolled-up newspaper he had been carrying, tenderly, like a delicate flower, under his coat. The sports page, which faced me, announced unusually brilliant weather in France, at Roland Garros; also that Japan’s Kirihara Akaya had forfeited his semi-final match due to a minor injury, which, though not serious, he preferred to have treated now rather than miss out on Wimbledon in the coming summer. Despite all its owner’s efforts to keep it dry, the pages were sopping wet, making an illegible mess of multiple articles layered over each other. An unusually gloomy morning interrupting an otherwise beautiful season.


I’ve noticed that many people will write or speak nostalgically about their youth and the strong, fond memories they have of specific events or moments, spent with favorite friends in favorite activities. Of my youth I can remember only facts, as if recalling the titles on the dusty trophies locked away in a forgotten cabinet of my parents’ house, a place I no longer live in. We won the under-15 junior championships at district and state level, both boys’ doubles and singles; in my second and final years of middle high Yukimura Seiichi was our captain; the two best friends I’ve ever had were Inui Sadaharu (between age 6 to present) and Sanada Genichirou (between age 12 to 19). When I think about high school, it is in terms of these statements, and I know them to be true. But recently, at Yukimura’s twenty-third birthday party, I met many people whom I had used to go to school with, or played competitively against, and they spoke to me fondly about the past, but in terms I could not associate with: purely sensory memories like sunlight on the grass courts, the whitewashed sheds behind the bleachers lit brilliantly they hurt your eyes, a pretty girl leaning against the chain-link fence with one arm thrown carelessly up as if was her serve, forever.

Even when recalling someone like Kirihara, a person composed almost entirely of sensory elements – wild hair, fierce colour, all sound and fury – I am compelled to recall the adjectives first, and from them reconstruct the sensory memory of seeing him on the other side of a tennis net, the white frame of the racquet gleaming like bone against his summer-tanned arms and face, the heavy slant of his black eyebrows pressing furiously down like massed thunderclouds. Kirihara, who regularly accused his schoolbooks of conspiring to make their printed text run together and confuse his eyes after more than five minutes of concentration; yet who could also look across a crowded classroom, blink once, and then, turning around, inform you who was present, as well as who was not, and what colour the azaleas were in the garden you could see looking out of the northernmost window. Even in school Kirihara had displayed an unerring fondness for transience, as if his mind was a camera that only registered the existence of ephemeral things like insects, songs, seasons, and people. Meeting him was like looking into an inverted mirror; by recognizing who he was, I recognized the opposite of myself in him, and I like to think that he, too, recognized the opposite of himself in me. There’s no other reason I can think of to explain how he came to speak to me, and I to him, in the way that we did; especially since for the entire first year of Kirihara’s junior high career, I’m sure that he absolutely hated me.

To recollect any memories of Kirihara I have from high school, I must first find the matching facts, like pulling random words out of a hat and arranging them to form an essay: tennis practice, English tuition, skipping lessons, Yukimura, proper tennis shoes, beaches, 70% average passing mark (weighted across all classes) in order to continue playing for district championships, anger, summer, London. Then only will the memories come, the sight and sound and smell of idling in between school and practices: humid air weighing down lazy limbs, the peculiar silence of playing shougi on the porch of my family’s old house in Kanagawa in the shadow of the bamboo groves, the faded beech floor littered with travel brochures glittering like tropical jewels, chewed pencils, scattered shoes with worn soles, wilted leaves. The ghost of the English language lurking in between slender stalks of gold bamboo, wincing every time its grave was stepped over, but if you fail this exam as miserably as you did the last time you’ll never be able to play in competitions, and isn’t that what you want?


Then what do you want?

“I want to beat you.”


Earlier this year I met Sanada unexpectedly at a charity dinner; he was there representing his family, and I, mine. We had no time to represent ourselves until we left the function and went to a pub to get a drink together. I hadn’t seen him since the end of senior high, after which he’d enrolled in a prestigious university in Tokyo, and I had gone abroad, but I might as well have skipped all these years if all I had wanted to see was how much he had visibly changed; he was now taller than I, with the impassive shoulders and stern stare of a Tokogawa baron, but in dim light and after a few drinks I felt that I had traveled backward in time to sneak, underage, into a bar with my best friend. He had not attended Yukimura’s birthday that spring, nor the year before, nor the year before, nor the year before. I wanted to ask him why – there had been a time when I had thought he would not miss it for the world – but I found that I could not lead the conversation to this question. The bar was quiet, respectable, only moderately populated with the type of salaryman who wants a quiet place to reply to emails on his Blackberry while a beautiful pianist tinkles quietly on her piano at the other end of the room. For half an hour he asked me what work I was doing now, and dispensed dry, bullet-pointed facts about mutual acquaintances and our family friends – this person’s eldest daughter was finally getting married to a shipyard owner’s son, this elderly lady had passed away and her children were squaring off over the inheritance, this new hotel was opening in town under the management of his cousin who was also my aunt’s godson. When I asked him how he was doing, he told me he was running the property development side of his uncle’s real estate firm, and acting as advisory board member to the national kendo association. “I see,” I replied. “That must keep you very busy.”

Sanada didn’t reply to that. I ordered us another round of beer and, with my hands lightly clasped upon the table, tried to form a polite sentence that would extract from him the irrefutable answer I had been waiting to hear from him since high school ended: why he had, without warning or explanation, severed all ties between himself and Yukimura. Instead I heard him ask:

“Have you heard from Kirihara?”

I didn’t know he remembered Kirihara, I said.

“I’ve been following his career since we left him in charge of the middle high club,” Sanada replied. “He’s been doing well. He and his coach think he has a chance at one of the big clay tourneys. His form is quite magnificent on clay. People are talking. He’s going to do well.”

“I didn’t know you kept in touch with Kirihara,” I said.

“You would have wanted to,” Sanada said.

I turned my glass around, tried to think of what I remembered from high school, when I could possibly have spoken to Sanada about Kirihara’s future, about his potential for both destruction and glory. I remembered the handing-over ceremony when Yukimura passed his captainship down to one of the new third years, a face and name I can’t recall; the whitewashed walls of the tennis club, graduation, anger; flowers, the stage spotlights glinting off Jackal Kuwahara’s shaven head, the sickly sweet fragrance strawberry shortcake and its messy crumbs sticking to greedy fingers, Yukimura’s hand straightening Kirihara’s wayward tie, the blue autumn sky so bright it scorched your eyes. Sanada had not been there. I have no memory of him at our graduation, not even to confirm the fact that he was there. But I remember he had not been there, there had only been a space to the right side of Yukimura’s wheelchair, and Yukimura had never turned to look at it; only to the left, to smile at me, or ahead at the stage, or down at his folded hands in his lap. Like the white walls of the tennis club’s headquarters, that stood firm and uncompromising regardless of victory or loss; that’s how I will always remember Yukimura.

“While I was in college I coached him for a while,” Sanada said. “But it was clear I could not help him, so I looked for someone who could. It has turned out well.”

“He was difficult,” I said.

“He is brilliant,” Sanada said. It was the only time I ever heard Sanada utter a word of praise; he did it so simply, the statement as brutal and clipped as any other sentence to leave his mouth, that I did not realize this fact until much later. “It becomes wasteful if that kind of natural talent is not developed. It would have been difficult if he hadn’t liked tennis.”

“A person who doesn’t like tennis wouldn’t join a tennis club.”

“He joined the tennis club to beat us,” Sanada said simply. “When he wanted to be better at tennis, more than he wanted to beat us, I wanted to help him.”

“You never liked him.”

“You wanted someone to help him,” Sanada said.

I didn’t see why this meant that Sanada should have decided to coach Kirihara; in all that I remembered, Kirihara had only ever given Sanada cause for anger and trouble and grief. I remembered teachers, parents, other students berating Sanada for not controlling him, as if by being a member of the tennis club, Sanada should automatically become responsible for all one’s failings. I had volunteered to coach Kirihara in English and mathematics after seeing how atrocious his grades were, how far away from even a normal, steady life he might fall without direction. But Sanada had never offered to become his caretaker.

“Getting better at tennis, one needs to always keep one’s rivals in mind,” I said. “Improvements can only be measured by defeating progressively tougher rivals.”

“And if you beat them all, you retire,” Sanada said, “at the age of fifteen. That’s not what you would have wanted for him.”


“Senpai, will you always play tennis?”

Late spring, my final year of middle high, already starting on college applications while preparing for the move to senior high, exams, exams, exams, Yukimura collapsing, Yagyuu Hiroshi speaking slowly on the telephone with his father and pausing to translate the medical terms for the rest of the team to understand. The smell of rain and the sight of the grey sky through bare branches and glass windows, waiting for the cherry blossoms, cycling through the fields on the outskirts of town on Sunday mornings after the first drizzle had fallen and the ground was soft and wet from rain and dew.

“Senpai, are you ignoring me?”

“Yes,” I said. I slowed my bicycle down; Marui Bunta was already far ahead, Niou Masaharu giving chase (or was it Yagyuu, his bleached hair glowing as brilliantly as Niou’s in the morning sunlight?), Jackal bringing up the rear and lagging behind to close any gates or retrieve bits of gum wrapping-paper that fell from our pockets or backpacks. Contemplating the vast green fields on either side of the dirt path, I had not noticed Kirihara abandoning pursuit of Marui and falling into a more sedate pace, behind me. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“How long do you think you will continue to play tennis?”

“Until I can’t lift a racquet any more,” I said.

“But you’re going to study mathematics, will you still play tennis?”

“Actuarial science, and yes, I’ll still play tennis.”

“Are English people good at tennis?”

“Some of them.”

“Are they better than Japanese tennis players?”

“I don’t know if it’s my position to answer that,” I said. “I can say that Croatian players are good because some Croatian players play in the big tournaments and beat everyone else in the tournament. When a person wins a tournament, especially if he keeps winning lots of tournaments – that’s when I can say, with confidence, that he’s a good player.”

“Senpai is always so serious,” Kirihara grumbled. Then, without warning: “Can I visit you in England?”

“Of course,” I said. I had been so careless, to forget Kirihara’s longing to travel beyond the town he had lived in all his life. When I had first started coaching him in English, I had asked him to bring anything printed in English that he wanted very badly to read – I had assumed that he would bring English magazines about video games, or tennis. Instead he had littered the floor of my porch with travel brochures stolen from a tourist kiosk in Tokyo. He had been terribly disappointed to learn that the English brochures detailed interesting places within Japan, snowy mountains and blue beaches and dense forests; he had thought that exotic languages meant exotic places. For his next lesson he came armed with travel brochures in Japanese, detailing exotic places within the planet Earth, and I found that by telling him about places within America, England and Europe and the possible adventures of Messiers Hewitt, Federer and Roddick, I was able to hold his attention so much better than by sticking to the textbook with its cast of exchange students Bob, Alice and Judy.

“I’ll beat those English tennis players,” Kirihara said. He was panting from the effort of keeping up with Marui’s marathon pace, the front of his shirt was dark with sweat, his hair stuck to his forehead in damp ringlets; I wondered if I should have asked Marui, our cycling champion, not to sprint so fast, to let the rest of us catch up. But Kirihara spoke of triumphing over English tennis more quietly and thoughtfully than his usual declarations of victory over the world, and he looked sideways at me, quickly, to make sure I was paying attention. “Then you’ll be able to say that I’m a good tennis player.”


But this was only one side of Kirihara, a single quiet facet of an otherwise monstrous prism, and for a long time I did not know about it. When he first came to school he must have spent half his afternoons in detention, skulking in the corridor waiting to see the principal, fighting behind the chemistry lab; sometimes he would skip classes altogether and break into the caféteria’s petty cash box to get enough coins for the arcade machines opposite the station, at the other end of town. That’s where I saw him one day, as I was coming in to afternoon practice after attending a shougi competition in the morning. If I had been Sanada I would have gone up to him, slapped him, and dragged him back to practice; if I had been Yukimura I would have smiled, waved, and waited for him to finish his game and cross the road to where I stood, and we would have gone into practice together. That was the talent of brutality unique to Sanada and the power of command unique to Yukimura, of which I possessed neither. Instead I looked at him, for as long as I faced the arcade, and, looking up, he saw me. I looked away from him, at the main street which led to school and the tennis courts; I looked back at him, but I did not know if I should shrug, or wink, or beckon. In the end I found that my feet had led me into the arcade, all the way over to the machine where he was crouched over the controls. It was a fighting game: you, versus everyone else. Kirihara’s score was quite impressive.

“May I play?” I asked.

Kirihara’s glare of hatred was instantly crossed with disbelief. I found some coins in my pocket and put them into the second player’s slot before he could object. The screen changed to character selection; Kirihara’s hands moved as though by sheer animal instinct, paging through the tiny portraits and settling on what was probably his favorite, most powerful character in a few seconds. I said, “What do you want me to do if you win?”

“Uncle,” Kirihara said, “if I win?”

“Your loss,” I said. “If I win, will you come to tennis practice?”

“If you win – I’ll beat you at tennis!”

I won the arcade match that afternoon, but I never bothered to collect the reward he’d promised me until I saw it, one rainy morning on the subway, words all running together on a wet newspaper.


“I thought you knew,” Inui said. “Don’t you keep in touch with him?”

I hadn’t seen or spoken to Kirihara since the time he really had come to visit me in London, but to Inui I just said, “No.” The awful grey rain that had plagued the city in the morning had been blown away by a fresh, sympathetic breeze; from the rooftop of Inui’s apartment there was a fantastic view of lunch hour, traffic choking roads and pedestrians choking sidewalks and opportunistic pigeons circling overhead. The landscape was one of utmost architectural density, walls and pavement giving way only to windows and intersections, sewn together by telephone wires and television aerials.

“Why did you come back?” Inui asked. He was only home for a holiday, he worked in the States now, in a few more years he would have a doctorate in biochemistry. Beside his t-shirt and jeans I felt like a schoolteacher in my suit and tie.

“I didn’t want to stay.”

“I thought you liked London.”

“I did. But it’s not entirely mine.”

“Oh, really,” Inui said. I was going to ask if he had turned his superb data-collecting skills to gossip over the past couple of years, but then he said, “How’s Yukimura doing these days?”

“So-so. No great improvement, no great deterioration. The doctors think he has a chance of leading a normal life if he keeps it up.”

“Normal life,” Inui said. “Who wants a normal life?”

I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“If he wasn’t sick, Kirihara and Ryoma and the rest of those ‘young national prodigies’ out there would be eating his leftovers right about now,” Inui said. “You know the saddest thing about this new wave of baby Asian superstars invading the international tennis scene, is that Yukimura should be riding the crest way ahead of them, blazing the trail, scooping up all these titles they’re fighting so hard to wrestle away from the Europeans and the Aussies and the Americans – and now you’re telling me it’s going to be good if he can lead a normal life. That’s a serious fucking tragedy, Renji. I’m really depressed now you’ve told me that.”

“Sorry,” I said.


London was not entirely mine the way Sanada’s friendship had not been entirely mine the way tennis had never been entirely mine. Tennis had belonged to me, and Sanada, and Yukimura; when Yukimura had been forced to stop playing, I could not step onto a court with any certainty or love for the game any more. As if throwing the ball up to serve, and finding that it had vanished – one is unable to continue. And Sanada was still my friend, and I knew without questioning him that he considered my friendship and Yukimura’s friendship to be of equal importance. But – I remembered a conversation I had had, on this subject, trying to explain to Kirihara one day why it was acceptable for Sanada to visit Yukimura in hospital all the time and barely have a quick ‘Hello’ to say to me when we passed in the hallway.

“It’s like Marui and his standards for strawberry shortcake,” I said. “You know how the one from the cute bakery looks and tastes exactly the same as the one from the normal bakery, but he likes the one from the normal bakery more.”

“It’s like that story about pigs turning into men.”

“What story was that?”

“Um, ‘all animals are equal’,” Kirihara said. “But ‘some animals are more equal than others’.”

“Yes,” I said. “Some animals are more equal than others.”

And London, London was almost entirely mine; had been mine for the three years I had studied there, and would have always continued to be entirely mine if Kirihara had not called me one day, greatly excited, and announced that he was standing in Wimbledon, right in the middle of centre court, and I should come and spend the day with him.


Living in a tourist city, one neglects to take note of famous and photogenic places; I was only able to take Kirihara to the places I went to on weekends, to Chinatown for dim sum with collegemates, to Kew Gardens for the birthday picnic of a girl whose name I’ve already forgotten, to the V&A for a special exhibition on the motifs of Islam in medieval art and architecture. For two or three years this had been my regular weekend schedule and as I stepped along the grey streets each weekend I had become incapable of recollecting the green fields we used to cycle through, the faded surface of the tennis courts, light coming in through the slanted glass windowpanes of our classroom window. Walking through London with Kirihara, I now had the strangest sensation of my old world being superimposed over the new one.

“Vice-captain never visited captain after you left,” Kirihara said. We had just walked into a café to have lunch, I was looking over the wine list, my collegemates at our table were talking about the Cirque du Soleil coming to town and if we should book through Ticketmasters, or if it would be cheaper to book through the French website. The transition was jarring; from English to Japanese, aged wines to the fizzy pop sodas from the massive all-purpose slot machine in front of the school’s combini, long glass windows filled with shop fronts and tanned, bare-armed pedestrians to an open summer sky and green fields turning ever so slightly to ripe gold. In the four or five years since I’d seen him, Kirihara had grown taller and broader and cut short his crazy hair, and his skin had taken on a particularly fierce glow now that he was training, full-time, in Europe; it was a tan like the summer sky, a colour without clouds, so bright it scorched your eyes. He even called me ‘Yanagi-san’, but quietly, instead of singing out that careless honorific from our schooldays, and he seemed to hold himself back from saying everything that was on his mind; there were pauses and deliberations between his sentences, and his eyes as he watched you reply to him were observant, wary. I didn’t have time then to consider if I liked this change in him, or preferred the way he had been. Would it have mattered? At the time, all I could think of was what he meant by that: that Sanada had never visited Yukimura since I left.

“When I’m back I go to see captain a lot,” Kirihara said, “with Marui, sometimes Jackal. Marui said vice-captain never went to the hospital or to captain’s house after you went overseas.”

“Maybe they fought over something,” I said. It was close to a lie; Sanada and Yukimura would never be able to speak to each other enough to come to a disagreement.

“Maybe,”Kirihara said. “Do your friends mind if we talk in Japanese for a while?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Since when did you start caring if other people minded?”

“I started thinking,” Kirihara said simply. “Maybe for some people, I don’t care, but it helps me if I pretend to care. And maybe for some people I care, I care the world I do, but it helps them if I pretend that I don’t care.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“I feel bad for what happened to captain,” Kirihara said.

“It’s hardly your fault.”

“I mean, not falling sick, I know I didn’t make him fall sick. I mean after he fell sick, it’s like vice-captain wanted so badly to be captain’s friend, vice-captain forgot he was supposed to be your friend, too.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “I’ve already explained it to you.”

“And you forgot you were supposed to be vice-captain’s and captain’s friend, too,” Kirihara said. “You became my friend and you didn’t go to see captain as much as vice-captain did because you felt they were better friends to each other than they were to you. But that means you were okay with that, you didn’t want to fight to stay good friends with them, you were okay with giving up. And they both felt it. And you felt it, but you never went back and tried to be their friend any more, you just went away. And ever since you went away they never talk to each other.”

I felt my mouth part, thinking I could answer, the words already beginning to form smoothly on my tongue; but there was no point in saying them, it was already too late, Yukimura wasn’t there, Sanada wasn’t there, there was only Kirihara and I knew he was not asking for apology or explanation. I didn’t know what he expected. He stared straight ahead at his wineglass, his brown fingers laced around the stem; his entire body was tense, the slouch of his shoulders rigid and unhappy. I found myself wishing for the years to rewind, for the glass walls around us to change into the whitewashed walls of the tennis club, the wineglasses into soda cans, Kirihara’s urchin curls to spin crazily around his head again. Not that the lines of communication had been any better then, or that I had been any more eloquent in explaining things to Kirihara; only that those days seemed to have been simpler, better, any single careless action less fraught with meaning.

“I felt that,” I said. “But I really did like being your friend.”


Kirihara had left the next day, his hectic schedule rushing him southward to France for his next qualifying match. “It was very nice to meet up with you again; thanks very much for showing me around,” he had said, and then abandoned his new-found manners to fling an arm wildly around my shoulders and wrench me down into a fierce hug. “I’ll see you again when I play at Wimbledon,” he said, his breath warm on my cheek. “You’ll come to see me play, won’t you?”

“Yes,” I had said.

But he never wrote to me again, or called. Several times I started to write to him, picked up the phone and started searching for his number; each time, I recalled word for word what he had said – that we would see each other again when he played at Wimbledon – hesitate, procrastinate, and, eventually, abandon each effort to reach him. After graduating from university, I left London completely and went to work for an investment bank in Tokyo; found a girlfriend, bought a car, a gym membership, helped to manage my family’s business from time to time, and allowed all of these things to swallow my time and thoughts completely.


After meeting up with Inui for lunch, I received a call from the hospital; Yukimura was being discharged today, and had asked that I be reminded of this. Over the past year I had developed a habit of dropping by the hospital after work, and telling him how the week had been. It had been a while since I had been able to be completely honest and share with Yukimura everything that was in my thoughts, in my mind, in my heart. When I looked at his face I still saw the whitewashed walls of our old tennis club and everything it had sheltered, and protected; all the secrets I still did not know, and would never know. Was he really as strong as I had told Kirihara he was, behind his slow smile; despite the strength I knew was there, when he looked out of the window from his bed, did he see the distant glimmer of all the trophies he would never win? Or was he still able to see and appreciate a beautiful night sky, full of stars? Would that be enough for him?

When I left the office I wanted to call him, to ask if he wanted me to visit. I knew where he lived in the city, when he didn’t have to stay at the hospital; it wasn’t on my way home but I didn’t mind stopping by, the apartment overlooked a beautiful little park cleverly landscaped to resemble a wild English summer, white pavilions and overgrown tea-roses hemmed in from the flat, grey streets by low, black-iron railings. I rang his number many times, but there was no reply; in the end I took a detour on the way home, and went by the park, intending to go up to the front door and ring the bell. As I walked beneath the low-hanging boughs of the trees, breathing in the scent of a few early flowers, I noticed the light at Yukimura’s window; it occurred to me then that I had come here hoping to see only darkness at the window, to believe that he had gone back to Kanagawa and thus was sleeping on the train, unable to answer my call; or that he was indeed at home but had gone to sleep, unable to answer my call; or had remained in hospital, his mobile phone set to silent mode out of consideration for the other patients; thus, unable to answer my call. But to see the light on and shadows flickering behind the drawn curtains meant that he was awake, and had chosen not to answer my call. I stopped walking and rested my arm on the bonnet of a car parked by the pavement. It was an Audi, one of the solid and sober models, not flashy but still obviously expensive; I recognized it, I had been saying goodbye to Sanada outside a bar, my tongue grasping after lost words while he stood beside this car with the keys in one hand and the other hand already reaching for the door. In the end, what had I said?

“Have you heard from Yukimura lately?”

Sanada’s hand resting on the door handle, not turning it. “No, I haven’t.”

“Oh, I thought he would have told you.”

“What happened?”

“He’s being discharged soon. It might be the last time he stays in the hospital any more. I really think he’s getting better.”

“That’s good.”

He turned the handle and began to pull the door open. I said, “I really thought he would have told you. It must have slipped his mind.”

“I don’t actually speak to him much these days,” Sanada said. But he shut the car door, and put his hands, one of them holding the keys, in his pockets. The smell of cigarettes and beer on our clothes was beginning to make me dizzy; I rested my arm on the bonnet of his car and asked: “Why not?”

“You seem to be visiting quite a lot,” Sanada said. His voice was flat, without accusation; his shoulders were beginning to slump, his very shadow seeming to stretch, wearily, across the road, pursued by the streetlight overhead. “Isn’t that enough for him?”

“Is it enough for you?”


I fell asleep on a bench in the park, among the scent of roses, dreaming of the English summer. When I woke up, I forgot where I was; the stiffness in my back said I’d just put in four hours of tennis yesterday, the greenery suggested Hyde Park, the beeping of my mobile phone said I was going to be late for a meeting. But Sanada’s car was still parked on the pavement, and there were only two months left to Wimbledon.


“Ticket Office, how can I help you?”

“Hello,” I said. “I would like to purchase a ticket at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, for the mens’ finals. I know it’s terribly hard to get hold of one, this late. But I would appreciate it if you could let me know how, and I will try.”

--AUGUST 2007
written for "rikkai exchange":
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