Takashi Kimura removed the small cedar box that once housed his wife’s jewelry from the dresser, sat cross-legged at the end of his kempt futon, and placed it on his lap. He waited, took deep breaths, and remembered her words before opening it as if she had just spoken them to him that very day: Today is the day. This is it. Do not worry about tomorrow. There is no tomorrow. Breathe, and it will be yours.
This daily ritual, down to the mantra-like chants, had to be performed exactly right—from when he awoke, to what he ate, to staring out his tiny apartment window onto the gray and neon cityscape, to how he showered…it had all been developed painstakingly over the years to help him grow accustomed to this new life. To deviate from this would be to dishonor his wife’s memory. No: it had to be done exactly right, and he was sure that if he stuck to it, it would someday pay off for him exactly as she had said it would.
He opened the lid slowly. From inside, he removed the silk handkerchief to reveal three silicone prosthetic pinkies. With his right hand—his good hand—he rolled up his left shirtsleeve and regarded the tone of his skin, holding the first pinkie to his hand, then wrist, deciding it was too pale (he had spent more time in sunny Naha that winter than originally planned).
The second pinkie was dark, yet still not dark enough, and the third wasn’t right at all—a leftover from the very first set he received, almost archaic now that he thought of it (and very uncomfortable). No, he would have to use the second, even though it didn’t quite match. What other choice did he have? He took the second prosthetic and placed it on the first joint where his pinky now ended. The suction would keep it on through most tasks, even showering, but still…it seemed to glow against his dark skin. A beacon signifying it did not belong.
Takashi stood and walked to the full-length mirror and tried to narrow his eyes, to blur his vision and imagine if the pinkie could, in any way, be considered a natural extension of his body. It could not. He considered for a moment just walking around with balled fists, a trick that had worked in the past, but decided against it. It would be too obvious where he was going.
Dissatisfied, but with no other options, he took his double-breasted gray suit jacket from the closet and finished dressing. He slathered on a musky cologne—a gift from his wife he had been rationing all these years—and gave himself one final check in the mirror to ensure everything was in order. That no tattoos were peeking above his neckline or sprouting out of his jacket sleeves like weeds from his past life.
Outside of the apartment the streets of San’ya were still aflutter from the night before: old men sitting on stoops and curbs hoarding golden Kirin cans and white tempered glass shochu bottles, men arguing and gesturing loudly to each other and to no one—to their miseries, perhaps. Men wearing wool hats, despite it being an unusually warm spring, and winter-type jackets. Men with no shirts, each rib countable through the alcohol- and sun-spotted paper flesh of their torsos. Men with whiskers, both white and black, huddled around plastic convenience store bags containing what was left of their score from the previous night. Men asleep on the pavement with utter disregard for their pride.
It was a scene all too familiar in his neighborhood, one that he hardly took notice of any more. As he walked the half-mile to the Metro station, Takashi kept to himself as he always had and ignored the slurs being hurled in his direction from the drunks and destitute who had supplanted themselves along his course. I might do the same in their position, he reassured himself. No harm done.
This was another mantra, one that even ten years ago would have proved futile: back then, before all this was set in motion, he would have attacked them for less. It was a trait that had been with him since youth, the wild and savage way he would assault his victims, earning him the nickname ?kami—the wolf—a name that stuck with through his enforcer years. But he had recast himself for her, taught himself not to be so hotheaded and to abstain from anything that might draw further attention to himself. For if there was one underlying moral to this new, obsessively methodized life, it was that there always another way to handle the situation. A far cry from the “attack first, don’t ask questions at all” mentality he had been encouraged to nurture during his tenure with the chivalrous organization.
Yet her sudden death, his need to now find employment himself…they seemed to be working against the years of training, eating away slowly like the sea erodes the seashore. He could feel the wolf inside of him more often now, and suppressed it as best he could with the memory of her pearls of wisdom softly spoken in his ear…but still, could it be enough? He hoped so.
Riding the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Takashi huddled in a corner seat, his left hand shoved in his jacket pocket and out of sight. Each stop ebbed and flowed with commuters—Rising and falling like a heartbeat, he thought. Blood in, blood out—and each time his passenger car filled he became instantly more aware of his person, checking his reflection in the dark windows, making sure—again—that no tattoos were peeking out from his clothes. And it was times like this, out in public, where he was made to feel the shame of his past life the most, and therefore he was acutely more aware of the fake appendage suctioned to what was left of his finger, could feel the pains as if it had been freshly severed, and the itch that followed, one that could not be sated, came on like a virus, spreading up his arm, to his torso, down to his feet. But he was wise to ignore it, to not draw attention to himself.
He looked at his reflection again: hair buzzed down near his scalp, mostly grayed now, sunken cheeks, and then the strong, thick neck that he inherited from his father—as if the pieces were from different people, patched sloppily together. His nose hooked and was irregularly shaped from having been broken so many times, and his eyes were small, little black beads set against his browned skin—he wondered how he was ever able to marry such a beautiful woman, one who accepted him for not only his past life and crimes, but his weathered face, aged beyond its years with everything it had witnessed. He thought of her beautiful smile, made even more magnetic by the gung-ho attitude she had adopted in her youth, producing, truly, the most charming person he had ever met: not afraid to go after what she wanted, to defend what she had, and to preach unwaveringly what she believed. Takashi knew that there was so much for him to be down on himself about, past deeds to pay penance on, yet it was so simple for her to disarm these dark thoughts at every turn—a glance into her soothing, hopeful eyes, her soft hands on his leg or shoulder, was all it took.
At Gaiemmae Station Takashi forced himself from the subway car and was greeted by a more immaculate Metro station, clean with no drunkards or lay-abouts hanging around. He listened to the conversations of the passers-by as he exited the turnstiles and rode the escalator to the street, studying their business-talk and the pompous way they carried themselves—hierarchy in companies was everything, just like anywhere in Japan, but outside of work they all talked a big game. This made Takashi laugh, remember these very same suited men who he’d be tasked with visiting—who owed the organization money—and how quickly they would become a quivering mess, wetting themselves, asking forgiveness. Sure, he thought. Real honorable.
One man in particular caught his eyes: young, short-cropped hair like the rest and a bratty smile that seemed to belong to a young man who never had to work for a thing in his life. He reminded Takashi of Jiro Saitou—of the incident.
An unauthorized bar fight had been the cause of his first yubitsume—his first year as an enforcer. To atone for the complete disregard of the rules of conduct (which were indeed plentiful), he had to slice the through the first joint of his pinkie. The pain wasn’t nearly as bad as it he imagined and, although a punishment, he quickly found himself part of a cabal of Yakuza likewise self-maimed, a secret club that he found bolstered his character in a way that made the job work even more in his favor. Not only was he Yakuza, proudly showing off his tattoos, but if that didn’t strike fear, the sight of a jointless finger—the intended victim knowing that this man had done it to himself—usually did the trick.
Besides, Takashi had always thought it had been worth it: the great smiling idiot had set him off. A night of drinking whiskey at a small underground lounge, beautiful girls waiting on them…and then this kid. Thought the whole world belonged to him—had disrespect for the establishment, for the girls who worked there, for everyone. Takashi bit his tongue most of the night, enjoying the evening with his comrades but always watching out of the corner of his eye, watching the spoiled kid brag about his parents’ wealth, the car he drove, his allowance—all means, he seemed to believe, that allowed him to act the way he did.
Sure, the kid had done nothing to him directly, but Takashi, coming from a working class family and having toiled his entire life, saw him and his friends as what was wrong with society and, completely drunk now with no self-control left to calm him, he’d had enough.
The fight didn’t last long. Takashi had broken the kid’s nose and collarbone, possibly a thumb too (he could no longer recall), while his comrades took on his friends and trashed the bar—all of it over in about five minutes. Someone had called the police, who did little more than send the Yakuza brothers out on the street knowing they would have to pay their own price within their organization, and reprimanded the kid, from what Takashi could see. Only when he sobered up later that night along with his crew—and in taking full responsibility—did he become totally aware not only of his actions but of the consequences.
His boss, a quiet, older man with a head of messy white hair, reached in his desk and took out a shining knife with a luxurious wooden handle, sliding it across. No words were spoken—Takashi knew what had to be done and so laid down first a handkerchief from his pocket, gritted his teeth, and sawed through the first knuckle of his left pinkie in only a few swift motions with almost no pushback from the sinew or bone.
The rest of his tenure as an enforcer was met with more calculated responses. He would drink with his comrades, but not get drunk if he could help it: he would be wild when wild called, but more restrained than before, always his wits about him. It wasn’t until he had met the woman who would be his wife—after his arms and torso and back were already covered in the colorful tattoos that detailed his sordid story—that he desired more than what the chivalrous organization could give him: a life free from all the late nights and brushes with the law, from bloody fights to things he dare not speak of. Wholly enchanted, all he wanted was her. All he wanted was out.
And so, as was the custom, he would have to sever the same pinkie down to the last knuckle to atone for this abandonment. There was a crowd again this time, made up now of his subordinates and bosses from three regions he had worked with over the years all wearing suits and sunglasses in a dark den, and he performed the task as he had once previously years before—but this time, perhaps due to the life he knew was waiting for him, and because of the beautiful woman who wanted to spend it with him, there was far more pain, far more blood, and the task itself was almost Herculean in scale.
Once completed, he wrapped it in the scarf and bowed to his superiors, to his comrades, and left—a ghost to them now, a cog whose position had been filled the moment he had spoken up about leaving. This, in the end, was all he ever was.
A block from his destination, and still fifteen minutes early, Takashi ducked into a small park and sat on a bench, trying hard to stifle the anger that had risen in him from dwelling on the past. A familiar discourse ran in his head as he glanced at the bits of faded color tattooed on his wrist. What he hated most was hiding who he was. That no one would give a job to an ex-Yakuza, and while on one hand he understood this, he couldn’t fully accept the fact that now, with no ties to it, he would be judged by past deeds alone.
He could feel the anger pulsating deep down, almost as if it were an egg about to hatch, the monster inside desperately trying to break free. Again, he breathed deeply, thought of his wife’s voice, and calmed himself down. This will work out, he thought, channeling her. I am older, yes, but I am qualified for this job. I know this will end in my favor. It is my time.
He watched two mothers sitting on a bench opposite him, talking as their children played nearby, and he looked up and admired the Minato cityscape—so polished and so busy. He missed Junko, especially now, but knew he could make this happen. He could get through the interview and be charming and get the job. A commute, but it paid well. Perhaps then he could move out of San’ya to somewhere a bit nicer, start a new life and really leave it all behind. Yes, that would be the plan, and it all started with today.
He was ready.
Inside the tall black glass building, Takashi marveled at the size of the lobby. It was wide open, various modern chairs spread about, TV monitors affixed to columns that had been paneled in a dark wood (cherry, perhaps?) advertising in loops the various products and experiences the company produced. The ceiling, paneled in the same wood, was raised, and like the chairs, the modern design of the various lighting fixtures was overwhelming—it was all so simply elegant. At the far end of the room was a long desk with the words INOUE CORPORATION stenciled to its base, behind which sat three beautiful women at computers. Flanking them on either side were armed security guards…but the women made him more nervous.
“Hello,” he said quietly as he approached the woman in the middle. “My name is Takashi Kimura and I have an appointment with Shou Kagoshima. In sales.”
The woman smiled, looked him up and down, and in that instant Takashi became instantly aware of himself again, of his shortcomings. He pocketed his left hand and pulled both jacket sleeves down, the collar of his shirt up. The fidgeting, he figured, could be forgiven.
After clacking on the computer for a moment, the woman looked back up at him and said, “Yes, we will escort you up.”
Takashi smiled, but remained silent. Another woman, even more slender and beautiful than those behind the desk, appeared from around the corner past the security guards and waved him over. He was careful to remove his hand from his pocket and let it sit at his side, hoping no one would notice the color distortions, and shook with his right hand vigorously as she introduced herself and handed him a visitor’s pass to be clipped to his lapel.
She lectured him on the history of the Inoue Corporation on the way up, down to every minute detail including what they were trading for that day on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He tried hard to pay attention but found himself distracted by her lips—they looked like Junko’s—and the nagging feeling that he had somehow or somehow would give himself away.
On the thirty-second floor they exited the elevator, and with a swipe of her keycard she lead him through a large room of cubicles where the occupants—all sales—answered phone calls in rapid succession. Not a soul looked up as they passed, all hard at work, and he caught glimpses of men and women, all dressed smartly—smarter than him—and much younger, too. A pang of worry hit him: Am I too old for this? he thought. It was advertised as entry level…
The woman (he never did get her name) lead Takashi to the end of the building to a large set of doors. Outside another woman—again attractive, thin…he was noticing a pattern—sat at a desk smiling. The two women exchanged pleasantries, and Takashi waited as the new woman guarding the door made a phone call, said only two words under her breath, and motioned for him to enter.
The office was as sleek as the lobby and the rest of the building: modern art hanging on the walls, a glass bar built into the wall, the same cherry wood floors and a long slender couch in one corner. The entire back wall was windows that looked out over Minato and for a moment, Takashi thought he had made it—that he could get used to this lifestyle.
The man behind the desk, Shou Kagoshima, stood and smiled a toothy, too-white smile. He was thin, so much so that Takashi could not tell his actual age, but guessed somewhere in his early thirties. As he approached he saw Shou, with subtle movements of his eyes, study his figure, the way he carried himself.
“Nice to meet you,” Takashi said, bowing slightly and then meeting his hand for a shake.
“Thank you for coming,” Shou said. “Please, sit.”
Takashi did, in one of two sleek leather chairs. The desk was made of cedar—sugi, just like his wife’s jewelry box—and it was massive, one of those installations meant to intimidate anyone sitting on the wrong side, so he tried his best to look relaxed and comfortable.
Shou selected a folder on his desk and pulled from it two sheets of paper. “I have your things here, your application and references.”
“Yes,” Takashi said.
Shou looked at the paper as if for the first time, tracing his index finger along the lines, flipping to the second and doing the same. “So… sales, huh?” he said, still smiling.
“Well,” Takashi began, bringing to mind the speech he had rehearsed a hundred times, “I have a natural way with people. I am very good at talking to them and getting information out of them. That is to say, they feel comfortable around me.”
“I see. But no actual sales experience, correct?”
“None officially, no”—Takashi smiled, hoped the next bit may hit at home—“but my father was a NHK fee collector, and I would often go with him. It was a challenge to get people to part with the money they owed, so he taught me how to be persuasive.”
“Interesting. This was…?”
“When I was a boy.”
“And no other experience besides that?”
Takashi kept his smile, forced it to stay in place though could feel his insides drop. “That’s right.”
Shou sat back, scratched his chin with the same finger he’d used to read the sheets of paper. “See, the thing is, even though the position was posted as entry level, we still prefer applicants to have some experience.” Pause. “An internship or something. And you”—he lifted up the sheets of paper again, flipped through casually—“you have serious gaps here in your employment history. Not to mention there was no higher education listed.”
Takashi swallowed, fought the burning anger he felt in his belly. “Respectfully,” he said, “none of those things were mentioned as being required when I applied.”
“That is correct, but still…it’s an understanding I think in the business community that, required or not, you have something there we can work with. But you…you have nothing.”
Shou set the papers down, leaned back in his chair. Takashi studied him, the now-quiet of the room, a tick coming from somewhere—a clock, maybe…but where?—and tried to recall Junko’s voice, but could not find it. “Then why did you call me to come in?” he asked curtly.
Shou smiled a sleazy smile—the kind of thing that especially got under Takashi’s skin—and leaned forward over the desk. “To be honest,” he said, “there are only a handful of reasons why someone’s resume would look like yours. I did some research after I received it and…well, in this day and age, none of us really have any secrets, do we?”
Takashi could feel his heart race. He instinctively tugged at his shirt sleeves and his collar, and with his right hand wiped away the bits of sweat now forming. “I’m sorry?”
“Imagine it: ex-Yakuza in my very office!” Shou said with a certain degree of glee. “Now, you don’t have to tell me what you did for them, but would it be too much to see the tattoos, at least part of them? I know you have them hidden somewhere, right? And maybe I can take a picture.”
“So, that’s it?”
“What—the interview?” Shou sat back and chuckled. “It was the only way I could think of getting you here. No hard feelings, but you really aren’t all that qualified, you understand? Now, come on, at least tell me a bloody story, something I can tell my friends about. If it’s good, perhaps I’ll even pay you for it, huh?”
It was that smile that caused the pot to boil over—that leaching smile that reminded him again of the kid in the bar, of what they all stood for. That his time—dry-cleaning his suit, spending all morning coming here, picking apart his appearance, the entire journey—didn’t matter. That his being—that he—didn’t matter. It was just all too much.
Perhaps because of what had been taken from him—his wife, his sense of self…so much more—and seeing that smile, all those teeth, the way Shou looked at him as a thing, nothing more than a story—Takashi saw only failure, something he did not take well. So he stood without saying a word and circled around the cedar desk in quick strides, Shou watching in disbelief that this man, this ex-Yakuza was walking toward him, until it was too late. With his right hand, Takashi grabbed Shou’s tie and yanked it up, choking him with it, then, with his left hand, bit into his pinkie prosthetic and ripped it off, spitting it out onto the floor.
Shou’s eyes grew wide but he couldn’t talk with his tie being pulled. Instead he emitted a gurgling yelp, and Takashi—now ?kami once again, the wolf freed—repeatedly hit the thin man in the face, making contact with the bridge of his nose first, then the bone surround his eye—which he heard crack—and his forehead until Shou dropped limp in the chair.
Takashi released him, breathing heavy, saw the blood on his face, then noticed he had wet himself. He smiled. “Just like all the others,” he said. “Sitting there in your own piss. Pathetic.”
Shou’s eyes rolled in their sockets and he came to, grabbing at his neck and working the button of his collar free and then scrambling to the floor, back to the window that overlooked the cityscape. He watched Takashi as he stripped off his gray double-breasted jacket in the center of the room and tossed it on the floor, removed his tie and likewise discarded it. Even through the freshly-starched shirt, the makeup of his tattoos could be seen, the overwhelming complexity of it all. He shed his shirt and stood with his back to Shou, his sinewy frame and the artistry that covered it on full display: a wolf, carp, naked women half-wearing robes and various kanji phrases, all intertwined with beautiful blues and oranges.
“This is what you wanted?” Takashi yelled. “Fine. Here it is.”
He could hear people talking on the other side of the door—the attractive secretary, perhaps some of the cubicled workers—and realized that Shou’s yelping had been louder than he thought. But no matter. This was the only logical way it could have ended: a man not born for this world, stripped of everything yet still trying so desperately to be part of it. Stupid, he thought. So very stupid.
Takashi thought of his wife again, of all her hard work that had turned him into something else…something not him. He had changed for her and was grateful for it, but now she was gone. And this man in front of him, everyone in this building, each of them had taken something from him in their own way. His patience, his time…his pride. As he heard his wife’s words echo in his head again, they shifted, morphed, became something else altogether that he now understood fully.
A knock at the door, then another, louder: security had been called and was moments away from breaking in. Would they fire on him? Break his fingers as they tackled him to the ground? It didn’t matter. This was it. Takashi mumbled an apology to his wife, cracked his neck and his knuckles and looked back at Shou, smiled, his left hand raised high in the air—the shortened pinkie in all its glory—and said, simply: “There is no tomorrow.”