Legacy_II


Part I of Legacy

He felt more than saw the light on the side of his face as he scrubbed the Torii. He heard Ryuuji's gasp below him, but he was already turning toward it, that impossible blossom of crimson and orange over the city like another sun. He felt fear, panic, disbelief, awe, enough that he lost his balance and sent them both toppling backwards on their slim ladder.

There was no sound. Even before, a part of his mind had been noting the silence, no birds, no insect, nothing until Ryuuji's gasp and then the blast of hellish light, all played in extreme slow motion, as if he could see each molecule move as the world came to an end, as he fell backwards, his friend's fingers reaching for his own. If Ryuuji cried out again as they fell, it was lost in the slowness as the world exploded before him and he fell endlessly to the unforgiving ground.

And all went black.

Daiki Omoto woke with a start and nearly crashed to the floor. Sleeping on a stool again! With luck—and practice—he had avoided a tumble but he was getting too old to take these kinds of chances. Better to put a pillow on the counter and stop pretending he could stay up until ten any more.

The windows across the front of the tiny coffee shop showed the fitful light of a streetlamp, obscured and made into modern art by sheets of rain and put to shame by the infrequent glare of lightning. Perhaps, thunder woke him.

The bell at the door sounded. Surprised that he'd missed someone approaching, even more so that they would come during such a downpour, Omoto poured out the coffee pot and started work on something fresh, as the someone stumbled in and sloshed forward to the counter. Omoto tossed him a towel before he could sit, and then another when the newcomer obediently covered the stool before sitting. But the soaked figure made no move to pick up the second towel.

As the coffee started perking, Omoto wordlessly unplugged his space heater and moved it to where the teenager sat, then plugged it in and turned it on. "Kyle-san?"

Huddled in his soaked hoodie, the boy jerked up. "O-san."

Omoto pointed to Kyle's hoodie. "Why not take off your wet clothes and use the towel? You must be freezing."

Kyle's face was whiter than even his normal pallor under a sopping shaggy mop of ineptly dyed black hair. Half a dozen earrings flashed silver in an ear pink with cold. His fingers shook as he wrestled the zipper down and surrendered the soaked jacket to Omoto's hands. Omoto sidestepped the nylon duffel bag without comment as he hung the jacket on the coat tree and handed Kyle the towel. "Coffee?"

"Uh, yeah," Kyle said, and reached into his black jeans, then sifted through wet crumpled bills, three ones and a ten.

"On the house," Omoto said softly, moving back behind his counter.

For the first time, Kyle turned his gaze on Omoto. Omoto was struck again by Kyle's shockingly beautiful eyes, birds' egg blue and framed with black lashes, in an otherwise ordinary teenage face. The boy's surprise was replaced quickly with feigned disdain. "O-san, you've got the last place in America that still serves coffee for fifty cents. With free refills. I can afford…"

"Kyle-san, I think you will need all the money you have." Omoto glanced at the duffel bag and then looked back into Kyle's eyes squarely. "Want to talk about it?"

Kyle's lower lip jutted, not unlike a stubborn toddler's. "And if I don't?"

"The coffee will still be free. And you are welcome to stay until you are dry or the rain lets up."

"Might take all night."

"If you need a place to stay, you can stay as long as you like."

"No strings? No questions?"

Omoto didn't really need to ask them. "You do not have to tell me anything you do not want to tell me."

Kyle's father had been coming to Omoto's coffee shop for a decade, often with Kyle in tow. When Kyle entered high school, he and some of his other friends, "goths" they called themselves, started coming because it was cheap. Quiet. Omoto thought they felt comfortable here. Omoto pushed a cup of fresh coffee toward him. Added two spoons of sugar.

Kyle cradled the cup in his cold fingers then sipped. Savored.

Omoto nodded, satisfied. "I will get the futon ready in the back. Here, take this sweater for now."

"O-san?" Kyle took the sweater, but seemed afraid to look up.

Omoto waited. The boy needed to talk.

"Have you ever lost everything? I mean, everything important to you in your life?"

Omoto returned to his stool on his side of the bar and poured himself a cup of coffee. Added cream. "Yes." He offered Kyle the warmest smile he could. "Yes. Twice."

"I mean everything."

Omoto pointed to the picture enshrined at the end of the counter, behind a bowl of sand with burnt incense sticks sprouting from it. Rather than a face, a mushroomed cloud bloomed in black and white, snaking up on a ridiculously long stem from the unseen carnage below.

"What's that?" Kyle asked.

"Nagasaki. When I was your age, I lived there when they destroyed it with one bomb and killed every member of my family. My mother, two sisters and two brothers."

"No way! For real?"

"Very real."

Kyle moved closer and peered at it. "Why you got a picture of a bomb that killed your family in your damn coffee shop?"

"In my culture, we set a shrine for our lost loved ones, pictures of them, but they were all destroyed by the bomb. So, this is how I remember them."

Kyle regarded him, first with fascination, then with disgust. "Nuh-unh. Damn it, you almost got me. If you were really there, you couldn't talk about it, not so calm and shit."

Omoto met his eyes without flinching. "Kyle, that was seventy years ago, and I've made my peace with it. And terrible events, if they aren't discussed, if the old don't remind the young about them, leave the door open for them to happen again. I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Kyle looked up at the picture, amazed. "I didn't think anyone lived through that! Wasn't that, like, the worst bombing ever? I mean you were actually nuked and lived to tell the tale."

"It was not as much of an adventure as you make it sound. Those of us who survived were kept in emergency camps, like refugee camps, as our shrine became. My friend and I slept in what was a dining hall, laid out on futons on the floor."

Omoto paused and remembered the nightmares right after the bombing, when it was still so fresh that he woke up stifling his screams so no one else would be disturbed. His friend, Ryuuji, always knew when nightmares woke Omoto though he slept elsewhere with his grandfather.

Ryuuji's hand gripped his shoulder. Daiki's waning fear and sense of loss were replaced by an emotion he'd known far longer, longing. That was his own secret that he would never share with his best friend, never share with his dearest love, who were one and the same. With the longing came the guilt that he rejoiced that Ryuuji still lived even if so many others had perished.

"Daiki! You are not alone!"

"I'm alright," Daiki hissed, wishing he didn't sound angry. "Just a dream."

"You should sleep with us, so I don't have to wade through the dark when you dream."

Daiki shook his head. Ryuuji never sounded sad, never sounded angry. Like the sun on a cloudy day. "Yes, yes."

"One yes will do, smarty. Come with me this time, and no argument."

Daiki sighed and silently picked up his pillow and blanket, little comfort on the worn tatami floor of the shelter. Daiki stepped carefully so he would wake no one, and was grateful that the darkness provided an excuse to hold Ryuuji's hand.

Before that day only a week before, Daiki had never seen Ryuuji cry. Or seen him silent as he was when they'd climbed down the mountain as fires raged on the landscape, the bustling heart of the city wiped clean from the face of the earth. The air stank of smoke and burnt flesh, burnt oil, burnt everything. Daiki had felt the tears stream, unchecked, down his own filthy face as he could readily see there would be nothing to find. Everyone they knew, save Ryuuji's grandfather—left screeching his frustration at the shrine—had been in that portion of Nagasaki that was naught but scorched earth. But Ryuuji made no sound, shed no tear until he stood in the empty patch of ground where once his mother and father had lived, his baby sister had played. Where his brothers had teased him. He knelt in the shattered dust without so much as a hairpin to show that people had ever been there, and wept raucous harsh sobs that tore through Daiki as his own silent tears could not.

Only when Ryuuji had wept and rocked for hours on his knees as Daiki stood over him, afraid to touch him, afraid to leave him in his grief, did Ryuuji stumble back to his feet and throw himself on Daiki. "You are not alone, Daiki." It was the first time Ryuuji had forgone the honorific in the seventeen years they had known each other. He was making Daiki family.

"You are not alone."

In the week since, Ryuuji had made it a mantra in a hellish world where all was loss and deprivation.

"Were you hurt?"

Omoto blinked his way back to the present. Even awake, his memories sometimes felt more real than today.

"No. Ryuuji—that was my friend—and I were cleaning a shrine on a hill and were shielded from the blast. I fell off my ladder when it flashed and was knocked out before the sound of it even reached me."

"Did you get all radiation sick and your hair fall out? Or wander around with your skin coming off like zombies?"

"No." Omoto left just a touch of censure in his voice. "But I saw those that were. Burned, shredded, sickened, ruined. I saw them all. I saw the shadows of where men had once been, their images burned into the ground but their bodies turned to dust and blown away. Everywhere, the scent of burning, death and decay. Not the same as your video games when the pain is real."

"Shit. Sorry, O-san."

"My family worked in the factories, the ones the bomb was targeting. My mother and two sisters lived at home by the factories. They were all gone."

"What about your dad?"

"He had already died in the war. Lost at sea."

"Damn. Man, I'm sorry, O-san. I mean, I know they're bad memories, but to have lived through a real nuclear explosion! Hell, how old are you?"

"Eighty-seven. I can remember now without pain, but it was hard then. It was hard for all Japan, but hardest for us hibakusha, those of us that survived an atomic bomb. Japan hated us, too, afraid that we were monsters. Ashamed that our cities caused Japan to surrender. If not for my friend and his grandfather, I would have been alone. He lost his family, too, but his grandfather lived for a time before the radiation got him."

Omoto could see Kyle dying to ask more, but was at least conscious that it might be offensive. "His death was not exciting. He was sick that day, most of us were, and the next, then seemed to be better, before dying a month later, bleeding, swelling with his skin purpling. It is not a nice way to die."

"Way harsh. And then it was just you and your friend."

"Yes, Ryuuji and me."

"So, how did you end up in America? I mean, don't you, like, hate us, for killing your family and shit?"

"Ryuuji's grandfather was a famous engineer who designed many weapons of war. I remember him as a proud man. When Ryuuji and I were thirteen, O-san went to support Japan in the war in China and, when he came back, he was a different man. His face was not older, but his eyes were, old and broken. When Ryuuji's grandmother died, he retired, shaved his head, and became a monk."

"What, a Catholic?"

"Buddhist. It was because he wanted us to help in the shrine that summer that we were there and not destroyed with the rest. O-san was cleaning the path to the shrine and had no protection. He stared into the blast and it blinded him. Even when the radiation sickness returned, he never complained. When he lay dying, soaked in his own blood he'd coughed up that we had no way of cleaning, he told Ryuuji, 'This. Hate caused this.'"

The hand that had been shriveled with age and toil was swollen now with blood beneath the skin. Still, even swollen, the fingers gripped Ryuuji's sleeve desperately. "Hate did this."

"O-san!" For the second time, Ryuuji wept, shattered by sobs as he bent over his failing grandfather.

"Listen, Ryuuji. It is hate. When you hate so much that you kill the children, the wives, of your enemy and leave their homes as dust, it is a profound hate. And through that hate, others will learn to hate you for your callousness and cruelty. Hatred such that this can be done to your city and family, and the world will turn away from your pain because it is the child of your own hatred. It is always thus, hatred spawning hatred, feeding more hatred, feeding on itself. No end. No peace. No justice for the crimes always escalate."

He choked on more blood and Daiki could see he was fading, but his blind eyes were as intense as they'd ever been, as if they could still see Ryuuji, still compel him with their power. "Always, endlessly feeding on itself. No one is so strong that he cannot taste the hatred of the enemies his hatred has created."

Ryuuji could say nothing, only sob. But he listened.

"You must stop it, Ryuuji. You and Daiki-kun. You must change the world."

Ryuuji couldn't speak, so Daiki spoke for him. "How, O-san?"

"You must turn from your own hatred. Hatred breeds hatred, but kindness also breeds its own. Everyone who turns away from hate, everyone who chooses to change, makes the world better." The hand was losing its grip, shaking so badly Ryuuji shook as well. "Learn! Learn, and hate no more."

"O-san?"

Omoto smiled, as best he could. "Sorry, Kyle-kun. Sometimes, the memories take over."

"You're crying." Kyle sounded awed.

Omoto didn't bother to wipe the tears or try to check the flow. "It was a very sad day, but a very important lesson. Ryuuji, who had always been kind, became more so. And I, I eventually left my hate behind. I was not so quick as Ryuuji, but it was ever thus."

"So, how did you come here?"

Omoto calmed himself as he refilled their cups. "When the Americans came, Ryuuji and I ended up working for them. Ryuuji's grandfather had insisted we learn Chinese, English, Korean. 'If you know your enemy's language, you know your enemy,' he would say. And we were both very good at math, half-way to engineers already. So the Americans found us useful."

"So, they helped you?"

"Well, yes, but it was mostly Ryuuji convincing them." Omoto chuckled. "Ryuuji could talk anyone into anything. Even making them take me, too."

Ryuuji wiped the blood from his lip and leapt back to his feet, nimble from his years of judo. Without fear, he came back, toe-to-toe with the hulking American corporal standing a good head above him, backed by several other soldiers. But he did not fight or point.

"You already beat me," Ryuuji said. "You already beat all of Japan. Why you need beat me again? Anyone bigger or stronger can beat someone already beaten. But can you change me? Can you make me believe your way is better? See, that would be something."

"Why should I bother with a piece of Jap trash like you? You're already beaten," the corporal snarled.

"Beating me again and again, you win nothing new. But, change me, and you have a whole new victory."

The corporal spat on him and shoved him aside. Daiki saw how easily Ryuuji could have taken him down, but he chose not to. Ryuuji didn't fall but spun on the balls of his feet to stand again, just an arm's length away. "You give up too easy, American."

The corporal clenched his fists and advanced but stopped at a barked from someone behind them, "Hold there, soldier."

The corporal stopped, stared, then saluted. "Colonel!"

Chewing around a truly noxious cigar, the Colonel jerked his head. "You men are dismissed."

The soldiers left with alacrity, leaving Ryuuji to face the Colonel. "Want to be changed, do ya, Jap kid? What is it you're aiming for?"

"University. In the States. We smart and can do good things for peace, not war."

The Colonel, grizzled, hair cut close to the scalp, studied Ryuuji and puffed on his cigar. "Peace, eh? What makes you think I'd trust you to do that?"

"Because that's how you prove you've really won."

The Colonel snorted, nodding at Daiki. "You too, kid?"

Daiki found himself addressed for the first time. "Yes, yes, sir. I want to learn."

The Colonel spat, but not on anyone. "Shit, son, if you and your friend could learn peace, I, for one, would be grateful."

Kyle took a deep breath, breaking Omoto's reverie. "I'm gay."

"Oh, yes, I know. Cookie?"

Kyle jerked his head up again, his eyes laser bright. "You knew?"

Omoto laughed and tapped his temple with his finger. "I am old, not blind. Have a cookie." When the boy kept staring, he chuckled again. "I know what it means when a man looks as you do at his friend. As I used to."

"You're gay?"

"It is not just a modern condition. But it does mean you have no reason to fear any judgment from me."

The shock faded from his eyes, but they were still wary. "You're not…?"

Omoto sighed gustily. "I do not prey on frightened boys, no."

Omoto's irritation evaporated as the boy's stiffness fluttered away, real regret in eyes already filling with tears, "Shit, I'm sorry, O-san. I just—I mean, I can't—!"

Omoto made no move to touch him, much as he wanted to comfort him, but offered him the plate of cookies and refilled his cup. Added sugar. "Have a cookie, Kyle, and more coffee. And tell me what happened. You will feel better."

Kyle stirred the coffee, lost in thought. Without looking up, he said, "You know Brian, right?"

Omoto knew him, of course, but played along. "Dyed bright red hair? Likes leather?"

Kyle's smile was wry. "That's the one. I mean, I've never felt comfortable with girls and I've always been more interested in guys, but it wasn't pressing, you know. And then, my freshman year of high school, I bump into Brian and—bam!—I was in love. Tried to play it cool, be friends, be grateful just to be in his clique 'cause, you know, I was pretty sure he was straight. Always had a girl or three hangin' on him. Always meant to keep it to myself. But we were graduating in a couple of months and he's going to fuckin' Michigan. Michigan! And I started thinking it was better to tell him and try than to lose him anyway and never know."

Omoto nodded as Kyle slurped his coffee. "Wise decision."

"Yeah, I guess. I mean it was. Bryan said he was bi, liked guys just as much as girls and that he really cared about me. He was my first and I love the shit out of him, so I'm not sorry. Even if I never see him again, I'm not sorry."

"Never be sorry for loving someone. Even if they betray you, never be sorry."

"Yeah." Kyle looked up at him, again. "Spooky how you know so much."

"Isn't it?" Omoto helped himself to a cookie. "It is because I am old."

"Yeah. Maybe. Anyways, earlier today, after meeting up with Brian, I came home and my old man had found my stash."

"Your stash? Drugs?" Omoto let his own surprise leak into his voice.

"No, not drugs, magazines, you know, condoms and lube. Stash. Stuff that screams, 'I'm gay!'" He laughed but it was a joyless sound. "I mean I'm almost a cliché, gay here in San Francisco. But my dad has to be one of those that hates gays."

He stopped, took a sip, broke a cookie in half but didn't eat it. Omoto wondered if Kyle was waiting for a prompt, but Kyle continued, "I should have denied it. Said I was holding them for a friend, but I didn't want to. Brian loved me and I wanted to be myself without apologizing, so I admitted it, bragged about it."

Omoto waited. It was not the first time he'd heard this story from one kid or another, but it always touched him. And he'd never heard it where he was certain of the ending. Some parents came around. Some left their children adrift, shorn of acceptance from those they most trusted.

"So, he threw me out. I mean, I wasn't really surprised. I thought, 'I'm okay.' Got a scholarship to Stanford already. I can make it. Brian will—" He choked and the tears that had only threatened began to pour. "I thought Brian loved me, that he'd take me in at least until I could get a place to stay."

Omoto handed him a napkin. "But he did not."

"He said he couldn't be outed. He's got a football scholarship, y'know, and… "

Omoto scurried off his stool, and came 'round the counter, gathering Kyle into his arms, just holding the boy so he could cry. The sobs were like Ryuuji's and it struck him that losing your family because they reject you was hardly better than just knowing they were gone. In some ways, it was more painful to lose a family by their own choice.

Omoto had always regretted leaving Ryuuji alone to his tears that day in Nagasaki. Since then, Omoto had learned how important it was not to feel alone at that moment, how much he'd abandoned Ryuuji, and how Ryuuji had forgiven him by adopting him and making him part of a family again.

If Kyle needed a family, Omoto would be one for him. No one should be alone.

When the sobs subsided, Omoto supported him off the stool and walked him with him behind the counter. "Have you eaten?" Omoto said as he maneuvered him to the back room.

"Can't eat."

"Fair enough. Here, sit here. I will get you some pajamas and you can get changed in the bathroom while I get blankets for the futon."

"Thank you, O-san."

"You are welcome, Kyle-kun."

When Kyle came out, in pajamas that fit other than being too short, Omoto could see that he was exhausted. Omoto fussed him into bed.

"Why are you always smiling?" Kyle said, eyes slitted with impending sleep. "So many horrible things happened to you."

"Ryuuji taught me."

"You love him?"

"Yes."

"Where is he now?" but he wasn't awake for the answer that Omoto didn't want to give him anyway.

Stephanie E Barr

Stephanie E Barr

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