IMAGINE LITTLE TOKYO SHORT STORY CONTEST: To Walk the Path of Memories


(Editor’s note: The following is the winning entry in the youth category of the 2017 Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest held by the Little Tokyo Historical Society. This marks the first time that two writers have won for one submission. Chou and Han are from Irvine.)

Day is young: her hands pale and cold as she dips her finger in a pot of fresh dew, sprinkling the still slumbering shops and houses below. Yet, there is a particular strangeness that permeates through the air, unseen and unheard, traveling through the many streets of Little Tokyo, watching and guarding what could not be let go. These spirits of the past and present gather here as Day rushes past a tall, slightly crooked figure standing in the square.

“‘In front of my eyes

Past and present LA looms

Old man’s New Year’s day.’

By Shisei Tsuneishi… a fitting poem, to be sure.”

The figure starts, unaware of the two old men sitting and sipping tea behind him on a bench. The one who spoke smiles slightly and bows. “Nice to meet you. I am Naozumi Chiba. My friend here,” he motions to the other seated figure, “is Itsuki Yanagi. We have been here for quite a while… Issei, actually. And you are?” His question lingers in the space between them.

“My name is Ren Shimizu.” He shifts his feet on the uneven tiles, unsure how to continue. “I have a wife and and five-year-old daughter… have you seen them?” The old men exchange glances, faces creased with sympathy for a question echoed far too many times.

“Ah, Ren. Would you perhaps like to join us for tea? Maybe we can help you with your search as well?” Chiba spreads his arms invitingly as Yanagi makes room for Ren on the bench.

Ren hesitates.

“Any moment now, Ren. Though we are near eternal, our tea, unfortunately, is not.”

“I, uh, of course.” Ren trips over his words, mind blank with any reason as to why he should deny the old men’s offer for a drink, other than a peculiar instinct warning him not to.

He takes the drink from Chiba, hands shaking as he lifts the edge of the teacup to his lips. It’s only then, seemingly by coincidence, that Ren peers into the bottom of the cup.

A flash.

At first he thinks perhaps it is a trick of the light, but as he brings the cup closer to his face he can see in it — a small whirlpool of silver starlight. More peculiarly, he does not see his face reflected back in the liquid; rather, he sees a little girl with a gap in her teeth laughing. She seems to be saying something. A… y… da… ddy… daddy! Daddy?

Ren’s tea cup shatters, spilling its contents all over the bench.

“Tch. Ren! That was our best tea!” Yanagi quickly stands and pulls a handkerchief from his pocket.

“I don’t know how the tea managed to offend you, but you must be more careful,” follows Chiba as he, too, starts to clear out the tea.

Ren says nothing, his hand still clenched as if still holding the cup.

“Ren?” Chiba stops cleaning and reaches out tentatively. “If you’re sorry about the tea or the tea cup, we weren’t actually mad. In fact, have you heard of kintsugi? We can —”

“What was that?” Ren shouts, anger evident by the red creeping up his neck.

Kintsugi? Well, it’s the art of —”

“What was in that tea? I saw my daughter calling out to me.” He clenches his fists on his lap. “What were you trying to do?”

At this point, both of the old men stop cleaning. Their faces are impassive.

Yanagi holds out his palm as though he is trying to soothe a raging beast. “Be calm, Ren. You are uneasy.”

“Yes, my friend is right. You are uneasy and need to rest. We know that death for someone as young as you cannot be fair… or easy.” Chiba runs his hand across his head and sighs. “We just wanted to help you pass on peacefully.”

“Pass on? What do you mean?” Ren’s voice sounds impossibly small; he can feel his chest tightening in dreadful anticipation.

“Yes, Ren. Pass on… to your next life.”

“Next life? I hardly started this one! I—” He throws his hands helplessly in the air. “I,” he sighs, “need more time to think.” Ren turns from the two old men and starts walking away.

The old men watch in silence as he disappears around a corner. They reset the tea and resume their old musings.

They are in no hurry. After all, he will return. They always do.

—–

Ren’s legs carry him faster and farther than he first intended. It isn’t long before the vibrant streets grow foreign. He is directionless, his vision is hazy, the power of an angry spirit manifesting a poisonous miasma surrounding him. In the corner of his eyes he sees darkness, the faceless moon, and blaring sirens. Scenes of the night play just out of his direct sight — mocking his aimlessness, his hopelessness.

“Lost, boy?