I met up with him again, he didn't
sense anything different.
While I was training, it took a while
for me to realize that the phone
When I became aware of it, the phone
must have already rung 10 times,
and I managed to pick it up just
as the caller was about to hang up.
A familiar voice on the other end
of the receiver chewed me out.
"Hey, thanks for finally picking
up lead butt."
The tone of his voice was more reassuring
and calm than complaining, I felt
that he was smiling on the other
end, happy to be talking to a friend
after a long while.
After exchanging one or two pleasantries,
the caller soon got right to the
reason for his call in his typically
matter-of-fact way, or put more bluntly,
in his usually rude way, but when
I heard his story, I felt a feeling
"It looks like a private event this
year. And it looks like we'll be
able to enter as a team of four.
The other two...you know who they
are! Let's meet at the place we always
do, you know when. You do remember
the place, right? ...I'll let the
other two know myself. Let's win
this again, OK?"
Apparently the invitation had only
been delivered to him, and he called
me up right away.
Of course I had no reason to turn
him down. No...not since I wanted
to test the results of my unsparingly
grueling training, anyway. I left
Japan right away. It had been a while
since I last saw the gang too, so
I checked into a Southtown hotel
a few days before the tournament
and anxiously waited for them to
The morning of the appointed day.
That day was more blisteringly hot
than usual, and I realized that the
bed was cool because it was drenched
with sweat when I woke up.
When I think about it I must have
had the dreadful premonition then
It took about 30 minutes to the meeting
place from my room.
I checked out of the hotel quickly
because I wanted to walk to take
a jaunt around the old streets of
Southtown I had not seen for a while.
The moment I got out of the hotel,
a familiar voice called out my name
a few times.
When I looked back I saw him walking
quickly toward me, wearing that familiar
red cap, the brim down over his eyes.
So the both of us headed to the meeting
place together, and I gave up any
thought of enjoying a pleasant walk
through the streets of Southtown.
At that time I didn't think that
anything in particular had changed
with him. He talked in his usual
outgoing manner with that winning
smile on his face, didn't appear
to be injured in any way, and looked
his usual strong self—a figure whom
even the meanest-looking military
types strutting confidently down
the street made a point of getting
out of his way, his arms of steel
rippling with those muscles, and
that unnatural chest that the buckshot
of the most powerful shotgun would
bounce off of even though the weapon
would drop a lion with a single shot.
We came to Southtown's main street.
The city had been changing dramatically
these days I heard, and my eyes were
struck by the sight of skyscrapers
I had never seen before and the streets
of high-quality fashion shops and
It was Sunday and people thronged
along the streets of the shopping
district, clearly oblivious to such
matters as "economic downturns" and
"war footing;" they exhibited the
prosperity brought by peace.
While gazing at the children, laughing
with joy while accompanying their
parents who had come to ship, he
"...I wonder if I'll be coming back
His comment shocked me.
When I saw the unfamiliar expression
on his face, different than anything
I'd ever seen, I finally was able
to realize the graveness of the matter.
Yes, it was like he was going to
Realizing the amazed expression on
my face, he quickly changed the topic
to other unrelated matters, as if
trying to get me to forget what he
had just said.
I, too, tried to come up with something
suitable to say, but I could only
get through the awkwardness of the
moment with a nod and a nervous laugh.
An sense of dread choked us, and
we walked on for a while in silence.
I tried not to think about what grim
fate awaited us, but that expression
then burned itself into my memory,
and I couldn't shake it out of my
The voices of two people calling
our names shattered our silence.
Apparently, unawares to us, we had
already reached the meeting place,
but when I glanced at my watch, I
discovered that we were about 15
minutes late for our meeting.
"Wow, those guys are fast. Oh, Joe
already here, too. If you don't hurry
up, pal, Mai's gonna thump you upside
He said this with a laugh and the
two waiting for us ran toward us.
Sure enough, Mai appeared a little
miffed, striking her usual pouty
pose at the slightly late Andy and
Looking back, when I recall the image
of the back of him running toward
them, maybe it was a result of the
ungodly heat of that summer day,
he looked so far away from me.