Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Use Both Hands

Aiko tended to spend the majority of her time ignoring the part of her life that dominated the outside world’s perception of it. She did this because it was easier to try and forget than to accept its responsibility. According to her own interpretation, Aiko was simply a young woman who had traveled to a foreign land, beginning a new life while earning her graduate degree. She had already attempted to distance herself from what she had known growing up in the selection of the graduate institute in Kyoto, or perhaps reconnect with something she herself had never known. Such distinctions were part of what she wanted to forget.

In America, in the institute at the Francisco Keys, Aiko met the man she would marry. It had not been intentional, but could be interpreted very easily by anyone who knew her as the outward manifestation of Aiko’s desire to absorb a new culture and thus new identity. Slowly she distanced herself from her old friends, escaped further into America, but found that her ultimate destination was back home. Things would be different, Aiko assured herself. This would be a triumph. Anyone who met her now wouldn’t think of the daughter of Akagi but rather the transplanted American and his wife.

She was preparing rice balls, rolling them in chilly water, altering hands as she withdraw one after the other, and trying to remember who she said she was supposed to be. Her husband was once again entertaining guests, and it was up to Aiko to prepare the refreshments. If there was anything that perturbed Aiko about her husband, it was this incessant desire to bring company into their home. It was a constant threat of her past coming back to haunt her. She put up with it because she loved him. Outside the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, a stark contrast to the scarred landscape, but a reminder that new life cannot be suppressed.

Her husband popped his head into the kitchen. “How much longer?”

“A few minutes. Tell them they can wait.”

“They’re not waiting for the rice. They’re waiting for you. You promised.”

Aiko knew that she had indeed promised. One of them had recognized her immediately, said that her face reminded him instantly of Akagi’s. He’d begged for a story there and then. Soon everyone was pestering her. It was all she could do to relent, promise one story, one story only, before retreating to the haven of her kitchen. She loved her husband. It was the only reason she could maintain her composure.

Minutes passed. The rice was ready and Aiko stood at the threshold. Though they were all expecting her, she was temporarily overlooked. Her husband and his friends were enjoying themselves, playing games. They’d forgotten about her. It was a rare moment, and Aiko relished it. She could still pretend that she wasn’t Akagi’s daughter. Absently, her husband turned in Aiko’s direction and saw her. He didn’t mention it. He protected her, and all Aiko could think to do in return was walk into the room and set down the rice. She demurred for an instant longer, and then announced that her story was about to begin. She ignored all other pleasantries. She might as well not exist. Why bother?

“A long time ago, before the earth was scorched, my father lived the life of a simple fisherman. It’s true. He was nobody. He would spend all his days on his boat, something his ancestors would have found familiar, and all the world washed over him. He meant nothing to anyone. One day one of his friends brought their boat alongside his, looking very solemn. This was how Akagi learned of the Danab invasion, almost as so much gossip. He did not expect in that moment that his life was about to change forever.

“Every government began conscripting soldiers into their armies. Japan was no different. My father spent precious months during this time continuing his life as always, a simple fisherman. Soon one agent came to his dock, and then another, until finally Akagi agreed to join the cause. By then it was impossible even for him to overlook the signs of what everyone was calling the apocalypse. It no longer mattered what he did with his life.

“He didn’t want to become a soldier, though, but a sailor. That was what he had been, and that was what he would become. Old friends helped Akagi adapt to new instruments, identified the similarities in concept between what he knew and what would come to define his life. He thought nothing of warfare, only fishing. This was something he always told me.

“The first time he met an alien, Akagi pretended that they were a fish. It was a Bith’mari, so you can imagine that it wasn’t difficult. Life was changing for everyone, but Akagi dealt with it by processing the differences through what he knew already, and in that way nothing at all felt different. He kept to himself, mostly, pretending that he was still on his boat. Even thrust into the greatest glory of the war that brought humanity into a new age, Akagi kept things simple for himself.

“It’s true that he could sometimes be difficult. Someone who is always trying to convince themselves that they are in control of their life will never be comfortable when contradictions arise. He was a kind man but he didn’t hide his emotions. Those who irritated him knew it, especially those who refused to adapt, as he did, even if he himself tried to pretend that nothing at all was different. He was always keenly aware of the details, though. That’s something you should remember. Akagi cared about the details.

“He married late in life, and had me still later. I knew the man who once again sat in a simple boat here, off the coast of Japan, when everyone else was scrambling to rebuild, and reshape humanity into something that the rest of the universe could respect. He was constantly asked to join the Space Corps. It’s said that Akagi’s refusal to do so set humans back for generations in that regard. Maybe so. But he had to live by his own principles. Great men don’t often care that others consider them great. Those who do probably don’t deserve such distinction.

“You want to know more. I know this. But this is all I am going to tell you. Thank you for listening.”

Aiko kissed her husband on the forehead and walked out of the room again. She could feel a dozen set of eyes trained on her, but there was more work to be done. Every time she allowed herself to remember her father, she felt a part of herself slip away, and talking about him only made it worse. In this particular moment she wondered if she weren’t after all being selfish about it. Her husband’s friends, and the millions other like them, were only curious, and it was only natural. That was why on very rare occasions she would indulge them.

Outside, among the cherry blossoms, in the garden she herself had planted and still maintained, Aiko let out a sigh. She was the daughter of a hero, of a legend, a giant. There had been a time that she thought she might try to live up to his reputation, but that was long ago, when he was still living. Tomorrow would mark the second anniversary of his death. There would be the ceremony to attend, and Aiko was only just beginning to think about it. The event would be handled by others. The memories would be left to her. Would she speak this year? Perhaps that was why she had given her husband’s friends a story, a way to test her resolve. Was it so wrong to want her own life? It was what her father had wanted, and he had given it up reluctantly. He hadn’t asked for anything more than Aiko herself wanted.

She became aware that the day was drawing to a close. From inside her home came the words of departure, her husband being the host and Aiko still commanding her own space. She walked idly back inside, just as the last of the guests were leaving. For a moment there was silence, and then Aiko kissed her husband on the forehead again.

“It’s not such a bad life we lead,” she said.

“I hope so,” her husband said. “Have you decided about tomorrow?”


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