1 – 13 : Chapter 1 ALMOST PARADISE : Good bye, WADATSUMI / He and a little witch of Tokyo Bay

 The old man had suddenly appeared. Until the voice in composure had happened at just rear of him, Ho’ori could not notice any sign at all.

 Just minutes before, Ho’ori had parted from Mana in front of the wicket of the subway of Tsukisima-station. As usual, he proposed that ‘within ten minutes on foot, or three minutes by a taxi, they can reach my room in the Eitai area and she can stay at the room tonight’, but Mana lightly shook her head while kindly smiling. Recently she had been forced to undertake too much work, so, at least, even if only tonight,

 “I want to go home before the last train…,”

 “…Yes, I too think you should do so.”

 “Sorry darling, but, now, I want thoroughly to fall asleep like accumulated ancient mud on the bottom of the deep sea! Adding to that, as I’ve made my parents be anxious about their daughter’s health these days…,”

 Moreover, 

 “And, if I will go to your room, I cannot get enough sleep, don’ we?” 

 For being stared at by the shining mischievous eyes, in the end, Ho’ori lost all other words which he should suggest to her.

 The sunset time had perfectly passed, under the stars, the outside of the cafe was heavily humid and hot as if the nights of tropical jungles. While ruminating the memories of the voice of Mana and of the atmosphere of the café which had been cooled comfortably by air conditioners, he just walked lonely.  Because expecting to drink with her, he had come out leaving his bayak at the dock of his office. The office is not a 24-hour system, so it should have been locked already. Thus, he had to walk to his apartment on the dry trail. On daily commuting, he of course used the ‘wet’ trail on the surface of the river, and this is the shortest route between his room and his workplace. But the land road required a pretty detour using the bridge.

 On a lonely way home after being betrayed by a modest expectation, when he came almost a half of the Aioi bridge, he suddenly and unconsciously made his face up. Because felt odd atmosphere onto the river. At that moment when he stopped his feet, a cool breeze licked his face. Then, he looked down the river. From the darkness of the river shore, very small red light dived into his eyes. He knew the meaning of that color.

 The river shore is mostly prepared as brick esplanades on concrete shore protection dikes. And soon after being divided from the mainstream, at the shore of the ‘branch current’ on the side of Koto ward the small public space is prepared. The concrete terrace surrounding the root of a bridge pier and small gardens which have some trees are maintained, so people can get intimate with the river here in their daily lives. Of course, there is also a slope for using bayaks. And trees such as keyaki or maples are making tiny forests, so this place is a good rest point for people using the river, in particular in the daytime of summer. On a holiday, some residents often enjoy BBQ. Such small public places are prepared many on the shorelines of the basin system of Tokyo.

 ‘If you visit these places on a proper hour of after school, you can watch the kids of each pirate who are setting the water surface surrounding each garden as their territory. Because they should warm their bodies with the sunlight after dive-fishing.’ Like this tone, even in guide books for foreign tourists, these public spaces are introduced as one of the noted places for sightseeing in Tokyo.

 However, naturally, at this place on this hour after some hours passed since the sunset, it looked there was no one. Because thick treetops were blocking off the light of streetlamps of the bridge, the garden couldn’t be watched clearly, but a talking voice or even one coughing also didn’t hear from the place. Under the darkness, the atmosphere of that space was perfectly different from in day time. It was the night, so, in a sense, this scene might be natural. But even adults swinging fishing rods aiming at Suzuki, seemed not to be there at all on the terrace. This night fishing was very popular with adults of this area so this situation could be said as unusual a little.

 In such an atmosphere, at the border between the dark river and the dark forest, the tiny red light was twinkling. Strangely, different from the real distance, it looked to be being in the pretty distance from him but was seen clearly. He felt as if he was being invited by that light.

 It was a signal lamp of an observation box.

 The metal boxes containing equipment for measuring river’s water temperature, running speed and chemical changing or other things were being set on many points of the river shoreline, and managing these also was a part of workings of river supervisors like Ho’ori. The box was usually locked but opened only at once a month to check. Of course, also now it had to be under locking. But the red lamp was the warning signal about unlocking.

 Come on! Who did it? After finished crossing the Aioi bridge, while restricting a mind wanting to make a sound with tongue louder, Ho’ori stepped down on the stone steps and stood on the terrace by the water. The situation meant that someone from his office had forgotten the locking after the last checking. Who was the last person? He tried to recall the recent memory, and,

 (…me?)

 The concrete terrace is not so wide. He stood in front of the box at the same time that he recalled the truth. And, in the inside of the faint memory, he felt like he had certainly locked the box at the last check. If he had done so in truth, it was meaning that there was someone who opened the box after Ho’ori’s checking. Being baffled by that memory he looked at the box again.

 The lamp was not on.

 “…?”

 The box was locked perfectly. No matter how he was pushing or pulling, the heavy door of the metal box didn’t move at all. So, thus…, after all, was it his mistaking? At the edge of the river shore, Ho’ori had nothing he could do except to frown against the dark and the silence in front.

 “The night river is really good. Isn’t it?”

 Suddenly, because of the voice from behind, Ho’ori was very surprised. He looked back to the direction with his whole body at once and noticed the old man standing at some feet from him. He had never met that man, but the elder gently bowed to him and showed a friendly smile. So Ho’ori also bowed as natural.

 In this area, many kinds of people were living. Now, contrary to mainland areas of Tokyo, the population of shoreline area around here was steadily increasing because new residents who had started their lives in high-rises were added to residents living from old days in the old-town area which was called ‘Shitamachi’. From his outer look, this old man seemed a resident of Shitamachi and looked to be on the way taking a walk enjoying a cool breeze of the night river.

 “The night river is good.”

 The man said again.

 “There is the kind silence, different from daytime.”

 While recalling noisy kids, Ho’ori nodded to him with a smile.

 “Yes. I too think so. It’s very silent.”

 The man also nodded to Ho’ori. He slowly opened the mouth again, and,

 “The shining river under the sunlight is surely beautiful, but it’s too brilliant against my worn-out old eyes. I get tired a little.”

 “But…, I heard the river of now can even awake nostalgia in people’s minds. Some elderlies say it can remind of the old days when Shirauo-fishing was being done very actively, even to the degree that no one has ever met. Though I was thinking that it is meaning the river of now has gotten back the old beautiful environment completely…,”

 “No, it’s not yet.”

 Ho’ori looked at the old man, this time consciously. The man’s voice sounded to him as containing something.

 “We cannot say it got back its genuine form completely, yet.”

 The man shook the white-haired head in a smile. From the man’s atmosphere, Ho’ori guessed that he was a perfect eliminationist against introduced species. It was being said that such idealists were recently increasing in residents of around this area. Also, Ho’ori had been hearing that, in open lectures by the local government, especially the courses about introduced species and how to eliminate these evil creatures was a popular theme to citizens. And it was also the fact that actual eliminating activities by the students of such courses were being done on the river actively.

 The river, which had gotten back the prehistorical beauty, was luring many types of people not only the kids or other aqua creatures. In fact, Ho’ori’s office was often being received offers about joint workings or cooperation for preserving the environment. But in his office, as basic position, it had been decided that these offers will be rejected carefully, at least on the working level. The shown reason on the surface was to keep a fair attitude as a public institution, but the true reason was that no one wanted to talk with crazy lobbyists shouting in a sharply metallic voice. Of course, in addition to that, there was also the best reason that even if the environmental idealists could have conversation gracefully, the river supervisors including Ho’ori were too busy to enjoy talking with them because of the duty to control the tiny pirates every day.

 However, still that, it seemed that there were many groups which were wanting to bite to the edge of this man-made paradise, even by one tooth.

 For example, in recent days Ho’ori’s office had received a pretty hostile accusation from one of the famous international ocean environmental preservation groups. About a month ago, Shiota, who was Ho’ori’s boss, politely declined their first suggestion about cooperation for advising about the management of the river environment. His attitude was appropriate enough as a public officer, but it had seemed that the group probably had been expecting them to be welcomed warmly while getting huge thanks. So after finished the polite rejection, Shiota was forced to hear very wild protests containing even racist words through the phone receiver. There was no doubt that fishing resource management of Japan couldn’t be said as perfect yet, but,

 “You are very the reason!”

 After putting a phone receiver, chief Shiota had muttered against the device with a disgusted face. Ho’ori could easily remember that scene and the face of the boss yet now.

 It seemed that the group had even pressured the local government after the phone call. And in the end, that situation had been resolved on the social solution that the group would take charge of ‘the preservability of the gene diversity’ class in a public lecture course which was being opened to residents by the local government. Ho’ori had heard so.

 Now it was well known even that they were actively putting the demonstrations for eliminating invasive species as ‘the field practice on the river shore’ in the course. Indeed, the river of now seemed to be working as the stage for any kind of people. And, this old man too seemed to give off the ‘waked atmosphere’ which students of such class tend to have.

 “Not enough yet? Even this?”

  To Ho’ori’s asking,

  “Not enough at all.”

 The man replied and smiled showing white teeth in the dark.

 Certainly, on the river of now, its water quality environment had gotten praised already, so the problems about invasive species were regarded as the next theme. After the water had become clear, had become could to see the bottom of the river even to all corner, for that, people couldn’t avoid noticing the one truth. Under the water of Tokyo bay, it had been filled up with a lot of foreign creatures such as crabs from Europe or China, Hard clams from North America. There were many roots that could be considered as the reason, for example, discharging of the ballast water from tankers, but anyway, the original ecological system had already accepted a lot of immigrants under the turbid water, before people noticing it.

 ‘Perfect eliminationists’ were such people who were strongly insisting that such invasive species must be swept perfectly, and were thoroughly believing that we have to bring back the river as the pure form like the thing of prehistory as possible as we can.

 “But…,” Ho’ori tried to say while thinking.

 “Practically, perfect recovering of the ecosystem looks like so difficult.”

 If anything, he was thinking that he himself was standing in a fair position about this problem. On days in university, he had specialized biology, especially studied genetic evolution field sincerely, so himself was regarding that he was understanding well about the importance of preserving biodiversity. Also, about the potential danger of invasive species, he was thinking that people must be careful about some looking points based on virology or epidemiology as same as well-known opinions from ecology or genetics. Moreover, in a sense, on his life plan, he also was a direct victim of invasive species. His life orbit had been forced to take a detour for the existence like that. Yes, it had been by Black bass. Thinking about only these circumstances, it would have not been unnatural that even if he had become to advocate for the thorough elimination of the invader species.

 But contrary to such an imaginary future, exactly that experience itself was making it difficult for him to get the pure faith about eliminating. Yes, it’s clear sure, that he had been forced to choose the unexpected sailing course by the problem related to the creature stemming from the outer world. But, of course, it had been also true that he couldn’t have helped noticing that the root of the problem was based on other creatures of the earth, not on fish, in short, was clearly based on the same species with him.

 Not limited only to this problem, it is sure that there are people who are making selfish profits while using and hiding behind the faith about environmental preservation. Unfortunately, at least about environmental problems, it is true that fanaticism without objectivity is giving a chance to such selfish persons. At the same time, it’s also true that it’s going to become an excuse to make rotten vested interests. As long as such a human’s basic posture against the world would be kept, even if we were trying to purify the environment with our all might, it must be that the seeds of the pollution being stemmed from human itself keep to be ever. Even if the earth itself will get back pureness, our world would keep being polluted. Such a course would not suit, at least, for this river, for this new world which has the new possibility. Ho’ori was feeling so.

 For example, about a month ago, a symbolic incident happened in Ho’ori’s job territory too. Toyosu pirate kids had made the plan to sell individuals just finished molting of ‘Mediterranean Sea green crab’, which is a famous invade species in Tokyo Bay. They had tried to introduce this crab as ‘American blue crab’ to their market (Why ‘American’? Because it’s merely that Japanese kids were familiar with that name than the Mediterranean). But they got accused of trying to make profits with harmful invade species by some adults.

 Moreover, the adults had confiscated both the fresh crabs which had been the first harvest of the kids, and all fishing traps by force, and burned all of them on the shore, as a warning. Some hours later, after the accident perfectly ended, while hearing complaints from the kids, Ho’ori couldn’t help feeling an uncanny impression against those adults who should have been matured. To him, it had seemed far healthier than the attitude of such adults, to treat the natural blessings in a manner which the kids tried. At least, than to use living existence only as fuel for their justice.

 “I think it’s very easy.”

 The old man’s smile became bigger.

 “Because it is the sight that has to be.”

 Ho’ori got puzzled with what word must he chose to the old man. He was not good at talking with ‘a believer’. Inside of his mind, there was a certain fact which had been already recognized after he had visited his former teacher, who had gotten changing himself completely. He couldn’t help sensing uneasiness against such people who were closing their hearts to others despite showing a warm smile. Why can you so faith in one thing while not trying even to compare it with other things?

 So, Ho’ori faced toward the river for a moment and considered how he should reply to the old man. What words he should choose for showing his will while keeping a peaceful atmosphere…?

 “For example…,”

 “What?”   

 Because a smooth high voice suddenly sounded from the back, Ho’ori got surprised and quickly looked back, opened his eyes wider. Toyomi was standing there.

 “…Where is that old man?”

 “That old man?”

 The girl frowned a little and stared at him with a wondering face.

 Ho’ori was confused. Because that old man had been completely disappeared. It might have been that the man had regard Ho’ori’s silence as impolite or Ho’ori himself as a person who never had the same will, and had left this place without any word. Opposite to the kind look, in fact, he might be the person who was very stubborn. Ho’ori looked around, but after all, couldn’t find even a shadow of the man.

 “I guess that elders of this area have very fast feet.”

 Anyway, he said so to the girl. Toyomi nodded and,

 “Yeah, my grand aunt is so too. Maybe because they are in far better health than elders of other areas. It’s blessings of the sea breeze.”

 “Maybe it’s true…, oh, I didn’t know you have a grand aunt.”

 “I too didn’t know you have a very charming girlfriend.”

 “…Did you watch that?”

 “I watched what? Or who? Are you meaning the scene someone was just standing at the subway wicket with an idiot’s face after the bye-bye kiss?”

 Ho’ori closed the mouth and crossed the arms. After the last time seeing her, he had decided to make a serious preach against her about her violent tendency at the next chance. But he had never expected that would come so soon like this. So then,

 “Well…, what are you doing here? In such hours?”

 “When you are feeling unmatured love to someone, which ways will you take? You will tell ‘I LOVE YOU’ or you will wait for ‘I LOVE YOU’? Oh, don’t forget this is a thorough ‘if’ question.” 

 What happened to you…?

 Toyomi added the warning to the end of the word in a rush, but Ho’ori stared at her while opening eyes wider as if questioning. After a while, he shook the head and, 

 “…Sorry, unfortunately, I have a fiancée. The woman who you’ve seen. And, even if I’m perfectly single, there is a huge age gap between you and me.”

 “It’s an awful misunderstanding, Mr. old man.”

  “I think ‘old’ is more awful. Though surely I’m senior to you.”

  “I’m not interested in whether you are ‘senior’ or ‘old’. And don’t forget, first of all, I said ‘if’.”

  “Really? …if it’s true, it’s disappointing.”

 “It’s not also that I want to listen to your joke, Mr. old. I simply want your opinion as a reference. So, if you are in the situation, which will you chose?”

 Prompted by the girl, Ho’ori groaned a little. Because somehow, he felt also that he should not reply carelessly. So, he opened his mouth slowly while thinking.

 “Well, if the situation is mine, I will choose to tell it. Yes, I think I will choose the active way.”

 “Why?”

 “why? hm…, regardless of any result, we must make progress toward the next stage. That is the most essential to us. Isn’t it?”

 “hmm…, I guess it’s exactly the opinion of the person who is standing on the next stage. Yes, I understood. Thank you, Mr. Senior.”

 It seemed that Toyomi had caught something. A short silence was born, a breeze from the estuary passed through between the two. Then,

 “Well, then, what did you want to tell me?”

 Suddenly Toyomi asked him. To Ho’ori staring at her,

 “Oh, I don’t need your preaching about today’s rough play. Because the three boys were very persistent, if they would have chosen to chase me even to under the water, they should have gotten drowning. So, I needed to take down them perfectly during being on land, for making them give up to follow me. What I’m asking is not about that, about what you told me at the last time we met. You said that you had something you have to tell me.”

 “Oh, you are talking about my words at the time of anchovy fishing? It is the time you disturbed the pirate work by destroying the nests of tiger prawns? I feel it’s so old theme.”

 “Yes. I clearly remember you said that you have what you have to tell to me. And I remember also you didn’t specify what time you wanted to see me.”

 “You are right. That was true…, but…,”

 “Ok. I can forgive that you touched my body in the water that night. Yes, your behavior was so impolite, but I’m understanding that we were in the emergency scene.”

 “I’ve never intended to apologize for that even a bit. I didn’t know the shadow was you at all until that moment, and you were clearly acting in hostile.”

 “Really? Well, then, what is something you must tell to me? Please don’t waste my time. I’m so busy especially in recent days.”

 Toyomi crossed her arms and stared up Ho’ori’s face straightly with keen eyes. That eyes looked to be waiting for something. For what? Ho’ori hesitated. And then, noticed that the girl was wearing the familiar skin-diving style, so,

 “Maybe the word ‘busy’ what you said means…,”

 “Hey, please give me only the essential points of the thing you want to tell to me after arranged it as brief.”

 “…I have two questions for you. First, why did you interfere with our working in the case, in the night river? Second…, what was that? In short, at that moment, what was the thing I and you watched?”

 “Ok.”

 The girl nodded showing an earnest face and,

 “You saw that too, didn’t you?”

 “Yes. Can you explain about both? First, why you looked to be assisting the criminals in the night underwater? Second, the thing like a huge flower bed was what?”

 “Assisting the criminals…?”

 Toyomi frowned a little, but in the next instant, her eyes were opened as widest.

 She stared at Ho’ori while burning in anger, and,

 “Are you thinking I’m a friend of terrorists!?”

 “No, it’s not! I never think so! …But that you interfered with the police attack team was the fact, and as a result, from an objective viewpoint, you seemed to be assisting them…,”

 “So what!!”

 Because of his chest being pushed strongly by the not big palms, Ho’ori lost balancing and stepped back a little.

 “B, but, it’s a very rare case that a girl defeated a special attack team of police. Don’t you think so? So…,”

 “In the water, they are just clumsy idiots! Is it the reason of your word?”

 “Hey, listen calmly. Of course, I’m not thinking so from my heart. This is not meaning that I’m suspecting you of being a friend of criminals. I know you are a good girl, in practice. But I should ask based on the visible fact, so…,”

 “Don’t speak like knowing everything of me! Ok, ok, you are a mature adult. You are allowed to do anything, let’s report about me to the police, or do anything like that!”

 Toyomi stabbed his mind with her eyes filling up with anger as if a heated knife, and stood at the one point like a stake. Her fists seemed to be getting harder and harder by both side of the waist, and,

 “Damn!”

 The girl groaned in a small voice while jolting the whole body. That tone sounded as if desperately restraining a serious impatience.

 “Everything vain!”

 Ho’ori heard the word spat out. It echoed in his ears as if the word which he had heard somewhere before, but,

 “Why you get so angry? We have a just simple way. It will make everything ok if you will explain it in calm to me.”

 “We have no time!”

 Suddenly, toward just front of Ho’ori’s nose, her right fist was poked out. That was small, was being gripped strongly.

 “Wha…, what are you doing…,”

 Biting the closed lips tightly Toyomi didn’t show a look to reply to him at all. In the next instant, she powerfully opened her palm against his face. The water splashes from the inside of her palm spattered to his face, Ho’ori closed his eyes in a reflex movement. His eyelids got wet enough in once, and,

 “Please watch, more carefully.”

 A strong whisper sounded just near his ear. Then soon, the sound of diving into the water happened. After wiped the water from the face with his hands, Ho’ori slowly opened the eyes. Already there was no one in front of him. He looked around unintentionally. But after all, no one. It was merely that the dark surface of the night river was very smoothly running as usual.

 Ⓒ2016 Takagi Tokio

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