The Things We See
One: He Left Without a Word
I was the bartender at a local pub down near Nagasaki's bay. Not in Nagasaki, mind you, but a smaller village not far where the people knew each other better. We had a regular ol' party for one of the long-time customers of ours - Kinei, that old fisherman - a month after his operation. His heart or something, none of use knew the details. Hard to figure, though - none other guys could afford to live in a decent apartment with the pay he gets, not to mention an operation. But most of us don't care for details, and, hell, he was alive so that was good enough for a party.
Well, the party was in full swing, an' we were passing out beer by the buckets. (We treat our customers right, don't you let anyone ever tell you otherwise.) Kinei's one of them feeble yet hearty types - he might look like a shrimp, but I swear, when he was young Ryou's age he caught the biggest damn shark anyone had ever seen around our folk. Single handedly, in that rust job of a boat of his. It was easily the length of five guys head-to-foot.
For days, even weeks after that, people'd go up to him and say, "Kinei! Good job, kid, you're going to get somewhere, you know?" in that swaggering proud voice you use around big name people. He was the local hero, you could say. But that's meaningless, you know? Where's anyone going to get catching big fish once in their lives? You reel them in, and before the month's out, you've sold or eaten the sucker and nothing left to show for it but a story and a pocket full of teeth as a reminder.
But still, Kinei simply smiled and never said a word about it after - that's something he always did, smile like that. Like he knew something that the rest of us too comfortable with the dirt under our toes didn't. What it felt to be out there with the waves during a cyclone, staring straight into its eye, face turning red, and swearing at it all the swears you've ever heard sworn, with some you made up for good measure. That stick in the wind, Kinei.
The party that night wasn't just for his operation, oh no, it was also for some kid he fished out of the water back a month. Yeah, his pop was too busy working the ropes when the boy - not even two years - dunked himself over the side. Stupid guy, you'd think he'd teach his kid to swim before ever getting off the dock. Luckily, old Kinei was fishing not too far off, and so he jumped in and got the boy. A miracle, they say - he was thirty meters away, but the old fish swam that distance under a minute just like some crazed dolphin.
Well, the kid was hauled out, and then they say Kinei got into some sort of seizure and grabbing his chest and all like it was going to bust open. A heart-attack, not surprising. It took a good long time for that man and his boy to bring the boat back to shore, but he had called ahead for an ambulance and they took Kinei right away.
So then he came back the next week, right as fins on a shark, and looked the same as always. We only delayed this party because we weren't sure his heart could handle all the beer and women we ordered for him, heh-heh.
The party was going great. I offered that little kid, who lived in Nagasaki with his pop actually, something to drink but his old man refused. He's going to get some one day, why not start early? Ah, a waste of good beer. Kinei sat at the bar all the while, watching and nodding to all the goings-on, though not really being a part. Hard to tell, but he was having the time of his life - you just had to watch for that smile of his. And I don't think he frowned at all during that night.
Excuse me, he did frown. Once. I think… a new guy had walked in. None of us had ever seen him before, all dark clothed and hands in his pockets. Dressed liked a Yakuza, those mob-men we were always reading about in the news. Did offer up a mighty big smile though, and certainly didn't act like a hardened criminal willing to carve up everyone that looked at him funny.
And a lot of us were giving him funny looks. He had the strangest colored eyes… Not everyday someone we don't know comes in here - we assumed it was the Nagasaki city-boy's friend at any rate. It didn't take too long, but the new guy was drinking and singing with the rest of us. He really could hold his alcohol, my God. Didn't touch the women, even if I knew that several someones would have loved to meet our new foreigner. I say foreigner because with eyes like that he couldn't really be from around here, could he? Or at least, a parent.
So finally he gets a moment up at the bar and shakes my hand. Strong grip, that fella, even if it made me feel cold for some reason… I forget his name, Su - something. I may have been drunk.
I do remember him asking where was Kinei, and I pointed to the thin guy smiling over at the last seat. I guess the new guy was sort of surprised, 'cause for a party in his honor, Kinei wasn't jumping around and getting smashed like the rest of us in their right minds were. He was never really one who cared for fuss, now that I think about it.
But anyway, Su - something strolled up to old Kinei like he was suddenly sober or what. Or at least, he looked kinda depressed. They were talking and that's when Kinei frowned. I don't know what about, so I slide up as close as I can without them noticing to try to listen.
I catch all kinds of words, and I don't know what to make of them, but it made me worry. Things like "operation" and "you weren't supposed to survive" and "you've suspected, haven't you?" Maybe the Yakuza idea wasn't so far off after all. Kinei's still frowning one long frown, running a leathered hand through salty gray hair.
I finally go up to them. "Hey, Kinei," I said, "is this guy bothering you?"
It takes him a moment, but Kinei stops frowning and answer, "No, Oki-san, it's all right." He was always calling me with that "-san" thing, no matter how many times I remind him that we've known each other for years and it didn't matter. Stubborn old stick.
I wait a moment, hoping he would say something else. He didn't, so I look up at the other guy, and manage to actually look straight into his eyes that night. They were… scary-looking. I can't describe them, but they were so bright and unnatural, with a kind of soul-sucking sadness to them only the really old-old men that I know of get. What kind of person was this who had that look when he wasn't even thirty? Color like good wine that had been stuck in the cellar too long…
Though, that just means the wine tasted better when it came out, doesn't it? Ah, I don't know what I'm talking about.
So, I walked away. Nothing left to do but serve the drinks and see what happens. Not two minutes later, though, the new guy and Kinei get up to leave. But Kinei first does something I didn't think I'd live to hear - a speech. Not a long speech, mind you, but a sentence of thanks for the food and drink and people who came to see him that felt like a speech when he was done.
He turned around and went out the door, the other guy followed and left without a word.
And now I realize, that was a goodbye speech.
The next afternoon when everyone had recovered from their hangovers, we found Kinei asleep in bed. But, not asleep. He had died some time during the night, covers wrapped around him, with that soft smile on his face.
The pub was quiet for days.
It makes me wonder a whole hell of a lot. Though there was nothing that showed it, no poison, no wounds, I think Kinei had been killed somehow. That man with the eyes must have done it, I'm sure of it - you never showed up around here again after Kinei died.
Su - something, whoever and whatever you are, I hope you know just what a great guy you took away from us. A quiet guy that loved to fish, that came in every night for his drink of rum, and who smiled like he had a secret. Maybe I'm being unfair, but I hope you have enough of a conscience that you feel sorry.
I'm crying now, damn it. We miss you, Kinei. At least you went smiling. Maybe I'll see you one day, old man - kid - I hope you went somewhere good.