That night, when Makoto came home, his head was packed with rumors as usual. When he inserted the key into the slot, the door opened unexpectedly from inside. "Welcome home!" Mamiko was smiling, holding the doorknob. She seemed to have been waiting for him. She was usually in her room when Makoto opened the door, and rarely came out until he came to the dining table after washing his hands. She must be in a really good mood, Makoto thought. She was smiling at him while he was taking off his shoes. His mouth was wide open with puzzlement. "It's unusual, isn't it?" said Mamiko, almost snatching Makoto's bag. "Hey! You celebrity." "What?" Makoto was now totally puzzled. Mamiko threw his bag into his room and continued. "A Mr. Mizuta called. He wants to interview you personally.'' The previous interview had almost ended with Makoto's single sentence: "I don't know." But this time he'd asked for a "personal interview." "Mother, did you accept without asking me?" Mamiko moved busily between the table and the gas stove, ignoring Makoto. She wore an apron. "Did you?" "Not really. I just said, 'is that right?' Then he came to the station." "To the station?" "The station over there," said Mamiko tousling up Makoto's hair. This was her habit when she was in a good mood. "He said he had to say hello to your mother first. He also said he will fax me the material for the interview. He seems like a nice guy. Anyway, wash your hands first. He'll call you soon. I've made a big salad just for you, too. Eat a lot." Makoto hoped she hadn't put ham in it. Mizuta-and-ham was something like getting back a pop test on Friday the thirteenth. Luckily the salad only contained fruit. And the main dish was Makoto's favorite, a crab omelet. And slow-cooked pork. Mizuta must really have called in the morning, since this pork dish took a long time to cook. Makoto ate sullenly. Mamiko hummed a tune. Why was she so happy about just being interviewed, wondered Makoto. While Makoto ate only the white peaches in the salad, the off-white telephone on the wall rang. Mamiko quickly picked up the phone, swallowing the pork in her mouth and spoke cheerfully with the person on the other end. Makoto felt like running away. Why doesn't she do the interview herself, if she likes it so much? he thought. Yeah, maybe that was her intention. She turned back to face Makoto again, pushing the red call-waiting button. "Makoto, Mr. Mizuta wants to publish a book, too. And he wants to write about you in the book." Of course she understood that hearing this would make her son nervous. "If you don't like it, tell him you can't do it. I'll leave it up to you, Makoto." Mamiko went back to the table. She took a cherry from the salad and popped it into her mouth. She didn't look that she had left it up to Makoto, at all. Her eyes told Makoto not to turn down the interview. "Hurry up. Mr. Mizuta is waiting," Mamiko sounded all the more sweet for her stern face. Makoto had no choice but to talk to Mizuta. "Hello." "Hi! Is this Makoto?" Why does he ask me such an obvious question? thought Makoto. "This is Mizuta. Haven't seen you for a long time." Mizuta enthusiastically explained about the interview. He said his client had liked the previous interview, so he wanted to ask Makoto more questions in detail. Face-to-face. He also said he wanted to write about Makoto in the book he was doing; the title of the book was "Wolves of the Obverse Media," whose main subject was "the study of a groundless rumor that shakes the world." He emphasized that the book would place particular focus on the day when children surpass the mass media. Makoto was even more disgusted by his slimy way of talking than before, but kept on listening patiently to him. He was looking for an excuse to refuse the interview. After Mizuta's long explanation was over, Makoto said: "Why me? There are many other kids." The first arrow was shot. "Well...I'm concerned about the principal of your school. He died so dramatically, you know....shouting 'The problem is the Disu-kon game!'" "Yes." With a curt response, Makoto was shocked that Mizuta had come so close to the "issue." "That was really impressive. That's why I'd like to interview a pupil of the Kuromiyama Elementary School." Has Mizuta noticed that the words of the Principal were the same as those of the first enemy character in No Life King? Makoto dared to shoot another arrow at Mizuta. "You'd better choose some other kid. I'm not so good at Disu-kon. And my grades at the juku are not so good, either." "That's why I chose you. You're an ordinary kid." The arrow which Makoto shot came back to him. Makoto's self-esteem fell down a point. Mizuta continued, "You know Mr. Magaki of the Asunaro Juku, don't you? Mr. Magaki, the branch manager. I owe him a lot, from many years back." "Yes." Mizuta had the upper hand. Totally. "I asked him to introduce me to an ordinary kid. And that kid was Makoto Ohsawa of Kuromiyama Elementary School, by coincidence. I felt I was being led by something unknown." Makoto shivered at the thought that this "something unknown" might be a curse, which, to Mizuta, seemed to be lady luck herself. "I'm just lucky. I've been paying attention to you guys, Makoto. It's great that a rumor among kids can shake the world." Mizuta had begun talking to himself, ignoring Makoto. "There must be a great kid somewhere, I think. This child is controlling all the children of Japan with information, challenging the people in the media, namely, the adults. You see? There must be someone like a King of Kids, somewhere. I want to see him. I want to talk with him." "Hah!" "Don't you think so?" "Not particularly." "Ha-ha-ha. I see." Makoto didn't feel like seeing such a kid. He was not interested in the idea at all. Mizuta had said it was a rumor or a falsehood, but it was an actual thing for Makoto and the other kids. Even if it was thought to be untrue, it was sure to become true while they were talking about it. Even if they looked down on it in their minds, it definitely became true while they were whispering rumors. "Makoto. Even if I can't see the king, I think I can send a message to him. I can show him how the rumor he created has expanded among the children. I'd like to present him with a report on it." Makoto, who was not serving this king, began to lower his guard against Mizuta. "Japan will experience its first fin-de-siecle, in which false rumors are set afloat." Mizuta's ten-minute monologue was full of words clearly beyond Makoto's comprehension. Makoto, who's become completely exhausted, interrupted him and passed the telephone to Mamiko. "Yes, tomorrow. I think he'll be able to make it after Asunaro Juku. Today?...Oh, you don't have to call on... all the way...Ha, ha, ha...Well, then. In thirty minutes? OK." Mamiko hung up. The coffee was ready, making a percolating sound. Mamiko and Makoto were sitting with a side table in between them. Makoto sighed. "Sorry," she said. "For what?" "You don't want to be interviewed." "Not particularly." Makoto shook his head. Mamiko poured the hot coffee in the demitasse cup and said, "I'll ask Mr. Mizuta to leave soon. You can turn down tomorrow's interview, then. I'm stupid. Why am I so happy to hear that you'll be interviewed for some book or other? Well...I felt you were chosen especially to represent the other kids. That's why." "I'm an ordinary kid. I can hardly be a spokesman for the other children." "I didn't mean that. Don't be spiteful." Mamiko said smiling. "You want creampuffs?" "Yes. Aren't they for that man?" "No. They're only for you and me. I won't serve such nice things to him." Mamiko opened the refrigerator and took out a small box. "Oh...well, Makoto," said Mamiko undoing the thin pink ribbon around the box. "You know the cake shop next to the liquor shop?" "Chat?" "Yes. Chat. The shop where I often buy shortcake. Well, the Public Health Department made a surprise inspection of their factory, and then they almost went bankrupt. They say the factory was full of a strange virus. And they were prohibited from selling their cakes." There were about ten small creampuffs in the box. "So, where are these from?" Makoto asked timidly. "I went all the way to the other side of the station. Oh...I miss those cakes from Chat." Mamiko's explanation relieved Makoto, who put a piece in his mouth. "But Chat is still open for business, isn't it?" Makoto asked, licking the cream from his fingers. Mamiko answered, "They think people haven't noticed. They don't know that their customers know." Mamiko lowered her voice before moving on to the second piece. "They said a worker making cakes had died in the factory. I don't know how....he seemed to have ended up in a vat, rotten." "Uhh!" Makoto let out a sound just like Mino-chan's. His eyes opened wide. Mamiko frowned. "It's been a rumor floating around these condos." "Disgusting! Don't tell me that while I'm eating creampuffs." "I told it to you intentionally," said Mamiko, laughing and putting the second creampuff in her mouth with her orange-manicured fingernails. "We cannot help it." Mamiko ate a lot and talked a lot. "The Kamei's are not doing well, either." Tomoko Kamei was a girl in Makoto's class. They'd known each other since the third grade. She was quiet and inconspicuous, but with an attractive face. Makoto liked her. "What do you mean?" Makoto leaned forward. "Quite a few people seem to have been poisoned by Kamesei Sushi. Not adults but children. They threw up and got high fevers." Makoto had never heard such a rumor. He was shocked to hear that his classmate's family had been ruined by this. "It's just a rumor. Nobody has confirmed it yet." Mamiko's attitude was different, since this was about people they knew. "I'm concerned about them. I feel badly if nobody goes to their Sushi shop." Makoto listened silently. "Well...It's a stupid story. Some people even say that there were graveyards all around Kamesei before. Like Mrs. Masudo on the third floor. I have no idea who she heard that from. That's a terrible rumor." Mamiko lit her cigarette and sighed. She would not order any sushi delivered from Kamesei for a while, thought Makoto. Mizuta appeared just thirty minutes after Mamiko had hung up the phone. "It's late, and I'm afraid I'm taking up your time. I just thought I should call on you before interviewing Makoto." Mizuta talked one-sidedly while undoing the red laces of his boots, leaning against the wall of the small hallway. Mamiko was at a loss as to what to say, so, astonished, she held Mizuta's namecard in her hands. Why can't she handle him in a cool manner? Makoto was irritated. If it were Mino-chan's mother, she would just repeat 'excuse me' bowing many times, then she'd kick him out respectably. Why didn't Mamiko have such a worldly technique? "Hi, Makoto. Excuse me for taking up your time." Mizuta strode into the dining room, looking around at the walls and ceiling, slightly bowing to Makoto. "You have a beautiful house," he complimented her. Mizuta's rudeness was so much a part of his personality that Makoto was not in the mood to get angry with him. Rather, he was irritated by Mamiko's awkward handling of Mizuta. "I'm afraid our house is a bit messy. Please have a seat here." Mamiko said, putting her right hand at the back of her short hair, strangely enough, even posing coquettishly. "Don't worry about me." Mizuta took off his loose denim halfcoat while sitting on the small couch in the corner of the room. The black leather couch creaked, as if it was annoyed. "May I smoke, Makoto?" Without waiting for an answer, Mizuta had already put a cigarette between his lips, and lit it up. "Thank you for accepting tomorrow's interview," said Mizuta, settling back into the couch, stretching himself. He seemed to be already relaxing there. The couch creaked again, this time as if being broken. Mamiko busily prepared tea in the kitchen. It was a sound Makoto used to hear when his father was home. Placing his hand on the table and standing absent-mindedly, Makoto listened to the sound in the kitchen. Just by having another person in the room, Makoto smelled something he'd smelled a long time ago, which made him feel isolated and lonely. "Welcome." Makoto let out the word in order to remind Mizuta of his presence on the other side of the table. Mizuta was puzzled and said again, "...Oh?...Excuse me for taking up your time." He bowed his head, which made the couch creak again. "Ha...ha...It's strange to say that now." Mamiko laughed, standing at the back of the folding screen door. That's the same sound. The sad sound he'd heard before, thought Makoto, when father would come home suddenly from a business trip abroad; he was rarely at home. He sat on Mokoto's couch, making it creak. Mamiko ignored Makoto's loneliness. It was strange that this memory turned into a smell which was so dear to his heart. Makoto inhaled the smell, putting his nose to his sweatshirt. He smelled the slow-stewed pork somewhere in the distance. It's not this pork smell...it's coming from the smoke of Mizuta's cigarette, Makoto noticed. Then, suddenly, there was a hissing sound from Mamiko's room. Mizuta jumped up. The smell disappeared. "It's come! A fax," shouted Mizuta. He got up quickly, kicking the small CD Mini Compo at his feet. "Ouch!" He frowned, throwing his cigarette in the ashtray on the side table as he went tripping toward Mamiko's room. The white slippers he was wearing came off his feet, flying straight along the hallway to the entrance. "Excuse my going into your room," as soon as he said this, he grabbed the doorknob and entered it. "Where? Where's the fax machine?" Mizuta's rattled voice echoed in the room. Makoto went quickly into the room, where Mizuta was trying to identify the name of the sender shown at the display window. The display was white from the reflection of the strong desk lamp. "Shit!" Mizuta bent down to massage his left calf, the one he had hit. "Aki...I've made it!. It's Akiyuki Morii." Mizuta turned, holding the fax message. "Makoto, It's a response from Morii." The atmosphere of the dining room was suddenly serious. Mizuta kept bowing to Mamiko, who kept looking down, both of her hands stuck in her apron pockets. Makoto had taken back his couch, and sat silently watching the two of them. "So, it was not to fax me the interview material that you asked for my fax number." Mizuta was embarrassed, explaining to Mamiko how difficult it was to contact Akiyuki Morii. Mizuta seemed to have been waiting for a fax message from Morii for a week. "I understand Mr. Morii difficult to reach. Yes, he's a celebrity. But that wouldn't be a reason for you to give someone's fax number to him without her consent, would it?" Mamiko said very tartly, which made Mizuta bow even more deeply. She said so now, but later she would boast of it to someone, thought Makoto giggling. Makoto didn't know it, but the fax was from a very famous person. There was no reason that Mamiko would not be delighted by that. Mamiko knew Morii as a 'trendy key person' - the number one guy in her career world. In such a society, where it was hard to foresee the future, people who could make sensitive forecasts about the trends of the world were revered. When the phrase 'trendy key person' was created, large companies like trading companies competed to invest in people like Morii, even providing them with assistants who specialized in marketing their trend analyses. But this overheated phenomena died down after a year. It was found that the key point was not the volume of data, but the individual interpretation and what was made out of it. The companies which looked for safe profit employed a lot of 'trendy key people,' used them up and then fired them. It was Morii who said good-bye to such a trend. He had suddenly closed his office in Minato-ward, and laid low for a couple of months. Then, with a small publisher, he put out a small magazine called 'World's End Garden.' Mizuta symphathized with Morii, who was ten years younger than him, fighting alone. He had frequent contact with Morii because he had him write for the magazines. Mizuta added apologetically, "Morii only makes contact by fax." Mizuta's words made Makoto think of Yohta, who talked to Makoto only via Asunaro Juku's T-8. "But Morii is not a selfish guy at all. He's just defending himself against unnecessary information. It's in 'World's End Garden.'" "WEG," Mamiko hinted. She was a subscriber to the magazine and called it by its abbreviated name. "Yes. As WEG says 'trendy key people' are not stupid end-of-the-century prophets but are rather creaters who are continually renewing the world. Even by gathering unnecessary information. Well I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Ms. Ohsawa, I know your job is to...er..er..the creativity of retail shops." Mizuta stammered. The more he talked, the worse it got. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I'll leave as soon as I finish reading this. Would you like to read it, Ms. Ohsawa? Handwriting like this really encourages us, conscientious 'information detectives' that we are. Mamiko burst into laughter. Silently she pulled out a chair for Mizuta and sat down next to him. Makoto ran to the table quickly, too, staying close to Mamiko. He was afraid that old smell might come back again. These sentences were written on a piece of paper in dark pen: As may be expected, Mr. Mizuta, you've got it. I've been thinking a lot about all the rumors being created by children. It's really hard. There is one thing I can say for sure. The commonality in all these rumors is the image of death. Japanese children have no particular feeling about the death of a single person these days, but they should be able to feel something about our human mortality. Does this mean they have an emotionally dead life? And they just try to get used to it. Are they a new kind of Human? Is this too abstract? --Akiyuki Morii "Is it too abstract?" Mamiko and Makoto didn't know whether the words were addressed to them. They were looking at the message by Mizuta's side. "Is it too abstract?" Mizuta repeated the words, walking aimlessly toward the window, where he looked down at the lights like those of an airport runway. Morii's message was too hard for Makoto to understand, and not just because there were too many difficult Kanji which he couldn't read. But he understood that the message really had deep meaning for Mizuta. Morii was to Mizuta what Yohta was to Makoto. "I can't say anything because I don't understand the question." Mamiko calmed down again. "'New human' sounds like Sci-Fi, doesn't it?" Mizuta nodded. "Morii says interesting things. Carallia. Prisman. Hit 21. Petit Jeanne Doll. They are indeed all related to death. If so, then it's Sci-Fi. It's a fiction." Mizuta said abruptly, taking out a cigarette from the pocket of his herringbone sportcoat. "I'll just go after the facts. By doing so, I can smoke out the King of Kids." Lighting up a cigarette, Mizuta looked at his face reflected in the window. "I'll just go after the facts," he said again, blushing a little.
Copyright (C) SEIKO ITO , EMPIRE SNAKE BLD,INC. All rights reserved.