Chapter 14 – The river stops here.
“Right about now, that looks like fun.”
The girls just walked into practice after school, and Katie noticed several five, six, seven year old girls, a blurry swarm in a corner of the gym, rolling hoops and balls and laughing and screaming and playing drums on the floor mats with mallets and willy-nilly dancing with colorful ribbons.
“Sometimes I feel more jealous of those little girls than I do the older ones
I’m trying to beat.” Katie reflected.
“Yeah.” Susan agreed.
“Wouldn’t it be nice?” Katie went on.
“What?” said Susan.
“… a Shintaiso championship of frolic and fun.”
“Yeah, just a thought.”
“Well… here’s a better thought, daydream-butt:
just this once,
forget about warm up and stretching,
go back to when you were five years old…
I dare ya…
go frolic with the little girls
just to see what
Godotnova-sensei says.” said Susan.
“You think I wanna go back to five years old? I just wanna play.” Katie said.
“So, go for it. What’s she gonna say?” said Susan, “ ‘get with it while your whole world explodes around you?’ “
“She might.” Katie said.
“And she might not,” said a male voice several meters away.
“Satchitananda-san.” Susan saw him first.
“What are you doing here?”
“I hope I’m not intruding. Obá-chan said it would be okay for me to stop by and watch you practice.”
“Not much to see.” Susan said in monotone.
“It’s nice of you to come.” said Katie.
“You girls go ahead… I’ll sit over here…”
And Katie ran over to the little ones and dove upon the floor and rolled around grabbing and tickling them, and rolling again, encouraged by more screams and squeals.
Katie paused a moment and rested on her back amidst the tiny feet and arms and bodies piling on top of her and stared blankly at the ceiling, and some smile rose up inside of her, and a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Who is this man?” said Inga Godotnova standing next to Susan and watching Katie play.
“Um, I’m not sure. A friend of the family? Ask Obá-chan.” said Susan.
? ? ? ? ?
“You coulda’ picked a better practice than this one,” said Susan to the old man.
“Pretty bad considering…” Katie said.
The two were shaking their heads, all were walking home together from Chofu Station.
“Considering?” said Satchitananda.
“Considering the National Trials Competition is several days away,” said Susan.
“Never felt so… I don’t know… unprepared before a meet,” Katie said.
“Unpracticed? Untrained?” said Kenji.
“Yeah and that’s what makes me so mad. Thirty hours a week of training and I am feeling unprepared.”
“Hmm.” Kenji nodded, “you girls ever been down at the river at night?”
“Few years ago, Dad took us there really late one night.” said Susan.
“To watch a meteor shower.” Katie said.
“Dragged us outta the dead of sleep.” said Susan smiling a bit now.
“See any?” said Kenji
“Boy did we.” Susan said laughing.
“There were more than meteors up there.” Katie said.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“We saw… the three of us… I don’t know what it was.” Katie said.
“not a meteor huh?” Kenji said.
“Not unless meteors these days have minds of their own.” said Susan..
“and dress in designer colors,” Katie added.
“It was… weirdly blue,” said Susan shaking her head up and down, “not like a flame.”
“Some kinda punk meteor we decided,” said Katie, “with state-of-the-art avionics.”
“Obá-chan was so mad she missed it.” Susan laughed.
“Obá-chan.” Kenji said. “I’ll bet she’s awaiting your return with more worry than usual tonight.”
“We’re worried about her too,” said Susan.
“She’s a wonderful grandmother, isn’t she?” Kenji said.
“The best there ever was,” Katie smiled.
“Well hurry home. And how about meeting me at the hut after you eat? Unless you’re feeling too tired. We can always meet tomorrow night.” he said.
Susan chuckled to herself. “We can probably make it.”
“We’ll eat. Finish some homework.” Katie said.
“See ya.” the girls said and ran the last fifty meters home.
? ? ? ? ?
“Have you heard or seen anything strange in this forest.” said Susan, with a mock-deep authoritarian voice.
The girls were merely steps away from Kenji’s hut.
“Shhh,” Katie said laughing. “The agents can hear us from their car right over there.”
“Only the normal haunted stuff.”
The girls heard Kenji’s loud whisper over the bullfrog army choir.
It was coming from ten meters further down the hill and past his hut.
“Hey, wait up!” Susan whispered hoarsely back.
“You were listening to our whole conversation with the agents this morning, weren’t you.” said Katie, stepping over godknowswhat in the dark.
They caught up to him, still in the forest, but close to the road.
“Who me?” Kenji smiled.
“This is kinda fun,” said Susan.
“Let’s cut over the road and then down the hill into the rice paddy and along the edge of the water toward The Tama River.”
“Really?” Katie said.
“It’s way too muddy down there, Satchitananda-san.” said Susan.
“Don’t worry, follow me.” he said and shrugged and waved his arms.
They held hands and laughed while slipping down the hill then followed Kenji’s big steps and leaps over deep and sloppy mud and into wet and shin-high grass and then up several footsteps to the top of the levy looking west across slick black shallow water glittering with the candlelight of ghosts, here and there, in the shine of a late rising moon. Or so Susan imagined as they walked along more relaxed now.
But Susan couldn’t resist a snicker out load about the ghosts of Hebiyama, and surmised that if there were such things, they were too much varied in their ways and looks and sounds to get noticed apart from all the weirdness still very much alive in there.
“If every thing and everyone alive is truly different,” Kenji said, “perhaps every thing and everyone dead is too.”
“Well, I guess that’s a nice thought,” Katie said, making her eyes as big as she could in sarcasm.
“Sorry, that is not a nice thought,” said Susan, “it is creeping me out.”
They were walking along a dry pathway now between old houses, a hundred meters from the Tama River.
“Let’s try shifting our angle of view on this, Susan and Katie, on this timely subject you’ve raised.” he said.
“Timely?” the girls said together.
“Well, you know. Oh look there’s the river!”
And they climbed atop the river’s own levy to get a better look.
“I have an idea.” Kenji went on, this time with clear intention. “Discussions about death and dying are fun, believe me, where I come from? These are things to know about. But let’s consider for a moment something we’re negotiating right now… or trying to anyway.
“The river?” Katie asked.
“The river, yes Katie, but in this case, more general.” he replied.
“Life.” said Susan.
“Life.” repeated Kenji.
“Now there’s a scary thought,” said Katie.
“Yes,” said Kenji, “in many ways.”
“Especially…” Katie started and stopped and pressed the temples of her head to hold off tears with the palms of her hand.
They looked at the moving water for a while in quietness.
“Isn’t it strange,” he said and paused.
“What?” said Susan.
“The most precious thing we have… from moment to moment, the one thing we love the most…has never been defined.
“Huh?” said the girls.
“Life.” Said Kenji, “Life has no structure we can put our hands on, no inherent flavor embedded in our bodies to secrete the tiniest taste of certainty. And it doesn’t concern us in the least, or most of us anyway.
“Strange.” He continued, all the knowledge our species has fancied and tested and documented and applied… isn’t it strange we still don’t know who it is we are?”
“Or ‘what’ it is we are.” said Susan.
“Excellent point!” Kenji said. “What we are…” he began slowly, is who we are, but too big for us to see or to smell or taste – or to even think about.
“Too big?” said Susan.
“How’s that?” Katie asked.
“Life. You.” said Kenji. It’s simply too big for our own minds to fathom.”
“I try to fathom it,” Susan said. “… sometimes.”
“and?” Kenji said, “what have you learned?”
“Not much. Just fun to do sometimes, I guess.” said Susan.
“but you said we’re too big, didn’t you? …for our minds? …I don’t get it.” Katie said.
“Good point!” Kenji said, “yet another oddity of our existence – our minds, perhaps nature’s greatest creation, is all but crippled, really, in ever knowing anything.”
“Oh but there are billions on this earth who would disagree with you.” said Susan.
“There most certainly are.” said Kenji. “The mind lays claim to all knowledge. It’s the nature of the mind, and yet it knows so very little. It’s a beautiful confusion built into our existence,
“Perhaps when you consider that the nature of existence is itself pure knowledge.”
“And astonishingly accessible.”
“How?” the girls said almost at once.
“Through our feelings.” Kenji said.
Susan was shaking her head in doubt. “To fathom or to feel – let’s stop this nonsense. I am so confused.”
“Hmmm yes.” said Kenji, “confused is also good! Shall we go ahead and try it out?
“Try out the feeling of how big you are?”
“how’s that?” said Susan.
“well…” Kenji looked around aware, “let’s sit down here a moment and get comfortable and let’s close our eyes and see.”
“I don’t know,” said Susan.
“Three four minutes at the most. Are you game? Let’s try.”
“This is weird,” Katie said.
“This is weird,” repeated Susan.
And they sat down on dry soil and closed their eyes and Kenji said, “let’s take a deep breath in…
and let it out…
Now let’s take another deep breath in…
and let it out…”
they sat about half a minute.
“Do you feel some quietness, some silence, some good feeling?
Let’s close the eyes again and be with and watch inside very gently that good feeling.”
They sat a few more moments
and Kenji spoke:
“Become aware of your breath, however it is… fast or slow or changing…
become aware of your breath…”
And they sat quietly again.
“Now become aware of your body…
For moments more they sat.
“Slowly, let’s open the eyes.” Kenji said.
“Did you notice
and observing this breath and this body
that thoughts of any sort arise in the mind?
The girls nodded slowly.
“Did you notice how naturally this happened? hmmm? how the mind naturally comes into play?
This time, let’s close the eyes, and when we become aware of the mind in play let’s gently refocus our attention to the breath… let’s close the eyes…”
And a minute or two passed.
Kenji slowly said:
of your body.”
and a restful minute or so passed on.
Then Kenji said:
of the top of your head..”
And Kenji continued to guide them gently through alternating and growing levels of quietness and awareness…
“Become aware of the space…
above the top of your head…
Become aware of the moon…
Become aware of allllllllll the space..
between the moon
and the top of your head…
Become aware of a direct connection,
a long, unbroken connection…
with a smile on its face…
between the moon
and the top of your head.
Let’s be with that connection, that smile
for a moment…
Become aware of all the stars in the heavens…
And alllllllllll the space between all the stars in heaven
and the top of your head…
Become aware of all the connections,
each in smile,
from trillions of stars in heaven
to the top of your head…”
The three sat quietly for several more minutes unaware of time passing.
“Become aware of your breath.” Kenji said. “Let’s enjoy with eyes still closed this awareness for a moment.
Then Kenji said, “Gently, and when you are ready take a minute or two or more and very slowly open the eyes…
What did you feel? Hmmm?”
“I felt as relaxed as a rock. And I also somehow felt huge.” Susan said.
I felt exactly the same way,” said Katie, “and I also felt like crying.”
“Me too.” said Susan.
“Good. And how do you feel now?”
“Relaxed,” said Susan, “Calm. Quiet. And sad too.”
“Hmm mmm. And Katie? What did you feel?”
“Yeah. the same. I felt big. Huge. Quiet.”
“Did you notice thoughts coming during the experience? Hmmm?”
“Yes, thoughts of everything,” Susan said, “of Mom and Dad, of Jack, Obá-chan, of our coach, my routine, my impossible routine.”
Kenji laughed. “And did you notice how these thoughts come spontaneously without intention and without effort? Yes? Hmm? With just this amount of effortless effort: the way we notice thoughts arising naturally in the mind, with just this subtle direction of our awareness we can feel how big life is, how big we are, inside and out, and feel your very own ‘who’, your self, all along the way.”
“I don’t feel like moving a single muscle in my body.” said Susan.
“Me too.” Katie said.
“Good.” said Kenji.
“Will you do this again with us?”
“Yes. And you can do it without me as well.”
“Maybe not.” said Katie.
Kenji smiled and nodded his head and said, “Good. Anyway, you can try it. And now you know what to do.”
“I’m starting to feel so sleepy.” Katie said.
“Me too,” said Susan. “Let’s go home.”
Chapter 15 – Intelligence here and there.
“What am I doing?” answered Jack O’Brien to the old man on the train to Kashmir, “how could this be any of your business?”
“Business?” said Kenji. “Like what? Some investment? A transaction?”
“You know what I mean.” said Jack O’Brien. “Some privacy… would be appreciated.”
“How long have you been… in transit?” Kenji said.
Jack shook his head. “You won’t quit, will you?”
“I quit all the time,” said Kenji. “And I quit now. A simple question is all.”
Jack O’Brien took a half-deep breath , “what is today… Friday? Left on Tuesday afternoon. Lost a day coming over.”
“Over?” Kenji asked.
“Over the date line.” Jack said.
“You’ve come a long way.” said Kenji.
“Not long enough.” Jack said.
“You have relatives in Kashmir?” Kenji said.
Kenji looked at him without response.
“My parents went missing in Kashmir.”
“Perhaps two weeks ago.” said Jack.
“Lost?” Kenji said.
“Taken.” said Jack.
“and you know this for a fact?” Kenji said.
“from a reliable source.” Jack nodded.
“and this source sent you on your way here?” Kenji said.
“not really.” Jack said. “That was my decision.”
And both of them at once looked up to a man standing in the aisle looking at them.
“Will you come with me, young man.” he said. It was the man in a beige linen suit and sunglasses. Soldiers from the Indian Army appeared at each end of the train car and stood alert with rifles slung over their shoulders.
Jack looked around, his face pulled up tight with fear. Kenji looked at Jack and looked at the man who was holding out a badge.
“I am a security officer of the government of India. And you will come with me.” the man said, and began pulling Jack out of his seat with a hand gripped under Jack’s arm.
“Where are you taking him?” Kenji asked.
The man did not respond.
“My young friend, listen to me.” Kenji said.
Jack was being led quickly down the isle, and he looked over his shoulder to Kenji.
“Keep your head. Keep your courage too.”
? ? ? ? ?
Katie awoke on Saturday morning and immediately sat up in her futon.
“That’s weird… sleep went so fast… but I feel just fine…”
She looked over at Susan who awoke and sat up right away too.
“Yeah, what’s up. We’re not dragging our selves outta bed.”
“Felt like I slept ten minutes from the time I closed my eyes to just now.” Katie said.
“Yeah. Did we really sleep?”
“I think so, I feel great.”
“Me too. What happened? I didn’t wake up even once during the night and had no dreams or anything.” said Susan.
“Let’s not tell anybody.” Katie said.
“Don’t worry. What’s there to tell.” said Susan.
“It’s weird.” said Katie.
“I’ll take it.” said Susan.
“Me too.” Katie said.
“Good morning, everyone!” the girls walked into the living area.
The room was like a replay from yesterday morning, except Kenji was already sitting at the breakfast table and scooping rice and natto (fermented bean curd) into his mouth and listening closely to Taya-san and Kaneko-san from the Japan Foreign Ministry who sat on either side of him.
Obá-chan was eating, as she often did, standing up and cooking at the same time, usually getting something started early for the evening meal before she, herself, left for the office.
“They found your brother in India.” said Obá-chan to the girls right away.
“In India.” Katie said. “That’s good. Mom and Dad?”
Obá-chan simply shook her head.
“The Indian Government reported to our embassy a few hours ago.” said Kaneko-san.
“That’s correct.” Taya-san continued the story, “they picked him up on a train heading for Kashmir about twelve ours ago, India time, and reported Jack was traveling with some old man.”
“Jack can make a friend of anybody, anywhere.” Obá-chan said.
“It’s very strange, however.” Taya-san continued.
“They said the old man could speak Japanese.
Naturally it aroused suspicion and they tried to detain him as well.
“And?” Obá-chan said.
“And…” Taya-san paused and displayed both surprise and guilt upon his face, “somehow…” he paused again and shook his head, “somehow, the old man got away.”
“Strange indeed.” Kenji said without pause and his mouth still full of food.
“From a train?” Obá-chan said almost laughing out loud.
The men just raised their eye-brows and shrugged their shoulders. “One less thing to worry about.” Said Kaneko-san.
“You really think so?” said Susan.
“Susan.” Katie was shaking her head to stop her.
“They don’t know Jack either.” Susan mumbled away.
“They’ll hold your grandson at the border until agents from the Japanese Consulate arrive six to eight hours from now and then he’ll shortly be on his way back to Tokyo.” said Taya-san.
“With an escort from the Japan Foreign Ministry,” added Kaneko-san.
“And how in the world did my grandson, attending a private boarding high school in Sedona Arizona – the other side of the world – discover, before anyone in power,what happened to his parents in Kashmir?” Obá-chan had her arms crossed now.
“According to U.S. investigators,” Taya-san explained, “Jack has two friends at school whose fathers are situated, respectively, at rather elevated positions in the Indian Government and the Government of Pakistan.”
“I can’t imagine any father in that position disclosing such information to their own teenage son. What purpose could that possibly serve?” Obá-chan said.
“It appears the students… of these men of high rank, are their daughters, not their sons.”
“Oh that explains everything.” Susan said.
“And with the considerable aid of your grandson, hacked into secure intelligence networks of both governments.”
“What would give them that idea?” Obá-chan said.
“They hacked these networks at the beginning of the school year – for what purpose we still don’t know –and by coincidence, just a few days ago, discovered this information.”
“And these girls are providing information to authorities?” Obá-chan said.
“I wish I could tell you yes.” said Taya-san.
“But these girls have turned up missing as well…”
“Huh?” said Obá-chan.
“…And are yet to be found.” Taya-san finished.
Obá-chan stood staring and shaking her head. “Who are these girls, what are their names?”
“Their names are being withheld by other authorities.”
“Well. If they found Jack, I’m sure they’ll find these girls soon.”
“This is what’s expected, yes.”
“If Jack was helping them?” Susan shook her head, “Wouldn’t be an expectation I’d bet on.”
“Gentlemen?” This time Obá-chan jumped in to quell her granddaughter’s comments. “I can’t thank you enough for your dedication to this crisis and for disclosing this important information. And girls?” she turned to Katie and Susan O’Brien, “I believe you have just enough time to get to the station and catch your train to school.”
“Is Satchitananda-san walking with us to the station?” said Katie.
“I’m staying right here, today.” Kenji said, his mouth still full.
“Then we’re outta here.” said Katie. “Thank you for breakfast, Obá-chan.
“Thank you for breakfast, Obá-chan, and we’ll see you tonight.”
Obá-chan followed Katie and Susan to the door. “Stay focused girls. I know you will.”
“We will, Obá-chan.” Katie said.
“We will, Obá-chan.” said Susan.
And Obá-chan slowly closed the front door, and the girls departed for Fuda Station, and the three repressed with effort the urging of their tears.
? ? ? ? ?
“This is too much.” Katie said after the two walked quietly for five minutes.
“Can you stay focused?” Susan asked.
“No way.” Katie said.
“Me neither. What’ll we do?” said Susan.
Katie was shaking her head and kept silent for a minute or two.
“I don’t know.” Katie finally said. “Maybe we attach the moon to our head with a bungee cord?” she chuckled to herself.
“Hey a whole bunch of bungee cords,” Susan chuckled back, “from all the stars in the heavens.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Katie laughed louder.
“Yeah.” Susan laughed back.
Chapter 16 – Chaos and demands.
The girls reached Fuda Station moments later and froze suddenly in their tracks to see their father Henry O’Brien on a large flat panel television screen affixed above the entrance of the station.
He was kneeling in a position with hands behind his back.
He looked worried and tired and unshaven and thin.
He read a message in English aloud:
“We are the humiliated
the stomped upon
and the hated.
Even as we simply live
upon the land
our ancestors nurtured
for a thousand years,
or ten thousand.
From Palestine to Chiapas to North Carolina
from Tibet to Kosovo to Kashmir
from Chechnya to East Timor
from Basque to Northern Ireland
from the Ainu of Hokkaido and of Honshu before that,
and from a thousand – at least –
more populations of people
whose cultures are no longer endangered,
because the people themselves are extinct.
In our own homes
we are homeless.
We are strangers and scapegoats,
or simply and wholly forgotten.
In our efforts
to live and to raise our children
and to honor the spirits of our ancestors,
upon these mere spots-on-the-rug
of planet earth,
drenched in the blood and the tears,
and the smiles and celebrations
of who we are
and always have been,
we are called ‘the terrorists’
for not disappearing
for not allowing
the ubiquitous and self-proclaiming-to-be-enlightened,
capital-market, finite-resource, political-boundary bullies,
to cage us in,
to abduct our children,
and to kill our entire people
and then to belch unaware
and to sleep it all off
between the sheets
of our very own beds
as if nothing in the world
And then their mother appeared before the camera situated in the same position looking equally as worn continuing to read the message:
“The lives of Mieko and Henry O’Brien
are at stake,
and will come to an end
one hundred hours from now
unless those who are accountable –
you leaders of the big eight –
to take their place.”
A local news commentator then appeared on the screen with words that went unheard by Katie and Susan O’Brien.
“I have to sit down.” said Susan.
“Let’s sit down.” Katie said too.
And people they knew and who knew them – at least from sight – moved on in avoidance, ostensibly concerned about disturbing the sudden disturbance, and looking down or away and quickly walking by Katie and Susan O’Brien.
? ? ? ? ?
When the girls left the house minutes before Taya-san’s cell phone went off, and listening for a moment he replaced it in his pocket and walked to the television nearby and turned it on.
It was an unscheduled broadcast by the television networks of Japan. A moment later he motioned for Kaneko-san, and the two walked silently out the door to their car.
Obá-chan and Kenji stood up and watched what the girls and perhaps the world were seeing.
“These people are nothing but savages and terrorists!” Obá-chan said when it was finished.
“Their approach is one of ignorance,” Kenji said and continued slowly, “But how much more ignorant, it is difficult to say
compared to the crimes put upon them.”
“How can you take their side!”
“I’m not sure I am taking their side. You wouldn’t allow your own government to conduct a simple search for your daughters on the land next door you deem sacred, and for all the same good reasons. What if they were Chinese or Koreans or Taiwanese or Americans, who not only wanted to search Hebiyama, but to stake there a claim forever?”
“This is different.” Obá-chan said.
“Please tell me how so?” Kenji continued slowly.
Obá-chan buried her head in the palms of her hands and wept aloud and cried “it isn’t fair”.
And Kenji, aware he was pushing, his older sister to the edge,
said more softly and slowly, “Tell me this, One-san, what if it were the Ainu returning here next door, who called Hebiyama their own home for ages longer than the Japanese?”
He paused and continued.
“From the soil of this bamboo forest, whose generations of ancestors are crying out now?”
“Get out!” Obá-chan screamed, and ran into her bedroom.
And Kenji left the house, not unnoticed by the agents sitting outside in their car.