The young man in his twenties reached his hand into a dark wooden bowl, picked up a polished black stone between his index and middle finger, and placed the stone on the board. His opponent, an old man half a century his senior, leaned forward a little, examined the board, and he too reached into a dark wooden bowl on his side for a white stone.
Time passed slowly here in this four and a half tatami, clockless room. A cool breeze from the garden whisked a few petals, white with a tint of pink like the shy of a maiden in love, onto the porch. A sweet scent of cherry blossom and Yamecha tea followed a thin trail of lukewarm steam into the youngster’s noses.
Clack; the sound of a stone being placed on the board.
This sound, dry and distinct, was the exciting beat in the otherwise monotonous ruffles of the cherry blossoms outside. There were harmony and life in the sounds, the scents, and the textures; it felt as if everything here was a part of a magic spell, one that banished all troubles and brought peace to the mind.
It was the young man’s turn again.
He reached his hand towards his bowl. It was no longer there. Instead, he found a wooden piece stand with a few shogi pieces on it. When he gazed back at the board, he found no stones; only shogi pieces lined up.
“There’s a pulse! Don’t stop, keep going!”
He heard a disembodied voice from inside his head.
“What’s the matter?” his opponent looked up from the board and asked.
“Ah, nothing. I’m just thinking…can we play a new game?” the youngster suggested.
His opponent let out a disappointed sigh and tapped his index finger on the border of the wooden board, making a series of wood pecking sound.
“Goro, I’m telling you…things might look bad now, but as long as you don’t give up, you can always turn around.”
“Isn’t it more respectful to my opponent if I just recognize my defeat early?” the youngster showed a forced smile like a child caught stealing cookies.
“Don’t talk back to me, Goro. To hell with respect! You fight on! Fight on until your opponent is sick of your persistence! Fight on until they make a mistake! And then, you strike back at them and win! That, young Goro, that is the most satisfying way to win.”
“Haha, okay, boss!”
Something felt off when he caught himself calling his opponent “boss”. Perhaps the heat and these damn noisy crickets were getting to him. Thinking so, the youngster reached his hand towards a bottle of cold oolong tea.
He drank some from it.
When he put the bottle down on a cup holder, he was in a black limousine and in the driver seat, the chauffeur spoke:
“Ah, boss! Mr. Ishii was at the head office while you were out earlier. He wants to see everyone and discuss firework arrangements for the Tanabata festival next week. I heard he got a big catch this year.”
The boss chuckled.
“Let’s hope the “big catch” that joker Ishii got is goods and not a lady. What is the name of that youngling he kept talking about? Iwashi? Iwasaki?”
“Yes, that one! How likely is it?” the boss said with a snap of his finger.
“Haha, that’s very unlikely. It’s been two years already and still, a big fat nothing! That guy is hopeless,” the chauffeur remarked, laughing heartily.
“Well, next time you see him, tell him to just get it over with already. I don’t live forever, you know…”
Again, he heard disembodied voices inside his head. This time, he could tell there were at least two male voices.
“Is he awake yet?”
“No, inspector, he isn’t. We will call you when he is.”
“When will that be, doctor?”
“It can be tomorrow, it can be never. We have done everything we can. Now, it’s up to him…”
And the mysterious conversation went on in his head; only that they had become incomprehensible gibberish and, sometimes, an overlap of many voices—none of which he could recognize.
“Hmm? Mr. Shinoda, do you hear something?” the boss asked the chauffeur.
No answer. That was quite unusual. He did not think he was not heard or that the chauffeur would ignore him.
There was a response when he called the second time.
“Boss…what are you doing here? Did you forget about our promise?”
The promise, yes, he still remembered it. He had promised Mr. Shinoda that he would kill the bastard behind all his suffering in the past two weeks and that promise he had yet to fulfill. How did he get here, he did not know for sure. But, he had finally understood what was going on.
He was still in a dream of his own creation; a lucid dream to be precise.
“Mr. Shinoda…I think I made a mistake. Please turn the car around,” the boss ordered.
“Okay, boss. Although I have to say, you do realize you are talking to yourself, right?”
“Manzai is supposed to be performed by two persons so cut that out!” he snapped at the chauffeur.
“Hahaha, ya said it, Mr. Goro!”
A young female voice boomed next to him. It was the junior Jjang, Sayaka, in a traditional kimono, squishing his right arm in her blessed cleavage. She was smiling brightly like he had seen before.
“Dammit, Sayaka! Get out of my dream!” he growled and tried to pull away but he could not. He was getting an out of body experience inside his own dream.
Wait, did she just call him by his given name?
The scents of sake and sulfur hung in the air. He and a few others whose faces he recognized but names he had long forgotten gathered at a mahjong table after a good long soak in the hot spring. He did not recall when this happened but he knew where this happened. He knew this place. This was the Kojima clan house of a distant branch family in the old Nachikatsuura town.
“Mr. Goro, ya should put on more warm clothes. Geez, it’s winter already!”
The woman he was seeing looked just like the junior Jjang. The way she managed her speech, however, suggested they were two different persons. Yes, they both used the same Wakayama dialect but Sayaka did not have this much grace or seductiveness.
“Wait, are ya serious? Ya drew another season?!”
“Goro, please! That’s the third one already! I’m going to quit if you win this match,” one of the men at the table hissed.
“Pour my victory sake, Ms. Yuki. I’m going to draw the fourth season and win this,” the boss heard the youngster confidently said.
This young man he recognized as himself set the bonus tile aside.
Clack; it was not a mahjong tile but a polished black stone that had been set on the table. He was back in the teahouse again. But, this time, his opponent was the young Goro—his past self.
“Boss, what do you think?” the youngster asked, most likely in regard to his latest move.
So here the boss went again, examining the board. Then, he looked up at the youngster, looked at him in the eyes and told him without any sugar coating:
“This is hopeless. You should resign now.”
“What do you mean “resign”, boss? Didn’t you tell me I must never give up? That I must fight on until my opponent is sick of my persistence? That I must fight on until they make a mistake? That I—”
The boss stopped the youngster here. He had heard enough of himself.
“This is Go, not Shogi. It is not possible to make a comeback at the end-game. Even if I make a mistake now, it will not affect the outcome at all. The outcome has already been decided in mid-game. All I am doing right now is tormenting you for pleasantry, dangling in front of you a carrot I know you will never reach.”
“Do not resent me, young one. I have made too many mistakes in my long life and fought too many fights I should not have. This is one lesson I should have taught you many, many years ago but I did not. Go now, we will play again another time,” the boss calmly dismissed the youngster.
This had always been his dream. If only the former boss, his mentor, had taught him this lesson many, many years ago, he would have made many better decisions and avoided ending at where he was today. He just wanted to hear these words, this lesson he had always postponed, directly from his mentor, even though, he knew deep down, it was only him talking to himself.
“Yes, boss…let’s play again…someday…” the youngster, no, the boss himself, acknowledged, sobbing like a young child again, as the mentor, the teahouse, the table, everything turned into cherry blossoms and was scattered by the wind…