The kingdom, p.1
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       The Kingdom, p.1

           Fuminori Nakamura
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The Kingdom


  Also by Fuminori Nakamura

  The Gun

  The Thief

  Evil and the Mask

  Last Winter, We Parted

  Copyright © 2011 by Fuminori Nakamura

  English translation © 2016 by Kalau Almony

  First published in Japanese in 2011 by Kawadeshobo-Shinsha.

  First published in English in 2016 by Soho Press.

  Soho Press

  853 Broadway

  New York, NY 10003

  All rights reserved.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Nakamura, Fuminori, 1977–

  Almony, Kalau, translator.

  The kingdom / Fuminori Nakamura;

  translated from the Japanese by Kalau Almony.

  ISBN 978-1-61695-592-2

  eISBN 978-1-61695-593-9

  1. Organized crime—Japan—Fiction. I. Title

  PL873.5.A339 O3613 2016 (print) PL873.5.A339 (ebook)

  DDC 895.6/36—dc23 2015048583

  Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

  Printed in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  1.

  When did I realize I would never get what I wanted most?

  Maybe I was in my twenties. Or maybe I was a child, just old enough to make sense of the world. Back when I did nothing but glare at everyone around me, what I wanted most was far away. It was not something tangible. It made my skin burn. It ignored all the rules. It went beyond morals and reason. It was something that could overturn the foundations of everything I thought my life would become. I wonder if I still want it. What would I do if I got it?

  The man in front of me, bathed in blue light, was looking at me. I smiled and watched the passion build in his eyes. He glanced at my chest, then returned his gaze to my face. He acted relaxed as he closed in on me one step at a time.

  “I can’t believe it. I’d never have thought you were a prostitute.”

  Properly speaking, I’m not a prostitute, but I smiled anyway. The man slid his fingers between mine.

  “I don’t tell anyone I don’t like,” I said. “It’s wonderful. Much better than watching TV.”

  I pressed my body against his and kissed his neck. I held his hand gently, and brought it up to my chest. He touched my chest reluctantly. Though I didn’t feel anything special, I began to mix heavy breathing into my speech.

  “. . . You can forget it all. Do what you want to me. Mmm . . . Whatever you want.”

  His temperature rose. Humans do not always make rational decisions. When our senses are shaken, we become defenseless. I felt the hand on my breast growing bolder. I stroked the man’s lips with my finger, and put a pill in his mouth.

  “What’s this?”

  “It’s kind of like a mild Viagra. You can get it at any pharmacy, but it’s pretty good.”

  I stretched my legs from my short skirt and forced them between his. I kissed his neck, wrapped my arms around him, and whispered, “Let’s do it. Let’s do it.” With my lips pressed against his neck, I felt him swallow the pill. He pushed me violently onto the bed. He was completely engrossed in me. I held his body against my chest. The feeling that I was in control of him got me hot. There was no sign of his turning back. I pretended to fool around, avoided his kisses, and wrapped my arms around his neck. I gently petted the man’s head. His face was buried in my chest. I continued stroking his head until he stopped moving.

  I watched the man with detachment as his hands began to slow. Strangely, looking into those half-closed eyes, I got hot again at my own act of treachery. The heat traveled through my body, raising my pulse and causing sounds of joy to gurgle up from deep inside me. I slowly brought my mouth to his ear.

  “Don’t worry. It’s not poison.”

  There was something evil in the glow of the room’s blue lights. I felt the weight of the man on top of me. He could no longer move. His eyes were closed. I stared long into his face. I realized that I wanted him. I wanted the passion he had until a moment ago. I wanted his shoulders, which were quite muscular for his age, and his naturally tan face. I got out from under his body, sat in a chair, and lit a cigarette. I had to wait like this until he fell into a deep sleep.

  It was raining outside.

  The quiet rising up from the man’s body joined the sound of the rain.

  I carefully removed the man’s light blue shirt, and then slowly pulled his white tank top off over his head. His tanned chest was broad, like I thought it would be. I took off my blouse, so I only had on a bra, and put on sunglasses. I lay in bed next to the topless man, put his arm under my head, and took several pictures of us head on. I also recorded a video. Last time, when my victim was a politician, I understood why I’d been hired. Why anyone needed these kinds of pictures of a TV anchor, I didn’t know. I expected he thought I was just a normal person drinking in that bar. He probably hadn’t thought I’d been watching him the whole time.

  After carefully redressing him, my job was done. I’d created a point of weakness in his life. I took some money from his wallet and put it in my own. I saw a receipt from an expensive Japanese restaurant, and his gym membership card. I lit another cigarette, and wrote a message on the hotel’s notepad.

  “I didn’t touch your cards. Procuring prostitutes is illegal . . . I’m sure you understand.”

  The very existence of prostitutes is illegal, so when he’d tried to buy me, he’d become a criminal, too. He had been seduced into criminality. Who with any standing in society would go to the police over this much money? When he read the note I left, he’d think only his money was stolen. But really, he’d be wrong.

  The blue lights in the hotel room were still letting off their evil glow. What were those lights illuminating? Maybe the petty crime of this man who had tried to buy me, even though he had a ring on his finger? Or maybe, my existence.

  I carefully fixed my makeup in the bathroom, put on my coat, and left the room. Though the building didn’t stand out much, on the inside it was a luxury love hotel. I exited the elevator, and as I walked past the front desk, Saito said, “Good night.” At places like this, you can only see the wrists of whoever’s working the front desk, but I happen to know Saito has a very handsome face.

  “You too. Sorry if he makes a fuss.”

  “It’ll be fine.”

  The lobby’s huge, gaudy chandelier made me feel better. Its showiness seemed to mock the world. When I left the hotel, the men walking the late-night streets looked at me, their gazes crossing one another’s, full of all kinds of emotions. I walked slowly through all of those gazes. A black car was parked on the side of the hotel like it was meant to be there. It reflected, or maybe repelled, the neon lights. It was a luxury car. Some brand I didn’t know. I opened the door and got in. The heater wasn’t even on inside.

  The man in the driver’s seat didn’t say anything when I got in. He says his name is Yata, but that’s probably not his real name. When I showed him the digital camera, he took it casually and put it in his attaché case. Yata’s eyes are small, and his face is plain, but he has beautiful fingers.

  “You can get the pictures of him going in from Saito.”

  “I already got them.”

  The inside of the car was freezing. We were cut off from the noise of the night.

  “But . . . Why a TV anchor?”

  “One of your best qualities is that you don’t pry. Remember that.”

  He gave me an envelope full of money, but I didn’t need it much anymore.

  I got out of the car and turned my back to it as Yata st
epped on the gas. I walked through the city. The heat from pulling that man close to me, and the heat from betraying him, still lingered in my body. A tout I knew by face started talking to me. In front of a hotel, a Chinese woman was negotiating with a client. There were older men walking with younger girls, and older women walking with younger men. The obscene neon. The light that makes fun of the world. Night makes people’s desires take on physical form. Night forgives people for letting loose the desires they keep buried inside.

  The moon shone down from over my head, casting its light on the neon’s glow. After the sun sets, the moon steals its light to illuminate our existence.

  2.

  I woke to an afterimage floating before my eyes.

  It changed from red to green. The transparent image looked like haphazardly flung paint, and it continued to tremble even when I closed my eyes. I had forgotten what I dreamed last night, but I thought that dream must have been some kind of stain seeping out from deep within me. Then I realized I had left my bedside lamp on, and it had caused the afterimage. My room was overly big. My chest was sweating.

  I turned on the TV, and the anchor I photographed last night was on. He smiled and spoke well. There was nothing particularly strange about him. The show didn’t rouse my attention, so I turned off the TV. When did I stop being able to follow all the text streaming busily across the screen?

  I took a shower, went to the kitchen, and ate half of a roll I had bought. The clock said 6 p.m. Lots of people have told me I should get a pet. The size of my room probably makes me look even more alone. But I never wanted to have to go through something close to me losing its life again. Since Eri and that boy died, I have become extremely sensitive to life. Life is terrifying.

  I felt like I washed myself cleaner than usual. I was going to meet Hasegawa. A few days before, he’d suddenly called out and stopped me on the stairs in front of the train station’s ticket gates. “Is that you, Yurika?” he asked, and as I was preparing to lie to him, he said he was Hasegawa. I placed him right away because he was wearing a blue down jacket. Under that down jacket, he had on a sweater of the same color. That was the color of the hand-me-down sweater he always used to wear when we were at the orphanage, back when we were in elementary school. Even though that sweater was old, on him it looked pristine. I don’t know whose it used to be, but it probably suited Hasegawa better.

  “When we’re grown up,” Hasegawa once told me, “we’ll show everyone. Until then, no backing down.”

  Regardless, I guess people really do bump into each other like that. I left my room. For a second, I wasn’t sure whether I should, but I put my lucky knife in my bag. I picked clothes that weren’t too revealing, and put on the rings and piercings that I liked. The moon was out.

  Hasegawa had asked me to come to a bar in Ikebukuro. It was overflowing with customers. “It’s dirty, but the food is good,” Hasegawa had told me in a text message. The place was definitely plain, and the tables and counter looked painfully scratched-up and dented.

  Crowds of drunk people moved through the smoke-filled shop. I’m not sure why, but I thought it would be nice if this was what the world was like after death. The dead all get drunk somewhere, surrounded by a white haze. They sing songs and never notice that they are gradually disappearing. But then where would the children go? Children can’t get drunk, so they’d have to remain conscious of themselves as they disappear.

  Hasegawa raised his hand. He was sitting at a table in the back. His blue down jacket was immaculate. Hasegawa might have been the person I’d spoken to most at the orphanage. I was quiet, though, so we still probably hadn’t talked that much. When I think back, he had been a fast runner. These memories felt sentimental, but I couldn’t feel anything else, probably because I was dried up. I smiled and approached the table.

  “Yurika. It feels strange to say your name.”

  “It shouldn’t.”

  “It’s just, well, it’s been a long time.”

  I drank beer and stared at the yakitori and whatever boiled dish Hasegawa ordered. I watched him eating innocently, like everything was delicious, and thought he must get a lot of girls. His nails were cut short, and his fingers were thin and lovely. His face showed the determination of someone who made it through some kind of trouble, but then he would suddenly smile like a defenseless child. He seemed like he hadn’t changed since we were kids. I wondered if he was still fast.

  “Um.” It had been bothering me, so I decided to ask him. “How did you recognize me in that crowd?”

  “I think it was the way you walk.”

  Hasegawa swallowed something and looked at me sweetly.

  “Actually, I saw you in the same spot last week. But I didn’t have the courage to say anything. You walk fast, Yurika. You move your body like everyone around you is an obstacle and you have to dodge them all. But you’re not looking down on everyone, it’s more . . . How should I put it? . . . It’s like you’re so focused on where you’re going, and you want to get there fast. The way you walk, it’s like . . . the opposite of cowardice.”

  He said that and smiled.

  “I’ve always been a coward, you know. I’m a coward, but I hate to lose.”

  I may not be a coward anymore. But that’s because being a coward is the same as having the will to live.

  “Now I’m working as an interpreter for tourists. And on the weekends I work at the orphanage. I’m just a volunteer, though. I heard about Shota.”

  I felt a slight trembling deep within my chest. I was buzzing on the inside.

  “You did all that even though he wasn’t your child. That was so amazing of you . . . Or, well, that’s not what I mean. Everyone was surprised at all that money . . . Oh, I’m sorry . . .”

  I guessed what I must have looked like based on his panicked expression. I must not have gotten over it yet. I smiled at him to let him know that he didn’t have to worry.

  The outlines of all the drunk customers blurred in the white smoke. If there is only nothingness after death, what’s the point of this world?

  “No, don’t worry about it. So, you’re helping out at the orphanage? That’s great.”

  “Well, Yurika, I was wondering if you’d want to, too. I heard about what you did, and . . . If you came, we could see each other every weekend.”

  I looked straight at him. His kindhearted eyes got me hot all of a sudden. If I entwined my legs with his under the table, what kind of face would he make? He mistook me for good-natured. I wanted to ruin him. He had been by my side since I was a child thrown out into the world without knowing anything. I wanted to dirty all of his beautiful memories. He would probably be depressed to know the woman I actually am, but in the end, he’d probably try to sleep with me. It would probably be all right to sleep with him. But which would be more intense? The heat when he slept with me, or the heat from making him obsessed with me, then betraying him, and ruining this good man’s life?

  I sensed hatred in my thoughts, so I took my eyes off of him. At the very least, I don’t want to think about people from the orphanage that way.

  “. . . And he refused, but he said he could come somewhere nearby . . . Do you mind if I invite him?”

  I realized Hasegawa had been talking. All of a sudden, I could hear the buzz of the shop.

  “Who?”

  “Huh? Oh, the new director of the orphanage. When we were there, the director was Mr. Nishida, and during Shota’s time it was Mr. Kataoka, right? The new director’s name is Mr. Kondo. When I said I was going to come meet you tonight, he said he wanted to meet you too. When he heard about what you did for Shota, he said he’d love to meet anyone from the orphanage who did something like that. He’s a good man. You should really come help out, too.”

  After that, I became anxious. I was fuzzy-headed. Kondo joined us at the restaurant, and I worried I hadn’t properly greeted him. He wore a brown jacket and
black hat. He was tall and had wide shoulders. He took a seat in one of the bar’s small chairs. I wondered why people who knew about that kid were suddenly showing up in front of me now. I tried to hide my wild emotions and had no choice but to smile at Kondo and Hasegawa.

  Kondo said something nice about me and ordered a beer, saying he’d just have one drink. He stared at me. His appearance was somewhat intimidating, but if he was the director of an orphanage, he must have been good deep down. What kind of face would he make if he knew what I do now? The area around us blurred white again from all the customers’ smoke. Kondo told me about the current state of the orphanage and the kids there. I wanted to cover my ears. I grew more upset, and I couldn’t look at him properly. I’m not sure why, but I was bad at dealing with this kind of man. I continued to smile evasively.

  “Well, it’s bad of me to interfere with Hasegawa’s love life, so I’ll leave you two.”

  Hasegawa got a bit flustered, and Kondo handed him several bills, smiling. I kept smiling emotionlessly. The familiar warmth of good people. But I was far removed from that warmth.

  “Oh, no . . . He always does this. He shows up for a second, and then just leaves . . . And he says all sorts of nonsense.”

  “Ha ha. But he’s an interesting guy.”

  “Yeah. He may look like a bruiser, but he’s actually a good person. Really, if you’re free, come this weekend. I’m sure Mr. Kondo would be happy.”

  He closed his mouth and scratched his ear. Suddenly, my heart began to race. I had been holding off on smoking, but now I instinctively began searching for my cigarettes to calm myself down. Maybe I’d been wrong. I looked at Hasegawa again, but I couldn’t tell anymore. I had thought he stopped talking because he was embarrassed, but his eyes were very cold. He looked, for just a second, like someone I had never seen before. Why do I get shaken up so quickly over such small things? He began to make me nervous just sitting in front of me, but I forced a smile, taking short breaths so he wouldn’t notice.

 
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