Weeds in the jungle, p.1
Weeds in the Jungle, p.1Stuart Parker
Weeds in the Jungle
Copyright © 2015 by Stuart Parker
Cover art: SelfPubBookCovers.com/Raffael
The young man didn’t listen to music; he preferred the sound of the boom gates. Their incessant ringing had been outside his window all his life and since fourteen years of age he had taken to smoking alone in their company.
The boom gates were like the indiscriminate nets of a fishing trawler, scooping up to the surface an inconsequential assortment of comings and goings. Taro smoked his cigarette and looked over this latest catch. On the sidewalk there was a mother on a bicycle, her groceries in the front basket and her young daughter in the rear child-seat. There was a stressed out businessman in a black suit, clutching a briefcase to his chest. On the road there was a long line of traffic banked back on the one lane heading westward. At this time of the afternoon there were mostly mothers taking their kids home from school, or more likely to after-school tuition. Also, there were businesspeople in taxis, tradesmen in light trucks bearing their company names, and university students on scooters. In other words it was a typical Tokyo scene. As the train finally arrived, in a roaring blur, half a dozen members of the local high school baseball team joined the mix, weaving with their bicycles to the front of the queue, their cumbersome bags slung casually over their shoulders.
The train was a Limited Express from Tokyo to Yokohama. Crowded as it was, the evening crush wouldn’t begin for a few more hours when the companies and after-schools started to clear out.
It was 5:30pm in mid-July. The overcast sky was basting in a hazy brown film. The beach season had officially opened - if you stayed on one of those trains long enough. One short month before the jellyfish saturated the coastal waters and the temporary food stalls and bars were methodically pulled down again, piece by piece, leaving upon the sand not a single trace. The young man at the boom gates would not be going anyway. His only tangible concession for the summer season was to pack away his jackets. His name was Taro Takeda. He was wearing blue jeans, an unbuttoned red flannelette shirt and a white t-shirt underneath. He was smoking a cigarette and watching the train go by.
There were two very distinct forces he associated with the Tokyo trains: the passive aggressive bumping and nudging that went on with the passengers inside the carriages and the earth shaking power of the wheels on the track. It sometimes occurred to him that the sad people who could no longer bear the soul destroying forces above would harness the pure, brutal forces below to put an end to them once and for all. Such acts were among the few happenings that could knock the trains off their schedules, at least for an hour or so.
This latest train was gone now and the boom gates rose. It was catch and release: the pedestrians returned to their lives with renewed vigour and the punch-drunk vehicles wearily began their advance towards the next set of red lights.
Taro remained where he was. He flicked his cigarette into the long weeds at the base of the wire fence against which he was leaning. Back in ancient times the possession of fire would have spelt summary execution – a punishment to protect a city constructed of paper, wood and straw. Taro would have liked to live in such a time, when even the lowest of peasants had the ability to destroy everything. He ground down on the cigarette butt with his boot heel. Even though the weeds were still damp enough from a morning downpour to not pose a threat, he used some force in ensuring the cigarette butt was completely crushed and extinguished. Then he lit another.
Leaving his spot by the boom gates, Taro went on foot to his part time job at a local Domino’s pizza store. Hachikawa, the store manager chastised him for being late - or, in real terms, for only being ten minutes early. Taro didn’t want to take it, but he didn’t want to defend himself either. He bowed an insincere apology and was relieved that was enough to appease Hachikawa. He spent the next five hours tearing around the streets of Tokyo’s inner western Nakano ward, delivering warm square boxes with one of the company’s zippy little scooters.
The bother of calling on people’s doors and ever so gratefully relieving them of their money was more than compensated for by the freedom he felt on the streets. Cops were virtually non-existent. And the company was only interested in deliverers who would do whatever it took to be efficient. At least, that was how Taro perceived the situation to be. And as usual, Hachikawa had only chastised him at the beginning of the shift, not at the end of it. It meant he had done his job satisfactorily.
Taro arrived home at a little after midnight. On weekends it would be later. He lived in a two bedroom apartment he shared with his mother, Junko. His sister, Kaori, had moved out a few years earlier, a wedding band the key to her new life. Taro’s father, Yuki, had been the next to go. A heart attack hastened on by eighteen hour work days. Some spouses might have fought for compensation. Junko, however, had just seemed content that her husband had possessed the kind of ability that a company could value so highly. And, besides, she still had monthly pension payments, her administration job and her son’s modest contributions from his delivery job to get by on. She had enough to satisfy the monthly bills.
Taro crept through the darkened apartment to his room and he was surprised to find that his mother had left a freshly ironed shirt and pair of black trousers on his futon. She hadn’t done that since his days of interviewing for real jobs: Toyota, Canon, Nippon Steel. None of those interviews had been fruitful. Taro couldn’t explain why, for he had tried his best. Now he got the feeling his mother had given up on him and turned her sights to the next generation. Taro’s girlfriend, Hiromi, was returning from Canada the next day after a one year study-abroad trip and it was Taro she had requested to meet her at the airport. That was something because her parents would have been more than willing. They were even a little disappointed. It was a good family. Hiromi was intelligent and slim and pretty and full of life. The kind of girl a boyfriend’s mother could glow about.
That reunion would be the following day. Taro was too tired for a session on his Nintendo DS. Anyway, he wouldn’t have been surprised if his mother had locked it away. He threw himself down on the immaculately pressed clothes and was immediately asleep.
‘Ta-chan. Ta-chan. It’s breakfast. Do you need a bath?’
His mother was never going to call him Taro. It seemed she had given him his name only to treat him like he didn’t deserve it. Ta-chan was best reserved for a Golden Retriever with a bow around its neck. Too bad this had been his wake up call since before he could remember. And it would have been better if there hadn’t been so much excitement in her voice. It would have helped him be more sympathetic.
Baths were for overworked office employees to sweat off their stress. He wasn’t going to have anything to do with that. He plucked the shirt and trousers off his bed and dressed perfunctorily. The clothes weren’t as crumpled as he had hoped they would be. He was a very straight sleeper.
With his wavy black hair, faint moustache that he only wished could be thicker, athletic body that held his clothes well and sensitive looking black eyes, he always looked better in his bedroom wall-mirror than what he actually felt. His reflection, after all, was only two dimensional. He considerably envied it that.
He didn’t like a messy room, so he used some valuable moments to tidy it up. He could hear the morning news on the large dining room TV. That was the first thing his mother did when she became a widow: trade in the small TV for a bigger one. The usual news items were being placarded about: North Korean threats of annihilation, political grafting in the Diet and the overnight baseball scores. There was no surprise either in the breakfast awaiting him: natto, salad, rice and miso soup. He didn’t mind it,
‘You’ve got to hurry,’ urged Junko. ‘You’ll be late to the airport.’ She had slowed down her own breakfast so she could be around to say that. She was quite a short woman even at the dining table. She always seemed to have to look up to see Taro. She still had a youthful appearance and wore her long black hair elegantly. She wasn’t outwardly religious and probably only stayed faithful to her departed husband because it was easier than blind dates. She always gave his grave a good cleaning in the August Obon period as was the custom. She particularly enjoyed the opportunity this occasion provided to spend some extra time with her granddaughter in Totori, her husband’s hometown and where his ashes had been tombed. Only a few more weeks to wait before it was time to go their again.
Junko wore a white blouse and a black business shirt. She spent a lot of fuss over her appearance even though, as a full time book keeper, she mostly only had a back corner in an office and a computer to appreciate her.
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