The billboards of life
If you have time to think of a beautiful end, then why not live beautifully until the end?
Or simply beat life into a more pleasing shape?
Either way, no regrets.
The Italian soccer legend and other dreams
Murakami Shingo had plenty of dreams, taking him far away from this mundane little life in this – well, he couldn’t deny Osaka was the most glorious city ever, mundane little life in mundane little back streets or no. He was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shibuya or Shinjuku or wherever the hell the Nishikido kid was hanging out these days had absolutely nothing on Osaka’s humblest back streets.
In all of the dreams he was fabulously rich, in most of them he was incredibly famous and he’d managed to include soccer in a surprising amount of them, too. (Even Shingo had to admit that some inclusions were more gratuitous than others, but he couldn’t bring himself to care very much. Gratuitous or not, those were the best, and he’d spent plenty of sleepless nights furnishing and coloring them to the tiniest detail.)
Blatantly defying all manners of optimism and proper narrative, they had firmly resisted becoming anything but more dreams.
It wasn’t like Shingo lacked ambition. And he was secretly (or not so secretly, after a few drinks) convinced he wasn’t short on talent in any way, either – despite all Yokoyama’s claims to the contrary.
Rude interruption: for something to say
“Seriously, Murakami!,” Yoko whined. “Your only talent is talking far too much. And it is, quite frankly, annoying. Give a guy a break. Let me talk too.”
“Hah! I talk too much? I can barely get a word in edgewise when you get started,” Shingo protested.
“Lies,” Yoko claimed easily. “You were totally hogging Aya-chan yesterday.”
“Eh?! If by hogging you mean desperately trying to keep the conversation going because you were suddenly mute and only stared at her boobs…”
“I did no such thing!” Yoko argued, remarkably red in the face. They had been nice boobs. But he’d figured he probably didn’t know her near long enough to tell her that. (Would he ever?) His traitor of a brain had then decided that if not a declaration of certain doom, he couldn’t say anything. Clearly there was more than one way to make a fool out of yourself, he thought morosely.
“Anyway,” he continued, grappling for a change of subject, because if Shingo’s face was any indication he wasn’t being convincing at all and if he didn’t take action Shingo would probably do something stupid and embarrassing, like set him up on a (certain to be awkward) date with the shapely Aya-chan. Better for all parties if that didn’t happen. She’d probably be disappointed in his conversational prowess and – he shuddered at the thought – tell him how much more awesome Murakami was, or something ridiculous like that.
“At least when I talk it’s not in the worst Kansai dialect I ever had to suffer through hearing. And I am counting those six terrible months of my life when I worked part time at the supermarket and I must have met about five million old women, who, incidentally, mostly managed to be even cheaper than you – though I honestly don’t know how they did that without actually receiving money for doing their groceries.” Breathe.
Shingo raised one unimpressed eyebrow. He only followed about half of that, although he supposed he was stuck paying for drinks tonight. More importantly:
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I talk!”
“It’s an outright embarrassment,” Yoko said calmly, finishing his second beer.
“We live in Osaka!” Shingo retorted, loud enough for the rest of the bar to hear, hitting the table for emphasis. There were some cheers of agreement from a few less than sober salary men in the corner. Shingo rolled his eyes when Yoko made several mock terrified faces and then laughed. He seriously didn’t know why he even bothered. Yoko existed to complain about everything in existence – at least twice – and generally wallow in pessimism. (He’d once tried dissuading him.
“It doesn’t matter, we’ll be dead before we know it anyway.”
“Don’t be like that.”
Yoko shrugged. “Rocks fall, everybody dies. Well established fact of life.”
Hina hit him.)
If Yoko was back to Shingo’s horrid dialect (a constant fixture in their two decades of life together by now), life must be going pretty well.
The Italian soccer legend and other dreams (the point)
Anyway, the point was that sometimes life just doesn’t quite work out the way you’d planned, the way you had dreamed, in defiance of how you’d secretly been convinced it was all going to work out exactly how you wanted it to.
And before you know it (“You’re dead,” Yoko suggested) you find yourself at a party celebrating your best friend’s thirtieth birthday (“Might as well be dead”) and looking back on how your life turned out and realize you’re not exactly having that illustrious career as a soccer player in Italy right at this moment and twenty nine is probably leaving it rather late.
If Shingo hadn’t developed a special brand of dazzling, blind optimism, a natural defense against the constant presence of Yoko in his life, he’d almost be depressed.
As it was, he shrugged, grinned and picked up the birthday cake. Yoko was secretly only twelve anyway.
(Incidentally, Shingo had gotten Aya-chan to come to Yoko’s birthday party. Fuck childhood dreams, Yoko’s life was much harder.
“Literally,” Subaru coughed, not in any way subtle. )
Crazy colorful rainbow train wreck – and its minions
Shingo worked in a clothing shop because he was surprisingly good at that. (The shop part, that is.) Also because he’d been friends with Yasu for longer than he cared to remember and the blond had the most ridiculously effective puppy eyes in Osaka.
“I was planning on applying for an office job, actually,” he’d said, half a lifetime ago when Yasu had first tried to get him onboard with his crazy, colorful rainbow train wreck of an idea.
He’d done it, too.
He’d persevered against the puppy eyes – bought Yasu a slice of strawberry cake to stave off the worst of it – and gently but firmly told him to go bother Subaru or something. To this day he wasn’t quite sure what he’d been thinking with that, but there you have it.
Almost a year later and he’d been bored out of his skull pushing pens and Yasu, aided and abetted by Subaru, had managed to fail quite spectacularly. Yasuda Shota was a creative genius. (At least, that’s what the excitable people at the art academy had said. Shingo had his own ideas about that, but Yasu was his friend and, more importantly, cried easily, so he never voiced them. ) But painfully colorblind or not, the boy was absolutely stumped by the concept of paperwork.
Subaru, fellow creative genius and so much more weird that he was on a different scale entirely, probably didn’t know or care what paperwork was. But he still wasn’t having any of it, he informed Shingo.
There wasn’t much for it, at that point. Shingo had handed in his resignation a week later.
Yoko had laughed at him. Yoko always determinedly grabbed hold of any flimsy excuse to laugh at him, so Shingo wasn’t what you’d call surprised. He still hit him, though, for the sake of normalcy as much as anything else. Yoko had this high cackly giggle (or a giggly cackle? Shingo wasn’t sure) that didn’t so much put him in mind of little girls with pigtails as much as demon gnomes kidnapping little girls with pigtails. He supposed it was a giggly cackle then, if it was demon gnomes.
“You’d make a good gnome king,” he’d told Yoko. Yoko hadn’t followed the reasoning behind it, but had been offended enough to whine about it for forty five minutes straight. Then Yasu had come over and in a fit of bubbly gratitude had hugged Shingo tightly and kissed him on his cheek.
Shingo wondered about Yasu sometimes.
Okay, make that all the time.
It was something of a miracle Yoko survived the laughing fit that followed, soda up his nose and Shingo seriously aiming for brain damage and all.
Surprisingly, there’s a market for clothes that glow in the dark
What Shingo thought of as paint splashed horrors, was another man’s number one fashion choice.
And since the man in question was fresh out of university, he had planted himself firmly on the sky blue doorstep of Osaka’s most colorful (and this was saying quite a lot) clothing shop. The place had once had a fancy French name, letters curling fashionably and pastel-colored over the door, but someone had taken the paintbrush equivalent of a sledge hammer and had painted EIGHTO!!!!!!!! over the top of it in big, blocky letters. To this day no one knew exactly who’d done it, as quite a lot of people and even more alcohol had been involved. Shingo strongly suspected Yoko, Yoko blamed Maruyama (who still worked as a salary man at Shingo’s old company and was respectable – or at least subtle – enough to, in the end, have been the one to take Aya home after Yoko’s birthday party), who claimed he’d been out of the country at the time. Subaru screeched this was a blatant lie, Ryo (still hung-over) then blamed Subaru and Subaru blamed him back, although that only lasted as long as one well-aimed glare. He then tried to blame Shingo, with similar, if more physical results. He eventually resorted to blaming Ohkura, who was asleep. Yasu had thrown them all out (Shingo and Ryo had dragged along a still-mostly-sleeping Ohkura), hated them all for two days, then forgot all about it and Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!! (Maruyama was no match for Yasu tears and had tried for damage control) would be known as such forever.
Masuda Takahisa, the man currently waiting below the semi-French semi-English paint job, was a firm believer in working for something he loved and he loved sufficiently colorful fashion. (He also had an adoration for food – specifically gyoza – bordering on the religious, but his own attempts at creating little pockets of deliciousness had consistently ended in charred failure. So he figured he would just get rich by some other means and forever eat heaps of delicious gyoza made by other people. This was Massu’s dream. He fully banked on it becoming reality. When Yoko would hear this he would strongly suspect this was due to Massu being a) stupid and/or b) far too young to understand how the world worked.
Massu’s dream, incidentally, did come true. Largely because it was more realistic than a soccer career in Italy, partly thanks to the people who made delicious gyoza and partly because of Yasuda Shota. Observe.)
Obviously, everything would have gone a lot more smoothly if Masuda had met Yasuda Shota straight away. But life is never like that. Massu was an early morning person – having already been jogging, eaten an impossibly large breakfast and aimlessly wandered about his friend’s tiny apartment before arriving at Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!! a little before opening time and quite a long time before Yasu was due to arrive.
Yasu wasn’t a morning person. If he’d had his way (the only thing that really stood in his way was Shingo and his tendency to hit people when he felt they were being stupid) he would open somewhere late in the afternoon and simply continue well into the night. Two AM sounded like a good closing time, Yasu had always thought.
On this particular day, he’d puppy eyed Shingo into opening up. Shingo was currently making himself a coffee in the back and if Massu had known this and had simply stepped in, ignoring the sign that claimed Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!! was still closed (it’s what Shingo himself would probably have tried), everything would also have gone a lot better.
As it was, Yasu had also bribed Yoko into helping out, because Subaru was home with a heavy cold. Or some other suspicious reason that required him to stay indoors.
And Yoko was just coming around the corner.
“Can I help you?” he asked, partly because Masuda was blocking his entry and partly because the bright orange sweater with purple glittery stars signaled Potential Customer so vehemently they could probably see it from space.
Massu jumped, startled from his attempts at peering into the gloom (vaguely lightened by glow in the dark effects on some outfits that Yasu thought were subtle and esthetically pleasing. Yoko and Shingo had carefully avoided each other’s gaze when asked for their opinion).
“Um, yes. I was hoping to speak to the owner. I – I’m looking for a job and a friend of mine said I might try here…”
Said friend, also of tiny apartment fame and called Nishikido Ryo, had also diligently warned him not under any circumstances to talk to Yokoyama Yuu, but had unfortunately failed to give a description of the man.
Yoko briefly toyed with the idea of claiming he was the owner – he did consider himself to be one of the owners, really (in spirit and paint if not in funds), but quickly decided that he needed coffee more than to fuck around with someone right now and inquiries after a job or not, this still looked like a paying costumer. No sense in scaring those away.
“Sure, go in,” he answered distractedly, eyeing the café across the road. “The owner’s not in yet, but you can ask Hina.”
It took him until halfway through his coffee order to remember that Hina, who Yoko had always considered to be a perfectly nice girl (hair dyed blonde and very blessed in the breast department) had been fired ages ago, in one of Shingo’s somewhat annoying attempts to create a profitable business. (Yoko had never actually talked to Hina, but then, he never really had to. She just stood behind the counter looking pretty. Yoko was perfectly fine with this arrangement.)
He glanced out of the window across the street. Oh well, purple star boy had made it in alright so someone had clearly opened the joint.
“I probably can’t decently call myself an owner in spirit anymore, though,” he muttered into his coffee.
He shrugged. He had no qualms about doing it indecently.
The princess is in another castle
Massu blinked. It took quite a lot to faze Massu, but he had to admit that he wasn’t, at the moment, faced with the lovely female shop assistant he’d expected.
Murakami Shingo was a lot of things. Lovely probably wasn’t one of them. Especially not at arse o’clock in the morning after a long night with Maruyama and his stupid friends. Female was on all counts very definitely not one of them. Massu swallowed his disappointment (in the half minute between Yoko mentioning Hina and actually being faced with… Hina, he supposed, his imagination had delivered a fully formed ideal girlfriend) and decided to take the plunge anyway.
“Um. Are you Hina?” he asked.
“Only, the guy outside said Hina was here and that sh– you could help me with some questions I have about, um, a job?” he continued hopefully.
Shingo was temporarily stunned into silence, a feat so rare as to probably be unique. His mind turned at top speed, however, listing all the possible ways to inflict severe injury upon his so called best friend. Sending ridiculous Tokyo boys to bother him at indecent hours and call him a girl…!
Take the rainbow detour
The upshot of it was.
A lot of shouting in Shingo’s best (worst) Kansai speech.
Yoko got hit a lot and his coffee spilled, a casualty of war.
Massu didn’t get the job. Fearing for his sanity, he quietly slipped out while Hina chased Yoko around with a broom. (Ryo had told him that Osaka women were a force to be reckoned with. He’d not expected this.)
A week later, coming home to find all his food had been eaten, Ryo would drag Massu to meet Yasu personally, and a union of sparkly, glittery rainbow stars was born. Plans for a new spring collection and expansion to Tokyo stores were being discussed in under twenty minutes. Ryo would vaguely wonder whether he’d done the right thing. Then he’d steal some of Yasu’s food and leave them to it.
Murakami Shingo would forever be known as Hina.
Leave your adventure at the door
Murakami Shingo missed the days of gentle boredom, when the most exhausting part of his day was drinking with Yoko, and when everyone still knew his name.
(“Although you might actually be perfect if you had boobs,” Yoko had said one night when he was probably so wasted he couldn’t stand up anymore. Hina had resorted to his go-to answer to the world’s stupidity and hit him.)
Yasu and this Masuda kid were caught in a whirlwind of fashion and excitement and more colors than decently existed. They wanted to branch out to Tokyo and to – well, do stuff Hina knew fuck all about.
“It was more fun when I basically ran the place,” he complained to Subaru. More people to yell at, less neon colors to deal with.
Subaru nodded gravely. The apartment he shared with Yasu (“We’re just sharing! I swear I don’t know what you guys are on about. He brings home girls too, I think. I don’t know, I don’t really pay attention.”) had turned into a brightly colored warzone.
“When I came home there were twenty dresses on my bed. I mean, if there’d been people in it, okay, but…” he trailed off. “Oh well. At least Yasu’s happy. And I mean, if this all works out, maybe we’ll all be rich and famous.” He grinned.
Hina laughed. “I’ll drink to that.”
Going in, going out
Hina was pretty sure his life could never be hard enough according to Yoko. Case in point, even his mother called him Hina now. Hina himself thought his life plenty difficult enough, thank you very much.
Tokyo seemed to be on Yoko’s side.
“Hello!” a cheerful voice called out while he was in the back making himself another coffee. And maybe leafing through a magazine a bit. It was raining and it had been a quiet day.
“… Good afternoon.”
The person belonging to the cheerful voice was tall and ridiculously bouncy and all together too cheerful. It was vaguely intimidating.
“Can I help you?”
The cheerful, bouncy… whatever, suddenly frowned. “Yokoyama-kun told me a joke I should tell you but I forgot.”
“… Yoko sent you?” he asked suspiciously.
Cheerful McBouncy shook his head energetically. “I just ran into him accidentally,” he said in a way that Hina thought was exceedingly suspicious. “I’m here about the pasta thief.”
“The pasta thief.”
“What’s a pasta thief?” Hina asked, despite himself.
The man considered this. “A culprit. Who steals pasta.”
“Aahaa,” Hina said, nodding. This was definitely one of Yoko’s less successful pranks.
“I’m a private detective. I’m pretty good,” he continued cheerfully. “I’m here to apprehend the pasta thief.”
This was about the time Hina started wondering what exactly had been in that tea Subaru brought around earlier.
The height of comedy
After assuring Detective Bouncy – who had introduced himself at one point, but Hina couldn’t be bothered to remember – that he knew nothing of any pasta being stolen and giving up Yoko’s address as being a place of some suspicion, the rest of the day was uneventful and by the time he went home he’d almost forgotten about the guy already.
That is, until he opened his front door and his entire apartment was stacked with pasta boxes. He called Yoko while still struggling to get his shoes off.
“You’re losing your touch.”
“I swear I don’t know what you mean.”
“Uhu. So who’s framed me as the pasta thief?”
“The pasta’s a gift. Be more grateful, Hina-chan. I won some sort of weird ass contest and won a year’s supply of pasta. I don’t care about the stuff, I’d rather have ramen any day of the week, but I know you looooove pasta, so I…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, awfully thoughtful of you. Who was the detective guy?”
“Oh. Him. Huh. Taguchi actually took me seriously? I’m more persuasive than I thought.”
“You’re terrific,” Hina said through clenched teeth. “Now tell me what you’re playing at.”
“It was only my brilliant plan to get the two of you together. I mean, I know from experience how awkward blind dates and such are so I figured like this…”
“Yoko. Detective guy wasn’t a girl.” He paused, wondered if this was the joke all along. “And neither am I.”
“Well, I know that. I didn’t mean romantically.”
“Well, you know.” Yoko suddenly sounded awkward. “What with Yasu and his Tokyo friend going all crazy with Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!! and going who knows where doing who knows what… Well, I thought maybe you’d want to do something new.”
“Something new?” His heart was doing a funny little jump, despite himself. (The last time Yoko tried to do something genuinely nice for him, he’d ended up with a broken leg.)
“Yeah. So I got you a Tokyo sidekick too. He used to play basketball. He’s got a hard head. Everything he says is ridiculous. I figured the two of you’d make a good comedy duo.”
“I – what?” This was not exactly the career path Hina’d been expecting. “I don’t know anything about comedy!” he protested.
Yoko shrugged, although Hina couldn’t see it. “From what I’ve seen, it’s mostly about being obnoxious and hitting people. Basically, you were made for comedy,” he stressed.
Is this what you wanted?
At one point in his childhood, he’d probably been about six, he’d wanted to be an astronaut. At another time, when his little brother had been terribly ill, he’d wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. He’d wanted to be a teacher. He’d wanted to be a race car driver. An actor. A soccer player. He’d dreamed of being on TV, everyone in Japan knowing his name, being so rich he could buy everything and then some. He’d live in a really big house. On the beach.
He’d never considered being a comedian. Yoko was just being ridiculous. He should just stick to helping Yasu out. There’s no way that could go well, they were probably moments away from crashing into disaster and Subaru would hardly be the one to pick them up again – he’d finally cracked under the pressure of the rainbow and had started throwing colorful underwear out of the window of their flat, cheerfully decorated underpants flying over the city like confetti.
When most of Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!! moved to Tokyo – a new shop, too many clothes, Yasu, Subaru – Hina was sitting in a dim café in Osaka, facing one of the silliest people he’d ever met and well on his way to becoming desensitized to awful puns after just under half an hour. Taguchi had a skull like granite, though, so they got on like a house on fire. A house of bad jokes and instant retribution.
Taguchi had called him, because a cell phone number was so much more convenient than Yokoyama’s elaborate schemes that went absolutely nowhere most of the time.
“There is no pasta thief,” he’d said mournfully.
They’d agreed to meet up. In the gloomy little café. Mainly because Hina couldn’t hit people through the phone.
They were still there three hours later.
Have your cake and eat it too (the proper way of things)
He was doing pretty damn well, financially.
He also talked about soccer a lot to audiences of unreasonable size and people were enthralled.
Okay, not enthralled, exactly. But he was pretty sure it was more interesting than Taguchi’s lame jokes, which only got worse over time, although they never failed to crack Yoko up – and okay, a good portion of the audience too, probably only due to lameness levels that twisted up the scales of humor. And maybe the fact that he told them dressed in a (genuine) Les EIGHTO!!!!!!!!
And the whole of Japan knew who Hina was.
Yoko never said so, but that was his favorite part.