The problem for Atsushi was that he actually remembered his parents. Unlike many orphans he recalled the faces of his parents, their words and their actions. He didn’t remember their names, but he remembered his father’s hands, broad with short fingers. He remembered how his father didn’t keep any canes and didn’t beat him with his belt, but instead pulled a heavy towel out of the laundry, knotted one end and slammed it against him. He particularly remembered the wet weight and how it felt like he’d never stand up again. Atsushi remembered the tight bun of his mother’s hair, he was able to see it over the seat headrest of the car from when he had sat in the backseat as she drove him into the city and left him in a back alley. He would never forget her words: This is your fault, you bring misfortune to our family.
But just as pervasive in his memory was a sliver of hope that he kept tucked close to his heart.
Cold and trying to tuck his body behind a precarious pile of boxes to take shelter from the rain, Atsushi’s hope had arrived. It was just another boy, only slightly older than him, he had been wearing a green riding jacket zipped up to the bottom of his chin. The jacket was too big for his frame and his hands were shoved into his pocket. Atsushi thought he looked like someone dangerous, even though he was just another child. There was a hard jut to his chin that had Atsushi scrambling back.
And those were the first words they exchanged. The other boy stayed still for a long moment before he pulled a hand out of his pocket and offered it to Atsushi.
“Um — “
“I’m pretty lucky, finding you here.”
“Hah? — er &mdash: I — “
Atsushi remembered how he fumbled for a moment, taken aback and still afraid and how his legs shook and he kept thinking how he didn’t even have the right to be afraid, he was a harbinger of terrible things and even this strange unknown boy shouldn’t be near him. He had cowered.
“Hey.” The other boy almost mumbled it, but with force. It had the kind of tone that later Atsushi might look back on and consider a ‘tough guy bravado’ (with some fondness) but at the time it had made him squeak and throw both hands over his head.
“Hey. Stand up.” The boy said again and then after a long moment of Atsushi not having moved, “I just showed up here too, one day. Doesn’t matter how we got here, just how we stand up. So, stand up.”
“What? Get up.”
Atsushi scrambled to his feet, and, belatedly, grabbed the others hand. He swayed, unsteady and unsure before he centered his weight.
“H-how we stand up?”
“Yeah, just like that. I’m Chuuya.”
“Well, don’t fall down again.” And then Chuuya left, vaulting over a wire fence like it was nothing, hands back into his pockets.
And that was the first time they met, just a moment, but Atsushi remembered how it made him feel, how it gave him the strength to make it to the next day.
The problem with defeating Dostoyevsky was that no one seemed to know what to do with Yokohama. For some reason, Fitzgerald and the guild still seemed to be hanging around but the biggest ruckus from them was when Fitzgerald bought out the entirety of a clearance store (though the incident shared title for ‘biggest guild ruckus’ with Steinbeck’s re-arranging of the park landscape).
Atsushi had spent an afternoon with Dazai — it was kind of funny in a way. The talked a little about what had happened but mostly about ‘what ifs’. Dazai was thinking of traveling, was thinking of writing, was thinking of learning how to make small cakes or maybe how to fly an airplane. When he left he had winked, just said, “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we, Atsushi-kun?”
The only answer he could give was “I think so — I hope so.”
And then off went Dazai, sliding out into the crowd without another word in a way that was envious to Atsushi. In contrast as he turned to head — home? — home, he bumped into someone and fell down, flat out backwards.
A stuttered apology left his lips, getting cut off when he heard the response — a little exasperated but not cruel. “Oi, watch where you’re going.”
It was familiar in a way, Atsushi looking up at an extended hand, feeling embarrassed and cowed, but unlike last time, he could stand on his own and didn’t stutter as much. He took the offered hand, but barely used the leverage to stand.
“Ah — um, Chuuya-san…?”
“Just Chuuya’s fine,” the reply came with a long stare before Chuuya released Atsushi’s hand. “Been a while.”
It hadn’t, really, in a lot of ways they had been passing in and out of each other’s lives in the past year. The Port Mafia and ADA had their conflicts and had to work together and Atsushi had spent several hours wondering if Chuuya even remembered him. It was an unforgettable treasured memory for him but the mafioso had given no indication that he had recalled the event that had changed Atsushi’s life.
“Um . . . so it has. I — “
“Don’t go backwards.” Chuuya waved his other hand. “I don’t forget a face, but the past’s the past.”
It was such a brisk dismissive but it also made Atsushi’s cheeks warm. Chuuya’s face went from serious to more open, a slight quirk to the corner of his mouth that looked like a smile.
“And I bet you didn’t forget mine.” Chuuya basically posed, his stance widened just a little and it seemed like he should have background music going. In a way, he somehow made himself stand a little more ‘cool’.
“I couldn’t — not at all — “ He wanted to say thank you but Chuuya’s words just moments earlier brought him up short. Atsushi fumbled for his next words, but managed to blurt out: “Nakajima Atsushi, it’s a pleasure to meet you!”
To his credit, Chuuya didn’t laugh at him, just nodded almost in approval, “Port Mafia Executive Nakahara Chuuya. Seems like we have time to properly meet now.”
“Yeah, we do.”
And it was a casual moment, but another warmth bubbled up in Atsushi’s chest. He wasn’t going backwards, they walked forwards instead.