Kaijuphile.com presents 'Eyewitness'
Kaijuphile.com presents 'Eyewitness'
Kaijuphile.com presents 'Eyewitness'

Tadaima! by Doug Wood

by Doug Wood

Eyewitness: Satoshi, age 8, Elementary school student

I don't go home after school. Well anyways, not right off. There's a videogame arcade all my friends go to when school lets out. I saves up my lunch money and stop over there to play some games before headin’ on.

If Mom ever found out, she'd be pretty pissed. She'd prolly ground me or somethin’ stupid-ass like that. But I ain't too worried ‘bout that happenin'. She ain't never gonna find out if I went home right away or not. It ain't like she's there at the 'partment waitin’ for me or nothin'.

Mom's a hostess at a Chinese restaurant down in Yokohama. It takes a long time to get there, switchin' trainlines and all that. Lot of times she does double shifts and don't get home 'til way after midnight. By then I done gone to sleep and she don't wanna wake me up just to say hey. There's days I only see her in the mornin' afore we head off to school and work and days I don't see her not at all. That's why I ain't too worried 'bout gettin' caught if I don't go home the way I'm
s'posed to.

Mom's always yellin' how she hates goin' that far to work. She wants to be closer to home so's she can be here more and do things, like makin' dinner and helpin' with my homework and stuff like that. One time I got kinda tired of hearin' her moanin' 'bout it, and so I says to her, then why don't you quit? Get a job somewhere's else.

That's easy enough, right? I mean, I'm stupid. Shiz man, I flunked second grade! Coon't be too hard if I could figure it out. Get a 'nother job. Be at home more like you always sayin' you want to. Make dinner like you're s'posed to. Help with my homework. Like here in math, what's three minus one? I always figure it zero, but then ev'rybody tells me that's wrong.

I don't know. Din't seem too hard to me, but Mom din't say nothin'. Right away, she got this sad look in her eyes and went off 'bout somethin' else instead like she hadn't even heard me.

She never talked ‘bout gettin’ another job after that. Well, least not that I heard. But she din't have to. I knew what she was thinkin'. Sometimes late at night when she thought I was sleepin', I heard her talkin' on the phone to my Aunt. She was always sayin’ how money's tight right now and the pay was real good 'cuz the restaurant was ritzy. She coon’t give that up, much as she wanted to.

Leastways, that's what she says when she talks to my Aunt. Talks? Well, yeah, I guess so. Mostly it's talkin'. Though she cries too, yeah sometimes, in a quiet sorta way, so's it's hard to hear through the bedroom wall.

Anyways, that's all to 'splain why I was at the arcade and not at home when the news came on the TV 'bout Godzilla.

This videogame arcade, it ain't the biggest I ever been to. That'd probably be at the Toshimaen Amusement Park. My Dad took me there one Saturday afternoon 'bout a year ago, right before he and Mom split up. That was the HUGEST arcade I ever seen! It was humonjus man, just wall to wall games all goin' at the same time. You coon't hardly even hear yerself thinkin'!

We stopped there after we done ridin' the rides and playin' at the water park. We played racin' games, me steerin' the wheel and Dad pushin' the pedals, cuz I coon't barely reach even all stretched out. We played some dance game where you stand on a platform that lights up and you stomp the arrows with yer feet to the music. I had fun on that one, but Dad warn't so good at it. He said he was too old to keep up.

And we played a real old videogame, Street Fighter II, that was made even before I was borned. Dad said that it was his favorite game from way back when he was in school. He said he got good 'nuff at it that he even played in tourn'ments and won prizes and stuff. He's a little rusty at first 'cuz he hadn't played for so long, but boy did he 'member how to real quick. For sure he was better'n me, though I had to stand on a wobbly riser to get at the buttons and I coon't do any of the special moves 'cept when I got lucky once in a while.

The arcade my friends and I went to after school warn't nearly as good as that place my Dad took me to. Was only one floor and it warn't all bright and new. It was dark and narrow. It got all crowded up at night, so's yer bumpin' people all over. It smelt like cigarettes and armpits and stuff I din't wanna know what was. All the games were old lookin' even when they were brand new. The plastic control panels all got dark squiggly burn marks on 'em where people forgot their cigs while they was playin'.

Only thing was cool 'bout it was the back room. They had a Street Fighter game over in the corner, past a pool table and some pachinko machines. It was like the one me and Dad played, 'ceptin' it was bashed up. That one's all I really ever played.

Most times, I had it to myself. My friends liked the 3-D fighters, "Cyber Brawlers" and "Katana Spirits" and "Mighty Steel Fist" and "Swift Justice Ko-Gals," and stuff like that. They thought Street Fighter was really old and cheesy. But I din't care. Maybe it warn't fancy like newer games, but it was pretty cool still.

Day after day, I went there and played and I could tell I's gettin' a lot better. I still warn't good enough to beat Dad. But I was kinda hopin' if I got really really good that maybe he'd take me back to that arcade over at Toshimaen again. I could show him how good I got, and he'd be so happy, and he'd give me a big hug just like when I's little.

I was on my second game when the owner come burstin' through the curtain. He was a fat bald guy and his forehead was always pale and sweaty. He was nice, I guess, but when he stood some place too long, he left these drips and drops on the floor. 'Course he coon't help it, but still... gross. Now as he stood there lookin', his eyes real wide and scared, he's breathin' real hard.

All you kids, he says, stop what yer playin' and come out front now!

Nobody paid him any mind at first. They looked up, kinda bleary-eyed and dazed, and went back to playin'. The owner waited a moment, then stooped down and cut the power to the room. All the games went zoooooooooo, dead.

Hey what the **** is this, man? says this one guy. He was wearin' a black leather motorcycle jacket and boots, his hair all greased up like someone from the 50's. The arcade regulars said he was a gangbanger and sometimes even did stuff for the Yakuza. I coon't say if they was tellin' the truth or tryin' to scare me with stories. But whenever I seen him around there, I kept to myself just in case. He was all angry now, and shoutin', You owe me, man! I just put my damn money in!

The owner jingled a set of master keys for the game's coins slots like he's dangling a piece a meat in front of a dog. You'll get yer damned money back tomorrow, he says, Free games all day! Just get the hell out front now! There's somethin' on the news!

The biker kicked the machine, stuck his hands in his jeans' pockets, and brushed past the owner. He growls, I don't ****in' believe this shiz. It better be good, old man, or I'm thinkin' yer insurance's goin' up.

Whatever, the owner says under his breath. Then he spotted me over in the corner. You! Kid! he shouts, Get yer stuff and get out here with the rest of us!

I grabbed my book bag and walked over. What's going on? I asks him.

He held the curtain aside as I went past. He says, Just get out here with everybody else. Say, you been home yet, kid?

No, I says, I came here right from school.

He made a sound and shook his head. Then you might wanna call yer Mom, he says, Let her know where you are. Maybe she can pick you up on the way to a shelter. He walked over to the counter. There was a cash register and a rack behind it with candy bars and stuff and a cooler with cans of pop.

There was a little TV set up there. The picture was kinda static-ky, but I could make out the warning symbol in the corner. I 'membered seein' it that mornin' before I left for school. It'd been yellow then, which din't mean nothin'. Most people din't never mind when it was yellow. Even Mom's like that. I coon't tell what color it was now, though. His little TV was B&W, which seemed kinda stupid to have. The owner turned up the sound way loud so we all could hear the news reporter who was on the screen.

I listened close, but... it's weird. I heard the words. I knew what he was sayin'. But at the time I din't. I looked at the faces of the others, the kids my age and the teenagers, and I thought they sorta felt the same way as me. Like it din't make no sense. Like it warn't our language.

I'd been in one monster attack before. But I'd slept through the entire thing and missed all the action. I's kinda pissed a couple days later at school. Ev'rybuddy had these cool stories to tell and I din't. So's when it came round to askin' me what I did, I lied and says my parents coon't get to a shelter in time, and that we hid in our 'partment the whole night, watchin' the floor shakin' and stuff fallin' off the shelves. I made it sound real scary like, and for a while I's about the coolest kid at school. Ev'rybuddy wanted to hear the story.

The only person there who seemed to get it was the old guy, the owner. He was sweatin' bad, his forehead all shiny and drippin'. He got out a hanky and wiped it off. His hand was all shaky. He saw me lookin' at him, and I din't like what his eyes said. They were scared, but in some way too they were kinda tired lookin'. For some reason I din't like that
so's I turned away real quick.

Arcade's closed for today, the owner says, right after the warnin' to go to a shelter showed on the screen with instructions 'bout what to do and phone numbers to call. He says, Everybody, go home to your parents or go to your designated shelter, if you know which one it is. Tomorrow or the next day, whenever the emergency's lifted, free games all day for all of you. Now hurry up and get going.

Ev'rybuddy started to leave then. Nobody said much. Even the biker warn't grumblin' too loud no more. Maybe thinkin' 'bout the free games din't get him so mad that he had to leave. I wonder if he'd change his mind if'n he seen the owner's face when we was goin' out.

Just as I was walkin' off the curb, the old man came out to pull down the metal shutter over the door and windows. There were tears in his eyes. He saw me and smiled. He says to me, Don't forget the free games. Okay, kid? You be safe and come back for the free games, okay?

I nodded, not wantin' to look at his face. It made me feel, I don't know, kinda scared. It was like, he's a grown-up. He shoon't be cryin'.

He says, You promise?

That was kinda weird, askin' me to promise somethin' like that. What do I say to him? I mean, sure I was comin' back. Shiz man, I'd be the first in line. Din't he think I wanted to play free games all day? Well, he seemed to really wanna hear it and makin' him a promise din't seem like it was a bad thing to do. So I says, Yes sir, I'll come back. Then I took off down the street, runnin' after my friends. I looked back one time, but by then the arcade owner was gone.

I caught up with my friends at the corner. We'd been in the same class in school together and even though I'd flunked, we still hung out a lot. Now we just stood on the corner, checkin' out what was goin' on. Shop keepers all down the street were doin' like the arcade guy done, pullin' down the strong metal shutters over the doors and windows of their storefronts. It was like what happened when a big storm's brewin' somewhere, only now the sky was a perfect blue, high and clear with hardly no clouds. There ain't been no rain for a week or more.

There's lots of people walkin' round and they's all carryin' stuff in big duffo bags and suitcases. Some's just carryin' plain grocery bags full up with food and clothes. They's all goin' the same way, pretty much, just a long line of people and couples and families marchin' quick down the side of the streets. Off somewheres in the distance, I could hear lots a car's and truck's horns blarin' real loud, like they all got jammed together or somethin'. There's cop's sirens goin' on, too.

But sometimes in between all that, I caught sense of a kinda weird quiet. It was just here and there, slivers between the sound like dead spots in my hearin' where nothin' breathed. Like there's a silence wakin' up from deep underground and now it was slowly seepin' out of the sewers and the cracks in the ground, broodin' down there until it was time to come up.

Ryunnosuke, one of my friends, was a kid 'bout my size. He had long bangs practi'lly coverin' his eyes. He says, This is so freakin’ cool!

Akira, my other friend, was excited. He was grinnin' ear to ear, his face all flushed, crossin' his legs like he gotta pee real bad. This was gonna be his first time. His family'd been livin' in Tokyo just ‘bout a year by then. Before that, they lived up North and East where monsters din't ever go. He always liked listenin' to our stories and now he was finally gonna get one all for himself.

Godzilla's coming! he says, He's really coming!

Hey guys, says my third friend, Hayao, pointin' down the street, There's a bookstore. Come on. Let's go check it out.

What for? I asks. Seemed kinda funny, wantin’ to go to a bookstore right then.

He just smiled, and he says, Trust me. This kid, Hayao, he was my bestest friend out of all of them. I grinned back and nodded. Whenever Hayao said stuff like that, I knew he was onto somethin’ good.

We crossed the street and went in. It warn't a big bookstore, kinda narrow with racks and shelves of magazines on either wall and two racks back-to-back runnin’ down the middle. The owner was an old man with a big gut. He was standin’ behind the counter up front right as you walked in, talkin’ on the phone.

He was sayin, No... the paperwork's in the safe with the bonds and all the jewelry. Will you just... will you calm down for a moment and LISTEN TO ME GODDAMIT! Grab the box, ledgers, accounts, EVERYDAMNTHING! Okay? You hear me? Good. Now look, I'll meet you at...

He heard the bell ring as we come in. He turned, puttin’ his hand over the phone. He says, Sorry boys, I'm closed. You'll have to leave.

Hayao made a pouty face, like he's all disappointed. He says, Aw come on, mister. We just wanna get some comics for the shelter.

I could hear somebuddy shoutin’ on the other end of the line. The old man looked so pissed, I thought he was about to burst a vessel. He rolled his eyes and waved his hand, and then he says, Okay, but make it snappy. Then he started shoutin’ into the phone again.

We went down to the end of the aisle. All the comic books were spread out against the back wall. Hayao grinned again. Didn't know if that was gonna work or not, he whispers to me.

Din't know what was gonna work, I says. I still warn't sure what he was up to. He din't have no money for no comics. None of us did.

This, Hayao says, Let me see your bookbag. To the other two, he says, one of you go ask that guy a stupid question, the other stays and watches the mirror in case he comes anyway.

Hayao took my bookbag and unzipped it. It was empty 'cept but my GameGuy and some games I'd brought to school. I din't even take any homework home with me that day. He says, What kind of comics do you like, Satoshi?

I realized what he meaned to do. Suddenly I coon’t think. And sure as all coon’t talk. My mouth dropped wide.

You like this? he says, holdin’ a copy of Shonen Jump. He stuffed it down in my bookbag without waitin’ for an answer. He grabbed another manga and then two more and three at one time and shoved ‘em all in. He warn't even lookin’ to see what they were. He threw in some flowery-crap girls' manga that none of us would be caught dead readin'.

Hayao looked up on the shelf and his face went like, Ah ha! He reached up and grabbed some numbered tankubon collections off the top. He let me see the cover of the first. There was a picture of a pretty black-haired girl robot with angel's wings, lyin’ broken on a heap of trash, her mecha guts in a tangle on the ground.

You ever seen Battle Angel Alita? he asks me. It's totally cool! You want this? Or something else?

I was so full up with fear, I don't even remember if I nodded or what.

He shrugged and shoved ‘em down next to the others and zipped the bookbag back up. Now it was practi'lly burstin’ at the seams. When I went to heft it up onto my shoulder, I almost tipped over. I coon’t barely lift it.

Then the owner calls out, Hey, you kids! I'm closing NOW!

I looked at my friend. He says to me in a real low voice, When we go past the counter to the door, walk between us and the wall so he can't get a good look, okay?

My face felt all stretched tight and tingly. But I nodded and we started walkin’ toward the door. My heart was poundin’ fierce in my chest and it felt like it took forever to get there. Akira, the kid who was s'posed to ask the owner a question and keep him distracted, he warn't nowhere to be seen. I figure he'd done chickened out and took off already.

The old guy threw up his hands and says, Well, where are the comics?

Hayao grinned and says, We decided to go somewhere else. Sorry.

The old guy craned his head around. Hey, he says, hey you!

I din't look at him. I kept movin’ toward the door. But then he pointed out his finger and it felt like there's a laser beam comin’ right at my head.

Hey you, what's in that bookbag, kid? he says, his voice gettin’ loud. I don't believe this! You snot-nose little punks are ripping me off? You're ripping me off NOW?!

He roared like a giant monster! And I swear I ain't never been so scared in my entire life. My friends booked for the door. Suddenly that bookbag bitin’ my shoulder was just as light as empty. I don't remember how, but I squeezed out the door first and then I was bookin’ down the street not lookin’ back, not carin’ if my friends was still there.

I got nearly a whole block away before I heard Hayao gaspin’, Slow down, Satoshi, it's cool, man! Slow down! He's not chasin’ us anymore!

We turned down an alley and I fell against the wall. I coon’t run no more. The bookbag weighed like a sack of cinderblocks. I dropped it and squatted down to catch my breath. I could barely hear the old guy still yellin’ from down the street.

Little punk bastards! You'd better not come around my store again! I damn well hope you run into that monster! I hope he steps on the whole lot of you! Damn kids!

My two friends were standin’ just outside the alley. Ryunnosuke bent over and slapped his butt. Hayao pulled down an eyelid and went, BIIII-DAAAAH! Then, whoopin'n'laughin', they helped carry the stuffed bookbag to a yard in back, where we sorted through all the comics and took what we want.

Well no... not exactly. Hayao said since I done all the work, I should get dibs on what comics I wanted. But I din't feel like havin' a say and so I sat there and watched 'em argue over who got what. And when they was done takin' what they wanted, I zipped up the bookbag and kept whatever they'd left. I din't even look to see what comics they was. Right at that moment I din't really give a shiz.

With all that done, we decided we'd better get goin’.

Where's yer shelter at? Hayao says to me.

Cross town, I says, In the basement of the big department store.

Huh, he says, I gotta go the other way. Gotta go home first, though.

Then we all says that we'd see each other in school and share stories then. We says goodbye, and ev'rybuddy went in a different direction, leaving me standin' alone at the end of the alley.

I s'posed I should go home too, but why? I mean, what for? It warn't like nobody was there, after all. If I went home, I'd have to backtrack to the shelter. I had my games and the comics, case I got bored. If I got hungry, there'd probably be sandwiches or somethin' at the shelter I could eat. I figured it'd be quicker if I went right there.

I coon’t go back the way we'd come, so's I started walkin' down the alley in the cool shadows 'tween these 'partment buildings. It was kinda creepy in a way. Soon's I got far enough in, it was like all the city's sounds were blocked out and I felt like I was all by m'self. Looked up at the balconies and windows, but warn't no people there. None I could see anyways. Maybe they's hidin'.

I looked back way I came butt I coon't hear no cars movin’ in the streets. Hardly any sound to say ceptin' the wind and my footsteps which were awful loud and echoey. Creepy, yeah, but also kinda cool too, in a way. I don't know how to say why that was. Just that, the city had a real quiet way about it like I never knowed before. Maybe never even thought it could be like that. Normal times, it always felt so loud. Is like, you could feel it tingling on your skin, y'know? But at that moment in that little alley there was just nothing. And no matter how cramped it was, somehow it made the air feel bigger all round.

The alley led to the big street on the other side, which I crossed. Then I headed down another alley, this time tween a bunch of houses. 'Bout halfway, a motorcycle revved up real loud in one of the backyards and then the biker from the arcade backed out in the alley. A couple of his friends came out with him, all dressed pretty much the same way in jeans and leather jackets. There was somethin' wrote on the back but I coon't read it. It warn't Japanese. They was all standin' there while the guy was revvin' the engine. Then he cut it, leaned back, and lit a smoke.

I thought 'bout turnin' back and findin' another way through. But then I says to hell with it and I kept on walkin'. They'd never picked on me in the arcade the way some older kids will, just for fun. Prolly din't even know I was ever there.

I was wrong. Soon's I got close, the guy on the bike looked up and nodded at me.

He says, Hey kid.

Hey, I says.

That yer high score on Street Fighter II? he says.

I gave a nod.

The guy looked at his friends. He says, What I tell ya? The kid's really ****in' good. It's cool to see somebody still appreciates the old school games like that.

One guy came over. He was really tall and kinda mean lookin'. He sneers, So you think yer better'n me, kid?

Hell yeah, I wanted to say. I seen him playin' Street Fighter II a couple a times before and he majorly sucked. He always turtled-up on one side of the screen like a wuss. But I coon't say yes and I coon't say no. The way he was lookin' at me, the way he was smilin', I knew it warn't a question with no right answer. He was just trollin' for a reason to get all pissed off. Then he could beat on me, sayin' it was my fault. Shiz man, like I din't know how that all worked? I did the same to kid's at my school all the time.

I din't say nothin' to him. Sometimes if you din't say nothin' it got you off the hook and sometimes it din't. But by the way he's smilin' at me, I could tell he warn't gonna take a nothin' for a real answer. So's I tried figurin' out where I could run if I had to get away quick. Problem was, I din't know that neighborhood too good. There was no where to go he coon't catch me. So I braced to take the hit. Maybe I'd get off with just an arm punch. Maybe that would be enough to make him go away. But I warn't gonna cry. If that's what he wanted, to see me bawl like a baby, the scum bag'd knock me out first.

But I din't have to worry long. The guy on the bike says, Dude, leave the kid the hell alone. He's cool.

The guy who was gonna hit me scoffs, and he says, Whatever, man. Geez, I'm just messin' with 'im. He walks back over to the motorcycle and lights up a smoke.

Where're you goin', kid? says the biker. You goin' home?

I shook my head. I says, I'm goin' to my shelter. Ain't you got a shelter to go to?

They all started laughin' real loud.

The third guy, who's quiet up to then, clapped his hands to his face. He says, Oh no! A monster's comin'! What do we do?

Let's all swelter in the shelter! says the jerk.

The biker laughs and says, We never go to a shelter, kid. I mean, **** man, you can see Godzilla coming for miles away! If you ain't got the sense to get out of the goddamned way, you deserve to get killed. You're just pissing in the gene pool.

What are you gonna do? I asks, Just hang out or somethin'?

The biker grinned then, a scary grin, even worse than the guy who's gonna beat me up. He patted the bike's gas tank. Screw that noise, he says, I'm going to have some fun. After I go top off, I'm riding over to Shibuya.

My eyes went wide. But, I gasps, that's where Godzilla's gonna be!

Yeah, no shiz. See kid, I'm kind of counting on that, he says. He cracked his knuckles. I want to find out how fast that fat bastard is.

I thought that was just 'bout the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. And the coolest thing, too. The way he was lookin' at his friends, the way he was grinnin' at me, I din't doubt for a single moment he could do it, outrace a monster all by hisself.

You want to come with me, kid?

I din't doubt him. But then I din't wanna go, neither. It was cool but it was scary. I thought 'bout my Mom. What she'd say if she ever found out I went and if she'd be pissed off I went to an arcade after school, I din't wanna think what would happen. This warn't skippin' school or usin' lunch money for games.

The biker laughed. Jeez, kid, he says, don't blow a ****in' gasket. It was a joke. Good as I am, I can't be dodgin' the traffic and the monster and worry about you at the same time. Where's your shelter?

I was kind of glad he was only jokin'. I don't know. I sorta liked him. He was cool. I told him where my shelter was.

He says, That's a long-ass walk from here, kid. But I got to go that way. You want a ride over?

I nodded and slung on my bookbag. Then I got on the back of the bike and held tight to his waist.

The biker revved the engine. He says to the others, I'll see you pussies on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. And then we roared out of the alley and down the street.

It woulda took me twenty minutes of walkin' to get to the shelter, but the crazy way he drove we got there in a couple. There's a long line of people filed outside goin' down the block. A man in an orange jacket was holdin' a light stick wavin' 'em in.

Here you go, kid, says the biker.

Good luck, I says after I jumped off. I din't know why, but just then the arcade owner's voice came back to me. I says, Don't forget the free games we was promised.

The biker nodded. Count on it, he says, I'll be there. Maybe we'll play a game of Street Fighter. I want to hear you talk smack when I'm schooling you with Dhalsim.

I snorted. Dhalsim? Oh yeah, right, I says, Only if you know the special move that makes his dick stretch like his arms!

He threw back his head and roared with laughter. He says, Kid, you're one all right little dude. I'll see you around. Take care and hey! Try not to get too bored with all the old folks in the shelter.

He revved the engine and zipped down the street, weavin' through the cars and trucks and people. I started walkin' down the street, lookin' for the end of the line. People must have been linin' up for an hour or more. They went clean 'round the block. Be a long wait to get inside.

Then some old lady says, Little boy? Are you alone? She had grey hair and glasses and was all dressed up in a flowery kimono. A couple of suitcases were by her side. She says real sweet, Could you possibly help me with my things? She looked at the guy behind her, like askin' for permission, and he smiled.

I shrugged. I figured it was better'n standin' 'round if it got me inside faster. I stood by her side and picked up one of the suitcases. It warn't too heavy, really.

Maybe 'bout five minutes later, we got into the department store. All the lights were out. The only thing lit was the glowin' stick from one of the Shelter Cops. The daylight din't reach all that far into the store and it got darker further back it went, past the rack of clothes and signs, 'til it was pitch black. It was pretty cool, sorta like an empty jungle jim no one uses. If someone'd let me, I'd have stayed up there 'stead of go down in the stuffy shelter in
the basement.

I thought 'bout how cool that'd be, how much fun I'd have. Then I noticed that, in the dark from a distance, some of the dresses and blouses looked like ghosts from scary stories. I felt a cold shiver go down my back, and I warn't so bummed I had to go into the basement. 'Least there was people down there.

Me and the old lady went down the stairs to the shelter. There's two big doors open, real thick, and a couple more Shelter Cops countin' heads the way they always do. We went inside and after the old lady found a spot to sit down, she thanked me, gave me 'bout five bucks for helpin' her, which was totally cool, and I went to find a spot myself.

The shelter warn't all that big, not like some newer ones I'd seen on the TV. When it got all full up, good luck breathin' let alone movin'. I hate sittin' in the middle with people on all sides. I like leanin' up 'gainst a wall. At the far end where the doors to the bathrooms were, I saw a man and woman sittin' near the corner and I went over.

I had to nab that spot fast. The shelter had a stoplight on the wall hung sideways. The light was green now, which meant it was okay to move 'round and talk. But when it went red, you coon't fart without askin' permission from the Shelter Cops first. I figured if I was close to the bathrooms, I could pretty much go whenever I felt like it.

I walked over and asks the guy, 'Scuze me sir? Could I sit here?

He gave me a good look over and I could tell he warn't all so happy with what he saw. But he din't say no. He nodded and skooched over a bit to give me some room to sit down in.

Thank you sir, I says, I promise I won't be no bother to you.

He din't say nothin' to that. Just gave a bare nod and then went back to talkin' with his wife like he'd done forgot about me already and would I please shut up now?

Jerk. Dildo head. Naw, I din't say none a that. I wanted to. But then I'd just get in trouble, so's I kept my mouth shut and sat down in the corner and leaned my head on my knees.

I din't know how long it was before I saw Masato. I was so bored. It felt like the hours was crawlin' by. And there warn't no food like I'd thought there might be. Ev'rybuddy had there own 'cept me. By the time I seen him walkin' down the aisle to the bathroom, my stomach was growlin'.

Masato and me were in the same class in school. Still, I was surprised to see him 'cuz I'd never seen him at that shelter before. Far as I knew, he lived way cross town. There should a been a shelter close to his home. He saw me and I waved. He looked surprised to see me too. He waved back, but I think it was just outta bein' nice. I din't think he was too happy to see me sittin' there.

Not that I coon't blame him for feelin' that way. We warn't exac'ly bosom buddies. I picked on him a lot at school. Called him names and stuff. Got in trouble for it too.

He went right into the guy's bathroom, not sayin' nothin' to me. It was a weird thing, but seein' somebuddy I knowed in all these strangers, I felt like I wanted to talk to him. To say somethin'. Even if it was just how's it goin'? I looked for the Shelter Cops to make sure they warn't lookin', and then I got up to follow him in.

The door on one of the stalls was just closin'. I walked over to a urinal and took a leak, checkin' out the stall in the mirror, waitin' for Masato to come out. I flushed and went to wash my hands at the sink. By the time I was done, he still hadn't finished, so I knocked lightly on the door.

I din't know you come here, I says.

There was a long silence. Then he says, Yeah.

I says, So you, like, here with your parents?

Uh uh, he says, My Momma went to another shelter at work. My Momma works late.

At school, I picked on Masato cuz... well it ain't nice to say, but he was a little wuss. I coon't picture him comin' here all alone. And so I asked if he did.

He says, I came with my Gramma. This is my Gramma's shelter.

I felt kinda bad hearin' he warn't alone. Don't know why though. What was we gonna do? Sit together? Yeah right, I done nearly beat him up a couple weeks before cuz he wouldn't give me a stupid toy ray gun.

Well, I says, then I guess I'll be seein' ya.

Yeah, Masato says, See ya.

I went back outside and sat in the corner. A couple moments later, two of the Shelter Cops, a man and a woman, came up to a table near the bathroom door. They started whisperin' to each other just as Masato came outside.

What's happening? says the man.

Shibuya, says the woman.

What direction? says the man.

No clue, says the woman, Communication is getting spotty.

The man bites his lip and says, Let's just hope it doesn't come this way.

Yeah, says the woman, Let's.

Masato heard it all too. He glanced over, but we din't say nothin'. I put my head on my knees and watched from the shadows as he made his way down the aisle and over to the other side of the shelter.

I felt kinda bad I'd been so mean to him. I din't really need to sit with anyone. I was okay by myself, really. But still, it would've been nice if we was friends enough that we could sit together. Talk some. Maybe play a game. Or just sit, side by side, and not say nothin'. But I was cool, all by myself.

I wondered where Mom was. I wondered if she was wonderin' 'bout me. Where was Dad? Was he sittin' in some shelter somewhere. Was he all alone, too? I scrunched up my knees and tightened my hands 'round 'em, tryin' to make myself as small as I felt right at that moment.

Young man, says the guy next to me, Are you all right?

I looked up, but I coon't see his face clear. My eyes was all blurry and for a second I thought he... warn't who he was. A stranger. They was all strangers. Even Masato.

Then I wiped the tears away, and I says, I just got sumthin' in my eye.

The lady he was with, his wife I guessed, she leaned over close and says, You should go into the bathroom and wash it out. Honey, why don't you go help him?

No, I says, I got it.

I got up and went back into the men's bathroom. But 'stead of the sink, I went to the last stall and locked the door behind me. I sat on the toilet and started thinkin' 'bout ev'rything that had happened that day. And the more I did the more it seemed it warn't really just that special day that bothered me. All the weeks and months that come before it, they all kinda bunched in on me to get they're say, too. I's just sittin' there, cryin'. Quiet.

Sometimes I got so mad I coon't hardly think straight. Sometimes at night before Mom got home from work and I's lying there in bed, staring at the ceiling cuz I coon't sleep... sometimes I wished a monster would smash up this city. Crush all the buildings flat! Burn all the trees in the parks! Kill every living thing on this planet! Destroy it all 'til ain't nothin' left but a burnin' tower of fire and smoke going into the air blockin' out the sun for all time.

Sometimes... I thought a stuff like that. And it scared me. I din't wanna think it. I really din't.

But sometimes...

Sometimes... it hurt me so much, I wished I'd been 'borted 'stead a born. Why is it they can't live together no more? Why'd they even have me then? Nobody could tell me. Nobody could make me understand. Not my Mom, not my Dad, not the counselor I s'posed to go to at school to talk 'bout how I'm feelin'. Nobody could. I just... I wanted ev'rything back the way they was before. And all ev'rybuddy said to me was, that they coon't go back, not never. But no one said why.

Maybe then I was too stupid to understand. Cuz it din't seem so hard. Just go back. Pretend it never happened. I could. I pictured it that way ev'ry night, alone in bed waitin' for the turn of the key in the 'partment door so's I could finally close my eyes. The waitin' feelin' was just awful. I coon't never go to sleep, not 'til I heard that sound and knew that Mom'd come back.

At least that night. But the next one? I din't know for sure. It was like a memory I kept forgettin' to remember when ever I turned off the bedroom light. Like the darkness was too dark to see that far ahead. I coon't see Mom or Dad. Sometimes I coon't even see m'self. I coon't see nothin', but the moon's thrown shadows dancin' on the walls in front a me.

I don't remember how long I stayed in the bathroom. I had a good long cry at any rate and I felt lots better by the time I heard bathroom door open and somebuddy come in. Still, I wished my Mom and Dad were in the shelter with me, but I knew that coon't be. 'Sides I warn't no wussie. I could be all alone. I did it all the time at home. I could be strong too, like the biker. Like Ryu from Street Fighter II was strong.

I went back out into the shelter and sat down, sayin' to myself no matter what I warn't gonna cry again.

Not too much later, Masato showed up again. He scooched down next to me.

What do you want? I says.

He smiled at me and he says, I just wanted to know if you'd maybe like to sit with me and my Gramma? She made some bento before we came here and we can't eat it all. Do you want some?

I was so surprised, I din't know what to say at first. I din't even think he'd wanna talk to me let alone offer some of his food.

Really? I says.

He nodded.

After all the things I'd done and said to him, I coon't believe it. Well, I says, Yeah. I guess so. I mean if you can't eat it all. If it wouldn't be too much bother. That would be real nice.

He smiled.

We walked back over to where his Gramma was and after I introduced myself we sat down to eat. Masato's Gramma sure made good bento. Even my own Mom din't make it that good. When she had time to, which ain't often. I din't wanna look like a pig or nothin', so's I only ate half and said I was all full up and coon't eat no more or my belly would go burst.

Masato's Gramma smiled and put the lid back on and then put it back in her yellow carry-all. She had a real nice smile, kinda like it made me glad to see it, y'know what I mean? S'weird to think that, cuz I never knowed nobody who could smile like that before.

Mom din't smile too much. She's always too tired from work. But even when she warn't tired all the time, back when Dad was still living with us and she stayed home all the time, she still din't smile too much. Well, least that I remember. I was just a kid then, and I din't remember all too much from back in the then.

After we done eatin', me and Masato played some games on my GameGuy and read some of the comics while his Gramma was nappin'. I din't say 'bout how they was ripped off. It seemed the only way I could read 'em was by forgettin' how I'd come by 'em. Otherwise I would of just thrown 'em in the trash, maybe even with my bookbag. It felt all dirty to me somehow.

A long time later Masato started yawnin' and said he's goin' to sleep. He snuggled up to his Gramma who tucked a blanket 'round to keep him warm. I leaned back 'gainst the wall, but I was feelin' all restless and I coon't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I kept seein' people's faces. The guy from the arcade lookin' all solemn, the angry bookstore owner shakin' his fist, the biker grinnin' as he drove away, all my friends. And my Mom and Dad. All of 'em, they was too much in my thoughts to sleep just then.

Satoshi-kun, says Masato's Gramma all of sudden, If I'm not prying, may I ask a question?

Yeah, I says, I mean, yes ma'am.

She smiled, and then she says, I couldn't help but notice you weren't as prepared as everyone else. Did you come here straight from school?

Well, I says, kinda embarrassed, No... not exac'ly.

But you didn't go home first? she asks, Before coming to the shelter?

I shook my head.

Do your parents know where you are? she asks, real soft.

Uh uh, I says, I mean, no ma'am. See, my Mom? She works down in Yokohama. So's I... so I figured there was no point going home, cuz she wouldn't be there.

But what if she left a message? she says.

That din't never occur to me 'bout the message. I s'posed she could have, I says.

She's probably very worried for you, Satoshi-kun, she says, I'm sure that your Mother loves you very much.

It seemed like one time not too far past, I could have said that and felt that it was really true, 'bout my Mom, and 'bout my Dad too. Now I coon't say for sure.

Yeah, I says, I guess so.

She smiled and says, There's no need to guess. They're your parents. They do love you very much. Sometimes other things get in the way. They forget what's important. You have to listen for the things not said.

Suddenly there came a poundin' on the shelter door, a huge BOOM BOOM BOOM that woke up sleepin' people with a jolt. Babies started cryin' all over the room. That poundin' happened again. One of the Shelter Cops ran to the door and slid back a window slot. He started whisperin' to whoever was outside makin' all the noise.

What's going on? asks Masato, rubbin' his eyes.

His Gramma shushed him and told him to go back to sleep.

I was too far away to hear what was goin' on. But after some talkin', the Shelter Cop opened half the big metal door and then two people, a man and woman, hurried inside. They started down the aisles, callin' out a name.


Satoshi-kun! my Mom called out. I could hear the tears in her voice. And then my Dad called too, his deep voice kept low so as not to disturb the others.

I looked up at Masato's Gramma. She smiled at me then, her eyes sparkling with tears.

You see? she says, Go to them.

I stood up. Mom? Dad? I says, I'm right here. I'm okay!

My Mom stopped and looked over. Her hands went up to her face.

Oh my God, she whispered, Satoshi. Satoshi!

I ran down the aisle and fell into their waitin' arms. Pretty soon it was a big yucky mess. By the time we finished with huggin' and kissin', I was wearin' more make-up than Mom and more aftershave than Dad.

We looked everywhere for you, says Dad.

Mom says, Why didn't you come home first?

I din't think nobody'd be there, I says, So's I thought I should go here.

Mom got this look like she'd been slapped. Her shoulders started shakin' and she started cryin' some more.

I knowed I real did bad this time. I din't want her to cry no more. So's I took her hand and says, I'm sorry. I din't mean to. I just... I thought it was what you'd want me to do. I'm real sorry.

She looked up then, eyes all red, nose runny. And she shook her head and says to me, You don't have to feel sorry for anything. I'm...

She looked up at Dad.

He nods and says, We're the ones who should apologize to you. We're only happy that you're safe.

I was cryin' by then and I din't give a care who saw neither. I fell into their arms again. They was warm and strong, huggin' me so tight like they warn't never gonna let me go. I smiled. It felt so good, so right.

It's okay now, I says, Tadaima.

And I says it again, even louder so's ev'rybuddy in the whole shelter got to hear -- Tadaima!

That means, "I'm home."

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