Augusta Ho, Grade 12
As the plane approached the Japanese coastline Mark, pressed himself against the window to watch the small skylarks soaring playfully beneath him, following the movement of the plane, towards the land. 7:00. Mark shut the window, resuming his dull demeanour, slouching uncomfortably in his economy seat. His legs were cramped under the back of the seat of a balding Japanese man who was in conversation with his wife. Somehow, his deep indistinctive murmur sounded familiar. Instinctively, he looked at his watch. 7:05. Fifteen minutes until landing. He closed his eyes. Fifteen minutes until having to get through customs; the Japanese were always thorough. Thirty minutes for a cab. Fifty minutes until the meeting. Two hours for the deal. Then, drinks with James at the renowned Ichigo Bar and maybe a visit to his mother at Rizuyuki– a big detour. Eight hours and then, Home. 7:10.
Mark stepped out of the bustling airport, just as a motorbike backfired, spewing billowing black smoke across the road. The roar of a plane as it took off drowned out the shouting and clatter of the drivers who were yelling out instructions to help the biker. 7:30. Mark stood his ground, gripping his briefcase tightly as people pushed past him, rushing into the airport. The PA system was inaudible against the din of the crowds, surging in every direction, hurrying towards their destination. High pitched peals of laughter echoed to Mark’s right. Tourists. He watched as they boarded their bus, becoming amused at a toddler attempting to climb the stairs solo. Soon his attention became fixated on the driver, uncontrollably honking at the traffic stemming from a car picking up family. 7:40. He looked away. A line of taxis was beginning to form at the other end of the pick up zone. Reluctant to join the queue of people racing towards the line, he snatched his suitcase and hurried to the curb.
‘Taxi’ he yelled
7:42. Mark glanced futilely around as he waited for taxi to head in his direction. Nothing. He became impatient and waved vigorously at a taxi driving past him but to no avail. A business man charged past him, his briefcase hitting Mark’s leg. The man immediately turned and apologetically bowed before rushing off through the automatic doors. Mark glared at him.
A taxi pulled up near him, he ran towards it as a family stepped out. He stood defiantly beside the car as an elderly man attempted to pull out the luggage bags, one at a time, too slowly. Mark whistled impatiently. 7:50. Behind schedule. Before the cab driver could start the engine, Mark had already seated himself in the passenger seat with the seatbelt strapped on.
‘Toshiba inc’ he sighed as his tension began to fade away
Surprised that the obsolete loud manner and unique American accent belonged to an Asian counterpart, the taxi driver obliged.
Mark adjusted his seat, reclining it slightly for optimum comfort. Listening to the driver’s serene Mozart music, a refreshing change from the chaos of the airport, he pulled out his laptop, revising his presentation. Everything had to be perfect. Timing. Articulation. Speed. 8:05
After going over the slides for the third time, he looked up, resting his eyes from the screen. Mark saw a red blur in the distance. He recognised it. Where was it from again? As the car drove slowly along a bend, his view of the red building began to shift until the tall looming skyscrapers had completely dominated his peripherals. He was engulfed into the shadows of the Japanese architectural giants, where spiralling skyscrapers were possible. Mark’s eyes followed the vectors of the metallic pillars as they intertwined with one another to reinforce the foundation of the structure. It led him towards an enormous billboard that was hanging ominously over the streets of Tokyo, advertising a new computer. Mark tried to read the kanji and katakana around the image however the words had eluded him. 8:15
While the driver meandered through the roads attempting to avoid peak hour traffic, Mark caught glimpses of the red building through the breaks between the skyscrapers, still unable to remember what it was from. He became immersed in the familiarity and the diversity along the main road. Children, dressed in traditional uniforms walked in straight lines towards their schools, a refreshing change from the children back in America, dressed in casual wear avoiding school. Flashy 24/7 supermarkets sold GM fruits were now packed and busy, with customers lining up outside the doors, while antique draw carts that sold Tatoyaki, octopus balls that had lost its popularity over the decades where now, only an adventurous tourist might try one. He remembered the unique aromatic smell that he could spot from a mile away. He loved watching the vendors make them. They had always poured just the right amount of batter into the wells and with their toothpicks, moulded them into shape. His mother had always bought him Tatoyaki on special occasions. They had a sweet but savoury taste and the dough melted into your mouth to reveal the succulent baby octopus. Tatoyaki had always been Mark’s favourite.
As the taxi passed through the CBD the red building appeared in full view. It was a shrine. Its dark corrugated roof was held up by the thick red spiralling pillars twisting meticulously for support. A red bell tower stood stoically beside it, becoming complements for one another whilst simultaneously competing with one another in all aspects of beauty. There were shutters and circles carved into the red fencing of its courtyard only allowing for mere glimpses into the picturesque beauty of the garden. In these glances, shades of pastel pink and luscious green were complemented to a dark brown, reminding Mark of springtime as a child. 8:45. He was late. As the taxi drove past the red building, he saw a distinctive Sakura tree against the gate, dwarfed but in line with the other trees. It looked familiar. Its branches were placed more delicately than the others. There was a bareness to it that seemed to retain more beauty than the fluffy pink clouds that sat on top of the trunks of the others.
He rolled down his window
The sweet scent of the blossoms filled the cab. He heard the pitter patter of a little girl running along the pavement, and dimly, the soft pitter patter of his own footsteps echoed within his mind. The red shrine that lay beside him was his childhood shrine, the one he had burnt incense at to cleanse his soul. There had been a time when he was a child in this city, curious about everything. He remembered one New Years Eve, when his mother had dressed him up in a kimono. His hands were restless, fidgeting with the soft silk until his mother had finished slipping the Baku onto his feet. He attempted to stride like his father had, but on the first step, he rolled his ankle and crashed to the floor. His mother had run to his aid as he sobbed piteously on the ground. She held him softly in her arms, rocking back and forth as he buried her head into her shoulder. Had his father been alive, he would have scolded Mark for being weak and undignified, but his mother didn’t care. At the shrine his mother acted distant and ignored him for the most of it. Until, the mayor struck the bell, the ringing echoing throughout the shrine, heralding the new year. His mother, picked him up by his arms and pulled out Tatoyaki for him. He had scoffed it down without a second thought. Yet now, he realised the sacrifice his mother had made. She had always used the few dollars they had to buy him treats. To make him happy.
‘Driver, Rizuyuki please’