"Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay. In the meantime, please ensure that your luggage is placed under the seat in front of you. Also please feel free to take a look at our on-flight merchandise catalogue."
The flight attendant's voice is steady and pleasant, and Juiz's familiar voice passes through Takizawa's mind, the mechanic voice that on some brief moments seem to gain a strange, near-human warmth. Like a mother's, someone might say, but not Takizawa because that would make him think of the too-sweet ice cream and the unexpected saltiness of tears. (His hand reaches for a cellphone that is no longer there. The warmth of her skin through the fabric of her coat, the endless possibilities forced on him in its pocket.)
Minutes pass slowly, restlessness ripples under his skin. He drums his fingers against his leg and absent-mindedly stares at the neatly manicured grass outside. Unlike the smartly dressed man across the aisle who keeps glancing at his watch and lets sharp sighs pass through his teeth, Takizawa doesn't really mind waiting. (Takizawa knows the man's name, and more importantly, the number he has forgotten.) There will be time for everything, things will wait. It's just that he likes to be moving. Walking, driving, flying, running. A motorcycle might be nice, he thinks. Underneath that thought, a flash of yellow and wind. Further still, newspaper ink-stained fingers.
Takizawa likes to be on the go, he likes the idea of things moving, changing, transforming. That everything becomes something brand new. Most of the time, his heart is light and he doesn't get homesick, not for places anyway. Sometimes he does want to dial that old number he knows by heart and say, "I'm coming home." What a day that'll be.
Eventually it will be time to stop, that's what he believes. One day he'll stay, instead of run, find a place instead of ideas. But not today. He wishes the plane would finally speed down the runway, asphalt catching afternoon light. He can't wait for that moment when the wheels will lose touch with ground and they'll plummet towards the sky, like some ugly, surreal bird.
He can't wait to long to return. (There is a glint of gold in his mind, something like a ring, and carneval music, soft hair brushing against his face in the breeze, and maybe a sting in his chest.)
When Saki gets to the cinema, Hirasawa's words still echo in her mind, Are you sure you want to be doing this? You saw what happened with Eden. I'm sure we could find a project for you to get involved in.
She said she was certain and Hirasawa had no choice but to promise to email her the instructions and tell her to come more often.
She'd smiled, "I'm fine. You worry too much; you're starting to look like Ohsugi."
She could feel his concerned eyes follow her to the door. It was good, though. It was nice to have people who cared.
And no, she isn't sure. She isn't sure at all but it feels like the thing to do, because she can't just sit around doing nothing and wait for Takizawa to return. Instead, she's been doing freelance work as a graphic designer, and in the evenings, she's been working on a small project of her own that might prove to be quite useful later on. Even when she feels like the idea of his return is nothing but a fever dream, it makes her happy to know she's doing something, that she, too, is trying to make the world a better place, even if there are no missiles involved. At least she hopes so. It's been nearly three years already. Sometimes she thinks she should already have given up hope, but it doesn't really work that way.
She leans back in the soft seat and lets her uncertainty go. She's learnt to like movies. She likes this cinema. She likes the way the NEETs operate it: there's no fixed ticket price, everyone can pay what they can or wish to, and the films are chosen largely on the basis of the mood of whoever is running the projector. (Today it's a guy with a stubble and tired eyes whom Saki recognises. He seems to smile slightly more, she thinks.) The place is serendipitious and odd and it appeals to her.
Today it appears to be a cheap monster flick from the 60s.
And once the lights go out and the film starts, she can imagine Takizawa in the projector room, watching over her.
A dream breaks (remains of missiles falling over the city like slow fireworks) and Saki awakens in the dark. She's still in the cinema, she realises, and sighs. Her project has been keeping her up late and she still hasn't had the chance to catch up on sleep. Two days ago she nodded off in the bus and missed her stop. Now the last thing she remembers is the twelve-inch tall women.
She slides her arm into the sleeve of her coat, standing up and only then looks up at the screen.
There's a man looking up at the ceiling, and the ceiling has turned into water and the surface is slowly coming down towards him. He breathes like a fish out of water, like air hurt him. He's forgotten why it's necessary to come back to the surface.
Saki sits back down. She'd know this film anywhere. The Cold Blue.
It's been a while since she has seen it.
Saki is happy that it's dark and no one has to see her tears when the knowledge that it's not Takizawa in the projector room crushes her heart.
The minute she turns the lights off, finally ready to go to bed, she sees it. The glow of the streetlamps leaks through her thin curtains, but this cannot be a trick of their eerie light. The cellphone at the far corner of her desk is glowing. Saki sits on the edge of her bed, about to get up but then deciding against it.
She waited for that phone to spring to life for so long that she had to stop carrying it, had to stop looking at it, had to start try and forget. (But it's not so easy when you don't have an otherworldly sound to wipe your mind clean.)
It's the Seleçao phone. Takizawa's phone. And it's glowing.
Saki walks towards it like a sleepwalker and flips it open.
Her knuckles grow white, her heart flutters.
Remember the boat? Maybe tonight?
She dresses in the dark and stops at the doorway briefly to listen to the cicadas, and there's the rumble of cars somewhere in the distance.
It might be that she's still tucked under her blanket then. That this is just another one of those withdrawal symptoms between remembering and forgetting, another detour on that endless train journey between two locations that possibly don't even exist in the same universe.
She steps in a puddle and the water leaks into her shoe but she doesn't notice that.
Of course she's late. The text was sent while she was still in the cinema, and of course she didn't have the phone with her. (A year ago would have been a different story.)
Saki stares at the dark ripples for a moment and then sits down on a bench with a sigh. She wipes a few stray strands of hair off her face, and swallowed tears burn at the back of her throat. She's being silly. If Takizawa never returns, Saki will survive. She knows this. He's always been like a ghost for her, slipping away and suddenly appearing again. It's not that she can't live without him. It's just that he promised, and she wanted to believe so badly. And she does. Maybe that's all: He said he'd come back and she believes him. That's why he's now her phantom limb.
Saki stares at the golden ring hanging over her knees for a moment, skin tingling, and looks up, and Takizawa is holding two cans of Black Boss and smiling and before she's able to speak, the boat's horn sounds.
He takes her hand without a word. She thinks she should be infuriated with his nonchalance, but to be honest, that's one of her favourite things about him. Once more, she feels the world beneath her feet turning, as though they were on a merry-go-round. Takizawa's hand is warm in hers.
They leap and land on the boat deck, once more. Saki thought she'd cry but instead she smiles.
"Enjoy the movie?" Takizawa asks, his fingers still absent-mindedly tangled with hers.
"I saw a poster in France," he smiles.
Takizawa grins and shrugs slightly, and Saki knows there's a story behind this, a story behind him being here now, a story of what is going to happen next. But she wants to steal a moment. So instead of asking what's going on with Mr. Outside, she hugs him. It's a cold night and the city lights glimmer on the water and there's no one else on the boat. Saki feels a bit foolish and her cheeks are burning up, but she's tired of waiting, of starting everything anew every single time, hesitant and nervous. She needs an actual reunion, for once, instead of a rebirth. She's so used to telling him his name that this feels like a blessing. (She instinctively clutches the Seleçao phone that will never again cause him to step in River Lethe, never again scatter the syllables of his name to the winds.)
"I'm happy to be back," Takizawa says softly, and the pale clouds of their exhalations mingle in the night air. (Saki remembers the heavy ash clouds hovering over Ground Zero.)
She smiles against his coat, the scent of foreign cities and mountain air.
"What happened with Mr. Outside?" Saki asks and opens her coffee.
"Odd things," Takizawa begins, after a moment's silence, fiddling with his own can. "He's a strange man. I'm still not sure if he forgot everything or not, but then, I suppose we fit together in those regards. He's very, very intelligent, obviously, so it's impossible to say for sure. We've done quite a bit of travelling, that's why it took me so long to get back. Turns out there's something I'd forgotten about in Dubai. Most importantly, though, he got to knew these two men with a pretty curious business proposal and they're going to come to Tokyo this coming week. They'll-- set something free. It should be safe, it should be a really good thing, but I was just thinking that if you wouldn't mind going on a trip with me, it might be wise to leave the city for a bit. Just in case."
Saki watches him, quietly. Half the things he say make no sense and the other half fills her with prickling nervousness. It sounds worrying, but she watches his face, slightly changed now, a few foreign lines, and there's still that light in his eyes. Calm falls over her like rain. These outlandish strategies always made her uncomfortable, but she's come to trust his easygoing fearlessness. Sometimes he seems like a fool, but she has a feeling that he knows what he's doing, and she's no longer afraid. Whenever he grasped her hand and pulled her with him, her fear suddenly evaporated, her feet felt certain.
"Let's go, then," Saki says, and it's that simple.
"So what do we do now?" Saki asks when they get off the train.
It's a bright morning and there's a scent of freshly cut grass in the air, mixing with the food scents from the nearby open-air cafés.
Saki feels silly and girlish, as though on a romantic vacation rather than a political escapade, and so she tries to ask smart questions and not let herself get completely carried away.
"Enjoy a few days off," Takizawa grins. But before Saki is able to clutch onto his arm in pure delight, he adds, "Although there is one place we should visit."
Saki throws a longing gaze at the quaint little cafés, but lets it be. She has to agree that world-saving is more important than such trivial indulgences, and she's just happy that they are both here.
They'll have time for such things later on.
When they get to the top of the steep hill, Saki expects a secret research laboratory or a mysterious contact waiting on a parkbench, wearing sunglasses. Instead what she sees is a old wooden merry-go-round. She looks at Takizawa increduously.
Takizawa smiles, "Wonderful, isn't it? I've only seen pictures online before, though, and it really doesn't compare."
"Is--" Saki feels stupid for saying it but she has to, "Is this what we're here for? The merry-go-round?"
"Of course! While we wait for things to blow over in Tokyo, we might enjoy the sights, don't you think?"
Saki laughs. "Evacuating thousands of people one day and visiting merry-go-rounds the next?"
"It creates a kind of a balance, I feel," Takizawa says and then grins, "And I haven't been evacuating people recently anyway."
On the merry-go-round she catches the golden ring and everything glows in the afternoon light and Saki looks at Takizawa whom she once knew as a naked boy in Washington D.C. and once as a man who'd forgotten her name and later as a king who gave up his crown. She misses all of them, sometimes, but she likes this one with her awfully much, maybe even most of all. She slips the golden ring into his shirt pocket, he kisses her hand so that she remembers why he became her prince, that very first time, and they twirl in the twirling merry-go-round on the twirling planet and are happy to be alive.
He kisses her neck in the elevator and Saki didn't expect this and it's all she's been longing for for so long.
She looks out of the window at the busy street below while he's in the shower, and when he enters the room again, he's not wearing a towel. She takes one look at him, something tugs at the corner of her mouth, and she bursts into giggles.
Takizawa's half-smug grin evaporates from his face, replaced by a look of indignation. "I'm that unimpressive? Really?"
"No, no--" she manages, between peals of laughter, "I just remembered you frolicking by the White House with your johnny hanging out."
She suddenly stops laughing, then. Redness leaks down her cheeks. "Um, do you happen to remember that?" (Sometimes she forgets that there are different Takizawas.)
Takizawa closes the distance between them, and his fingers trace her jaw. His eyes are very gentle but she is hesitant to look up.
"Saki, I'm forever grateful to you for borrowing me your coat," he whispers into her ear.
She laughs again, softer now, and her eyes are a little hazy, because even though she has grown to love this specific Takizawa most of all, the fact he remembers such things (remembers her) makes her heart heavy and warm.
"Thank you, Takizawa," she breathes.
His lips her shoulder, "I'd rather you call me Akira."
It's a new name, and it's the last time he is reborn for her.
He kisses her then, harder this time, and the curse of never being able to forget each other again makes her terribly happy, its weight like the weight of him as he lays her softly down.
Of course it happens again. It's not unexpected. It's not like the thought hasn't crossed her mind. But that doesn't mean that it would burn any less, that it wouldn't still steal all her air.
"Can't I come, too?" Saki asks, it's maybe the fourth time. Takizawa has that absent-minded look in his eyes like he does whenever he's about to disappear, as though he was preparing for invisibility, slowly turning translucent.
"Saki, it's so dangerous."
It's going to be autumn soon, even though it doesn't feel that way. Her shirt is sticking to her sweaty back and everything feels hopelessly tangled and hard. Takizawa is going to save the world and Saki can't find a good enough reason to tag along. (But she's wrong because she's going to save the world, too.)
"If everything goes according to plan, I'll be back in no time," he grins, but his eyes look different and he's fiddling with his keys.
"If it does," Saki sighs, and it's bad because all she wants to tell him is, everything is gonna be alright. And yet.
In the end she stands there and her hands feel weak as they let go of his jacket.
Saki walks aimlessly even though it's too hot, because she is hopelessly restless, her limbs are electric.
There's a slight breeze and she hopes it will steal away her heavy mind. She walks and tells herself it's alright, that Takizawa will return and everything will go well.
And most of all, she knows that next time, she'll no longer let him go alone. (They're empty, gentle lies.)
That's all Saki can suddenly think, no.
This isn't the way it's supposed to go. It's the same as when Takizawa left her by the merry-go-round and came back with a gentle smile but not her name. It's the same as when she ran after him, grasped his sleeve and they were blind with sunlight and she kissed him and he kissed her back and still left. That's not how this is supposed to go.
Saki's body quivers. For the first time in what feels like years, like lifetimes, she is alone and her mind is clear and she knows perfectly well what she's supposed to do.
So she runs. She bumps into someone, doesn't have the chance to hear Itazu call her name, people turn to look. But Saki keeps running, and a smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. She's so tired of waiting, and it feels so good to run.
"Excuse me, I think I have the window seat."
Takizawa is in the merry-go-round again, his fingers feebly reaching for the golden ring, and that's why the voice sounds familiar.
"Ah, yes, pardon me," he says softly, with a smile, and looks up.
It's not the girl from the merry-go-round. Her hair is longer now, falling down her shoulders, there is a decisiveness drawn on her face that wasn't there before and she is still wearing the golden ring on her neck. She smiles at him, and the brightness of that smile makes Takizawa's throat go dry.
"Saki," he says because for a moment that's all he can think of. He thought of her and she appeared, as though they were connected by some electric net, live current travelling between them, sparks within their ribcages.
Then he remembers all the reasons why he had to leave her again, why he had to let go of every thought of stealing her away once more.
"Saki, I don't know if I explained it properly but what I'm gonna try to do is really dangerous, and I would feel awful if I'd put you in any danger--"
Saki shakes her head. "No."
"What do you mean, no?" He suddenly feels scared for her, his fingertips grow cold. (He can't hear the flight attendant's Juiz-like voice.)
There is a brand new light in her eyes, and it makes him want to grasp her hand and run away with her, and yet fear is filling the pit of his belly like cold water. "Akira, I won't wait anymore. I can do this. I was with you before you ever became King, before you even dreamt such a thing. I'm not clueless. I may not know everything but I'll figure things out. And I know it's dangerous and that's fine because what you're trying to do is important enough for such things not to matter. And I want to be with you. Maybe that's all it is, I want to be with you. And we should make the world a better place."
He wants this so badly, sunlight blinds him as the plane rolls down the runway, and when the runway ends and they plunge towards the brilliant blue, Saki laughs and grips his fingers and some heavy thing melts in his chest.
"You can't tell me to go back now," she says, half-serious, half-mischievous, because they are at 30.000 feet over the sea.
Takizawa kisses her because he doesn't know what else to do, happiness and hope tingle underneath his skin and his head feels light.
"Thank you," he says and forgets how he could have ever imagined this being different. He grins like he always does, "Let's do our best."
"Yes," Saki says. "Oh and there's something I wanted to show you."
She pulls a laptop out of her bag, "While you've been busy with Mr. Outside, I've been working on a little programme of my own that might prove to be helpful."
Carousel, the screen reads, and a colourful merry-go-round appears. Saki clicks on, START.
The world is going to be so beautiful.
(Of course they don't know for sure. But they're going to try, anyway.)
(Eden of the East is quickly forgotten by most, because online, weeks are as long as months, but even years later, it still exists in some corner of the web. Those who stumble upon it when they search for Steinbeck for an essay or other such things, may see a picture of a dark-haired boy, looking confident and fearless like some young god or a king, his arm around a girl with red hair, slightly dazed, her eyes so bright. Behind them, there's smouldering ruins and dark water. With this image, a caption, "She is all states, all princes, I, nothing else is." And later added, "And the world changed.")