As the subway doors slowly opened, people flooded onto the platform and spread off in all directions. Keiichi shielded his eyes and peered into the distance, feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun against the back of his hand. An acoustic guitar adorned with stickers and signatures was slung across the man’s back, his long hair flowing across the instrument. Sliding on a pair of tea shades, the man crossed his arms and grinned at the bustling station platform. He joined the crowd as they slowly funnelled through the station’s exit gates, spilling out into the heart of Tokyo.
Keiichi made his way down familiar city streets, humming a tune from back in the good old days. The evening sun hung just over the horizon, drowning the city in a deep orange hue. He came to a stop before a small house near the station, checking his phone quickly to confirm that this was the correct address.
‘Alright,’ he whispered to himself. ‘I sure hope she still remembers me.’
Swallowing any doubts, Keiichi knocked twice against the heavy wooden door. A dog immediately barked out in response. Keiichi heard the sound of its paws as it skittered up and down the hallway with excitement. As the door opened, Keiichi removed his shades and slid his hands into his pockets.
‘Yo, Saki. Been a few years, hasn’t it?’ He gave the woman in the doorway a warm smile.
The middle-aged woman had a baby held in her right arm, and a very needy little dog jumping at her legs. Her eyes grew wide as the man before her scratched his head and smiled at her. She remembered who he was instantly.
‘Is that you, Kei? Look at you! Still repping that 70’s style, I see,’ she chuckled, instantly falling into old speaking habits. ‘When you told me you wanted to stop by, I didn’t think it would be the next day. I’m a mother now, you know, so I need like, double the notice.’
Keiichi laughed, happy to see she hadn’t lost her sense of humour. He looked down at the sleeping little boy that was curled up in Saki’s arms. ‘My bad, my bad. But tell me about this little guy. What’s his name?’
Saki smiled softly, planting a kiss on the baby’s forehead. ‘His name is Fukabe, and he’ll be eight months this weekend. His favourite thing to do is throw all his food on the floor, as well as pulling little Mimi’s tail whenever he gets the chance.’ As if remembering the traumatic experience, the little ball of fluff stopped jumping at Saki’s leg and pattered back down the hallway.
‘But what about you, Kei? What did you want to talk to me about?’
Keiichi pointed to the guitar on his back. ‘Well, thing is… I quit my job,’ he smiled confidently. ‘But not because of anything bad. I just kind of realised something a few months ago.’
‘And what was that?’ Saki’s eyes were fixed on the face of her old friend.
‘I want to get the band back together!’ Keiichi gave a bright smile that reached his cheeks.
‘You do?’ her voice trailed off as she looked down at Fukabe, gently rocking him in her arms.
‘That’s right, and so I thought I would reach out to you and ‘Kami-sama,’ to see if you both wanted to make our little high school dream a reality, twenty odd years later,’ he chuckled. ‘I’ve got the money we need to do things properly this time.’
Saki couldn’t help but smile at the idea of it all. But her expression fell as she grounded herself. ‘I still play the bass, you know?’ she said, eyes staring down at her little one.
Keiichi stood up straight, clasping his hands together. ‘Really? That’s great. I’ve only recently started getting back into song writing myself, but I’ve already got a few ideas floating around.’
Saki shook her head. ‘But I’ve got a family now, Kei. I’ve got Fukabe, Mimi and my husband Taro – I need to consider all of them before I make a decision like this…’ She couldn’t bring herself to look at him as she spoke. ‘I loved playing with you and Gendo back then, and I still think about where we all could have gone together. But the truth is, that just isn’t my dream anymore, Kei. I am so sorry.’
Slowly, Saki lifted her head to face her friend. Staring back at her was the most genuine smile she had ever seen. Keiichi nodded in agreement, his eyes glimmering with memories of the past.
‘I wouldn’t ask you to even think of compromising on your dream,’ he beamed. ‘After all, that is what I’m doing as well. I’m finally chasing after a dream of my own.’
‘Thank you, Kei,’ she whispered, reaching out to give her friend a one-armed hug. As they embraced, Saki thought about just how much time had passed. ‘I’ve got connections now, you know? So, when you get the band started again, make sure you give me a call! I could probably land you a few interviews.’
‘Will do, you’re still an original member after all,’ he said, giving an approving thumbs-up. ‘Always was and always will be!’
Saki nodded in agreement, touched by her friend’s sentiment after so long. Fukabe began to rouse in his mother’s arms, little hands reaching out towards whatever he was dreaming about. ‘I should probably lay this one down before he wakes back up,’ she said.
‘No worries, Saki. I’ll be in touch,’ he said, turning to take his leave.
Saki watched as her old friend made his way down the driveway, humming an old tune that she still remembered. ‘Kei!’ she called to him. ‘I know you can do this!’
Keiichi waved over his shoulder; eyes turned towards the sky. He made his way through the old neighbourhood, noticing new stores and houses all around him. It was barely the city he had once known, yet somehow, he still seemed to know where he was going. The city had a certain vibe, and that much hadn’t changed at all. As the sun fell behind distant mountains, the town slowly succumbed to the veil of night.
His final stop was a much bigger house that was decorated by many well-kept hedges. One was sculpted to appear as a wolf. Several others showed a family of hares as they fled from their attacker. Keiichi rang the doorbell, which caused the porch lights to flick on immediately. The front door swung open as a portly man stepped outside with a look of bewilderment on his face.
‘Well, well, Keiichi in the flesh. Come inside, why don’t you?’ he said with a hearty laugh, arms outstretched in welcoming hospitality.
‘It’s good to see you well, Kami-sama,’ said Keiichi, stepping inside as the man closed the door behind him.
‘Ah, I prefer plain ol’ Gendo these days actually,’ he said, turning away from his old friend. ‘But come now, can I fix you a glass of red?’
‘That does sound good, but I’ll have to pass. I’m actually only stopping in briefly.’
‘Hah!’ Gendo bellowed, turning around with a wide smile. ‘Don’t see hide nor hair of him for almost a decade. He shows up, looking like John Lennon, and with the exact same spark in his eyes.’ He leant against the door; arms crossed as he furrowed his brow. ‘I know that spark, seen it before many times. The eyes of someone who has finally figured it all out.’
Kei smiled; his friend was as keen as ever. They didn’t call him ‘Kami-sama’ for nothing The man had some kind of sixth sense. He could always read the room, making it almost impossible to keep any secrets from him.
‘Well, I quit my job for starters,’ Keiichi began to explain.
‘You did what? Last I heard you were in and out of business marketing. Did that not fly?’ Gendo’s eyes widened, his face still steeped in curiosity.
Keiichi chuckled to himself. ‘Don’t worry, it was a premeditated decision. I’ve saved up half a years’ worth, and then some. Because I finally figured out what my life has been missing since high school.’
Gendo stroked his chin in thought. ‘What was missing?’
Keiichi swung the guitar around from behind his back, slowly running his fingers across the cold strings. ‘Music,’ he said plainly. ‘My life has been missing music. So I’m getting the band back together, and this time we are going to go all the way.’
Gendo smiled, nodding his approval. ‘I want to show you something, Kei. What you said, it reminded me of a discovery I made of my own.’
Gendo turned down the hallway and into a larger living area. As Keiichi stepped into the room, he noticed the walls were covered in elaborate paintings that ranged from detailed cityscapes and lush forests to arid deserts and snow swept tundras. The room was alive with colour, and Keiichi took a moment to take in the spectacle.
‘In college, I loved to play the drums. You guys said I was some kind of ‘God’ with them, but I never really felt that way myself. There was always something missing, and I didn’t know what it was at first.’ Gendo stared at the floor, as if ashamed by what he had to say next. ‘I loved playing music with you and Saki back then, I really did. But the truth is, Kei, the moment I picked up a brush for the first time… Well, I haven’t touched my drum set since.’
Keiichi placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, looking at him with the same warmth he showed Saki. ‘You really are Kami-sama, you know? Just look at all of these! You’ve found your calling in life, Gendo,’ he said. ‘And that makes me happier than having you play by my side.’
Gendo felt his eyes grow heavy. The man before him was still the same boy he’d grown up with. ‘But what about you, Keiichi? Have you also found a place in this crazy world?’
Keiichi stared at the paintings on the walls, travelling through each setting in his mind. ‘More or less, yeah. I think I finally know what it is I’ve gotta do.’ He turned to face Gendo, slinging his guitar back over his shoulder. ‘Thanks for this, Kami-sama,’ he said, joining his hands together in prayer.
‘Oh, knock that off, will you? It makes me sound so full of it,’ Gendo laughed.
After saying their goodbyes, Keiichi made his way back towards the subway station. Night had fallen over the city proper, with neon lights now out on full display. The sidewalks were still bustling with people now on their commute home from work, exhaustion set on their faces.
As Keiichi approached the station, he sat down underneath a streetlamp. Taking his guitar in his hands, he looked across its chaotic design of stickers, scribblings, and messages from old friends. Each mark on this guitar was a fond memory for him, and a firm reminder of what he had forgotten. He ran his hand up the neck of the instrument, feeling each fret underneath his now softened fingers. Taking in a deep breath, Keiichi closed his eyes and began to play.
In his mind, he could hear Saki opening with a beat from her bass, matching the tempo set by Gendo banging away on the drums. He began to sing the very same song they performed back then—only this time it was a solo act. His fingers tore against the strings of the guitar as he tried his best to slide between chords, his hands slowly remembering the instrument they now held.
It all came flooding back in that moment, the feeling of old chords bringing back warm memories. He bounced his leg in time with the music, sweat dropping from his chin. He felt alive, his hands slamming against the guitar like it was the last song he would ever perform. As the song came to an end, Keiichi slowly opened his eyes.
Before him stood a crowd of over two dozen people, now clapping and cheering for the guitar-playing man illuminated by streetlight. The sound of applause was unfamiliar to Kei, and he felt as if his heart were beating twice as fast. As he saw the smiles on the tired faces of salarymen and women, he no longer had any doubts.
He was going to play until dawn.
Author: Jamin lives and breathes stories in their many forms. With a taste for tragedies, he enjoys spinning tales about everyday people and everyday life, but with an element of surrealism that separates them from our world. At the heart of all his writing is the idea that being human is a gift to be treasured. Though the world can be wrought with suffering and loss, it is still a wonderful world indeed.
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey