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TOKYO FLASH FICTION - ONE PHOTO, ONE STORY - Issue #13

Alex Lund
Alex Lund
Hi there,
I hope you’re doing well!
It’s been quite a while since I did one of these short stories…I wish there were more than 24 hours a day!
Anyway, this one is set in Shibuya, my favorite area of Tokyo. It was a rainy afternoon when I took this picture, but believe me, this is actually a really nice and “charming” place by the stream on a sunny day. The weather kind of goes well with the story this time, though…
Hope you like it & stay safe!
Alex

Shibuya Stream
Shibuya Stream
THE CHARADE
“Hey! Get out of the water immediately!”
 
I didn’t even bother looking up, knowing that the voice came from one of the security guards.
 
“Just a moment,” I replied, my heart racing as I kept my eyes focused on a small, glimmering point a bit further down the stream.
 
Hardly feeling my feet anymore in the freezing November cold, I took a few swift steps forward, pulled up the sleeve of my jacket and reached down into the knee-deep water. I felt something round in my hand, but straightaway despair filled me as it had countless times, when I realized that it wasn’t what I was looking for. “Just another coin,” I mumbled and tossed it up over the fence in frustration.
 
“He’s down in the stream right outside the café,” I heard the guard yelling, and I knew reinforcement was on its way.
 
Keeping my eyes fixed at the bottom of the stream and paying no attention to the curious spectators quickly gathering outside the fence above me, I moved cautiously not to stir up any waves that would reduce the visibility, well aware that the current conditions for my search were optimal thanks to two straight weeks without rain.
 
Hunched down so low that my nose almost touched the surface, ignoring the increasingly angry voice of the guard, my heart started to sink as I spotted nothing but a couple of empty cans.
 
“Oh, it’s you again,” I heard a deep, familiar voice above me, followed by a sigh of resignation.
 
I looked up and my eyes met those of another guard I had already had a few encounters with; his crisp, dark blue uniform displaying a red crest on the chest indicating that he was the boss of the team.
 
“Please, give me just a bit more time,” I pleaded, hoping for sympathy, knowing that he was aware of my predicament from my explanations to him in the past.
 
“Nobody is allowed into the stream! You know that by now. Come up immediately, or we’ll take you across the street,” he replied with authority in his voice, obviously keen to convey to the people watching the spectacle, now including a family with kids, that my conduct was completely out of line. I knew that “Across the street,” meant Shibuya Police Station, where he had taken me once before. The officer who questioned me at the time let me off with just a warning, apparently amused by my behavior, taking me for some harmless lunatic.
 
Emptyhanded and defeated, I slowly got out of the stream, picked up my shoes and socks and climbed over the fence to be escorted away by the two guards, as the crowd of now over thirty people opened up a path for us, while curiously watching me in silence.
 
The boss sat me down in front of the only table in their tiny office, a stuffy space with towels, sweepers, brushes, hoses, and other cleaning equipment stocked in every corner. He sat down across the table from me with a gentle smile on his face, watching my red, shivering fingers trying to roll the socks over my wet toes, while the younger guard explained in official language and an eager, authoritarian tone that entering the stream was strictly prohibited based on the security protocol of the premises.
 
Silence followed as I tied my shoe laces, feeling the gaze of the junior guard searching me.
 
“No luck today either, eh?” the boss finally said as I straightened my aching back and started rubbing my hands against each other to get the blood circulation going in my stiff fingers.
 
I shook my head and awaited his verdict.
 
“Well, that’ll be all then,” he said in a monotone manner.
 
As my surprised eyes met his, there was no mistaking the empathy, pity even, in his gaze. Was he by now getting seriously concerned about my mental health, surely having realized the extent of my determination in spite of the hopelessness of my task? I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter to me as long as he let me off the hook.
 
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” I said, stood up, bowed deeply and walked out, catching a glimpse of the surprised face of the younger guard as I passed him, surely not agreeing with the judgement of his superior.
 
I returned to my usual spot by the stream where I could stand for hours gazing down into the water in the vain hope that one day - one lucky moment of chance when the rays from the sun break at just the right angle on the water surface – the object of my search would reveal itself; the ring I gave to Mari almost half a year earlier.
 
I knew my behavior wasn’t normal, but in my desperation I had reached a point where it seemed like the only way of healing my aching heart was to find the ring that she had treasured and worn for only a month, before it all ended. Holding it in my hand again would somehow make me see things clearly and force me to face the bitter reality that our relationship was over. I would put away the ring deep in my drawer to mark the end of a painful chapter of my life, so that I could finally move on.
 
Then another thought took shape in my mind, as it always did. Perhaps I should try to approach Mari again with the ring? Give it to her once more; my painstaking struggles of trying to find it being evidence of my love for her. Surely then she would understand, wouldn’t she?
 
My train of thought was interrupted by a black raven landing on the fence a bit further down, near the very spot where Mari had left me when finding out the truth: I wasn’t working at a large multi-national corporation paying me a huge salary, nor had I graduated from an elite university, and I certainly wasn’t the son of a wealthy investment banker!
 
I hadn’t lied to her initially - or at least not intentionally - but as we got deeper into conversation during our first date, and I found out that she was the daughter of a diplomat and had grown up in New York, my insecurity took a hold of me. One little innocent lie led to another, and as our relationship progressed and I saw how she was gradually drawn to me, the intricate web of fabrications of reality that I had woven to create what I believed was the person she wanted me to be, had grown to almost unmanageable proportions, encompassing every aspect of my life. It had taken over my whole existence like a dark shadow that I only barely managed to control, until it suddenly and brutally let go of its hold of me and exposed my real self that detrimental afternoon.
 
It all happened when Mari and I had just come out of the café next to the stream and bumped into, Taro, my buddy from the warehouse where I had by now worked for over ten years straight since dropping out of high school. Taro, a struggling stand-up comedian with a drinking problem, first broke into laughter and then burst out, “What the hell are you wearing? You look like a snob!”
 
The next moment when he realized that the beautiful lady standing next to me was in fact my girlfriend - a secret I had kept from him and everyone else at work - he straightaway jumped at the opportunity to impress Mari with some quick jokes about how he was used to seeing me in my dirty, sweaty workwear shoving boxes around all day, or drinking myself senseless at our usual filthy joint in the roughest part of the Kawasaki harbor area.
 
I managed to get rid of Taro after a few minutes, but it was already too late. The charade was over, and my desperate attempt to explain everything to Mari, begging her to give me – the real me; a lowly-paid laborer without even a high school diploma, living in a six tatami straw mat apartment with no shower – a second chance, fell on deaf ears. The reality that had so suddenly been revealed had simply been too enormous for her to grasp, let alone accept, and with tears running down her cheeks and fire in her eyes, she took off the ring and hurled it into the stream and walked away.
 
As I rested my eyes on the raven, so close that I could almost reach out and touch it, a sharp whistling sound from just behind startled me. The raven, equally surprised, immediately spread its wings and took off, but only to arrogantly land again just below on the concrete ramp by the stream.
 
“Who does he think has to clean up the mess after him and his friends, eh?”
 
It was the voice of the senior guard who came up next to me, his eyes focused on the raven below, now out of his reach.
 
“If it was just one, I wouldn’t mind, but they come in groups and bother the guests at the café,” he continued.
 
I remained silent and looked down into the stream again, as I felt him now watching me.
 
“You know, I don’t think you’ll be able to find anything down there anymore. The cleaning company was here last week and went through it thoroughly, all the way down to that bridge,” he said, pointing in the direction of a road crossing the stream further down.
 
“What?!” I burst out, staring at him.
 
“We usually have the stream cleaned once a year before the Christmas illumination begins. Head office decision, you know…” he continued in an almost apologetic tone.
 
I felt all my energy being drained out of me as I realized that I would never be able to find the ring now.
 
“That’s why I decided to let you go just now. I guess your search here is over. I’m sorry…” he said, nodding his head slightly, turned and walked away.
 
Just as my last hope was about to leave me, I suddenly had an idea.
 
“Wait! What’s the name of the cleaning company?” I called out.
 
“Well, I guess there is no harm in telling you. Suzuki Cleaning Services. We use them every year,” he said.
 
I got my phone out and frantically started googling the name, my hand shaking as I dialed the number. This was my last chance; in fact, maybe the best chance I’d ever had of finally finding the ring!
 
“Suzuki Cleaning Services,” a robotic female voice answered.
 
Tripping over words, I explained that I had lost a ring in the stream and asked whether they had found anything when they cleaned it.
 
As I was waiting on hold for what seemed too long for the answer to be negative, I noticed my fingers were tapping so hard on the handrail of the fence that a young couple resting their arms on it close by looked at me briefly and then walked away.
 
Finally the voice spoke again.
 
“It’s funny you asked about a ring…”
 
I jumped in without letting her finish. “So you found it? Platinum with a diamond?”
 
“Yes…but,” she said with hesitation in her voice.
 
“Where is your office? I’ll come and pick it up right away,” I exclaimed.
 
She continued after a short pause, “Well, the thing is…there was a lady here just the other day who claimed it.”
 
“What?!” I burst out.
 
“We had no reason to doubt that it was hers since she described it and also specified the spot where she had dropped it,” she continued.
 
“What was her name?” I asked, already knowing the answer, as my mind was desperately trying to understand how it was possible.
 
“I’m sorry, I can’t give out any private information,” she replied.
 
“Never mind,” I said and hung up.
 
I had no doubt that it must have been Mari since nobody else could have possibly known about the ring. But had she also been looking for it all this time? Wanting it back so badly that she had, just like me, tracked down and contacted the cleaning company? Or maybe she had noticed them cleaning since she lived right around the corner?
 
It didn’t matter. I now knew that I was still on her mind, and in her heart! I felt a wide smile spread across every corner of my face, as my whole body warmed up all the way out to my fingertips.
 
“So, she wanted me back all this time?” I said out loud, as if to convince myself that it wasn’t just a dream.
 
After taking a few deep breaths to calm my galloping heart down, I started thinking about how to approach Mari again, and went on to search on my phone for a picture of a similar ring to have a look at just for inspiration. It seemed like the exact model wasn’t for sale anymore at the store I bought it, but after surfing a few second-hand jewelry sites, I soon found an image of it decorating a beautifully manicured hand.
 
“For sale at only 29,000 Yen,” it said in bold, red letters next to it.
 
“Ridiculously cheap,” I scoffed, feeling insulted, knowing that the full in-store price was more than three times that amount.
 
I then noticed a small birth mark on the finger just by the ring.
 
The next moment my whole world crumbled, as I realized that it was Mari’s hand.
THE END
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Alex Lund
Alex Lund @AlexLundAuthor

TOKYO FLASH FICTION - ONE PHOTO, ONE STORY

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