Bewilderment

Even at this late hour, the Tokyo’s mid-town streets were crowded. Barely out of the Shibuya Theatre’s main building, which belonged to the ISDC chain (International Stage of Daito Corporation), was Maya alone walking in the crown that was hurrying up in the large Shibuya’s streets. From the 109 Tour was a great clamour rising, due to the hundreds of girls that, while squeezing themselves against the doors, were waiting for the latest fashion items to be put on the shelves at midnight. In other circumstances, this view of urban madness would have made her laugh, but her heart was full of a dreadful bitterness as she was heading to the nearest subway station, her arms holding her abdomen.

“Maya...Maya, are you crying?”

Yuu had put his strong hand on her arm, and she had pushed it with more vigour than she had wanted to.

“Leave me alone!”

The expression of his eyes then had been a mixture of concern and surprise, and she ran away.

Nothing was real. Everything she believed in, all those she was trusting never did but lying to her. Was it a single truth in all the things she heard those past four months? What about Takumi? Who was he really? Oh, how hard it was to think now! Masumi Hayami just offered her a wonderful publicity, she never felt so happy than since Takumi Kirino invited her to diner, and the simple thought of seeing them again, either of them, was making her heart go helplessly crazy. But nothing could justify, or legitimate such a betrayal: to actually make an impostor out to be the man she had always been so eager to meet! How much were they up to plot in order to deceive her? Were the feelings Takumi confessed to her sincere? And why, why Masumi hid his identity?

***

It was in those kinds of moments that Masumi was glad to be taller than most of his follow countrymen. Nothing was so convenient to look for someone in a crowd as having a being a head taller than the people next to you. Only, no matter how hard he looked for it, he couldn’t find the object of his thoughts. His worry became even worse when a young greenhorn – who he judged to be a little too handsome - announced to his drunkard genius of director that their muse just went away. Imagining Maya Kitajima, all alone, five feet tall for ninety-two pounds at such a late hour in the street – or worse! : In the subway – of Tokyoinfuriated him, and he superbly ignored his beautiful fiancée-to-be, who apparently wanted to introduce him to some kind of diplomat, whose name he didn’t even try to keep in mind, and strode out of the Shibuya’s Theatre.

***

Her phone rang, but she didn’t wish to speak to anyone for now. She kept walking slowly, wiping her tears as they flowed along her cheeks. Her cell mobile vibrated a full minute during before stopping and a text informed her that she had been send a vocal message. She listened to it. After a few seconds of parasites, a voice wounded her heart.

            “Maya it’s me...Takumi...Listen, I’m at my office and I’m currently watching the local news. They are talking about you right now! Here, listen to that.”

An icy voice covered her friend’s

            “...is currently the subject of all the drama’s lovers’ conversations. Indeed, just a few minute ago, the guests of the reception celebrating the premiere of the most awaited play, Isadora, got the chance to witness an impressing acting display, staging the Vice-president of the famous Daito Corporation, Hayami Masumi, and the young actress Kitajima Maya. This last one showed her new character, the wolf-girl Jane, to a captivated audience, as you can see on this photograph...”

The program presenter faded away and Takumi spoke again.

            “And this is only the beginning. The photos are currently being posted on all the local and even national news websites, and we can forget Twitter that’s spreading the links at light speed. You better not stay by yourself; I feel that the journalists are going to get interested in you. Anyway, call me back.”

Maya noticed the inch of worry that nuanced his voice and wondered whether she could trust it or not. Four month during he deceived her, how could she know if he was telling the truth now? Her heard was heavy in her chest. She didn’t like that. Being forced to doubt, to be wary, not knowing who to believe and who to be careful with. Until now, everything had been so easy. She ever had but one rule in that matter: Trust everyone, except Hayami Masumi. And Onodera, but well, he never came to talk randomly to her, so she never had to worry. Now, she found herself wanting to believe in Masumi Hayami, and doubting Takumi Kirino, whom she felt so close to those last few months! Her life seemed to loose its balance. How bad she would have wanted to talk to her dear Tsukikage-Sensei right now!  

But she wasn’t here, and the only person who ever even slightly comforted her beside her professor was Mr Purple Rose. Well, it came up that he actually was Masumi Hayami, that man whom she sustained a so complicated relationship with, varying from hatred to friendship while going through those moments of strange complicity that moved her so much inside. Recalling this so successful improvisation, and remembering his so intense gaze when she got up on her feet, a burning electrical discharge made her shiver. An enjoyable feeling...only wasted by the bitterness she couldn’t get rid of. Why did he lie to her, all those years? Even though he knew, he always knew how badly she wanted to meet him! What did he felt then when, overwhelmed by thankfulness she threw herself into his arms, four years ago? Even though, in over six year, nothing. Nothing but flowers and card, and after that a lie even bigger. Why? 

            “Maya?” Behind her, a suave voice called her name. A voice her heard recognized before her mind.

Surprised, she turned round almost immediately and saw Hayami Masumi, standing before her, and trying to cover his gasping breathe with a pleasant smile. His eyes, however, reflected the sincere worry that made him run to her.

Maya looked away. She hoped that the darkness would hide her face striated with tears, but it was never night in Tokyo, especially in Shibuya and the light coming from the shops’ windows and the outsize advertising posters on the buildings offered to Masumi the distressing sight of her troubled face. Blushing with shame, Maya hadn’t the strength to help herself from crying, and even if she spared no effort to fight her sobs, the spasms in her voice gave her away when she managed to articulate:

            “Hayami-san...what are you doing here?”

Speaking his name was painful to her, more than any other word, she noticed it too late. She couldn’t even look at him in the eyes. Her anonymous admirer, her first fan, the confident of her dream! She was feeling so stupid and weak for having dreamed so much now.

            “Maya...are you okay? What’s going on?

As he was getting no answer, he tried to guess. He smiled, and said with an inch of humour.

            “Chibi-chan, is it your part that put you in a state like that? Too much emotion for you?

            “Yes, that’s it,” she answered without looking at him. “The emotion.”

Masumi was caught on the hop. He had hoped to provoke her to give her energy back, as always, but it hadn’t worked this time. He tried again.

            “This in not the kind of behaviour that would help you getting the Award, you know. And we can forget the part of the Crimson Goddess!”

He used his same cold laugh, which was received by a new tear on her cheek. The young woman was obviously trying not to cry in front of him, but apparently she couldn’t contain everything in her. It was graver than he thought. Trying not to panic, he stammered:

            “About later...you did a great job. And if I hurt you, I apologize...”

            “No. No I’m fine”

She wanted him gone. Gone before she could burst into tears, or screams. His presence by her side was unbearable: shame was filling her self with tears and electricity was making her blood boil. He knew everything about her, from the beginning. All this time, like her friend Rei told her, he took care of her, gave her everything. Scholarship tuition, Tsukikage-sensei’s hospital, the part of Helen Keller, and all those roses! Yet, four months ago, she decided to get rid of her, why? She would really like to know why he lied to her, but she was afraid of the answer she might get. Perhaps because she already knew it? That a man like him, so powerful, so wealthy, so influent, would never feel anything but pity for the poor orphan actress that she was. That was why he never told her who he was: there was simply no point.

            “You should go back inside, and talk to the journalists.”

            “No!”

She didn’t mean to shout. The memory of their performance had been too violent. She could clearly see, remember this moment when Shiori arrived and drag him away from her. His fiancée-to-be. She was beautiful, with slender features; any man would immediately fall in love with her. Her voice was smooth and the whiteness or her skin delicate. He certainly loved her. Wasn’t it four months since they started dating?

She finally raised her eyes to him, and met an unreadable gaze. He had come closer to her, and she had to raise her chin to meet his gaze. Shiori wouldn’t have to, she thought. Her pain of being betrayed switched to a complete other kind of sorrow. He introduced her to Kirino Takumi when he started dating Shiori. That’s why you abandoned me, Mr Purple Rose? She thought. To marry her?

That changed everything. If he left her to be faithful to the woman he fell in love with, how could she ever blame him? It was rather what one could expect of a honest an respectful man. That was what reason was telling her.

But she was angry with him! She was blaming him! Why, why hadn’t he ever told her anything? She was, neither pretty nor intelligent, she was aware of it, but she reckoned she had the right to know! To know who protected her during her entire adolescence, and helped her to become who she was now! To know who haunted her dreams and hopes!

Masumi was breathless. Something had awakened, inside Maya, and he hadn’t provoked it, at least not intentionally.  And it was not a good sign, because that thing she was seeing now was nothing like a childish anger or the internal struggle of a frustrated teenager. Her eyes were full of a deep sadness and anger, a sort of revulsion she had never addressed him before. The look itself was more wounding than all the insults she ever uttered to him. It cruelly pierced his self, reaching his very soul. Without reason, he was already feeling guilty. She was about to say something when the vibrations of her cell phone cut her surge. With an irritated move, she took the mobile in her hands and looked at the tactile screen with an unreadable look, without picking up.

            “You are not taking it?” He managed to ask.

The strange look she gave him surprised him even more.

            “Who is that?”

But Maya didn’t answer. She was still taken aback and bit her lower lip. Out of impatience, he grabbed the phone and glanced at the name that was displayed on the screen. Takumi Kirino. He swallowed painfully. The vibrations in this hands didn’t stop, Hijiri desperately wanted to speak to her. Sighing, he gave her the phone back and said.

            “You should answer that.”

Maya close her eyes a moment; her teeth still imprisoning her lower lip, an unconscious move that had the tendency to awaken some urges that made him step back. Finally, she pressed the key and raised the phone to her ear without opening her eyes.

            “Kirino-san? Yes, I’ve got your message. I am between the Shibuya’s Theatre and the subway station facing the 109 Tour. Thank you.”

She had said all this with a remarkable calmness, and Masumi suspected her of having used her talent for acting in order to stabilize her. It so it was, this would mean she would have made a big step forward to play with the big boys, he thought. She faced him again, trying to keep her look unemotional, but Masumi could discern her fought sadness which he still couldn’t tell the source. Her refusal to unburden your heart to him was alarming. He was feeling like she was escaping him, that was loosing her. And he had thought they were closer, because of their performance!

            “Kirino-san said he was coming to pick me up.”

This sentence was putting and end to their short conversation. Masumi was now feeling more frustrated than ever. He just saw her crying, in front of him, without knowing the reason, when ten minute sooner they were living an absolute symbiosis. And now here she was, closing herself like an oyster. He wanted to grab her shoulders and shake her until she spills her secret out, but he feared the sight of her crying. He cowardly ran away before Hijiri would come back and take her away from him.

***

Alone in the underground parking lot, Masumi lightened a cigarette, which would soon be siding the five other crashed on the ground. Maya’s face was floating before his eyes like a dram, and he wanted to consume his cigarettes until the nicotine would calm his veins and the smoke would cloud over this distressing sight. Why was she crying? Did Hijiri know? Was it something he did, something he said? He sighed. He was tired of carrying this load. He carried it for so many years. Why had he to make her cry each and every time things between them were starting to get better? Only this time, it was worse, he didn’t ever know if it was his fault! But what else could it be? Who else could make her mood go so radically wrong in just a minute?

            “Where were you?” A weak voice behind him asked.

He sighed. That was the last person he wanted to speak with right now.

            “Busy.”

Well, that at least was not too vague. He smirked. However the delicate creature didn’t let herself getting impressed and walker closer to him.

            “You know, you shouldn’t smoke...”

            “Are you really going to tell me what to do?!” He screamed.

This time, Shiori froze, shocked by the hard and angry tone. Tears came up to her fake eyelashes and Masumi almost immediately regretted his words: he already got his share of female tears for at least a week.

            “Masumi-sama... “She whispered affectedly 

He sighed. He was unfair to her; she had nothing to do with this.

            “I’m sorry.”

Having got what she wanted, she gathered herself and took advantage of this moment of weakness to tackle the subject of her concern.

            “This child is always in your mind.” She said almost accusatively.

Far from denial, he pulled on his cigarette once, and said: “Indeed she is. She is...very talented.”

It was the only confession he could authorize himself to make. He sighed again, his too loud and heavy sigh coming to Shiori’s ears. But he didn’t pay attention to her, a faraway look in his eyes, gazing at the wet marks of rust on a pillar. Was she with him now?

***

Hijiri was feeling that something was wrong. Since the very moment she got into he knew: she was hiding something from him. Of course, after a merely four month and one letter, he couldn’t possibly claim he knew all about her personality and attitudes, but some sign couldn’t lie neither. She wasn’t looking at him, she was speaking until she was spoken to, and she had this little way of knotting her fingers. That much clichés at once couldn’t possibly be a good sign. And she even refused to go to his place – his condo was on the beautiful Shibuya’s Koen Dori Street, meaning just five minutes away. So, during the fifteen minutes they were on the road, he racked his brain to find an explanation. The only believable conclusion he came up with was that Masumi Hayami found a way to upset her again. He thought of the pictures he saw of the Jane’s performance. The pictures were impressive indeed, but they were also showing a fight opposing Maya to Masumi, and giving the build of the two different protagonists, it was easy to imagine which one ended up with most bruises.

            “He’s been brutal with you.” He said. “I’m sincerely sorry he put you through this. Don’t take it personally; he was just being boorish, as always.”

That’s when Maya’s reaction caught him on the hop. She screamed “Boorish? He helped me!”

Intrigued by her reaction and her response as well, Hijiri allowed himself to tear his look away from the road one second to show her his interrogating eyes. “He did?” was all he got to make her speak again.

It wasn’t that surprising that Masumi would want to promote her in such an occasion. But that Maya would recognize that, that was less common. And he didn’t like that, in a way.

            “It was all planed! And this, in order to make good publicity on me!”

            “You mean...you knew that was going to happen?”

            “I wanted it to happen! And anyway, it was...fun.”

He saw the young woman’s eyes go darker without understanding why. He focused on the road. Anger slowly started to fill him up until he was completely overwhelmed. Hearing her qualifying what happened with Masumi ‘fun’ was irritating him and he clenched more firmly the wheel.

            “I thought you weren’t feeling well because of what he did to you!”

            “What do you imply by that?”

Didn’t really had a clue? How could she find this scene entertaining? In what kind of world was she living?

            “He hit you, he could have hurt you!” He cried. “Being lynched in front of a greedy audience: that is your idea of having fun?”

            “If he did hurt me, he didn’t mean to!”

            “Really? How can you be so sure of that?’ He screamed, aggravated to hear her defending him.

            “He wouldn’t do such things intentionally! He is not...”

            “Come on Maya, wake up!” He yelled. “He killed your mother!”

He immediately regretted those words. The conversation had tuned into a fight, though it wasn’t meant to be one. His anger vanished suddenly. He replayed the whole argument and got shocked by his own violence. No answers echoed his fury, and he couldn’t help but glancing at her. His heart failed to stop.

Maya was frozen on her seat, her wide opened eyes flowing a stream of tears on her pale cheeks. This wasn’t the fight; it was something else, something deeper. She wasn’t sobbing, she wasn’t moving, she wasn’t even blinking, but her eyes staring at the road weren’t going to stop crying. Worried, Hijiri pulled over and stop the car.

            “Maya?”

No reaction. The young lady was still frozen, her lashes motionless. Hijiri was feeling even guiltier. He didn’t like this sight. He had to do something.

            “Maya...I am so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Without saying a word, Maya started breathing in short gasps, as if she was afraid of something. Tears were still running along her cheeks, and wetting her pretty dress. Panicking, Hijiri put his hand on her shoulder and felt she was incredibly stiff. Seeing how she wasn’t reacting, he shook her a little.

            “Maya? Maya, say something!”

Her breath came in shorter and louder gasps. Her hand reached her chest, as if something was hampering there, and she panicked. Hijiri finally got what was going on, and unfastening their car belt he said.

            “Listen to me; that is what we are going to do: you are going to put your head between you knees. Come on, Maya, go ahead. I’ll help you.”

Slowly, he pushed her neck while she was doing it. As she was still suffocating, he caressed her back, whispering: “That’s it Maya, you are doing great. Now breathe. Breathe.”

It took several minutes for Maya to calm down. Saddened, Hijiri poured out apologizes and restarted the car after a moment. They spoke no more during the rest of the route. Maya was curled up on her seat, her head leaning on the window. She wasn’t crying any more.

***

The journalists left the reception room at last to go write their articles, and Yuu Sakurakoji was now alone. He scanned the room, looking for Maya, vainly hoping she would came back, but she was still gone. He sighed. He noticed that he wasn’t the only alone person in the room, and it wasn’t like Ayumi to be a wallflower. Yet, she was smiling peacefully. He came closer to her, intrigued, and started the conversation.

            “What did you think of the show?”

She glanced smartly at him and smiled, saying: “Which one?”

“Both.” He answered, smiling back at her.

            “Well, I’d say Isadora was admirable, if we only consider the technique, but the acting was a bit shallow to be. But about Maya’s performance...” Her eyes had a faraway gaze as she remembered the incident. She grinned. “Well, it was surprising, as always. She completely fulfil me expectations.”

Yuu laughed and shared a look of complicity with the young lady. After a moment, he tackled the subject of his concern.

            “There is, however, someone who did something unexpected: the Vice-President Hayami.”

Ayumi gave him a surprised look. “Unexpected?”

Yuu, who thought he wasn’t being understood, explained himself “Indeed. Who would imagine that someone like him would ever help an actress the way he did.”

“She is not just any actress!”

“Of course, I know that: she is wonderful. But I meant: who ever saw him do anything...for anyone’s sake?! Even for you, he would never have done that!”

Ayumi laughed cheerfully and looked deep into his eyes.

            “I think you misunderstood me...what I meant was that Maya wasn’t just any actress to him.”

***

In the underground parking lot, Masumi Hayami was still smoking, without paying any attention to Shiori. If he had done so, he would certainly have noticed the clenched fists of her bride, as well as the expression of deep hatred that disfiguring her pretty face.

Kitajima Maya...