Subject: Noughts and Crosses
From: James Walker
To: Hana Walker
Date: 8th April, 2008
You should never start an email with “sorry” but, well, I’m sorry I haven’t seen so much of you just lately. I know you are fending for yourself and you shouldn’t have to so soon after your mother’s illness. Your mother deserved so much more attention from me, I know, especially once she started to get sick. She never complained. She was indestructible, unstoppable. Well, we know that wasn’t true. But there are things you can’t understand yet about the world and what men and women do in it. I can’t explain to you. You have to discover them for yourself.
I’m working on a story. Yeah, I’m always working on a story, I know, but this one is the big one. It’s something that I’ve worked my career toward. It’s something that your mother would be proud of. You always used to ask “Do you love me or love your job?” I hope you realise one day that telling people’s stories—it’s what I do. It’s not always what I want to do, but it is just something that I have to do. I’m doing this because I love you. And your mother. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Sometimes I can’t explain, even if that’s my job.
Did your mother ever tell you how we ended up in Abiko? Do you want to know the real reason? This is off the record, but you have a right to know. It was nothing to do with the price of land or commuting distance to Tokyo or your junior high school or any of those inconsequential things that we tell people. It was destiny. At least, that’s what your mother believed. And when she got a belief in her head, there was no shaking it. This kid with piercing eyes was sitting outside Kita-Shinjuku station near the one-room apartment we were renting, just before you were born. As soon as he saw us, he beckoned us over and started drawing noughts and crosses.
I said: “Keiko, he’s just a kid looking to fleece the punters,” but your mother would have none of it. She sat down and he told us to ask him one question about the future. Your mother asked “Where should we bring up our child?” He was silent. I gave him a hint: “Tokyo?” He closed his eyes and drew a small cross. He shook his head. “London?” A large cross. No. “Hokkaido?” Three small crosses. “Chiba Prefecture?” asked your mother. This got a small circle and a nod of the head.
Then it became a game of narrowing down the cities. Kashiwa? Cross. Kimitsu? Funabashi? These got big crosses. Your mother went through every town she could think of. Finally, from the dredges of her memory, she pulled out a plum: Abiko. Big circles. He kept drawing them, even with his eyes open now.
He put his hands on your mother’s belly and looked straight into her eyes: “Your daughter will be a great woman. You must bring her up in Abiko. She will build a bridge between two worlds.” “She? It’s a girl?” I said. “Of course,” the kid said, “She will do great things. Very great things.” So believe in yourself, OK?
Anyway, this long and winding email is to say that I have a few difficult things to do now for this story. It could make me a very unpopular chap (even more unpopular than I am right now with you). Sometimes people don’t like to hear the truth, even if they must.
Should anything happen to me, know one thing: I will always love you, will always be proud of you, no matter what you do in life. As long as you are true to yourself, nothing else matters. When this is all over, you and I will be able to move on. If things go badly, there is one person you can trust. Kentaro Yamanaka. He is the priest who married your mother and me. You know the place. You should always watch out for religious types, but I make an exception in his case. You can trust him with your life, Hana. He is a good man, when he’s not on the Premium Malts.
Right, must be off. Got a train to catch, and I have to run this story about Teganuma past the Community Page editor at the Japan Times. Then the story will be out there in public. Wish me luck. You never know, it might turn into a best-seller and then your college bills will be paid. I’ll be home by 8 p.m. Let’s do a burger or something. Or natto if you insist.
All my love,
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.