“Emi-chan’s not here. I’m her mother. Who are you?”
“My name’s Hana.”
The door slammed shut, but inside the chain rattled and a hand pushed the door open. I stepped into the shack.
Emi’s Mama stumbled inside and sat with her legs under the heated kotatsu table in front of the TV. The TV was the only light. Wood-veneer linoleum marked the area where the entrance hall should be. I slipped off my geta and followed her through into an eight-mat living room that was the house. My eyes stung from cigarette smoke. The TV showed images from a helicopter covering some kind of car chase along the coast.
She reached under the table and brought out a packet of thin Pianisimo cigarettes. Menthols. She lit one up and noticed my eyes squint.
“You think I should quit, right? Because these things,” she said, taking a deep drag, “are supposed to be dangerous.” She stared at the TV as she spat out the smoke.
I didn’t want to talk about cigarettes. I didn’t want to talk about anything, but I had to know something.
“Why’d you kidnap Emi?”
“Why did you take Emi from her father. Isn’t that kidnapping?”
Now she turned her attention fully toward me. Her tone was icy. “Did he send you?”
She looked over my shoulder. Her eyes darted around the room. She was a thin woman in her late 30s. She was barefoot, and lowered her face when her eyes met mine. Her eyes were puffy. She looked like the Abiko city bird, the black coot, with spindly, inward-pointing feet.
“Is he here? Did you bring him here? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like I’m some specimen to be dissected. I’ve been judged by far worse than the likes of you. Emi’s father for example. Did he send you?”
I was silent, wasn’t sure what I should say. But I nodded. She brought out a glass and a bottle of sake from under the table. It was half empty.
“I’ve been waiting for the moment he would try. So he chooses this of all days. And sends a hafu to do his bidding. It makes sense. Has he done his honest cowboy routine?”
“I don’t know…”
“You know what? He’s too late. He’s way too late. You tell him he can hurt me all he wants, but he’s too late. It’s over for me and it’s over for Emi.”
“I don’t know what you mean. He’s not here. I’m not sure where he is since the earthquake. I’m not sure of anything, except I’m here to help Emi. Right now nothing else makes sense. But I don’t really know anything about her.
“All you needed to know about my daughter was her blood type, type O.”
I looked at her blankly.
“O means a generous and natural leader, who can get on with anyone. She could take anyone’s blood.”
“I don’t know about blood. But is Mr. Blackmore a bad man? Did he deserve to lose his daughter? Did she deserve to lose him?”
“How much you think you know about life for one so young. Did your mother not love you enough that you have to spit venom at someone like me?”
“I don’t know. She died when I was Emi’s age.”
We both stopped talking. On the TV a little tin car was speeding along a country road through rice paddies, being chased by a wall of water.
“You’re blood type B, aren’t you? Outgoing. Not worried about the future, but moody. And you don’t listen. A fun person to know, but not someone to trust.”
“I don’t know my type.”
The water swallowed the little car on TV. Emi’s Mama winced, then looked me straight in the eye for the first time. Her hand went limp and she dropped the cigarette to the tatami. She scooped it off the mat, rubbing at the embers with her bare hand. Then she kept stubbing the cigarette in the overflowing ashtray beside her.
“I know your type. I’m not the sharpest pair of chopsticks, but I know blood. I’m good with details. I’m meticulous. I hate to make mistakes. I’m tidy. But…but sometimes I make mistakes. Big ones. Like marrying an A/B blood type. They are the worst. Stuck between two worlds, they get the worst of both. Forever fussing about details, but they’re moody and never listen to others. That was my husband.”
“He seems pretty harmless to me.”
She lit another cigarette, and leaned in close to me.
“He’s many things. But not harmless.”
Her hands were not steady or meticulous. She just sat, staring at the TV screen. Then she dropped her voice to the floor.
“He’s a Mormon.”
She leaned back and folded her arms.
“I don’t get it.”
“You know, love thy neighbour and thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife and all that. Only what it says in the Bible and what people really do behind closed doors are two different things. You are too young to understand, but let me give you some advice: things are not always what they seem.”
She lunged forward and held my wrist tightly with her right hand.
“You’ve seen those clean-cut American boys about your age riding round on mountain bikes in pairs? They are not here to teach you English or give you a taste of a better life, some kind of fairy-tale happy ending. They want your body, they want your soul. But even that’s not enough for them. They’ll take your daughter’s too.”
I pulled my arm out from her grip. “I don’t get it.”
“I didn’t kidnap my own daughter. I’m her mother. She wasn’t safe in America. It wasn’t safe to be around Joseph. When he gets angry, he loses all control… And he had plans for Emi-chan, marriage plans. But Emi-chan was just 14. She didn’t have time to start her own life. I couldn’t leave her there. I couldn’t leave her here. I knew he would find me eventually, so I sent her up to my mother’s in Ishinomaki to be safe. Hah. Safe? I thought Japan was a safe country.
“But I was wrong about her being safe. Stupid, stupid. Look at the TV. That’s Ishinomaki. The tsunami hit an hour after the earthquake. She was at school. Minato Junior High School. Everyone is gone. Everything.”
“What about Emi?”
She stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray, spilling stubs out onto the floor. Then she rubbed her eyes like you do when you have sand in them.
“They read her name out on TV. A list of the dead.”
Her eyes flickered open and shut. Open and shut.
“If you truly care about Emi-chan then take my car and that cowboy bastard with you. Show him my daughter’s body. Show him what his God has done.”
Then her head slumped on her chest. She was snoring.
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.