The cozy, wood-dressed interior of Café Alps always manages to remind Kazuma Kiryu of someone. Even now, in 2006, the rich, bitter scent of black espresso reminds him of Kazama-san, who so rarely had chances to savour his cups. Other days, it's Reina he remembers—he still knows the number of steps between the café’s door and the fire escape up to where her bar had been.
When rain patters on the window, he thinks of Daigo; when sunlight filters through the whole café, he thinks of Haruka. The flowers they sometimes place on the table—alternately sprigs of red, white and purple—remind him of Yumi, Kaoru, Yuki... all women who've been dear to him for one reason or another, and all weighing on his memory.
Even simply walking by is enough to evoke memories of when he was younger, bolder and more stupid—some days, he remembers the simplicity of buying cakes and singing karaoke with Nishiki before everything happened between them.
This time, he's just standing to leave when another memory walks through the door.
Makimura Makoto recognises Kiryu immediately, darting to his side and clasping his hand. “Kiryu-san! It’s you, isn’t it?” She dips her head, loosening her grip but keeping his fingers loosely between her palms as she continues, “I'm lucky to see you today. Do you have time? Let me buy you a drink.”
“You're looking well, Makoto-san.” Kiryu offers by way of reply, neither accepting nor rejecting her offer but letting her lead him back towards a table nonetheless. She settles in the chair opposite him and orders lemon tea; Kiryu orders plain black coffee.
They sit in silence up until their drinks arrive. When they do, Makoto holds the ceramic cup in her fingers like it's something precious and smiles into the swirls of steam, repeating herself. “I'm lucky to have run into you. I'm not usually in Kamurocho.”
“You said that before.” Kiryu nods, leaning forward. “What do you mean?”
“I'll be leaving Japan soon.” Makoto says it without hesitation, the smile on her face unwavering. “My husband's received a job in America and we, our daughter and me, we're going with him. I've been…” She falters, then tightens her grip on her cup. “I've been trying to make sure I don't have any regrets when we leave. I'm not sure we'll ever come back.”
Kiryu sips his coffee, thoughtful. Really, he can't blame Makimura for leaving the country without looking back; it isn't as though she has any family left here, and he remembers several of the cruelties Japan has levied against her while she’s lived here. Still, he studies her over the rim of his cup; he thinks he can hear something she isn't saying. Even though she looks far better than the last time he’d seen her—almost twenty years ago now—he sees a persistent kind of sadness within her.
The smile twisting her lips doesn't reach her eyes when she speaks next. “I'm glad to get the chance to thank you one last time, at least.” She bows her head low, almost to the surface of the table. When she straightens again, she pushes her hair back over her ear and gazes into middle distance past her abandoned, half-empty cup. “Now I'm almost free to go. If only I could find him…”
She starts to rise to her feet, clutching the strap of her purse to her chest. Kiryu grabs his jacket from the back of his chair and follows her at pace, asking, “Who?”
“Oh, it's…” Makoto shakes her head, glancing down at the watch on her wrist, “It was around the time I met you, Kiryu-san, when all those terrible things were happening. He did so much for me when I was in Sotenbori and I would never have even made it as far as meeting you without him. He saved me from so many people and he never thought about himself.” She stands still now, apparently lost in thought as she traces circles around the face of her watch with one finger. “I only saw him once. My eyes were starting to heal, so it was all blurry, but I’ve never forgotten how one side of his face seemed darker than the other, like he was wearing sunglasses over just one eye. The last thing he did for me was return this watch. I’ve never forgotten him.”
Something in the way she says it makes Kiryu think she’s never stopped thinking about him, either. Sotenbori, huh? And one shadowed eye, like wearing half a pair of sunglasses… or an eyepatch.
Makoto sighs and meets his gaze again, summoning up that stern smile from before as she takes the last few steps out of the café. “But I guess it's too much to expect to run into him, too. I just never got to thank him properly.”
Once outside, Kiryu pulls a cigarette from his pocket, sliding it between his lips and lighting it. As he exhales, he asks, “When are you leaving?”
He watches her consider the question before she replies. “In six days. We're staying with my husband's family in Meguro for now. Our house has been sold and all our belongings are already on their way in a ship. My daughter keeps complaining about the smell in Jii-san’s house. I hope she travels well.”
Kiryu wonders if there are more things she hopes for her daughter—things like America being safer for her than Japan had been for a young Makoto who came searching for her older brother. He wonders if there's something he can do to lift the weight from her shoulders... it’s a long shot, but he wonders if he knows who she's talking about. There’s one particular person who might fit the bill. If nothing else, he can understand wanting to move forward without regrets.
With a roll of one shoulder, he suggests, “Meet me back here the day before you leave.” He checks his own watch before clarifying. “At 3:00?”
Makoto looks at her own, then smiles, tugging her coat sleeve down over it. When she meets his eyes, she looks like she wants to ask him why, but she simply nods. “I will. Next week, Kiryu-san.”
“I thought I'd find you here.” Kiryu mutters as he finally reaches the top of the surveyor’s building. Behind and beneath him, workers troop back and forth across the Kamurocho Hills building site, cacophonous shouting the only sound other than big diesel engines and clanking metal. Another evening in full swing at Majima Construction.
Hardhat askew, Majima whirls around and greets him with a flash of teeth that could cut leather. “Kiryu-chan! To what do I owe this honour?”
“I need a favour.” Kiryu says it immediately and Majima responds just as he expects, by skeetling about with intrigued energy and slinging an arm over his shoulder, making an animated gesture.
“Reckon I might owe you one of those. What is it?”
Kiryu takes out his pack of smokes, offering one to Majima before sliding his own from the box. Majima accepts his light without hesitation, and after they’re both lit up, Kiryu takes a moment to savour the quiet camaraderie of sharing cigarettes as the day starts shifting into twilight. After he exhales, he speaks carefully, “I need to find a guy.”
Majima raises a brow. “Don’t you know all the guys you need to find guys?”
“This guy’s not in my neighbourhood.” Kiryu shakes his head, gazing out as darkness slowly tumbles into the tangled streets of Kamurocho. “He’s probably from Osaka. Sotenbori, most likely.”
The bright red and yellow lights of nightlife all wink on together. Kiryu remembers when they used to flick on one by one, like each business owner had to remember the change from day to night; Kiryu remembers when the whole district went dark beneath the wave of one man’s hand. He supposes Makoto’s true reason for visiting Kamurocho was paying her respects at what passes for Tachibana’s grave. He’d heard that she’d had him laid to rest within the neighbourhood that had been so key in his search to find her.
Majima’s expression is taut in the glow of distant lights, and he flicks his half-finished cigarette out of his hands, watching the little spark plummet down towards the ground. “I don’t got nothing to do with those guys anymore.”
“He’s an old guy. A good guy. From back before I went to prison. Around 1988.” Kiryu watches for any reaction on Majima’s part, but the gloam surrounds them, and soon he can barely make out the bold yellow ridge of Majima’s hardhat.
“Whatcha need him for, Kiryu-chan?” Majima eventually asks; Kiryu’s grateful that it sounds like he hasn’t moved.
“I ran into an old friend from those days.” He knows what he wants to say here, and does so carefully, but without hesitation. “Someone I helped keep safe from Tojo. She’s leaving Japan soon and wants to tie up her loose ends. She’s got something she wants to say. Says she never got a chance back then.”
There’s a breath of silence before Majima’s laughter crackles through the night air. “Good thing it’s you, Kiryu-chan, because that sounds like the worst set up I ever heard.”
Kiryu lets out a chuckle in response, hanging his head a little and shrugging his shoulders. “So you think you know him or what?”
This time, the shadows go so quiet that Kiryu starts to wonder if Majima’s somehow become a part of them. Then there’s a flash in the dark, and he sees Majima’s eyepatch illuminated by the single flame lighting a new cigarette between his lips. “Nah. Don’t think I do. Didn’t know many good guys back then.”
“Ah.” Kiryu gets the feeling that Majima’s implying something about him with that phrase, but he doesn’t question it. He stubs out his cigarette on the railing, looking past the slices of building cutting out parts of the night sky. The overcast day has given over fully into overcast night, with just the street signs of Kamurocho glowing like embers. “Thanks anyway, Majima-san.”
There’s the sound of rustling fabric and Kiryu feels sure that Majima’s shrugged. With nothing else to say, he starts back towards the stairs leading towards the ground. He doesn’t get more than four steps down before he hears Majima speak again.
“Say, Kiryu.” Majima exhales a long, slow stream of smoke. “When did you say you were meeting her?”
Waiting for Makoto outside Café Alps proves more fraught than Kiryu had thought it would be. He’s sure he gave Majima the right day and time—if Majima had been interested enough in confirming it, why wasn’t he here? Kiryu wonders if he’d ever intended to come at all...
Maybe he was wrong about all of this.
It’s Makoto’s voice. Kiryu turns to greet her with a wave as she hurries through the crowd, looking brighter and more hopeful than the last time he’d seen her. His gut turns with guilt as he realises he’ll have to let her down, but he resolves to be as kind as he can about it.
“Makoto-san. Thanks for meeting me again.”
She shakes her head. “Nearly everything is ready now, so I don’t have anything to do at home. I’ve been practicing English with my daughter’s books.”
“You’re good at languages.” Kiryu confirms, remembering how she’d once told him that she studied Japanese so hard she nearly forgot her native Chinese. He gives the street one more look up and down before turning to lead her inside.
He almost stops in the middle of the entrance when he sees an unmistakable snakeskin jacket. Majima’s already sitting in a chair in the corner, facing away from the rest of the café and drumming his fingers lightly on the table. Kiryu continues like he hasn’t seen anything, but carefully makes sure to choose the table nearest Majima’s and pull out a chair for Makoto so she’ll be facing away from him. He adopts the chair opposite her and orders a black coffee, like last time, while Makoto requests a milk tea. When it arrives, she gives a faint smile and confides, “I’ve been trying to get used to tea like this. I don’t think it will be as nice overseas.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t find who you were looking for.” Kiryu says it directly, carefully watching her expression as he adds, “I thought I might know someone who could help you.”
Makoto shakes her head, laughing into her tea, “I’m a little bit glad. I’m not sure what I’d say to him after all these years. I don’t know if he’d even remember me.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Ah, I guess what we went through together was pretty unforgettable.” Makoto concedes, sipping her tea. “Maybe I just feel like I’m so grateful to him that it’s easier to imagine he’s forgotten me than it is to think about never getting to tell him how I feel. Maybe it would be easier for him if I was just some stranger he protected for a little while.”
Kiryu itches for a cigarette, but knows it’s not the right time. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Majima’s fingers have stopped moving. In fact, he’s gone so still he looks like a statue. Kiryu brings his attention back to the conversation at hand. “A lot of people don’t protect strangers at all.”
Makoto goes still for a moment, then smiles at him as her cheeks colour faintly. “I guess you’re right. Maybe it’s alright to imagine that I mattered to him. You know, Kiryu-san…” She looks away, around Café Alps, as though she’ll see the man walk through the door. Her eyes flick past Majima without so much as pausing. “In a lot of ways, I wanted to stay with him. I couldn’t see, but I felt safe when I knew he was by my side. He felt… more dangerous than you, in some ways, but just as safe, too. I knew if I stuck with him, he would die before letting anything happen to me. At the lowest point in my life… he pulled me back from the darkness and made me grateful to be alive. I’ve always wanted to be able to thank him for giving me that feeling, even if I was wrong.”
Kiryu murmurs a noise of agreement, draining his cup. There’s an immense pressure and silence around them—he feels like the whole café has shrunk to the space between their two tables.
Makoto continues to speak, bravely, even as he sees the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. “If he hadn’t… done everything he did for me, I wouldn’t have the life I have now. I wouldn’t be able to see. I wouldn’t have my husband, or my daughter. And I think… I’d be a much angrier person. He saved me in so many ways, and I don’t even know his name. It’s horrible to think he’ll never know how grateful I am.”
The scrape of a chair at the next table breaks through the intimacy of the moment. “Hey.” In a loose, fluid motion, Majima leans over the table, ostensibly on his way to the door. He keeps his gaze on the table, eyepatch angled away from Makoto’s sight, and speaks down to the back of his hand. “Pretty sure he probably knows. Lady like you, with feelings that strong? Probably got across to him somehow.”
He taps his fingers then saunters on his way with a wave as Makoto stares, with her mouth slightly open. He doesn’t look back. Kiryu reaches forward to indicate a little box, newly left on the table, with a murmur, “He left something.”
Makoto stays frozen for a moment, watching until Majima’s well and truly vanished into the crowd beyond the café. Then she turns back to the table and pulls the box in front of her, opening it. When she does, a pair of tears slide down her cheeks
“What is it?” Kiryu asks, hoping his tone is gentle enough.
“A band for my watch.” Makoto shows him the burnished timepiece on her wrist, fixed to a powder blue band. “It’s just like the one I used to have. I always liked the original colour more.”
“Ah.” Kiryu says again, feeling less and less like he has anything to add. He can’t help but be surprised that Majima had brought something for Makoto without even knowing for sure that it was her. To think Majima had wanted it to be her enough to purchase a watch band just like the one he’d originally given her… He feels like he’s witnessed something he won’t forget anytime soon.
Once outside, Kiryu brings that long-awaited cigarette up to his mouth and finally figures out what he wants to say. “Makoto-san. Do you have any regrets now?”
Her fingers clenched tightly around the box Majima had left for her and her eyes free of tears, Makoto shakes her head firmly. “Nope. None at all, Kiryu-san.”
For some reason, to Kiryu, it sounds like ‘thank you’.