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A Toss Of The Dice

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I’m an adult, now. I know that I’m supposed to be mature enough to accept that people won’t always see me the way I want to be seen. If I’m being honest, though, it still hurts. I want people to see me as someone strong, and smart. Instead, they see me as a child. They can’t take me seriously.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I love my family and friends. I have a lot of people in my life who care about me, and would do anything to protect me. Every time I think of them, I feel guilty for complaining. They’ve given me everything. I would be nothing without their kindness.

Still, I wish that they could understand how I feel. I feel frustrated with the way they look at me, the way they react to what I say and do, and the reasons they have for protecting me. I’m not a kid anymore, but they treat me like one. I want them to understand that I’ve grown up, that I can handle being a mother, and that I’m not going to break under the pressure of living alongside the yakuza.

Ever since ojisan passed away, they look at me with pity. It’s like they’ve forgotten that I I watched my birth parents die a decade ago.

Sometimes, I wonder if they’ll look at Haruto with the same pity if he ever loses his dad; but, I know in my heart that they won’t. They’ll expect him to be strong. They’ll tell him not to join the yakuza, but they won’t stop him if he tries, because he gets to make the same choice his father made.

They won’t give me that same choice. I’ve accepted that, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I know ojisan wouldn’t want me to join the yakuza, and I understand why, but it shouldn’t be up to him. I trust his judgment more than anyone else’s, but he was able to make his own mistakes in life. I deserve to make mine.

Sometimes people believe that I’ve already made enough mistakes. I’m young, but I look even younger. When they see me, they see a teen mom, a high school dropout, an innocent girl who’s been corrupted by the yakuza. On the off chance that they remember me as an idol, they shake their heads and say, “The famous ones always turn out that way. How sad.”

But, I’m not sad. I don’t regret being raised by ojisan, I don’t regret loving Yuta, and I don’t regret having Haruto. I’m happy I made the choices I made in life, and I want to keep making them, whether they lead me down difficult paths or not.

I’m happy I chose to leave Okinawa. I stayed because I love my siblings, but I also stayed because I felt indebted to ojisan. I felt like he sacrificed so much for me that I needed to make an equal sacrifice, and I purposely held myself back from following my own path in life.

When ojisan went to prison, I realized that I had been holding myself back out of fear, not love. I watched Park-san suffer and struggle with her life choices before she died, and I was afraid I would end up like her. I didn’t want to hurt, or feel lonely, or lose my family to my career. Back then, I was too young to realize that chasing one dream didn’t mean I had to abandon another.

When I took over ojisan’s duties, my dream became starting a family of my own. Not just a family, but a whole life to call my own, rather than a life that was chosen for me.

Living at Asagao, I knew I would always be putting my siblings before me, and I knew that they would always put me first, too. I needed to show them that when the time comes, they can follow their own path in life, and leave home. I didn’t want them to depend on me forever, and believe that they needed to follow in my footsteps. More than anything, I wanted to grow up. We all have to grow up eventually, don’t we?

I knew ojisan wouldn’t want me to go. I try to honor his wishes every day, even now that he’s gone, but that was one wish I couldn’t honor. I needed to think and act for myself, like he always did. He didn’t do what he was expected to, or take the shortest path to his goals. He followed his principles, and his heart, wherever they took him. So, I followed mine.

Mine took me to Hiroshima, and led me to Yuta. I saw the kind of person he was, faults and all, and knew that I had met someone I would never want to leave. I knew we could build a life together. I decided that we should walk the same path, wherever it took us.

Some people might call me stubborn for staying with him despite his lifestyle, but it’s not that I’m stubborn. I just see what I want very clearly. I’ve had to see a lot of things that I didn’t want to see in my life, horrible things. So, when I saw Yuta, and saw how much he loved me, I wanted to keep him close.

I knew Yuta was good for so many reasons. From what he told me about the time he spent with my ojisan, he knew Yuta was a good person, too. He’s a terrible liar, good-natured, and always trying to look tougher than he really is. I felt like I’d known him my whole life after just one conversation.

I knew in my heart that it would be naive to believe we were soulmates, but I couldn’t describe it any other way. I knew that I was too young to know who I wanted to be with forever, but I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else.

I chose to be with him, even though he was yakuza. I chose to have his child, even though he’ll grow up surrounded by yakuza. I grew up surrounded by yakuza, too.

I don’t feel sad about that, though. It wasn’t a mistake. It was my choice. Haruto is so precious to me, and when I look at him, all I feel is joy. Yuta feels the same. Yakuza or not, we’re a family, and we love each other.

If there is one thing I regret, it isn’t any of the things people think I regret when they see me walking down the street, or when they come to visit me. They might not believe it, or might laugh, if I ever told them my one true regret: I regret never trying to join the yakuza myself.

The first time I considered it, I was just a kid. I was ten, and my ojisan was the first person I really looked up to, even though he had chosen to walk the extreme path.

I loved my mom, but I worried about her more than I ever looked up to her. I never loved my dad. The closest thing I had to a family were the other kids at the orphanage, and they were suffering as much as I was. I felt helpless there, and I wanted to escape.

When I finally did, I stumbled right into the criminal underworld, like so many orphaned girls do. Sometimes, I can’t believe I survived. If it weren’t for ojisan, maybe I would have been stolen, kept, sold… but, I wasn’t. He saved me. He was yakuza, but he saved me.

I know the yakuza as a whole didn’t save me, because they were the ones who hurt me to begin with. I know that. But their principles, the ones that ojisan followed, were the first principles I really admired. They seemed fair. I believed that the bad yakuza had been led astray, and that ojisan followed their true path.

The world made so little sense to me before that. The yakuza made sense of it, gave it rules. I thought, at that time, that ojisan would take over their ranks like a hero in a samurai legend, and make them good and honorable again. When he decided to leave them, I was confused. I didn’t understand why he would give up the chance to save more people, and to change the world he lived in for so long.

I wish I could remember what he told me when I asked him why he left. I know I asked him about it over and over when we first moved into our apartment in Tokyo, and I know that he tried to explain it to me as best he could. All I remember, though, is the time that he finally snapped at me. He told me to stop asking him about things I couldn’t understand, and then, he hit me.

As wrong as it was, and as much as it scared me at the time, I realize now that he was trying his best. There was no excuse for losing his temper, but when ojisan did something wrong, he admitted it. He apologized to me right away, and did all the household chores for a week. I was able to forgive him, because he held himself responsible for his actions.

Ojisan had left the yakuza, but I still saw him as yakuza because of his principles. That was how he had learned to be who he was, I thought. I wanted to become like him, too. I wanted to be someone who could be strong, bold, respectful, and responsible. I wanted to be stern, and independent. Some small part of me wanted to be powerful, too. I wanted people to look at me the way they looked at ojisan when he walked down the street.

I quickly realized that no one would ever look at me that way. I told a boy in my class that I was going to get an irezumi someday, become gokudou, and start a Family. He laughed. The girls seemed afraid of me after that, even though I was always friendly and smiling. The boys started to make fun of me. A teacher eventually called ojisan.

He looked so angry when I came home from school that day, and told me that he knew what I had said to the boys. I tried to argue that I was smart enough not to mention how I knew about the yakuza, because I knew that he needed to keep his past a secret. What I didn’t understand was that I was a little girl, telling people I wanted to grow up to join a criminal organization for men.

If I had been a boy, I probably would have been punished, and the teachers probably would have kept a stern eye on me, believing I would cause trouble. Instead, they just thought I was strange, and began to ignore me. I tried to be extra polite and well-behaved from then on, but they had already decided I wasn’t worthy of praise. A girl who wants a tattoo, and wants to be a thug, doesn’t deserve to be paid any mind.

That was the first time I felt hurt that people didn’t take me seriously. It wasn’t that I wanted them to believe I intended to join the yakuza. It was that I wanted them to believe that I could.

When we first moved to Ryukyu, I didn’t think about the yakuza much. That must have been ojisan’s intent. He wanted us to live somewhere far away from the Tojo Clan, so that I would forget about the life he had led.

We became close with the Ryudo Family, but they weren’t really yakuza, not in the big city sense. Rikiya and Mikio were too soft to stand a chance against even the lowest ranking members of the Tojo Clan.

They were bigger and stronger than I was, though. If they didn’t match up to the Tojo Clan, then how could I ever hope to? I realized it would be silly to dream of following that path in life, and decided to be happy with what I had: my new siblings, my ojisan, and a safe place to call home.

When Taichi decided he wanted to be a wrestler, I was happy to support him. Looking back, I suppose I wanted to live vicariously through him. Even when he struggled, no one would tell him to quit fighting, and no one went easy on him just because he was weak. Even when he had an asthma attack, everyone was sympathetic and encouraging, and they allowed him to grow stronger.

If it had been me, I’m sure they would have told me it was time to give up, and to stop being silly. They would have told me I could do better things with my life, but what they would have meant was that they would never accept me if I wanted to be good at that particular thing.

Taichi loved my cooking, so I tried to teach him and the boys how to cook, too. The other girls made fun of them, and told them that boys were bad at cooking, until they believed it, and gave up. I felt bad for them. I knew what it was like to want to do more than people believed you could.

The more this went on, the more I felt I had been wronged. I felt like my life had been forced on me. I could never say it out loud, because it would hurt everyone’s feelings, but I felt so alone all the time. I felt older than I was, and started to feel afraid that I had missed out on being a kid. I spent my time acting like a mother to my siblings, learning how to be a good role model to them. Ojisan held me to higher standards, because I was the oldest. Deep down, I wished that I could be free.

I started listening to idol groups around that time. I had never known my mom well enough to look up to her, so I looked up to idols instead.

My favorite singer had a kind face, a strong voice, and the heart and soul of the woman I wanted to grow up to be. She looked so happy, and I wanted to be happy, too. The more I listened to her, and the more I tried to be like her, the more I realized that singing and dancing were my calling.

Dancing and singing from the heart felt the way I always imagined fighting would feel. It was hard work, but satisfying. I realized that I could be strong without hurting people. By singing and dancing, I could bring people happiness. I could give people hope, and help them live better lives, family and strangers alike.

When a talent agency announced that they were holding auditions in town, I told ojisan my dream. I told him I knew that I would fail the audition, but I had to try anyway, because my dream depended on it. I must have sounded a bit silly, thinking I had to convince him, when he had been planning to take me all along.

The day of the audition, Nakahara gave us a ride into town. I remember being worried that my outfit would get dirty, even though it was plain. I wanted to look like a professional, even though I wasn’t one. I was worried there would be other girls in beautiful costumes competing against me, and that I wouldn’t be worth a second glance.

My worst fears came true. Most of the girls at the audition had mothers, who knew how to do their hair, help them put on makeup, and choose trendy clothing. When I saw them, I was terrified. I felt the same way I felt when people didn’t believe I could be yakuza. The mothers all looked at me, and my ojisan, like I didn’t belong there.

Ojisan only ever looked at me like I was a real idol, though. I’m so grateful for that, even now. If he hadn’t believed in me, then I would never have tried as hard as I did to follow the path that led to me to Dyna Chair and the Princess League.

I didn’t know Park-san at the time, and I hardly remember her watching me perform my routine. I focused hard on the song, and pretended I was on stage, surrounded by fans. When I stumbled, I went on smiling, even though I was sure I had failed. I thought that if I had already failed, then at least there was no pressure to make the rest of my routine perfect. I could finish it just for the fun of it.

Afterward, I remember Park-san telling me that it was my attitude that made me stand out. I took her criticism well, and I never stopped smiling, even after making a mistake. I wasn’t the best singer or dancer, and I didn’t have the look - but I showed that I was ready to work for my success. The other girls might find success with other agencies, she said, but I was the right candidate for hers.

I realize, now, that she saw something of herself in me, which makes me feel a bit sad. Park-san was a good person. She thought she could give me the career she never had. Maybe she thought she could save me from a life that involved the yakuza, too.

When she told me I would have to move to Osaka, and leave my ojisan, to follow my dream, I was shocked. I hadn’t thought that I would even pass the audition, much less leave my family behind on short notice. I was mad at her, and I felt hurt that ojisan wanted me to go, at first. I thought he was trying to abandon me, and that he didn’t understand how much I cared about my family. I would never have chosen to leave Okinawa for my dream. So, he chose for me.

As an adult with a child, I finally understand why he made that choice. He wasn’t trying to abandon me. He was trying to push me to find my own happiness in life. He wanted me to understand that I mattered, and that my dream mattered, just as much as my family. He wanted me to understand that I mattered more than anything to him, and that it was his duty to put me first, not for me to put him first.

So, even though it hurt to leave him behind, I’m glad I went to Osaka. I learned to be confident, and to work hard for myself, not just for other people. I learned that I was good at things I never dreamed of doing. I made valuable friends, who taught me that I wasn't alone, and that I was worth admiring.

Park-san took care of me like I was her own daughter. She was strict, and I was grateful for that. I was used to working hard, and I wanted someone to challenge me, and to believe that I could push my limits. I wasn’t satisfied with just being good. Park-san made me feel like I could be the best, and because she pushed me, I learned that I was stronger than I ever could have imagined.

During that time, I tested my physical strength in secret. I remember being so proud that I could lift weights, but I never did it more than once a week, in case my muscles grew too big to fit into my costume. Nowadays, I would gladly trade in cute sleeves for stronger arms. After all, Haruto is getting heavier every day.

But, back then, I wanted to fit the image that I saw on TV. I was doing it for me, I told myself, even though I was slipping back into my habit of working hard for everyone else. I could have been any kind of idol that I wanted to be, but I wanted to fit that image because it would mean I could make more money. Ojisan wouldn’t have to work as hard to support our family, and my siblings would have the means to follow their own dreams, if only I could earn enough money.

When I thought about my family, I faltered a little bit. Park-san could see it in my eyes sometimes, and berated me for getting distracted.

I thought Park-san was mad at me for losing my focus, but looking back, I think she was mad because she was worried about me. I think she was afraid that if I gave in to my homesickness, I’d lose all the progress I had made. She always said that I would only get one shot at being an idol, but I would have the rest of my life to be with my family. She said that if I gave up, I would always wonder what I could have achieved.

It was her own regret that made her say those things, though. Maybe she thought that if she had never gotten married, she would have stayed focused on her career, and been successful. She would never have faced any kind of controversy or scandal when she became pregnant. She could have waited until her career fizzled out, like so many idols’ careers do, and then settled down when she was older, instead of letting her loneliness get the best of her.

If I had the chance to ask Majima-san whether or not she should have chosen her marriage over her career, I would. I’m not afraid to hear his answer. It wouldn’t change how I feel about Park-san, or about my own decisions.

I understand why Park-san didn’t want a child, and couldn’t stay in her marriage. The longer you stay near the yakuza, the harder it is to get away. She wanted to be an idol before she wanted to be a wife. Majima-san wanted to be yakuza before he wanted to be a husband. Why should she give up her career for him, when he wouldn’t give up his career for her? I would never say so to Yuta, but I really believe that Park-san made the right choice. It wouldn’t be the right choice for me, but she deserved to choose.

When I imagine what Park-san would have been like if she had stayed with Majima-san, I imagine Dojima Yayoi. I only spoke to her once, when she was leading the Tojo Clan, but I remember what she said when I asked what it was like to be a yakuza boss. She told me that the highest point of a yakuza’s career is the lowest point of their life. She told me never to marry into a yakuza family, unless I wanted to give up my humanity.

As sad as I feel for Park-san, losing her life and her dream, I try to imagine that someday she’ll meet Dojima-san in the afterlife, hear those words, and be at peace with the path she took in life. At least she lived by her own free will, and never abandoned her dream, even if all she could do was pass it on to the next generation.

What would she think if she could see me right now, though? I want to marry Yuta, even though I know that what Dojima-san said about marrying into the yakuza is true. I left my career to be with the people I care about, yakuza or not. I might end up a widow, someday, and a single mom. Haruto might end up an orphan. If I died, what would Park-san think? What would ojisan think?

I suppose the look on Majima-san’s face when he sees me is the closest I’ll get to an answer. It’s a guarded look, and on the surface, it seems indifferent - but I can feel the guilt and disappointment radiating from it. When it reaches my heart, I feel ashamed. In a way, though, I also feel strong.

I feel strong, because I’m walking this difficult path in life, knowing that it’s difficult, knowing that I might fail, and knowing that my elders are disappointed in me - and I’m walking it anyway, with a smile on my face. I accept the consequences of my actions.

It won’t be perfect. It could even end badly, for myself and my family. But, every moment in my life has been a toss of the dice. Sometimes I get what I expect, and sometimes I don’t; but if I don’t play, then I’ll never win, right?

When ojisan first took me to gamble, he told me that I could never lose as long as I knew my odds.

Today, I know my odds. I know that there’s a chance Yuta will get into trouble. I know that there’s a chance I’ll end up getting hurt. I know that there’s a chance Haruto will go through hardships because of Yuta’s work, or because of my past.

There’s also a chance that one day, like ojisan, Yuta might leave the yakuza. One day, like Park-san, I might use my experiences to help other girls achieve their dreams, whether they want to fight, or sing, or raise children. One day, Haruto might start his own family, and make his own choices about the yakuza, his career, and the people he cares most about.

The odds are in our favor, because no matter how many times the world hurts us, we’ll face each day with a smile, and believe that our dreams can become reality.