On the last Wednesday of April 2022, a couple days before Golden Week Holiday, I don an orange button-down shirt, black trousers, gray spring suit jacket, cracked and torn ancient black dress shoes, and set out from my underground Machida apartment with my blue sports bag in a light rain to teach English at the college in Jiyugaoka where I’ve been teaching a decade, though now I only teach two days a week, it’s my only job and the only way for me to stay in Japan.
I take a dump at the public restroom in the big park across the street. The water often doesn’t stop running when I flush the toilet in my apartment. Since I’m a Deadbeat Tenant I feel too guilty and ashamed to ask the Landlord to fix it.
The rain has stopped falling by the time I arrive at Machida Station.
I take the Yokohama Line to Nagatsuta, the Denentoshi Line to Futako-Tamagawa, and the Oimachi Line to Jiyugaoka. On the journey I finish reading Sleeping Beauties so I can give the tattered paperback to Hana as promised.
The Lady Boss, Niece of School’s Founder, is a Freemason Witch. I fear she’ll make me the latest victim of random hire and fire like she did to Dave and Felipe half a decade ago, since she already threatened to fire me twice if I didn’t get a haircut.
Thank God, Jesus, and the Japanese Buddha, she isn’t there!
My 9-12:10 class on the third floor has one shy friendly deadbeat guy from Uzbekistan in 2D, but the five dolls are all from 2A. All students are present. The two Vietnamese girls. Thuy (Toy) and Trang are twenty-one, grew up together in the same village, and have been friends since childhood. Toy looks sexy and cool and glows like an angel in shiny white T-shirt and shorts and green Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Yukon is from South Korea, lives with a high school son and university daughter, has a husband in Korea, and is about my age, which probably means she and all the members of her family are spies. Jayani’s a twenty-five-year-old Sri Lankan Buddhist engaged to be married to a Sri Lankan Christian. To the best of my knowledge she’s the only one of my students to have gotten the Virus. Hana (Flower Girl) is twenty-one, lives with her Filipino mom, and has a Japanese dad who died so long ago she has no recollection of him, which makes me feel like Ghost and Surrogate Father. She looks sexy and cute in jeans and a black T-shirt with a white smiling bear.
As usual, before opening the conversation-based textbook, I relate interesting events that have happened in my life and in the world since our previous class and encourage students to do the same. The sound of children playing in the school playground comes through the open classroom windows, and the rattle of trains and whine of drills assault us from the open windows in the hall. We all wear white face masks. I glow in Holy Light that comes from God, Jesus, and Japanese Buddha. The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, I preach, and it’s messed up the only people putting up any resistance are Ukrainian men and boys. The U.S. and Europe aren’t doing anything except sending weapons and with Biden’s “I don’t want to start World War III” attitude it sounds like China can take over Asia, Russia can take over Europe, and Biden won’t do anything because he doesn’t want to start World War III. As the Disciples watch in awe Christ relates that recently he’s been watching the Jason Bourne spy films every Thursday afternoon on TV and tomorrow they’ll show The Bourne Legacy, the fourth and final Bourne film and the only one not adapted for screen from Robert Ludlum’s novels. By the way I just recently finished reading Tokyo Vice, which was written in 2010 and just recently made into a series on social media. Seeing Flower Girl and Christmas Toy watching me with fascination like they’re Juliet and I’m Romeo I feel inspired and continue that the writer, Jake Adelstein, is in some ways Saint and Angel because he made it difficult for the Yakuza ––
with collusion from the N.P.A. and L.D.P.- to import women from places like Russia and Ukraine and turn them into sex slaves like the Japanese military did with Korean comfort women in World War II. At the same time, I reflect aloud, he caused one of his prostitute buddies to get tortured, raped, and killed because he sent her to investigate a Roppongi Hills private eye firm he suspected of being a front for Yakuza involved in the sex slavery industry. one of his Yakuza sources slapped him around and called him a bad boy and stupid motherfucker for sending someone he really cared about, a good friend, on a mission that would probably get her killed or worse. It seems Jesus and His Disciples agree with Jake’s Yakuza Source.
Christmas Toy still works at McDonald’s, Jayani still works at a 7-Eleven near the school, and Flower Girl still works as a childcare assistant but will be transferred to a new location after Golden Week. Trang recently got a new job as a cook at a high-end Japanese restaurant. She shows us iPhone photos of mouth-watering steak and chicken she cooks for wealthy natives. Deadbeat and Spy don’t have much to say.
We read and discuss a dialogue about holiday plans and prepare for Golden Week by discussing holidays in various countries, learn Black Noodle Day is a Korean holiday on which single people mourn their loneliness by eating black noodles and all Asian countries have a holiday similar to Obon in Japan on which they visit cemeteries and pray for the souls of their ancestors.
Though I’ve been sexually impotent since 2010 (my fourtieth birthday present from God) and haven’t had anything you could even remotely consider Girlfriend since 2018 (unless you consider the Lear-like relationship I have with my Japanese-American daughters) I realize I’m in love with Flower Girl and Christmas Toy the same way I was in love with Mako and Ibuki from June 2020 until March 2022, at which time they graduated and left my life if not my thoughts. Though it seems about time to join Ancestors on the Other Side, I thank God I can still feel the Sting of Cupid’s Arrow. I realize that before the Quintessential Quarter I was Deadman Walking and they have brought me back to Life like Jesus did to Lazarus.
Back in Machida the gray sky and fierce wind keep the heat at bay, making for a perfect spring afternoon as I drank a can of dry rame Chu-Hi on the small bench encircling a potted tree on a cobblestone street with carp streamers tied to quaint street lanterns rippling and flapping madly in the wind to mark the upcoming Children’s Day, a gold carp to my left, a black fish to my right. I gaze at the big red lanterns over the entrance to the restaurant where my older daughter took me in January, stare into the rough cul-de-sac between Ramu-chan and the katsudon (fried pork) restaurant where the Stray Black Cat lives, and listen to the beautiful haunting voice of my Filipino witch crooning a lounge version of some Spanish love song to me from a speaker outside a little shop of brown wood.
The Black Cat leaps from behind the pork restaurant down a solitary step and stalks towards me over blocks of crooked concrete like Old Friend or Lover returning from Grave. Standing very close it stares up at me with one yellow and one blue eye and gives a gentle meow.
I smile, wave, bow, raise my can in salute. ‘Hi Buddy. How are you?’ I sip my drink and light up a smoke.’ I’d give you some of the cheese I just bought at Don Quijote but last time you didn’t eat hardly any and the crows and pigeons came to fight over it. Plus, I think the Crazy Old Japanese Man who always pets and feeds you hates me and gets jealous and angry when he sees us talking because he wants to be your Master and only True Friend.’
A few Natives cast furtive frowns at me and then hurry away without looking back as though running from the Devil.
I shrug, grin, roll my eyes, and fondly recall Twinkle Toes, our beautiful black green-eyed Persian family cat with white toes, paws, and neck from my early elementary school years until she died while I was in California for a short-lived Navy career, the pleasant peaceful hours spent reading novels with her curled up on my lap. I remember the Wise Hippie in the Japanese Boondocks in 2008 saying, ‘You know people will think you’re a little strange if you go around talking to cats,’ when he saw me babbling to two Fat Catsndash; one white and one black- who prowled the Farm like Ghosts and gave Crazy Belinda the creeps.
The tall old Japanese man materializes beside me in jeans and high-soled brown shoes, glancing from me to the cat with a frown of solemn disapproval. The cat stays close to me. The Old Man retreats. I can’t help thinking the Cat is Whore playing us off against each other like two Dirty Old Men and I don’t want to play the Game.
Then the Prophet appears in silk navy-blue sweat-suit, black baseball cap, and new black shoes speckled with gold. I’ve known the Prophet for over a decade. At times I berate him for mooching off me, being Puppet of Abe’s Fascist Regime, causing me to lose work and nearly get roasted alive. From 2014 until 2016 he was lurking in the plaza in front of the JR Line every morning stalking me with clenched fists, face contorted into a mask of fury and hate, bellowing fascist curses like he wanted to kill me or wanted me to kill him. Then he disappeared for two years in the wake of the fire. From 2018 until 2020, the only two years in recent history I was back on my feet, we often roamed the streets together and I even managed to get two essays and one story published in one magazine. I felt a large part of the reason for my luck was because I received his blessing for letting him sponge food, booze, and money, so he was some blend of Judas, Beggar, Whipping Boy, Madman, and Priest.
I can’t shake the feeling Prophet, Old Man, and Cat are playing some elaborate mind game with me.
I bellow good afternoon in Japanese and he returns my greeting.
He crouches, gazes into the of the Cat, and croons in Japanese, ‘He-he-he, what eyes a cute little cat.’
The Black Cat putters back to its Lair but sits with feet and paws tucked under its belly watching us and the passing pedestrians like some Ancient God.
I move my sports bag and tattered plastic bag with cheese and coffee onto my lap to give the Prophet space to sit.
He remains standing.
(All of our conversation is in Japanese since he doesn’t understand English or pretends not to.)
‘Did you just return to Machida?’ he inquires..
‘Yes, I just got back a while ago. This is my first drink.’
‘Today’s weather is very nice.’
‘Yes, it’s perfect, isn’t it? Not too hot, not too cold. The clouds and strong wind keep it from being too hot’. I gaze up at the sky.
Somewhat demurely he sits beside me with a grudging smile and fires up a cigarette.
‘What did you do today?’ I ask.
‘I didn’t do anything. (This is always his response, which makes it seem like he exists only in my head, only comes alive when he sees me on the streets and we hang out for a while, and the rest of the time he exists in some foggy Basket Case Purgatory between Life and Death.)
A trio of motley old housewives gather in a semi-circle around the Cat, crouching and crooning with worship and adoration.
‘The cat lives around those houses back there and behind these two restaurants.’ I make a sweeping gesture towards the cul-de-sac. ‘It’s been my new friend since autumn.
‘I saw the cat walking the streets while on my way here.’
‘It’s getting more comfortable walking the streets and making New Friends, which I think is good. For a long time, it only felt comfortable around me and the Old Man because we give it food. What do you want to do today?”
‘I want to get a bento.’
‘No, let’s first get some alcohol a Don Quijote.’
‘OK, just let me finish this drink.’
As I sip my drink we watch the sky and the streets like two Priest-Kings, Guardian Dogs of Holy Shrine. He watches in bemusement as I exchange greetings with groups of students passing by in navy-blue uniforms.
Then I toss my empty can in a nearby recycle bin. He shuffles and limps along behind me on the Short Journey to Don Quijote. We descend the escalator to the basement supermarket. I get a grapefruit Chu-Hi for myself and a lemon for him. (For some reason he only drinks lemon.) Back on the first floor, as I pay for our drinks, he babbles to the plump frizzy-haired cashier about the Tokyo Giants, but it’s clear she’s busy and wants to get rid of us, so I pocket my change and lead him back to the Bench like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
As we pass under the fluttering carp streamer, I remark, ‘It’s almost Children’s Day. I think it’s very hard for children between one and twelve growing up in the Days of the Virus. Many of them will grow up with little or no formal education, few or no future prospects, parents lacking the will and/or ability to provide them with essentials such as food, clothing, shelter, and education.’
‘That’s right. It’s almost Golden Week.’
‘Back at the Bench I clink my glass against his and say kanpai. He responds in kind. We open our drinks and take sips.
The Old Man sits on the solitary paved step protruding into the cul-de-sac from behind the katsudon restaurant where I took the Prophet long ago. He pets the Cat with aggressive fondness while the Idol licks something, presumably milk, from the Old Man’s White Cat Bowl.
‘I think the Old Man feeding the Cat is a little crazy, I remark like Confessor to Priest or Gossipy Old Woman because I feel I must speak the Truth to set us free.
‘Why do you think that?’
‘Because he wants to be Master of the Black Cat and the Cat’s Only Friend. Whenever he sees me giving the cat cheese he gives me a hateful look like he wants to kill me because I’m the cat’s friend and he thinks I’m trying to steal it away from him. I think the cat is free to be friends with whomever it chooses, but the Old Man likes to think he is Master and Cat is Slave and the Cat has to stay in that small space and talk only with him, so I think the Old Man is stupid and crazy.’
The Prophet gives a cryptic smile that might be meant to convey bemusement or admiration.
My Filipino Mermaid-Witch is crooning a lounge version of ‘Radio Gaga’, which prompts me to reminisce and inquire, ‘You know Freddy Mercury and Queen?’
‘This is ‘Radio Gaga’, one of the last great songs he wrote before dying from A.I.D.S. back in the 80’s when I was in junior high or high school. Queen is also very popular in Japan.
I sense the Prophet isn’t in the mood to listen to me babble and notice he’s already finished his drink.
‘What do you want to do now?’
‘I want to have a bento in a little while.’
‘Do you have enough money?’
In February I ranted and raved at him and another Street Terrorist that they worked for the Fascist Forces that had reduced me to a one-year visa and two-day work week, murdered Mario in the Summer and made it look like suicide, and therefore they could both go fuck themselves and I wasn’t giving them a single god damn yen (penny). However, generally speaking, I feel healthier in mind, body, and soul, and have better luck when I’m generous towards the Prophet.
I give him a 1000-yen (ten dollar) bill. ‘This is enough for a bento, a pack of smokes, and a couple drinks.’
I shake his hand, which is greasy, sweaty, somehow alien. Take care. Have a good Golden Week.
‘What are you doing now?’
‘Going to various places to get cheap food for the next couple days, maybe have a drink or two on the streets here and there.’
I feel Peace and Power as I do my grocery-shopping, drink at the Red Bench, wake up in an alley, and walk home in a misty rain.
On Thursday morning I perform the Buddhist prayer chant, get a call from the Landlord about the rent, go to the bank and post office to pay rent. (For a while I erroneously thought Ram died from the Virus, returned to India, took all his cash and vanished on some small tropical island, and I no longer had to worry about rent, but like so many other things in Life this turned out to be Fantasy and Wishful Thinking.) The Black Cat and the Prophet fill me with Peace and Wisdom through the Remains of the Day as I read, write, and watch TV, pleasantly oblivious this latter pleasure will soon be Gone with the Wind.
On Friday rain is forecast for later in the day so I set forth in the morning to buy cheese at Don Quijote and drink a dry rame Chu-Hi at the Black Cat Bench. Though invisible I sense the Spiritual Presence of the Prophet and the Black Cat and feel a spiritual empathy with the young hosts and hostesses shuffling home weary and wasted after working all night in the clubs. Then I walk through the underpass below the Odakyu Line and along another street to buy a pack of cigarettes and two packs of rice crackers at the 100-yen store and drink two cans of Chu-Hi- one lemon and one grapefruit- at the Red Bench, which is outside the supermarket across the street, feeling the Prophet and the Black Cat alive in my Soul.
Back home I discover Ram instructing an old Japanese man about work on the long- abandoned smaller of the two street-level apartments. They stand outside the open door. I look inside and see tape and welding tools on the bare wood floor and feel the Ghosts of Old Carlos, the fraudulent Buddhist monk who spent all day every day standing outside the main entrance of the Odakyu Line in crimson robe holding a beggar’s basket and occupied the small room from 2008 until 2010, and the young African refugee who lived there for a short time in 2020. The Old Japanese Man is short, lithe, wiry, wears a white cotton jacket and jeans, and has short white hair. Ram is short, stout, fat, dark, has long waves of greasy gray-black hair, and resembles Hindu Priest with his long red silk shirt.
I wave and greet them.
Before I can descend the steep stone stairs to my underground lair, Ram turns to me and says, ‘You didn’t pay rent for a long time.’
I pray to God, Jesus, and the Japanese Buddha, will the Black Cat and the Prophet and some latent untapped power deep within myself to rise to the surface before calmly responding, ‘I paid 50000 yen (500 dollars) yesterday and 50000 yen the month before that.’
‘But you didn’t pay anything for a long time before that.’
‘I haven’t had hardly any work since January and wouldn’t have been able to pay 50 two months in a row if I hadn’t not paid anything for a couple months.’
I open my tattered plastic bag so he can observe the contents. ‘Look,’ Christ says unto the Disciple. ‘Rice crackers from the 100-yen shop. The cheapest place to buy rice crackers. Cheese from Don Quijote. The cheapest place to buy cheese. I pay as much rent as possible. I don’t go to bars, clubs, or restaurants unless I’m with my daughters or someone else who will buy Poor Papa food and drinks. I only shop at the cheapest places I’d pay more if I could.’
‘How much did you drink today?’
‘ three cans. A 100 yen can of Chu-Hi from Don Quijote and two 150-yen cans from Sanwa. Cheapest strongest alcohol available. I don’t drink at home and I usually don’t drink in the morning, but the Fuji TV weather lady this morning said it would rain later, and since I needed to buy groceries at those two places anyway, I thought I might as well kill two birds with onw stone.’
I bow, grin, and introduce myself to the silent native.
He responds with a bow and sweet shy smile, either too shy, xenophobic, or stricken with awe by the Words of Christ to speak.
I turn back to Ram. ‘But I understand. I know I’m way behind on rent and probably will be forever. I know I add a whole new layer of meaning to the term Deadbeat Tenant. I don’t dispute any of that. At least that’s how it seems on the surface.’
There is a long holy silence as the Disciples gape at Christ.
‘But under the surface?’ the Disciple inquires.
‘Under the surface I’ve been here since 2008. How long do the other tenants stay? A few months? A couple years tops. Reni and Carlos were here when I came in 2008 and stayed until 2010. The Japanese welfare family was here from 2010 until 2016. Under the surface most of the apartments are empty at least half the time. In fact, my apartment is the only one that’s been continuously occupied for fourteen years, so even if you forget about how far behind I am and give a 50% refund on all the rent I have paid, which would be greatly appreciated, you’d still have made more money from this apartment than all the other ones, so you’d actually be hurting yourself more than me if you want to evict me. Ever since Abe passed the state secrets law it’s been hard for foreigners to keep jobs and get visas. When Abe talks about making Japan beautiful with that crazy gleam in his eyes he means getting rid of foreigners. When he talks about every citizen doing his duty he means all Japanese people have to help foreigners get killed, arrested, and deported. Another thing under the surface is that if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be able to get rent from me or anyone else- at least not at this place- because it, the laundry next door, probably the whole neighborhood would be nothing but ashes and scraps of burnt wood, metal, and glass if I’d called the emergency number a minute later or the Machida Fire Department arrived a minute later back in summer 2016 when the fire nearly roasted me alive, which- by the way
– probably wasn’t at accident, even though the Fire Inspector said it was. Around that time a lot of weird creepy things were happening here, in the bars, on the streets, even at the schools where I taught because of Abe’s state secrets law. Although I’m no expert, I know Japanese history well enough to know that whenever fire roasts foreigners, places where foreigners live, or places where foreigners work, it’s always considered an accident. In this case I’d say some far-right organization– probably buddies of Ito he somehow pissed off the way he pisses off everyone unfortunate enough to meet him- decided to kill two birds with one stone. They possibly had the indirect support but probably had the direct support of the L.D.P., N.P.A., Yakuza, fascist forces within the Machida Police Department, and other secret shadow far-right organizations I know nothing about. But if you want to kick me out go ahead. I don’t care anymore. All that will happen is this. You’ll lose money. I’ll spend a day or two, maybe a week on the streets. The cops will pick me up, take me to immigration, and deport me back to America to start my life over from scratch like this was all just some crazy male fantasy that got turned into a nightmare thanks to Abe’. I emit something between a grunt and a chuckle. ‘Feels like I came here as Kid Rock and Abe turned me into Anne Frank.
Ram gazes deep into my eyes with wise detachment and gives a slight nod. The native workman looks from me to the sky with awe and confusion. There is another moment of Holy Silence.
‘Well, take care. Good luck fixing the apartment.’
‘You too. Take care.’
Descending the stairs, I feel victorious and sense God. Jesus, the Japanese Buddha, and Prophet, and the Black Cat performed some Miracle to help their Priest survive and in silence I thank them all.
Paul Jacobson teaches English in Tokyo, has a B.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska, and 2 Japanese- American daughters. His work has appeared in ICONOCLAST. He’s presently putting the final touches on a novel called Revelations Rhapsody and learning to walk again. Paul would like to thank his daughter Mia for using her computer and social media to gmail the final draft to Richard. Other stories featuring The Prophet and the Black cat include “Merry May Madness,” “Alien Salvation and Summer Snow,” and “Summer Sorcery.”