Tracting was a contact sport, especially along the arcade strip in front of Hakuraku station.
Thackeray played the game well. He worked his way up the crowded sidewalk, dodging the shills and drunks, flipping out tracts at every opportunity. A light rain was falling. The busy noise of the pachinko parlors filled the night air. The asphalt shimmered with rivers of silver and gold.
He reached into his suit coat pocket for some more pamphlets. Michaels had moved half a block further up towards the subway station. They saw each other and waved.
“How many left?”
Thackeray pulled out a handful of pamphlets. Michaels pointed and said something.
“What?” said Thackeray.
“Watch out where you’re going!”
Kimiyo Miyazaki stopped when she first heard Michaels, perhaps thinking he was shouting at her. Thackeray shouted back, “What?” and turned around and he practically walked into her arms.
“Oh!” said Kimiyo.
Thackeray had not been so close to a woman his same age for a very long time—close enough to see the neon reflection in her eyes, warm electric orange, flashing blue. He tried to step out of her way, but his feet felt like concrete blocks. He looked at Michaels. Michaels was laughing.
“You—wanted to give me something?”
“What?” His eyes came back to the girl. He glanced at the pamphlets in his hand. “Just a religious pamphlet.”
“Can I see?” She held out her hand.
“What? Oh, sure.”
She took the tract but didn’t look at it. She said with a curious expression, “I’ve never talked to a gaijin before.”
“Really?” was the only thing he could say.
“What’s your name?”
“I do have a few minutes.”
Thackeray slowly translated her words in his mind.
“There’s a nice cafe up the street,” she said. She opened her umbrella. A polite gesture.
Michaels crossed the street. “Can I come too?”
“Who’s that?” Kimiyo asked.
“Michaels Choro,” said Thackeray. “He’s my, uh, friend.”
The cafe interior was finished in varnished synthetic pine. The incandescent lights in the ceiling cast a soft yellow glow on the walls. They sat down at a table.
Michaels picked up the menu. “I’ll think I’ll have lemonade,” he said.
“Lemonade would be fine,” said Kimiyo. Thackeray nodded.
“One must be a D.L. to take charge in these kinds of situations,” said Michaels. The waitress came to the table and he said, “Three lemonades.”
Kimiyo said to Thackeray, “I see you in front of the station sometimes on my way to school. I’ve always wondered what you were doing.”
“Handing out pamphlets, talking to people.”
“You’re missionaries, right?”
“That’s right,” said Michaels.
Kimiyo opened the tract and read down the first page.
Thackeray asked, “Have you ever heard of the Mormon church before?”
“I don’t think so.”
Thackeray followed her eyes as she read the rest of the tract. He pointed to three lines printed in bold characters. “These questions—where we came from, what our purpose in life is, what happens when we die—you’ve thought about them before, haven’t you?”
She looked perplexed for a moment. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “Not really.”
“Strike two,” said Michaels, under his breath. The waitress came with the drinks.
“Would you like to know more about the Mormon church?”
“Sure. It sounds interesting.”
Michaels couldn’t hide his surprise. “It does?”
“Well,” said Thackeray, gliding smoothly through the memorized material. “There are five lessons and each one takes about thirty minutes. What do you think?”
“Do you teach the lessons?”
Michaels grinned at the question.
“There are some lady missionaries. Williams Shimai and Yoshida Shimai.”
“Of course.” She seemed a bit disappointed, and then made the connection. “She’s the big American woman, isn’t she?”
“It takes a lot of room to contain her spirit,” said Michaels.
Thackeray took out his pocket planner and opened it to a blank page. “I could give them your phone number and they could call you and set everything up.”
Michaels lent her his pen. She wrote at the top of the page: Kimiyo Miezaki. 044-62-4247.
Thackeray said, “What’s a good time to call?”
“Before eleven’s fine.” She opened her purse.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Michaels. “We’ll pay. It’s the American thing to do.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
“Our pleasure. G’night.”
They watched her leave. “Well?” said Michaels.
Thackeray smiled to himself as he stirred the ice in his glass with his straw. “She might.”
“You’re a missionary. You’re supposed to be more optimistic than that.”
“I didn’t say she wouldn’t. Besides, the sisters will teach her. They’re the ones who have to be motivated.”
Yoshida appreciated the referral. She asked Thackeray what he thought her prospects were.
“She’ll take all the discussions,” he said, confidently.
A week later, Kimiyo met Thackeray and Michaels at the subway station and told them she’d had her first lesson.
“So, what do you think about Joseph Smith?” Thackeray asked.
“He’s an interesting person. All those things he did and the satori he had. Kind of like Gautama.”
Michaels and Thackeray nodded. It was a common enough allusion.
“And Sister Yoshida told me to ask you about a baptism?”
“Oh, yes,” said Michaels. “Brother Tanaka is getting baptized Saturday evening at seven. If you have the time, you could stop by and see what it’s like.”
She hesitated. Thackeray said, “You don’t have to do anything. Just sit and watch.”
Kimiyo came to the baptism in a blue and white print dress that fit her well. Michaels performed the baptism. Thackeray and Yoshida offered commentary. After the confirmation and closing prayer, they all snacked on mugi-cha and mikans.
“It’s kind of like a party,” said Kimiyo.
“In a weird sort of way,” agreed Michaels.
Thackeray had less than a month to go before his mission ended. His companion took endless delight in reminding him of this, especially while they were proselyting.
“You know what I’ve noticed?” A train had just come in. Michaels stepped off the curb, next to his companion, to get out of the way of the homebound rush.
“What have you noticed?”
“You run out of streeting steam every Wednesday about this time. Look at all those people! You should be chasing them down.”
“You’re not exactly pounding the pavement, either.”
“You’re afraid of picking up an intro and missing Kimiyo.”
Thackeray shrugged in an offhand manner. “So?”
“You’re in love.”
“I am not. I had a companion who was, and it’s quite a different thing.”
Michaels grinned. “Sure it is.” He looked up. “Ah! And there she is.”
“Good evening,” said Kimiyo with a nod.
“How are the lessons going?” Michaels asked.
“Next time I learn about the commandments.” She sounded enthusiastic.
“About the commandments?”
“Yes. Um—” She paused. “Does your father pay tithing?”
“All his life.”
“What kind of job does he have?”
“He’s an engineer with General Electric.”
“My father works for Sony. He’s a businessman.”
“I think Michaels-san wants me to go.”
“Eh?” Michaels said, rocking back and forth on his heels.
“Michaels-san is a man with heavy responsibilities,” said Thackeray.
“That’s right. Like call-ins. Reports. Statistics.”
“G’night,” said Kimiyo. She walked a few steps and turned around. “What are going to do when you’re not a missionary anymore, Takori-san?”
Thackeray opened his mouth, getting ready for some kind of instant, memorized reply. He couldn’t think of anything. So he shrugged. “Haven’t really thought about it.”
Kimiyo nodded. “Good night,” she said again.
“Wait.” Thackeray ran up to her. “I almost forgot. Tomorrow we’re going to Shakey’s with some missionaries in Yokohama. And then down to Sakuragi-cho. Want to come?”
“I have a lesson with Yoshida Shimai and Williams Shimai. At four o’clock.”
“If we leave about twelve-thirty we’ll be back in time.”
“It sounds like fun.”
“We’ll meet you in front of the station.”
“I’ll be here.”
“So what are you going to do after your mission?” asked Michaels as they walked up to the church.
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“I thought you were going to be an engineer.”
“I was. Like my father. Except my freshman year I almost flunked physics.”
“Sort of takes you out of the engineering department.”
“I didn’t suck at English. Writing essays and stuff. Not much of a direction, though.”
“Well, you’ve got a month to think about it.”
“Yeah. I suppose I do.”
Thackeray folded his futon. Sunlight fell in white patches on the tatami. Michaels was shaving in front of the mirror on his closet door. He clicked off the electric razor.
“Hey, Thack. Ever been on the president’s triff list?”
“Nope. But George was. So was Longstreet.”
“I was, once.”
“Why Michaels, I never knew.”
“Not on purpose. When I was with Mac. Being with those tall, handsome types makes one guilty until proven innocent.”
“Never on your own merits, eh?” Thackeray picked up his tie and crouched behind his companion, trying to see himself in the mirror.
“Nope. Kind of a blow to the ego, come to think of it. I mean, you’re so ordinary the president trusts you implicitly.”
“He’s right, isn’t he?”
“About you not fooling around.”
“There you go.”
“How about you, though? You could if you wanted to.”
“Suppose I could.”
“If you had the chance, would you?”
“Would you ever give me the chance?”
“No. But that’s beside the point.”
“What’s uh, huh?”
“Lucky you’re dying. Your hormones are coming out of hibernation.”
“I’m not dead yet.”
They met Kimiyo at Hakuraku station and rode with her to Yokohama. Gibson was already at the pizzeria. He was sitting at a table amidst a crowd of uniformed junior high school students. He waved to them.
“Where’s the rest of the district?” asked Michaels.
“They’ll show up in a few minutes. Some departo is putting on a promo concert at the plaza. It’s just about over.” He stood up and said, “Well, don’t just stand there with your trays.” He shooed the kids down to the end of the table. “And save my place. I’m going back for seconds.” As he walked back to the serving line he nudged Thackeray. “Who’s the triff?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“You ever get tired, I’ll take her off your hands.” He said out loud, “What do you people want to drink?”
Elder Gibson came back to the table, his plate piled high with pizza.
Kimiyo gaped. “You can eat that much?”
“There’s always thirds.” Gibson grinned.
“Gibby’s a pig,” said Michaels.
“Oink,” said Gibson. “Baker eats more than I do.” He bit off a mouthful of pizza. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he mumbled. He chewed and swallowed. “You’re looking at the next Z.L.”
“Reliable sources. Danbury’s leaving for Fuchu. Kotter goes senior zone leader. Who else is there?”
“They’ll transfer somebody in.”
“Z.L.’s have to have tenure. Besides, I have the image. I’m the perfect bureaucrat.” Gibson bit off another hunk of pizza and smiled, cheeks bulging.
“You’re gross,”said Thackeray. Kimiyo laughed.
Baker sat down by Gibson. He had a hand over his plate to keep the pizza from spilling off. “Say, Thackeray, aren’t you almost dead?”
Gibson said, “So is Denison, I’ve heard. You’re in the same go-home group, aren’t you?”
“Who’s dying?” asked Kimiyo.
“It’s missionary lingo,” explained Thackeray. “You see, we’re missionaries for only two years. When our time is up and we have to go home, we say we die.”
“It’s also known as getting trunky.”
“That means getting excited to go home,” said Michaels.
“Are you trunky?” Kimiyo asked Thackeray.
Thackeray drank the rest of his Coke. “No.”
“You lie!” howled Gibson. “I’ve got four months to go and I’m so trunky I can’t stand it.”
The three of them took the train to Sakuragi-cho. Thackeray found a hardware store that had what he wanted. A traditional Japanese saw. The blade was wider at the end than at the handle. The teeth were serrated backward. Odd. But practical. Very Japanese. He smacked the flat of the blade against the palm of his hand. His father would like it.
They walked down the wide city streets to the dockside. A fishing boat was tied against the pier. Seagulls glided lazily between the masts and loading cranes, darting down into the water for scraps of fish.
Kimiyo said, “You’re looking forward to going home?”
“Yes,” he answered honestly.
“Will you ever come back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me when you find out, will you?”
Thackeray looked at her. Don’t count on it, he wanted to say. But he nodded and didn’t say anything.
The sister missionaries were waiting in the foyer when they returned.
“You ought to come with us sometime,” said Thackeray.
“We’re all on diets,” Yoshida said with a wink. She turned to Kimiyo and asked, “How are you doing today?”
The tall panels of clouded class in the cultural hall were bright with the afternoon sun. Honda had mopped and waxed the floor before he left for school that morning. The linoleum had a slick, wet look to it. Michaels lay down on the stage and took a nap. Thackeray sat down at the piano. He played mostly by ear—playing hymns for church was more an exercise in improvisation. Finally he started on Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing. It was the only hymn where he could play all the notes printed on the page. Sister Yoshida came into the cultural hall from the foyer.
“How did the discussion go?”
“She’s still curious.”
“More curious about the fact that we believe than believing in it herself. We’ll show her some film strips, make up some more lessons.”
“And then what?”
Yoshida said with a shrug, “And then maybe the one will turn into the other.”
She stood at the side of the piano for a moment and then left. Thackeray pulled out the keyboard cover and let it drop. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on the smooth varnish and listened to the discord of faraway music ringing inside his head.