Thackeray tried to remember what upstate New York was like. But all he could see in his mind’s eye were children playing in the marble blue water.
A small park was tucked into the tree-lined knoll between the apartment and the church. It had a wading pool. When the sun was hot and bright, kindergarten children came with their teachers to play.
“Thack, I think I got it—”
Michaels balanced the head of a tack on the ball of his middle finger, wound up like Catfish Hunter, and flicked the tack toward the bulletin board. The tack bounced off the cork and skittered across the linoleum.
“Too much wrist,” said Thackeray.
“Are you guys throwing tacks again?” said Sister Denison.
Michaels said, “When people ask me what I learned on my mission, I’ll have something to tell them.” He picked up the tack, positioned it, and flung it at the bulletin board with a sweeping over-the-shoulder motion. The tack stuck into the corkboard with a faint thud.
“Ha! There you go. Ninja skills.”
“I’m so impressed.” Denison rolled her eyes.
Thackeray asked her, “What’s your companion doing?”
“She’s tripling with Thompson and Yoshino. How about you, D.L.?”
“I’m splitting with Randall Choro’s junior.” Michaels looked at his watch. “They’re coming in on the next train. We should get down to the station.”
“Just think,” said Denison, as they walked down the steps in front of the church. “We’ll only have to hike up this hill one more time.”
“Tell it to this guy,” said Michaels. “Pretending not to be so totally dead.”
“I’m a good missionary who doesn’t corrupt his companion with trunkiness.”
“Subliminal trunkiness is far more deadly.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
They stopped at the crosswalk across from the station. “By the way, Thackeray Choro,” said Denison. “My companion wants to know if she can have your tea box.”
“If Michaels doesn’t want it.”
Michaels shook his head.
“Thackeray Choro!” Brother Tanaka jogged up the street. He smiled and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I wanted to give you this.” He held out a small, narrow box.
“Thank you, Brother Tanaka,” said Thackeray, accepting the gift with a short bow.
Brother Tanaka smiled again. “Sorry to be in a hurry, but I have to catch the bus. Good luck in America, okay?”
They waved to each other. Brother Tanaka climbed onto the bus and it roared away in a cloud of diesel smoke. Thackeray tucked the small box into his suit coat pocket and walked up the street to the train station.
The Yokohama air was heavy and wet, laden with the fine ocean fog that drifted off the bay with the night breeze. Thackeray took off his suit coat and leaned back against the cool cinder block. Standing still, water seemed to condense onto his face and arms until the skin glistened. The touch of the smooth dampness meant something else—it meant that he was still here, still a missionary.
Randall and Denison stood by the white warning line. They’d come to Japan exactly—Thackeray had figured it out once, down to the day, minute, and second. In twenty-four hours, they’d be Americans again.
The southbound express rumbled into the station, steel wailing on steel, overhead power lines arcing with electric blue. The doors hissed open. Humanity flooded out onto the platform and streamed away towards the exit ramps. A woman wearing a blue and white dress stepped out of the crowds, searching in her purse. She was young and attractive. Thackeray stepped toward her and then hesitated, remembering that he was not alone.
She found her rail pass. Looking up to find an exit, she saw the Americans. She smiled and waved. Randall and Denison were surprised at the salutation, and more surprised when Thackeray waved back.
A month before she had “investigated” his church. Now, they were only friends, and it was good to see her.
The girl dressed in blue came over to the Americans. “Takori-san!” she said brightly. “What an nice coincidence, meeting you here.” She looked suspiciously at Denison. “Where’s Michaels-san?”
“We’re leaving for America tomorrow,” Thackeray explained. “So tonight our mission president is taking us to dinner.”
“Oh,” said Kimiyo. “That’s right. You did say—” Disappointment dimmed her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”
She was happy to hear this. “Tomorrow, then.” She held out her hand. “It’s getting late. Have a good time in Tokyo.”
Thackeray took her hand firmly and smiled warmly. “We will.”
She waved to the other two, “Bye-bye.”
The two men watched her walk away.
“She’s a fox,” said Randall. “With a couple of investigators like that, I might think twice about leaving.”
Thackeray was quiet for a time. “Don’t know if I really want to go.” He winced to himself. He knew the words sounded contrived and sentimental.
Randall looked surprised. “Hey, I’m being real, here. I’ve done my time in the desert and a greener world awaits.”
Randall was right. No way did he want to keep on being a missionary. Thackeray turned and closed his eyes.
Those long, bitter months in Senzoku and Kunitachi were so far behind him. Don’t be bitter, Chadwick had told him. Bitter about what? Bitter about everything. Being a missionary didn’t mean the times would always be good, and it hurt like hell when the times were bad.
He shook the thoughts away, sweat ran down his cheeks.
“You’re so dead,” Michaels told him earlier that day, “I ought to dump you in a tea box and mail you home.”
He didn’t want to die. There wasn’t enough time to atone for the past. Resurrection was sometime tomorrow. But it wouldn’t be the same world. Not anymore.
A train pulled up to an adjoining platform. The calliope of noise jostled the missionary back into the present. He looked across the commuter platforms. He was going to miss the trains. The trains always knew where they were going.
The man addressing him was an American about his age. He had on faded jeans and a T-shirt. Although the same height as the missionary, he showed an advantage of twenty or thirty pounds of solid muscle. However intimidating his physique, though, it was negated by the helpless look on his face. Behind him were several other men dressed like him, wearing similar expressions. Probably sailors from Yokosuka on their way back from fun and good times on the Ginza.
The spokesman for the group said, “Where are we?”
“Yokohama station.” He anticipated the next question: “The Yokosuka train is the last platform on the left. You’ll see the sign.”
“Knew you were the right man to ask,” the sailor said. He whacked Thackeray on the shoulder and nearly knocked him over.
Thackeray watched as the sailor sauntered back to his compatriots. He smiled to himself. They were all young, scared, and dying on the run. Would any of it matter a year, a decade, a lifetime from now? In a strange way, he dearly hoped not.
The Tokyo express arrived. The lines of commuters surged forward to the warning line. Thackeray let himself be carried along with the flow. Inside, miraculously, there was an open seat. As the train jolted into motion, he remembered the small box in his pocket. He took it out and slid off the cover. It was a delicate bamboo fan. Unfolding it, he saw that Tanaka had written on the two middle blades: Thank you, Thackeray Choro.
Thackeray closed up the fan and placed it back in the small wooden box. He sat back in his seat and stared out the windows across the aisle. He watched the city lights fade into the distance.
“Sayonara,” he softly said. Sometime tomorrow morning there would be time for a final goodbye, but then it would be too late.
Much too late.