I woke up the next morning to the first rays of sunlight filtering through the window. Tadashi had told me not to put the blinds down – way out here, there were no city lights to interfere with one’s sleep, so there was nothing to block out. Most of all, I discovered it was a genuine pleasure to wake up with the sunrise. I sat up in bed, gazed out the window for a bit, and smiled.
After showering and washing up in the bathroom, I headed downstairs. Tadashi was making breakfast. He was wearing a loose gray shirt with a simple geometric design that seemed to complement him nicely. He glanced over at me and said good morning.
“Sleep well?” he asked.
“Yup. What are you making?”
“Scrambled eggs. Want some?”
I sat at the counter and watched him cook. He threw some mushrooms in with the eggs, turned off the heat, mixed them well and portioned them evenly onto three plates. Then he turned the stove back on.
“Breakfast potatoes?” he asked, turning toward me.
I nodded. “Okay. Thanks. Do you need help?”
“In the garden. You can go see him if you want. This will take a while.”
I got up and headed out the side door, following the well-worn path Tadashi had pointed out the day before. The air was slightly cold but incredibly clean, and I drank it in happily. Wandering slowly through the woods, I imagined that I was a hermit, living in the middle of nowhere.
The gardens came into view after a couple minutes of walking. There was a huge variety of plants, most of which I couldn’t identify, and a lot of them were flowering or bearing colorful fruit. They had obviously been planted with care, lined up initially in even rows, but the paths between them had been heavily overgrown since the last summer. Katsumi had started weeding and clearing them out, but it looked like he might have given up. I wandered among the plants, admiring them, until I found Katsumi at the far end. Kneeling on the ground, he was up to his elbows in dirt, digging up enormous sweet potatoes.
He raised his head as I approached. “Morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” I replied.
He seemed calm and content, even as he wrestled with the plants and the earth. For a moment he looked like he was smiling – at me, at the sun, at no one. I’d noticed yesterday that Katsumi didn’t smile as much as the average person. He’d only really looked happy when he was making jokes, playing music, or bantering with Tadashi. I wondered what his reason was for smiling now.
“Those potatoes are huge,” I remarked.
“Yup. Haven’t been bothered in at least a year.”
“Are these for breakfast?”
He grinned. “I’ll make something real good, then you can tell Tama I’m the better cook. Okay?”
I laughed. “We’ll see.”
“Is he making me breakfast too?”
Katsumi nodded, looked back down into the dirt, and started digging again. He continued speaking without facing me, his expression now shielded by his long hair.
“We’re going to go to the market afterwards. Do you want to come?”
I thought about it. “I’d love to, but I have some work to do. Maybe next time.”
I squatted down beside him. “Can I ask you something?”
He glanced at me quickly. “Yeah.”
“How did you two meet?”
“Me and Tama? We almost killed each other.”
I started laughing, but Katsumi looked at me again with a completely straight face and added, “No joke.”
In my head, I was thinking: should I be alarmed?
“It’s kind of a long story,” Katsumi admitted. “You want to hear it?”
“Um… yeah, I guess.”
“So this was sometime during our second year of high school…”
He leaned over and gave a firm yank, and a pink-and-purple sweet potato came out of the ground. I clapped. The potato joined the growing pile at Katsumi’s feet, and Katsumi sat back on his heels, brushing the dirt off his hands.
“I was walking home from school one day,” he said. “And I saw this guy. He was one of our upperclassmen. He was leaning against the wall of a big building, and he was harassing this other girl in my grade. I mean, totally harassing her. He was calling her names, laughing at her, throwing things at her, and eventually he started coming closer to her and touching her. Both intimately and violently. And all throughout it, she didn’t leave – maybe she was too scared, maybe they were boyfriend and girlfriend, who knows. But she was asking him to stop and he didn’t.”
“Did you call the police?” I asked.
Katsumi shook his head slightly and held up a finger, as if to say, I’m getting there. He went on, “Regardless of who you are or what your relationship with the other person is, you can’t treat people that way. At least that’s what I think. When I saw this happening, I got really mad. And when I get mad, I get really mad – like, I can’t control myself. I went right up to him and punched him in the face. He hit the ground, and I started kicking him. I told the girl to run away and she did, and meanwhile I kept beating the guy up. I might have killed him, really.”
Listening to his story, I remembered the look he’d had in his eyes when we’d first met – wild, dangerous, on the edge. I wondered if it was a sign of him losing control. I wondered what had set him off.
Katsumi continued, “While I was just about killing this guy, another person appeared. It was Tama, who was also walking home. He arrived basically right after the girl had run off, so he didn’t see her; he didn’t get any of the context. All he saw was a guy beating up some other guy who looked bloody and helpless. And you know how he is – the way he can go on about peace and human love and all that. He tried putting himself between the two of us, and I got mad and punched him, too.”
I scratched my head. “Great way to meet someone.”
“Right? So at this point in my madness I gave up on the other guy and started beating on Tama. I thought he would be an easy target – he’s pretty small, and he looks really feminine, which society traditionally equates with being weak. But my assumptions were entirely wrong. Tama fought back, and he fought hard. It turned out he was just as strong as me – in fact, he was exactly as strong as I was at the time, and because of that, neither of us could really win. We just beat each other up really badly until we were both too tired to continue.”
“I can’t really imagine it,” I said. “Tadashi fighting…”
“You wouldn’t dream of it now, right? But back then, we almost killed each other. The fight ended with both of us lying on the ground, broken and exhausted. We mutually agreed to not call the police on each other, because neither of us could afford that. Then I asked him why he had intervened, he asked me why I had been beating up the other guy in the first place, and we realized it was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. We started talking about other things – school, family, music – and bonded over them, and now, several years later, we’re closer than anyone could have imagined. It’s kind of crazy.”
“That’s a wild story,” I said. “I just met him when he sat next to me during recess in fourth grade.”
Katsumi laughed. “Well, I bet you were less hot-headed than I was, especially at that age.”
“What happened to the other guy?”
“The first guy I beat up? Tama made an anonymous phone call to an ambulance service, and then we hightailed it out of there. A couple months later I caught a glimpse of him at school again. But I don’t think he recognized me – or if he did, he didn’t care. At least I know that I didn’t kill him. That would’ve been bad.”
Behind us a voice retorted, “You almost killed me. That would’ve been worse.”
We turned in unison to see Tadashi walking through the garden toward us. Katsumi laughed; I smiled, and my old friend smiled back, quiet and happy.
“Breakfast is ready,” he said.