A few nights later, as we were all trying our best to attain a new sense of ordinary routine, Katsumi took both Tadashi and I out in his car. He gave no explanation for where he was going or what he was doing, and when I hesitated to get in, wondering if he really wanted me there, he pushed me gently into the backseat. His eyes were slightly offbeat, edging on dangerous – I was incredibly afraid of making him angry more than anything. Tadashi settled in the passenger’s seat, quiet and calm, and nodded a small bit of encouragement towards me. I buckled up and just hoped for the best.
Katsumi drove us out of the deep wilderness in which we lived, tracking quickly along the few empty roads that existed in the area. He played no music and said nothing. After a while, I thought I knew where he was going; we reached the intersection which, had he turned left, would have taken us into town. But instead, he turned right. I stared out the window at the rapidly blackening night, biting my lip and wondering where this strangely silent adventure would take us.
It wasn’t long before we reached the mountains.
You would think that at this point, Katsumi would slow down. It was dark, the roads were slightly steep and winding, and he had two passengers in the car. But instead he abruptly stepped on the gas. My heart almost burst with the shock of it. Alarmed, I wanted to yell at him, to make him stop, but I couldn’t find the words or the courage to speak up. As we shot into the mountain pass and the rock walls on either side of us began to narrow with dizzying speed, I tried to calm my breathing and began to wonder if I was going to die.
From my seat, I stared at the back of Katsumi’s head. Even from the rear, he gave off a strange aura of determination, and I imagined that I could see the look of wildness in his eyes. His hands were tight on the steering wheel. Sitting calmly beside him, Tadashi gazed out the window with a vacant but thoughtful air. Business as usual, my old schoolmate seemed to say. I didn’t sign up for this! I shouted back.
I don’t know how long I spent in that speeding car, but it felt like an eternity. I was really starting to accept my impending death. At some point, probably fifteen or twenty minutes in, Katsumi braked incredibly hard, throwing us all forward, and then made a sharp turn. I covered my ears and winced at the sound of his skillful death-defying flair. Thankfully, the road began to straighten out a little after that, and a guardrail appeared to our left. Tadashi glanced over his shoulder then, as if to check that I was okay. He gave me a relaxed smile, brushed some of his long blond hair out of his face, and turned toward Katsumi.
“Katsu,” he said, “let’s take a break.”
Katsumi sighed in disappointment and began to slow down. I closed my eyes and sighed in delirious relief.
Some ten seconds later, Katsumi pulled over at the side of the road. He got out, leaving the lights on so that we could all see, and wandered off to pee. I swallowed a sudden nausea and crawled out of the car very, very slowly after him.
Tadashi took up a position a few feet away, leaning against the roadside guardrail and watching me make my escape. I made my way over to him, breathing deeply. He shyly offered me a cigarette, but I declined, and he chose not to light up either.
“I don’t know how you can do it,” I said after a moment. “He’s crazy.”
“He is,” Tadashi admitted. “He has a death wish. But this kind of thing is good for him, you know? Some nights, when he’s not feeling well, he just taps me on the shoulder and I get in the car. He’s got a complicated mind, a complicated heart, because he’s human – and all of us humans find our own ways of dealing with our personal demons. If he didn’t do this once in a while, he’d probably be dead already.”
I shook my head. “You go with him every time?”
He gave a slow smile and a nod. “Every time.”
“Aren’t you afraid he’s going to kill you?”
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that. Of course I’ve thought about that. I’m human too, right? But whenever I start feeling afraid, I just think: if I’m going to die, at least I’ll die with him. You know? It’s better that way for both of us. Besides, he needs me. He can’t do this kind of thing alone.”
I thought about that for a moment. “That’s messed up.”
Tadashi smiled again. “Well, we’re both pretty messed up people.”
Katsumi returned at this point asking for a cigarette. Tadashi offered him one and lit it up for him, and our driver wandered off in the opposite direction to take a smoke. I stared after him wonderingly. Drinks alone, smokes alone… what a guy.
“See, he needs this kind of thing,” Tadashi said to me.
“Yeah, I think I know what you mean. His eyes aren’t so wild anymore.”
Tadashi regarded me. “Chas, when he gets back, I’ll tell him we should turn around and head home. You seem like you’ve had enough excitement for one night.”
Those words relieved me probably more than anything ever had. I thanked him.
Tadashi hasn’t changed, I concluded in my head. Ever compassionate, always looking out for the people around him… he’s probably the most considerate person I’ve ever met.
I puzzled momentarily over a question that would plague me for years – the question of how he and Katsumi had ended up so close, seeing as how they were so different from each other. But then, maybe that was too much of a surface assumption. Maybe, somewhere deep on the inside, they weren’t so different after all.
“You know, Chas, you should consider it a pretty big honor, getting to go for a ride with him,” Tadashi commented. He saw the look on my face and broke into a quiet laugh. “It means he’s willing to die with you. That says a lot.”
“Maybe I’m not willing to die with him,” I suggested.
He shrugged. “For Katsu, that’s besides the point.”
I thought about that for a while. “Say, can I ask you something?”
“Maybe it’s kind of rude.”
“Just say it,” Tadashi said encouragingly. “We can decide if it’s rude afterward.”
“Well…” I bit my lip, embarrassed, and then quickly put it forward: “Are you in love with him?”
My old friend met my gaze directly, surprised, and started up his usual gentle laugh. “What kind of question is that?”
Before either of us could clarify, Katsumi was back. He eyed us warily, said, “What’re you waiting for?”, and got back in the car. Tadashi followed him, glancing over at me with amusement.
“Katsu, I think we should head home…”
After a minute I too returned to my seat. The rational part of me was terribly unwilling to do so, but Tadashi and Katsumi both delivered – the car turned around and headed home, much slower than before. I said a silent thank you and spent the rest of the night gazing out the window, admiring the countryside’s perfect starry sky and thinking about what Tadashi had said to me.
Maybe I should be willing to die with these two…