Sometime in the late afternoon, their manager arrived at the hospital.
Her name was Aliyah. She was tall and broad-shouldered, athletic-looking, with dark blue-rimmed glasses and a tan messenger bag at her side. Her hair was black like Katsumi’s but slightly curly; she wore an off-white, generic brand-name T-shirt and jeans, and I caught an initial glimpse of a tattoo climbing up the back of her neck. She entered the room in a rush, halted almost immediately, and stared at Tadashi for a moment in the same exact way I had.
“Aliyah,” Katsumi said, getting up from his seat.
“Katsumi,” she replied. Her voice was low and hesitant, strained. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Katsu pointed to me. “This is Chas.”
We shook hands. The introductory small talk came and went with no one really paying attention to it. I remembered the plans I had made, to call Aliyah and ask her for permission to write publicly and properly about Katsumi’s and Tadashi’s music. None of that matters now, I thought. Not anymore… not until this is over.
“Sit down,” Katsumi invited. “You got here so quickly…”
“Naturally,” Aliyah said. She glanced over at Tadashi, then at me, then back to Katsumi. “How long has he been out?”
“Since this morning. Around 7:30.”
“And they don’t know why.”
“Not really, no.”
“At least it doesn’t look like he’s hurting,” I commented slowly.
Aliyah looked at me. “You’re Tadashi’s friend from back in middle school? Cheng-han, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“He’s told me about you before.”
I was surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah. If he talks about his childhood, he talks about you. Inevitably.”
“I heard you’re a freelance writer.”
“Before… I was going to ask you if I could write about them and their music.”
Aliyah nodded. “When this is over, we’ll talk.”
“He’s a good writer,” Katsumi cut in.
I looked at him, startled. “What?”
“Chas is a good writer,” he restated simply.
“When have you ever read my writing?”
“We looked you up once. Me and Tama. It wasn’t so long ago.”
I considered that for a moment. “It’s kind of weird knowing that anybody can just look me up on the internet and read everything I’ve ever written… I hadn’t really thought about that until now.”
“Anyway,” Katsumi said, “Chas is a good writer and a good person, so you should let him write about us. That’s my two cents.”
Aliyah smiled. “You, on the other hand, can’t write for your life.”
Katsumi flushed at her teasing. “Hey! It’s not essays or newspaper articles, but I write great songs. I write music.” He started to go on, stopped himself, and deflated slightly. “…Tama’s the one who can’t write anything at all.”
In an instant he looked like he was about to cry again. Aliyah and I glanced at each other, both of us wondering what we should do, what we should say, but luckily, the problem was solved for us. Katsumi stood up abruptly and started heading for the door.
“I’m going for a smoke,” he announced.
“Okay,” Aliyah said. “I’ll stay here with him…”
Katsumi paused in the doorway and turned to look at me. “Chas. You coming?”
I choked down my surprise. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s go.”
The two of us found an empty bench in a park area across the street from the hospital. Katsumi passed me a cigarette, and we lit up and stood around smoking.
“I shouldn’t smoke,” Katsumi said after a long while. “It’s not good for the environment, and it’s not good for my voice.”
I made a small sound of acknowledgement. “So… you wrote all of your songs?”
“Yeah…” He sighed. “All the lyrics, almost all the music. You hear me say that, it sounds like Tama’s pretty useless.”
“…But you can’t do any of it without him.”
He swung to meet my gaze, his eyes bright and full. “No. I never could.”
We tapped out and discarded our cigarettes. Listening to short bird calls and the dull roar of city traffic, I thought quietly for a while. Both of us knew we should probably go back, but there was something I had to say, and Katsumi seemed to recognize that. He waited.
“You know, Katsumi…” I began. “I was mistaken about you.”
“I thought you were crazy. I thought you were so hard to figure out, so wild and complicated. I made up all of these explanations in my head, and all these ideas and metaphors for how to understand your personality – but they were all wrong. I see that now. You aren’t hard to figure out at all.”
Katsumi considered this. “Well, if you think so…”
I pushed on. “Over the past couple days, everything suddenly started to make sense to me. You aren’t complicated. You’re the exact opposite of complicated. You let yourself feel… everything. You think and feel and react genuinely to everything, and you don’t hold back. If you’re angry, you let yourself be angry. If you’re sad, you let yourself cry. If you’re not okay, you say that you’re not okay. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with. You’re just you – always you – and that’s how you live. It’s not how most people live, which is why for the longest time I thought you were just unstable and crazy, but that doesn’t matter. It’s how you live, and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?”
Gazing thoughtfully at the ground between us, he answered slowly, “…That’s right, Chas. That’s the bottom line.”
“Tell me something, Katsu. That day, a week or two ago, when you woke up screaming… what was your dream about?”
He looked at me with slight, wary surprise. “Why?”
I waved my hand to indicate the hospital. “It was this, wasn’t it? You dreamed about Tadashi?”
For a long moment he did not answer. I watched him, intent but at the same time uncertain if my intuition was correct.
“No,” he said at last. “No, the dream wasn’t about this… but it might as well have been.”
Before I knew it Katsumi was in my arms and crying, and as I embraced him fiercely I felt tears on my own face and I closed my eyes.