Ayako was the oldest of three sisters. Jijo-kun was two years younger, and was tall with a cool and boyish kind of beauty. Everyone used -kun with her, so I ended up doing it too. She was a free spirit, and I didn’t see much of her or talk at any length with her, but spending time with her wasn’t so bad. Sanjo-chan was seven years younger, and maybe because her mother died right after she was born, she had always clung to Ayako. When I started going out with Ayako, she was in middle school and didn’t try to hide her hostility towards me, spending all her time sabotaging our relationship, meddling and spreading rumors, to the point where Ayako couldn’t get through to her at all, but after I got to spend half a day alone with her, she suddenly warmed up to me.
I didn’t do anything special. I just took off the kid gloves with her. She must have realized she wasn’t a poor little girl without a mother who the world would always be kind to. She was a smart girl, after all. But after that, she clung to both Ayako and me, and so dates with just the two of us became a thing of the past. On top of that, Sanjo-chan was a shutter bug, and whenever we went on dates, she would spend every free moment clicking away at the camera, and she even used to bring a tripod and set up the lighting, turning the date into a photo shoot. Incidentally, it was my job to carry the tripod and hold the reflector, which meant Ayako was the sole subject. Well, I enjoyed the novelty of it, but Ayako was at a loss with Sanjo-chan taking out her camera everywhere, from streets to restaurants, so she gave her a big scolding, and after that the only equipment that Sanjo-chan brought with her was her camera. She went off on me too, but I liked that. I also had a younger brother, and we were close in age but had always been distant, so something about their sisterly antics warmed my heart.
“Akinrou, when I take pictures of Sis with you, I hate how head-over-heels she looks.”
Despite saying that, she started taking pictures with just me.
“But when I take pictures of you, it’s like I can see Sis through you, and it’s great leaving you out of the shot,” she jabbed.
Now that she mentioned it, I used to hate having my pictures taken and seeing pictures of myself, but I didn’t mind how I looked in my pictures with Ayako, and I got comfortable with pictures of just me too, maybe because I was looking at Ayako who was outside the frame. But after losing Ayako, it became painful to look at pictures of just me, so I threw most of those away.
“You’d better get pictures of Sis and Muku-chi when I’m not there, too.”
Once she became a professional photographer, Sanjo-chan told me that and gave me a high-end camera, but Ayako got mad when I tried taking sexy pictures, and only let me take some safe pictures when she was in a good mood. I only have a few of those left. I’m glad for that. After I went rogue, killed the Challenger, and got sent to prison, I didn’t have anywhere to keep my belongings, so it’s good that I didn’t take any sexy pictures. Ayako always knew best. After I joined Kura, I got permission to bring in a few personal effects, so I begged Momoki-san to let me have a few pictures from Ayako’s family. Apparently, Sanjo-chan wouldn’t let me choose which photos to get, and didn’t even want to give me any, but Jijo-kun took some from her for me to have. That’s why they were very different from the photos Sanjo-chan developed and showed us before, which were carefully posed according to her taste, but I liked how candid they looked.
Even though it took so much effort to get the photos, it took time before I could look at them. I couldn’t hold them in my hands, and just seeing them stacked face-down on the floor made my thoughts freeze and my body turn stiff, so that for a few days I could barely move. Even when I could move, I wanted to keep diving into id wells instead of going back to my cell, so Momoki-san threatened to take them away, but I still confined myself to the cockpit, and partly I wasn’t used to becoming Sakaido, I nearly had a heart attack. The Face-lifter taunted me after I came back from the hospital ward, and three days later he was dead. After that, I could put the photos on the wall. The person I was in those pictures is gone. He went away with Muku and Ayako. It was a delight to look at those photos knowing that, and I could only laugh at how fake my tears were.
Photographs are strange things. They’re always about the past, but they don’t remember it, only record it. At the same time, they’re evidence of what happened, and as a former detective that was something I couldn’t ignore. They confronted me with the connection between my past self and current self. I had no idea that I was that kind of person. Someone who could lose himself to rage and send people to their deaths. A man who felt no remorse about using someone’s suffering, grief, and doubts to drive them to suicide. I could even convince myself that it was what they wanted, that they made the choice of their own will, but even after discovering that part of myself, I started to wonder if the upstanding man who could be a husband to Ayako and a father to Muku was still somewhere in me. Sometimes I struggle with that thought. I’m still not sure. So I just look at the photos. Sometimes I think that good and evil are contradictory existences within me, but if killing villains is the right thing to do, then they might even coexist and I’m still the man I was before.
On one of our first dates, I was driving and Ayako was sitting next to me humming, and the tune sounded familiar so I asked her what it was called. It was “Forever Memories” by w-inds. It was an old boyband song, so I was a little surprised and laughed, ready to tease her about her taste in music.
“Hee hee. I bet you think it’s a dumb song, don’t you?”
Ayako hit the nail on the head, which startled me, but it was her giggle that really grabbed my attention. She didn’t wait for me to answer and went on.
“But you know, even for songs like this, if you listen closely, the lyrics and melody actually really good.”
I was about to protest, “Well sure, but I’m just not into this stuff,” but Ayako kept going.
“And there’s some parts of a song that you can’t appreciate until you sing it yourself. Especially this song, you might, no I really think you’ll like it, Narihisago-kun!”
“You sure?” I asked, and hooked her phone to the car’s bluetooth so she could play it.
Uh, this isn’t anything special. Sure, the melody’s a bit catchy, but it’s seriously generic. Ayako laughed.
“Try remembering the lyrics and singing it yourself, like maybe when you’re alone.”
Uh, I’d rather not.
But somehow I did remember the song and ended up trying to sing it. At first, I just thought it was funny that I actually remembered it, but then the hook really got to me. It didn’t feel any different, but I couldn’t pronounce the words in that line. At “I couldn’t do a thing for you,” my voice faltered, and I started tearing up at “not even listen to your selfish requests”. By the time I got to “all I do is burden you” I couldn’t sing at all, and from “we always miss each other” on, the melody just kept playing on in my head. How could such a cliche song do this to me? It wasn’t something that I went through or experienced, and I’ve never been the sentimental type, or even reminisced over someone like that. It wasn’t the meaning of the words, but the way they sounded that shook something deep inside me. That’s when Ayako became a special person to me. I didn’t go out and try to treat her differently, she truly was precious to me. I would cherish her without a second thought, and when my thoughts wandered, I started to wonder what she was doing. Whenever I saw something, I wanted to show it to her. It was a first for me.
My memories are random, like the photos on my wall.
Our wedding was at a church by the sea.
“Did you know, the Narihisago in my name means gourd?”
“Huh? Ehehe, you’re telling me that after we turned in the forms?”
“Hehe. I had to wait until you couldn’t back out.”
Then I held her hands and kissed her softly.
“Don’t worry, I won’t back out. Besides, I already knew that! They dry out gourds and store sake in them, so there’s this sake brand called Narihisago.”
“I did my research before becoming a gourd girl.”
“You sure did.”
After we got married, we went to a photo booth for the first time, when we hadn’t even gone to one on a date.
“Why a photo booth?” I complained. After we finished taking them, Ayako told me,
“I wanted to have something to watch over me when I’m waiting for you to come home. Like some of your goofy faces.”
“Oh, well uh, I dunno if I made any goofy faces.”
“Want to take some more?”
“Uhh, let’s not.”
“Hehe, don’t worry, your face is goofy enough.”
“If you say so.”
When I bought takoyaki, Ayako made me eat all of it.
“Here you go.”
“Hehehe, have another!”
“C’mon, you hab some too.”
“They’re best hot, so open wide!”
“I’m shtill eating it, and i’z too hot.”
Sanjo-chan, who was holding her camera, laughed.
“Pfahah. You seriously ate it. Akinrou, you listen to Sis too much.”
“You’re such a thoughtful husband. Thanks a bunch!”
But still, I bought the takoyaki for you.
“They’re weally good.”
“Yeah. But I’m good for today. Sorry!”
Later, I found out what was behind that.
On Ayako’s suggestion, we went to visit the hotel where we held our wedding.
“It’s our starting point, isn’t it?”
“I thought it would be a good place to start something new.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
Sanjo-chan and I both shouted out, and I don’t know why, but we shook hands.
Ayako jogged as a hobby since before we started going out. It was a real drag at first. But I started to like it since it gave us time to be together.
“Hey, Aki-kun, gimme a piggyback ride,” Ayako said out of the blue, so I did.
“Are you tired? You didn’t hurt yourself, did you? Spit it out.”
“Nope. Sorry, the truth is, I just wanted you to spoil me.”
“You’re not going to ask why?”
“You don’t need a reason, do you?”
“Oh yeah, heheh. You’re my husband after all.”
Even when she had morning sickness, she never asked to be spoiled that much.
I aimed my camera in the bedroom.
“Hey, what do you want a picture for?”
“It’s a record, y’know, a record. Look, the baby’s still in there!”
“Wait, you can take videos with that?”
“I just wanted to say that.”
“Hahaha! You really gave me a surprise! Hey, are you excited?”
“I can’t wait.”
I became a homicide detective in the fall of our second year of marriage.
“I’m joining the homicide division,” I said.
She said, “Congratulations,” with a sad smile.
“I might be busier now, so sorry in advance.”
After I said that, she surprised me by retorting, “I’m not worried about myself, you know? It’s your safety that I’m worried about.”
“I’m serious, be careful. “
“Yeah. Of course I will.”
“But there are a lot of people out there who need help, and lots of bad guys, so do your best, Mr. Policeman. I mean, Mr. Detective.”
From behind us, Sanjo-chan murmured, “I should really start worrying about myself.”
I ribbed her with a “Yeah, you’d better,” but I was a little sad, despite agreeing with her. She definitely had the talent.
She told me in bed.
“It’s going to be a girl.”
“I c-c-can’t wait.”
Muku was born. I rushed in right before visitation hours were over, and Ayako said, “Did you have a long day? Look, it’s the lucky baby girl born from a gourd!”
I tried to get in the picture with Muku.
“Alright, Muku, today’s going to be your weaning ceremony!”1
Ayako’s parents were about to arrive, along with Jijo-kun and Sanjo-chan.
“That’s right, Muku can already sit up. She’s doing it a little earlier than the other babies.”
“Are you taking a video?” Ayako asked, smiling, from the kitchen.
I wasn’t, I just ended up talking to the camera.
When Muku was two. She took a tumble in the park.
“Oh, she didn’t cry!”
“Wow, that’s amazing. You’re so strong now!”
After Ayako praised her, Muku said,
“Crying won’ make da hurt stop.”
We thought our little girl might actually be someone special, not just a cute toddler, but some kind of prodigy. We really fawned over her.
When Muku was almost three. She didn’t like the clothes we picked for an outing and was throwing a fit, so I went to help.
“Daaaddy, I don’ waaanna, gooo awaaay! Mooommy!”
She pushed me away, but she ended up letting me change her, so that worked out.
“Thanks! Sorry you always have to be the bad guy,” Ayako said.
“Don’t sweat it,” I replied.
It’s just like good cop, bad cop. Heh.
When Muku was three. We were playing tag.
“Ahahaha! No, no, go ‘way!”
“Mmmm. I got some nice no’s. Hahahaha.”
Ayako chimed in, “Eheh, Daddy got some great no’s.”
“I could almost fall in love.”
When Muku was three and a half.
“What bird zat?”
I replied right away, “That’s a springtime whooshybird. It’s the bird that brings in spring.”
“They get in a line and flap their wings, and that whooshes in spring from all the way across the sky.”
“Oh… This flower!?”
“It’s a plumpygrass.”
“Ehehe. It’s plumpy?”
“When it’s done blooming, it grows these really tasty fruits called plumpyplops.”
“You eat it?”
“Once it grows plumpyplops.”
“You can’t pick plants from the forest or damage them, that’s against the law.”
Sanjo-chan, who was walking up ahead and taking pictures, said, “Akinrou… It’s scary how good you are at making stuff up… Have you been tricking Sis too?”
“I like hearing it, tell me more!”
I could spin that kind of nonsense all day long. I never knew it would come in handy.
Muku’s fourth birthday.
“Happy birthday, Muku!”
“Happy birthday, Muku-chan!”
Muku stared down her cake without saying a thing, so I asked, “Can’t think of a wish?”
“Why’s my wish come true if I blow out candles?”
She actually had a question, so I answered, “There’s a rule in the world that when one thing disappears, something else will appear in its place. That’s how you can get wishes granted.”
I made it all up, but it was eerie how true it sounded.
Muku asked, “I have four candles, can I get four wishes?”
“Haha. You didn’t even think of leaving some for Mommy or Daddy, did you?”
“Nope, Daddy doesn’t get any! But Mommy… Mommy can get one.”
Ouch, somebody’s playing favorites.
“Oh… But we can put more candles and you can have one.”
Only one even if there are more candles, huh. Oh, but that would just look weird.
When Muku was six.
“We’re moving to a new government house!”
“Mommy, did Daddy get a promotion?”
“This time he only got transferred to a different workplace.”
“Muku-chan. No, Muku-san. Your daddy didn’t become a policeman just to get promotions. I’m not even trying to get promotions. That’s because a police officer isn’t the kind of job where you try to make money, and for police officers, promotions are more like…”
“I’d better study for the promotional exams.”
When Muku was seven, at her elementary school entrance ceremony.
“Alright, Muku-chan, what’s your goal for elementary school?”
“To become a fantastic middleschooler!”
“Oh? Is that good enough?”
When Muku was seven. Muku got tired so I gave her a piggyback ride, then she fell asleep.
Ayako said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
“A piggyback ride. You gave me one that one time, didn’t you?”
“You know, it was when we were jogging,” Ayako started explaining, but I did remember it. I just wanted to hear her talk about it. Sanjo-chan seemed to have seen through me.
“Akinrou… The camera discerns all truth,” she warned.
When Muku was eight. She became a second grader.
“Okay, say cheese. …Muku-san, what’s with the somber look?”
“What’s somber mean?”
“It means you’re filled with ennui.”
“When you’re somewhat melancholic?”
“Sazae-san’s neighbors, hahaha.”2
“Huh? Wait, what?”
“Aki-kun,” said Ayako. “You shouldn’t assume that everyone’s seen it. Sazae-san is a cartoon show.”
“Seriously? Anyways, what’s wrong, Muku?”
“I was trying to get a picture of me farting.”
“It’s so hard… Oh, I just farted!”
Her smile was incredible.
When Muku was nine. It was her third grade Field Day.
She actually got third place. In the corner of the grounds, she used the first-place flag for a forgery.
Ayako asked, “What’s wrong with third place?”
Muku shot back, “Third place is fine too. But I already know what third place feels like, so I wanna see what first place is like, too!”
“First place is a victory sign in front of the fla—” I started saying, but reconsidered. “Wait, is that it?”
“Right? And Mom and Dad, you’re happy to see me here too, right?”
“All that we can see is a sad attempt to fake your results.”
“Hahaha! Mom, you’re so serious!”
“Anyways, it’s great that the whole family is happy.”
I couldn’t help but say it.
“Aren’t we? Yaaay!”
When Muku was eleven, in fifth grade. We moved out of government housing and rented a house where Muku could have her own room. I was assembling the bed when they popped their heads in.
“Oh, that’s lovely!” said Ayako. Muku peeked out from behind her and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
I was struck speechless.
“Huh? Wait, don’t freeze up, haven’t I thanked you before?”
“Ahhhhh. So you didn’t say it out loud, but you thought it?”
“You have to say these things or we won’t get them. Aren’t I always telling you?” said Ayako.
Without thinking, I said, “I love you, Muku-chan.”
“Ah, that’s too much for me,” she said and backed off. Ayako laughed.
“Eheh, you got her good!”
Haha. I got her? Yeah, I got her real good.
When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. Sanjo-chan sent us a photo.
“It was hilarious how serious the three of you looked, talking and staring at the TV. I snuck my camera onto the TV stand and took a picture. Do you remember what you were watching and talking about?”
None of us did. She said she took a video too, then we watched it after she sent it over.
“Mom’s complaining about Harry Potter again…”
“Be quiet and listen to her.”
“I mean, just look at Quidditch. The rules are too vague, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s plain dangerous!”
“Dad, are you even listening?”
“Of course I am, I’m waiting for the perfect chance to say ‘that’s right.'”
“In the first place, it’s just weird to have a sport with two separate objectives of catching a ball and scoring points!”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. It was Sunday, and I had gotten home at dawn to sleep on a futon in the Japanese room, when Ayako lay down next to me.
“The sunshine feels so nice!” she said, and we both fell asleep, but before I knew it, Muku had joined us too. And then Sanjo-chan barged in and took our picture.
“Yo!” I said.
She saluted me and left without saying a word. Later, Sanjo-chan sent us the pictures.
“I hate to admit it, but you’re the ideal family. Gyarandu!”3
You sure know some old songs.
When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. For breakfast, we had the open sandwiches from Laputa. Ayako was a genius for making them so easy to eat.
“It’s been so long since we all had breakfast together, hasn’t it?” said Ayako.
“Come over and eat,” I suggested.
“It’s ok, it’s more fun to watch you two eat,” she replied.
“C’mon, eat it while it’s warm. The yolk’s gonna run off,” said Muku.
She was right. You need the right timing to eat Laputa sandwiches. Or else you’ll repeat Sheeta’s mistake.4
When Muku was thirteen, at her middle school entrance ceremony.
“Congrats on becoming a middleschooler! What’s your goal for middle school, Muku-chan?”
“Is it to become a fantastic highschooler?”
“Nope, try again. To be number one!”
“You mean number one in your grade?”
“Nope, something way better. The best in the world!”
“You’re going to get the best grades? Wow!” Ayako said, surprised, and Muku looked confused at her reaction.
“What do you mean? Isn’t that impossible?”
A bit disappointed, I asked, “Then you’re going to be the cutest girl in Japan, right?”
“I can’t do that either.” I didn’t agree, but Muku kept going. “It’s ok, I just wanted to say it. Best in Japan, best in the world! Yay!”
Ah, that’s what this is. That thing with the first-place flag. It looked like Ayako remembered too.
“But at least we’re a happy family, aren’t we?”
Muku laughed and said, “The happiest family in the world! Hold on, aren’t we already?”
We totally were. That’s how it was supposed to be.
When I looked at the photos on my wall, I used to cry from remembering but not anymore, and I thought I was done crying over them, but there are still times when the tears well up on their own. It’s not because of my feelings or anything like that. It’s just a jolt from some unconscious part of me. That boyband song isn’t the only thing that does it. It also happens with the song Ayako sang to put Muku to sleep as a baby.
“The shovel in the garden got wet all day.
The rain lifted, and you sneezed.
The clouds cleared, the sun came out.
I look up and see, la la la.
A rainbow, oh a rainbow across the sky.
You’re feeling, oh you’re feeling better.
I know the weather tomorrow will be nice.
I know the weather tomorrow will be nice.”5
I tried to hold Muku and sing to her like Ayako did, but it was already getting dark. My voice faded out at “la la la”, nowhere close to “the weather tomorrow will be nice.” At this rate, Muku wouldn’t fall asleep.
1Okuizome is a weaning ceremony held when a baby is 100 days old and given a special meal for the first time they eat.
2Sazae-san is a popular long-running manga and anime. Sazae, the main character, has neighbors called Isasaka, which has the same pronunciation as “somewhat” in Japanese.
3“Gyarandu” is a popular 1983 song, the lyrics start with “I hate to admit it, but I can’t stop thinking about you. Gyarandu, Gyarandu.” (The song’s title doesn’t mean anything, but later came to mean belly hair.)
4In Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the characters Sheeta and Pazu are about to eat fried eggs on toast (an open sandwich) when Sheeta asks Pazu a question. Their conversation is interrupted by pirates, and they can’t eat it until later.
5This is a children’s song called “Niji”, here’s a cover.