Thought I’d try my hand at flash fiction. Sorry, this one’s kind of a downer. Not all stories have happy endings. It’s titled ‘Issei’ and is 1020 words long.
‘Watanabe, what do you have?’
Tamaki Watanabe looked into the alley again to make sure he was getting all of the details right before speaking to his superior. The body was under a tarp now to keep the rain from disturbing it further, but dirty, bare feet jutted clumsily from under it as a grim reminder of the temporary nature of flesh. Not that it mattered. This was open and shut. A common case really. Tamaki felt something in him, maybe his ninjo, urging him to feel pity, but there was work to be done. Obligations were to be upheld. He couldn’t let his feelings get in the way.
‘Unidentified caucasian male,’ Tamaki said, his voice muted to an impassive drone. ‘Estimated age of thirty five. Eighty kilos.’
Ethan Barnes was looking out of the window of the Newark Airport. The skies were dull and light-less, much like his expression. Just two years ago, he’d been okay. Everything had been manageable. It wasn’t perfect. He’d had to sacrifice. He’d had to make do with what he had. Everyone did. When the collapse truly hit, things were okay at first, but in a matter of months, everything he’d come to depend on seemed to fall apart.
The power blackouts. The unrest. The deflation. Some of America’s allied nations had tried to boost things in an attempt to keep things stable. They’d influxed capital into ’emergency currency’ to stave off wider collapse. The EC scrip they sent were worth next to nothing now. It carried about the same value as toilet paper. He’d spent everything he had to get a ticket to another country. He had thirty EC to his name and the clothes on his back.
His flight was called and he found himself pressing in against a mostly Asian looking crowd who looked much better off than he did. He shuffled among them to get into the plane and dreamed of what might happen when he arrived in Japan. He’d always been fascinated by it. Now he was going to live there. For good or for ill. It couldn’t be worse than America.
‘We have motive?’ came the inspector’s voice again.
‘Not yet, but he probably brought it on himself’ Tamaki said. This looked routine. Dead gaijin showed up in gutters three or more times per day. This one would see no justice. It was even possible it did not warrant it.
Gaijin had flooded the country following the collapse. Their ways made people uncomfortable. Before they came, it was easy to manage society by the old rules. But, with so many foreigners with no concept of giri and their abject poverty, they were beginning to upset the natural order of things. Tamaki’s parents often spoke in harsh terms about these gaijin. About how Japan should treat the outside world like they did in older times. He admonished them for their lack of empathy – but at the same time he saw their point in the face of every dead gaijin that turned up like this.
‘Make it quick,’ said the inspector. ‘We have real crimes to work through, Watanabe.’
Life was hard on the streets. The EC Ethan had on him were worth nothing at all in Japan, and he had only what he could scrounge from compassionate passers by. Begging in any one place was difficult as after a few minutes police would show. There was a kind of social dance expected in every strata of society here that Ethan did not understand,even amongst beggars. Police in the district had no reservation about beating begging foreigners in plain sight for breaking rules they didn’t understand.
He’d met a few other ex-pats in the streets the first weeks, but was disappointed to find that just because someone was white didn’t mean they could speak English. The first ex-pats he encountered ran him off. The second group had grabbed him, beat him for several minutes, then took almost everything he owned including his shoes. After that, he stopped trying to team up. He was on his own.
‘Cause of death, Tamaki?’
‘Reporting officers noted multiple stab wounds. Trauma to the kidney area. There were a lot of bruises from prior encounters, but fresh ones too. Time of death was probably sometime yesterday.’
All Ethan had asked for was food.
As they stood in the alley, forming a rough circle around him, Ethan knew he had made some sort of mistake, again having failed to understand the delicate balance of begging. The people surrounding him were wearing surprisingly conservative clothes. A few wore sunglasses, which he knew on some abstract level was not the norm here. One rolled up his sleeves to reveal intricate tattoos. They would occasionally speak, but always in Japanese. The one word he kept hearing though was ‘Issei.’
When the blows came, he was helpless to defend himself. Putting arms up to block the strikes was impossible when there was always someone behind him to punch at his weakspots. When he fell, he hunched into a ball and tried to protect his head. One pulled out a knife and stabbed him between two ribs, then again in his back and finally in his kidney. He screamed but they did not stop.
The last thing he saw was the shopkeeper across the way whom he’d asked for food. He occasionally looked into the alley to see the progress of the beating unfold. Never once did he call for help, and never once did concern cross his eyes. As Ethan died, the shopkeeper simply swept the concrete in front of his noodle restaurant and then went inside.
‘Come on, Watanabe. Time to go. We have other cases to work. An Amerikajin got himself killed. It happens every day. We must tend to our own now.’
Tamaki turned after giving the body one last, cursory look and wondered when it was going to stop. The collapse was rippling out and washing onto his shores like a human tsunami. It was only a matter of time.
The Issei, the new first generation of American refugees, would bring the world down with them.