Monday, December 22, 2014

Feral Parrots Part 2

Here is the second installment of the rough draft of the story I’m calling “Feral Parrots.” 
Akiko knocked on the front door to Neighbor-Derek's apartment.  She looked left and right along the walkway before the apartment.  She hoped no one else would come out and see her.  It took a necessity to bring her outside.  Food from the supermarket.  Taking Daniel to the doctor before his passing.  Moving to the smaller apartment once he had passed.  Things of that nature.  With Daniel gone now, Akiko realized that her reasons for going out into the world had decreased dramatically.  If she wasn't careful, she'd become a "hikikomori," like those young people that stayed inside and shunned society, never speaking to or seeing anyone.  
It was while adding the prospect of becoming a shut-in to her list of possible futures that she heard someone inside fumbling with the locks to the door.  She heard a bolt twist.  Then the rattling of a chain falling against the door.  The the knob twisted back and forth as the person inside worked the lock there.  Akiko wondered if this Neighbor-Derek person was something of a hikikomori himself.  
The door opened.  The parrots, which had been quiet for the remainder of the morning, suddenly started squawking again.  
"Ah...  Herou..."  Out of habit, she bowed her head toward him.  Her first impression was that he was older than she expected.  Closer to her age, even older perhaps.  Much older than her daughter.  A fearful thought of what a man this old, unmarried, was doing having conversations with her nearly teenage daughter was catalogued with the other fears she maintained about living in America.  
"Hello..."  The man peered at her through the narrow crack of his door.  Behind him she could see nothing but darkness.  He must have all the shades pulled tightly over the windows to keep the apartment this dark during the day.  If that was the case, why did he need to leave his front and back porch lights on all night?  
"Ekusecuse me...  I am called Akiko Tomurinsen..."  Akiko bowed her head again.  She found off the impulse to apologize for her poor English, still so bad despite living in America and being married to an American for so many years.  Mari's admonishment sounded in the back of her mind.  She shushed it as she would if her daughter had said it out loud.  "In the apartomento ober dere..."  She pointed to the opposite side of the building, where his back door faced.  "Is where I am living..."  
The man shut his eyes tight for a moment.  Akiko braced herself, expecting a rough, American outburst directed toward her.  He opened them after a moment, blinked, then focused on her again.  
"Ah, sou...  Mari-kun no okaasan, desu ne?"  
"Eh?  Hai.  Sou da."  
Akiko was so startled by the man's use of Japanese that she completely lost her manner and answered in in a very informal way, as if they had been long time friends or family members.  
"I'm very glad to finally meet you.  Mari is a smart girl."  He opened the door wider.  Yes.  He was definitely her husband's height, though much more slender.  His hair was cut very, very short.  What her daughter called a "buzz cut."  His eyes were the brightest, clearest green she could ever remember seeing.  They seemed to flash the way a cat's eyes did when you shone a light into them at night.  There was a tired look to his face, as one who had to stay up late and work all night might look.  "I am called Derek Merton.  Yoroshiku Onegainshimasu."  
He bowed after giving her a very proper and polite Japanese greeting.  She found herself bowing in an automatic reaction.  When Akiko straightened back up she realized, almost as an aside, that he was what she would consider to be a very handsome man.  
"Yoroshiku Onegaiitashimasu."  Akiko found herself at a loss.  She was struggling to remember what it was that brought her here.  She fell upon another old habit from when she meet Daniel and his English-speaking friends back in Japan; the compliment.  "You speak Japanese very well."  
"Ah, no."  He waved his hand back and forth between them.  A very Japanese gesture.  "No, not yet.  My speaking skills are like a lazy school boy, and my reading skills are even worse.  I understand almost nothing."  
It sounded like a practiced response.  Something he'd learned to say to make his Japanese acquaintances smile and insist that he was, in fact, quite good.  His pronunciation was like a native!  And even if a practiced response, to hear an American respond with such modesty was...  It was...  
The parrots increased their cries.  They started flapping between the trees rising from the court below to the eaves over their heads.  Akiko started ducking at the sound of them striking the roof above as they landed.  She could hear their claws scratching the roof's tiles.  Their voices pushed their way into her ears and drowned out all other thoughts.  
"I know, I know!"  Neighbor-Derek looked up as he raised his voice in English.  "She's standing right in front of me.  Settle down."  
In a heartbeat, the squawking stopped.  One of the birds, directly above them, kept calling and calling unabated.  Then two others shrieked at him in short, angry bursts.  It was almost as though one said, "Pay..." and the other, "Attention!"  
Neighbor-Derek was watching her.  Waiting for her.  A pleasant, patient smile on his lips.  His eyes kept flashing, though.  Not quite like cat eyes, no...  More like...  Something else.
"I, uh..." Something made her want to speak in English.  To show respect for his effort to learn her language.  Not for her, she knew, but...  Doing so would stretch the conversation out forever.  "I am so sorry to disturb you, but..."  
"Something is wrong."  He lowered his head, his expression grave.  He stared even deeper into her eyes.  "If there is something I can do for you..."  
"Well, it's a little something...  You see...  Your bedroom...  I mean!  The light over your backdoor, it faces MY bedroom, you see..."  
Her phone started ringing.  
"Sumimasen."  She bowed in apology as she pulled the phone out of her pants pocket.  She looked at the screen.  All the relief from a moment ago left her.  It was Mrs. Tomlinson.  
"Sumimasen.  Chotto dake."  She raised a finger to Neighbor-Derek then turned away, walking to the railing behind her.  She covered the phone with her free hand as she thumbed the red button to enable the call.  
"Akiko?"  Daniels mother always elongated the opening of her name.  "Ah-kiko."  It almost sounded like she was saying, "Oh, something old and strange," when she used her name.  "You were supposed to call me this morning, remember?"  
"But you didn't call."  
"Yes."  Akiko bowed her head, then chastised herself for a gesture Mrs. Tomlinson couldn't see.  
"We need to get this straightened out as soon as possible.  We have to think of what's best for Mari..."  
One of the parrots, the one that had fallen quiet last, began squawking.  A metallic, "Craw-Craw-Craw," in time with Mrs. Tomlinson's words.  It made it hard to hear her.  
"You see the advantages, don't you?  You can't support her and yourself on what you're getting from Social Security."  
"Yes."  Not with you withholding the monthly payments from Daniel's trust fund.  She had told Daniel, asked him, pleaded with him to change the fund to put her in charge.  Daniel had promised that he would.  Had even shown her the paper work he'd filled out.  But death came before he could file it.  
"I've already had my attorney draw-up a craw-craw-craw..."  
"Eh?  Nani?"  She put her free hand over her ear to cut off the parrot cries.  Others were joining in now.  
"What?  Akiko, you know I don't speak craw-craw...  I said my CRAW-CRAW has drawn up CRAW-CRAW-CRAW..."  
"I..."  Akiko shook her head.  The woman had never accepted her as family.  Had never tried to understand her.  But then, she had never spoken up to her.  She had worked through Daniel.  Gotten him to speak up when needed.  And now Daniel was gone and she didn't know how to make herself understood.  
"Don't You Want to Keep Her?"  
"Eh?  Mochiron!"  Of course!  Mari was her precious daughter.  She had been a part of her, inside her.  Daniel had been lazy, indulgent, but had been kind and thoughtful and loved her and Mari.  Mari had all of that part of him.  "Mari-chan to isshou ni sumitai, yo.  Naze..."  
Why was Mrs. Tomlinson asking her that?  Why was she trying to speak to her in Japanese?  She didn't understand Japanese.  
"Yes!  Yes!  Yes, yes, yes!"  It was the only English word that came out easily.  Yes, she wanted to keep Mari.  Yes, she would if she had the means.  Yes, she knew that Mrs. Tomlinson was using the money and position she had to take the most precious thing she had in her life and send her back to Japan.  Alone.  With no one...
"Yes, what?  Akiko, what--?"  
Eh?  She could hear Mrs. Tomlinson going on now.  Saying more of the same things she'd been saying, since right after Daniel's funeral.  It would be better if Mari lived with her.  Went to the best schools.  Had the best things.  Then who...?  
Akiko looked up.  All the parrots in the trees were staring at her.  Screaming at her.  The ones on the roof were bent over, looking at her upside down, squawking and screaming at her.  Their voices were ringing in her ears.  
Akiko looked to her right.  Neighbor-Derek was there.  He was looking at the parrots.  She had said the same thing to them this morning.  "You're noisy.  Be quiet."  
This time the parrots fell silent.  The pranced back and forth on the branches they were standing on.  They looked...  Embarrassed.  Naughty boys caught in their naughtiness.  
Mrs. Tomlinson.  Her voice, tinny over the phone's speaker.  Akiko brought the phone back to her ear.
She heard an exasperated huff.  "It is clear to me that you're going to be selfish and won't think about Mari's future.  I'll just have to proceed with what I think is best for my granddaughter.  Call me if you come to your senses."  The line beeped.  The call ended.  
"Hello?  Hello?  Moshi-moshi...?"  No.  No, no, no...  She hadn't wanted to make her mad.  She had thought, hoped, that if she could take some time, without getting her mad...  But...  
"Nanika tetsudaimashou ka?"  
She stared at Neighbor-Derek.  Was there something he could help with?  Help with?  She wanted to scream at him.  Can you bring my husband back?  Can you get me money to keep my daughter?  What can you do?  
His eyes.  Green flashing eyes.  Not cat eyes.  No.  They were green like a parrot's eyes.  
With a strangled sound in her throat, Akiko turned and ran from him and the parrots.  She kept running until she was safely back in her apartment, the door locked securely behind her.  
That’s it for now.


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