This is Chapter 5 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.
I’ve been debating about whether I should continue translating this story or shelve it for some time. If you like this story, please consider voting for it here.
Thanks to Nijima Melodiam proofreading this chapter.
(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)
Welcome to the Raindance Cafe
by Yama Yamasaki
Chapter 5: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 3)
To be completely honest, I’m a pretty social guy.
When I’m out somewhere and I see someone I know, I always say hello–It’s only common sense. Even if I just met someone, I have confidence I’ll be able to get along with them to a certain degree both now, and in the future. Without getting too much into the details, it is clear that the cafe’s manager, Rei, and Mekuru Kira are all sociable in their own way. Otherwise, they would never be able to work in the service or entertainment industries.
But the issue here is not about being sociable with other people.
Rather, it’s when a person comes across someone they are extremely close to, and yet they pretend to not notice that person, or conceal themselves to avoid being seen. In my experience, when that happens it is sometimes the case–or almost always the case–that there is a completely inexplicable reason involved, and such reasons are by and large quite troublesome. Even a dubious reason that, from an outsider’s point of view, makes you wonder why they are making such a big deal out of things can be a very delicate matter to the person involved.
“……Why is Miyako……?”
Mekuru Kira looked at the woman at the counter with an expression far from what would expect from someone whose career is practically founded on smiling.
I knew very little about Mekuru Kira, but I knew that back when she had taken the world by storm she never looked like that. Concerned I was seeing things, I consciously blinked several times, but I soon realized that there was nothing wrong with my eyes.
“T–that person is your manager? She is an extremely attractive woman.”
Scared of how she would react, I just barely managed to get these words out, but Mekuru Kira showed no signs of hearing me. I doubted my voice had even reached her.
Just then I remembered Rei. She’d banged her knee really bad so I couldn’t ask her to handle this new customer now. Or at least that’s what I tried to tell myself. I had to get away from Mekuru Kira as fast as humanly possible. Something gave me a bad feeling about all this.
“Excuse me, but I need to go take care of something.”
However, when I gave a quick apology and tried to step away from her table, she yelled out.
The sensation of my shirt being tugged from behind coincided with the roar of plates toppling over.
The woman who was supposedly Mekuru Kira’s manager turned around in response to the loud sound echoing throughout the cafe. I too turned around to face the source of the sound.
Mekuru Kira’s upper body hovered motionless above the table, dishes scattered chaotically as she held onto the edge of my shirt. I was deeply disturbed to see her clinging to me so desperately. However, rather than why she would do such a thing, I was more curious how someone so aloof only moments ago could change this drastically, as if she was a different person.
I apologized again and bowed politely.
“I will stay here for the time being, so could you please be quiet? Also, you’ll wrinkle my shirt, so please let me go.”
Hearing this, Mekuru Kira reluctantly released my shirt and obediently returned to her seat. Her head remained drooped, staring down at the table.
Having realized she would not let me go no matter what I said, I breathed a small sigh of resignation, sat down, and began to reorganize the plates on the table. Apparently Rei had recovered sufficiently because I heard her taking the customer’s order. After all this, my reason for escaping from this table no longer applied.
“……I’m really sorry to interfere with your work.”
Mekuru Kira, face still hidden in shadow, muttered this in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.
“It’s all right because I think being here is part of my job. Although it’s only as long as I feel it’s necessary.”
“Shouldn’t you say hello to your manager? I think it’s so amazing that she just happened to coincidentally come to the same cafe as you. And here, of all places. “
“No, I won’t…I mean, I can’t.”
Cognizant of the dangers, I tried to probe her a little more, but she quickly put a stop to that. I did succeed in getting her to raise her head, only to be greeted with a face like she just ate something terribly bitter.
At this rate, I’ll suffocate from this awkward atmosphere. So I tried to push her a little further.
“You can’t talk to her? Did you guys get in a fight or something?”
Mekuru Kira shot me a quick glance, then diffused my attack as she struggled to maintain composure.
“It’s nothing that you need to hear.”
“But you just stopped me from leaving, right?”
“That was, you know……just using you to hide myself.”
I’d never have guessed she’d use me as a sacrifice.
Actually, maybe there was a hint of this intention in how she acted. And yet, If she was just trying to keep from being recognized, using the mask and sunglasses would have solved that, just like when she entered the cafe. There had to be some other reason she needed me here. The problem was that I had a certain degree of confidence that, for her, this was a truly delicate matter, and I honestly didn’t know if it was a good idea to proceed further. I’m sure Rei would be much more well-suited to this type of thing. I considered trying to somehow get her to switch places with me, but when I saw Mekuru Kira’s downcast face I totally lost motivation to go through the trouble.
“If you don’t mind, let’s talk about it.”
I plowed ahead with this futile proposal, but Mekuru Kira completely ignored me. Not even a single eyebrow twitch.
Failing terribly to get any response from her, I began to feel guilty for my half-assed effort to explore this topic. What was the real reason she had kept me here? I’d made the assumption that she was asking me to help with something, but perhaps I’d misunderstood.
I looked once again at her unmoving form and realized how truly stupid I had been. I should have probably phrased things in a more considerate way. Come to think of it, who in their right mind talks about their personal problems with someone they’ve just met the day before? By broaching this topic, I may have caused her undue suffering.
But as I watched Mekuru Kira now, I realized how idiotic it was for her to be on bad terms with her manager for some unpleasant reason. Moreover, for a celebrity who had participated in renowned stage performances, the reason must be so terrible that a normal person like me couldn’t even conceive of it. Maybe she is aware of this and isn’t talking to me simply because it will clearly serve no purpose. However even if that were so, something tells me she’d be better off losing that painful expression. Mekuru Kira was well known for her terrible acting abilities which upset the audience on at least one occasion, but I’d never imagined they would be this bad.
Stuck in limbo where I could neither advance nor retreat, I decided to do as I was told by the customer before me and sat at her table for a while to prevent her from being seen. Rei seems to have fully recovered; I could hear her cheerful voice clearly from here.
Fifteen minutes later, Mekuru Kira’s cafe au lait ran dry.
Actually, It’s surprising she polished off that much food with only a single cafe au lait. The instant this thought came to mind, Mekuru Kira sucked out air noisily through her straw as she glared at the woman at the counter, trying to drink from a completely empty glass.
“Ma’am, I think that isn’t very appropriate……and the noise will call attention to yourself.”
“Huh? Oh, sorry.”
Upon hearing my warning, Mekuru Kira withdrew the straw from her lips. She let out a weak sigh of disappointment, apparently realizing that the glass was empty.
Upon the table she placed her glass, now containing only ice, propped up her chin with an elbow on the table as if pouting, and stared at the counter again. My position was just right to allow Mekuru Kira a good view of Rei talking happily with the woman, with the ex-pop star’s hard stare boring deep into the woman’s back. I was nothing but a wall.
Her palms pushed deeply into the flesh of her cheeks, resulting in a face that was by no way fit for public radio waves; she didn’t seem to care about this in the least. Presumably this signified how delicate, how hopelessly difficult the problem with her manager was. All more of the reason for me to not butt my head into her business. Like she had just said, from the beginning this was nothing that I needed to hear. No matter how much you talk to a wall, you’ll never get an answer to your problem.
“You know what?”
Just as I was lamenting how much longer I’d have to be her wall, she broke the silence with a soft voice, as if talking to herself.
“You know, lately I’ve had something on my mind.”
“What is it, all of a sudden?”
She brings this up, and when I answer she’s all quiet again. Figures. This girl’s intentions are veiled in mist and becoming progressively harder to see.
After a few more moments, she glanced at me once more, but this time only moved her eyes. Before I could do anything, she frowned as if displeased with something and returned her gaze to the counter.
I hadn’t said even a word. Why did she keep me here if I gave her such a negative vibe? But the moment I thought this, a dull pain ran through both my knees. Yes, I’d been kicked–with the tip of her shoe.
I writhed in agony from a combination of an unexpectedly excruciating pain that refused to go away and the absurdity of having no idea why I’d been kicked.
“Hey kid, so what do you think of me?”
She flung this rigged question at me with a decidedly un-popstar face.
“I don’t mind if you tell me the truth.”
A request so simple, yet so unimaginably difficult. Clueless about what she actually wanted from me, I answered honestly.
“What do I think of you? I think you are like…wow!”
“Your vocabulary is pretty poor. Read any books lately?”
Why is it OK for her to say something blatantly rude like this?
“But yeah, maybe you are right. I guess I’d get a similar answer whomever I asked.”
I really pity this girl’s fans.
At least her question didn’t seem come from self-conceitedness. A resigned tone and undisputably melancholy expression testified to that.
“But isn’t it awesome if everyone says that about you?”
Unable to find the right thing to say, I resorted to this pitiful compromise of a line. While I knew it wasn’t what she was looking for, I didn’t know her well enough to say what she wanted to hear, and had no confidence I could even come close.
Mekuru Kira stared me down, her frown darkening even further.
“Boy, you are totally clueless and unbelievably stupid, aren’t you?”
This unadulterated fastball of an insult flew my way. At this point, anything I said would without a doubt be turned against me, leaving her unscathed.
“From the day you enter this world, you’re alone.”
Mekuru Kira’s cold voice put a halt to my self-victimizing thoughts.
“That’s right, alone. It’s a lonesome, solitary battle. A long, perilous one that leaves no room for error.”
Mekuru Kira mumbled, or should I say spit out these words as if in great pain. Then she openly averted her eyes from me. At first, I thought this sudden remark was quite extreme, but after seeing how she acted, I began to feel there was some sort of undeniable truth here.
“In other words, we live in a fickle, dog-eat-dog world. Friend one day, enemy the next. It was only natural for me to get out of it sooner or later, and once you’re out, there’s almost never a second chance. There are risks around every corner.”
As she rattled this off, Mekuru Kira’s voice was more than just cold, it possessed a terrible sense of weight.
“That’s why everyone works so desperately, knocking down others on the way to the top. It’s the only way to survive, and even if you make it to the top, you can’t let your guard down for even a moment. You have to keep working to stay there. Of course, things were no different for me. For the same reason, I neglected my friends and acquaintances. Being a solo act made that even more so.”
She switched the arm she was propping up her chin with and sighed resignedly.
“And so, I obtained fame and made it to the very top, sacrificing many colleagues to get there. But that was where I went wrong. They too were doing this as a career, trying to make enough money to survive, and nobody enjoys seeing another person make it big. At that point, I didn’t have a single person who I could call a friend. But I continued working hard. I didn’t want to give up the ultimate position I’d attained. However, something forced me to give it up.”
“What was it?”
“In this world, one’s generation only lasts so long.”
Hearing this made me remember something.
Right around the time Mekuru Kira began to disappear from TV, there was another pop star who started to appear, filling the hole that Mekuru Kira left.
“It was at that time when I realized how all the other girls had felt about me. Before my very eyes, I saw fame slip through my fingers, and all of a sudden that girl had stolen the place that had been mine. Oh, it was way more than just a place. It was all of the fans that had supported me. Everything I had. After that, I became truly alone.”
I was speechless. Utterly shocked to discover she had her own life, hidden from all of us fans, I had no idea what to say. It was too much for me, just an everyday Joe, to imagine her walking a path so dangerous it was uncomparable to our risk-averse lives.
“No matter what industry you are in, there is always the pressure of the younger generation, right? But for us, the young destroy our lives. I guess you could say it’s obvious, but I thought that if I did my best I could beat the odds. I thought that I alone would always be able to see the view from the top. But that’s not how things work. It wasn’t some probability I could overcome with effort. I guess you can call it an inescapable fate. I was helpless to change things.”
Mekuru Kira sighed and flashed me a strained smile.
I had been so out of touch from reality. The woman who sat before my very eyes had borne a massive weight on her shoulders–infinitely heavier than anything I’d experienced in my entire life. Furthermore, the smile we all watched on TV had served as a mask to hide her gut-wrenching efforts. I felt the image of everything she was to me begin to deteriorate.
Feelings of guilt creeped in, growing at an alarming pace.
“……I’m really sorry. I didn’t know what was going on in your life and said so many inappropriate things……”
“No big deal. Rei knows the situation with me and still acts like that, and I wasn’t looking for sympathy when I told you about my manager.”
Mekuru Kira stated this with a mean look, but afterwards her expression softened ever so slightly.
“But Miyako was different than the others.”
She gazed calmly at the woman at the counter.
“Miyako was the only one who encouraged me to keep trying. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have ever been recognized. I would have never seen the view from the top. I was really glad to have left my career in her hands……or so I had thought.”
I kept quiet, waiting for her to continue.
She slowly lowered her eyes before she spoke.
“While acting as my manager, Miyako had also secretly worked with the bitch who pulled me down from my rightful place.”
“……Wow, now I can……”
Understand your feelings, I thought.
I could just imagine how easily their relationship would crumble when Mekuru Kira found out the truth. It would be impossible to escape from the resulting rubble, like being stuck in a labyrinth with no way out.
“To be totally honest, at the time I felt betrayed. And I still feel that way. She had given up on me and quickly diverted her energies to the new girl. Nowadays, I only need to meet with her once a week, but I guess that’s only natural since I have practically no work and that girl has loads of it.”
As she disdainfully listed her grievances, Mekuru Kira’s expression gradually worsened.
“That’s why I want to stay away from that woman as much as possible. With no work, I have no reason to see her anymore, which is some form of consolation. But I never thought I’d be seeing her here.”
When I heard this last part, I broke out into a cold sweat.
“W–wait a minute. You don’t mean to say that you’re never coming back…”
“As long as Rei is here, I’ll keep coming back. But let me think about when would be best time for me to return.”
Mekuru Kira dispelled my worries in an instant. But then she looked at me with that miserable expression and said something completely unexpected.
“Give me your contact info.”
“What did you say?”
“I said give me your contact info. I haven’t told Rei about what happened with Miyako, and I don’t intend to tell her ever. Since I don’t think any of us would be happy if I never came back, I’ll call you if I am thinking of stopping by. That way you can tell me if Miyako is here or not.”
Mekuru Kira took a memo pad and pen out of her purse and placed them in front of me.
“Yeah, but you know I won’t be here every day, right?”
“Even I don’t have enough time on my hands to come consistently every day. Just days when you work is fine.”
Mekuru Kira crossed her arms above the table and her legs below it.
Put simply, this was an order for me to help her coordinate things so she’d never bump into her manager here. This wouldn’t really interfere with my job, but the reason for doing all this was nearly too painful for me to bear.
As I debated whether to accept the proposal at hand, I felt her penetrating stare like a hawk hunting prey. This was a forceful request for personal information.
I grabbed the pen reluctantly while considering whether I really had anything to gain from this. Of course I didn’t, and instead I felt an odd guilt tightening my chest as I realized we couldn’t afford to lose a loyal customer. So I wrote my cell phone number and email address on the pad and returned it to her along with the pen.
Mekuru Kira narrowed her eyes and reviewed my contact information, then closed the memo pad and jammed it, and the pen, violently into her bag.
“Thanks. I’ll be heading home now.”
Before I had a chance to respond, she covered her face with mask and sunglasses and left three $10 bills on the table.
“Keep the change.”
“This is what I always do. You can just return it to me when I come back.”
With these words, she tried to quickly escape from the cafe. I guess she really didn’t want to be seen by that woman.
She opened the cafe door, but I followed close behind.
Mekuru Kira, legs surprisingly fast given her short stature, was already on her way to the station.
She halted and turned around, her expression oozing annoyance. But to be honest, I don’t know why I had called out to her. There was definitely something bothering me, but being this impulsive was unlike me.
I made an attempt to say something, but at this critical moment no sound came out. It was clear that Mekuru Kira was getting extremely frustrated.
Without thinking, I had withdrawn the $30 in bills and balled them tightly in my first. My words finally came out.
“I won’t let you get away with this.”
Mekuru Kira opened her eyes wide from behind her sunglass lenses. I couldn’t actually see them, but I got that feeling.
“Nowadays acting all cool like that just doesn’t fly. I will return your change, no matter what.”
My last words ushered in a deafening silence.
I couldn’t read Mekuru Kira’s expression. At first I thought that maybe I’d upset her once again, but that didn’t seem to be the case. She lowered her sunglasses and stared at me with narrowed eyes.
But her sneer didn’t seem to be mocking me. I got the feeling she was thinking about something. But as long as her face–which revealed her real intentions–was covered, I had no clue what those intentions were.
Mekuru Kira turned away.
“I can’t afford to give you my small change anyway.”
Then she set off towards the station again with large steps.
I breathed a deep sigh while watching her go.
At any rate, I seriously doubt she’ll stop coming here. I don’t know exactly what happened, but she seemed really good friends with Rei, and despite the fact she was on bad terms with her manager, I felt she was the type of person to keep these things separate in her mind. Mekuru Kira was so open about her feelings it was refreshing.
But that was how she dealt with things, and after hearing about what happened to her something kept nagging at me. It was because of my deteriorating image of Mekuru Kira, and because I myself had become involved with the all-too-real Mekura Kira and her manager. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know anything, and since Mekuru Kira had taken the initiative of becoming my customer, I had no choice but to support her.
It was for that very reason that I couldn’t let this go.
After watching Mekuru Kira’s form shrink to the size of a spec of dust, I leisurely returned to the cafe.