I was happy to see Kenichi again, who Takeshi had apparently instructed to serve us our meals. After he finished he returned with his own tray, bowed, and joined us at the table. He seemed nervous, or perhaps embarrassed, or maybe he was feigning humility for my benefit. I couldn’t tell, so I smiled politely and left him alone.
Breakfast consisted of grilled river fish, a raw egg on rice, miso soup, a folded egg, a dish with sliced carrots, sesame seeds and a white vegetable I didn’t recognize, and green tea. I’d expected at least one serving of whale, or kujira, as they called it, but no such luck. Perhaps we’d get a showing at dinner.
The dining area had seating for roughly fifty people. We had a table on the port side of the galley, but we were on the bottom floor of the ship, so there were no windows. I sat with my back to the wall. The room was nearly full, and dead quiet. Most of the Japanese were focused intently on eating. A couple of them were reading as they ate, a book or magazine in one hand, chopsticks in the other.
“Is it always like this?” I asked Takeshi in a hushed voice.
“Yes, I think so,” Takeshi replied, as if he’d never considered it.
At first no one seemed to be paying any attention to the strange foreigner in their midst, but after a while I realized that they were just hard to catch. In my periphery I saw many of them sneaking glances, but as soon as I lifted my eyes they had already looked away. It was an ominous feeling.
“For the Japanese, it’s impolite to stare,” Takeshi said.
I grinned. “You catch everything don’t you?”
“Japanese culture is very different than American.”
“Does everyone on the boat know who I am?” I said, sliding a pair of wooden chopsticks out of their paper sheath.
“They know that we rescued you from the sea,” Takeshi replied. “They know you are an American. But none of us know who you really are, Wayne-san.”
I snapped the chopsticks into two pieces. “Yeah, I’m beginning to feel that way myself.”
“But none of that matters any more. If you were a spy, Wayne-san, you are out of a job.”
“I’m out of a job no matter what.”
“Unn,” Takeshi hummed, and plucked at his fish.
I eyed my companions as they ate: they drank the miso soup from the edge of the bowl, and held their bowls of rice close as they snagged clumps of the white grains with their chopsticks. I had never learned how to use them. I ate like a barbarian, cutting the egg and the fish with a chopstick in each hand, knife and fork style, and speared the pieces one by one. For the vegetables, kinpira gobou, Takeshi called it, I just held up the bowl shoveled it into my mouth. It was all very good, especially the fish, but the tea was a little bitter. I left it alone.
We ate quickly, and afterward the three of us went to the top deck toward the bow and found a room with a few couches and a satellite feed. We met a girl there named Yumi, beautiful, young Japanese dressed in a business suit, with short black hair cropped just below her ears. She was seated on the edge of the couch watching the television. Yumi ignored Takeshi and Kenichi straight out, but when she noticed me, her eyes softened. It was a look of sympathy. I nodded at her, but I was immediately taken by the horror on the television.
Most of the shots were satellite photos. It was impossible to tell what I was looking at. Random, unrecognizable cities flattened by ICBMs. The images flew by and Takeshi provided the translation in a somber voice: “Washington D.C, Kansas, Toronto, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Moscow, London, Shanghai, Berlin, Sydney, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Dubai, Kiev, Tehran, Baghdad, Budapest, Warsaw, Beijing, Los Angeles….”
There was no on ground coverage. Computers, telecommunications—those that weren’t destroyed—were fried by the EMPs, or simply severed from the grid. The world had unloaded. The Russians had loosed their arsenal on America and its allies, and we had responded in kind. Smaller cities had been spared. But the fallout was drifting eastward.
I collapsed onto the couch next to Yumi. “Saiyakuu,” she said, drawing the word out with a long breath. She set the television remote on the coffee table and leaned back, dropping her arms at her sides.
A map of the United States appeared on screen with dark smudges indicating blast sites, and projected fallout patterns in lighter gray arcing to the east. My parent’s home in Kansas was somewhere in the middle of a black smudge. New England—all of it—was reduced to ink. It looked as if someone had splattered the U.S. with paint and smeared it with his arm. Similar maps of Russia and Europe flashed on the screen as the journalist chattered away in Japanese.
It didn’t look real. I had a hard time connecting the images on the screen with the reality of it all. There were no images of the horror on the ground. The human cost was vague, extrapolated from charts and graphs.
The coverage moved on, and Takeshi continued the translation.
A number of foreigners in Japan were interviewed. A weeping American girl from Portland, Oregon had lost contact with her family and didn’t know whether they had survived. A family visiting Kyoto from San Diego claimed that God had graciously spared them. Two Chinese brothers living in Tokyo were too distraught to speak. At a giant intersection in Shinjuku, crowds of Japanese watched coverage of the event on a giant television screen on the side of a building. Shots of Buddhist temples all over Japan were shown, where people gathered to pray and tie paper notes onto overflowing racks. At the American embassy in Tokyo mourners surrounded the building with hundreds of thousands of flowers and origami cranes.
I felt Yumi’s hand on my shoulder. She said nothing. I took a deep breath and settled a little further into the couch.
Some local stories followed. An entire high school senior class had been lost on a trip to Paris. A politician from Fukuoka had been in the UAE when the bombs rained down.
“Kurodasan,” Takeshi sighed. “He is from my home town.”
“Soudesune,” Yumi replied.
Some pictures of the politician were shown, then a shot of a cruise ship. It had been docked in Guam when the island had been bombed. Family members were interviewed. Everyone was in tears, even the journalists. The tragedy was endless.
We watched the coverage for hours. Occasionally a report came in from someone who had managed to get a message through. A Canadian on a satellite phone in northern Saskechuan was looking for answers. His city of La Ronge was intact, but he was unable to reach his brother in Vancouver. A woman in New Zealand described panic in Christchurch as the clouds of smoke swept over their city.
“I can’t watch this anymore,” I said, standing up. “Some satellite phones are obviously working. I need to make a call.”
Takeshi took a breath. “Wayne-san, you will not be able to reach anyone in America. Everything is gone.”
“I’m not calling America.”
Takeshi scratched his chin, then said something to Yumi. She stood up, flattened her skirt, and left.
“Yumichan is my sister,” Takeshi said, having caught my eye as I watched her leave. Christ, he never missed anything.
Takeshi nodded slowly, eying me.
Kenichi smirked and said, “Sis-tah desuneee.”
I cringed and rubbed my eyes. “I see.”
I turned back to the coverage and the three of us watched in silence. A few minutes later Yumi returned with the satellite phone. She extended it to me with both hands.
“I am pray for your family,” she said, bowing deeply.
“Thank you,” I said, accepting the phone. She raised her eyes and blinked away a few tears. I touched her on the arm and nodded. “Arigatou, Yumichan,” I whispered. She wiped away the tears, nodding, and turned away.
I took a deep, resolving breath. There was only one person in the world who I knew would be nowhere near a populated area. I moved to back of the room and punched in the familiar number. It rang. A good start. I tapped my fingers on the plastic as the ring tone droned on and on. “C’mon, man, pick up,” I whispered. I paced a bit, then stopped in front of a calendar on the rear wall. I ran my finger along the glossy paper. The three icebergs again. While the ringing continued, I lifted the page to peek at May: an old, rusted, derelict whaling ship beached on an icy shore. I frowned at it, then sat down in a chair in the corner. The phone continued to ring. Jesus, answer the goddamn phone! Finally, after what seemed like a hundred rings, someone picked up.