Craig Hoffman
72 min readJan 1, 2023

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“The Royal Crown Of Okinawa”

A Bakiya Takahashi Adventure

Volume One

Craig Jackson Hoffman

2020

This is a work of fiction. All story elements, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously for artistic purposes, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Contributing Editors and Book Advisors

Brayden Bringle, Lynnette Carpenter, Mandy Gough, Linda O’Brien, Anna Poling, Ed Risner, Diego Tondelli, and special thanks to Bill Adler.

Cover Photograph

Courtesy of Chris Tagupa and additional design from Canva.

More About The Author

You can read more about Craig Jackson Hoffman, his books, and writing on his blog. He writes under the pen name of Grey, Grizzled, and Gaijin. Craig can be found on Twitter.

Prologue- The Royal Crown of Okinawa

There was a poor father in Japan who could no longer support his only child, a very special daughter, Saki Sakamoto.

Then, said Saki, “Father, things are going so badly for us that I am a burden to you. I would rather go away and see how I can earn my keep.”

The father gave his blessing, and with great sorrow took leave of his beloved progeny. At the same time, a mighty country was at war with itself. Saki enlisted with the leader of the North army, and with him went out to fight for man, country, and her Emperor.

And when Saki came before the enemy, there was a battle, and great danger, and it rained arrows until her countrymen on all sides fell. Those left were about to run away. The young woman stepped forth, and shouted, “We will not let our homeland be destroyed.”

Then the others followed Saki, and she pressed on and easily conquered the foes. When the Emperor heard that he owed the victory to a mere young woman alone, he raised her above all the others. Giving her great wealth and power, he took her to his large island home and treated her as a daughter.

The Emperor had a son, Nishimura, who was handsome but also had a reputation for being eccentric. Nishimura made a vow to take no one as his wife who did not promise to let herself be buried alive with him if he died first.

“If she loves me with all her heart,” said Nishimura, “of what use will life be to her after I am gone?”

On his side, he would do the same, and if she died first, would go to the grave with her. This macabre oath had up to this time frightened away all comers. But the brave young woman was so charmed with his looks that Saki cared for nothing and asked the Emperor for Nishimura.

“But do you know what you must promise?” the Emperor asked.

“I must be buried with him,” Saki answered, “if I outlive him. But my love is so great that I do not mind the danger.”

Then the Emperor consented, and the wedding was done, sparing no expense. The newlyweds lived for a while blissfully with each other. One day, Nishimura was attacked by a severe virus, and no physician could save him. And as he lay there dead, Saki remembered what she promised to do. Saki was petrified of the dark grave, but there was no escape.

The Emperor placed several guards at all the doors, and it was not possible to avoid her fate. The time came when the body was to be interred. The trembling and shivering Saki was taken down into the family mausoleum with her now stiff groom. The heavy, metal door was shut and locked forevermore.

Near the ornate, golden pearl inlaid coffin stood an old dining room chair. There were four candles, three loaves of moldy bread, and two bottles of cheap, red wine sitting upon it. When this final feast came to an end, Saki would die of hunger. She sat there full of pain and grief, eating a little piece of bread, drinking a mouthful of wine, and watching her demise draw nearer.

Saki saw a rat creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body. And as she thought the rat came to gnaw at it, Saki raised a bread cutting knife.

“As long as I live, thou shalt not touch him,” Saki said as she sliced the big rat into five pieces.

After a time a second bigger rat scurried out of the same hole. When it saw the other lying dead and cut in pieces, it went back but came again with five yellow seeds of grain in its mouth. The determined rat took the five pieces of the dead rat, laid them together, as they ought to go, and placed one of the yellow seeds on each wound.

The blood-covered parts joined together, the rat moved, and became alive again, and both of them ran away together. The yellow seeds were left lying on the ground. A desire came into the mind of the unhappy, young woman. She wanted to know if the power of the yellow seeds that brought the rat to life again, could be of use to her dead husband.

Saki picked up the yellow seeds and laid one of them on the mouth of her dead husband, and the four others on his eyes and in his ears. The blood stirred in the corpse’s veins and rose into Nishimura’s pale face, coloring it again. He drew a breath, opened his eyes, and said, “My God, where am I?”

“You are with me, beloved husband,” Saki answered, and told him how everything had happened, and how she brought him back again to life.

The young woman gave him some wine and bread, and when he regained his strength, she raised him. They went to the locked door and knocked, and called so loudly that every guard outside heard it, and told the Emperor. He came himself and opened the door. There he found his son and his wife strong and well, and everyone rejoiced with them.

Saki took the five yellow seeds with her and gave them to a minion saying, “Keep them for me, and carry them constantly with you. Who knows in the future what value they might have...”

Happily ever after was not meant to be for the pair even as they moved to live abroad. A change had taken place in Nishimura after he had been restored to life. It seemed as if all love for his wife was gone. After some time, when he wanted to make a voyage across the sea, to visit his now old father, the Emperor, they boarded a big ship.

Nishimura forgot the great love that he had been shown by his beautiful wife. He plotted to become a single man again. Once Saki was asleep, Nishimura called in the Captain of the ship and seized his wife by the head. The Captain took her by the feet, and they threw the young woman into the depths of the ocean for eternity.

When the terrible act was finished, Nishimura said, “Now let us return home, and say that she died on the way. I will praise you to my father so that he will marry me to you and give you all the luxury you could ever desire.”

The Captain agreed as she kissed the newly-minted widower. But the faithful minion who saw all that they did, unseen by them, unfastened a little rowboat from the big ship, and got into it.

He sailed after his drowning mistress, letting the perpetrators go on their merry way. The minion dragged up the dead body, and by the help of the five yellow seeds that he carried about with him, the young woman was brought back to life once more.

The drenched pair stayed up the entire night, and in their small, wooden vessel, reached the Emperor before the big ship did by some great miracle of the gods. The Emperor was shocked when he saw them come alone and asked what had happened to them.

When the Emperor learned the evilness of his son he declared, “I cannot believe that Nishimura has behaved so ill, but the truth will soon come to light.”

He ordered both to go into a secret room and keep themselves hidden from everyone. Soon afterward, the big ship came sailing in with the tides, and the soulless son appeared before his father with a troubled look. The Emperor said, “Why did you come back alone? Where is your wife?”

“Ah, honorable father,” Nishimura replied. “I come home again in great sadness. During the trip, my beloved wife didn’t wear a mask and became sick and died. If the good Captain had not given me her help, it would have gone the same with me. She was present at my dear wife’s death, and can tell you all."

The Emperor said, “Fear not my misbegotten son, I will make the dead alive again.” He opened the secret room and commanded the two silent occupants to come out. When Nishimura saw his wife, he was shocked and fell on his knees pleading for mercy.

“There will be no forgiveness on this day or any other. You will neither see the Royal Crown of Okinawa put upon your head nor ever use its magic. That lovely young woman was ready to die with you and gave you life again. But you tried to murder her in her sleep no less. You and your new lover will receive the reward that you, the two biggest rats, most certainly deserve. For a promise is a promise after all,” The Emperor decreed.

Sweetheart, consider this a divorce. You can keep the yellow seeds, by the way,” Saki said.

She mockingly dabbed the tears from Nishimura’s face with her dirty fingers and kissed the minion's blushing face. Resigned to his fate, Nishimura was placed with his stoic Jezebel into a wooden barrel. Pierced with holes and loaded with heavy concrete weights, it was sent out to sea.

“I swear the Royal Crown of Okinawa will be mine,” Nishimura shouted.

“Not on my watch,” Saki said as the barrel slowly lowered into the sea. “I promise you that.”

Wailing, Nishimura and his lover sank into the cold, deep water meeting their most Grimm end, or so it seemed.

Chapter One- Bakiya Takahashi- The Most Unhappy Ramen Vendor

[A small town in Japan in the past]

“Everyone, allow me to introduce you to the future of ramen. These new self-driving carts will make your noodle sales as easy as can be. I guarantee it.”

Masato Takahashi did his best to hold on to his in-the-box ramen empire. But he was not a clever man. And his people skills were matched only by his lack of salesmanship.

“Don’t you know nobody eats in restaurants anymore?”

Masato was no equal for the slick, young salesman who came into the growing, little town. The townspeople were all too eager to try something new. Soon enough, the self-driving service cart came into vogue and ramen sales went door-to-door.

Masato’s family lost everything. His beautiful wife did her best to provide for their young boy Bakiya after Masato ran off to join a group of noodle-slurping salesmen.

“I’m happy to be joining such a traditional company like yours.”

An ancient-looking company president nodded with approval. The centuries’ old company refused to embrace delivery services. The staff never spoke of it during their sales campaigns for the expansion of their ramen chain.

The firm still insisted on building new shops. So they were more than thrilled to bring Masato along for their rides to scout new locations. He was the only one able to stay awake while driving to their major cross-country real estate meetings.

It worked out fine for Masato, but it left his wife, and young son Bakiya shunned in the soon bustling little town. By the time young Bakiya graduated from the local culinary school, street ramen vendor was the only job he could get. He hated his loud-mouthed boss. But the position did come with premium health insurance benefits albeit with a large deductible.

“Bakiya, you make sure you don’t get that soup all over the curb today. We can’t have the customers complaining again.”

“Yes, sir. We sure wouldn’t want that. I mean god-forbid they cook for themselves. The dirty, rich slobs must think I am their mother. Curse those condescending jerks!”

“What was that Bakiya?”

“Nothing. I’ll get right to it. Sorry, Watanabe-san.

“See that you do if you want to keep your job. And for God’s sake, keep your fingers out of your mouth. We aren’t serving fried chicken here, you know?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll try.”

“Thank you, Mr. Amazing.”

“Oh yeah, that’s me. ‘Mr. Amazing.’”

Young Bakiya picked up a soup-covered ladle and headed out to his shiny metal pushcart. The cart shimmered in the bright morning sunlight.

It was only seven, but it was a hot summer day. That always made Bakiya’s job far harder than it already was for him. It would not be long before that squeaky-wheeled ramen cart was covered with soup and overcooked noodles.

Bakiya served ramen in five varieties up and down the streets ten hours a day. The large clock in the town square was a constant reminder of the time he had left to go each shift. Bakiya loathed the happy little chime that rang out across the square every sixty minutes.

The heat of the near midday sun got the better of him. He took a seat on a bright purple bench. It creaked loudly as he sat.

“Hey moron, I just painted that. Good grief, can’t you see the freaking sign?”

The local painter, Enmei, was not a person to be messed with within the town. He was a disagreeable oaf of a man. Enmei painted anything and everything that didn’t move in the town. Nobody knew exactly why he did it or where he got the paint. But everyone let him be since he did great work.

“Sorry, Enmei, I didn’t mean to mess up your stuff. Here, I’ll help you repaint it.”

“I think not. Do not touch my masterpiece for I am an AR-tist. You take your bright blue-covered behind and vamoose.”

Bakiya took the hint. He stood up and returned to his pushcart. The reflection of his stubble-covered face stared back at him. Bakiya looked at his would-be chariot of noodle deliciousness. Taking a deep breath, he pulled a tiny bottle filled with cheap sake from the inside of his apron.

“Aw empty, and it’s only Monday.”

“And what a Monday it is, my good man.”

The voice from behind Bakiya startled him something fierce. He dropped his flask on the hard ground.

“Bakiya, you know you cannot find enlightenment in a bottle?”

“Yes, Fujita-san. I know, ‘Circle of Life,’ and all that.”

“That’s right. There’s some hope for you yet, my good man.”

Fujita and her league of the local high and mighty snooty society women spent their days traipsing around the town. They carried enough paper-printed pamphlets to have destroyed a rainforest. Most people ignored the woman, but for someone like Bakiya, Fujita was about the closest to a female he got all week.

“‘Hope,’ Fujita-san, left me a long time ago.”

“There’s always hope, my dear boy. Why look, it says so right here.”

Fujita pulled a small black covered book from her bag, a sutra. Bakiya had twenty of them at home from his previous encounters with Fujita. Two of the larger volumes evened out one end of his mother’s living room tabletop heater.

Fujita drank booze three times as often as she went to the temple. She never remembered anything or anyone to any great degree. Today was no exception.

The unmistakable odor of strong Japanese whisky and fermented plums thankfully covered the stench of her knockoff French perfume. Bakiya would have gladly pinched his nose shut if not for fear of offending the poor, drunk woman. He took the sutras from her hand and stuffed them inside his dirty apron.

“Thank you, Fujita-san. It’s always nice to see you.”

“You come join us at the temple sometime, you hear?”

“Yes, Fujita-san, I’ll try. Really, I will.”

Bakiya knew that was a lie. He had not been to a temple or shrine in years. He had long thought the universe gave up on him and his mother. Fujita in her liquored-up state was undeterred.

R-r-r-emember, B-b-b-akiya, ‘We love you, but Buddha loves you more.’ You take care. I have a social meeting with the kimono club. See you later.”

Fujita grabbed her big, pink kimono and pulled it up above her stocking-covered left knee as she stumbled over the curb. Everyone in town knew ‘social meeting’ was the kimono club’s secret code for getting sloshed while gossiping over at the town’s onsen every Monday, Wednesday, and third Friday. Those jaded, old hens could out drink any man in town while soaking in those hot springs.

As Fujita waddled off into the distance, Bakiya heard the loud noon chime of the large clock bell in the square. This time while avoiding his reflection, he pulled a large bottle of lye soap from his filthy cart. He pushed the top and soon he slathered his grubby hands with a copious amount of the substance.

The strong chemicals took away most of the mess, but it did nothing to reduce the putrid stench of Bakiya’s work clothes. There were fancy restaurants in the town. But Bakiya knew based on his family name and in his current smelly and financial state, those places were not dining options.

He took a small, crumpled burlap sack from inside his cart. Bakiya plopped down on the curb in front of the local funeral hall, and he opened his bag.

“Wow. Rice ball, again. Can’t a man get a juicy piece of tuna once in a while?”

Bakiya’s mother did her best with the funds they had to spare. His mother made a little money, too. She worked over at the onsen as a dishwasher. Unfortunately, the creditors took most of her money despite her hard work at the Japanese hot spring.

Bakiya’s meager salary was the only thing that kept the food on their three and a half-legged table. One leg had been broken on the table heater since the day they bought it second-hand. Bakiya unbuttoned his overalls at the top, and he tossed the torn brown paper wrapping of his rice ball on the ground.

“Hi, Bakiya-san, how are you feeling today? You look a little stiff.”

“Oh hey, Shinra-san, yeah. I don’t sleep much these days.”

“You do look dead tired.”

“Funny. Coming from you. I might need your services in the future. But that day is not today. Okay?”

“Fine. But you let me know, if you do, the Yamazaki Funeral Hall is ready to assist you in your hour of need.”

Shinra was a smooth salesman who worked at the local used tatami shop after he graduated. He married his lovely high school sweetheart, Azumi a few years later.

Her rich family had owned the local funeral hall and crematorium for years. Shinra was eager to keep things booming since old man Yamazaki sold the business to him.

“I suspect you will know when I need you. Life seems fit to keep me alive for some reason.”

“Everyone has a destiny, a purpose, and a road to happiness. You have to stay positive and on course.”

“I don’t know. Things sure worked out for you and Azumi-san. I mean look at you running this place.”

“I guess I have come a long way since our high school days. But this isn’t my dream. It merely keeps the lamp oil at the house full every month. There’s not much joy in death. I have a lot of stuff to deal with. You know?”

“Oh, I know a little something about a life full of crap. At least, you have something in the bank to show for your trouble.”

“But to be sure, everything in life is a trade, of time, money, and sometimes even one’s very soul. A happy existence is a fleeting thing for most.”

“Maybe.”

“It is, trust me. And death comes for us all, rich and poor alike, my friend.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure. Perhaps, not soon enough for some of us.”

Bakiya took another bite of his sad-looking rice ball, and he saw folks happily talking in the square. People were eating their bento, and others were picnicking on the grass.

There were the old samurai playing shogi as they compared their battle scars. The school children laughed and played as their lunch hour was coming to a close. So, too, was Bakiya’s break.

“I should get back at it. These noodles aren’t likely to sell themselves.”

“Someday, I wonder if they’ll be automatic machines to feed our entire town.”

“I hope not anytime soon. I sure need this job. At least, you are lucky.”

“How’s that?”

“People are always dying to see you.”

Touché, my friend.”

The two men had a long laugh. There was no doubt some life paths aren’t what men dreamed of as boys in a schoolroom. Bakiya envied Shinra’s money, beautiful wife, and mused about having a kid like Shinra’s daughter, Risa.

The clever girl won every award in that little school. There was not a week that went by that her picture was not in the town newsletter for winning something. But Bakiya’s dreams of success, wife, and family would have to wait, duty called.

“Catch ya later, Shinra-san.”

“Yeah, see you at the temple one day.”

“Sure. ‘One day.’”

As with Fujita, Bakiya knew that too was a lie. Shinra ran inside to catch a potential customer. Bakiya finished the last morsel of what he hoped was seaweed, and he buttoned his overalls back to the top.

The cart seemed to weigh a ton as the sun beat down across his sweaty brow. He cleaned, swept, and scraped until the clock in the square sang out with the work day’s closing song. Bakiya packed up his cart and dragged it back to its bay as its battery died and its wheels locked up. Bakiya's boss came running up to add to the poor, sweat-covered man’s troubles.

“You make sure that cart is shining before you leave. We can’t have the good people of this town thinking we don’t care about cleanliness and the food safety of our ramen.”

“Yes, Watanabe-san.”

“After all, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness.’ By the way, I’ve got a meditation meeting, but I’ll be back to check your work.”

Bakiya knew that was a lie. Watanabe-san’s ‘meditation meeting’ was the secret code for his evening visits to the local soapland. The girls weren’t much to look at, but as Watanabe joked, “It’s all the same in the dark.”

Bakiya threw up in his mouth a little every time his want-to-be ninja boss made that crude joke.

Watanabe left, and Bakiya scrubbed for more than an hour to make his cart shine like the day it was bought. He stripped off his clothes and used the last of what remained of the soapy suds to wash. Bakiya splashed on some cheap cologne and dressed. He closed the shop, and he headed to his mother’s house.

The walk was fine. Bakiya did his best to ignore the stuck up folks who shook their heads at him with contempt. He knew there was no winning them over. Bakiya stumbled for a moment and fell to the ground. He spied a shiny, gold-looking yen piece.

The coin shimmered and nearly called his name. Bakiya picked up the bent yen and looked around. Nobody noticed him.

“This is my lucky day. I’ll get that drink after all.”

Chapter Two- Bakiya Takahashi Orders A Drink And Gets A Goddess

Bakiya entered the nearest bar with a shove of his hand pushing against the hanging red cloth door. The dinky watering hole was empty. It was a strange place. There were walls covered with long since dead stuffed animals.

“‘Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ If there is a God, I’d sure love some help.” Bakiya thought about waiting for a divine answer, but his thirst got the better of him.

He sat down on a wobbly, old stool at the end of the bar and fiddled with the newfound treasure in his hand.

Reaching for some stale, salty soybeans, Bakiya stopped and withdrew his fingers. A faded picture of his father had been turned out to face customers from behind the long oak bar.

“What’ll it be?”

“Oh, um, sake.”

“How do you want it?”

“Uh, in a cup? Preferably clean.”

“Not funny. You got the money? This ain’t no charity.”

Bakiya held up the shiny coin between his thumb and index finger. The shop master gave a nod and chucked an unwashed cup on the bar. It was soon filled with the alcohol that was a long lost sight for poor Bakiya Takahashi.

“Here you are, sir. That’s fifty yen.”

Bakiya sat up a little taller. It had been ages since anybody had shown him real respect. The minutes turned to more than an hour and one drink became four. Bakiya said nothing, as he stared at a large, broken mirror hanging behind the bar.

“You can’t stay here forever, sir. Maybe, you can come some other time. Like when you have more money.”

“It’s fine. I got it.”

Bakiya pulled a silver-colored yen coin from his front pocket, the last of his salary. His salt-covered fingers stuck to the coin as the shop master snatched it away. The bartender gave the glass a cursory wash and filled it once more with sake.

He slapped it down on the table with far less respect than a customer deserved. Most of the alcohol splashed outside the cup. The young shop master didn’t care much about providing excellent service.

“Anything else?”

“No,” said Bakiya. “It’s getting late, I should drink this and go. I’m out of money anyway.”

“It’s all good. I got you,” A female voice said as a figure walked in the bar.

Coins and cash of all manner hit the wooden bar. The young shop master eagerly collected the bills and dropped on his knees.

“I assume that will take care of us for the evening,” The woman said with a smile.

The young shop master grabbed the last coin and put it in his front pocket. He stood and gave his striped-print kimono a quick dusting. He flashed a smile and gave a seductive wink.

“Why, yes, that will more than do. How can I be of service to you? Anything at all. Please just ask.”

The level of politeness shown by the young shop master took Bakiya aback. He could not believe how a pile of cash and some loose yen coins turned the man into a near saint. The new face in the bar was not that impressed.

“Save the flattery. I’ll take what he’s having and two more.”

“Yes ma’am. Anything else?”

“Why yes, you can put the coin you stole from the owner of this place back into the register.”

“How did you see that?”

“I see a lot. And your parents must be so proud of how you turned out,” The woman said as she flipped her bangs back in place.

The woman said nothing and turned her attention to dumbstruck Bakiya. The poor, young man sat on his stool, equal parts drunk and shocked. She didn’t wait for him to make his move.

“Aren’t you going to ask a pretty girl her name, Bakiya-san?”

“How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I heard it here or there. I’ve seen you in town a time or two.”

Bakiya found that hard to believe. He worked outside on the town’s streets every day. There was no chance he would have missed seeing such a beautiful girl.

“Well?”

“‘Well’ what?”

“You haven’t looked up from my chest long enough to ask me my name.”

“Are you a courtesan?”

“What?”

Bakiya turned a crimson shade across his face. This time it wasn’t from the alcohol. He knew he crossed a line.

“Oh sorry. I’ve been drinking. It’s been a tough day. So what’s your name?”

The beautiful girl ignored the slight and waved back her dark, auburn bangs like magic. Her eyes sparkled with energy that frightened him.

“I’m Saki Sakamoto. And relax, Bakiya-san, I’m not going to bite. Haven’t you ever been out with a woman before?”

Bakiya sat stone-faced. He talked to his mother and Fujita. But not since his high school days had any breathing female under the age of sixty given him any attention. To say Bakiya was out of practice with his social skills was an understatement.

“Ah, Sakamoto-san. Um, it’s nice to meet you. I was about to head home. I have to get something to eat. It’s late. Got to work early in the morning.”

Saki gave an angelic-sounding whistle to a man who was drying some glasses. The young shop master sprinted back to his post. He stood with a posture that would have made a three-star general proud.

“Please, call me Saki. Hey Master, my man here is hungry. What do you have behind that counter to eat besides crow?”

“Ma’am, this is a bar, not a restaurant. But there’s a great sushi place across the street.”

Saki pulled out more money and threw it down on the counter. The young master was confused. Saki was not.

“Make yourself useful and hop over there and bring us back two delicious sushi dinners. And don’t forget the wasabi.”

“I can’t do that. I have a job here.”

Saki once more pulled out a stack of bills. She gently took the cash, and she put it into the pocket of the young shop master’s money bag hanging from his kimono.

“This time you can actually earn the yen, son.”

In a flash, the young shop master ran across the busy street. Thirty minutes later Saki and Bakiya were dining on huge pieces of delicious sushi. Bakiya patted his empty money bag. This was getting expensive.

“So Saki-san, whatever do you want from me?”

“Can’t someone show a little kindness to a hardworking, good-looking fella like yourself?”

“I suppose. But I’m a zero. I have no money at all. If you don’t know, everyone in this town would gladly tell you that.”

“Bakiya, hero to zero is one letter in the alphabet. People rise and fall in society every day. Do you think you are the only person in the world who has bad days? The only one whose father failed and left their wife and kid? The only one who hates their job?”

Bakiya again wondered how this beautiful stranger knew so much about him. He thought it only fair to learn some more about his new benefactor. Alas, detective work was not his strong suit.

“So what do you do?” Bakiya asked.

“Oh, I’m self-employed.”

Saki chugged down her whisky. She motioned for the young shop master. Soon a crystal glass came with expensive-looking foreign beer.

“Want one too, Bakiya-san? It’s from a far off land.”

“Sure. Why not? But what exactly do you do?”

“As I said, I’m self-employed. But I have been watching you for a while. There’s big potential in you. No doubt about that.”

Bakiya looked at the beautiful woman this time at her face. There was now a warm, comforting feeling in his heart. He wondered if that was the alcohol, his heavy use of soy sauce, or active imagination run amuck.

“‘Potential’ in me? Hardly. There’s no doubt. I’m at the bottom rung of society. I’d need some miracle from God to change my life.”

“Or a favor from the gods?”

“Something like that.”

Bakiya’s gloominess got the better of him. He pushed his stool back, and he stood up to leave. Saki grabbed him by the arm. She smiled sweetly, and Bakiya sat down.

“Today is your lucky day.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll tell you what. There’s a place perfect for a man like you.”

“If such a land exists, I’d love to know where it is.”

“And if you knew, what would you do?”

“I’d leave tomorrow and walk there if I had to.”

Saki looked at Bakiya and then to the sky. She once more grabbed Bakiya’s arm. And he tingled from his fingers to his nose.

“Bakiya, I want you to head to a place called Okinawa.”

“Never heard of it.”

“I am not surprised. It’s old and unknown by many and a long way from here.”

“And what will I find there? Fame and fortune, I suppose.”

“Perhaps, both, or even more.”

Bakiya laughed. He had been rich as a boy. And now, his life was the epitome of poverty. For a man like him, money and power were out of reach. The magic keys to a fantastic kingdom he had been banished from forever.

“‘More’? You must take me for a fool.”

“Most certainly, I do not. Quite the opposite in fact. Here’s a little money to get you on your way.”

“You’re serious?”

“I am. Just one more thing.”

“Of course, there is a catch. What do you want, my firstborn or something?”

Bakiya took the money and held it in his hand. Saki took the cash from him, and she slid it into Bakiya’s empty money bag. And she smiled.

“No, this is not a fairytale. Simply take the third thing that you touch after you leave this izakaya.”

“The third thing I touch.”

“That’s right.”

“And what do I do then.”

“Keep it with you until you need it.”

“‘Need it’ for what?”

“To keep going. You have to learn how to keep going in life.”

Bakiya thought for a minute. Maybe it was the alcohol or the thought of returning tomorrow morning to his terrible job. But for whatever reason, Bakiya was ready for a change.

“Okay, I agree.”

“Best of luck, I hope you’ll find what and who you are looking for in life.”

“Me too.”

Chapter Three- Bakiya Takahashi Finds Fate And An Injured Little Chicken

Bakiya stumbled out of the bar. In the darkness of the evening, he did not notice the large figure rumbling down the stairs from the second floor of the pay-by-the-hour ryokan. It was a fancy hotel that Bakiya had never stayed at in his life.

Everyone in town knew ‘pay-by-the-hour hotel’ was code for Big Hamawaki-san’s Pleasure House. The place paid their fair share of taxes and gave money to the temple, so nobody in the town bothered to shut them down. Tonight, Bakiya wished they had.

“Watch where you are going.”

“I apologize. I’m trying to get back home in one piece.”

“I’ll show you a million pieces of you all over this street, my little man.”

Bakiya regained some of his composure. He had run smack into a lady of the night. Bakiya and the bucked-toothed woman were nose to nose on the makeshift sidewalk of the street. Her face tensed up in a rage. There was no escape for Bakiya.

“I’m gonna crush you just so you know, you smelly wimp.”

Bakiya shrugged, pursed his lips, and slowly brought an open hand up,

“Please, wait,” he said and put his second hand up.

The large courtesan rushed to Bakiya. He dipped and weaved right as she was about to reach him. In a moment of reflex, Bakiya pulled off the courtesan’s fancy headdress and wig. It revealed a matted mess of hair and bald spots.

The ongoing battle took Bakiya and the courtesan perilously close to a water-filled horse trough. The courtesan had Bakiya’s heels back to the trough, despite his protests.

“Please, can’t we talk about this?”

The courtesan was not done. A lightning-quick strike opened Bakiya up for another attack, and the large woman was up for the task. She decked him with an uppercut and doubled him over with a second blow to his sushi-filled stomach.

“Please, let me be. I beg of you.”

A growing crowd watched the fight. Everyone roared with excitement for the combatants. A random voice from the masses called out for the courtesan.

“You get him, Yume. Take him down, girl.”

“No problem, you see him there wetting himself like a baby?”

Taking the opening from the courtesan grandstanding like a power-crazed Japanese shogun, Bakiya stood up and grabbed the silk, green kimono the courtesan was wearing. It was smooth and slippery in his hands. Bakiya inadvertently ripped the once pristine sleeve clean off the courtesan’s chubby, pox-covered arm.

The courtesan pushed Bakiya towards the horse water trough. Bakiya’s leg smashed into the trough with his bony knee going into the warped wood. The dirty, maggot-infested water covered him.

Bakiya was a wet, cold mess, and he thought that was the worst until he heard a loud squawk from underneath his body.

The sound caught Bakiya off guard as the courtesan watched, letting loose a wicked laugh. She gave Bakiya a mocking shrug. The courtesan picked up her trampled hat, put it on and went on about finding her next bedroom conquest.

“You and that little chicken make a lovely couple. Sa-yo-nara.

Bakiya gathered himself and rolled off his feathered victim. The poor chicken wobbled and wiggled. Its left-wing flinched and flapped in pain. Bakiya reached out and picked up the pitiful-looking bird in his hands.

“And that’s number three.”

A shimmering figure appeared in front of Bakiya’s bloodshot and sleep-deprived eyes. It was Saki, but this time she was more ethereal in form. Bakiya squinted as his dark eyes adjusted to the light emanating from his former dinner companion.

“‘Number three’?”

“That lovely little chicken is the third thing you have touched since you left the bar. The headdress, the kimono, and now the chicken. Take care not to lose that bird. You’ll need it for your journey.”

“To Okinawa, right?”

“Yes, the trip is long, but the prize is great. Remember, Bakiya, everything in life is a tradeoff. We all give up something for something else, and even at times for someone else.”

“Yet I have nothing to give.”

“You have more to offer than you know.”

Saki disappeared into the gray mist of the late evening. The little chicken did its best to flee, but Bakiya grasped it once more. He pulled a long piece of twine from a half-eaten bale of hay sitting by the empty, broken trough.

There, there little friend. I can’t have my adventure end before it starts.”

The little chicken clucked in agreement. Bakiya tied one end of the string to the chicken’s left leg, and the other to his wrist. He picked up the little fowl in his arms once more, and they made the long walk in the dark back to Bakiya’s house.

“Tomorrow, little friend, our journey begins as my destiny awaits, in Okinawa.”

Early the next morning Bakiya got up as usual. His mother figured her son was going to work, but he was not. Once she saw him packing his things, she was not happy.

“If you go, don’t come back here. Whatever happens, it’s going to be dangerous.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because all adventure is fraught with peril. Everyone knows that. At least, this little town is safe.”

“There’s nothing here for me. How many years must I struggle with no real hope of ever obtaining the proverbial brass ring? Is there not enough spoiled soup in my life?”

“You expect too much. You are alive and have a job. What can’t that be enough for you? Trust me. I know how you feel.”

“You do?”

“Do you think it’s my dream to scrape rotten food from fancy plates at the onsen? Your absent father and I went daily long ago. Oh, the shame! And now my son is forsaking me to go someplace not even found on any map.”

“Mother, please.”

“Oh me, oh my, whatever have I done in this life to deserve such a fate.”

Bakiya’s mother was always one for the dramatic. There was no use in arguing with her any longer. His choice was clear.

“You’ll be fine. You don’t need me around.”

“I believe that too,” Bakiya’s mother said. “I am able to take care of myself, thank you very much. Can you say the same?”

Bakiya did not answer. He put the last of his few possessions into his knapsack. Bakiya untied the little chicken from the bedpost and tied it once more to his wrist. He looked at his angry mother one last time with the eyes of a boy and not a lost, lovestruck young man.

“I am really sorry,” said Bakiya to his mother, as he moved towards the front door of the house, “but to never see the unknown place or learn my true fate is more than I can take.”

Bakiya’s mother turned her back and she fiddled with her broken tabletop heater. Her son took the hint, and he left the sliding door ajar.

“Come, my little chicken,” Bakiya said, taking it up into his trembling hands. “I’m filled with hope, and you must be hungry, so let us go forth and both have our feast.”

Leaving the small town, Bakiya proceeded, making his way down the long dirt and stone-covered road. It was covered in the summer in most areas by coarse grass. The thicket was so tall that Bakiya was forced to carry his little chicken most of the way.

“My little chicken, this road has no end. And the sun is hot.”

Bakiya pulled his small bottle from his bag, and he took a swig of water. He saved enough from his cup for his thirsty feathered friend. The little chicken happily lapped up the water from his new master’s caring hand. In the distance, Bakiya saw a figure growing nearer by the second. After a minute a goat herder wearing a light green yukata stood before Bakiya.

“I am hot and thirsty,” the man said. “I desire to cool my hands and face.”

“My bottle has but a little water left, but my friend, you are more than welcome to partake of it.”

Bakiya’s kindness touched the older-looking man. He took the bottle from Bakiya’s hand and he filled his cup halfway. The man drank with a wide smile as he wiped his brow with a damp towel.

“Thank you for your kindness. I am Ichiro. Where are you headed?”

“Name’s Bakiya. I’m off to Okinawa. I don’t suppose you have heard of it.”

“Alas, I have not, but I, too, come from a place far away. The world is growing and changing every day. Why last week I heard about self-driving ramen carts that are being used in a town near here. Can you imagine that?”

Bakiya knew all about those accursed contraptions. But they did not move themselves. He feigned ignorance at the knowledge of such new technology. Bakiya wouldn’t have bothered with much more conversation as Okinawa and his destiny awaited him.

“I’m sure it must be something. But I should get going. I have yet to find lodging for the night.”

“Not to worry, there’s a nice town about ten miles down this road. The people of Kyoto are the most kind. I’m sure you’ll find what you are looking for there.”

“I thank you once more, stranger. Until we meet again.”

Bakiya and the man parted. And after a minute, Ichiro called out in a raspy voice, “Stop, my good sir.”

Pausing, Bakiya stood for a moment to consider what Ichiro might want now.

“My new friend, I must thank you for your kindness. I ask that you take one of my goats for your trouble.”

“But what will I trade with you?”

“Love and kindness are always free. And newfound companions are invaluable in this existence. That’s more than enough for me. Be careful, Bakiya-san, my friend.”

Giving a deep sigh, Bakiya said, “Certainly, this is one of the best moments of my life.”

Chapter Four- Bakiya Takahashi Goes to Kyoto

Bakiya joyfully went forward towards the city of Kyoto. He made his way along, and he went with his tired eyes focused upon the ground. His mind was full of dreams of Okinawa and thoughts of sweet Saki who put him on this unknown path.

The late hour of the night found him upon a lonely road leading to an enormous metal gate. On the door were many beautiful, green vines, for it was summertime, and life in the wilderness roamed free. Bakiya wondered if the town was as friendly as Ichiro promised.

“Who goes there?”

“It is I, Bakiya Takahashi.”

“And what does Bakiya Takahashi seek at this late hour of the evening?”

“I wish merely a place to lay my weary head. And a bite to eat for my famished animals and for me as well.”

“So let it be.”

The guard, seeing no threat from a man with little, eagerly opened the gate. Bakiya led his new goat while holding his little chicken in his arms. Bakiya looked up and saw the figure of a young girl before him in the way.

She was a thin lass wearing a simple gown of fine yellow silk. Softly she went to stand in front of Bakiya as the darkness concealed her true beauty.

“Stranger,” she whispered. “Since we live in this same lonely land, for now, let us share this night and our hospitality with you.”

The beautiful girl turned to him with sparkling eyes and pink-hued lips. Bakiya struggled to keep up with the young girl. She chided him when he stopped to catch his breath.

Father awaits your arrival to our humble home. Here let my brother take your animals.”

The young boy took the tired goat to an empty stall. He offered to bed down the little chicken, but Bakiya declined. The young girl led Bakiya to an opulent house.

She gathered fresh straw and made it into a fine bed. She set fire to older straw and the charcoal in the hearth. Soon a whole wild deer roast burnt most divinely. After the fine feast, the young girl’s family desired to be entertained.

“Will you tell us a story?” The father asked.

“Shall it be a tale of adventure or one of the world?” Bakiya asked

“Oh, tell us about the world,” the young girl cried. “I’ve never been beyond the gates of Kyoto.”

“That’s enough, Nanako. No doubt our weary traveler is exhausted,” The father said.

“No, it’s fine. I owe you at least that much for your hospitality. Will you have a sad story or one of fantasy?”

They agreed that they would hear the true tale of how Bakiya came to be among them on this occasion. Bakiya told his story with the passion and energy of a world-class playwright. Nanako was in tears as Bakiya’s story finished, and the fire in the hearth was nothing more than warm embers.

That late-night as Bakiya lay in his makeshift straw bed with his little, sleeping chicken tucked beneath his arm. He was still, but no sleep came to him though Bakiya was exhausted. For the first time in his life, Bakiya was sick for love, and the affections of the beautiful Saki.

At the first sign of daylight the next morning Bakiya awoke. He looked upon the beautiful young girl who had been his host. He gathered up his belongings, and he fetched his goat.

He put the animal by Nanako’s side as she slept through the beautiful sunrise. And he left her with a whisper, “Thank you for being my friend.”

Bakiya went to explore the town as the first harsh, unforgiving rays of the summer sun and the unmistakable pangs of hunger came upon him and his little chicken.

“Dear Saki-san, Dear Saki-san,” he lamented.

After begging for his breakfast, it was once more “Dear Saki-san, Dear Saki-san,” and “Dear Saki-san, Dear Saki-san,” again when Bakiya and his little chicken saw the trader’s market in the town square.

Bakiya sat alone on a short stone wall in the square from morning until early evening. People from all walks of life happily shopped and conversed. But Bakiya did not.

His hands trembled as hunger once more grew inside him. Bakiya thought but did nothing more.

“Perhaps,” he said, “it is a joke that the gods have sought to play on me, Bakiya Takahashi, loses in life once more. Big surprise.”

Growing cold, Bakiya sat as heavy rain fell upon his sunburned head. His soaked little chicken was silent, too.

There came a young mother into his midst with two children in tow. She said to Bakiya, “My good, Sir, what do you do here?”

“Today, I’m getting wet, I’m afraid,” said Bakiya. “My attempts to find shelter are slightly overdue.”

“Sir,” she said. “We have a little house, a small shack, in the south of the city. We suffer, and we are poor I am ashamed to admit. But with a happy heart, we offer you freely what little extra we have for the night.”

The next day in the early morning the mother had long been up as Bakiya slept the beautiful sunrise away. He happened upon the mother cooking up a morning meal as he tried to quietly escape the house.

“If you would be so patient, breakfast is nearly done, and the children will be along.”

“Truly, I have imposed too much already.”

“It’s no imposition at all. It’s not often we get the honor of a guest.”

The sullen-looking woman worked as if she was a master chef. She turned crumbs, bits, and old and moldy rice into a breakfast fit for royalty. The kids bounced into the kitchen with vim and vigor that belied their true lot in life.”

“Good morning, mother.”

“Morning, Anri-chan! Junpei-kun please get our guest our finest cup.”

“Yes, mother.”

Junpei, a boy of nearly ten, reached and stretched to the top of the antique dish case. It was oddly out of place in such a slum.

“A gift from my parents for our wedding, God rest their departed souls.”

“It’s something to behold.”

Junpei put the glass before Bakiya, and the two shared a little horseplay at the table. Anri joined in much to the chagrin of their nervous-looking mother.

“That’s enough. This is a home, not Kyoto Zoo. And you know how your father feels about such things.”

The bedroom door slid open with a thud. A man with his pants missing came stomping into the cramped kitchen. He was not a morning person.

“How many times do I have to tell you to keep those kids quiet, So—yo—ka?”

“Kenji, please, not in front of our guest.”

“I don’t care if Buddha is sitting in that chair. This is my castle.”

Bakiya sat silently as the husband looked at him, and the man was not amused. The little chicken clucked on cue. And the mother threw some hot breakfast on a plate for her husband.

“Here take this. Why don’t you eat in your room and go back to bed?”

The children sat straight and stared blankly at the bare walls behind Bakiya. The husband grunted and grumbled as he stuffed a see-through thin piece of rotten apple into his cavity-filled mouth.

“Fine. You make sure those kids keep quiet today. Or somebody’s going to get hurt. You hear me?”

“Yes, father, but they are children after all.”

The husband walked back to his bedroom and slammed the door. The dish case shook as the lone cracked plate inside looked as if it would shatter. The children’s eyes filled with salty tears.

Shh! You two, we’ve had enough trouble for one day. You let well enough be. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, mother,” Anri and Junpei said.

This was not the first time such an angry conversation like that had gone on in this home. Bakiya was certain of that. He saw a strange look of relief wash over the mother’s weathered face. The starving children ate in a flash.

“Takahashi-san you are more than welcome to come with us out for the day. We are going to have a small picnic.”

“Won’t your husband go?”

“No, father never goes,” Anri said.

“He’s always too sick to go,” Junpei said.

The truth was the husband was too hungover to attend. Times were tough for the family. The man’s excessive drinking cost him his good-paying job at the rice mill. These days he begged for fishing work at the small, local dock. But he was often so hungover the good-paying gigs were long gone before he got there in the morning.

“Sure, sounds like a fun time.”

Bakiya, the mother, the kids, and the little chicken walked an hour to a beautiful grassy area. There were plenty of trees for climbing and a small river for fishing. Bakiya amused everyone with his ever-exaggerated tales of Okinawa and Saki. Bakiya enjoyed the children very much, and they loved him.

A swim, a swim,” said Anri.

“Now what else?” Bakiya asked.

“A lot of hugs and kisses,” Junpei said.

Bakiya gleefully obliged every request. This came much to the delight of the mother. She spent most of the time lost in thought as she watched a kind man give her children the best day of their lives.

“A perfect stranger is better than a father. How sad!” The mother said.

Bakiya played with the children for some time, and everyone became tired. The pair’s bright smiles melted away into the stark reality of returning to their broken home.

Bakiya thought better of returning with the troubled family. He instead camped by the river for the night. He found himself saddened as the children’s laughter grew faint and then was heard no more. His heart was as empty as his body was still. He longed once more for his “Dear Saki-san.”

Chapter Five- Bakiya Takahashi And The Children Leave

The next morning Bakiya made the long walk from his campsite to the town. He thought of moving on without a word to the children. But sounds of chaos from outside their dilapidated home as he passed by were too loud to ignore.

“Get back to your work again, be swift, that we may be done in time. If father comes out and we haven't finished, God help us all,” Anri said.

“Sister, come play with me, my love I offer thee. Let’s once more enjoy another glorious day,” Junpei said.

Bakiya watched the pair from afar. He reveled in delight at the sibling quarrel. There was no doubt he lamented having no brothers and sisters. It was a most peaceful moment until their angry father came forth from the front door.

“Leave my sight, you stupid girl and lazy boy, if you don’t, you’ll see my belt across the backside of your bare behinds once more,” The father said.

Anri and Junpei shrank with fear. The man’s dried out lips shut as the grinding of his rotting teeth was audible. They crossed a line in his mind.

“Are you deaf, do you not hear me? Begone!”

“Oh thank God, mother is here,” Anri said. “She will fix everything.”

The mother came jumping out of the house. This was always the time when she came to save the day. The children relaxed for a moment.

“What in the world is all this racket? Surely, we must have more respect for the neighbors at this early hour.”

“Sorry mother, it was Junpei. He wanted to—”

“No, it was Anri. She wouldn’t play with me.”

The father stepped forward. Bakiya thought about intervening as he watched the drama unfold. But this was not his wife, and those were not his children.

“They call it ‘playing.’ As if this morning time was for such frivolity. For shame while their father toils from early light into the darkest hours of the night. Take that!”

With two sharp slaps, from their father’s hand, both children were in tears. The mother, out of instinct, stepped between the wailing pair. The father’s hand closed, and a moment later his wife’s eye was turning shades of red, black, and blue.

“Mother are you alright?” The children cried.

“Now come, see what you've done. I’ve had enough, I’m through.”

The terrified mother gathered her children in her arms. Junpei tugged at her short, white apron as he wiped his cheeks. Anri turned sullen and silent. Her once bright cowl was replaced by an eerie emptiness.

“Me? You’re putting the slovenliness of those two on me. God knows I’ve worked myself to the bone for this ungrateful family.”

“Yes, and you, you lazy piece of raccoon-dog dung, you have nothing to show for your life. What a waste of a man you are!”

The father’s eyes closed for a moment. He opened them and the last of the good that once resided inside his soul was gone. Bakiya took a few tentative steps towards the house, but he froze as the father reached for his waist.

“I’ll take my belt to the useless lot of you until your bodies ache,” the father said. “I’d trade the two of you for a good meal any day.”

Bakiya’s little chicken clucked on cue. The father’s rage dissipated. The mother and her children took refuge in the long shadow that Bakiya cast upon the ground.

“Surely, you don’t mean that,” Bakiya said. “They are your children after all.”

“I do. This worthless pair eats me out of house and home,” the father said. “No fish, not a morsel, for my empty, grumbling stomach. No rice in the bin, no eggs on my—”

“Plate. Good sir, I have a deal for you.”

“And what could someone like you offer me? Was it not you two nights before who was eating my food and sleeping under my roof? Or was that my imagination, you lazy vagabond?”

“Sir, it was not your imagination at all. And I appreciate your most generous hospitality. To be sure I do.”

“Yet now, you, stranger, place yourself squarely inside my family’s discord.”

“I know it’s not much you need. Some food and a warm fire. What can I say, life is tough on many of us?”

The father’s closed fists turned into open hands, and his empty palms dropped to his sides. There was a time when he was filled with hope and his life with prosperity. Those days were long gone.

“But poverty and hunger are formidable foes. Are they not?”

Bakiya knew the sting of an empty money bag and a hollow stomach. The men had much in common in their lives, if not in approach to it.

“To be sure, I cannot solve all your problems. But I offer you a salve for your present condition.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“I offer you my little chicken. You can get a good square meal for a time, and one day soon a night of feasting when it is old.”

“And what do you want in return?”

“I’d like to take the children with me as I go on my way.”

The father’s eyes widened. He looked at the little chicken. His tongue darted across his dry lips. He turned to his sullen wife.

“Look, my lovely bride, does this offer not please you?”

The mother rubbed her swollen eye. She stared stoically at her husband and then at her children. The mother gently massaged her neck with her hands and she pulled a dead bug from her matted hair.

“If that’s what the children want, then so let it be. Who am I to disagree?”

“It is.” The children said.

The pair hugged their mother. Bakiya handed the little chicken over to the father. The chicken clucked twice and bowed at Bakiya.

“Well done, my little chicken.”

Bakiya gave the dutiful fowl one final pat on its head. The father grabbed the little bird by its neck. He gave it a tight squeeze and sang a merry tune as he ran with it into the house.

Banzai, banzai! What do I see? Wing and legs, thighs and breasts—and eggs, by the dozens.”

Tears ran from the mother’s eyes. The children gathered up what little they had to call their own in life. Anri put her old doll into the pocket of her faded and soiled dress. Junpei grabbed his worn, soot-covered black hat. The kids stood before their mother as Bakiya looked upon the broken family.

“Such sadness, dear woman, don’t take it badly. The children will be fine. I’ll see to that.”

“Mother, won’t you come with us?” Anri said.

“Yes, please, mother, let us start life anew,” Junpei said.

The woman shook her head. She looked back at her broken down-home. The painful, last squawks of the little chicken came out from inside the kitchen.

“If I am to be Empress of this house, then I must stay with my Emperor.”

Bakiya admired to a degree the faithfulness of the mother to her husband and home. The father did not care about the kids. But come dinner time, a domesticated wife he most certainly demanded. There would be no escape for them if she went along.

“My dearest children, into the loving arms of Bakiya-san you go.”

“Yes mother,” The children said.

“And what of you?” Bakiya asked.

The mother once more looked at Anri and Junpei. There was nothing more she could do for them. She hoped for the best for Bakiya and her children.

“It is time. I will slumber, dear sir, finally slumber in the darkness, awaiting happier times and for my eternal home. God bless my weary, tortured soul to keep.”

Bakiya thought of convincing the mother otherwise. But as Saki said, “Everything in life is a tradeoff. We all give up something for something else, and even at times for someone else.”

Chapter Six- Bakiya Takahashi And The Children Meet Naoyuki And Etsuko

Bakiya waited outside the town gates to see if the mother would change her mind. Sadly, she did not. Anri, feeling comfortable as they left the town behind, talked with Bakiya. She was a curious girl and asked him many questions. Some he answered, but others Bakiya could not.

“What will we find in Okinawa?”

“I don’t know. ‘Fame? Fortune? Destiny?’”

Bakiya would have added ‘disappointment’ to the list, but he did not want to depress the young girl, or himself. Junpei followed slowly in a roundabout way. Bakiya turned around and gave a glance to the boy. Junpei’s dark eyes twinkled.

“That lad is clever,” Bakiya said to himself.

The heat of the summer day wore on them. The children walked without complaint. Bakiya searched hard for a place to rest. He thought at first a blue spot in the distance was a mirage. But it was not.

There was a crystal clear pond. It overflowed with water and smelled of fish. A walk that turned into a near sprint from the trio had them standing at the edge of the pristine oasis.

“Go now, and wash,” Bakiya said.

The dust-covered children did as they were told. They scrubbed and rubbed their skin so hard Bakiya thought they would reach the bone. Bakiya took off his old geta and tossed them to the side. He jumped into the pond. Minutes later he was cooking up a lunch feast of fried fish that satisfied them all. Young Junpei ate until Bakiya begged him to stop.

“You’ve had enough now,” Bakiya said. “If you eat any more I fear you will swim away.”

Junpei laughed, and Bakiya fell to the ground with a mighty chuckle. The moment was a happy one. He watched the children run to raid large, red strawberries from a wild patch they found. Anri picked as many berries as she could stuff into her dress. Junpei ate twice as much as that.

Bakiya thought once more of Saki, Okinawa, and his life. He filled his bottle to the top. The children did the same with their makeshift vessels. Bakiya packed his gear and beckoned his cherub-sized troops to be off. And that’s the way it went for Bakiya and the children.

There were other towns and cities they found along the way. Sometimes, there was great hospitality in the local communities. But as the hot summer turned to the warm fall, and the fall into early cold winter things got tough for everyone, especially for vagabonds.

One morning heavy, wet snow fell, and when Bakiya woke, he found Junpei next to him. The boy was frozen, Anri too. Bakiya could not endure anymore.

“Dear Saki-san, what shall I do? I have nothing more to give. Please let these children live.”

The three shivered as the last embers of their fire were nearly extinguished. The wicked winter winds bit through their thin, worn clothes. Their bony fingers red and their hearts and souls ice cold. A faint sound of braying horses and the incessant clattering of their hooves filled Bakiya’s ears as he fell silent.

“Dear husband, are they dead?”

“I hope not. Quickly, ride to the house and get the wagon.”

In the blinding whiteness of the still falling snow, Bakiya later saw shadows of two people in boots as they loaded him onto a wagon with the children.

Bakiya and the kids shivered as the fire in the house struggled to gain intensity. They were in bad condition. Junpei was near death. Worn out from the trek, the man sat Junpei down upon the floor. The poor boy mouthed a whisper of “Thanks,” but it was nothing more than a whimper.

Soon the fire glowed. All the doors of the house were shut, and outside more big flakes of snow fell. The three slept the night and the next day away.

“When I look at those poor souls I am reminded of an adventure that came to me many years ago,” The man said.

“Yes, it was an adventure or a dream,” said the woman to her husband. “And which it was I cannot tell. Can you?”

“I cannot. No doubt, it was our destiny, my love, to be together.”

“Yet alone to a degree.”

“Yes, dear, I know. Some things aren’t meant to be.”

“Perhaps.”

The older couple ventured out years ago to find a fortune. They did so as they worked hard to build a sprawling farm. They were happy, but as they watched the children sleep, the accidental heroes wondered why such a blessing had not come into their lives.

“Thanks. I can, I—” Bakiya said.

“Rest, my friend,” said the husband, as he passed into the next room, and Bakiya had no answer.

A day later, Bakiya was slowly getting up and around on his own. Anri soon followed. The pair drank hot miso soup as the wife combed Anri’s tangled hair. Her contentment was short-lived as Junpei was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s my brother?” Anri cried.

“He’s taken for the worst, I’m afraid. My husband, Naoyuki, is doing his best in the other room. But it’s touch and go. I’m sad to say.”

“Etsuko, I need you in here.”

“Coming, Naoyuki. If you two will excuse me.”

It looked as if Junpei had come to the end of his short life. He lay sick with a burning fever, gasping. Etsuko came round him as he grew more helpless. She wrapped her arms around the boy’s limp body. When she saw him on the point of death she prayed, “Now is not the time for this boy to die.”

Bakiya shook his head. He once more wondered if Junpei's untimely death would be worth his chance at reaching Okinawa and finding his destiny.

“Forgive me, God,” cried Bakiya. “Please save this boy, and I shall never forget it. Perhaps, one day you’ll find it’s me you need.”

The hours passed during the day. Poor Etsuko sat by the ill boy’s side. Naoyuki paced and talked with his chatty parrot, Uta. A real parent could have been no more devoted to a sick child.

Bakiya comforted Anri, as she did her best to stay strong. The guilt he felt for taking the children along filled his soul with despair. Anri saw Bakiya’s pain.

“‘Pray do not apologize,’” Anri said.

“It’s just if I had let you two be— Junpei would be—”

“My brother will be fine. You’ll see. God sent us to you. And he will save my brother, too. It’s destiny. You’ll see.”

“‘Destiny.’ Does one’s fate ever really change?”

“I cannot say. But people do. Like long grass in a swamp or old trees in the plains.” she said. “Everyone bends or eventually breaks without adapting to their situations and conditions.”

A wise, young girl far beyond her thirteen years on this earth. Bakiya had spent the last months protecting and leading the children to an unknown destination. In this time of struggle, it was the blossoming young woman before him in whom he found purpose.

“If God allows it, Junpei will live.”

“And if he does not?”

“‘When you are in God’s power you must do as he tells you. That’s the way it goes in life. The price of a happy fate.’”

Bakiya wondered if such astute wisdom also applied to the gods. Anri curled snuggly into the loving, paternal-like arms of Bakiya. The pair fell asleep as the flames of the fire flickered like angels on the day of the Rapture.

“Anri-chan, where are you?” Junpei cried from the next room.

Anri jumped from Bakiya’s slumbering embrace. She ran straight into the room. Junpei was sitting in the bed munching on some warm toast and jelly.

“It’s strawberry. My favorite.”

Anri leaped into the bed and embraced her brother as if it were the first time. Bakiya did not know if God or the gods were responsible for Junpei’s recovery. He thought it better not to ask such things. The answer would not have mattered either way.

The weeks and soon months passed. Junpei got stronger. There was no doubt he would live, but that came at a cost. He lost most of his left foot and two fingers on his right hand from frostbite. Bakiya wondered if Junpei was up for the journey, one with no end in sight.

Naoyuki and Etsuko grew fond of the children, especially Junpei. They knew there would be a time for everyone to leave. And the warm spring winds came too quickly for their liking.

“You know, you all are more than welcome to stay,” Naoyuki said.

“Most certainly we would love to have you here,” Etsuko said.

Bakiya considered it. In the end, he thought it far too much of an imposition for the kind couple to take on three hungry mouths, no matter how well off they were in life. Bakiya packed his belongings and was helping the children when Junpei stopped him.

“I ask that you let me stay, Bakiya,” said Junpei. “I would only slow you down.”

Junpei looked at his foot and rubbed his hand. Bakiya patted him on the head. He knew the boy was right. The adventure was dangerous at best, deadly at worst as the lad found out the hard way. It took only a brief discussion with Naoyuki and Etsuko who happily agreed.

Anri too considered staying. Naoyuki and Etsuko were willing to take on both children. But Anri, like Junpei to Etsuko, had become close to Bakiya. In the end, there was only the matter of a final, sad sibling goodbye.

“I love you, my brother.”

“And I love you, my sister. Goodbye, my sister.”

“Until we meet again.”

“I know we will one day.”

Junpei gave Anri his old, black hat, and Anri left him her little doll. Naoyuki and Etsuko sent Bakiya and Anri on their way with three new milk cows, some pocket change, and a talking parrot. Bakiya tried to refuse the exotic bird, but Naoyuki was happy to get rid of the chatty thing now that he had a new son.

“Please, take him! That crazy bird never shuts up. But Uta’s good company most of the time, and he’s always brought me luck.”

“Thank you, we could use all of that we can get.”

Chapter Seven- Bakiya Takahashi, Anri, The Parrot, And The Pirate

Bakiya and Anri went far off into the distance before they stopped for a rest. Anri fell asleep upon the soft grass. Bakiya wasn’t tired. He pondered as he walked, asking himself, “What do I want from my life?”

He waited for an answer. But there was none. Once Anri awoke, the pair continued forth for weeks until the land ended. The water stretched as far as Bakiya and Anri could see. There was a short, well-maintained dock with a big rowboat, but the water was far too rough for such a vessel to survive for long.

“It’s a beautiful sea, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose it is, Anri.”

In Bakiya’s haste to find a way across the water, he missed the beauty of the moment. Bakiya stepped back from the dock and stood next to Anri. He took in a deep breath of saltwater-smelling air. It was clean and crisp. Bakiya was reminded of how far he had come from his days of slinging noodles in the busy streets of his hometown.

“Where do we go from here?” Anri asked.

“I don’t know. The answer isn’t clear.”

The pair made camp with what they had. The cool, moonless night passed. The next day Bakiya and Anri walked further along the sandy shore. Anri was most happy to find some white clams and a large crab.

“Pearls?” Bakiya asked.

“No, but they’ll no doubt make a fine stew.”

Bakiya’s thoughts went beyond his grumbling stomach. He wondered if this journey and his struggle were for naught. He was neither bird nor fish and the water before him was vast. His musings interrupted as Anri called him to the fire for his evening meal.

“It’s most wonderful, Anri. You’ve learned to cook divinely.”

“Thank you. I learned from my moth—”

“It’s okay to miss her, you know. Junpei too.”

“I know. It’s just there is a time to be strong. Speaking of such things seems a waste.”

“A waste to who? To your mother? To Junpei?”

“I don’t know.”

“Or to you?”

“They’re gone.”

“People can be important to you no matter where they are.”

Bakiya patted his heart. Anri spooned more seafood stew into her bowl and then into Bakiya’s. She sighed and sipped the hot broth. Bakiya took the hint that some things were best left unsaid.

Anri sang a folk tune as Bakiya hummed along. The pair enjoyed the diversion from their worries, but it left them unaware of their surroundings. A primal growl and then a rough voice came from the dark.

Oy, who are you?”

The sound of heavy breathing and the odor of cheap rum was unmistakable. Bakiya stood as he grabbed a big piece of rotten driftwood. He pushed Anri behind him, and Bakiya prepared for the worst.

“Anri get ready to run.”

The sound of awkward footsteps grew near. Bakiya raised his makeshift weapon for battle. Anri readied to escape.

“I said ‘Who—are—you?’”

A pudgy and plump figure popped out from the dark. He was gruff-looking. He looked older than he likely was, Bakiya thought. The man limped forward towards the food on the fire.

My, my that looks delicious.”

The crude, little guy was much pleased that he stopped at this place, for the aroma was too much for him to ignore. He took two of his chubby fingers and shoved them into the cast iron pot.

“Yummy. I hope you don’t mind. Japanese nabe is my favorite.”

“But that’s not yours,” Anri said.

“Oh, dearie, I’m so sorry. Here you can have it back if you want.”

“No, that’s fine. We were full anyway,” Bakiya said.

It was late and dark. Bakiya didn’t know who else might be with the odd stranger. He thought it best to play along.

“So do you live around here?” Bakiya asked.

The crude little man laughed until he wheezed. He stood and tipped his hat. Bakiya’s eyes widened.

“Why I’m a pirate captain. Don’t you know?”

“‘A pirate captain’?” Anri asked. “There’s no such thing in this day and age.”

“My dear girl there is, why look at me. Can’t you tell?”

The crude little man looked nothing like a pirate. He wore old, but high-quality clothes. His ‘pirate’ hat was something Bakiya had seen in a fancy mail order catalog years ago. The crude little man seemed so sincere, so Bakiya played along once more.

“So Captain, what’s your name?”

Aye, perhaps, you’ve heard of me, Captain Thompson.”

“And what port does Captain Thompson call home?”

“I’m from across the sea.”

“Where exactly on the map?” Anri asked.

“Okinawa,” Captain Thompson said.

Bakiya froze. He had nearly given up hope of going further. But Anri was not as convinced.

“Where’s your ship, Captain Thompson?”

“Why out in the sea, of course. The water’s much too shallow to bring it in here.”

“So that’s your big rowboat I’ve seen at the dock?” Bakiya asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“And do you often go to Okinawa?”

Bakiya was eager to learn more about this mysterious land. One that until this moment had been more myth than reality. Captain Thompson sat down by the fire. He gave Bakiya a dismissive wag of his finger.

“Manners. Do they not teach manners where you come from? Your names if you please.”

“Bakiya Takahashi. And—”

“My name is Anri, uh, Takahashi.”

Anri’s use of his last name surprised Bakiya. It startled Anri, too. But it seemed right.

“And you two are what exactly?”

“She’s my, um, daughter.”

It was Anri’s turn to be surprised. To tell the truth, it shocked Bakiya, too. But it felt good.

“Yes, this is my father.”

“So now with the pleasantries out of the way, if I may, once more. Captain Thompson, do you often go to Okinawa?” Bakiya asked.

“Ah, I can’t say ‘often.’ But I’m going back again as soon as I can find someone to take Patrice.”

“‘Patrice’?”

“Yes, my pachyderm. She’s a baby though.”

“What’s a ‘pachyderm’?” Anri asked.

“It’s an elephant. Don’t they teach you anything in school?”

Anri’s mouth drew closed. In the past, her mother did her best to teach her how to read, but she had never attended any formal school. Her father felt women were good for ‘cooking, cleaning, and laundry.’

“Wow, an elephant. That’s amazing,” Anri said.

“It’s nothing. I won her in a poker game,” Captain Thompson said.

“Have you ever had a pet?”

“Uta, my parrot over there.”

Anri pointed towards the sleeping green and red feathered bird. Captain Thompson’s eyes widened. He looked like he might cry.

“That’s it. That’s exactly what I need.”

“The parrot?” Bakiya asked.

“Yes, the parrot. How much do you want for it?”

“I’m sorry, Uta is not for sale,” Anri said.

Captain Thompson’s face scrunched into a ball. He stood and put forth his stubby little index finger into Anri’s face. Bakiya stood between them.

“Whoa, let’s all simmer down. Certainly, we can work this out,” Bakiya said.

I—want—that—bird.”

“No,” Anri said.

“Anri, please,” Bakiya said.

Desperate to avoid trouble once more, Bakiya worked to diffuse the situation. We’ll trade you the parrot for your elephant. Certainly, Anri would love to have an elephant. Anri’s beautiful eyes sparkled.

Yes, yes, I would love an elephant.”

Captain Thompson put a finger to his salt and pepper stubble-covered chin. He took a breath, and he raised his finger to the sky. Bakiya waited for the result.

“Deal. One elephant for the bird. But I should tell you she’s not much to look at. A sickly, little thing.”

“I don’t care,” Anri said.

“And deaf or mute or something, I’m afraid.”

“So where is this elephant? Certainly, she is not on your boat.”

“Don’t be stupid. Who would ever put a pachyderm on a ship? It’s not like they can swim.”

Bakiya mused at the image of an elephant on a ship. Captain Thompson took a step towards his newly acquired booty, Uta. That did not amuse Anri.

“Stop. Where’s my elephant?”

“In Okinawa, way across the water over there.”

Captain Thompson pointed towards the water. Bakiya wanted to make one more deal with Captain Thompson. A bargain he hoped would be agreeable.

“We’d like to book passage upon your ship to Okinawa. I’ll happily give you a cow.”

“Do you take me for a fool? I see you have three. Nothing in life is free.”

“Okay, how about two?”

“My dear man, unless you and that spirited daughter of yours can swim like fish or fly like birds, I’ll take all three. Or you can find another way to go. Now, as they say, ‘Where’s the beef?’”

The cows were all the property Bakiya and Anri had. If this didn’t work, they would be left with nothing in a foreign land. Bakiya looked at Anri, and she beat him to the punch.

“Done. When do we go?”

“Fine. We will leave bright and early a week from today. And I’ll be taking those cows and that pretty bird with me now.”

Chapter Eight- Bakiya Takahashi And Anri Get A Ride On A Ship

Bakiya and Anri rose on the morning of the day of departure. They broke up their camp and extinguished the fire. Anri made one last pass down the shore to look for fresh clams. She found nothing but a chipped seashell and a dried-up jellyfish. The latter she smartly left alone.

Captain Thompson was at the dock in rare form. He was loading three big wooden barrels onto his rowboat when Bakiya and Anri arrived with their things.

“Attention, young lady and distinguished gentleman. Our voyage is about to begin. I beg of you to bow your heads in a small prayer to the sea gods.”

The brisk, cold morning air caused Anri’s tattered, yellow skirt to sway like the sea. Bakiya nodded to Anri, and the pair did as they were told. Captain Thompson cleared his throat.

“Dear gods of the sea, may the waters be calm and the winds in our favor. We beg of you that this morning not be the last time our soon to be seafaring legs feel the warm embrace of dry land. Amen.”

“Amen,” Bakiya and Anri said.

“Don’t stand there you two. Help yer captain finish loading the boat. The sea and adventure await.”

Bakiya motioned to Anri to go ahead. They rolled the final two heavy, wooden barrels up a ramp and onto the rowboat. Anri pulled her hand from the last barrel and was aghast at a red streak of some unknown liquid. She put her hand to her nose and nearly fainted from the wretched stench.

“Is that not blood and brine I smell?”

“Yes, ’tis,” Captain Thompson said.

He covered the barrels with an old, tan tarp and tied it down. Bakiya put the last of their meager possessions in the bow of the rowboat as a little mist from the sea kicked up in his face.

“And what is in those barrels if I may?” Bakiya asked.

“That would be the preserved remains of your payment for this voyage.”

“You killed the cows,” Anri said.

“Of course, our trip is long and neither men like us nor a lass like yourself live on bread and water alone.”

“Was it really necessary to slaughter them all?” Bakiya asked.

“Have you ever seen a cow swim?”

“But they’re dead,” Anri said.

“Dear girl, sometimes in life there’s a sacrifice to be made.”

“That doesn’t seem very fair to those harmless animals.”

“Perhaps not, but we all have a destiny to fulfill. Theirs is on my dinner plate.”

Anri wiped a falling tear from her face with the back of her sleeve. Bakiya comforted her, but he knew it was best to let the girl be. Captain Thompson waddled onboard the rowboat.

“Come now, you two. We must get out with the morning tides, lest we get swept back hard into the unforgiving shore.”

The rowboat would never survive such harsh conditions. The three grabbed long oars and paddled off into the open sea. Bakiya and Anri paddled hard. Captain Thompson drank his ‘special water’ from a jug, but young Anri knew that was a secret code for rum.

Bakiya thought to say something to the drunk, old man when he was too friendly with Anri for her liking. But it took only a sharp elbow from her to stop Captain Thompson’s most unwelcome advances. Bakiya beamed with pride at the strong, young woman she had become.

“Are we there yet?” Anri asked.

Captain Thompson took a final, sloppy swig of rum and tossed the empty vessel into the sea. He wiped his face with the frilly, white front of his shirt and pointed to the West. Anri thought their rowing like the deepwater would have no end.

“Look, you see, there she is.”

Bakiya and Anri strained and squinted. Bakiya pulled Anri back inside the rowboat as she craned her neck to search for any sign of a ship. The sunshine of the day shimmered across the blue-green sea.

“I do see something,” Anri said.

Bakiya too noticed a different reflection on the calm water. The pair paddled with renewed vigor. A short time later a large boat came into view. It looked nothing like a pirate ship, more like a yacht than a storybook fantasy pirate ship.

“Mr. Thompson, over here.” A voice from the ship shouted.

“That’s ‘Captain Thompson,’ matey.”

The rowboat drew in next to the ship and a long rope ladder came down the side of the ship. Captain Thompson tied the rowboat to the ladder.

“You two go up and climb up on the deck. My first mate and I will handle the cargo. Anri and Bakiya went up the ladder. A glove-covered hand reached out and grabbed Anri to help her aboard.

“Lovely Miss Anri, I presume,” The voice behind the hand said.

“Yes, I am. How do you know that?”

Bakiya came aboard. The man handed him a dry, green towel.

“Mr. Thompson said two guests would be joining us for the voyage.”

“You mean, ‘Captain Thompson,’ right?” Bakiya asked.

The man tugged on his white dress shirt. His pressed black slacks and shiny shoes looked nothing like a pirate’s first mate. He shook his head.

“Is that what he told you?”

“Yes, he said he was a pirate captain.”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. Mr. Thompson isn’t well. He is prone to delusions these days. He is perfectly fine most of the time. You see, he has a little episode now and again.”

“‘Episode’?”

“Yes, not to worry, he’s harmless. I’m sure he will snap out of it at any moment.”

The man showed Bakiya and Anri to their quarters. This was no budget cruise. Their separate rooms were twice the size of Anri’s old farmhouse. Bakiya had not seen such decadence since he and his mother were living with his father in their fancy mansion long ago.

“Wow,” Bakiya said.

He put the gold and porcelain inlaid room key on a lacquered table. Bakiya fell upon the softest bed he had felt in years. He threw the fluffy pillows to the floor. This worried the staff.

“I’m sorry, sir. Is this room not acceptable? It's the biggest stateroom left on the ship.”

“It’s more than fine.”

“That’s good to hear, your daughter’s room is across the hall. I’m Robert. Mr. Thompson’s assistant. If you need anything at all do not hesitate to ask.”

“‘Assistant’?” Bakiya asked.

“Yes, I have been with him for several years. Most of the staff on the boat have been.” Robert said.

“There is more staff?” Anri asked.

“Why, of course, this vessel is much too big for two men to handle alone.”

Robert took Anri to her room across the hall as he promised. There was a collection of dresses in the closet. Anri marveled at the fancy red dress hanging behind the door of the room as she held her broken seashell in her hand.

“Oh, Mr. Thompson thought you could use a new dress for the trip. It’s yours to keep if you desire. It looks like you could use something new to wear.”

“I can’t possibly afford to pay for that.”

“I’d say the beautiful trinket in your hand would more than cover it.”

“This broken thing? Surely not.”

“Why yes, Mr. Thompson loves fixing beautiful, broken things.”

Anri handed Robert the seashell. She wondered if he was serious about her trade for the dress. Robert smiled, he put her mind at ease.

“Mr. Thompson will be most pleased.”

“It’s a dirty, old shell.”

“Miss Anri, value comes in all forms.”

“That dress was his wife’s favorite.”

“‘Was’?”

“Yes, lunch will be served promptly at noon in the dining hall. See you then.”

Chapter Nine- Bakiya Takahashi And Anri Sail The High Seas

Anri came into the dining hall as the enormous cuckoo clock on the wall rang out. She looked all of her 15 years. Bakiya, too, was transformed, a quick, close shave and a spare black suit from Robert saw to that.

“Welcome my honored guests,” A chubby, white-capped chef said.

Bakiya and Anri failed to notice the rotund cook’s enormous girth. They were too enthralled by their lunchtime surroundings. The dining room was grand.

The quality of the art about the room was equaled by the fancy china on the table. Anri had never experienced such luxury, Bakiya long ago. The chef stepped forward towards the hungry pair.

“My famished gentleman and pretty lass, today I have prepared Mr. Thompson’s favorite dish—fresh, grilled tuna from the sea.”

“That’s ‘Captain Thompson.’”

“Sorry, sir, er, Captain Thompson.”

The chef returned to his galley. Robert rushed to pull out his master’s head chair. He poured a copious amount of lukewarm rum into a glass.

“Welcome to me ship. What do you think?”

“She’s amazing, Mr—, ah, Captain Thompson, sir,” Bakiya said, correcting for his host’s more desired title. “It’s amazing to be sure. The food smells most divine.”

“Thank you, my galley chef, Trevor, is as good with a fish as he is quick with a sword. Right, Trevor?”

The chef stopped mid-swipe with his knife. He put the metal blade into the air and stabbed imaginary enemies. Trevor knew how to keep on the right side of his Captain’s good graces.

Aye, aye Captain. And always ready for more.”

Captain Thompson nodded with a little smile. Trevor returned to whisking eggs in a bowl with chunks of cured ham and cheese. He added a burst of flames to his deep fry pan with a dash of oil to the delight of everyone.

“This is a special moment. But my long life has shown me one day leads swiftly to the next and finally to the last. Each moment is to be valued, precious commodities without a doubt,” Captain Thompson said.

“Cheers!” Bakiya said as he took a drink for the first time in ages.

Here, here! Well put, Captain Thompson,” Robert said, knowing well his master ran the ship.

“Are you ready to feast, my guests?” Captain Thompson said. “I’m sorry to be late.”

Anri rubbed her empty stomach. “The best food,” said Anri, “is for one who learns to wait.”

“So true, my child, there is no doubt, ‘Patience is a virtue,’” said Captain Thompson. “It takes some folks a lifetime to learn. You must be most proud of her.”

“Indeed, I am,” Bakiya said.

“Her mother must be too,” Captain Thompson said.

Anri lowered her head and shook it with a sadness that was beyond words. She picked up a napkin and dabbed a teardrop from her rosy cheek. This left Captain Thompson and the other people in the room confused.

“Dear Miss, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Captain Thompson said. “I assumed your mother must be proud of you.”

“I’m sure she’s fine. Her mother is—” Bakiya said.

Anri raised her head.

“I wouldn’t know,” Anri said. “My mother was all too happy to give me away. To a complete stranger no less.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I truly am,” Captain Thompson said.

“So what if she did?” said Bakiya. “There is no other you in this world. There’s no doubt you are my daughter. A child I would never trade.”

A happy smile sprang to Anri’s face.

“I’m most honored to be your daughter.”

There was a quick pat of the pretty yellow bow on her head. Anri looked up, and there stood Bakiya, a man who no doubt was her father. He smiled warmly as the pair embraced. After that, the lunchtime meal was full of laughter. The cuisine of succulent tuna, fried shrimp, and crispy Crème Brulee was a secondary thought.

The voyage continued as the afternoon came to a close. Anri returned to her room for a rest. Bakiya made his way up to the deck. He had never liked sailing as a boy. But one wonderful thing about the sea for him was its active aquatic life.

Bakiya watched as schools of large yellow fish raced the ship. They bounced against the stern perilously in its wake. A pair of gray dolphins leaped from the pristine blue-green sea in unison as if they were a happy couple. Bakiya’s mind turned to love of his own as his thoughts drifted into the abyss of the rhythmic waves.

“Saki-san, Saki-san!” Bakiya mumbled. “Is the destination worth the journey, a person worth the pain?”

“It is my friend, a human, love, worth the sacrifice,” Captain Thompson said.

“Captain Thompson, You startled me.”

Bakiya stepped back from the side railing of the ship. He looked once more at the sea, and he shook his head until it appeared as if it would fall off.

“My boy, Okinawa, I promise you, is worth the wait. A land of opportunity and adventure.”

“And love? Is it a place to find romance?”

It was Captain Thompson’s turn to shake his head like a jester’s stuffed puppet. Bakiya sensed a shift in the man’s demeanor. The bravado of a wild-eyed pirate was replaced by the gentleness of a sage father.

“I knew such a thing in Okinawa, yes indeed. I’ve fought across the seas, gained and buried a dozen treasures, but adored only one eternal love.”

“And where is she?”

“Forever lost to the sea and to me.”

Captain Thompson’s former rock-hard-looking expression returned upon his face. He pulled a cork from a full barrel and poured a drink for two. The men sat upon the deck for hours not as Captain and passenger, but like a father and a son. Bakiya thought he had pried too much into the old man’s business. But that was not the case.

“You see, these now calm waters, they got rough. And the gods can be most unforgiving. A rich banker and his lovely young wife set out to see the world. But only one of them came back.”

Bakiya had questions to be sure. This crazy old pirate was a banker. Certainly, that would explain the ship. Captain Thompson filled his wooden cup once more, and he tossed his black leather boots behind him.

“I see. She must have been something.”

“Yes, to be sure she was. Jane was nothing short of a goddess.”

“I’m sure she was.”

My lovely Jane, my lovely Jane,” Captain Thompson wailed.

After yet one more drink of his rum it was once more “My lovely Jane, my lovely Jane,” and Bakiya saw Captain Thompson pass out cold right there on that wet, slippery deck.

It being late, Bakiya knew not what to do, but he got up and walked as well as his drunk legs and feet allowed. He bumped into the gray, metal railing a time or two, nearly overtaken by the crashing waves. Thankfully, the gods chose not to wash his soul away.

Soon there came a large storm of pounding rain and huge hail, with the loudest thunder his ears had ever heard. Bakiya made it back to his room and fell face-first into his bed, drenched clothes and all.

Captain Thompson remained unaware of the storm. Until he awoke and discovered that he was in the middle of the sea floating upon an old deck chair. The dire straits of his dilemma sent the once fearless pirate into a state of panic.

“Help! I’m drowning in the sea for the love of God.”

Captain Thompson’s cries for aid reached the sharp ears of only one. Uta was sleeping by an open porthole. The little parrot shook the sleep from his head. As more desperate cries for assistance came from Captain Thompson, Uta hopped, skipped, and flew into Bakiya’s room.”

“Help! I’m drowning in the sea for the love of God,” Uta said, in a pitch-perfect imitation of Captain Thompson’s voice.

Bakiya leaped from his warm bed. He ran to the deck and peered over the railing. Captain Thompson hung on to the deck chair as a familiar, ominous-looking gray fin emerged from the water. The fin bumped and bobbed against the deck chair but did no more. A thick rope came down and Captain Thompson was soon up on board the ship.

“Thank you, Bakiya.”

“Praise not me, but this clever, chatty, little bird.”

Captain Thompson hugged the blathering parrot as the ship sailed on to Okinawa. The ship, its hardy crew, and two passengers moved with the winds and waves for four months and a week. During the time, they saw no ships, the vastness of the sea was great indeed.

Bakiya was most happy the day the ship came sailing near a smattering of beautiful tropical islands. Oh, how he wished to feel the hot sand between his long, bare toes. A hint of sunlight broke through the billowy white and gray clouds that hovered eerily above the great ship.

This moment of serenity gave everyone hope of reaching Okinawa unscathed. Alas, the good fortune was short-lived. A wicked wind from the West and black, evil-looking storm clouds appeared on the horizon.

“Hurricane’s a-comin’!” Robert shouted from the bird's nest sitting high upon the mast.

A large island came into view in the East. It was near, but the water was rough, and landing in this big ship would be difficult even in the best of weather. The violent storm was moving closer. A choice was made.

“Drop anchor,” Captain Thompson said. “Abandon ship!”

Aye, aye, Captain,” Robert said.

“Get your bags and grab your girl,” Captain Thompson said.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Bakiya asked.

“No time, into the rowboats and to Okinawa, we go!” Captain Thompson shouted.

“Father, help me, please!” Anri screamed as she fell from the ship.

“Dear Saki-san, give me strength,” Bakiya cried.

Chapter Ten- Bakiya Takahashi And Anri Arrive At Okinawa

“Don’t worry, I’ve got her, Bakiya, Row! We need everyone to grab an oar if we are going to make it,” Robert shouted.

Bakiya, Captain Thompson, the galley cook Trevor and two young crewmen did as they were told. Robert slapped an old-looking lifejacket on Anri. It was a tattered mess of broken straps and an orange and white cloth covering. Robert tossed the remaining equipment to the rest of the passengers and crew.

“Here, put these on. It’s going to get rough.”

Everyone did as they were ordered, save for one young crewman who was too busy rowing. The rowboat ran towards the shore of Okinawa with the land in sight. There was a small hope that they might outrace the hurricane rushing towards the island. But that moment was soon lost.

“Ship’s comin’ apart,” Captain Thompson said as he watched his beautiful wanna-be pirate ship being lost to the sea. “‘Fraid this rowboat is next.”

There was no escape from the vicious wind and high waves. The two young crewmen paddled for all they were worth. But the waves got bigger.

“Samuel!” The second young crewman screamed.

“Man overboard!” Bakiya shouted.

“No time, Sammy’s on his own. Keep rowing,” Captain Thompson ordered.

The young crewman struggled for a moment. He bobbed three times but was seen no more. The rowboat and its frightened passengers went on towards the island.

“Which way do we go?” Anri asked.

“I don’t know if it matters, keep rowing and stay close,” Bakiya said.

Anri slid towards the remaining young crewmen. She took the lost crewman’s oar in her hands. Her eyes were red and swollen from the salty seawater and rain that pelted her in the face. Captain Thompson looked upon his once sea-worthy pirate ship as it broke in half.

Bulldog.”

In reality, The Bulldog was a mid-sized American-built ship, about 115 tons, and was originally in the private fleet of a European princess. She was perfect, based on her luxurious interior. One now sinking into the depths of the dark sea.

The rowboat veered left and slammed into a jagged rock. The impact drove a craggy shard into the side of the vessel. It came an inch from impaling poor Robert. He avoided the sharpest edges of the boat’s wooden shrapnel, but he got a whack on his head for good measure.

“Grab a bucket. We are taking on water,” Robert said.

“There’s two left. What do we do?” Anri asked.

“Hands if you have to.”

Bakiya and Robert took turns bailing with rusty-covered metal buckets. Anri did her best to help. The sea she splashed out with her wrinkled fingers. The water rushed through the growing hole three times as fast as she could push it out.

“What about the hole?” Anri asked.

“Don’t know, up to the captain,” Robert said.

Bakiya wondered about the slim odds the damaged ship had of making it to the shore. Five worn out souls fighting for their lives as the storm intensified. He figured them to be at least a mile from the shore. Bakiya prayed and hoped as he reached out for his once benevolent goddess and paramour.

“Saki-san, please. Let this crew live.”

The wind calmed to a whisper, the torrent to heavy rain. The seawater’s wrath subsided as Okinawa came into clear view.

“Bakiya, focus! We aren’t out of this yet. Row! We’re still taking on too much water,” Robert said.

The weather-beaten rowboat did its mothership proud. Still, the hole grew and the vessel sank further. It would not survive in one piece to see the shore.

“Have to swim for it. Everyone out,” Captain Thompson ordered.

“I don’t think I can make it that far,” Anri said.

“Me neither. But there’s no choice. We have to try,” Bakiya said.

Captain Thompson saw the pair’s despondence. He sympathized with them—his soul was tired of the watery fight—but press on, he knew they must. That is if they were to live.

“We’ve come so far. We’re not going to die today. Swim!” Captain Thompson ordered.

“Let’s do this!” Bakiya and Anri shouted.

Captain Thompson praised Bakiya and Anri for their restored enthusiasm. Everyone swam until they hit wet, sandy land. It was a lucky escape. The hurricane intensified as the young crewman reached the beach.

“Samuel!” The young crewman cried.

“I’m sorry, Marcus. I truly am. I know how you looked up to your brother. He was one of the best mates I’ve had on that ship. He’ll be missed,” Captain Thompson said.

“We must go out and find him. He might still be—” Marcus cried.

“Alive. Yes, there’s always a chance. Let's get out there,” Anri said.

Captain Thompson wiped his gray, scraggly beard and dried off his gold-rimmed monocle. He pushed the frame snuggly into the red indented mark on the right side of his crooked, little nose. Captain Thompson coughed and wheezed as he purged the last of the saltwater from his throat and ears.

“Son, it took a miracle the likes of which this old seadog has never seen to save us. Alas, even the great god of the sea could not bring your brother back. I’m sorry.”

“No, I won’t forget this Captain Thompson. I blame you for my beloved brother’s death. I pray to the gods to curse you until the day you die.”

“Please, Marcus, I know you are upset, but Captain Thompson did his best. We are alive. Be thankful for that,” Robert said.

The rain oddly dissipated on the sandy beach. It was nothing more than a sprinkle. The ocean waves raged on as the hurricane swirled.

“‘We’? Robert. There is no ‘we.’ Mr. Thompson let my beloved brother drown. Worthless cooky, old bat.”

“Boy, hold your tongue, that is your Captain,” Trevor said.

“Now you talk, fry boy? It’s like you weren’t even on the rowboat.”

Trevor shrunk in shame. There was no doubt he had not helped as the crew while the passengers fought for their lives.

“You see these hands? I am a genius in the kitchen. One does not sully such delicate things with heavy manual labor. Hard work is for common people. I’d rather die.”

“You almost did,” Robert said.

“There is nothing wrong with working hard. One does what one has to in life.”

Bakiya found it strange that he was defending the tenants of his former small-town life. He had loathed his days of slinging ramen on those dirty streets. Yet Bakiya showed up every morning and did the work until his Dear Saki-san gave him an out to Okinawa.

“That’s right. ‘Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying,’” Anri said.

“This ain’t Sunday school, sister. Save the pithy Bible verses for your ice cream socials. Your God doesn’t run my life,” Trevor said.

“‘I can’t understand lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t want to understand you,’” Bakiya said.

“I’m not lazy. And life is not a game,” Trevor said.

“Lazy,” Bakiya said.

“I am not.”

“You are.”

“No, I am selectively motivated for your information.”

“‘Selectively motivated’ for what? Money? Fame? Or yourself?”

“All of the above. It’s not a crime to look out for number one. At the end of the day, that’s all anyone really has in life. Me. Myself. And I. You know? Life isn't a multiple choice exam.”

“Perhaps. But it is lonely. Isn’t it?” Anri asked.

“‘Lonely’? My bed was full of beautiful and exotic women every night in my hometown.”

“And your heart?”

“What of it? Surely, you don’t mean ‘love’?”

“Yeah. Everyone wants to find true love. Right?”

“Not me. Such feelings exist in great prose, not reality.”

“That must be slow torture. I feel sorry for you. And nobody writes great short stories these days,” Bakiya said.

“What can I say? Life is crap and then you die. No doubt the devil owns my sorry excuse for a soul. Earth is my heaven.”

“And your hell is an empty heart.”

“Who are you to judge me?”

“But where did Marcus go?” Anri asked.

Amid Trevor’s tantrum, Marcus ran off. A single set of wet footprints started up towards a larger-looking area of green. Then they vanished.

“Now where do you suppose that boy went?” Captain Thompson asked.

Chapter Eleven- Bakiya Takahashi Enjoys Okinawa

It took time to dawn upon Bakiya that the place he had longed to reach. Okinawa was underneath his wet, sand-covered feet. He was water-logged, but the island of his dreams surrounded him in all directions.

“Finally!”

“Have adventures and see the world, right?” Robert said.

“Amazing, isn’t it? Just as I remembered it,” Captain Thompson said.

“I agree with you. It is certainly a gorgeous view.”

“But you look like you have seen better days, my friend.”

“Saki?”

Bakiya raced across the wet, sandy beach. As he got closer to the figure, Bakiya saw the sardonic smile on the woman’s face. His disappointment grew as she was not the love that he was searching for on his journey.

“Hardly,” The feminine figure said.

Bakiya studied the woman’s toned arms and shapely legs. Eventually, he took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. But have we met before?”

“For certain we have not. I am a woman a man never forgets. I promise you that.”

Looking again, even more disappointed as Bakiya pulled at his wet clothes.

“Ma’am, I apologize if I have offended you. You remind me of someone.”

“And who is she?”

Bakiya gulped. He glanced at the beautiful woman before him. She was a bold and self-confident woman with pretty features.

“A woman I met once. She was a goddess to be sure.”

“And does this goddess have a name?”

“Saki.”

“You know ‘Saki’?”

Bakiya wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. He gave thought to play dumb, but a good liar he was not.

“I do.”

“Ah!” the woman said. “It might be better for you if it didn’t, Bakiya Takahashi.”

“Do you know me?” Bakiya asked. “Did I introduce myself when I came in?”

“You did not.”

“And yet you know my name, but I know not yours. How curious...”

“Hello, Tsumugi. It’s so nice to see you again,” Captain Thompson interrupted.

“You know her?” Bakiya asked.

“To be sure, he does. Once long ago intimately so. Has he forgotten?” Tsumugi asked.

Captain Thompson fiddled with his old, black belt. He waddled in a way that suggested he wished to disappear. Tsumugi gave him a sexy wink as she pursed her mauve-colored lips.

“I have not, my dear,” Captain Thompson said.

“Hmm. I should hope not.”

Bakiya remained silent. Tsumugi saw that a worrying shudder washed across his face. Tsumugi stopped. Her face fell into a similar-looking visage. Anri in her impetuous teenage-style asked the obvious.

“Where is Saki? We’ve come so far. This is Okinawa. Is it not?”

“It is indeed, my dear girl,” Tsumugi said.

“Then, I ask once more, ‘Is Saki here?’”

“She’s been missing since Friday.”

“‘Missing’?” Bakiya asked.

“Yes.”

“And you're not worried?”

“I am most certainly not. It’s not the first or the last time Saki has runoff. To seek redemption for—”

“For what?” Bakiya asked.

“Losing the treasure,” Robert said.

“Yes, that’s right,” Tsumugi said.

“But Saki is a goddess. What could she possibly need a treasure for?” Bakiya asked.

“That was not just any treasure. But it wasn’t Saki’s fault. Every young child on this island knows that story,” Captain Thompson said.

“It was.”

Tsumugi’s manner grew dark. She waved her hand into the air and she, Bakiya, and his companions were whisked away. In a mist of haze, Bakiya watched a terrible scene unfold before his eyes in a grand temple full of light.

Long ago Saki was the leader of the Golden Pearl Goddess Phalanx. The day of the lunar festival came, and Saki was the sole guard on duty. The temple was silent. The hours slipped by, and Saki grew sleepy, when she perceived a dark and most dangerous figure slip into the treasure room.

“What treasure?” Anri asked.

“Shh!” Bakiya said.

“Fear not, no one can see or hear us. These are shadows of events from ages ago.”

The dark figure made his way to the center of the altar. Saki sprang upon him, at the same time. She sounded the alarm in the hopes of summoning help. But the other guards in the throngs of folk music, heavy drinking, and deep passion heard nothing. The man grabbed a large, gold object from the base of the altar, and held it in his arms.

“At last the Royal Crown of Okinawa is mine.”

“Stop, please, I beg of you, Nishimura.”

Saki put up a good fight. She used every incantation she knew and even threw a punch, but Nishimura was too powerful for the nubile goddess.

“Enjoy death, my dear wife. I died many times over to escape that cold, dark sea. I suppose, funny enough, I have you to thank for that.”

“The seeds?”

“That’s right. A pity you now have none.”

A wave of his hand and Nishimura vanished in an explosion with the Crown in his possession. Saki was left in an injured, contorted mess on the cold ground from the power of the dark magic.

The gray and white mist dissipated. Tsumugi, Bakiya, and his worn-out friends found themselves inside a most magnificent room.

Bakiya walked over to a large picture window. Bright sunshine upon the glass reflected on his beautiful surroundings.

“Look father, a book! A real book. There’s a whole library of them,” Anri shouted as she ran with a thick novel under each arm towards him.

“So I see. That’s really something.”

Bakiya lamented the truth that the love of his life had long ago been married.

“I want to read them all. Can you teach me?”

“Sure. There'll be time for that.”

Bakiya took a big, brown book from under Anri’s arm. He was more sullen and depressed as he flipped through the tattered, yellow pages of the enormous volume.

“Saki,” Bakiya cried.

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Craig Hoffman

Craig is a #writer, #editor, #betareader & #blogger. 2000+ #blog posts & seven #ebooks including #shortstories “The Tempo of Tempura” and “Carl Crapper.”