The wind whipped across the freeway, while above, steel clouds scudded across the sky. Grey – ominous – oppressive; through them, the pale disk of the sun hung, precariously small, like some atmospheric satellite image of a deserted probe on a barren planet.
That’s it, thought Raikoh, that’s me. But in reverse.
With this thought, he pulled the fingers of his left hand absently through his hair, tugging the thick errant ebon strands back into place. The hair on the back and side of his head was awkwardly short and bristled – especially at the nape of his neck where the skin was still tender from the fresh cut – but the top was still long and tousled, forever resisting the oppressive brush or comb. His hair hung across his forehead – forcing him all too frequently to brush his bangs from his forehead. They caught the wind, whipping around, always giving him the appearance of some Dylan-esque pop-star fresh off the road – habitually, eternally unkempt.
Raikoh liked that. He liked the looks of disapproval his mother shot him as he casually swept the too-long bangs out of his eyes, nursing his morning coffee. He liked that, of all the employees at Sakazawa International, he was the only one without a regulation crew cut. He liked the textural juxtaposition he felt when he ran his hand from the back of his neck over the crown of his head in mock puzzlement or sagely consideration; it was his favorite affectation, one he felt lent him – at a bittersweet twenty-three – the look of a far older, far more jaded and worldly-wise individual.
But most of all, Raikoh liked the way his hair stand out. Just a little; no real radical behavior here. Nothing to worry about. No real trouble at all; in fact, in terms of rebellion, Raikoh’s overlong hair – reminiscent, most of all, perhaps, of the most harmless haircuts ever worn by man – was next to nothing. On the James Dean rebellometric scale, it rated at most a 1.2 out of 10; his hairdo seemed nothing less than some angsty, sullen teenager’s attempt at the Beatle’s bowl-cut gone awry. Shaggy, yes. Unkempt, sure. But, all in all, harmless. Soft. Indolent.
Still, Raikoh loved his little rebellions – all of them. In a position known for its machine-like bureaucracy, for its cog-like symmetry, he needed what little anarchic spice he could get. Hell, he still lived with his mother and father – if the only thing his late-night busking or wild locks brought about was some parental grumbling, so be it. Let the good times – however brief or inconsequential – roll. Rock on. Hang loose.
Raikoh liked these small hippie-dippie sayings, too – or at least the reaction they provoked. Nothing tickled his fancy quite like dropping his aging slang into a staff meeting. “Cool, Mr. Sakazawa. Copacetic.” or “Lay it on me, daddio.” Anachronistic though they might be, phrases like “Groovy, my man” never failed to raise the bristling eyebrows of Saya Miramoto Sakazawa – and that was reward enough. The older man would frown, pursing his lips; then, opening his lips like a fat, gaping carp, simply close them again, shaking his head slowly.
Yeah, that’s right, Raikoh thought. Just like fat, oddly furry carp. Open up, daddio. You fat fishy fuck. Chow time. It’s like I’m playing with him – reeling him in and out. I’m a master angler, and Mr. Sakazawa is my prize catch. One day I’ll go too far, and there’ll be nothing to do but call the taxidermist and get him mounted in my cubicle. Raikoh liked that thought.
Truth be told, Raikoh liked a lot of things. He liked Coke. He liked Pepsi. He liked the warm, firm feel of the pretty girl he kept bumping into – he recognized her more by her MOS Burger uniform and bored expression than anything else – pressed against him on the subway on his way to work.He liked black olives – as long as they were on pizza. He liked pizza – as long as it wasn’t too greasy. He liked quiet, lonely, rainy days where it seemed that god had swept the world clean and only you were left – one last inexorable stain on the carpet of life. He loved the crisp ironed seams in his black pants. He loved the scuffed toes of his wingtip shoes and the way the cheap leather molded to his toes and not the other way around. He loved the sound and smell of chicken teriyaki on a hot griddle, but didn’t care much for the taste. And he loved grey, cool, windy days like this where you had to fight to be happy. Had to fight against the overbearing clouds to smile. Had to throw your shoulders back and swagger just to keep yourself alive.
One more rake of his fingers. Raikoh smiled, satisfied. No traffic today – too gloomy. No people today – nice and quiet. He could catch an early lunch at the Ichiran Ramen stand down the street and walk back, free of the hustle and bustle of crowds. He squinted up at the sun, relaxing into an involuntary smile whne he found the pale, cold coin didn’t demand narrowed eyes at all. Raikoh craned his chin skyward.
It’s like smoke, he thought. Like smoke or ashes, drifting over and away from some cold furnace. Funny how a little cumulus made such a painful brilliance tolerable – easy, even.