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Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest II

Midori’s Magic

I shivered as I squinted my eyes, intensely focused on the many windows of the Miyako Hotel. There were dimly-lit rooms, rooms where I could distinguish animated silhouettes, rooms that were dark as the sky, but I still couldn’t figure out which window belonged to our room. Despite my concentration, this did little to diminish the cold that was creeping through my body and making my poor teeth chatter. No one had thought it fitting to warn me that a short sleeved t-shirt, capris, and a pair of beat-up slippers might not be the best wardrobe selection for our evening escapade. I couldn’t even beg Dad to donate his enormous jacket to my cause, for Lisa had already beaten me to it. When I got sick, which I was sure I would, my family would definitely be informed that it was their fault.

I didn’t even know why we had to be there, waiting outside in the bite of a January night. The museum docent told us he was letting us in on a “little secret” when he said that the numerous ramen shops had relatively the same level of tastiness, but Mom and Dad couldn’t possibly just accept that. No, the restaurant with the longest line no doubt had to be the very best one in the area, and that is why we now sat with empty stomachs, our names on the very end of a one-hour waiting list at 9 o’clock at night.

The trip was pretty spontaneous to say the least. Lisa, being a seven-year-old girl, had a given obsession with Hello Kitty who, I admit, was quite cute. When she heard about the Hello Kitty exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum from a friend, there had been a nonstop whine about it for well over two weeks. Every single day we heard absolutely nothing about anything other than Hello Kitty. My parents had to give in eventually. Mom said a trip to the Japanese American National Museum would be a good opportunity to explore our heritage anyway. As Dad was reluctant to suffer two hours there and back in agonizing stop-and-go-traffic, our day trip turned into an overnight adventure. Lisa was thrilled.

I had been counting passing cars for three minutes when my noble task was rudely interrupted by a very annoying, very high-pitched little voice. “I’m hungry,” Lisa whined, far less thrilled than she had been in the presence of Hello Kitty six hours ago. “This is taking forever!”

Now, at this point, we had only been waiting for fifteen minutes, and I could only chuckle at the thought of her enduring another forty-five more. Dad began to hug her and gently explain something about the predicament, but I had stopped following the course of their conversation. Why? Well, there was a lump of fur settling on my foot that captured my present attention. My preoccupied parents didn’t even notice the feline. The cat looked up at me with it’s yellow eyes as if to say “What?” and circled around my ankles once more to get comfortable. Now at this point, I wouldn’t have minded getting some of that body heat if it were any other creature than a cat, the animal that could always trigger a horrifying allergic reaction. However, no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to kick a purring kitty away. I mean, I had a heart. So I let the little grey fellow stay there for a while, awaiting the inevitable sneezing storm he would inevitably cause me.

I had grown almost numb to my furry companion’s presence by the time he decided to scratch my skin tastelessly and walk away. With bitterness, I recalled a few of the other reasons why I didn’t care so much for felines. I scowled at the ungrateful guy when he stopped and turned back toward me. He looked away and back toward me again as if to say, “So are you coming or what?” Maybe I was hungry, tired, crazy, or all three, but I’m certain that that cat wanted me to follow him. I hesitantly stood, figuring some movement would cure the cold and boredom anyways.

“Naomi,” Mom scolded as I began to walk away, “Where do you think you’re going off to?” Right, I was here with my family.

“Just going around to explore,” I lied, “I mean, I figure we still got some waiting time to kill, and we’re leaving tomorrow anyway. There was still some souvenirs I wanted to buy.”

“In that case, bring Lisa with you, will you? Maybe you can buy her a snack. She’s really hungry right now.”

I tried without much success to suppress my groan as the little girl bounced over to me, Dad’s oversized coat nearly dragging on the concrete. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I didn’t love my little sister, because I love her more than anyone. She was just a bit high maintenance and a huge chatterbox. I took her hand and promised Mom to be back by 10 o’clock before following the mysterious grey cat.

“Where are we going?” Lisa finally asked after we had been walking for a while. I was surprised she held out as long as she did. “Can you buy me some mochi?”

“You’ve already had enough mochi to last you a whole year today, I’m surprised you’re not sick of it yet. And like I said, we’re just exploring.”

“Why are we following that grey cat? Did you think I didn’t notice. You know that’s bad luck!”

Black cats are the bad luck, you silly. Grey cats are harmless. And besides,” I started, “We’re not following him. He’s escorting us.” I just didn’t know where.

After walking two blocks, Mr. Cat finally stopped at a little shop before prancing into it’s open door. I had kind of been expecting him to lead us to a secret underground city worth writing an adventure novel about, or something cool like that, so the reality seemed a little anticlimactic. The sign was nothing more than a few kanji characters, which was far beyond my knowledge, so I couldn’t even tell what the name of the little place was. I walked in anyways, figuring there might be some food for Lisa inside. Our feline friend was resting on a pillow by the register as if he owned the place, but the room seemed otherwise empty. I began to examine the little trinkets while Lisa made a beeline to the candy. She was in the middle of begging me to purchase some Botan Rice Candy when we were both startled by a shrill voice.

“Hikaru,” a woman who seemed to be nearing sixty exclaimed, “Hikaru, you crazy thing.” She picked up the cat whose name seemed to be Hikaru before petting him affectionately when she seemed to notice our presence. “Did you two girls find my cat?” I nodded, figuring there was a little bit of truth in the statement. “Thank goodness! Let me serve you some tea.”

The next thing I knew, I was seated at a small table with a cup full of steaming tea and a plate of crumbs in front of me. I was hesitant to take a sip, but the warmth it emitted was just too tempting to resist. As soon as the liquid slides down my throat, I felt an immediate sense of warmth. It was like magic; I’d never tasted anything like it before.

“So it’s good then?” The woman asked me after I had gulped it all down. I smiled sheepishly. “I’m glad. It’s the least I can do for you when you’ve brought back my Hikaru. He was missing for two weeks. I had almost given up on him.”

The woman had long hair that she wrapped up in a bun, and her smiling face marked with rosy cheeks and red lips. She wore a yukata similar to those she was selling in her store, which I assumed she did so for advertisement. She was selling quite a lot of things in her store.

“Two weeks?” I asked in disbelief, “But he was quite nearby! He seemed to know exactly where home was too,” I mused.

“He’s a bit of a troublemaker, I suppose. Maybe he wasn’t really lost anyway, then. He might’ve just wanted a break from home. I heard that cats like to come and go as they please like that. Even so, I’m still grateful, because you got him to come home anyway,” she said. “Now, do you want another cup of tea?” I wanted to politely decline, but the chill that was slowly seeping back into my body made me want another cup even more. Lisa asked for more crackers.

“By the way,” the woman started as she poured more tea into my cup, “my name is Midori, I don't believe I have told you that yet. I’m afraid I’ve gotten a bit forgetful these days.”

“It’s no problem. My name is Naomi, and my little sister is Lisa,” I responded. Lisa smiled in the midst of chewing crackers with her mouth open. We really needed to work on her table manners. “So anyways, how did you come to meet Hikaru?”

Midori smiled as though the question opened a chest full of good memories. “Let’s see…was it six years ago? I was always a sucker for animals, especially strays. I’d have food for any that came by. Hikaru showed up about two months after my husband passed. Usually they just stay a few weeks before moving on, but Hikaru, he was different. He never left. He even let me pet him. He must have been a pet to someone before…but anyways, we’ve just been friends ever since.”

I nodded, entertained by the story as I sipped on my tea. Lisa munched away beside me, and Midori seemed highly amused by her lack of manners. “You know…” she started hesitantly, as though what would follow was something she feared sharing, “Hikaru…he’s kind of like magic. My sales are always so much better when he’s sitting on that old bed next to the register, and say he brushes against a plant, the next day it will have grown three inches. And my tea…it always seems to taste better when he’s hanging around.”

Hikaru meowed loudly from his seat, perhaps embarrassed from all the recent attention, and Midori smiled warmly in response. “Even if I’m wrong though, even if he’s just another neighborhood cat, he’s still all that I have in this world. My greatest and most grouchy companion.”

“That’s magic in itself, I suppose,” I hummed. She seemed lonely. Then my back pocket started to vibrate; Mom had called.

“I’m guessing you have somewhere to be,” Midori said, noting the troubled look on my face.

“Yeah, our parents just called. We’re supposed to be eating dinner together soon,” I answered, though truthfully, I wanted to stay longer. Lisa looked absolutely horrified, as if all memories of her recent hunger were suddenly swept away.

“We just got here!” Lisa whined, “Tell Mom and Dad that we’re busy can’t you? Let’s talk with Miss Midori some more.”

“Girls, don’t keep your parents waiting for you. You should be on your way; I’m only going to bore you to sleep with my stories,” Midori smiled. “And thank you for your gifts tonight. I haven’t had company in quite a while. And thanks to you, my cat is back home. I just wish there was a way to repay you.”

“Don’t worry about that,” I assured her. “Your tea was more than enough. We actually didn’t do that much anyway.”

But she still smiled like we gave her the world.

#

As we walked out the door, she was still waving goodbye. She carefully turned her OPEN sign around and smiled. Lisa and I kept walking. I couldn’t help but glance back at her shop every few steps we took. Her lights got smaller and smaller as we walked further down the street. I smiled. Maybe Hikaru was the magic, but then again, I think maybe the magic was in Midori. Not magic like a spell or a good luck charm, but like the magic in a smile from a stranger, the magic in one of Mom’s home cooked meals, or the magic in a cup of really good tea. I glanced back at her shop one last time before we turned the corner. Her lights were off.

 

*This story was one of the finalists in the youth category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest II.

 

© 2015 Sarena Kuhn

cat family fiction hello kitty janm little tokyo short story sister

About this series

The Little Tokyo Historical Society conducted its second annual short story (fiction) writing contest which concluded on April 22, 2015 at a reception in Little Tokyo in which the winners and finalists were announced. Last year's contest was entirely in English whereas this year's contest also had a youth category and a Japanese-language category, with cash prizes awarded for each category. The only requirement (other than the story could not exceed 2,500 words or 5,000 Japanese characters) was that the story had to involve Little Tokyo in some creative manner.

  • First Place English: “Fish Market in Little Tokyo” by Nathaniel J. Campbell from Fairfield, Iowa
  • First Place Japanese: “Mitate Club” by Miyuki Sato from Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan (Japanese only)
  • First Place Youth: “Kazuo Alone” by Linda Toch from Corona, California

Some of the Finalists to be featured are:

      English:

      Japanese (Japanese only)

      Youth:

 

*Read stories from the first Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>