The door swung open and a middle-age man entered. Closing his wet umbrella and leaving it at the corner, he took a seat at the center of the bar counter. Inside the warm, dimly lit bar, one would not guess that it has been pouring heavily since the afternoon.
“Harada-san,” the young bartender greeted his patron with a smile. “It’s been a while.”
The man laughed. “Well, what to do? This old man can’t afford to come so often, Miki-san. Am I the first tonight?”
“Yes, business has been slow. At this rate, I might lose my job soon.”
“Don’t worry, you’re good. Even if you lose your job, any bar would be happy to have you. The problem with this bar is the location, Miki-san. It’s located in the basement, and there’s only one tiny sign near the elevator. Most people wouldn’t even know this place exists. I told your boss to invest in a big sign, but that stingy man doesn’t want to spend any money. What an old fool. You should’ve quit long time ago.”
Miki smiled. “That aside, Harada-san, what can I get you?”
“The usual, please. One gin tonic.”
Harada watched closely as the bartender mixed the highball cocktail. Miki skillfully poured the drink into a glass with ice cubes, squeezing a little bit of lime before tossing it inside.
“Please enjoy,” Miki said, as he slowly pushed the drink in front of his only customer for that night.
Harada took a sip.
“How is it?” Miki asked.
“Good as always, the best in Ginza,” Harada answered. “I feel so refreshed.”
The young bartender smiled. “But Harada-san, if that’s true, why are you looking so troubled?”
“Me? Troubled?” Harada shook his head. “Don’t speak nonsense, I’m having a good time.”
“Whenever you’re troubled, you frown a little.” Miki put his index finger on his forehead. “Right here, creases are forming.”
“Ah, nothing escapes you, isn’t it? Meticulous as always, is that the trait of a bartender?”
“I’d like to think so, but I’m afraid it has nothing to do with that. My father does the same whenever something is troubling him.”
Harada let off a dry laugh, before taking another sip of his drink. “Well, you’re right. Actually, I had a big argument with my wife this morning. It was the first time I ever saw her cry. I feel that I’ve been such a bad husband.”
“I don’t think a bad husband would feel troubled when his wife is upset, Harada-san. The fact that you are bothered only shows that you really care about her.”
The old man smiled. “You’re truly a kind person, aren’t you?”
Miki laughed. “Actually, I have my own agenda. Didn’t you promise to introduce me to your pretty daughter?”
“Ah, yes, I keep forgetting. I promised to bring her here, didn’t I?”
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for more than a year now. You told me she’s a beauty.”
“Hey, that’s true! She just won the beauty pageant in her college. Wait until you see her, guaranteed you’ll fall in love on first sight. Look at that face. You don’t believe me, do you? Come,let me show you her picture.” Harada took out a photograph from his wallet and passed it to Miki. “It was taken during a family trip to Fukushima. Next to me is my wife. And this is she, Saeki.”
Miki leaned forward. “You’re right, your daughter is a real looker. Are you sure she doesn’t have a boyfriend yet? And she really looks like your wife. The women in your family are beautiful. You’re one lucky man, Harada-san.”
“Yeah, my wife was very beautiful when she was young.A lot of men fell in love with her, including me. I ended up chasing her all the way to Tokyo.” Harada put the photograph back inside the wallet. “Since, then I’ve never looked back.”
“That reminds me, you were originally from Fukushima.” Miki’s expression changed. “Any of your relatives still there?”
“Yes, but none of them survived. I’ve lost a number of friends too. When I saw the news about the earthquake, at first I couldn’t comprehend it. In my memory, Fukushima is a quiet rural area with green mountains surrounding it. People come all the way from Tokyo for the hot springs and sweet peaches.”
Miki kept quiet.
“Look at it now. The place has turned into a ravaged wasteland.” Harada sighed. “Earthquakes and tsunamis, those are natural disasters. There’s nothing we can do about them. But nuclear disasters are man-made tragedy. They shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Human are greedy, and now we’re paying the price.”
“Were you also familiar with the nuclear plant, Harada-san?”
“Yes… In fact, I was one of the engineers working in the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I spent close to five years there. But even in my wildest imagination, I wouldn’t have suspected that things would turn out horribly wrong like this.”
“But how’s the situation now?”
“I got a call from a former colleague yesterday. He told me that they’re trying to stabilize the units, but there’s not enough manpower. There were plenty of casualties, and some workers are fleeing. Can’t blame them. After all, the radiation risk is present and real. Each of those workers… theyhave their own families to think about. But something still needs to be done. We need people to do the cleaning up.”
“Harada-san, don’t tell me, the argument you had with your wife…”
The old man paused before answering. “Yes, I’m leaving for Fukushima the day after tomorrow.”
“I know I might be prying into to your personal life, but please reconsider for the sake of your family.”
“Miki-san, my family is the reason I’m willing to risk my life. That nuclear plant is like a ticking bomb. If the worst case scenario would occur, half of Japan will probably perish.” Harada finished his drink. “I just turned fifty-six two weeks ago. I probably will only have another twenty, thirty years of life. If I can use those years to ensure the safety of my family, and the rest of the people of Japan, then I won’t have any regret. To me, that would be a fulfilling life.”
Miki couldn’t say a word.
“Come on, don’t be so stiff. I believe I will survive. I might not be blessed with good looks, but I’m blessed with good luck,” Harada said. “After all, I still owe you that introduction. It would be nice to have a bartender in the family. I wouldn’t need to run all the way to Ginza whenever I needed my fix.”
The young man forced himself to smile.
“All right, thanks for the drink, Miki-san. How much?”
“Don’t worry about that, it’s on the house.”
“Are you sure? That stingy boss of yours surely won’t be happy.”
“Let’s keep it a secret between us. He doesn’t need to know.”
“Miki-san, you just made my day.” Harada stood and took his umbrella. “I hope my wife’s anger has already subsided. I’ll try to talk to her again tonight.”
“Good luck, Harada-san. And thanks for coming.”
The young bartender lowered his head until his patron left.