Mr Hoto looked out the car window and sighed. The smog was too thick to see through again. His vacancy light would not be turned on today.
He pulled over to the side of the road and turned the radio up. Bach’s Cello Concerto in D minor poured over him as he put his head back against the car seat and shut his eyes. The body in the boot could wait.
It had been a difficult summer. The oppressive smell of the city had intensified in the heat. People stayed indoors and fares were few and far between.
As his income had dwindled and the temperature had risen, Mr Hoto’s rate of transgressions had also increased. Then, on a particularly hot Tokyo evening, he began to become unstuck.
A lost tourist staggered into a bar where Mr Hoto had also sought refuge. The young man began speaking rapidly in a Western tongue until the barman shook his head and waved his hands in the air.
“Nihongo?” he asked, knowing the flaxen haired tourist would not have a word of Japanese to save him. The tourist stood perplexed. “Eigo?” the barman tried, ‘English?” The young man nodded and started again.
“I’m lost. I’m at this hotel.’ He pushed an open guide book across the bar and his finger stabbed a picture on the page. Before the barman could respond, Mr Hoto was at the young man’s side.
“I help. I help,” he said, turning and giving the tourist his best smile.
As the taxi sped off along the tight, bright Tokyo streets, Mr Hoto began to make a plan. Polite conversation, a route that would stay mainstream for as long as possible and then, BAM, the Mr Hoto Special. So quick, so clean, so Japanese.
“Where you from?,” Mr Hoto began.
“Helsinki, Finland,” replied the young man.
“Oh, Abba,” Mr Hoto offered.
“They are Swedish,” the tourist replied haughtily.
“Oh, Swedish,” Mr Hoto responded calmly but suddenly smarting.
The next few minutes passed in silence until Mr Hoto leaned forward and turned the radio on. Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto filled the taxi. “Ah, Rachmaninov!” he offered. He looked in the rearview mirror at his passenger. He was barely past boyhood, thin, pale, completely unmoved by the music. Useless!
The taxi turned off from the main route and Mr Hoto’s heart began to race. The first divergence was always the riskiest and in some ways the most thrilling. But it wasn’t until they had clearly reached the city’s outskirts that the young man began to show some concern.
“Do you know where you are going?” he barked at Mr Hoto. “I want to go to the city, not here.”
“No, no, this good. Traffic too bad. Is ok, is ok.” Mr Hoto turned the radio up and Mahler’s Tragic Sixth Symphony assaulted the cab.
‘Go back, this is the wrong way. Go back!” the young man shouted above the music. Mr Hoto snapped his finger down on the master door lock, planted his foot on the accelerator and the taxi disappeared into the dense Tokyo suburbs.
Bach was always the antidote. His music never failed to bring Mr Hoto back to reality, back to the calm sanity demanded by Japanese society.
The taxi sat at the side of the road, its headlights on to ensure no one collided with it in the thick early morning smog. With his eyes shut, Mr Hoto took long deep breaths. The engine gently rumbled and the young man pounded on the roof of the car boot with his fists although the thudding was less insistent now and soon it would stop.
But Bach would never stop. He was timeless. A worthy contributor to Japanese culture, possibly Japanese himself, Mr Hoto had always thought, because portraiture was so unreliable back in those days and, in any case, the complexity and purity of his music could not possibly have come from the filthy mess of western culture.
Just as he was drifting off to sleep, as he often did after a transgression, Mr Hoto was startled by a loud bang. He sat up in his seat and turned to see the car boot was open. He knew he only had moments to act. His hands trembled as he tried to unlock his seat belt and the car shook as the young man pulled himself up and out of the boot.
When the seatbelt finally snapped open, Mr Hoto sprang from the taxi and onto the roadside. The young man had already moved some distance away and the back of his blue hoodie was disappearing into the smog. Mr Hoto set off at a brisk pace and soon the hoodie came back into view. He was delighted to see his passenger was clearly disoriented and unsteady on his feet. He also seemed unaware that Mr Hoto was on the roadside. He could reach him.
Mr Hoto tried to remain calm as he continued on, not quite running but with a definite urgency in his step. The young man stopped and bent forward with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Mr Hoto picked up the pace and was almost within arms reach when the young man turned his head and seeing his abductor, quickly straightened up and ran into the traffic.
“No, no!” Mr Hoto called out and taking a deep breath, followed him onto the road. The young man turned and seeing Mr Hoto weaving through the traffic, stopped and smiled. Through the smog, the two men’s eyes met and for a moment each felt something like relief. Then, BAM, the Mr Hoto Special. So quick, so clean, so Japanese.