Boy on the Towpath
by Andrew Foote
After Maeori had seen his father off the marina I left the boys to mess about outside whilst I sat down pondering this new turn of events.
Naturally I was rather flattered about Hiro's request but none the less there was something bothering me, something didn't quite add up somehow and I was damned if I could figure it out. Bringing up Tom wasn't proving too much of a challenge, I mean he knew I was gay and he wasn't in the least bit fazed about it, indeed it was almost a given that he himself was. One of the difficulties would be to make sure Maeori understood this and be comfortable around us but that aside, still something didn't quite ring true.
I Googled Suntory Whiskey and came up with the details of the holding company in Japan and paging through their website I came across a list of the board members and sure enough up came Hiro Akimoto as the Chairman and CEO so that at least was genuine.
Next I Googled him. I love Google as there was a wealth of information about him! Born in Yokohama in 1972, son of one Naragi Akimoto a Doctor of medicine at Tokyo University Collage Hospital. Educated at Kitahasak-cho High School and latterly Tokyo University where he graduated 1994 with an honours degree in business management. Joined the Nisca Corporation that same year in a trainee executive post followed by what only can be described as a meteoric rise becoming the CEO in 2005.
All fine and dandy but what I read next fairly jumped off the page at me!
Married in 1997 to one Setsuko Kamiamada who died in 1998 giving birth to a son Maeori Akimoto.
That went some way to explain things. Now I could understand why his father was so keen to ensure the well-being of his son and heir, his one constant reminder of his late wife and how precious the boy must be to him but the question that wasn't answered was that given how important his son must be to him, how or why could he bring himself to send him 8000 miles across the world, to what must be for the poor lad, a totally alien environment just for the purpose of educating him?
No there has to be more to this than meets the eye and with luck that something might just be discussed on Monday.
Finally the boys came back on board sweating like hogs and demanding cold coke. I gave them instructions to go and take a shower, Maeori went first and I told Tom to go and sort out something he could wear from the bag of bits that no longer fitted him. Tom returned with underpants, a pair of shorts and a polo shirt, knocked on the shower room door before taking them through.
Maeori reappeared and sat himself opposite me at the table declining the offer of another can of coke but instead picked up the latest Canal Boat magazine and started reading through it. Around me at least he was very reserved but that gave me the opportunity to study him carefully.
There was no doubt he was a looker, almost feminine features I thought such as he had the most amazingly long eyelashes for a boy and not just on his eyelids but also below his eyes to the extent that had I not known to the contrary, they could almost have been false. His hands were very delicate as were his feet and neither his arms or legs showed even the slightest hint of hair growth and whilst I'd never had the good fortune to study a Japanese boy up close before never the less I found this intriguing.
At one point he opened up to me asking a question about one of the boats featured in the magazine and as he asked the question he looked directly into my eyes and for a moment I was transfixed. I said something about my mind being somewhere else and apologised to which he just smiled and told me he understood still holding my gaze.
Fortunately Tom joined us and proceeded to answer Maeori's question, taking the pressure off me and with all of us sitting around the table I took the opportunity to make up the guest bed in the saloon.
It was very odd. Here was I, absolutely captivated and intrigued with this boy whereas Tom didn't seem to notice Maeori's beauty but just laughed and joked with him as if he were just any other boy. Tom could however get Maeori to open up and between them it was so very obvious that here was a true friendship and from where I was it seemed if they'd known each other all their lives instead of just a few weeks. I was happy for both of them of course but especially for Tom who was relaxed and having real fun rather than acting like a smaller version of me and if nothing else that served to remind me that Tom was indeed still a kid and thankful that I hadn't given in to his requests for intimacy.
At eleven o'clock I ushered the boys into my cabin telling them I was tired and would sleep in the saloon and they could use my bed threatening them with death by dying if they made too much noise.
It was obvious that nothing went on as I could hear them talking and laughing for a while before I heard Tom say his good-nights and five minutes later I could hear his usual soft snoring. I wasn't far behind them. It had been a strange day and I was shattered and fell into a deep sleep not surfacing until gone nine in the morning.
Another lovely day, September was treating us to a real Indian summer. The boys were already up and gone, a note from Tom telling me they were going up to the shops and would bring back the Sunday papers which was unusually thoughtful of him!
Knowing that they wouldn't be too long, I set about preparing breakfast and before it was ready to serve they returned.
"Have you had a real English breakfast before Mae?" I asked.
"No I don't think so. Normal is maybe cold rice and pickles. Oh and green tea. What is English breakfast please?"
Tom chipped in. "You've never lived! Stu's breakfasts are mega. You won't want anything to eat until tonight, I promise you!"
Maeori's eyes boggled when I served up. "So much food! Such a good smell!"
To give him credit, he almost finished it all leaving just half a slice of toast. "I'm st..."
"So des! Stuffed! Very good Stew! Arigato. Sorry I mean thank you."
Those eyes again, drilling holes into my brain. Tom broke the spell. "Oh for God's sake! I'll make a start on the washing up then, shall I?"
Maeori broke contact with me, "I help you. We get done faster! We go and play football next?"
"You bet! Leave Stu to the papers, poor old sod!"
I saw nothing of them for most of the day although I could hear them well enough. Actually them and half the men on the marina as they'd found themselves caught up in the boys enthusiasm and a totally disorganised kick-about was taking place but I for one was happy just to contemplate the weekend, looking forward to meeting Akimoto on Monday and hopefully getting some answers but my problem was, what were the questions?
Akimoto arrived at four-thirty announcing his arrival with a knock on the roof of the boat. "Hiro! Please come in!"
"Thank you Stuart, you are a very kind host! I see the boys have organised a complete football team today! This is very good. This is the sort of thing I want for Maeori. Memories of good times as a boy. Can I impose on you?"
"Just a normal whiskey? I have a heavy heart today and need to unwind. This is something I cannot do easily but with you I find myself with a good man. A trustworthy man who will keep a confidence and in my position I find that there are few I can really trust."
"You do me a great honour Hiro."
"No Stuart! You honour me! I know you well remember. Your history, your background and your life preferences and I'm a very fortunate man to have encountered you. I understand people, that is why I am where I am today so I'd be very surprised if you told me that you had not been researching me and my history. Am I right?"
"Yes I have. I was intrigued."
"Ha! I knew it, a man after my own heart at last! What did you understand from your research Stuart?"
"The first thing was your education. You went to the premier university in Japan and graduated with a very impressive degree?"
"I was very fortunate. I am not a stupid man!"
"There was more though. You flew up the promotion ladder like a bitch on heat and I find myself asking how? Trainee management to CEO in just eleven years is quite remarkable."
"This isn't so easy to answer. The corporate world in Japan is very different to that in the west. What is seen in Japan as acceptable practice is not acceptable here. For example, in Japan you can take your $200,000 car to the, how you say supermarket and because of the heat and humidity leave the keys in it and the engine running to run the air conditioning. Nobody would take your car, maybe they look and wish they had one but never take from you but, if they see a way to get shall we say $10,000,000? This is different! Corporate fraud is a game to some people, they see no wrong in it, it is just a game to play. I discovered something in my early years with Nisca. A plot to not only take many millions of Yen from the corporation but worse, remove secrets or details of research projects and sell them on to the highest bidder. I was the person who stopped it from happening but there was a problem. It was a very clever operation, so clever that nobody was ever prosecuted for fear it would become public knowledge but now I was in the firing line and with the possibility of my life being in danger, I was promoted before my time so the corporation could allow me the protection I needed without raising suspicion. I want to tell you more because there is much more to tell but not now please. Tomorrow can I ask for your hospitality once more? It will be safer than my office in Oxford and with the children at school I can feel comfortable telling you what you must know. Also you have questions. You may ask me anything and I will tell you the answers as they are, with truth and humiliation."
We continued to talk and I was very careful not to touch on anything controversial, sticking mostly to life in Japan and especially how it impacted on kids.
"Being a child in Japan is very difficult. They are under many pressures to achieve, to obtain high qualifications, to get to the best schools and universities. Their childhood is stolen from them. Did you know that some parents send their children to infant schools six days a week and for eight hours a day? It is crazy! They learn everything except how to be children and I worry for the future of my country."
"Is this why you want Maeori to have an English education? I mean so he develops in a more gentle environment?"
"That is a part of it, yes but there is more to it than that and this I will discuss in more detail tomorrow please Stuart. Now is not the right time."
I offered Hiro another drink which he politely refused.
"Thank you but not I'm afraid! I get red-faced and it is a little early!
Tomorrow I will bring some Japanese whiskey for you to try, we can talk better also but now I get my child and we must go."
Tom saw them off and wandered back to the boat.
"Well Tom? Everything okay?"
"Yes, good thanks. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know really, it's just I feel something is a bit odd, a bit strange here. How do you find Maeori?"
"He's great Stu. I mean he's so much fun to be with and stuff so yeah, I really like him!"
"I want you to think very carefully before answering my next question, okay? He is one hell of a good looking boy, right?"
"I noticed that you noticed! You can be rather embarrassing at times!"
"Okay I admit it but you just like him right? You don't fancy him or anything."
"Not exactly fancy him, no but I feel sort of protective towards him like I want to cuddle him and keep him safe. Why?"
"I'm not sure Tom. There's just something about him, something I can't get my head around."
"He seems normal enough to me!"
"Do you know, his Dad never once referred to him as his son or as his boy?
It was my child or when the children are at school. It's very odd Tom. Very odd!"
"Yes but he loves him, right? Otherwise why go to all the trouble of bringing him over to England?"
"That's another point. How's your Latin?"
"It isn't. I've problems enough with getting my head around nouns, pronouns, verbs and adverbs without getting bogged down elsewhere."
"So in loco parentis means nothing to you?"
"No? Should it?"
"It means in place of the parent. Akimoto wants me to be like a proxy Dad to him while Maeori is in England, legally able to make decisions about him and his life here."
"That's good isn't it? I mean who better!"
"No, come on? Look what you've done for me?"
"That's different. I happen to love you very much."
"Okay so you don't love him but you fancy him don't you?"
"Actually I don't think I do. There's something about him though. Something I should be seeing but can't for some reason. Oh sod it! I'm meeting with Hiro tomorrow, maybe I'll get a better idea then. What do you want for supper?"
"I'll cook if you want?"
"Right! Scrambled eggs! Come on then. Let's go to the restaurant again!"
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