Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Heaviness of Being

Continued from:  "Keeping it Simple"

The patrons of this part of town are there for nightlife and there’s little more than garbage trucks and delivery vans patrolling the streets before midday. The odd coffee shop provides outside seating and free newspapers to those who have an early start or haven’t quite decided to go to bed. The aroma of Brazilian blend pervasive. Col, stops at his favourite coffee vendor, a small van with a smiling barista.

“Hi Col, flat white with one?” 

A sleepy apprentice smiles and nods as he fumbles for small change in his pocket.

“One of those pastries too mate. The blueberry one thanks. Make it two, Hiko will only ask for half of mine if I turn up with just one.”

He walks towards the Ink Shop, dodging the spray from the gutter brush of a street cleaning truck. Jaywalks the lights and puts his hand on the door knob. The door is locked.

There’s been no call, no advance warning and Michi Hiko is not there to open the shop. It’s usually his practice to open up at 9am. Colin wonders in from 10 since their first clients are rarely barging through the door until well after Midday. He has keys but only once has he ever opened up before Hiko, who’s usually busying himself with setting up. He fumbles again in his pocket and rests the cup and pastry bag on the stone step.  Once in, he deactivates the alarm. There’s always someone keen to pilfer the till or steal equipment, then he wonders back to pick up his breakfast from the step. He switches the lights on as he takes a sip of the too-hot brew and winces as the papillae on his tongue object to the heat.

“Hiko?....Michi?” He’s not sure why he’s calling his mentor’s name. The shop was clearly locked and alarmed. “Weird.” He thinks to himself. 

The shop comprises a small reception desk on the inside left of the door. A few comfortable chairs and reading material on a coffee table to the left. Further in, there are three bay’s with upright chairs for those having smaller tattoos or upper arm, chest and shoulder work. On the right, three cubicles with massage tables for those wanting full back or legs and a little privacy. Clients are strange like that. Some like to be seen, some prefer a more intimate experience. Beyond these is a small back office where Hiko attends to the accounts and a tiny kitchenette for those moments when sustenance must be had, then a bathroom on the left, complete with built-in shower, toilet and washbasin. Client toilets are shared with the barber shop next door.

Col sits on Hiko’s ergonomic chair and shuffles papers on the desk. No note, just a neat pile of paid bills, a ledger and appointment book. He thumbs through the appointment book. One second Tuesday of every week there is an appointment. “Private”. Just for an hour and scheduled during the lunch break. 

He’s become so accustomed to Hiko yelling , “Going to stretch my legs…” at midday that he never thought anything of it. Neatly wedged between this Tuesday and last is a card. “Kowit Bahnathavin – Opthalmology Specialist.” 

At that very moment, he hears the familiar bell of the door opening and the sound of keys being thrown across the reception desk.

“I’m sorry son. I should have told you.” Colin is caught red-handed with the card between his thumb and forefinger and a ‘well, explain!’ expression on his face.

“What’s wrong with you? Why are you late?” The words sound harsh and mask the concern the apprentice really feels.

“I had to see a doctor. Not that one, a different doctor.  The news is not good. Sit, listen. You learn much when you listen.

I have been giving you more and more complex work for a reason. One evening last year, I rose from sleep to get a glass of water. I felt strange and could not focus in the dark. I put on the light and could not focus in the light. My head was splitting and my memory …..”  

Hiko pulls up a chair and puts his head in his hands. “…my memory was not there. I could not remember where to find a glass. I could not remember where the kitchen was, I cold not remember my name. I just fell to my knees and spoke gibberish aloud.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

The question is ignored as the story continues.

“My neighbour heard me shouting for help. My words were all back to front and upside down. I had suffered a stroke. This was during your absence at your mother’s funeral last June. I closed the shop for a week and was taken to hospital. I recovered quickly with no noticeable side effects but at the beginning of this year, I could not see the detail in my work. My hands shake more than they should. I had headaches. I went to see my doctor and there is damage behind my eyes. I will soon be blind.”

The news is crushing. Hiko still works it’s true, and the quality of his ink is almost perfect. Colin begins to realise it has been executed more from memory than visual acuity. Hiko’s masked his symptoms well. He’s worn glasses for the past 18 months, his apprentice oblivious to constant upgrades in his prescription. 

“I cannot keep tattooing. It’s just a matter of time. My vision is deteriorating quickly. One day it will be gone. I was going to tell you soon, very soon. But there is more.”

“What more could there be for fuck’s sake! You’re going blind, that’ll kill you. You live for the shop, the tattoos, the clients. You’ll go insane not being able to see.”

“Hush my son. My eyes are a small part of the problem. I have another clot in my brain. It is inoperable and …”

Never has Colin Weckwerth seen his mentor fold, crumble, fall or falter but now he is lost for words. The big man takes his mentor’s hands in his own. 

“Michi Hiko, don’t you talk like that man. We’ll get through this. You’ve been a father to me, a teacher and a friend. I’m here. I’ll help. What do we have to do?”

Hiko slumps back in the chair.

“There’s nothing to be done. I could die any moment. I could go blind any week. I have taught you all I know and you are a fine craftsman. I want you to take over the shop. I’ll be around, what else is a useless blind time bomb to do but I cannot tattoo any more. I am a liability. Today, tonight, is the last time. Now it is your time. Put what you have learned in the past to good use. You have practised long and hard, now is the time to become the artist you are and shine. I will now stand in your shadow, son.”

The heaviness of the moment is temporarily lifted as the first client comes through the door and both men glance sideways at the entering client.

“You take this one." Hiko commands, "I need to gather my thoughts. Now go…GO!”

Col knows the stoic man is about to break and leaves him respectfully to the privacy he’s earned.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge: “The Past is Practice”


  1. Well told. The amount of detail you're working in is impressive - but more than a couple edits needed.

  2. Eh... this is where the rapid pacing really hurts this story. It's all too quick... the drama doesn't sift properly. The reveal is almost cliche.

    That stated, it's a fine story and the gimmick works well. Definitely rewrite it.