Illustration by Max Currie

Beside Azuma’s train terminal and under a pedestrian bridge, Kent spotted a group of Iranians huddled near a telephone booth. At train stations all over Japan, the immigrants had fashioned a surrogate world. They assembled around minivans and kiosks, peddling cheap silver and gold, phony telephone cards, hashish, prescription pills hard to come by with Japan’s conservative national health program, and shabu. Kent fingered the bills in his jeans pocket, thinking about how far he could go if he spent a little more than he should. Walking past the group of Iranians, he looked for recognition from any one of them. He pretended to use a pay phone nearby and when finished with the charade nodded to a man who nodded back but didn’t speak. He was tall and wiry, his black hair shaggy over his weathered face. He fidgeted beneath an oversized black silk shirt in gold damask. A gold medallion in the shape of a dollar sign on a thick, braided chain hung from his neck. Following a practiced assessment of the white gaijin, the Iranian smiled and held out his hand. With the handshake, he and Kent were old friends, the imminent exchange understood.

The Iranian patted Kent on the back and spoke in English. “Hello, my friend. How are you? I am Oscar.” A light wind seemed to circle him in the shade of the station, his shirt rippling like a sail.

Kent stood sweating in the humid air, reduced to squinting in the dark corner. “Nani ga arimasu ka?” He didn’t care what Oscar had, only what he wanted.

Oscar switched to Japanese. “Nihongo wakaru?” Thus began a dance of efficient nods and gestures that signaled Kent’s purpose and the beginning of a buy. It was a choreographed routine, other Iranian men nearby appearing then vanishing inside a minivan. The terminus speakers broadcast a waltz as if in time to their movement. Within seconds, Kent had lost sight of all but Oscar as the others vanished.

Oscar pulled Kent by his arm into the shade of the stairwell. “Do I know you? You have been here before?”

“No.” Even in the shadow of Azuma’s train station under the cloud of a drug deal, Kent felt a tingle of satisfaction at being recognized. He nearly swept his glasses from his face.

Oscar took his hand again, squeezing it for another five seconds, as if searching for credibility. “I think I do know you, but it’s okay. Maybe I don’t. So, you want something from Oscar?”

“Yes, I want something from Oscar. Whatever you got.”

Like a magician pulling a quarter from mid-air, Oscar opened his hand, a matchbook-sized plastic baggie in his palm. “Is this what you want?”

“That’s a start,” Kent said.

“What are we talking about?”

“About five times that. And some hash. Whatever you got.”

“Come back at six. I’ll meet you at Uncle Bob’s Burger House. You know, up the street?”

“I can find it. Can you give me what you got now?”

“Take it all, friend. I can take off work early and go see my girlfriend. She’s always complaining I don’t spend enough time with her.”

In a telephone booth, Oscar left two grams of shabu, a gram of hash, and an assortment of painkillers, their identities for Kent to sort out. Kent replaced it with ¥15,000 inside the pages of the telephone book after pretending to make another call. Oscar’s compatriots reappeared from the shadows, huddling and nodding to Kent. The sweet smell of cheap cologne found in most public onsens lingered around the telephone booths and over the sidewalk, clouds of it under the stairs. As Kent turned to leave, Oscar smiled, his mouth growing wider until Kent thought it would stretch to his ears, and waved him off as if they were old friends.

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