Chapter Thirty Three VI
When a decision forms, the brain moves faster than self awareness.
It unconsciously prepares to act up to 500 milliseconds
before a person consciously decides to act. In other words,
the brain is always 1 step ahead of itself, calculating the potential costs
and benefits of each choice at the cellular level.
Most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes
rather than deliberative thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain
is emotional, not cognitive.
George Lowenstein, behavioral economist Carnegie Mellon University.
It’s twelve, Nikko and I run the phone errand while Janah with Amaya deal with math. She has addition and subtraction down, stuck a bit on multiplication, and out of it on division. Kahn Academy online takes her into the mysteries of multiplication and division.
Then Janah asks her to read the New York Times online, starting with more interesting things for a girl, the Style section. Amaya reads fine, quite well actually, like her speech, she’s precise, not prone to contractions like most of us. Janah breathes a silent sigh of relief.
“She’s going to be okay. She knows the basics, if she can read well, drills on multiplication and division in short doses will bring her along. By the time school starts, she’ll be doing simple algebra.”
“Got her bar set pretty high, missy.”
Janah, “Are you going to set limits on a student’s martial arts training?”
“Never, point taken.”
Janah, “She also has a rather remarkable eye for fashion. I had her read to me from style section of the paper. I’m no fashion whiz but her comments about cut and color seemed on the money.”
I’m entering contacts into the new phone, “Good thing, we spent all those years in the temple, same clothes every day. When we got out, our fashion genes needed recalibration. Probably why we tend to straightforward stuff, we’re done, coming up the elevator now.”
Janah, “Good work young lady. Now yoga.”
Amaya, “Yay!! I was worried I would screw up and not get to do the yoga.”
“That’s not how it works. We don’t reward you for doing what you ought to do, like studying, and we don’t punish you for messing up. The punishment is self-delivered. You don’t get a solid education, you wind up thick as a brick and people jacking you around.”
“That’s not how….”
“There is no past, Amaya. You were born for a second time. That other person is dead. You are going to create Amaya.”
Amaya grins mischievously, “Can we do yoga now and life lessons later?”
Janah laughs, usually a giggler, it took a real sucker punch to make her laugh this way, “Get out of the jeans, Daphne will find some sweats, you need room to move.”
I cut off a pair of cotton sweats, and get one of Janahs’ yoga tops. Amaya changes, bounces back into the big room.
Janah, “Okay smarty, let’s see what you got.”
Janah does warm-up, then quits piddling around. She has Amaya twisted in knots, makes small corrections to posture and stance, then they do hand stands. Amaya falls about a dozen times, then holds one for fifteen seconds.
Nikko and I applaud, “More, longer, go for it!!”
Amaya is reinvigorated. After a couple more ups and downs, she holds one for a full half minute, then collapses to the mat, "Damn, my shoulders are quivering.”
Janah, “Good, you did well, handstands aren’t easy.”
Amaya, rubbing her shoulders, says to no one in particular, “Maybe I should have stuck with multiplication.”
Janah, “Freshen up, get your jeans and stuff on, I’m hungry, we’re going to eat.”
Amaya looks at Nikko, “Does the world revolve around Janah?”
Nikko, “Yes. Get used to it, you won’t be bored or disappointed.”
“If you say so….mom,” she peeks out of the corner of her eye.
“I say so, and you decide if you want me to be mom. I’m honored if you so wish.”
Amaya leaps into Nikko’s lap, kisses her cheek, jumps up and runs to her bedroom. I brush out her hair, she asks, “Do you have jewelry I can borrow?”
“Yes, but I have a plan, skip it for now.”
Amaya, “Ooooh, shopping.”
Ten minutes later, we’re headed to the Village Diner, we stop off at the Jamaicans’ portable open air boutique.
“Amaya, this is Juju, Quiet Man, Timothy and Mighty Jim. Gentlemen, this is Amaya. Nikko gave virgin birth to her while we were out of town, then somehow ten years passed and here she is. She chose one name only, it means night rain in Japanese.”
Juju studies at Amaya, “Dis one is unusual. She has a sharp eye, tall for her age.”
Amaya, “I’m twelve.”
Juju laughs his hearty deep laugh, “Bullsheet young one. Do not try your young girl tricks on Juju. You are mebbe ten, dat’s it. You will be tall, like Miss Daphne and Miss Nikko. Learn to be true, like them, it will serve you well.”
Mighty Jim, “Take a necklace, here is a good one, real silver, not knock off crap. Won’t be green by the end of the day,” he puts it around her neck, it’s long, so he loops it.
He holds up a mirror, she looks at herself, “My God, it’s perfect. Elegant and simple. Thank you, Mighty Jim.”
“You are most elegant yourself, I tink de necklace is improved on you, not de udda way round.”
Janah, “Very kind gentlemen. Daphne, take Amaya to the Diner, I need a word with our friends.”
We walk across the street, Janah says to the Jamaicans, “The girl has no history, we have removed it. Obviously, there’s an important reason. She is with us now, no biological parents. She has decided to make Nikko her mom, although we are all her legal guardians, she connected with Nishiko as her parent. If anyone ever shows the slightest interest in the girl, I want to know…immediately.”
Juju, “You got de same number?”
“You and Mini are the only ones with that number. If anything seems out of order, call it, and either follow or detain the interested party, by any means necessary. I think we’ve covered her, I doubt anything will come up, still….”
“I am in your debt.”
“We gonna watch each udda’s back. Don’ worry about dat girl. She got street cred from someplace. Not our beezness. You say watch, we watch.”
Janah nods walks across to the Diner.
Mini, “My angel, your girls are ova’ the side,” he points to a booth, “gimmie a hug and I’ll get started on lunch. Don’t worry about ordering, I’ll think it up.”
Janah joins us in the booth.
Amaya, “Is everyone you know huge?”
“I don’t mean you Daphne, all the men are giants.”
“James is normal size.”
Amaya, “Yeah, well he is tall. I mean these other people. I thought the Jamaicans were big, then I meet Mini, who is bigger, and Chan.”
Janah, “You have a point. It wasn’t planned, just turned out that way. Chuck Stavros, the owner, is pretty normal.”
As luck would have it, Chuck shows up, “Hey girls, and who is our young friend? You know Daphne and Janah started coming here when they were about your age? Nikko didn’t show up until later. You a new generation discovering the Village Diner. You gonna like it.”
Amaya, “I’m Amaya. Daphne tells me this is the world’s best food, up there with her own. I have not eaten her cooking yet. We have been busy.”
Chuck, “Let me know after Mini feeds you. Any complaints, I want to know. I gotta hop, it’s lunch time and we had extra takeouts today. Nice to meet you, Amaya.”
“You too, Mr. Chuck.”
She looks over at Janah, who is next to me, Nikko and her across the table, “Man, these people sure like you guys. Daphne said hi to everyone on the street.”
Janah, “She’s pretty well connected. She grew up in this neighborhood, knows it well. You will too, soon enough. She knows every police officer, fireman, transit cop, local politician, a few zillion lawyers, bankers and college students.”
Amaya, “So many people. And three of everything, every culture, race, it’s all beautiful.”
“That’s exactly how Daphne thinks of it, the world is represented here. They say eight hundred languages are spoken in New York City. Last time we added it up, she knew people from every country on the planet, from every race. We may have missed Eskimos, but that’s about it.”
Amaya, “I do not know much about the world. I feel like I have missed most of everything.”
“You are too young to have missed anything. I’ll make you a deal. One year from now, tell me what you’ve missed. The life you came from was sheltered in one way, but you picked up people psychology or you wouldn’t have been so good at manipulation.”
Amaya grins, “They wanted stuff from me, I gave them some of it, made them want more.”
“Juju has it right, she’s got street sense.”
Plate loads of omelets, fries and stir fry plop down on the table. Refills of tea, Coke Zero for me and Amaya. Finally, a coke drinking buddy! We eat, enjoying the food, not in any hurry, little conversation.
The Mayor comes in, spots me in the booth, nods to the back.
“Excuse me, a friend wants to visit. Back in a bit.”
I meet Mo and the Mayor in the room that isn’t there, give them both a big hug.
“Sorry not to acknowledge you in public. I don’t want you to start getting asked questions.”
“I get it. We work better without publicity.”
Mayor, “Who’s the girl?”
“Our ward. Parents died tragically, she needed a guardian, who better?”
“Kid’s in the best possible hands, she’s lucky. Don’t suppose any details about how or why will surface.”
“No, they won’t. She has no past and is building a life. Fortunately she’s young.”
“I don’t need to know what I don’t need to know. One thing. She needs anything, I better get a call, capiche? I owe you, fucking twice now, my niece, then the terrorists, I don’t forget.”
“Mr. Mayor, it’s our city too. We have no intention of letting anything happen to it we can fix first. Anyway, how’s Beth?”
“Better than ever. Like the thing never happened. I don’t know what Janah did, or how, but something happened on that long ride back. She’s Beth, going to college, taking drama classes, I saw her in a play. She’s good, loves it. Funny, she’s still kind of a wallflower, but when she’s on stage you’d never know it.”
“I’m delighted for her. Janah will be happy to know. Good to see you, sir. Enjoy Mini’s food. You have our number.”
I go to the kitchen to shoot the breeze with the cooks while the Mayor pretends to be returning from the rest room. He doesn’t acknowledge Janah or Nikko.
“Beth’s doing well, as you heard.”
Janah, “Couldn’t be more pleased. Drama classes, in a play. Maybe we’ll see her on Broadway. She won’t remember us. I took care of that too, on the long ride.”
Amaya, “Where are we going now?”
“Okay antsy pants, we walk off this lunch and go to see a friend for tea, then to the temple.”
We walk towards Chinatown, stop to gaze in shop windows along Broadway in Soho, Amaya is more fascinated by the sheer volume of people than the stuff in stores. We hit a couple of shops, pick up jeans, she selects a few cute tops. Janah’s right, she has a good eye. A pair of sneaker and another pair of wedges and off we go to Fong’s.
We adjust our walking style. I lead, Janah to my right, then Amaya and Nikko.
Nikko, “Stay a step ahead, between Janah and me. I’ll explain later.”
Amaya hops a step forward, doesn’t ask. Nikko takes that as a good sign, the girl trusts us. Following her ‘modeling’ instructions had produced something positive, patience and poise. She walks easily, head up, straight back, no slouching or scraping shoes like some kids who can’t be bothered to pick up their feet.
Janah is on the cell with Mrs. Fong, telling her we’d be by in a few minutes, mentions we already ate, she clicks off.
Ten minutes later we enter Fong’s, “Ah, White Angel, come and give ancient grandmother a kiss, each of you, and who is stunning young lady?”
Mrs. Fong gives Amaya her standard intense gaze, reading her expression, her posture, the eyes.
Janah, “Amaya, this is our venerable grandmother, Mrs. Fong. She makes the very finest Chinese food in New York, perhaps anywhere, you ate it last night. We also have business interests with her, which we will discuss another time. Today, we’ll have tea and a short visit. I’ve put her number in your mobile. If anything goes wrong, you get lost, can’t contact us, the moms or Ning, call Mrs. Fong. Everything will be taken care of.”
Janah looks at Mrs. Fong, the old woman understands instinctively that this is not the time for questions. Janah tells her the made up version, parents tragically killed, she was introduced to us and Janah became her legal guardian. Fong knows it’s all horseshit and the real story would come later, through Nishiko.
Mrs. Fong softens, “Shaolin, prepare tea if you please,” she looks at Amaya, “Master Sylk has a way with food, and particularly with tea. She has learned the art from many years of serving White Angel, and from Nikko’s mother. She is a tea wizard.”
Amaya, “I have become spoiled by her tea. And now she has another fan. Although, like Daphne, I like Coke Zero.”
Fong frowns, “One of her bad habits, but forgivable. She and Janah saved old woman’s life. One day, we will have tea together and I will tell you the story, not today. I think Janah has duties to attend to, and must work at the herb shop. Many of her patients have inquired after her. It means she and her sisters have been out of town. Good thing for you that they were.”
Amaya is puzzled, how does the old lady know?
Nikko, “Explanations in their time, now enjoy tea and small talk. Listen and observe.”
I serve, return to have coffee, watch the cooks. Fong’s people are machines, flames leap up all around the stove, stir fry vegetables, rinse the big wok, in goes rice for frying. Half dozen pots with sauces simmering.
Janah, “We will come tomorrow and treat the ill, please tell anyone who asks that we will be at the shop at one.”
Mrs. Fong, “Send Nishiko to me while you work. Shaolin will watch over you and the girl,” she tells Amaya, “You will be learning many lessons, be diligent, not lazy. White Angel has no time for girl foolishness, much work, always busy. You will learn to help, be useful.”
Amaya grins, “She is teaching me mathematics, and yoga. I met Chan and Ning, David Li and Miyako. Ning told me that you were responsible for their meeting and marriage. They are a wonderful family. I love Miyako, we had a sleepover last night, but she is in school today.”
Mrs. Fong asks Janah, “When will child go to school?”
Janah, “She has a little catching up to do. I’m teaching her at home for a while, then probably Chapmans.”
Mrs. Fong, “She must possess a special skill.”
“You don’t miss much. She has a natural instinct for song, perfect pitch, Her own voice is remarkable, and she can imitate any singer she hears. Chapmans is for girls with unique ability, narrow or wide. She will be welcome there.”
Mrs. Fong gets up, goes to her office, returns with a CD, “Learn this, if you can. Then come and sing it for me. Chinese girl, very popular, not old fashioned music. Master J has found another complex personality. It is her intuition, always a mystery. You are most fortunate. Misfortune releases joy.”
Amaya, “It sure did in my case.”
Mrs. Fong, “Tea all finished, Mrs. Fong has no more time now. Still, you come here with White Angel or Nishiko. Come with Nishiko and learn.”
“What will I learn?”
“What you need to know. Go now…make yourself useful, do not be lazy giggling idiot girl.”
We kiss the old woman, Amaya is hesitant, then steps to Mrs. Fong, embraces her. Mrs. Fong, mist in her eyes, strokes the young girl’s head gently, she sees the shadow of pain; children who suffer both raises her Asian hackles and touches her heart.
Walking to the temple, a few blocks away, Amaya says, “Mrs. Fong is different. Everyone you know is different. She is like Nishiko, no bullshit. Underneath, she is all tenderness.”
Janah, “Our dear friend, and watches every movement in Chinatown. Observe and listen. She didn’t get old in this city by being stupid.”
Amaya doesn’t reply, she is absorbing, learning the lesson of attentiveness.
Chapter Thirty Four VI
We enter the Temple, practice going full tilt, Nikko and I change to uniforms, Janah has admin matters to catch up on. Students wave, talk later, practice now.
Soon, Nikko is sparring with Disciple Jin, I’m doing gung fu forms, Amaya sits on Sung’s favorite bench, eyes wide, long legs crossed, cute funky sneakers and bangle bracelets. From busy Manhattan streets to a different country in a different time. One group is lined up attacking a master, who is pitching them to the ground one by one. Another group of students follow me in the Praying Mantis, then Snake, there are over seventy styles in Shaolin, which I think rather overkill. I’d learned them, but when the fight starts in the street, style doesn’t cut it. The street doesn’t give you the courtesy of style. Nikko and I use styleless battle with each other to approximate reality.
Practice is nearing the close, it will be an hour before evening meditation.
Disciple Jin, “Could you and Master Murakami give us a demonstration of practical fighting?”
I turn to Nikko, she blinks, I presume that means yes.
The monks gather in a large circle, Nikko and I square off in the middle. Amaya stands on the bench, she isn’t about to miss anything.
Nikko comes in a half feint, I don’t move, I leap in the air and sail a foot over the top of her head. I didn’t go for a strike, which she would only dodge, I’m going for the follow through. Landing, I keep spinning, my left foot had sailed over her head, now my right sails through her ankles. When she jumps, as I’d anticipated, I catch her in the gut with my left foot and send her sailing backwards to the dirt. I roll forward, my heel comes down, the objective of which is to hit her shoulder or chest. It almost works.
She flips to her stomach, shoots out a long leg and catches my jaw with her heel. I twist my head quickly, the blow glances off, but I feel it. We leap up and face each other. Nikko doesn’t circle or hesitate, she comes with punches and kicks to my ribs and abdomen. I take it like a woman, a woman with years of qi training. Nikko’s hard fists bounce uselessly off my torso, I grab her wrist and with a sharp twist, flip her to her side, then aim my knee at her ribs. Unfortunately, when the kick lands, I’m on one leg. Devious Japanese takes full advantage, and despite her pain, her leg snaps out and gets me behind the ankle, I’m on the ground again, hard.
Nikko lunges for me, I plant my foot in her gut and sail her over my head. The irritating samurai lands on her feet.
I jump, face her, just in time for my jaw to meet her bony fist. I grab her wrist and elbow and sweep a foot, put her down again. She’s up, crescent kicks me, hits my shoulder, her hard heel will leave a lovely bruise and a painful knot. Ah, now this is living in the moment.
I split her lip with a backfist, “Enough. They got their money’s worth.”
Nikko dabs her lip, “Agreed.”
There is loud applause, we bow and head to our room, our original quarters. Amaya follows us.
“You lived here?”
“For several years, we still stay here sometimes.”
Amaya looks around at not much, “Not exactly your apartment.”
“Am I to assume the Shaolin life doesn’t appeal?”
“Not if it involves me leaving my bedroom for this.”
I laugh, “One question answered, I’ll take you off the waiting list.”
After a shower and change into street clothes, we meet Janah in the courtyard, “I see you couldn’t resist.”
“Disciple Jin asked us to give a short demonstration.”
“Good thing he didn’t ask for a long one. Let’s go home, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Good to be back.”
We take a cab, Amaya’s had a long day, Nikko and I are stiff. It feels good to be on the mats, covered in liniment and gel packs. Janah calls Ning, David Li is on the roof with his father and Miyako. Janah orders from Marconi’s and takes Amaya to the roof, she’s covered in kisses by Miyako, and even gets a brief hug from the reticent David Li.
Birds are everywhere, Miyako hopping around the parkour course, Amaya tries the balance beam, and makes a few leaps to the closer cans of concrete and eventually the ladder. Miyako is walking around the narrow edges of the wall that surround the roof.
Amaya, “Miyako, do not fall!!”
Miyako laughs and front flips off the wall, sticks it .
Amaya, “After what I saw in the Shaolin temple today, I think I have landed in a dream.”
Chan, “Everything is a dream, a dream of Amaya.”
“What does your father mean?”
Miyako, “That’s one you can ask Aunt Janah. She will first ask you to think about it, and will not supply an easy answer. When you have thought about it, then she will talk it over with you.”
Chan brings the girls downstairs, David is still catching up with his friends, a barn owl has flown in, which means Aunt Daphne would be here in a minute.
I pass them on the stairs, “Dinner is ready, Italian. Chow down and enjoy a movie or play a game. Soon it will be time for everyone to rest.”
I hug Chan quickly, “Owl needs to talk, see you later.”
Chan says his usual nothing, I hear Miyako screech when she sees Nikko. “What have you been doing….fighting with Aunt Daphne again! Bad girls, always fight.”
She says to Amaya, “They are always doing this. Did you see?”
“Yes, at the temple. They were asked to demonstrate.”
“They would have done it anyway. It’s a demonstration of their love.”
“Something else for Janah to explain?’
“Yes, eat now, don’t talk. I ate already, but may I have a manicotti anyway, please?’
Janah spoons one onto a plate, sets it in front of her, “There’s cannelloni for dessert.”
Miyako, “Yay! Aunt Daphne said we could watch TV for as long as we wanted.”
Janah giggles, “Aunt Daphne said you could watch TV for a little while, then bed.”
Miyako says to Amaya, “It’s impossible to tell a lie around here. Don’t bother, pure waste of time.”
Amaya, “That part I have caught on to. It does not matter, I am tired. And I have lessons tomorrow, math, science, and yoga.”
When I return, the girls are already half asleep on the mat. Chan knocks, he picks up Miyako and takes her to her bed. Before Amaya goes dead out, Nikko gets her up, tooth brushed and bathroom necessities. Then, with no complaint, she lets herself be tucked in, Nikko kisses her soft cheek, strokes her hair, she’s asleep before Nikko hits the light.
Janah gels us up again, and another coat of liniment. Nikko and I frozen and warmed while we spoon together with Janah and watch an episode of Justified. Soon as it finishes we are sweet dreaming. I’d give Janah details of my chat with the owl tomorrow. Our busy lives are about to get busier.
Chapter Thirty Five VI
Morning bursts in, sunlight gleams under the door. I slip out of bed, hit the shower, scrub away the liniment scent. Janah likes the woodsy smell of it, I’d dabbed myself with lavender oil before going to bed. Something more flowery than just wet wood, camphor and eucalyptus. Whatever Janah’d done, I am unmarked and loose. Aromatic tang is fine if it helps unwind from Nikko’s punishment.
I make Nishiko a pile of bacon, maybe Amaya would like some. Also grits, with butter and half and half, nice and creamy, and fat fluffy homemade biscuits. I put out both Mayhaw and Blackberry jelly.
It doesn’t take long, the apartment is full of breakfast aroma, coffee, tea, bacon frying, comfort scent of biscuits baking. It’s only seven, I’d been up since five thirty, slurping coffee and reading the Times online.
Nikko calls Sis, they’d returned from Nassau a few days early, anxious to be with the newest family member, “Child duty this morning. Will it be good to come around ten, I’ll bring Amaya, she can learn new expletives from C-mom while we go over the accounts.”
Susan, “Good, I’m starting up a project for a Fortune 500, but it’s pretty easy stuff. They asked me to crack their secure systems, which took about fifteen minutes. Then I got a retainer for a hundred grand, I’m feeling all that and geeky.”
Nikko, “What’s the contract worth?”
Susan, “If I get them properly encrypted and firewalled, about a half million. Their tech genius says they won’t have to pay it. I plan on sitting around their boardroom while he tries to break in. Time limit is four hours, he says it will take under an hour. I created a reverse virus, when someone tries to hack a site with my program it loads their hard drive up with so much crap the thing just fails. I’ve played this game before, never lost a check yet.”
They click off.
Amaya appears, fresh, sparkly clean and ready for food, “I ate like a pig last night, and I am hungry again, it smells really good in here.”
“I have bacon, Nikko’s favorite food, there’s plenty, if you want some go for it. Do you like eggs?”
Amaya, “Scrambled light.”
“Come here, and while you nibble bacon and drink tea, I’ll show you how to make the best scrambled eggs on earth. Want a biscuit?”
Amaya watches while I whisk a dozen eggs, add as dollop of whipping cream and a couple tablespoons of cream cheese. Then into a large skillet lightly coated with butter.
“See how low the flame is, about as low as I can get it. Slow cooked is how to treat eggs. Here’s a stool, when they begin to cook, stir. Let them sit for a minute then stir again. Stop when they’re less cooked than you want them, even runny, eggs continue to cook in their own heat. Good?”
She eats bacon in tiny pieces, nibbles off a biscuit, and stirs. About five minutes later she has them to her taste, soft scrambled.
“Cook eggs slowly, fried, scrambled or baked, we all like them soft scrambled, slightly runny, but not wet. Certainly not dry and hard. You did them perfectly.”
She smiles, turns off the flame, we enjoy.
Amaya, “These are the best grits ever. I have only had grits a few times, I could eat grits for dinner if they tasted like these.”
“I also add cheese, soft cheese is best, or cream cheese, but try anything you like. Add parsley or basil, sometimes lots of black pepper, sometimes none. It’s fun to see how it turns out. You can even make the grits, then put them in a baking dish and bake them like macaroni and cheese. Add anything you like, sausage works well.”
Amaya, “So, it is okay to play around cooking?”
“Just don’t blow up the place. Other than that, have at it. I have all my recipes on the laptop, I learned to cook from an old woman many years ago. She was from the South, and that’s where I learned about grits, pot roast, meatloaf, greens, cornbread and mashed potatoes and gravy, among other things.”
Amaya, “Janah, does that count as lessons?”
Janah doesn’t look up from her laptop, “If it tastes good. If not, then no.”
Amaya giggles, “Are we doing yoga today?”
Janah, “You know what comes first.”
Amaya helps me clean up, then sits in front of another laptop and goes to work on math, then biology. She isn’t an instant learner, asks a lot of questions, but she is persistent and no dummy. Once she catches a concept, she doesn’t lose it.
It’s nearing ten, “Yoga this afternoon, time to visit the moms, then lunch, then a nap, then yoga, okay?”
Amaya, “When do we leave?”
“Nikko is taking you, Janah and I have business to discuss. Tonight we’ll go to the roof and visit with your brother and sister.”
Amaya is waiting at the door when Nikko comes out of our bedroom, ear buds in, holding her new IPhone.
While they are gone, I cover what I’d learned from the owl the prior evening, “There’s a gang dealing in the subway. Nothing new in that. This one is, typically, using juveniles for delivery, holding, transferring cash from buyers to dealers. Everyone knows the game. Juveniles get suspended sentences, sent to detention, group therapy, the whole joke of the juvenile injustice system.”
“Okay, so this gang is gaming the system like everyone else. Why does it fall under our purview?”
“Gang’s pimping out the kids on the side, and beating the crap out of reluctant participants.”
Janah sighs, “It never ends. This is just Manhattan, there’s a whole world.”
“J, we deal with one infestation at a time, you know that.”
“Find out who, exactly who, name, address, what pimped up cars they drive, who their friends are, and, very important, if there’s any gang looking to move in. No point in having to do this twice.”
“On it, maybe I should have a coffee at the diner.”
“Go, I’m not leaving here. I have research to do, and I want to prepare Amaya’s lessons. I know you’re going to call Chan, so get it out of the way and get moving.”
Janah knows it’s part of the deal, if she’s alone, no leaving the apartment. Even though the place is a fortress, it’s a better fortress with Chan around.
“Ning, is Chan home? No, you don’t need to get him, as long as he’s there. I’m going to the diner, Janah needs to work, Nikko and Amaya are at the mom’s, so you know what I want.”
“I’ll tell husband. Janah will be undisturbed.”
“Miyako wants to see Amaya later, is it okay?”
“It would be a lot of help if you’d do something for dinner. I think we have work to do, which is why I’m going out. I’ll be back before two, three at the latest, I can help.”
“No help, dinner will be at seven, good?”
“You’re the best, see you.”
We ring off, I leave for the Village Diner.
Chapter Thirty Six VI
Nothing is done by me, everything just happens,
I do not expect, I do not plan,
I just watch events happen knowing them to be unreal.
Nisargadatta, I Am That
Mini, “Hey Daph, where’s the crew?”
“Have a project going on, it never seems to end.”
It ‘s before the lunch rush, mostly coffee breaks, I say hello to a couple of transit cops, two shop owners I know, taking a break from their sixteen hour workdays. We exchange quick pleasantries, I want to get my business done during the lull. I move down the hall to the privacy room, Mini brings two coffees.
“Here’s what I have. There’s a subway gang working the midtown stops. All the lines, E, A, 1, 2, 3 and 6. Territory they can handle seems limited to north of forty second, and south of the seventies. All business is conducted on the trains, any pill, up or down, weed, ecstasy and meth of course.”
Mini, “That’s of no interest to you, what else is going on?”
“Naturally they use juvies to carry and deliver, nothing new in that either. Somewhere along the line, they decided the juveniles were products.”
Mini gets that stare, “Shit, fuckin’ shitheels. You want I should handle this?”
“I want you to collect information, who, what, where. I need to know who the head is. We’re going to cut it off, then your help will be needed to insure it doesn’t crank up again. If adults want to buy drugs from adults, we don’t care. We’re going to clean up this problem. Dealing by adolescents is almost unstoppable, the kids want in the game. We are not taking any prisoners on renting kids to pervs.”
Mini, “You come here in two days. We gonna disinfect the subway.”
On the way home, I stop at the Wong’s and pick up fruit and vegetables. It’s time for lunch lite, Nikko and Amaya are back from the moms. I cut up fruit, set out vanilla yogurt, green tea. Amaya’s on one computer, Janah another, Nikko’s watching our young lady solve math problems.
While I’m putting a wrap on lunch, Janah takes two chairs, places them a few feet apart. She puts one foot on one chair and the other on the second, held up by muscle strength in her inner thighs.
Amaya, “Can I try?”
Nikko situates two more chairs from the dining table. Amaya sets herself in position. She holds it for a couple of minutes, good sign. Amaya’s legs are shaking, but she won’t let Nikko help her up. Instead, she folds over to the floor, tugs each leg off the chair, then sits on her knees.
Nikko, “Excellent, better than I would have guessed. Want to work on another challenge?”
They play the horse riding game. Amaya makes it five minutes, then back to sitting on her knees.
“Wow, that is not so easy. How long should I go for?”
Nikko, “Chris has a saying, ‘How much pain can you stand and how long can you stand it?’ It’s the difference between good, very good and unique. It can apply to any difficult physical or mental work. With practice, anything is possible, never set limits.”
Amaya does another two chair split, then horse riding stance, she crumples to the floor, legs quivering.
“Yikes, that hurts.”
Nikko, “Settle into the pain, it is your friend, it means you are growing. Liniment on your legs will help ease the soreness.”
We eat, I pile the dishes in the sink and we gather on the big mat for an hour of nothing. Amaya takes a pillow, asleep in minutes. The rest of us aren’t far behind. A wonderful after lunch nap, delicious.
Amaya stirs, “I smell like the woods after a rain.”
“Maybe the Jacuzzi, warm water, don’t boil yourself, the liniment’s done whatever it’s going to do.”
After her soak, Amaya returns in a t-shirt, clicks on the TV and finds a movie, some animated something or other.
Nikko and I leave to teach class at Chapmans, “We’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Janah, “No fighting, teach class, that’s it.”
“Hai,” we say simultaneously.
Amaya laughs, “Mother Nikko says ‘Hai’ is yes in Japanese. It seems you are the boss.”
Janah, “Those two would be battered and bruised every day if I left it up to them. They need recovery time. They know that, they are just being polite.”
Amaya, “When does Miyako get home?”
“She’ll come over tonight. Any homework first, then to the roof if she wants. I’m sure she’ll come by when homework is done. Ning won’t have it any other way. Asian work ethic.”
Amaya, “She does not seem so young, I know she is, but she does not act like it.”
Janah, “No, none of us were. Daphne and I were never children, not in the little kid sense. Ning was raised to be self sufficient, and Chan was in the temple when he was eight. You got a glimpse of life there. It’s rigorous, busy. Long days, lots of work. Our other friends are much the same. Perhaps it’s why we were brought together.”
Amaya, “Janah, what is it you guys do? I mean, you have stuff going on all the time, but no jobs.”
“The moms, Nikko’s family, James, all make good money. Part of our income is from buildings we own in partnership with Mrs. Fong, who is very wealthy. You haven’t met Mrs. Epstein yet. She and Susan handle most of our investments, although much has been turned over to Nishiko as well. Daphne and I have been very fortunate. Our families have more than enough money to allow us to pursue our interests.”
Amaya, “Who pays for me?”
Janah smiles, “You are paying for yourself. Being able to have you with us, your new life is our joy. It is our privilege to watch you discover yourself. No amount of money can compensate for that.”
Janah sits with her, holds her, Amaya doesn’t cry, she feels warmth, comfort, safety, freedom.
She clicks off the TV, starts searching YouTube for songs. She remembers the name Joe Cocker and taps it in. She found a song, listened a few times, then clicked off.
Amaya stands up, “That is a fun song. Can somebody play the music, in just that style?”
Janah, “I’ll find out.”
Janah calls Lacy, “Amaya wants to sing Feelin’ Alright, the Joe Cocker version. Are the musicians up for it? Go to YouTube and click on this version, she texts Lacy the one Amaya wanted. Come over for dinner, you can let me know then.”
“Lacy will find out.”
Amaya sings acapella, she sounds sooo good, Janah can hardly tell the difference. She has all the phrasing, line for line.
Amaya, “I hope she finds some kids who can play it.”
“Honey, they have kids down there that can play anything.”
Lacy calls, “Send her down.”
Janah, “Geez, they learned the music already?”
Lacy, “One of the kids found the sheet music on the web, they have that, they can play it. You have us curious.”
“She’ll be down in five.”
Janah tells Amaya, “Go down to Chapmans, someone will send you to the music room.”
“Yay….that’s quick. This will be fun!”
The Li family comes in, Lacy and Amaya appear an hour later.
Lacy, “How in hell does she do that? The kids were floored, it’s like she channels Joe Cocker. They played something by Bob Dylan I’d never head, Amaya sang Things Have Changed, just listened to it on YouTube once, read the lyrics over a couple of times and off they went. Our music instructor, Susanna Altermann, for the first time ever, was struck silent. Then she cornered me and demanded Amaya be admitted instantly.”
Amaya, “Lacy has arranged for me to do a song in the spring showcase tomorrow at Chapmans!!!”
Miyako, “You’re going to sing?!!”
“Yes!! And you are going to be in the front row.”
“What are you going to sing?”
“It is a surprise, I sang it for Janah, then for Lacy, they seemed to be satisfied.”
Lacy, “Amazed would be more like it, where did you discover The Dylan song?”
"I watched a movie called Wonder Boys with Daphne, it was the closing song."
“Never caught it, was it good?”
"It was super, Michael Douglas, Katie Holmes pre TomKat, Tobie Maguire pre Spiderman."