The companion split was Chadwick’s idea. He was the district leader and it was the responsibility of the district leader to organize such things. Companion splits were supposed to facilitate the exchange of proselyting tips and techniques—on the job training, so to speak.
It wasn’t altogether a bad idea and it wasn’t hard to do, what with six guys to mix and match. But as it usually turned out, it was a good excuse for a couple of seniors to dump their juniors for a day. Of course, no one except Bennett ever wanted to split with Peterson. So the two of them ended up together. They left early to go camera hunting in Tokyo. Peterson’s principles always ceded to the demands of hierarchy and the necessity of kissing up.
“This is great,” said Longstreet. “I’ll tell you one thing. We’re not going to street all day.” He was addressing himself to McGowan.
“I’ve got an after-baptism interview at eleven.”
“No problem. Do I have to be there?”
Thackeray went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Before the door closed, he heard one of them mention “arcade dendo.”
Chadwick peered at himself in the mirror. “Looks like it’s me and you, kid.” He stroked his jowl and grunted.
“Don’t think I’ll shave.”
“Another day and you’ll need a lawnmower.”
“A five o’clock shadow makes me feel so self-confident. Like Samson.”
Chadwick patted him on the cheek. “Someday, my son, you will know this feeling also.”
“I can hardly wait.”
“I bet. In the meantime, what d’ya say you and me go teach somebody about this Mormon stuff?”
The New Year’s displays were finally coming down in the windows at the station plaza stores. Tall, blue-eyed mannequins adorned in western winter finery instead of kimono-clad Japanese. Calendars on sale in all the stationery shops.
“He lives in Shibuya,” said Chadwick, as they approached the ticket machines.
“Akio Goto. Teaches at a trade-tech there. Picked him up off English class. Fine prospect. He’s a good man.”
The train cars were large and empty and the sounds rushed in to fill the empty spaces—the hard steel clack of the rails, the pump and hiss of the air compressors.
The track emerged from darkness and elevated as it approached the city stations. Houses and apartments pushed against the trestles, packed together in eclectic patterns and shapes. The train raced along the tile and galvanized steel rooftops. It was early enough in the morning that every balcony railing was draped with futons being aired out, turning the apartment buildings into bright patchwork quilts.
They got off at Kamata Ekimae, a university commuter stop. The station was worn and well used. High school students dressed in black Prussian cadet-style uniforms (girls in the ubiquitous navy sailor suits) were waiting to board.
“This is right in the middle,” said Chadwick as they pushed through the turnstiles.
“Middle of what?”
“Between the city and the suburbs, where the students, the ronin, and the rest of the socially dispossessed live. A kind of Greek perdition, where souls await salvation or annihilation.”
Chadwick tended to ramble on about whatever popped into his mind. It was pleasant chatter to listen to, but Thackeray was beginning to get worried. He didn’t know what discussion they were teaching, let alone how they were going to split up the concepts. Sometimes Peterson didn’t even warn him—he just looked at him and Thackeray was supposed to automatically pick up right where he’d left off.
“Chad, what are we going to teach?”
“Don’t worry about it. Wait for the inspiration.”
Thackeray said glumly, “I’m not so good at inspiration.”
Chadwick laughed. “Who is? I won’t spring anything on you. Relax.”
They passed a young mother on the sidewalk. She was wearing a white blouse and a plain skirt. A child was strapped to her back. The child was fast asleep, his head bobbing up and down as she walked.
Chadwick turned up a street that led to a narrow bridge across a drainage canal. Pilings and concrete retaining walls held up the banks. Clothes fluttered from lines strung between the rickety balconies of the apartment houses.
White sunlight spilled into the alleyways. Chadwick stopped before the open door of a student dorm and stepped into the sunken foyer/mudroom that constituted the genkan of every Japanese dwelling. He kicked off his shoes and said, “He lives on the second floor.”
The hallway was lit by a single bulb in the ceiling. The air had the heavy, warm taste of kerosene heat and cigarette smoke. A curious face poked out into the hall.
“Hora! Gaijin!” The door slammed and there was a flurry of conversation, barely muffled by the thin plaster walls.
Chadwick went to the end of the hall and knocked on the door. “It’s Chaddy.”
The room wasn’t more than twenty feet long by ten feet wide, but it seemed larger. A floor to ceiling bookcase covered one wall. Pushed into the far corner of the apartment was a gas range and a pair of cupboards. Akio was sitting on the tatami mat next to the bookshelf. His legs were covered by a kotatsu futon.
“Morning,” said Chadwick. “How are things going?”
Akio nodded. He looked at Thackeray and said, “Where’s Makku?”
“We had different places to go today. This is Thackeray Choro.”
“Hajimemashite,” said Akio. “You’d better get under the kotatsu. It’s pretty chilly this morning.”
Thackeray sat down and tucked his feet under the low table. The table was skirted by a thick quilt. He gathered the quilt in his lap. The warmth of the heat lamp bolted to the bottom of the kotatsu soaked into his toes.
On the wall across from the bookcase was a poster of a buxom Asian girl practically bursting out of her bikini top.
“You like Agnes Chan, eh?” said Akio.
He nodded at the poster.
“Sure he does,” said Chadwick. They all laughed.
Half an hour later, the subject of religion had still not been broached. Chadwick turned to Thackeray and said, “Let’s hear a little bit about yourself, Thack.”
That was easy enough to do. He had even learned to anticipate the inevitable question about New York.
“You’re from the countryside—” echoed Akio. The Japanese word, inaka, contained echoes of places far, far away from the Tokyo megalopolis.
“Yeah,” said Thackeray. That point always piqued a little interest and made him feel quite accomplished in the process.
“Didn’t Joseph Smith come from New York?”
“He was born in Vermont. But the church was founded in New York.”
“By the way,” said Chadwick. “Did you read that book I gave you?”
Akio searched through some papers and books stacked up under the window sill and came up with a dusty Book of Mormon. “A bit here and there. It’s kind of interesting,” he said, flipping through the opening pages. “Gold plates and angels and visions and all that.” He looked up at Chadwick with a kidding expression. “Did it really happen?”
“Of course!” said Chadwick, feigning outrage. “I think Thackeray here would like to tell you a little more about it. How about it, Thackeray?”
“What? Oh, sure.” He reached for his flipcharts. “Where do you want to start?”
“Why don’t we take it from the beginning?”
Thackeray was startled, not scared. He had the first half of the discussion down pat. He was to the point where he just opened his mouth and the words came out.
Chadwick didn’t strand him. He answered most of the questions. But he didn’t interrupt. Thackeray recited the “Prophets” and “Latter-day revelation” sections, and the “Joseph Smith story” without missing a word.
“Well?” Chadwick hiked up his left eyebrow.
Akio was impressed, if only because the fantastic story was being told to him with an utterly straight face. “So what if it is true?”
“Well, if God really did talk to prophets,” said Thackeray, quoting the lesson plan, “wouldn’t you want to know what He told them to tell us?”
“So what do you say we get together next week and talk it over,” said Chadwick.
“Great.” Chadwick clapped his hands and got to his feet. He looked at his watch. “Hora! It’s been a hour and a half. Sorry for wasting your time.”
“Thanks for coming by.”
“No problem.” Chadwick walked to the door. “Next week, okay?”
In the hall, Thackeray said, “We sure left in a hurry.”
“It’s best to leave right after a discussion. Give them some space to think about what you just told them. That’s the only chance you’ve got, you know.”
“Chance for what?”
“Return appointments, more discussions, baptism. All that stuff. You can’t talk somebody into being spiritual.”
“But you didn’t set up a time.”
“I created an excuse for a follow-up. I’ll give him a call, invite him to single-adults, take care of the particulars.”
Outside, it was almost warm. Children were playing in the street. An old man in a yukata was sweeping the sidewalk in front a soba shop.
“I thought you told me you weren’t going to spring anything on me.”
“So I lied. Anyway, I’ve heard you pass off Restoration and you’ve got it down pat.”
“I know, but—”
“Look at it this way. If I told you to do the first three concepts, you would have spent all your time worrying about the lesson plan and none of your time worrying about Akio. Priorities, that’s all.” He glanced at his watch. “Lunchtime. Feeling puckish? There’s a great little place by the station.”
The cafeteria had a low, overhanging awning painted with large Chinese characters. Next to the slatted sliding door was a display window showing off plastic replications of the main dishes. The floor of the cafeteria was bare concrete. Portable sekiyu stoves were scattered among the linoleum-topped tables.
“Pork cutlet?” suggested Chadwick, as they sat down.
“What do you want?” shouted the cook from behind the counter.
“Tonkatsu.” Chadwick held up two fingers.
The waitress—a middle-aged women wearing a dark blue yukata and a white smock—came to the table with two glasses of water, two heated hand towels and chopsticks.
Chadwick took one of the towels out of its plastic wrap and held the steaming cloth against his face. “What do you think?” he asked in a muffled voice. “Of Akio?”
“Looked interested.” Thackeray opened his towel wrapper and wiped off his hands.
“But will he make a good member?”
“I suppose so.”
“He will. He’s a good man. Just needs time to make up his mind about what he wants out of life. That’s all it really takes, you know.”
The waitress returned with the bowls on a tray and placed them in front of the missionaries. “Itadakimasu,” said Chadwick, the customary shorthand for grace. They ate for a while in silence.
Thackeray said, “Tell me something. Do you always take so much time getting around to the discussion?”
“Not always. But when I visit someone like Akio, I figure I’m on his turf. If he wants to talk about religion, he’ll talk about religion.”
“What if he doesn’t want to?”
“Then he doesn’t want to.” Chadwick shrugged. “Leave it at that. You can talk anybody into getting baptized. But you can’t convert them if they don’t want to.” He placed his chopsticks across the bowl, leaned back in his chair, folded his arms. “Tell me, how’s the mission?”
Thackeray shrugged. “Hard to say. Well, it’s not quite what I thought it would be.”
“Not surprising. The real world’s pretty hard on idealists.”
“Who says I’m an idealist?”
“All missionaries start out as idealists. They think they’re gonna convert the world.”
“Not me. You know that goal-setting seminar the first day at the mission home? Well, the mission president got up and went through this spiel about how we’ve got to think big and baptize everybody we look at. So I’m really hyped and I’m thinking big and I write down fifty for my mission goal.”
“What’d they hit you with?”
Chadwick nodded. “Missionary one-upmanship. It didn’t make any sense to me either. And then I remembered this article I’d read in one of those apostate publications.” He grinned. “It was about how in the early 1960s a couple of GAs in the missionary department came up with the Field of Dreams approach to proselyting. Baptize them and they will come. Thing was, they didn’t. Oh, they came, but they didn’t stay. Big revelation there—all getting a bunch of people wet gets you is an instant ramen church. You’re hungry ten minutes later. But Atkinson’s from that era. He was here at the height of it. He still thinks that way—numbers equal success. And maybe he’s got a point—go for the gross and screw the percentages. I don’t know. But he’s going to make it work, whatever it takes. When I was a greenie, we were looking at thirty to forty baptisms a month, fifty on a fluke. Since dropping house-to-house and pushing hard on English classes and streeting—going after the young and the restless—we’ve more than doubled that, and climbing fast. Way ahead of every other mission in Japan. And when they finally get rid of us old-timers and train the new guys on catch sales techniques, there’ll be no stopping it.”
He paused, shook his head. “On the other hand, you can tell yourself you’re going to find the one perfect baptism that makes up for everything. Don’t do it. All my perfect baptisms are inactive. And don’t be bitter when it’s all through. Whatever happens, it won’t kill you. You may not like it, but nothing lasts forever—not companionships, not transfers, not missions. Most missionaries make things twice as hard as they need to be. They make good Pharisees, missionaries, always hedging about the law. But stick to the basics, don’t do dumb stuff, and they flat out can’t send you home. Keep that in mind.”
“You being depressing on purpose?”
“No. Survival techniques, that’s all. Most of the time, a mission’s not a bad place to be. You’ll learn to like it.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Of course you will. That’s why you’re here.”
“Oh—” Thackeray decided not to ask him what he meant. “So what are we doing this afternoon?”
“Searching for lost sheep. Last month’s stats came yesterday. New convert activity at 38 percent. That’s 62 percent to play shepherd with.”
“I thought that was the ward’s responsibility.”
“Sure it is. But most of these new converts haven’t been to church long enough to know anybody except the missionaries, if they’ve been to church at all. It’s the old social alienation scene, the opposite of ie-society—the community as a natural extension of the family. Leading the horse to water and all that.”
“I know, but is it worth the effort? In any case, a missionary isn’t going to stick around long enough to make a difference.”
“Maybe it is a waste of time. But I’d feel guilty if I didn’t try. Anyway, it’s kind of fun. Going all over the place, getting to know these people. I don’t mind at all.”
Thackeray hadn’t paid any attention to the weekly Baptism & New Convert statistics sheets. The numbers didn’t mean anything to him, not even his own numbers. But now that Chadwick was playing a game with them, what the numbers meant suddenly dawned on him. No matter how hard Chaddy tried, the game would never end. The majority of a missionary’s baptisms didn’t stay active. It was so obvious, one of those stubborn little facts no one mentioned in the Missionary Training Center.
“Doing things Atkinson’s way, activity bottoms out around 20 percent in the long run,” Chadwick said on the bus. “Though my bet is its going to slip ever lower as the Kyle approach kicks in. Let me put it this way: if a missionary makes it to the end of his mission with 25 percent activity, he’s doing a mind-blowing, fantastic job. It’s a tragedy, I know, so you turn the numbers into people and get them to play along.”
They played the game all day and all night, wandering through the mazes of streets and thoroughfares and apartment complexes.
“A shell game,” said Chadwick. “That’s what it is. You move the investigator from one shell to another shell and hope they don’t disappear when you lift it up to take a look.”
They were walking down the high street a few blocks from Shibuya Station. The roofs of the buildings that lined the sidewalks were joined together with corrugated plastic skylights that sealed out the dark sky. The street was paved with polished concrete and colored tile.
“How you holding up?”
“This guy’s name is Fukuda Kenji. He’s a ronin. A masterless samurai. It means he’s academically redshirting a year to retake his entrance exams.”
“Todai or Waseda. Probably studying his brains out. That’s why we don’t see him around anymore.”
Chadwick turned down a side street. It was quickly dark again. The only light came from the faint blue-green glow of the fluorescent lamps on the telephone poles.
He rapped on a door. “Gomen kudasai.”
There was a rustling of books and paper, the sound of someone getting slowly to his feet. The door opened.
“Chadwick Choro?” Fukuda ran his hand through a mat of tangled hair.
“Happened to be in the neighborhood. Stopped by to see how you were doing. Studying for tests, eh? Well, ganbatte. If there’s anything we can do to help, let us know.” Chadwick handed him a card printed with the church’s address and phone number.
Fukuda took the card with a slight bow.
“It’s getting late, so we won’t keep you. Take care.”
Chadwick smiled as they walked back to the high street. “Keep it short and to the point,” he said. “That’s always best. Don’t make them want you to leave.”
The winter night was falling fast and hard. The vendors along the sidewalks were packing away their wares. The video game arcades hummed alongside the strains of karaoke music drifting out from the bars. Thackeray felt the cold winter air closing in around him and shivered. There was still the faint taste of sweetened shoyu in his mouth from the cafeteria.
He paused in his stride, paused as his mind reached out and connected to the world as it never had before. For the first time he understood a’wa’re—the pathos and beauty of the human condition—the tremulous ache of a freshly broken heart. For the first time he knew that America was very far away.
For the first time he knew that his life would never be the same again.