The Shakey’s Pizza at Kichijoji station was off limits. President Atkinson made the rule clear at the end of the morning session of the August all-mission conference. The Shakey’s noontime menu included an all-you-can-eat special for about fifteen bucks a head at the current exchange rate. Not a cheap meal, but a hungry missionary could put down enough to make it a cost-effective excursion. So much so that the franchise owner would have gone broke in an afternoon. It could be considered an act of Christian charity that the Relief Society fed them instead.
But that evening a handful of missionaries stopped in before taking the Chuo Express into Shinjuku. Dinner prices proved dear, but Chadwick had gotten indulgent in his old age and Thackeray was willing to pay to keep him company.
“Hear you had a run-in with Jensen,” Chadwick said.
“A bit deal over nothing. I was asking for it. But it got me transferred to Odawara.”
“If that’s what happens when you get on Jensen’s bad side, I should have been more disagreeable myself. It’s a good district. Gordon’s a good guy.”
When they found the rest of their districts, Longstreet had already launched into his favorite story. “You’ve got this zone leader, okay? It’s his last day. He’s in the mission home and a bunch of greenies show up. The Z.L. spots this one, looking like he’s all confident and everything, and he says to him, If I was in your position right now, I’d slit my wrists. And the greenie looks right back at him and says, If I knew I was going to turn out like you, I would too.” Longstreet chortled and slapped the table. “Love that.”
He looked up and saw them. “Sheez, Chadwick. I thought you’d died a long time ago.”
“A few more weeks.”
“So what are your plans?”
“C’mon, Chaddy. You gotta come back and see us.”
Chadwick shook his head. “Don’t think so. Wouldn’t be the same.”
“No joke, it wouldn’t. No rules, no curfew, no companion.” Longstreet elbowed Elder Stanwick. “Nothing personal, Dode.”
Stanwick grinned. “Hey, the feeling’s mutual.”
Chadwick said, “I’ve seen guys who’ve come back, looking for it. And they can’t.”
Thackeray knew what Chadwick was talking about. In Senzoku district, on one of their splits together, they’d gone up to Kamata to teach a first discussion to a high school teacher they’d tracted out the week before. They finished pretty late and stopped at a soba shop to get something to eat before heading back.
An American was sitting at the end of the counter, finishing up a bowl of soba. He said, “You guys missionaries?”
“That’s right,” said Chadwick.
“What district you in?”
“Really?” He moved a few seats down. “I was in Senzoku on my mission. Hard to believe, eh?” He stroked his beard and smiled wryly.
“So what do you do now?” asked Chadwick.
“English teacher. What else?”
“And how is the real world?”
He waited a long time to answer. “When I on my mission, I thought it’d be great coming back again. And, okay, the job’s not bad, can’t complain about the money. But when it comes right down to it, it’s a job. Nothing special. You can’t willy-nilly recreate that drive you had as a missionary. And the craziest thing is—you think, no rules and no companion, it’s gonna be nothing but good times. But the fact is, when you’re a missionary, all you got is time. Rules, companions—big deal. The rules in the real world are a lot worse. You won’t believe me, but there’s no freedom like being a missionary.”
Neither of them knew how to respond. So Chadwick asked him about where he lived, what kind of apartment he had. He asked them about the mission, what kind of dendo they did, how many baptisms. They wanted to talk about the world. All he wanted to talk about was the work.
“Missionaries die.” He laughed to himself. “They come back as ghosts. That’s the way it feels sometimes. That was the real life. I just didn’t know it at the time.”
There was a long quiet moment. Thackeray finished his soba. Chadwick glanced at his watch. “Getting late.”
“Yeah. I should be heading back myself.”
Chadwick got out his billfold. “So where do you attend church?”
“The Tokyo gaijin ward. I’ll have to come down to Senzoku one of these days and ring you guys up.”
“We’ll be there,” said Chadwick.
Thackeray had looked back over his shoulder as they left. The ghost sat by himself at the counter, gradually disappearing from view as they walked away.
“Did he ever show up?” asked Stanwick.
“Not before I transferred. But I doubt it. It’s the same with every RM I’ve run into here. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.”
“Yeah, sure.” Longstreet produced the back page of the Japan Times classifieds from his suit coat pocket and unfolded it on the table. “Take a look at this. English teachers: 2500 yen an hour. Can you believe that? I’ve talked to guys who teach classes for two thousand a head.”
The missionaries crowded around Longstreet to look at the show-and-tell. Except Chadwick. There wasn’t much of a point. He didn’t belong to their world any longer. A missionary that close to the great beyond—Chadwick was fading like a shadow in the twilight. It wouldn’t be long until the body was dust and only the spirit remained.
He would come back. Someday. But he wouldn’t come back looking for what he’d left behind. Because he knew it wouldn’t be there to be found.