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FroM ThE DESK OF :         Gareth Macready.

Oldfellow's Odyssey

Osaka, Japan, December 2, 1996

    Nicholas Oldfellow bowed to the last mourner leaving the Shinsaibashi Funeral Parlour. Ochre leaves clumped in sodden lumps beside the gate. Ginkgo trees symbolise hope and ever-expanding good fortune, but female trees shed leaves which rot and reek of a rank and repulsive odour, difficult to describe, harder to endure for any extended length of time. Nicholas turned to the only person who mattered to him anymore as the streetlamps flickered on, adding an incongruous sparkle to the twilight.

    Standing beside her gold Honda Civic Coupé Natsuko Muranushi waited with patience so profound Nicholas found it fascinating. Although he was born and raised in Osaka, his western mentality stopped him feeling Japanese at his very core. Add to that the fact that many Japanese would never, could never, consider him anything other than a gaijin, an outsider, or an iteki, a barbarian. Natsuko was different. It wasn’t just her accent. As he walked across the cobblestones, he wondered how long it’d been since she first entered the dōjō. She hadn’t let him kiss her in all that time. His parents had been Christians, so he understood. Her subtle perfume mingled with after-the-rain aroma.

    “Thanks for helping.” Nicholas knew it wasn’t the best time or place, but he opened the red velvet box and handed it to her. The light from the streetlamps made the gold band glitter and the little diamond dazzle.


    Natsuko watched Nicholas walk toward her, his long legs taking deliberate strides, his blue eyes focussed on her. She knew he liked her a lot. He’d made that plainly obvious on numerous occasions. She’d tried not to fall in love with him. It would complicate matters no end if she acted upon her instincts and took him back with her when she returned to her home planet.

    He didn’t even know she wasn’t born and raised on Earth. She wasn’t allowed to tell him either. So many frustrations.

    Her breath caught when she saw him hand her the ring. She looked up, and for the first time in all the months he’d been trying to chat her up, she stroked his cheek. “Oh, Nicholas.”


    “You’re all I have now,” he said, searching the soul inside her almond-shaped obsidian eyes, seeking someone to be beside him now that both his parents were gone.

The delicate features of her face demonstrated a decision he hoped he understood correctly as she took the box and closed it. “We’d have to see my parents.”

    “Okay. Let’s g...” Where had she said she came from? Nicholas didn’t know. All he knew was she was with him. “Where are they?”

    Natsuko fell into a squat, laughing, the guffaws bouncing off the sandstone block walls in the courtyard. Nicholas was missing something significant but had no idea what. She recovered somewhat and stood, shaking her head slightly, and giving him a wry smile. Normally, her smiles enthused him, but not that one.

    “Get in,” she said, unlocking the car.

    “Where are we going?”

    Her face took on the look it usually got when they sparred. He’d learned that it meant no matter how many times people would knock her down she wasn’t ever backing down. He got in.

    She drove along Midōsuji Avenue and up onto the tollway. Nicholas knew so little about Natsuko, but he knew enough to let her have her way right now. He turned the radio on, and Matsumoto Turtle sang, “イエーイきみを好きで良かったこのままずっとーずっとー死ぬまでハッピー.” (Yeah, it’s good that I like you. Happy unto death.) The white lines whipped under the car. Lampposts and street signs swung past. Nicholas contemplated the woman he wanted to give his life to, the lady driving him to distraction while driving them south toward Wakayama.


    Natsuko wove the car through the windy mountain roads climbing through the clouds still clinging to the slopes of Koya mountain. At the Mausoleum of Kukai, the Temple at the End, she parked in the dark, of the empty car park.

    “What are we doing here?” Nicholas said.

    “We’re going to see my parents.”

    “They’re dead?”

    “No, silly,” she said, breaking into a smile.

    “Man, I love it when you smile.”

    Natsuko took his hand and led them through the large red Torii gate. Pausing at Ichinohashi Bridge, she bowed and prayed, grabbed his hand again, and tugged him past an alcove of tiny stone statues, all wrapped in tattered red aprons, dedicated to dead babies, the stone path smooth from centuries of foot traffic. Lichen-encrusted dragon reliefs, gleamed in the light of the full moon now free from cloud cover. Massive, centuries-old sugi, cedar trees, wound with thick hemp rope, festooned with zigzag-shaped paper streamers stood sentinel. The canopies kept the sights of heaven secret from the two souls slipping past them in the night.

Natsuko stopped beside a gravestone, shaped like a Saturn V rocket.


    Years before, during a school excursion, Nicholas learned the gravestone was owned by an aerospace company.

    He watched Natsuko bite her lip and ask, “Do you honestly want to marry me?”

    “Yeah,” he said, with a nascent nuance of hesitancy. He saw emotions he wasn’t sure he understood flit across her face. She knelt and placed her thumb on a small panel at the bottom of the plinth. A grinding sound rent the air. The gravestone moved sideways. A staircase descended into an underground chamber. Stepping back and staring, slack jawed, Nicholas’ heart went wild.

    “I’m going home now,” Natsuko said, bringing him back from his befuddlement. “My protocols never allowed me to get involved with an Earthling.”

    “An Earthling?” The befuddlement was back, with a vengeance.

    “No matter what, I was always going home. I won’t be allowed to return here, ever.” Hands trembling, she gave him her car keys. “If you decide to stay here it’s yours. Someone will come and arrange the transfer.” Her voice cracked. “If you tell anyone about this, they’ll call you crazy.”

    “Sounds about right.”


    Natsuko watched the man who meant everything to her trying to find some sort of sanity in the situation she’d flung him into. Nothing she was allowed to tell him could help. The decision to follow her into the chamber had to be his, and his alone. She watched him, knowing his world whirled.

    “You’re not an Earthling?” he said.

    She held his gaze for a long moment. “You can come, if you want.”

    “I can come too... Where?”

    Natsuko let the question linger and left him at the top of the steps. As she descended, a light flickered on illuminating a desk console and a chair. She sat, took a deep breath and typed.


    Nicholas remembered his training and controlled his breathing. Plagued by questions, he wondered where she was going, how she could just give away a car, what he’d do without her. Myriad memories milled. The first time he saw her. The study periods they shared in the university library. The first time he tried to kiss her. How she’d refused but at the same time let him know she wanted to. He leant his head back and scanned the sky. What a beautiful moon.

    “Empty your mind, and operate on instinct,” Ueshiba sensei had once said. “Any Warrior wondering what to do, wonders that while his head rolls around on the ground.”

    Nicholas decided and descended, feeling no regret. Natsuko took the keys, put them on the desk and kissed him. He kissed back and their tongues entwined. Nicholas held onto her like he had nothing else in the world to hold onto. The gravestone ground into place, ending any idea of him changing his mind.

    A two and a half metre tall structure, much like a round-top bird cage with the front half missing, stood on the other side of the console. Natsuko led Nicholas into it and snuggled into his chest. Resting his head on hers he closed his eyes. A tingle travelled through him from head to toe.

    He opened his eyes, and they were in a similar but different chamber. A man wearing a grey kimono cardigan sat at a desk console. The man said, “Hello Natsuko,” and gave Nicholas a quizzical look.


    Natsuko nodded, tugging Nicholas, but he resisted. “What just happened?” She dragged him out into an admin area, where people, wearing grey kimono cardigans, worked in cubicles. A woman waved and said, “Hello Natsuko.”

    Any questions Nicholas had about, where they were, and who the people were, would have to go wait for now. Natsuko knocked on an office door and entered. “Excuse me, Mama,” Natsuko said.         “This is Nicholas. Nicholas, this is my mother.”

    Mrs Muranushi bowed. “Welcome to the Planet Yamato.”

    “Nice to mee...” Nicholas said, automatically.


    The significance of what he heard, sank in. “The Planet Yamato?” Learning that datum posed more questions Nicholas had no answers for. Vertigo set in.

    “Mama is head of Intragalactic Immigration,” Natsuko said.

    Intragalactic Immigration? Nothing could’ve prepared him for this. The rapid-onset sickness and sudden death of his mother, being bullied at junior high school, the rigours of his martial arts and law school, the yakuza boss shooting Nicholas’ father for proselytising a kobun, a junior. Steadying his breath wasn’t merely difficult. It was impossible. He blinked and blinked.

Mrs Muranushi said, “Are you feeling all right?”

    “May I have some water? And could I sit down?” he said, as he attempted to puzzle out what he’d got himself into?


    Natsuko fetched a glass and watched Nicholas fall into the plush armchair in front of the polished wooden desk. Nicholas gulped the water she gave him.

Mrs Muranushi touched Natsuko’s arm. “You haven’t told him?”

    “No time,” Natsuko said, showing her the ring. “He gave me this. Today.”

    Nicholas said, “I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”

    “It’s not your fault,” Natsuko said. It’s mine.

    “Not many Earthlings know about life on Yamato,” Mrs Muranushi said. “Just in case, we maintain a few serviced apartments for emergencies. Accommodation isn’t a problem for you now. But you’ll need to find full-time employment within three months and accommodation of your own inside six. And we need your keys to arrange for your things to be brought here.”


    Nicholas handed over his keys, while he pondered the possibility of never going home. He had no one else left, and nowhere else to go. Fitting in in Japan for any foreigner was forever a fool’s errand.

    Mrs Muranushi handed him an envelope. “Keep this on you until we finalise your alien registration. Natsuko will get you to Orientation tomorrow.”

    “Understood,” Natsuko said, avoiding eye contact.

    “We need your father to understand all this without him having a heart attack.”

    “He’ll be fine,” Natsuko said, waving away the idea, yet still not making eye contact.

    Mrs Muranushi gave her a card. “That’s the apartment key. Navi has the address. Shop on the way. After he’s settled, come back, and pick me up.”



    In the parking garage, Nicholas saw the vast variety of vehicles. “They’re cars?” he said. “None of them has wheels.”

    “They run on maglev mechanisms,” Natsuko said as she placed her thumb on a button on the door of a grey car.

    A synthetic voice said, “Welcome back Natsuko.”

    “Hi, Navi. Passenger door, please.”

    “Your car talks?”

Gareth Macready.jpg

Olfellow’s Odyssey depicts the experience of a stranger in a strange land in a setting so foreign that even gaijins would go “Wow!".

A young couple from disparate backgrounds get to know each other and the girl takes the guy home to meet her parents.

How do they go? Who's to know, if you don’t read the rest of the story?

Gareth Macready is a former stand-up comic from Brisbane, Australia, who wrote jokes for the Breakfast Crew on B105, the then No. 1 radio breakfast crew in the country.

He then spent twenty-three years living in Osaka, Japan, street-performing with juggling, magic and jokes in Japanese. Osaka City Council gave him the Key to the City. 

Kansai Time Out published an article he wrote about Ninjas in submarines. Kyoto Journal published one he wrote about a Rakugoka, a Japanese sit-down comedian.

Six of his poems were published in The Saint Hill Arts Festival Poetry Book in the UK, when he went there to investigate the idea of returning to work in English.

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