kabukicho.jpg Abayaw followed the crowd getting off the limousine bus at the Tokyo City Air Terminal. They crossed the hall towards another set of sliding doors leading outside to a line of waiting taxicabs. A uniformed attendant helped Abayaw load his suitcase into the boot of the car.

“To the Philippine Embassy,” he told the cabdriver. Abayaw had to repeat what he said until the driver understood.

It was a long way and Abayaw watched the fare metre as it clicked every few minutes. He would have to be careful with his expenses, he said to himself. He looked out the window and observed how neat and clean the streets of Tokyo were. He also noted that they were travelling along the left side of the carriageway.

They arrived at a nondescript building whose large black-painted iron gates were left ajar. A man inside a small outpost to the left of the gate wrote down Abayaw’s name in a logbook and gave directions for the consulate section.

He entered a large room with desks arranged in rows, and dividing the room was a long counter just in front of the entrance. There were chairs along the sides of the wall, in front of the counter. He was told to take a number and wait his turn. He sat down and started a conversation with the man beside him.

“I just arrived from Manila this morning,” he said, “and I’m here to look for my sister.”
“You don’t know where she lives?”

“She wrote me from Tokyo and gave no address. I think she’s in trouble.”

A woman next to them asked Abayaw where the sister was working. “She wrote that she works for a family, taking care of their children. She has a friend named Geraldine.”

“I know someone named Geraldine,” the man said. “But she works in a bar in Kabukicho.”

The woman’s number was called and she passed through the counter entranceway and sat in front of one of the desks where a consulate employee attended to her.

“If you don’t have her address,” the man said, “it won’t be easy to find her.”

“I was thinking that the consulate would know her whereabouts.”

“She might not have registered with the consulate,” he said. Then the man’s number was called, and Abayaw sat patiently waiting his turn. He limped through the counter entranceway towards the desk of a woman who had called out his number. Her telephone rang and Abayaw sat down and waited.

“I hope you find your sister,” said the lady from the waiting area, who was at the adjacent desk. “But if she were working for a family, I don’t see how she could be in trouble. Anyway, I do hope she’s all right.”

“Thank you for your concern,” Abayaw replied.

The consular woman finished with her telephone call. Abayaw then made known his request, and she asked him what month and year his sister arrived in Tokyo. She then got up and went to a shelf of logbooks and took one out. She returned to her desk and looked through the pages, one by one, since the family names were not listed in alphabetical order. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, “but your sister did not register with the consulate.”

Abayaw stood in the lobby, wondering what to do. He stared blankly through the glass doors at the cars with blue number plates in the car park in front. He had read in a magazine on the plane that the area of Tokyo is 2,186.84 square kilometres, and has a population of nearly 12 million inhabitants. A hamlet-to-hamlet search would not do here.

The woman from the waiting area passed by on her way out. “Did they have your sister’s address?” she asked, as she walked towards the glass doors.

“No, they didn’t,” he said, rather discouragingly.

She stopped and turned around. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know anybody in Tokyo?” she asked.

“This is my first time outside of our country. I know no one here. I don’t know where to go, and I really don’t know where to begin to look for her.”

“What’s your name?”

“Abayaw.

“My name is Pia, Abayaw. I’m on my way to my office now, but come and stay with me. I’ll see what I can do to help you.”

They took a cab, and Pia had it wait in front of her house. She told him to help himself to anything she had in her refrigerator. She gave him her key in case he wanted to go out, and her telephone number at the office. She said, as she got in the cab, that she would try to be back early.

Abayaw sat on the sofa and wept. He was so very tired and so very worried. He took off his shoes and pushed the sitting room table to the side. He took the rectangular carpet from under it and curled himself up to sleep.

Pia came home to find Abayaw snoring on the floor. She had dropped by a Chinese take-away food shop and she tiptoed to her kitchen to prepare dinner.

“Abayaw,” she said, patting his shoulder. “Wake up. I’m sure you’re hungry.” Abayaw stretched himself and sat up. He stayed like that for a few minutes wondering where he was and what he was doing there. Then he remembered, and his forehead furrowed with anxiety. He got up from the floor and Pia showed him where to wash. He joined her a few minutes later at the table.

“What’s your sister’s name?” Pia asked.

“We call her Nina. She’s unusually tall for an Ifugao and very pretty. I don’t know how she came all the way here.”

“Do you know the nationality of the family she’s working for.”

“She didn’t say in her letter.”

“May I read her letter?”

“Of course.” Abayaw got up and opened his suitcase. He returned to the table, and since it was written in Ifugao, Abayaw translated it for Pia.

“The only possible lead we have,” Pia said, as Abayaw put the letter down on the table, “is her friend, Geraldine. We could ask at the consulate, but their records are not computerised, so that would be next to impossible to find. We don’t know when she came, nor do we know her family name. She also might not have registered with the consulate.”

“A man at the consulate said he knew a Geraldine at a bar in Kabu-something,” Abayaw remarked.

“But what would Nina have to do with a bargirl?”

“I don’t know, but it’s the only other information we have.”

“All right,” Pia said. “I think bars are open from eight o’clock in the evening. We’ll go there tomorrow.”

“Pia, can you find a live chicken for me?”

“A live chicken… I really don’t know where you can find one. Tokyo has everything, but I don’t think they have live chickens. I can get you a fresh dead chicken from the food store. You can just as well cook it that way. What do you need it alive for?”

“I am Ifugao, Pia. I need to offer it to the gods to ask them to help me find Nina. I have to sacrifice a chicken when asking the gods a favour.”

“Well,” Pia thought, taking some seconds to consider. “We’ll get up very early tomorrow and go to Tsukiji market. It’s the largest fish market in Asia… there just might be a stray chicken somewhere strutting about…. Could you do with a cat? Hold on! I could ask my friend, Keita. He lives in the suburbs of Tokyo. He might know.”

Pia got up and made for the telephone. “Hello, Keita-san, this is Pia. How are you? Good, good. Listen, Keita-san, I need to find a live chicken. Where can I get hold of one?” Pia covered the mouthpiece and said, “He’s asking his girlfriend, Mikka.”

“Yes…. All right. Call me at the office tomorrow, then. Thank you, Keita-san. Good-bye.” Pia went back to the table and sat down. “They don’t know where, but Mikka will inquire at her butcher’s. Keita will let me know tomorrow.”

After dinner and having cleared the table, Pia took out a map of Tokyo. “While I’m at work, Abayaw, why don’t you explore the city? My house is here,” she said, circling a point on the map. “There’s a nice park here, and some shops along the small streets nearby. This is Akihabara, where you have all the Japanese electronic goods at discount prices. I’ll give you a map of the subterranean railway system so you can move around easily. I have a large wooden bowl full of coins near the front door. Please help yourself to any for your fare and whatever you need.”

“Thank you, Pia. What time shall we meet tomorrow?”

“I’ll meet you here at half past six. I hope Keita will be able to find you a chicken. Well, let’s get some sleep now. I’ll give you a blanket. The sofa can be pulled apart to make a bed.”

“That’s all right. I feel at home on the floor.”

Abayaw turned off the light and made himself comfortable on the rectangular carpet on the wooden floor.

The following day, Pia received a call from Keita saying that Mikka had been able to get hold of a live chicken early that morning, before it saw the butcher’s knife. Pia asked him to bring it to her house at half past six.

“How many bars are there in Kabukicho?” Pia asked Keita when he arrived with the chicken in a canary cage.

“I don’t know, but a lot. Why?”

“We’re going there this evening.”

“Do you know that that’s probably the only dangerous area in Tokyo? The yakuza controls most of the drinking dens. What do you want to go there for? You really wouldn’t want to bump into a yak!”

Abayaw was in the dining room, preparing to perform the sacrificial ceremony with the chicken. He had covered the floor with newspapers, and had placed a knife and a vessel of rice wine in front of him. The fowl gave a wild squawk of surprise.

“What’s happening in your dining room?” Keita asked.

Pia proceeded to tell Keita about Abayaw and his search for Nina. They were going to Kabukicho to look for the sister’s friend, Geraldine. She told him that what Abayaw was doing was some form of religious ritual to ask his gods for success in this undertaking.

“Are you Catholic, Pia-san?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What do you do to ask your god to intercede?”

“We pay for mass to be said on our or someone else’s behalf. We buy candles and light them for prayers. There are moneyboxes in the church with names of saints on them. We petition the saints to intercede with God on our behalf.”

“You pay for divine intervention? And what god is for the poor?”

“The same God looks after them as he looks after a flock of sparrows.”

“So that’s where that practice probably originated.”

“What practice?”

“The practice of buying favours.”

Pia stood up, walked to her front door and opened it. She then took an object hanging on a hook above the door. “Do you know what this is?” Pia asked, returning to the sitting room, showing Keita a concave mirror. “It’s called a pa kua, a protective charm I got in China. These lines around the mirror are the eight trigrams that the Chinese use for divining the future. They believe that every movement in the universe gives rise to a reciprocal movement. That man can only overcome his limitations by uniting all the energies or forces of nature and harmonising the flux of the cosmic breath. The cosmic breath, the qi, is composed of yin–water and yang–wind. The sha qi, the breath of ill-fortune, is said to travel in a straight line and can be deflected with this mirror.”

Abayaw started reciting, in a monotonous lilt, a traditional epic poem in his language.

“By the way,” Keita asked in a whisper, “what would his sister have to do with a bargirl? And what if the sister is there, too? The yaks consider these women possessions. If you steal from a yak…”

“Well, we don’t know if this is the Geraldine we’re looking for. We shall simply ask any Geraldine we come across if she knows the sister and where we can find her. If Nina had misled her brother, I don’t know what we’ll do if we find her in a gangster’s bar. We could call the police.”

“The Japanese police are afraid of yaks. I think I’d better come with you this evening. Neither of you speaks Japanese, and that makes it worse…. But come to think of it, no amount of Japanese will convince a yak that you’re not dispossessing him. What mess are we getting into? What’s he doing, by the way?”

“He must be praying over the dead chicken.”

“He killed the chicken?! Mikka was getting fond of that bird! What am I going to tell her?”

“Keita-san, can I offer you a saké or a beer?”

“I think I need a beer, please.”

Pia stood up and made her way to the kitchen, passing through the dining room. Out of deference, she tiptoed as she walked by. Without moving her head, she took a quick glance in the direction of her dining room. She nearly jumped out of her house slippers. The newspapers and her shiny wooden floor were splattered a crimson red. She returned to the sitting room with two beers.

They sat quietly, sipping their drinks, and listening to Abayaw’s chanting. “How long do you think he will take?” Keita asked in a low voice.

“I have no idea.”

“I’ll just go to the store and get something for us to eat.”

“Take the money in the bowl near the door!” Pia whispered loudly.

Keita returned with some pickled seaweed, strands of dried sweetened salted fish, and potato chips. Pia went back to the store and brought back a box of crackers, a package of chocolates, and a pre-sliced pineapple.

“Let’s be systematic about going through that area,” Keita said, studying a detailed street layout. Pointing to a place on the map, he said, “We’ll start here, then move inwards. We’ll only choose the shady-looking places. You’ll take note of the name of each bar so that we don’t enter any twice. Those small streets can be very confusing.

“And if we do find Geraldine, tell Abayaw not to make a commotion. It won’t be good for any of us.”

“You think of everything, Keita-san.”

“It is prudent to be prepared.”

Abayaw finally finished his epic poem. He went to the kitchen with the chicken and plucked it, washed it, and placed it in the refrigerator. He joined Pia and Keita in the sitting room. He was too anxious to be hungry and so they left.

They took a cab and were dropped off in a large street with hoardings of neon lights everywhere. A cacophony of loud music coming from different establishments greeted them as the cab door opened to let them off.

They walked together, passing a stall with huge prawns cooking over a barbecue. People were coming and going here and there. A man walking in the opposite direction shot out an arm as he passed by, and fondled Pia’s breast. Before Pia could shout, he disappeared into one of the alleys behind them.

“Keita-san!” she screamed.

“Yes? What is it?” he asked in alarm.

“No, nothing. Never mind.” Keita was so frail, Pia thought, how could he possibly deliver a karate chop or a judo arm twist? He might not even inflict a bruise.

“Don’t scare me like that.”

They walked through one alley and decided to enter one of the bars there. The room was filled with cigarette smoke. They sat at one of the tables nearest the exit.
Abayaw looked around. A young girl, clad only in a kerchief, was serving drinks at a table. Another girl approached them now. “What will you have?” she asked in Japanese.

“Please bring us orange juice,” Keita replied.

“We don’t serve that here.”

“Three beers, then. Uh, by the way,” Keita motioned for her to come closer, “are there Philippine women working here?”

“Why do you want to know? We all have entertainment visas. Are you the police?”

“No, it’s not that. You see, we’re looking for someone named Geraldine. She’s a friend. Does she work here?”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Thank you. We won’t take up any more of your time. Good-bye.” Keita stood up and the other two did the same. They left quickly. Outside, Keita stamped his foot on the ground in frustration. “I should have asked her if she knew somebody by that name and if she did, inquire where she was working!”

“Keita-san, let’s go to another bar. This time, just ask if Geraldine works there. We don’t have to sit down at a table,” Pia said.

They found another establishment and went in. Abayaw looked around at the girls serving drinks, the girls singing on the stage, and the ones sitting on the laps of some of the clients. He looked up at the large revolving glass ball on the ceiling, its tiny mirrors reflecting pinpoints of light around the walls of the room. But Geraldine was not there.

Outside, they passed some women hawking their wares. One of them approached Keita and spoke to him. After she left, Pia, thinking she provided some information, eagerly asked, “What did she say? What did she say?”

“She said it costs ¥10,000 and that it was cheaper than taking one from one of those shady bars where it costs between ¥20,000 to ¥25,000. The pimp gets 40% of their earnings.”

“Oh… they earn a fortune!”

“The girl or the pimp?”

They walked through another alley. In the opposite direction, four burly men with cropped curly hair blustered towards them. They wore white suits and black shirts. All four sported a missing small finger on one hand. Keita’s knees started to knock together. They moved quickly to the side, hugging the walls of a building to let them pass.

“I think my heart had a terror attack just now,” Keita said, when they were far behind.

“Me, too,” Pia said.

“Those four nine-fingered gorillas look almost human,” Abayaw observed.

Coming out of the alley, they entered a slightly larger street. They couldn’t tell which bars were shady and which were half-decent. Then they saw one curly-haired yak standing guard at a door in the distance.

“Caw! Caw!”

“What was that?” Abayaw asked with dread.

“What was what?” Pia inquired back.

“The caw, caw!”

“That’s just a crow,” Keita replied, “picking at the garbage bags left in the street.”

“It’s a bird with black feathers and…” Pia started to say.

“Turn back! Turn back!” Abayaw gasped.

They turned around and ran. “What’s happening?” Keita shouted over the noise their shoes were making on the pavement.

“I don’t know!” Pia hollered back.

They hailed a passing cab and jumped in. “We’ll try again tomorrow,” Abayaw said.
Pia left for the office the next day, taking the underground. She had bought a newspaper from a kiosk, and standing in the train, she took a quick glance at the headlines on the front page. The fine hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood on end.

The body of a Philippine woman, the article ran, was dumped in the car park of the Philippine Embassy during the night. She had multiple stab wounds, bruises all over her body and her head was bashed in. Police said that it looked like the work of members of the underworld. Embassy officials and the police had not identified the victim.

Pia arrived at the office and sat numbly at her desk. Her phone rang. “Pia-san, this is Keita. Have you seen the papers?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m going to call the Embassy now. I wonder if Abayaw has a picture of his sister. I can’t ask him to go to the morgue to look at the body. He’s only seventeen years old, and the experience of looking at a dead person in that condition could upset him, especially if it were his sister. I hope it isn’t her.”

“You are going to look at the body?”

“Well, somebody has to.”

“If it isn’t her, are we going back again tonight?”

“Keita-san, I don’t want to put you in any danger. If your sister was in some predicament, what would you do?”

“I’ll meet you at your house after six. I hope he doesn’t need another chicken. Mikka was distraught this morning.”

Pia then called her house to ask Abayaw for a picture of Nina. He didn’t have one. She asked him to describe her in detail. Then she called the Embassy. The person in charge of this inquiry sounded harassed, but from the description of the body, Pia concluded that it wasn’t Nina. Then Pia asked how the country could allow its citizens to work abroad under demeaning conditions. She replied, saying in confidence, that it was the Marcos government that promoted the trafficking of Filipino women as prostitutes and entertainers. There are, she continued, 43,000 such Filipino women in Japan, many of them are illegally recruited and given vague promises of decent work. Dubious employment agencies scout the countryside looking for pretty girls, who then travel under false documents and tampered passports. The ones who are killed by the yakuza are usually the ones caught trying to escape or those who want to go home. Many of them commit suicide.

The three of them went back again that night. This time, they had more courage than the day before. They were determined to find this Geraldine. They entered one establishment after another. They went up and down through alleys and side streets, covering a large part of Kabukicho.

Then they entered another classic shady-looking drinking den–dim inside, the music loud, and cigarette smoke everywhere. But along the three sides of the walls were girls under small spotlights. They only wore knickers and a boa of fake feathers around their shoulders. They swayed provocatively to the beat of the music.

The three stood near the entrance, their eyes adjusting to the poor light and the acrid smoke. “Nina!” Abayaw said quietly, looking at a girl along one of the walls, dancing under a spotlight. Keita and Pia followed the direction of Abayaw’s gaze. They then surveyed the room and noticed what looked like the yakuza manager. They hurriedly turned around and left.

Outside, they heaved a sigh of relief. Better than finding Geraldine, they had found Nina and she was alive. Now how to get her out. “Look,” Keita said, “I’ll go in and study the lay-out of the place and see how many are working there. You two stay outside. If I’m not out in ten minutes, call the police.”

Keita returned in just under five minutes. “I don’t think we can do anything tonight,” he said. “There must be a yak convention in there. The place is crawling with yaks. So there’s only the yak manager, the bartender, and the girls. Those yaks treat them worse than garbage. What should we do?”

“We’ll rescue Nina tomorrow then,” Abayaw decided.

The weather was overcast the following day. During her lunch break, Pia went to a shop selling masquerade costumes in Omote-sando. She bought a blond wig. They met again at her house that evening.

“All right,” she said, “this is the plan. Keita-san, you distract the yak manager. While you’re doing that, I’ll grab Nina off her pedestal, put this wig on her, and cover her with my raincoat. Abayaw will keep the cab. What do you think?”

After a few seconds of thought, Keita asked, “How in the world am I going to distract the manager yak?”

“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that. Well, you could do a striptease and make a proper fool of yourself.”

“The lights,” Abayaw said. “Look for the light switch and turn off the lights.”

“Good idea.”

They hailed a cab and left. Abayaw remained in it, while Pia and Keita headed for the drinking den. Leaving their umbrellas outside, they entered and waited to be seated. They ordered what everybody was drinking, watered whisky. Keita then asked the waitress where the men’s room was. Pia looked around to find Nina. She spotted her at the same place as the night before. To think, she gyrated there night after night until the wee hours of the morning.

“I found the light switches,” Keita said when he returned.

“All right,” Pia said with resolve. “Let’s do it.”

Keita stood up and calmly made for the light switches. Pia waited a moment then went near Nina, but did not look at her directly. “Nina,” Pia said in an urgent voice, “when the lights go off, get down and come with me. Abayaw is waiting outside.”

Nina began to sob. The lights went off and she jumped down. There was a commotion among the clients, but the loud music kept playing. Someone started to giggle as she was tickled in the dark. Pia covered Nina with her raincoat as they ran for the door. Outside, they made a mad dash for the cab.

Nina wept convulsively in Abayaw’s arms. Pia’s nose pressed hard against the windowpane as she searched desperately for Keita through the downpour. She imagined what those half-humans would do to him. Please let him be safe, she said to herself. It was an eternity.

Then, there he was running towards the cab. He jumped in and told the driver to leave quickly. They turned their heads to look behind, to see if anyone was following, and not until Kabukicho was out of sight, did they finally turn their heads to look in front.