Red Days, by M L Sparrow
M L Sparrow
2017: 235 taken into captivity, 570 slaughtered.
Keiko never set out to be an activist, but when she’s sent on an assignment to Taiji, Japan, the ball is set in motion. Reporting on the brutal yearly slaughter of hundreds of dolphins alters her life.
Over the course of ten years Keiko follows the highs and lows of the campaign to stop the slaughter of dolphins in Japan and attempts to bring change through her articles. Will her efforts and that of many others be enough?
*Though fictional, Red Days is based on a series of true events up until January 2017*
Someone had already switched the radio on and she listened to the soft strains of a new song by some up and coming artist as she popped the lid off her cup and leant back in her chair to sip her heavily sweetened coffee, licking foam from her lips.
Susie, the woman in the cubicle next to hers, arrived and called hello over the partition. Keiko listened to the sound of her laptop booting up and then the fast-paced click of fingers typing. Deciding she should do the same, she pulled her laptop out of her bag and rolled her chair closer to the desk. A minute later she was staring at a blank white page wondering what to write.
Thinking back to the documentary, the feelings she’d felt the night before returned. At once she felt as if she could write an entire novel and yet she could write nothing at all. The words were muddled in her brain but refused to flow down to her fingertips. She didn’t know where to start; the documentary had equipped her with an abundance of self-righteous feelings and yet she knew she didn’t know enough to begin the article yet.
As more people arrived, she threw herself into research. Just like the night before most of what popped up at first glance was related to the documentary, however she kept digging and was eventually able to uncover more in-depth information, such as official scientific papers on the lethal levels of mercury in dolphin meat, statistics showing the number of dolphins and other cetaceans killed in Taiji, and several articles predating 2009, as well as a protest in 2007 where celebrity surfers got into the water with a pod of captured piolet whales.
Although the surfers did nothing except form a peaceful, traditional surfers’ memorial circle, the fisherman converged on them immediately, shouting and using wooden poles to prod and harass them.
The morning sped by and she worked through lunch, only looking up when Celine appeared. Sheathed in a tight white dress, she stood in the doorway with a pout.
“Kiki, where were you? We were supposed to go to lunch, remember?”
Swivelling her chair around, she blinked up at her friend. After staring at words on a screen for so long her eyes felt tired and itchy, making her squint.
“I had to go with Georgie from accounting, do you know how boring she is?” Celine didn’t bother to lower her voice and Keiko winced, knowing how gossip spread in this firm.
“I’m sorry, I lost track of time.” Reflexively she glanced down at the notepad she’d filled with looping handwriting, the most important parts decorated with bright yellow highlighter.
Celine glanced down at the notepad too and then at the screen, curling her lips at the distasteful image of a bloody cove with dolphins being pulled out of the water and into fishing boats with curved hooks.
“Ew, that’s horrible.”
“I know right…” she opened her mouth to explain, but was interrupted.
“Turn that off. I don’t know why they even post pictures like that, no one wants to see them.”
“It’s an expose, Celine, the pictures are supposed to be horrific. It’s supposed to make people think and question what’s going on.”
Flicking her hair, Celine sniffed, unconvinced. “Whatever. Don’t forget lunch tomorrow.”
As she walked away, Keiko sighed and rolled her stiff neck. She made herself stare at the image on the screen, bloody and brutal as it was, until her vision began to blur and she had to blink.
Deciding coffee was needed, she stood on legs which were weak after sitting for so long. Up on her tiptoes, she peeked over the partition and asked Susie if she wanted one before heading over to the coffeemaker. A few minutes later, a steaming cup in each hand, she returned to find an email had popped up on her screen. Passing Susie’s coffee over the wall, she sat down and inhaled the bitter scent of burnt coffee, drowning out the noise of the office as she took a moment to relax, looking at the work she’d completed this morning with satisfaction.
After a few revitalizing sips, she checked to see who the email was from. It was Mr. Jacobs, asking to see her in his office in an hour. He probably wanted to check on her progress. She glanced at her work again and wondered if he would think it was enough.
Exactly an hour later, Keiko knocked on her boss’ door and was admitted into the spacious office where Mr. Jacobs sat at his big wooden desk with his back to a window with a view over the city. Fellow high-rises pierced the cloudy grey sky and if you peered into the distance you could make out a slice of the London Eye between two buildings.
Mr. Jacobs was on the phone, but he waved her inside and, covering the speaker for a moment, said, “Sit, sit. I’ll only be a minute.”
Doing as instructed, she crossed her ankles and adjusted her skirt.
Almost ten minutes later, he hung up and turned to her. “Sorry that took so long. Business calls always overrun.” He said the last as if she hadn’t just listened to him talking about golf and arranging to meet for drinks.
Clapping his hands together, he exclaimed, “So what did you think of The Cove?”
She’d been anticipating this question, yet still didn’t have a satisfactory answer. Strange for a journalist, but she often had trouble putting her thoughts into words.
“I thought it was… barbaric and I was amazed that most Japanese people don’t know about it, supposedly anyway. I don’t understand why this is only just coming to light if it has been going on for years. I was also shocked that they continue selling dolphin meat, even though it is proven to have toxic levels of mercury. How can they be so blinkered as to ignore scientific evidence? What will it take to make them see?”
His lips twitched into a smile, “Perhaps a well written article?”
She smiled back, though she thought it was doubtful. “When is the deadline?”
“We’ll sort that out upon your return,” he answered airily, standing up and walking over to his bookshelf, crammed with old books she doubted he’d actually read.
Suddenly his words penetrated. “Return? Where am I going?”
“Why, to Japan of course! I mentioned it yesterday.”
“No, Mr. Jacobs, you didn’t.”
He waved away her words with an impatient hand, “Oh, well, I’m telling you now. There’s a ticket here with your name on it – first class, no less, you lucky girl!”
Keiko eyed the ticket he picked up off the bookshelf with interest. Of course, she’d been to Japan before, in fact her grandparents lived in Wakayama Prefecture not far from Taiji, therefore, it wasn’t the thought of visiting Japan that excited her, rather the thought of a travelling assignment; her work rarely took her out of the office and never further than the outskirts of London. The more stimulating assignments were usually given to employees with more experience. Which made her wonder…
“Why are you sending me? I’m honoured, but this is a big story, wouldn’t you rather send Joel or Danielle; they usually do the big stories?”
“No, no, you’re the perfect person for the job, you’re Japanese so you’ll fit right in. Besides, this could be your big break.”
The closest Keiko had ever come to being discriminated against was in Primary School when a bunch of girls had run around calling her ‘chinky’ and pulling faces, but now she felt her stomach sink. She hadn’t been given this job because of her own merit, but rather because her parents were Japanese and she looked the part.
However, she pushed down the anger bubbling up, forcing herself to look at it from another angle. She had been given an opportunity, no matter the reason, and she would prove that she was worthy.
“Okay,” she nodded solemnly. “When do I leave?”
Frowning, clearly clueless, he lifted a pair of glasses from his desk and perched them on his nose, peering at the ticket in his hand. “It looks like the plane leaves at… 13:45 tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow!” the word came out as a loud squawk.
“It says so right here,” he said helpfully, handing over the boarding pass and tapped a finger upon the date.
She stared at him in exasperation. “But I can’t go tomorrow.”
“Oh, why not? Do you have plans over the weekend?” he seemed genuinely interested.
“Well, no, but it’s very short notice and… I’d need to pack and…” Trailing off, she bit her lip, unsure why she was arguing. “It’s short notice, but I can do it.”
A smile split his chubby face. “Excellent. Take the rest of the day off and go home and pack. I’ll have my secretary email you all the details.”
Standing, she nodded and went to leave, but his voice stopped her at the door. “I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”
“Thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Jacobs.”