The Last Emperors
Chapter Five : Where is Aldo?
By Jolie Adam
Once safely landed, the girls wasted no time discovering Tokyo, even though according to Jacques’ agenda, their sightseeing had been scheduled for the following morning until two in the afternoon. But the city was simply too fascinating to tame their excitement about going out and exploring, especially with the 50% prepayment fee Jacques had given them. They were each 2500 Euros richer and in one of the most bustling and futuristic cities in the world. Any fatigue or jetlag would simply have to wait. Rank’s management team had hired a car to pick them up so as soon they spotted their driver, their bags were loaded and forwarded to the hotel as they grabbed a taxi and struggled to communicate their desire to be brought downtown. After ten minutes of making wide and exaggerative gestures and saying ‘downtown’,‘shopping’, and ‘shoes’ in every single accent they knew, Dawn turned on her phone and looked up the Japanese translation for shopping centre. Not knowing how to say it, she simply showed him her phone screen and the frustrated, frail man threw his hands in the air in understanding. Suddenly, the car set in motion in busied streets, passing large avenues that drew uncanny resemblance to other popular cities. They even had a large intersection designed in the style of NYC’s Time square. The girls grew boisterous despite their hunger and burn-out state, looking out the windows in awe as they passed numerous attractions and everything from an imperial palace to a majestic temple to a fish market. They weren’t even out of the car yet but could feel the city’s frenetic energy. Tokyo was high-tech, crazy and simply-put, amazing. There was so much to marvel at and the girls smiled at each other, thankful they were sharing this new experience together. The only time they stopped gazing was when Lei, their cab driver, mistakenly took them to the othershopping market. It took them less than a minute to realize this was the place to be…if you wanted anything knock-off. The heavy smell of fake leather and cheap fabrics permeated through the small, overly-populated aisles full of merchants and customers alike huddled in heavy bargaining at the stalls made of bamboo and separated by flimsy sheets.
Dawn made her way back in the car as soon as she realized, pushing Lorra back as she was coming out.
“Excuse me, but we want to go a legit market. We don’t want to buy any knockoff designers,” she began rambling before remembering their language barrier and muttering an annoyed curse under her breath, “Nevermind.”She typed furiously into her android’s Google Translate app and practically shoved it in his face. She was normally the patient one out of the group but wasn’t sure how to take this little mishap. Was he bringing them here because most tourists wanted fake Chanels and Pradas or was it just racial profiling because they were black? Looking at his toothy grin, she presumed it was probably the former. Besides, looking at the volume of shoppers in that outdoor market, he wasn’t far off in his assumption. When he finished reading the translation, he exclaimed something in Japanese that probably just meant,“OH…OH…YES, YES. OK.”
“If every cab driver is this hard to direct, we’re going to be doing a whole lot of walking,” Lorra observed as Dawn pulled Julia back into the cab.
“Why are we leaving? I just spotted a nice Coach purse with my name on it.”
“Buy it and it won’t be the only thing with your name on it.” Lorra and Julia looked at her quizzically.
“There’s a fine if they check your luggage and find a fake. If they want to be assholes or make money off you, you could even get arrested.”
“And you know this…how?”
“Well, you guys were checking out restaurants and city guides, I checked out a travel site. That part was written in bold so…”
“So a sister can even get a knockoff?”
“Oh, knock it off,” Lorra smirked.
25 minutes later, they were at Odaiba Venus Fort, a large shopping mall not too far from their hotel since they could see the huge InterContinental sign from a distance. Dawn hurriedly paid the cab driver as the girls exited the cab. They absorbed the energy of their surroundings because looking at the impressive size of the mall, they would surely need it. Soon enough, they found out why the mall was called Venus Fort. The interior décor was designed to resemble a European medieval village. That’s if European medieval villages were built on hybrid resources and came with a built-in fake sky expanding overhead. Japanese people were definitely not financially austere when it came to their monuments, malls or restaurants. Julia’s stomach growled with determination reminding her of when she last ate.
“Let’s grab a bite to eat.”
“Nuh-uh. I want to sit somewhere and enjoy my meal,” Lorra said already scoping out the mall directory for the food court. There weren’t many fast food vendors which was great for their health but not so much for their wallets however they agreed on a nice restaurant that served authentic Japanese delicacies. Most of the meals came with a heavy handed serving of local greens that all tasted different yet similar. After eating, they didn’t waste any time hitting the shops and laughing as they were ogled by the locals and tourists alike. This was a culture that behaved venerably and treated every little thing and person with reverence and deference so they were simply trying to comprehend the reason for the girls’ obvious merriment. As if they needed a reason.
“My legs are going to fall off and if we don’t leave now, I won’t be able to do much at dance practice tomorrow,” Lorra said, exhausted.
“Me too. One more minute in this big ass mall and we can kiss that competition goodbye,” Julia concurred.
“Same. But before we go, I just want to check something,”Dawn looked down at the printed map courtesy of the restaurant, with furrowed eyebrows.
Looking at the colourful wrapping tissue poking out of the shopping bags hanging off Dawn’s arms, Lorra asked, “What?”
Without even looking up from the map, Dawn asked herself out loud, “Where is Aldo?”
The girls had settled into their hotel room at the InterContinental Tokyo. They were sharing a spacious two-story condo that looked better than the interior of any house they’d ever seen. Dawn and Lorra shared a king sized bed while Julia was quick to monopolize the equally comfortable queen bed. It was 3PM when she woke up on Friday and Julia had to pull back a scream when her drowsy vision landed on the clock. Wishing it was 3AM, she rubbed her eyes again and it was now 3:01 and definitely not morning time, with the sun giving a glorious, natural day light to the living room. She ran up to the girls to wake them, surprised to see they were still sleeping soundly and peacefully. It sucked having to deliver such a brisk, alarming wakeup but there was no other choice. The dance studio was reserved until 5 and even though Jacques wasn’t the type to micromanage, he’d surely be disappointed and curious if he found out they hadn’t showed up.
“LORRA, DAWN. WAKE UP!” she was shaking them lightly to avoid giving them a scare but seeing that they were passed out, she continued a little more aggressively, “WAKE UP. WE’RE LATE.”
Dawn finally opened her eyes and was alarmed to see Julia sitting there, with a worried look on her face.
“Wh—What time is it?” she asked groggily.
“WHAT?” The response caused her to jerk upwards, so quick it seemed like an army of bugs had just attacked her back.
“Yeah. We’re late,” Julia said, “And this one won’t wake up.”
“Just tickle her feet,” Dawn said, getting out of bed to check the time for herself. Her phone clock showed 7:08PM which was impossible considering the luminous ray of sunlight coming through the heavily draped windows. Either Japan had really, really long days or her phone hadn’t updated her location. And of course, it was the latter.
They were all around the table, gorging down all the snacks they’d bought the day before and imbibing the free coffee and tea provided in their room. They hadn’t bought any real food and had no time to go out to eat now. They had an hour and half left of studio time and aimed to get there for at least 4PM, with ambitions of making the most out of that remaining hour. Lorra brought the teacup to her lips in a hurry and burned her tongue,
“Language!” Julia joked.
Lo sighed, “Why don’t we just skip the studio? It’s going to be silly to be hurrying there just for one hour. Half of that time will be spent warming up.”
“Then we’ll skip warm-ups?”
“First of all, we never skip warm-ups when we practice. Second of all, even if we did, considering our less-than-ideal wakeup, how productive are we going to be in an hour’s time? Not enough to come up with anything new or extraordinary. And lastly, we don’t even know anything about this competition.”
“What do you need to know?”
“Like who are we facing? Are we all competing until the end or are we going to get split up into individual battles? And who won this tournament last year? What type of music do they usually play? All that stuff.”
“Well, let’s just trust Jacques. If he got us in, I’m sure it’s for a good reason,” Dawn finished the last sip of her coffee.
“Extraordinary, huh?” Julia scoffed, “Show me something extraordinary.” Just like that, with a simple, friendly dare, the mood changed from tense to fun.
“Put on some music and I’ll show you extra-ordi-nary,” Lo blinked, smiling with an eyebrow lifted in an air of arrogance.
Julia rushed in to grab the iPad she’d just bought yesterday and blamed for waking up so late since she spent the previous night fooling around with it. She tapped the screen a few times as Lo tapped the counter in impatience. She was losing steam. A few minutes later, an intro came on. Damn, that iPad was loud. The sound echoed around them, around the table, and the song began heavily with some rhythmic bass. Nothing like new beats to hype a girl up. She started moving around, getting in Julia’s face and then distancing herself to have all the space necessary. This beat was furious, like a heartbroken melody getting revenge on a cheating, thumping bass. And the beat knew her, even if it was her first time hearing it, it followed her. As she got faster, it got faster. Every time she popped, it landed with her, carrying her from one precise move to another, helping her be flawless in the art of movement. The beat was so good to her that just like every undeserving, good thing we took for granted, she began throwing a few krumping moves to accentuate her illness. The beat gave her a fever, the good fever, the delirious fever, the burning fever. She didn’t even like krumping yet here she was, giving it to this beat just as passionately as it gave its all to her. This beat was the Alice-in-Wonderland of beats, putting her out of her comfort zone, therefore out of her dancing box, bringing her best and then some to the floor, trying new techniques, being wild, free, and dangerous. So when they ended together, she couldn’t say anything but she could feel the damage that beat had done, her chest rising up and falling down fast, with ache and pain. Her heart burned as it thumped heavily against its walls, wanting to break free, wanting to jump out of her throat and run away from that murderous beat.
Julia and Dawn, stood back, with a look that reeked of envy and admiration in equal portions. If there was anything above and beyond extraordinary, they’d just seen it. If Lo could remember everything she just did and did it the exact same way tomorrow, they didn’t need to know who their competitors were, who won the year before or what kind of music they were going to play. What they just witnessed transcended genres, classes, and style and defied many laws of gravity. And they couldn’t wait for Lo to do it again so they could pick up a few tips from some of her new moves.
“Fuck a dance studio,” Julia exclaimed, pressing the repeat button as the girls joined Lo in the living room.
SHAMASAKI DANCE WAR, 2013. TOKYO, JAPAN.
The crowd erupted in cheers when Laurent finished his set. The songs were rolling in rapidly, each better than the last and the known twin was doing every tune great justice. He turned around and eyed his opponent with ridicule. The host was still going on about the performance Lau just gave, blasting the mic with limited nouns, repeating “WOW!” over and over again. The hyped up crowd didn’t seem to mind as they were still reeling from all the unique moves recently broadcasted.
“OK, WHO’S GOING UP NEXT? LOOKS LIKE SHAO MEIN IS STEPPING UP. DEEJAY, WIND THE RECORD BACK – LET’S DO THIS!”
When the girls realized, they were going up against Les Twins in the finale, they weren’t sure whether to resign or to mentally go through archives of every mind-blowing dance move they’d ever mastered. This was a rare opportunity and even if they lost, they would lose in style, swag and worthy of plenty of bragging.
Lau was pleasantly surprised when he found out The Last Emperors were competing. Like a fairy-made dream, they had appeared out of thin air since he’d checked the list of participants. Regardless of how they’d managed to get in so late after registration, he was looking forward to ending all the recent glory surrounding them. So when he found out they had made it to finals and were facing him and Larry, he had to resist showing his glee. It’d been a while since he looked forward to destroying a group. He and his brother did so anyway, but there was nothing like a good, purposeful, intentional dance massacre. Larry didn’t even care. They were no different then any of the losers they’d just beat to secure their place in finals. Business as usual. Go in, conquer, kill, close, win. They grinned at each other. They were about to make them the last emperors in the literal sense.
Shao adjusted her mask with a cocky swag. She’d waited for this moment, anticipating the overhead lights reflecting on her shadow as she breezed through her moves. And it was all happening. There was no fear, no hesitation and no doubt in her steps. She slid in as an introductory move, using her hands to make comedic, expressive gestures since her face was hidden by the mask. Every beat was slain perfectly, steps executed within the exact tone and decimal and a nanosecond before the beat stopped for a second, they all froze. Then unfroze. The crowd went wild at their prediction that the song would pause right at the moment and their flawless coordination. Lau was impressed. They moved as one. They blended so well, even their heights were in symmetry because there was about 2-3 inches between each of them. So when they blended, they looked like a perfect slope. She flowed with the melody and bass, even the faint sound of violins in the song’s background. Spectators covered their mouths in awe when she dominated her backward bend and finished off by emulating Lau’s finishing moves as if she was mocking his uniquity. She hadn’t meant to but she was so pumped up by the cheers, the gasps, and the audience’s reaction that she ended up coming off as an overly confident and skilled jerk. Any other occasion and she would’ve pained at the thought of making someone feel incompetent but the combination of the rushing adrenaline and the stature of her competition put her mind at ease. She’d watched Les Twins dance before –there were times when they were kind and funny and times when they were just downright callous on stage. Her heart was racing like frost on a windy day. The host held the microphone too close to his lips, blowing his breath right into it along with his words,
“WHOOO, THAT WAS HOT..WOW THAT WAS…IT’S GOING TO BE HARD TO CHOOSE Y’ALL! JUDGES? ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?”
Shao put in practice her stamina exercise. In through the nose, Out through the nose. LuLuxe popped the imaginary collar on her blue hoodie and bobbed her head behind Shao as silent support and Meow, stood stiffly, purple hoodie hanging stiffly on her tiny frame. Standing there in their coloured sweatshirts and masks, they achieved their look of recreating neutral genders although most just assumed they were guys. It’d been Meow’s idea once the name was decided to conceal their identity. Shao had gone one step further and proposed they concealed everything to neutralize their gender. That way they couldn’t be judged on their looks, or their gender – but exclusively on their talent. It started with masks, then hoodies and dark blue boot-cut jeans and lastly, chest bandages. The girls would bind their breasts firmly against their chests with large ACE bandages.
“ON THE MARK OF ONE…TWO…THREE…” The girls bowed down.“IT’S A TIE!” Shao exhaled with joy although the rest of the trio was on edge. Larry was prepping Laurent who’d shaken his head vehemently at the judges’verdict. Even if she didn’t win, Shao was so proud of getting this close. He’d remember her now and that was all that mattered. Larry had massacred LuLuxe in the first round but Meow redeemed their title, until Lau stepped in with his boneless liquidity. And Shao…well, she’d done enough to get them to tie.
“The judges want to see Lau and Shao Mein. Lau and Shao Mein, please!! You two get ready. EVERYONE ELSE, IT’S ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS.”
Lu and Meow patted Shao on the back as they backed up to allow her more space. Larry was still talking to Lau, perhaps telling him which move to use. The nerves that she didn’t feel the first time around were now creeping up, making her question her ability, driving her to weigh her talent. What was it about the finish line that instilled fear in our hearts? The adrenaline rush she’d experienced minutes ago had faded to a disquieting calm. Her body was going into relaxation mode when it needed to get its gears into beast mode. The music began blaring once more,
“HERE WE GO. LES TWINS’…LAURENT!”
Laurent twisted his neck to the heavy beat of the song, launching into a highly animated choreography that pumped up the crowd. Everyone, including Shao, was on edge trying to fathom in advance what move would come next. He tiptoed around her at the speed of a ballerina on acid, doing three consecutive splits and coming up from a floor-low back bend. His flexibility was untouchable and she got lost in the midst of watching him perform instead of thinking of her own moves.
“OKAY….OKAYYY…LET’S GO TO SHAO MEIN. THE LAST EMPERORS. LET’S DO THIS.”
The Deejay rewound the song to the top and Shao tumbled in hesitantly but rhythmically. At loss of everything and having used the one move she’d worked so hard on, she resorted to her go-to technique. Pop-Lock-Twist. Seeing her steam run dry from her last performance, Meow jumped in and followed her steps in accordance giving them a lot more edge. There was some thing about accurate repetition and mirrored moves that drove the crowd insane. LuLuxe stood behind, taking on the role of hype woman and prompting the crowd to get louder. Meow followed every step. When Shao’s foot landed, Meow’s foot was the perfect shadow. The crowd went insane and the boost of confidence drove the two girls to push themselves to the point of sheer exhaustion. Lau had to repeat to himself not to let his eyes gauge out. They had managed to move in perfect sync. The newspaper was right. Their coordination was unbelievable. These guys are good. When the music stopped, Shao and Meow were both ready to collapse and call it a day. Dance was probably the only profession where the judges could declare a tie as many times as necessary until someone proved deserving of a win.
“YOU GUYS ARE CRAZY. THIS CROWD IS CRAZY. GIVE IT UP FOR LES TWINS AND THE LAST EMPERORS, EVERYBODY. GREAT DANCERS, YES. LET’S HEAR IT FROM THE JUDGES.”
A loud buzz sounded to indicate time was up for the jury to deliberate. And all hands lifted and pointed to the Last Emperors. A moment ago, Shao and Meow were ready to faint but upon hearing their name and the victory declared in their favour, they smashed into each other, punching the air. Composing themselves, they all stopped jumping up and down and bowed down, hands together to the crowd in traditional Japanese salutation. In the midst of their exultant state, Shao caught a menacing glare from Lau and a defeated look tainting Larry’s features, despite his polite smile. She realized she was staring when the announcer approached her and the girls. The twins bowed down and got off the stage, still waving to their loud, cheerful fans. She hadn’t noticed much about them personally when they were sharing the podium yet once they got off, Shao just couldn’t take their eyes off them, especially Laurent. Her gaze following his frame as the announcer inundated them with compliments and congratulations. Thankfully, she was wearing a mask or else she would’ve given it all away.