To be a young woman is difficult, particularly if you are in love with Akira who is in love with your girl-friend Yuki and having sex with Dai, the shy boy in your High-School class. But then Dai drowns and Akira tells you, "Yuki broke up with me."
Will Dai's ghost come back to drag us all into hell... or paradise?
I hate kitchens and I hate myself if, instead of opening my mouth and telling the guy I'm in love with, I spend hours cleaning his kitchen, listening to him stretched out on a monstrous sofa moaning about his fat and stupid girl friend, or worse, myself moaning about how fat and stupid I am. Instead of scrubbing the sink, I should scrub his back… to begin with!
And while I scrub his sink, he – who cares less about me than about his mp3 player – pushes up his pullover, caresses his washboard abs, dives up to his elbow into his wide low cargos to scratch his balls or whatever, and asks me – his hand still busy down under – "Do you think I should shave?"
His shamelessness irritates me. No, 'irritate' is not the word – his shamelessness turns me on. Why don't I've the guts to answer him, "Do you want me to shave you?"?
In his sink, I found curly hairs… and picking them from the drain, I smelled, or I imagined I smelled, pee… Should I ask him, "Did you happen to pee into the kitchen sink?"? The curly hairs did not come of the drain easily. Was it glue that was sticking to them?
Pulling his hand out of his cargos, he licks his fingers, tasting what? He asks me, "Did you finish? Would you too care for some Miso soup?"
Dutifully my hands are pouring water into a pot and putting the pot on the cooking range. He meanwhile turns on his stomach and engrosses himself in a Surfer magazine… When did he learn to surf?
The cold steel of the pot, the hard plastic of the knob… He is scratching his ass… 'Pull down his cargos and gently massage his butt…'
"Please, have a look at my back! I think something must have bitten me…" Before he has finished the sentence, I am already scratching the one tiny red spot on his slim and muscular back.
"What is it?"
"Just a mosquito bite."
"It's really itching!"
"Let me put some lotion on it!"
I get the Cold cream from my bag and start rubbing it into his back. His skin is warm and smooth. He smells of an expensive shower gel; is it Polo Sport? His unruly blond hair tempts me to tousle it… The second he feels that my fingers leave the precise trouble spot, he asks, "Is the Miso soup ready? I'm dying of hunger!"
"Sorry, it will take another two minutes!" I pull down his pullover and get up. Suddenly I become aware of an embarrassing silence in the apartment. There are no blinds or curtains, not even in the bedroom… Is he switching off the light at night to undress? The alley separating this building from the next is barely two cars wide. Doesn't he care about neighbors watching him? What if they saw him masturbating into the kitchen sink? Does he enjoy being watched making love with a friend? If he would invite me to stay the night, would I spoil it if I asked him to turn down the light?
'Having sex with him in a brightly lit room' sounds alluring… Does he know somebody in the building across the alley? I've seen films about the subject…
The Miso soup is ready. He is sitting up. Is his fly sticking out? I don't dare to stare. He adjusts his private parts and then lounges lasciviously against the back of the sofa.
"How can you manage without curtains? Don't the neighbors bother you?"
"I don't know them."
"That somebody is watching you? I couldn't care less!"
"And your girlfriends…?"
"Even my mother asked that!"
"What did you say?"
"I've got nothing to hide!"
Pretending to blow on my hot soup, I study his face. Is he blushing? Does he mind that I asked an intimate question? Does he think I am jealous of his girlfriend? His dark eyes look calm; his suntanned olive complexion seems more heated by the steaming soup than by my awkward question.
"I enjoy the risk of being observed… You would have to know me much better to understand…"
His voice is slightly husky, scratchy… and so sincere I get suspicious… Are these the first lines of his standard pick-up spiel?
What is it that I don't know about him? Is he hinting at his relationship with Yuki? The rich brown smell of the Miso soup is rising into my nose. I try to sip a little; it tastes deliciously strong, nearly like Ginseng.
The bowl is burning my fingers. I put it down. He holds on to his bowl, smiling, lifting one hurting finger after the other to cool them. What a present day samurai! His childish bravery charms me… I want him to want to have sex with me. "Why did you break up with Yuki?"
"Are you still together?"
"No, she broke up with me."
"Isn't she still in love with you?"
"She never was in love with me…"
I don't understand. As far as I know, he is the sole object of Yuki's life. Yuki never talks about anything but him. She became a different person to be more to his liking; she fought with her parents and moved out of her home to stay with him. How can he say, she never loved him?
"…she was in love with a guy she had made up in her mind and to whom she gave my name and my features. I played along because we had great sex… maybe I loved her or maybe I loved to own a beautiful woman… but she never loved me."
I look at his face. He doesn't look resentful or hurt or pouting… Thinking of Yuki, does he too remember our former school, the smells of the classrooms, locker rooms and toilets, teachers' voices and students' shouts, sounds of bells and students' heels pounding the stairs?
"When Yuki found out about me and Dai, she imagined that the person she had imagined me to be had hurt the person she imagined herself to be…"
I force myself to ask, "You and Dai?" I know about him and Dai but don't want him to know that I know.
IN A HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM
I knew two of the girls in my high school class from secondary school, Yuki and Hiroshi. On the first day of high school, we met outside the imposing building of … high school. The cold touch of the massive steel handles of the huge doors, the cleaning powder smell of the staircase, and the echo of the endless corridors made me apprehensive. Would the other girls in the class accept me? Didn't I look ridiculous in my ready-made uniform? Yuki looked cute with her new shorter haircut and custom-tailored uniform. Her makeup was flawless. Hiroshi was a bit homey but everybody seemed to like her.
To cheer us up, Hiroshi cracked a joke about sharing two boys among 33 girls; Yuki said, "It would have been fairer to make it an all-girls class. What guy will join a class with 33 girls? They must be a pair of queers!"
The classroom filled up, all seats got taken, the bell rang, the teacher entered, there was not one single boy! We had been taken for a ride! We chose a co-ed school and now that! But then the roll was read and Akira and Dai who had dressed up as girls to blow our minds, were forced to shout "Present!" with their young male voices. Imagine! The teacher too laughed until she had tears in her eyes.
IN A HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM
Dai was the other boy in our thirty-three girls two boys school class, an abnormally intelligent, emotionally unstable son of a Baptist missionary. Dai struggled with being gay, which excluded him at the same time from his family and his religion. He made few friends in our superficially pacifist traditionally imperialist school.
IN A HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM
Yuki wasted no time and quickly reserved Akira for her, but Akira did not follow her rules: He talked to all, and particularly empathized with Dai's difficult coming-out. That Dai was in love with Akira nobody doubted. Whom else should Dai love? There was no other seme and without his Gandhi glasses Dai was a wide-eyed uke right out of a doushinji manga. Who would have guessed that there was more going on between the two than the male bonding, which you would expect from the only two boys in an otherwise all-girls class? That they had an affair nobody knew, I think, except me, and I kept it so secret that I nearly forgot about it myself.
Akira was the last person you would suspect of being gay. College sports hero and natural charmer given to offensive displays of his sexual life, never shy to embarrass a teacher with innocent demands for sexual advice, "Is it better to masturbate before going out with a girl? Before a test? In the morning? Evening? Before or after homework? How often do girls masturbate? Are pornographic movies harmful? Are girls only pretending not to like them?" During intermissions, Akira sketched on the blackboard sexual organs badly matched in size. His family was powerful; the teachers treated him with leniency. We elected Akira president of our class, which in consequence became known in the school as 'Akira's harem'. This included Dai.
To Yuki's desperation Dai was the son of a small shopkeeper's widow who still ran the family corner store. Akira picked him up in the morning; Dai helped Akira with homework and spent his time at Akira's home and at Akira's teenage bachelor pad. Yuki was the daughter of a middle cadre in the Ministry of Finance; she could neither enter Akira's home nor introduce him into her home.
IN A SEASIDE RESORT
Dai killed himself in a Seaside Resort during the summer recess of our last year of college, or to be precise, Dai vanished. Early morning bathers found his clothes on the beach; his body was never found.
IN MY BROTHER'S APARTMENT
In the spring before Dai's death, my elder brother left to do a Ph.D. in the United States. Not surprisingly, to me fell the task of cleaning up his apartment, which was in the same area I knew Akira lived.
The apartment was on the fourth level, and all the view it had were the dirty windows of a similar block of flats on the other side of a narrow alley. The place looked and smelled like the mess you would expect from a guy who at twenty-four hadn't learned to dispose himself of his empty instant noodle Styrofoam cups. Old jeans, t-shirts and sweaters on the floor, socks and underwear hidden below the futon, half a seaweed snack in the telephone directory, empty computer boxes, bottles, and shopping bags… newspapers… computer magazines… men's magazines… Until I had finished looking through them, it got dark. Like Akira, my brother had wasted no money on blinds or curtains. I was in a foul mood because I resented having to clean for my brother, and did not switch on the lights. Nobody should cheer at my pouting face. The world was fair: Everybody got what he or she deserved. Why didn't I have the courage to ask that now I should be allowed to live in this apartment? Did I want it? Why had my brother fought for his own place while the thought of living alone terrified me? Because he was a boy? He had 'no time' to clean his apartment before moving to the states… When would I learn to have 'no time' for demeaning younger sister jobs?
I collected my brother's rubbish into dust bags, and then went to work in the kitchen.
IN THE KITCHEN
I found a can of Sprite in the fridge and took a sip. Sprite is not my first choice. Its acrid sweetness symbolized that I wasn't drinking, doing what I liked. Why did I so easily fall prey to situations where I was where I didn't want to be, did what I didn't want to do?
ON THE BALCONY
I went out on the balcony. There was not really a view, but I enjoyed seeing the reflection of the sinking sun on the windows of the next building, the darkening of the shadows, and the blending of colors into shades of grey like short-lived murals brushed on by the sinking sun. I sat down on the concrete floor of the balcony and through the bars of the railing watched one by one, the lights going on in the neighboring houses and apartment blocks like so many TV screens.
In one a young woman was taking care of her baby, in another a middle-aged man was staring into a laptop, in yet another a couple had a drink. She talked to him; he pretended to read a newspaper.
Suddenly the light went on in the apartment right across the alley. Two guys came in, dropped their backpacks, and began to kiss passionately! It was better than TV! I was glad I had not switched on the light and tried to blend myself into the wall behind me. The guys took off their jackets and started necking on a sofa… suddenly I recognized Akira and Dai!
I froze completely. To spy on people is bad, but to spy on people you know is horrible. Nevertheless, I could not get up and leave.
I had never seen men making love. Dai was clinging to Akira, kissing him passionately. I knew Akira only as the cool dude he played in school, now he behaved playfully romantic, while the usually so intellectual Dai became a convulsed epileptic in Akira's embrace. I did not feel disgusted to see Akira making love to Dai. Rather, seeing Akira with Dai made Akira more attractive… He was good-looking and a good lover! That Yuki was not the sole owner of Akira's heart made my hopeless lusting after Akira easier to endure.
I stayed on the balcony motionless until they vanished into the bathroom, then quickly got up and left, without bothering to finish cleaning my brother's kitchen.
IN … HIGH-SCHOOL
Dai's suicide sunk the class emotionally. Because we knew that we had not, we asked ourselves, "Did we do all we could have done for Dai?" and, "Had Akira played with Dai and failed him?" Akira… maybe Akira's had been more friendliness than friendship. He vexed us saying with pious Buddhist pomposity, "Dai has passed on to a better life", while carrying on with Yuki in a way not befitting a class president. I told myself, "I'm no more impressed by Akira" and "He may be good-looking but his character isn't up to the mark" but to tell the truth, no other man will ever replace Akira in my heart.
IN MY ROOM
After graduation, I neglected my former classmates intentionally: Yuki's happiness was my unhappiness. The less I wanted to hear about it, the more my girlfriends felt obliged to inform me frame by frame about the endless Akira-Yuki soap. I did not care! Let him dump her! Let her dump him!
I tried to forget Akira and concentrated on my writing. I planned to become a writer for good. Writing well means writing each sentence many times over in your mind and on paper; every word has to be right. Seeing, listening, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking, thinking: Like some nightmares that become more real than reality, I was more a character of one of my stories than a person in the world surrounding me. With a short love story about an intense career-minded girl and a beautiful, intelligent but narcissist young man, her former classmate, who plays with her emotions while he exploits her sexually, I won a newcomer prize.
IN MY ROOM
When Akira called to congratulate me on winning the prize, only extreme self-discipline stopped me from telling him, "Your call means more to me than winning the prize", which was the truth.
IN MY ROOM
My friends chatted not only about the Akira-Yuki affair; there was also a rumor about people having seen Dai in India, in the United States… They hadn't liked him when he was alive; why trouble his memory now that he was dead? Thanks to the award I got for my story, I was invited to represent Japan at a young writers' conference in Bangkok.
IN MAHIDOL UNIVERSITY, BANGKOK
I was thrilled to read my story in front of young writers from all over Asia. Few of the writers, men or women, impressed me, but there were exceptions: Texts where the characters lived, stories I'd have liked to have written myself, or at least be able to write. Each writer read in his own language, and a local translator would then read an English translation he or she had prepared. My translator was a student from Chiang Mai University called Sawai Ken-Eichi. I had e-mailed him the Japanese text; he mailed back a neat English translation. In Bangkok, I met him before I was on – he was obviously gay: Hennaed red hair, blue contacts, tight black jeans. He spoke Japanese with an irritating, effeminate Thai accent. His English translation was good, and he read it well, slowly and clearly. His voice reminded me of Dai, probably because Dai had been gay too.
IN THE UNIVERSITY CAFETERIA
After my reading, I invited Ken-Eichi to have lunch together in the University cafeteria. Being a writer, I tried to take in the differences and similarities of a Thai vs. a Japanese University: The less hard surfaces, more subdued hues of the probably universal university steel-grays, nondescript light greens and official use blues. The open windows changed the sound of chairs moved and trays put down on tables. The cafeteria smelled deliciously of spicy Papaya salads and sweet fried Bananas. I asked Ken, "Are you writing too?"
"I've published stories in gay magazines."
Since Ken brought it up, I felt permitted to talk about the topic. I mentioned that a gay classmate of mine had killed himself. "The whole class felt responsible, except the only other male, the class president who had abused the guy sexually…
"How do you know his name?"
"Akira saved my life!"
His Thai accent had vanished. I recognized his voice, "Dai?"
Stupidly I asked, "Didn't you kill yourself?"
He could not help imitating a theatre ghost's deep, hollow voice, "I've come back to drag you all into hell!"
"So what happened?"
"I wanted to kill myself, and asked Akira to get me a gun."
IN A GAY BAR
"I just need the gun!"
I had never dared to try to enter a gay bar. I was too young, I thought; they would throw me out. The night before the day I had fixed for my suicide, Akira took me to… bar. He brought along his bodyguard (his father is a big "businessman", you know!). We could have been two five-year olds; the bar owner would have served us whatever drink the bodyguard ordered.
The bar was dark and smoky and full of middle-aged men with too tight suit trousers and off-white easy-care shirts who stage whispered stale jokes about how young and sexy they were. There was Karaoke, and men dancing with men. I told Akira, "If this would have been my future, I'm glad I'll kill myself tomorrow morning."
IN A GAY NIGHTCLUB
Akira conferred with his bodyguard who took us to another club, the gay disco …, hundreds of young men, most just two, or three years older than we were, many half-naked, dancing, having fun. The music was loud, Sonic Youth, and Kurt Cobain. There was a lightshow and so much dry ice that I had difficulties to breathe, not to speak of the smell of perfumes on sweating bodies…
Akira made me dance, danced with me, which was fun, and when, exhausted, we flopped down on our reserved VIP sofa, he kissed my neck and said, "What a pity, I am not gay!"
If Akira would be gay, I told myself, and love me, I wouldn't kill myself. His bodyguard ordered imported champagne; first time I drunk foreign wine. Its sweet acidity, the luxury of the golden label, the shiny silver cooler full of ice were so beautiful. So much I still wanted to taste but would never taste! I was getting drunk and began to cry, Akira had to hold me in his arms or I'd have slipped to the floor. Akira and the bodyguard had a lot of fun getting me back into his father's black Mercedes limousine.
IN A MERCEDES BENZ
We glided through the early morning towards the beach resort where I planned to kill myself. Having read Mishima, I had to kill myself with the rays of the rising sun playing on my dying young body. Around five o'clock in the morning we checked into the… resort and spa. I was too drunk and tired to know what was going on.
IN A RYOKAN ROOM
When I opened my eyes, bright daylight filtered through the shoji screens into the traditional inn room. Akira was sitting cross-legged on the matted floor in a kimono, watching me, grinning. "Did you sleep well?" He bent over me and began to kiss me. Maybe you know how boys feel in the morning; the brain is not their first part to wake up. Depressed and suicidal as I was, my body was ready for sex. That Akira just did it to keep me from killing me did not register with my hormones. Wasn't it a beautiful last experience?
IN THE HOT TUB
After making love, we soaked in the hot tub fed by a natural hot spring. Akira's strong body glistened with sweat, he looked ravishing; I felt shy to look at him. The water was so hot and sulfurous that Akira joked, "It's our first taste of hell!"
"Did you bring the gun?"
"Yes, and (he mentioned the name of his bodyguard) has one too… in fact more than one."
Suddenly, I understood that for him guns weren't as for me, instruments of desperate self-destruction, but tools of their family business.
IN A RYOKAN ROOM
Back in the room, Akira said, "Look what I brought for you!" He opened a new Louis Vuitton sports bag – I still have it – and laid out for me its contents: Ralph Lauren polos, Levis 501's, HOM slips… and a short-arm cashmere turtle neck from his family's Ginza store, a brick of hundred dollar bills, a passport with my picture but the name Sawai Ken-Eichi, a gun and enough ammunition to kill myself even if I missed the first couple of shots."
Akira bowed to me, "Dai, listen to me! If you kill yourself, you will get born again with parents you don't know, in circumstances beyond your control. Take this passport and the money, and start a new life with your own beautiful body and in a place that you've selected yourself. If you need more money, call me! I will not have much chance to make merit in my life, so please grant me this unique chance to save a life!"
Soon he was holding down both my hands and his tongue was probing my lips: I had to listen to him!
IN THE UNIVERSITY CAFETERIA
This is the story. Please don't tell anybody. Akira prefers to be known as a thug.
IN THE KITCHEN
I knew about Akira and Dai but Akira should not guess that I know. I lifted my eyes, and forced myself to look surprised, "You and Dai?"
Akira wore his samurai film samurai character impersonator face, ready to kill himself at the drop of a coin. He wasn't in a hurry to answer. Around us, the air was filling with the dark brown seahorses of dusk. The effort not to betray that I knew made me aware of the time passing, the pot and pan sounds of dinner preparation in the neighborhood, the sizzling of frying and the clang of stirring. The rich evening smells of dinner about to be ready…
"I had sex with Dai; maybe if I'd be gay, he wouldn't have…"
IN THE PRESENT
"Gone to Bangkok."
I hate kitchens and I'd hate myself if I'd spend hours cleaning his kitchen instead of opening my mouth. Massaging his head in my lap, I tell Akira who is stretched out on a monstrous sofa, "I'm in love with you!"
"You're so fat, stupid…"
"Say no more!"
Instead of scrubbing the sink, I tousle his unruly blond hair…
I give him a solid whack onto his muscular neck, "Shut up, scumbag!
Akira turns around, pushes up his pullover, caresses his washboard abs, dives up to his elbow into his wide low cargos to scratch his balls or whatever, and asks me – his hand is still busy down under – "Do you think I should shave?"
Did I hear a quiver of boyish insecurity in his voice? "Did you happen to pee into the kitchen sink?"
Pulling his hand out of his cargos, he licks his fingers, tasting what? He asks me, "No, I didn't pee! Are you in the mood?"
One word more and I'll pull down his cargos…
"Have a look at my back, something has bitten me…" He turns onto his stomach again.
"What is it?"
"Just a mosquito bite, baby!"
"It's really itching!"
His skin is warm and smooth; he smells of an expensive shower gel. I try to pull down his cargos…
He protects himself with his left hand while he unzips… Pulling the cargos off his legs, I ask him, "Aren't straight guys wearing jockeys anymore?"
He spreads his legs lasciviously. "Whom the briefs fit, let them wear'em!"
Turning round and pulling me towards him, he repeats with a slightly husky, scratchy voice, "Are you in the mood?