1

I move to Fukuoka at the end of March and settle into my new job. The schedule is dead easy and so far I have no complaints except that I am working six days a week instead of five. One morning I mention to my co-worker Yumi that it would be nice to have the occasionally Saturday off as well so that I could do a bit of traveling on the weekends, because I wasn’t really in Japan to work all the time, ha, ha, ha. Later in the day, my boss takes me aside to reprimand me for complaining about the schedule.

“If you’re really not interested in working here,” she says, “I’ll be happy to find someone to replace you. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to travel, then.”

My conversations with Yumi are reduced to sparing exercises in polite banality after that. We comment on the weather, on the beauty of the sakura which were in full bloom my first week on the job, the azaleas which have started to blossom, and the mud nest the sparrows have built under the awning of the boutique downstairs, then fall silent. I retreat to the morning’s paper, she busies herself with whatever it is that she does at her desk before me. It’s very weird to say the least.

Most afternoons I’m free for four to five hours until it’s time to teach the evening class. On warm, sunny days I go to either of the two large parks that are near the school to write letters or read a book or wander. When the sky is overcast, I take a bus downtown, to Tenjin, and browse for books or CDs.

Evenings at the school are a huge improvement over the grim mornings. Yumi and the boss leave for the damp, dark caves they must surely live in shortly after I return from my afternoon break meaning I am alone with Reina, a vivacious woman with wavy brown hair who teaches the junior high students in the evenings. Yumi and Reina are like night and day, and the heavy veil of silence Yumi drapes over each morning is torn apart in the evening as soon as Reina punches in. Yumi and Reina do, however, share one thing: dread. Just as I dread my mornings alone with Yumi, I dread saying good-bye to Reina each night. Because there is nothing waiting for me but an hour-long train ride to a condominium deep in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by untilled rice fields and an unshakable loneliness.

Though I am allegedly sharing the condominium with two other Americans, I am often the sole inhabitant of the eighth story, four-room mansion, as the Japanese call it. My “roommates” are MIA on the weekends and during the week usually come home well after I have retired to bed.

I am no early bird, but as my boss has put the fear of being sacked into me, I find myself waking at the crack of dawn, my heart sent racing like a hummingbird thanks to a Godzilla alarm clock that spins around screeching, “Stop me! Stop me! Stop me!” I make my way like a somnambulist through a well-worn path between two rice fields to the unmanned station where I catch the seven-thirty train that gets me into town early enough that I can drop in at a shitty little coffee shop called, only god knows why, Henry the Eighth where I have the môningu setto of tôsuto, bâkon, sukuramburu eggi ando kôhi before confronting Yumi and her intractable gloom.

After a week of this fine routine, boredom and sleep deprivation begin to gnaw at the nascent content I was starting to feel, so I go back to the International Center to look for a Japanese teacher and, I am embarrassed to admit, to put up a card of my own seeking “friends.”

I was often told by most of the woman I’d contacted through the International Center in the months before moving to Fukuoka that I was the only person who had called them, so I don’t expect much of a response from my own message. Am I ever wrong!

The day after my message is put on the bulletin board, the calls start pouring in and it takes several minutes just to get through all the messages, in both Japanese and English, that have accumulated on the answering machine at the condominium. A few days later, neatly written letters on cute stationery start to arrive. By week’s end, I’ve got over a dozen women eager to meet me, so like a glutton I pencil in as many of them as I can into my Saturday evening and Sunday schedule.

2

Shortly after work Saturday, I hurry downtown where I meet with Bachelorette Number One, a plain-looking young woman in her early twenties who leads me with a string of “please’s” to a coffee shop in the maze-like underground shopping arcade. As soon as we sit down, she produces several sheets of paper from her handbag and proceeds to read.

“My name is Hitomi. It’s nice to meet you.” She turns to me, smiles broadly and pauses. I take this as my cue to tell her that the pleasure is mine. “Pleasure?” she asks.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I say.

“Pleasure?” She looks puzzled.

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“Oh, I see. Thank you.” She studies her piece of paper, then turns to me to say, “Please forgive my poor English.”

“It is forgiven!”

“Pardon me?”

“Never mind.”

“Mind?”

“Please, go ahead. Dôzo.”

“Please forgive my poor English,” she repeats after checking her notes. “I want to be your friend.”

“Okay.”

She looks at the paper, mouths the words as she reads them silently, and asks, “Will you be my friend?”

“Well, it’ll cost ya.”

“Pardon?”

“Okay.”

“May I ask you some questions?”

“Shoot!”

“Pardon?”

“Sure, go ahead. Dôzo.”

“What is your hobby?”

What the hell is it with the Japanese and these stupid questions? I can count the times on one hand I was asked this before coming to Japan, but here it’s the most pressing thing that needs to be addressed. Ridiculous questions deserve ridiculous answers: “I enjoy groping strangers on crowded trains.”

“Trains?”

“Yes, trains. Groping.”

Guroppu?”

“Er, I like traveling by train.”

“Trouble?”

“Not, trouble. Travel. I like traveling by train.”

“Oh, I see. I like to travel, too.”

“You do? Where have you been? Have you been abroad?”

“Next question,” she says looking down at her sheet. “Can you eat sushi?”

Good grief. “Yeah, it’s okay, I suppose.”

“Okay? You can eat sushi? Let’s have sushi next time!”

We whiz through her questionnaire in no time then sit in awkward silence until it’s time for me to meet Bachelorette Number Two.

3

Mika is an attractive 24-year-old woman, who asks me what my dream is. The question itself is not as surprising as, say, the complete lack of context in which it’s asked: our order has just been taken by the waitress. But then, many Japanese mistakenly believe, like the first young woman I met today, that rattling off a random list of questions in English amounts to communication.

“My dream? Huh.”

I’ve often asked the same of women and am usually disappointed by the replies.

“I want to master English,” one girl told me.

“Okay, then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“What are you going to do after you master English?”

“I don’t know. I just . . .”

“English is a tool, nothing more. A hammer, if you will. But if you haven’t any idea of what you want to build with that hammer, then it’s just going to sit on a shelf in the shed and get rusty.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, is right. If you don’t know what you’ll do with the English once you’ve mastered it–sorry to burst your bubble–you probably never will master it.”

A college student I asked told me that she had never really thought about it. I was flabbergasted. “How the hell can you not have a dream? I mean, how the hell can you even get up in the morning?” The poor girl. She fell silent and stared at the table after that. I wasn’t sure whether she was merely ashamed at herself or appalled at me.

Mika’s English is pretty damn good, so I can indulge myself: “Most people are like flotsam drifting on the surface of the ocean their whole lives. They make no impact on life. Life, on the other hand, has a huge impact on them. They’re tossed about, they flow this way and that, you follow me?”

“I think so.”

“They don’t change the sea in any way. They don’t have much of an influence on the others around them. I mean, I suppose that from time to time they might bump into other flotsam, see? Or, what? Get tangled up in discarded bits of fishing net?”

She eyes me warily.

“I don’t want to be like that,” I tell her. “Not at all. No, I want to be like a tanker plowing its way along a river. Everything that is caught in its wake gets overturned or tossed about. Even people who don’t see the tanker go by still feel its impact and influence, good or bad.”

“You want to be a sailor?” she asks.

“A sailor! Nice one, hah! No, I don’t want to be a sailor.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“No problem.” I tell her of the megalomania which fuels me, my interest in Japanese architecture and design, in the pop art here, particularly manga and anime, Japanese comics and animation. I talk about how I want to learn from it and use it in my own art and designs.

“Peador, are you an otaku?”

Otaku? No, I’m not a nerd. I’m a maniac. So, how about you, Mika? What’s your dream?”

“I want to travel.”

“Yeah? Where to?”

“Everywhere. Europe, Africa, Asia . . . Mars.”

“Mars?” I ask, not sure I heard her correctly.

“Yes Mars,” she repeats.

“Mars,” I ask again pointing toward the ceiling.

“Yes, Mars,” she replies pointing to the same point in the ceiling.

“Lotsa luck!”

Mika is attractive enough, speaks English well enough, and has a sense of humor that accommodates my nonsense. There is even something, which resembles chemistry between us, but I get the distinct impression that I’d have to join the Realian’s Cult just to get to first base.

4

I dash over to the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel where I meet Kumiko. Of all the women I’ve set up “dates” with, it is this Kumiko I’ve been looking forward to meeting the most for the simple reason that we share similar tastes in music. Not saying it’s necessarily bad, but far too many Japanese women have their short attention spans captivated by flavor-of-the-month Japanese pop stars. They get all worked up over the one or two-hit wonders that are cranked out of production machines like burgers at Mickey Dees. I’m not into fast food, and am even less of a fan of fast art. This Kumiko, however, is different: she is gaga about British rock and something she calls guranji.

I imagined her to be cool, pretty in a unique way, but when I get a load of how she looks, a reassessment of my musical preferences is in order.

Kumiko has thrown herself whole-heartedly into the grunge look: baggy, soiled pants with holes in the knees, sweatshirt in tatters, and a loose-fitting flannel shirt. When I arrive at the hotel I find her sitting in the most un-ladylike manner, slouched and legs spread apart with a practiced indifference to the world and an unforgivable contempt for the five-thousand-dollar-plus Arne Jacobsen leather swan chairs she has planted her filthy ass in. I have the urge to race back to Mika and hop on the mother ship leaving for Mars.

Kumiko introduces me to a pug-nosed, overweight and slovenly friend dressed in fatigues named of Kazuko whom she has invited because of her supposed fluency in English. Normally, I would welcome tagalongs with “The more, the merrier!” but in this little piggy’s case, it’s hard to be generous.

Before I can recover from the disappointment they lead me out of the hotel towards an entertainment district a few blocks away called Oyafukô-dôri. As we make our way there, Kumiko asks, in Japanese, if I’ve ever been there, but just as I’m going to reply, in Japanese, Kazuko butts in with a heavily accented translation, “Oyafukô, you know? Been to?” Good god! It dawns on me that this uncouth monster of a woman is going to be practicing her “Engrish” on me all night.

“I, I can’t say that I have.”

Kazuko translates my reply for the benefit of Kumiko who lets out such an expression of surprise it makes me wonder if the dog’s got it right.

“You know oyafukô mean?” Kazuko barks.

I shrug. I couldn’t care less. I just want to go home.

“You don’t know? Why? Why you don’t know?” Kazuko says with theatrical disbelief. I feel like whacking the girl.

Kumiko says that she and her friend are oyafukô causing the two of them to split their sides laughing. It’s highly unattractive and I want to escape. Kumiko, well, I could manage being with, perhaps even enjoy being with her, but this Kazuko? Let’s face it, Kazuko’s a pig and standing next to her is an embarrassment–people might think that we are, god help me, actually friends. And this guffawing like an ass at the crowded intersection doesn’t help her personality to grow on me.

“I haven’t the slightest clue what the two of you are talking about.”

Kazuko leaps at the opportunity to inflict her English onto me: “Oya mean mamma, pappa. Okay? You got that, Mistah Peador?”

“Parents? You mean parents, right?'”

“So, so, so,” Kumiko replies, “pahrento.”

Kazuko continues, “So, fukô mean ‘fee-ree-ah-ru pie-ah-chee . . . want of.'”

“Huh?”

She repeats the same gibberish a few times, then digs a dictionary out of a large army surplus canvas bag that’s slung around her shoulder. After thumbing through it, she passes it to me, pointing at the entry.

Incidentally, even though it’s evening, it’s so brightly illuminated downtown with glaring street lights, building facades bathed in the glow of flood lights and massive neon billboards, you could read a newspaper, or a dictionary.

After crossing the street, I pause to read. “Fukô: Unfilial behavior; disobedience towards one’s parents; treat one’s parent’s disrespectfully.”

“You got it, Mistah Peador-san?” Kazuko asks loudly.

“I, I guess so?”

“We are oyafukô!” Kumiko tells me again. The two of them point to their noses saying, “Oyafukô“, then burst into laughter.

“Ah, you make your parents cry, don’t you?”

“So, so, so,” replies Kumiko. “Pahrento. Wah! Wah! Wah!”

I take it this is how parents cry in Japan. No boohoo-hoos in the Land of the Rising Sun.

“So, so, so,” adds Kazuko. “My parents, too. Crying ohru za taimu.”

“All the time? Why do you make your parents so unhappy?”

Kazuko answers, “We still don’t marriage.”

I would prefer to speak with them in Japanese than endure this woman continue to effortlessly and confidently butcher the English language, but the pug-nosed brute wouldn’t budge.

“You haven’t got married yet?”

“No, still not marriage.”

Ah! “But, the two of you are still young. I mean, what’s the hurry?”

They get a kick out of that. “Oh, we love you, Mistah Peador. You’re gentleman!”

“Don’t get too excited. You haven’t seen me drunk yet.”

Kumiko asks me how old I think she is.

I guess she’s a few years younger than myself, but say “Thirteen?” which causes her let out a shriek. She turns to her friend and says in Japanese, I can’t believe it, he thinks I’m thirty. “Thirteen,” I repeat. “Thirteen! Not thirty. Ah, never mind. I was just joking.”

Jokku?” asks Kumiko. “American jokku?”

What the hell is an American joke? “Yes, American joke.” Whatever.

Kumiko tells me she can’t understand “American jokes.” I reply that I don’t really understand Japanese jokes, which seems to consist primarily of one man slapping the other on the head and saying, “Fool!”

“Oh, you just put us on, then Mistah Peador?” Kazuko said. “Don’t surprise us so. Bad for heart.”

I’m tempted to hit Kazuko on the head and say “Fool!”

*

We come to a second signal where food stalls, or yatai, serving ramen and yakitori, are lined up on the sidewalk. The steady stream of pedestrians coming and going are forced to pass through a narrow path between the yatais and the street, walking over an obstacle course of electrical cords and hoses.

Looking across the street, towards what Kumiko indicates is Oyafukô-dôri, I am hit hard by the realization that I have been there before. It’s all disturbingly familiar.

On the left is a yakitori restaurant, belching out black smoke onto the passersby from a massive vent blackened with oil and soot. Above that is an Indian restaurant run by Sikhs. Across the street is another tall and narrow building with a Yoshinoya outlet on the first floor that serves, gyûdon, bowls of rice topped with a mystery beef. The two buildings form a gate of sorts at the entrance of Oyafukô. On the sidewalks a sea of bodies flow in from the main avenue attracted like moths towards the neon lights and bright signboards. The street itself is clogged with dozens upon dozens of taxis, the lights on top of their cabins forming a string of illumination that runs the length of the street, all the way to a gazebo like police box.

Kôban. Police box. It had been a new word for me when Mie said it. “You don’t have police boxes in America, do you?” We’d just got out of the cab in front of it. “I didn’t see any when I was there.” I told Mie we didn’t, that we had police stations and precincts and police roaming around in cars like stalkers, but no police boxes. It was our first time to get together since my arrival in Japan. She would treat me to dinner at a noisy Japanese-style pub, an izakaya she’d teach me, where the staff was constantly yelling at the top of their lungs, “Two drafts, hey!,” or “Welcome, hoi!” or what the fuck ever. Later, we’d go to a hostess bar, called a snack, where she’d get jealous when a hostess tried to hit on me. Back at her place, we would sit on her bedroom floor drinking sake until there was no more left, and then we’d kiss for the first time. In the months that followed, Mie and I would go dancing at the discos or drinking in many of the bars here.

I can feel Mie’s presence as we cross the street and enter Oyafukô-dôri. I see her in the middle of the street on a Monday morning, wearing a simple, but tight-fitting orange dress with white polka dots, and smiling broadly, arms stretched out. I see myself ignoring the annoyed honking of a taxi driver to take her picture. It’ll become my favorite photo of her and will always remind me of everything that I loved about her, her vitality, her spontaneity, her smile and her body. I see us sitting at the Mister Donut where share a cup of coffee and an old-fashioned donut and talk about going to America together. Oyafukô is as haunted with memories as my old apartment in god-forsaken Kitakyushu was and being back after all this time, after six months, is unsettling.

*

“Peador, we’re here,” Kazuko says, tugging at my arm.

Is Mie out there somewhere? Is she having dinner with her roommate? Is she drinking with friends in a bar nearby? I look down the street beyond the milling mass of people towards the police box, at the passengers getting out of taxis. Is she there? I scan hundreds of faces but can’t find hers.

“Mistah Peador?”

“Huh? Oh, right,” I follow them into a modest little bar called Umie.

After the unexpected onslaught of memories, I’m not much of a companion to Kumiko and Kazuko. It’s difficult to put up with Kazuko’s incessant questions with my thoughts lost on events that are nearly a year old. God how I want to go back in time and relive that first night, that night which changed everything for me. I wish I could go back and undo the mistakes of last summer, so that it would be Mie I was with rather than these two. But I can’t. All I can do is try to chase after forgetfulness one cheap bottle of Heineken at a time.

“Is something the matter?” Kumiko asks later while Kazuko is away at the counter harassing someone else for a change.

“I’m sorry, I’m just feeling . . . ” I can’t remember the Japanese for depressed. “I’m just feeling blah.”

“Blah? The band? I love them.”

“Not Blur, blah. I’m feeling . . . depressed.”

Jipuresstoh?

“De-, depressed. Blah. Er, melancholy.”

“Ah, merankoree. Me, too!” She clinked her beer against mine.

“To melancholy. Cheers.”

Without Kazuko’s meddling Kumiko and I are able to talk for quite a while about our “merankoree”, our heartbreak and our loneliness. Seems she’s been suffering for two years (two whole goddamn years!) from unrequited love. She wants to know what to do about it. She wants to understand what men are thinking. I don’t have the heart to tell her that most guys are thinking much about anything, that they just want to get laid without too many complications.

“Why don’t you just ask him out?” I suggest.

It comes as a revelation to the poor girl. “Me? Ask him?” What are you? High? She doesn’t say this, but she must be thinking it.

“Yeah, you. Ask him out. If he accepts, hey great, you’re lucky. If he says no, well then you can move on. Find someone better.”

Despite Kumiko’s poor choice of clothing and friends, she is still a sweet girl, and even if I haven’t found someone better myself on this particular Saturday when I’ve given it my best shot, I have at least found a friend. And that, I cannot deny, is better than nothing.

*

I have to leave Umie around eleven so I can catch the last train back to my condominium in the middle of nowhere. Kumiko’s jaw drops when I tell her where I’m living. I still find it hard to believe it myself. After silent commiseration, she tells me to move out of the inaka, the sticks, before I turn into an imo otoko, a potato boy, i.e. a hick. Her advice is like a virus which finds a willing host in my mind. It’ll spread quickly and before I know it, I have a full blown case of dissatisfaction, the only cure for which will be to find a place closer to town.

I get to the station in time for the final train, which is packed shoulder to shoulder with red faced salarymen, reeking of whiskey, and office ladies, trembling like lambs among a pack of wolves, hoping they won’t have to silently endure another clumsy grope.

A drunk standing to my side looks up, and noticing with exaggerated surprise that I’m a gaijin, a foreigner tries to speak to me.

“American?” He says teetering precariously on unsteady legs. Were it not for the fact that the train was as full as it was, his knees would surely buckle, he’d drop like a sack of shit to the floor and I wouldn’t have to deal with him.

I pretend to read the ads that dangle from the ceiling like laundry on a clothesline, but he taps me on the arm. “Hey! You American?” Aside from the high pitched woman’s voice giving the passengers an unnecessarily long running commentary over the intercom system, this drunk is the only person among the hundreds crammed into the carriage that is speaking. Why does it have to be with me?

I can see the man is not easily discouraged. He’s got a foot long tuft of hair growing from his temple that’s combed over his otherwise hairless crown. The Japanese call this the “bar code.” Do men actually think they’re fooling anyone when they do that? Give in to the balding, I say, shave it all off.

He asks again more forcefully, some strands of hair cascade down his broad forehead to the bridge of his nose.

I want to move away, but with the wall of bodies behind me, there’s no way out. I’m trapped, so I answer softly, “Y-yes, I’m American.”

Oh, what luck! You can see pure delight in his eyes. I imagine he’ll boast for days to his co-workers and family that he could not only spot an American among gaijin, that he even had an honest to god conversation with one. What an international man he is! He slobbers and gushes about how much he loves the country of my birth. How lucky I am to be American. I wish I could share the sentiment, but my response to his or anyone’s enthusiasm over something so accidental as nationality is lukewarm.

He spares me questions pertaining to Japanese cuisine and goes right to the meat of the conversation: “So, what do you think of Japan? You like it here?”

Do I like Japan? There have been times when I thought I did. Some of the happiest times I’ve ever known have been in this country, but how long has it been since I’ve really been happy here? How long has it been since I felt glad to be here? It’s been six months, six goddamn months. I’ve been traveling solely on the inertia since then. I tell him I do.

He gives a long-winded commentary on the sad state of his country. Japan’s tiny and weak, he says. The people are narrow-minded. They lack initiative, creativity. The young are stupid and lazy. He grumbles on and on like this for several train stops. Please, God!  Kamisama! Buddha! Allah! Let the next stop be his! But alas it is not.

The speech he gives me is one I’ve heard other drunks make many times before. Even the idiot I used to work for in Kitakyûshû said similar things. If you bothered to inquire what kind of country these inebriated malcontents wanted Japan to be, they end up describing a country suspiciously reminiscent of the one that got them into so much trouble half a century earlier. The drunk then asks what I am doing.

“I’m going home.”

“You’re going home, ha! Nice one! American joke.” His breath is redolent of puke. “What are you doing in Japan, not on this train, in Japan?”

What the hell am I doing? All my friends–the one’s I leaned upon so heavily after Mie left me, the ones who made the time here tolerable, and occasionally fun, the ones who stumbled along with me and helped me laugh at my mistakes–will be gone by the end of next week. There was a reason why I came, but I was sidetracked by the initial disappointment and culture shock, the falling in love, the heartbreak, the loneliness that followed and then the move that I never really got to pursue it. To say I’m in Japan to learn something I haven’t yet bothered to start learning is disingenuous. Before I am able to come up with an answer that would satisfy myself, the train stops, doors whoosh open and he staggers out, saying, “American, me and you, we’re the same!” The doors close, and the drunk gives me two big, wobbly thumbs up as the train resumes its westerly creep toward the middle of nowhere. God help me if we are the same.

5

I first met Machiko briefly shortly after I moved in to the condominium. She and one of my nominal roommates, an African-American from Texas named Clark, were leaving just as I returned home.

“Hey, Peador,” Clark said, bending over to tie his shoelaces.

“Going out?”

“Yeah. We’re going into town to catch a movie.”

“A movie, huh? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie.”

“At eighteen bucks a pop, who could blame ya?,” he said standing up, then turning to his girlfriend behind him, added quickly, “Oh, man, I’m sorry. Peador, this is Machiko.”

The girl was little more than skin and bones, but she had the kindest eyes.

“Hajime-mashite,” I said, stretching out my hand.

She gave me a cold sardine of a handshake and smiled demurely.

I met Machiko a second time only last Sunday morning. The girl had been so quiet that I was surprised to find her in the kitchen. Dressed in panties and a t-shirt, she was standing on her tippy toes, hand stretched above her, reaching for a box of Frosted Flakes on the top shelf of the cupboard. The t-shirt rose, revealing a narrow waist and what looked, I couldn’t be sure, like the edge of a large tattoo on her back.

“Ohayô,” I said as I entered the kitchen, giving the girl a start. “Let me get that for you.”

Standing beside her, reached up and grabbed the cereal box. As I passed the box to her, I saw again what appeared to be a tattoo peaking above the collar of the t-shirt at the base of her neck. She thanked me with a smile and a nod, then sat down at the dining table where she poured herself a bowl. Clark emerged from the hallway, dressed identically in an oversized t-shirt and boxers, and sat down besides her.

“Would either of you like some tea,” I asked as I put the kettle on.

They shook their heads.

With my cup of tea I sat down at the far end of the table away from the two of them and pretended to read The Economist.

Though Clark had mentioned before that he had only recently met Machiko, they exhibited a familiarity with each other that suggested otherwise. They took turns taking large spoonfuls of cereal and whispered nonsense to each other that had them giggling like children. I could almost have envied them their affections and apparent happiness, had it not been for the stubborn curiosity piqued by the flashes of color revealed beneath the edges of the t-shirt each time Clark’s girlfriend moved. What would ever drive Machiko, a seemingly timid girl with warm eyes, to get her entire back covered with a massive yakuza tattoo?

*

Let me tell you, after last night’s letdown I’m not as fired up about going into town to meet new women as I was yesterday. It’s tempting to just stay in, stand the chicks up, and veg out in front of the good ol’ boob tube. Problem is, Clark and Machiko are here and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere fast.

When I ask what their plans are, they giggle and say they don’t have any; that they’ll probably hang out all day in the condo. They giggle some more.

Wonderful. The last thing I want to do is listen to the two of them fucking each other’s brains out all day.

Clark asks what I’ll be doing. I tell him I’m meeting someone in town.

“He’s a playboy,” Machiko says to Clark. “I saw him yesterday with a pretty girl.”

Who’s she got me confused with, I wonder, but laugh it off and return to my bedroom where I get ready to leave.

6

I’ve got four dates lined up for today: Chie, Mayu, Risa, and Aya. Four names of women I know next to nothing about except that they will waiting at specified times and locations expecting a gaijin to show up.

Ooh, the intrigue!

*

Chie finds me in front of the Iwataya department store standing before a wall of TVs. When she walks up to me asking if I am Peador, I am tempted to say that she must have me mistaken for someone else because where there ought to be teeth in the woman’s head, there are what look like the pickets of a weathered fence. This poor Chie could have a face that breaks hearts, a body that drives me wild with desire, the compassion of Mother Teresa, but I would never be able to overlook those dreadful teeth.

Listen, I have become rather magnanimous in my attitude towards dentistry since coming to this country–call me British, if you will–but this woman’s mouth puts my generosity to the test. If I had those teeth, I’d suppose I might spend my days in reticence, mumbling through tightly closed lips only when necessary, but this Chie won’t shut up! She goes on and on and on: yackety-yak-yak.

*

Mayu is waiting for me outside the International Center two hours later. The girl is not all that bad looking, but the get-up she’s got on takes the cake.

Mayu is tricked out in a blouse, ridiculously frilly with broad sleeves that gather in yet more frills and ribbons at the wrist. Under the sky blue skirt she’s wearing is a multi-layered petticoat causing the skirt to flares out from her thin waist. Fluffy white lambs have been sewn on to the skirt here and there. She looks like Lil’ Bo Peep. All that is missing is a shepherd’s staff.

She apologizes that she hasn’t got much time that she’s on her lunch break.

Oh, thank god!

“Is this some kind of uniform?” I ask cautiously. Tell me it’s just a costume.

“Well, yes, in a way, I suppose it is,” she replies. “Isn’t it cute?”

“Um . . . Where is it that you work?”

“At Pink House,” she says, then suggests going there. I tell her she needn’t trouble, but she insists on taking me straightaway as it’s just around the corner. She tells me to hurry, so I follow after her like one of her many sheep.

Once at the boutique, Mayu introduces me to her co-workers, all of whom are dressed in similarly ludicrous outfits and wear eerily pleasant smiles on their faces.

“You don’t always dress this way, do you?” I ask warily.

“Oh, if only I could,” Mayu gushes. “But these outfits are far too expensive for me.”

I take a look at one of the price tags and I am flabbergasted. The petticoats alone fetch a thousand dollars.

The co-workers nudge each other and giggle. They think Mayu and I make a nice couple.

These women are all insane.

7

“Call me Lisa,” Risa tells me.

Whatever.

Risa is disappointed when we meet because I am not black. I have so immersed myself in this culture that I find myself unconsciously apologizing for being white.

“I’m sorry, Risa, er, Lisa, for giving you that impression.”

I spoke to so many women in the past week, I don’t know to whom I told what, but I can safely assume that I did not tell her, or anyone else for that matter, that I was of African decent. I mean, why on earth would I?

I go through the filthy hamper of a brain I have, sifting through the unwashed laundry trying to remember what I may have said that lead her to believe that I am a brother. Did she misinterpret something I said? This is highly probable; even the most fluent English speakers I know misunderstand much of what I tell them. Perhaps, I told her I was the black sheep of the family–which is true, that I blacked out last weekend from the drink–also true, that black was my favorite color, that I preferred black tea to green, that . . .

“You said you were black.”

“I said I was Irish. Irish-Amer . . . ”

“Yes, and then I said, ‘Do you have orange hair and freckles . . . ”

I see said the blind man as he pissed into the wind, it all comes back to me.

And suddenly I remembered! “I said, ‘No, I’m black Irish.'”

“So, so, so, so. You said you were black.”

See what I mean?

Risa-call-me-Lisa takes me to a monja-yaki restaurant that she recommends. Outside the restaurant we look at the display case, which features uncannily realistic wax representations of the dishes served.

“Which one do you want?” she asks.

There are a dozen plates of what looks like vomit. I can’t imagine anyone looking at this display and thinking, Mm that looks yummy! I’ll have the puke with bits of bacon, please. I’ve seen more appetizing piles of regurgitated ramen on the sidewalk.

“I don’t know. They all look the same to me.”

She laughs. “You’re a funny man, Mister Peador-san.”

So I am. So I am.

Risa-call-me-Lisa is going to have the seafood barf with squid, shrimp and bits of octopus, and I the standard mixed monja-yaki called, believe it or not, The Orthodox. We sit at the counter before a large teppan grill where the cooks prepare the vomit with the seriousness of funeral directors. I can’t help but chuckle.

Risa unzips the silver down jacket she’s wearing to reveal the skimpiest of outfits. She hasn’t got the greatest body in the world, but she certainly knows how to present it, how to put it into a small enough package that it gives me a personal boner. Even the cooks can’t help but take their eyes off the teppan griddle to sneak a peek.

She asks me if I like what she’s wearing.

“I do.”

She tells me she got it in Tokyo where all the girls are wearing this kind of thing.

I should have moved to Tokyo instead.

“Have you ever been to Tokyo?” she asks.

“No, not yet.”

“Let’s go with me!” she says.

“Okay, let’s!”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

She asks if I want to drink.

“Is the Pope Catholic.”

“The Pope?”

“Risa, er, Lisa. I’m dying for a drink.”

“Beer? You want a nama?”

“Draught? Yeah, I’ll have a nama.”

She orders two namas which we put away easily before our food is served, so she orders two more. During our meal of monja-yaki, which is actually quite good, we drink a couple more draughts and by the end of lunch we’re like too old lovers. She touches me playfully to make a point, leans against my body when she tells me something she doesn’t want the staff to hear, rests her head on my shoulder, places her hand on my thigh and says she’s tired. I’m thinking I may actually get laid today. She orders another beer moves her hand to the bulge in my pants that has been impatiently demanding attention ever since she removed her jacket.

“Wow!” she says. “It’s true.”

“What’s true?”

“You know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“What they say.”

“What do they say?”

“You know.”

“I don’t.”

“That Americans, you know . . . ”

A waiter places two draughts on the counter before us. Risa keeps her right hand on my friend, drinks with her left. She blushed with the first beer, grew red with the third, but now that she is on her sixth beer, she has lost her color altogether. I ask her if she’s all right. She strokes my crotch, making my cock bob up against her hand, and replies me that I’m the one we should be worried about.

“Does it hurt?” Hurt? Is this what Japanese men tell women here? That it hurts? Is that how the men get laid, by preying on women’s kindness? When in Rome . . .

I tell her it does, that I can’t stand the pain.

“Do you want me to help you with it?”

“I do.”

“Let’s go!”

*

Risa nearly falls over as she tries to stand up. I have to put one arm around her waist, place her arm around my shoulder and sort of drag her out of the restaurant the way a soldier would pull a wounded man out of a combat zone. As we pass the restroom, her body stiffens and she says she’s going to be sick. She pushes me aside and staggers into the women’s restroom, leaving me outside with her handbag and the silver down jacket to stand vigil as the sound of retching resonates against tiled walls.

When she emerges several minutes later, her face is ashen. I give her some gum and she thanks me with a heavy nod then walks quietly towards the elevator. I follow stupidly still carrying her belongings, which she takes from me once we get on the elevator. She struggles with the jacket. I help her get her arm through the sleeve. I put the purse under her arm, the strap over her shoulder. As soon as we leave the building, she places her hand on my chest to stop me from following her. She walks a few uneasy steps forward, turns slightly to wave good-bye then hails a cab.

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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