With the numerous small plates piled with food that we couldn’t possibly finish in one sitting laid out in front of us, it was almost like an elegant, relaxing feast meant just for us.
When the Cablis I ordered arrived, I waited until both our glasses had been filled before raising my glass, “well then…let’s do a toast.”
“What should we toast to?”
“Sounds good,” he said, but he hesitated for an instant before picking up his glass to say, “To us.”
I nodded, and we clinked glasses.
It was hard to describe the feeling, but I felt a bit self-conscious for some reason. I kept my eyes lowered but I could feel Shougo’s strong gaze on me. Even though the glance was brief, to me, it made me conscious of the long, long separation that existed between us and I couldn’t help but feel it odd that that separation that existed was separation as a brother and sister.
The Chablis was chilled to perfection and it was delicious, but Shougo said he was driving so he only took a small sip from his glass. The rest, he put in front of me saying that I could have it. He then showed he had a healthy appetite as he began to scarf down the food. His appetite brought a smile to my face.
Since I grew up as an only child, to be honest, I couldn’t even imagine what it would feel like to have a brother. To have someone who I lived with since I could remember who was similar to me in age and not only that but who was related to me… I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like.
For example, would the situation be similar to that of baby foxes curled up together in a hole always confirming the other’s presence by sniffing each other’s scent? Or is it closer to chicks fighting in a dry nest over food? Or closer yet, like kittens continuing to mewl weakly in a dirty cardboard box under the shade after having been thrown away after birth? …Was it closer to that? I had no idea.
The relationship must be so that the two people would know each other inside and out. They would fight for food, poke jabs at each other, and at times be verbally abusive to the other. They would show each other tears and words of embarrassment that they would never show or say to others, and those things would just melt into the fabric of everyday life as they grew up alongside each other. How to suck up to their parents, how to deceive their parents, the pathetic face they would show when they are sick, their mannerisms, their habits, their characteristics… they would know down to every last detail.
It must be something similar to having a long-cherished furniture in your room. It’s just something that is always there. Even when you fight and exchange hurtful words, with time, everything settles back into place. And before you know it, you would be back to sitting beside one another eating meals and being close enough to get a whiff of the other’s scents.
If the wheel of fate had been slightly different, then that may have been very well how we might have ended up. It may be that if circumstances were different, I might have been living my days sharing days like that with him.
Seeing him walking around in the house after a shower in only an underwear, I might have snapped, “Don’t go around showing your disgusting body so early in the morning. Seeing you walk around naked creeps me out.” And with that, he would have snapped back: “Shut the hell up. Well what about you then? Don’t go around applying makeup while shoving your face with food.” We would both then turn away in a huff and in the next moment, we would completely forget what we had been talking about or even what had irritated us so…
“What are you thinking about?” asked Shougo, who was leaning over his plate eating a spare rib.
“Oh, no. It’s nothing,” I replied. “I was just remembering a scene from some kind of movie.”
“A scene with lovers having dinner while gazing at the night view?”
“Then what was it?”
“I said it’s nothing.”
I couldn’t possibly tell him that I had been thinking of a scene of an older sister who was spitting out a stream of abuse towards her younger brother who was clad only in underwear. I must have had a slightly annoyed expression on my face because he stopped pressing for the answer.
“Sometimes, you have a habit of having your head in the clouds, don’t you? You were quite talkative until a bit earlier, but then suddenly you got all quiet… is that a habit of yours?”
“I don’t like talking non-stop. I want to talk only when I want to talk.”
“Isn’t that the same for everyone though?”
I relaxed my shoulders and formed a smile before taking after Shougo and began to eat a spare rib with my bare hands. I could feel the warm juice dripping from between my fingers. I didn’t even bother to wipe my mouth with a napkin; I just licked the corners of my mouth from time to time with the tip of my tongue. I could tell that the area around my mouth was becoming shiny with the oil from the meat.
It felt comfortable to be able just eat in front of a guy that I just met without having to put on airs. I didn’t care if the juice dripped down and fell on the sleeves of my white sweater. I felt happy being able to just concentrate on eating despite being in the company of another person.
“Hey, this is pretty good. Huh, but it’s pretty amusing how I’m eating– it’s like I’m some starving kid or something.”
“I’d say it’d be more strange to eat something like that in a really dainty manner.”
“Oh yeah, that reminds me. I knew someone like that. One time, a bunch of us got together to have a barbecue and she took out a knife and fork to start eating corn on the cob. Can you believe it? A knife and fork! It’s not as if we were at some French restaurant.”
“I know someone like that too. She was eating an ice cream bar, but any time she ate from it, she would first scrape a chunk off onto a plate before scooping it up with a spoon to eat it.”
“Isn’t that like twirling buckwheat noodles onto a fork like pasta and eating it?”
“Oh, I saw someone do that once too. I heard it’s because she didn’t want to make any noise when she was eating in front of others. She didn’t use a fork though, she used chopsticks. She wrapped the buckwheat noodles neatly with her chopsticks before eating it. It was a wealthy old woman with caked on make up though.”
“I bet a woman like that uses chopsticks to eat edamame soybeans even when the meal’s something super casual like a beer and edamame soybeans.”
“Yeah, but it’s those kind of people who end up taking a big bite out of melons.”
Our eyes met as we laughed.
The juice from the meat clung to the corners of my lips. As I was laughing, I wiped it away with my napkin, and despite my fingers being greasy, I reached towards my glass of Chablis.
“Well then, I guess it’s about time I started drilling you with questions then.”
“I don’t mind, but only under one condition.”
“Once you’re finished asking me questions, please let me do the same for you.”
“Feel free to ask me anything. What do you want to know?”
“So many things– it would easily go over a hundred or two hundred pages. There are so many things I want to ask you that I don’t even know where to begin.”
“I told you, didn’t I? There’s no need to rush. Well then, putting that aside for now, it’s my turn first to ask the questions, okay? You’re enrolled in the lit department at university, right? What’s your major? I realized I had forgotten to ask you before.”
“I don’t really want to say. You’d probably laugh if I told you.”
“Just spit it out. What is it?”
When he replied that he was majoring in philosophy, I lifted an eyebrow and in a slightly exaggerated manner tilted my head to look at the ceiling.
“You’re studying philosophy?”
“See? What did I tell you. You’re laughing!”
“I’m not laughing. Why would I? I’m just surprised, that’s all. Huh…is that right? Philosophy…huh? I didn’t see that one coming.”
“Well, I don’t really seem like the type to major in French literature either, right?”
“Hmm…I don’t know about that. You definitely don’t look like the type to major in philosophy though. Maybe it’s because of the stereotype of students who major in that field have. I mean…there’s pretty much a clear-cut image of the kind of person who’d major in philosophy.”
“What kind of person is that?”
“Well, they wear a navy blue turtleneck sweater, and a long-sleeved shirt with dirty, wrinkled sleeves. They have a stubble, and always walk around with a constant scowl on their faces with knitted eyebrows. They probably constantly suffer from a stomach ache or something.”
Shougo laughed, “Talk about having a biased view! In the department, there are people who dress in a punk rock fashion, and those who are even working part time as a model for men’s fashion magazines.”
“Why did you decide to major in that?”
“I can’t really put it into words very well…” he said as he brought the glass of mineral water that he was drinking instead of wine to his lips. “I had an interest in things that are logical. But I don’t mean logical in a scientific or mathematical sense. Because if you think about it, those two subjects basically consist of turning things that already exist into numerics and only changing the way the combinations go together, right? Those kind of topics aren’t about organizing and turning logical something so messed up and such a complete mystery like that of a human’s mind. I felt that if I majored in philosophy though that I might just be able to do that. I thought that might not be so bad.”
“I’d think the more that you study philosophy, the more confused you’d get though.”
“That’s a misunderstanding. Once you get to know the tips and tricks of breaking down and analyzing complex sentences, you’d be surprised to find that philosophy touts things that are pretty close to real life– no, I could even say it represents real life itself. You should just think of it as being something like a morning tabloid show. After all, this subject was one that originated from someone desperately trying to think of a way to get people who think ‘I’m lonely, poor, and not popular with women. Why should I bother to continue living?’ to keep from committing suicide.”
“That makes sense. So who’s your favourite philosopher?”
“Maybe Heidegger? Nietzsche is pretty interesting too though– he has a bit of a mischievous side to him.”
“Nietzsche has a mischievous side?”
“He’s always aggressive, no matter what. He didn’t care about anything around him. He was always just saying whatever was on his mind. Even though he knew it didn’t win him any favours to do so, he did it regardless. Maybe he thought that was one of his good points.”
To think I’d be talking about Heidegger and Nietzsche with my brother who I’d met for the first time in twenty four years on a rainy winter night as we sat at a table overlooking the night scenery….I wanted to tell him this, but I realized there was a part of me that was still resistant to the thought of referring to him as my “brother.”
“Do you plan on teaching as some sort of professor once you graduate? Or do you plan to weasel yourself into a first rate company and become a corporate soldier?”
“A corporate soldier who majored in philosophy? Talk about leaving a bad taste in my mouth. And at any rate, I’ve never once thought of joining a first rate company– and besides, someone with a background like me wouldn’t even make it to the interviews. I don’t really want to become a professor either though.”
“Because it’s childish.”
My shoulders shook as I laughed, “Why would being a university professor be childish?”
“There are a lot of people like that. The way they express themselves is really childish. I guess that does have some sort of charm to it in and of itself, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to fit in.”
“Then what do you want to become?”
Shougo chuckled, “It’s as if I’m being asked by my elementary school teacher what I want to become when I grow up, and when I can’t give a clear answer, the beautiful teacher would get angry and spank me, and I’d burst into tears.”
I pretended to have not heard him use the word ‘beautiful’ and continued: “So what, you’re going to become some sort of bum? Well, a bum who graduated with a degree from philosophy might not be so bad though.”
“I do have this confidence though that I can do anything I set my mind to, since it is the case that I’ve done all sorts of jobs until now. Whether I enter a company and become a business man or whether I enter the underground world, I think I’d be able to survive somehow. I might even be able to pretend I’m gay and work at a gay bar.”
I nodded, “You don’t really think too far into the future, do you? You’re like me.”
“Well, is it any wonder? We do share the same blood, after all.”
He said this nonchalantly as he spread a generous amount of butter onto a bun and took a large bite from it. “So…what else?”
“What else do you want to ask? Feel free to ask me anything.”
When he put it like that, even though I was the one who brought up the idea of asking questions, I had no idea what to ask anymore.
It was supposed to be that I only had one thing that I wanted to ask more than anything. His true feelings when he found out that his mother wasn’t really his mother, and not only that but that she was his kidnapper… and his honest opinion about what he thought of this woman called his older sister….
When it came right down to it, those were the only things I wanted to know. It was partly because I knew he hadn’t revealed his true feelings yet on those matters; but that being said, there was a part of me that wondered what would come out of finding out about those things. Even if he told me, I felt that there was really no meaning in it.
When I brought a cigarette to my lips, he immediately took out a lighter. I refused his offer saying “you don’t need to bother,” and lit it myself as I pursed my lips and breathed out a small puff of smoke.
“Do you not like men lighting your cigarette?”
“Now that you ask, not really, no.”
“So you don’t like being attended to by men?”
“Well, it depends on the circumstances. It’s true I don’t really like men who act like a servant to a woman. Because if you think about it…it’s merely a formality.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like a custom. Kind of like how we always say ‘Happy New Years’ at the start of the year.”
Shougo let out a loud laugh. “I get what you’re saying. When I worked at a host club though, it was kind of a given to do things like this. I got into a habit of doing it so that whenever there’s a woman in the room, I just instinctively light their cigarette, pour their beer, and make whisky and water for them.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most women would be genuinely happy to have you do that.”
“But if you’re not happy, then there’s no point.”
I looked up at him from beneath my lashes. He didn’t really act as if he had said anything particularly special. He brought a cigarette to his own lips and lit it.
“This might sound a bit strange, but in this world, there are women that men genuinely want to treat like a Queen and who they want to act like so, and there are also those who they don’t want to treat like Queens. Ninety nine out of a hundred women belong to the latter category. In our hearts, even though we think how stupid they are, we just do them a favour by treating them like Queens; but you’re not like that. Yeah, you might just be the first woman I’ve met that I’ve felt like that towards.”
“So what, you’re going to let me play the part of the Queen?”
“It fits you, Mio-san.”
It didn’t feel unpleasant to be told that. I lightly shrugged my shoulders and crossed my legs under the table.
“I’m just a selfish, impulsive person. Misao-chan’s always on my case over it. I can’t deny that it’s the truth though, so I can’t really say so otherwise.”
I gained momentum and began to talk about how I was a good-for-nothing compared to Misao-chan.
Misao-chan’s a fabulous cook. She‘s also skilful. As for me, I’m completely hopeless in the kitchen— all I can do is eat what someone else has prepared for me. I couldn’t care less about things like my health and nutrition; I’m not even really fixated on eating. I could go a day with only coffee and cigarettes. Misao-chan, however, cooks her own meals. Not only that but she always gives it her all. She realized her dream of becoming a lawyer, but as for me, I couldn’t even bother to have a dream to strive towards.
She understands though that there are people out there who have different ways of living their lives. She even accepts a good-for-nothing person like me. Since she’s someone close to me, I never once told her this to her face, but compared to the countless women in the world out there, she’s an amazing, charming woman in the top of her class. Misao-chan’s this… Misao-chan’s that…
Shougo listened intently to me talking about her.
“You call her using ‘-chan’?”
“That’s right. Is it strange?”
“No, not at all. It’s cool that you’re more like friends than aunt and niece.”
“I’ve never once thought of her as my aunt. She was always ‘Misao-chan’ to me– ever since I was a child.”
“So she’s more like an older sister to you than a mother?”
“Hmm…I have a feeling that she’s not really like an older sister figure to me either. I couldn’t really say for certain though since I’ve never had siblings.”
“Since you lost your mother at a young age, your relationship must have just developed naturally like that.”
“Perhaps,” I said then turned to face him. “This is such an odd conversation we’re having, isn’t it? The ‘mother’ that you’re referring to is your mother too, and Misao Honda is your aunt too.”
“I know,” he replied in a low voice as he closed his eyes. “But I didn’t really know what else to say.”
“I guess you’re right,” I agreed.
By the time I’d realized it, the tables at the restaurant had begun filling up, and most of the tables were now occupied. That being said, there was still quite a bit of space between each table, so we couldn’t really hear the conversations of the tables next to us. The night scenery outside the window looked like a still painting. If you didn’t concentrate and stare at it, you couldn’t tell if it was something that existed in real life.
When my glass had emptied, Shougo immediately refilled it.
“You might not like it very much, but please let me do this, even if just for tonight.”
“Thank you,” I said in a whisper. “You’re welcome,” he replied.
“I’ll tell you the truth.”
“What is it?”
“Misao-chan and my father…. In other words, your father, Shimada Keiichi… they were lovers for a long…long time… until he passed away in an accident.”
“Whoa,” he exclaimed as his eyes rounded. “Ever since your mother died?”
“I’m not really sure when their relationship started, but that’s probably the case. Misao-chan lived with us until she passed the bar exam, and she seems to have had feelings for him even back when he was still her brother-in-law; it was the same for my father. After my mother passed away, something must have sparked between them.”
“I had no idea. Honda-san…. Well, Misao-san, never once mentioned anything like that to me.”
“There’s no way she would have mentioned something like that to you when she first met you. My father was her ‘one and only love’ and it’s probably the case that the woman he cared for the most after my mother’s death was Misao-chan—only her. There were always women coming and going in my father’s life, but when it came right down to it, I think Misao-chan was the one he loved.”
“So you didn’t really mind that your father was involved with someone who was the sister of your mother?”
“Not at all. I could almost compete with my father in my love for Misao-chan… oh, but when we talk about things like this, everything just becomes tangled again, doesn’t it? The ‘father’ we’re talking about here is your father too, after all.”
Despite having so many things that we shared, there was a part of me that felt uncertain about things if I didn’t confirm those shared things in words. There was nothing I could do about the forced nature of it.
Shougo said this as if he were talking to himself, “My father…huh? It still doesn’t have a natural ring to it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like a person suffering from amnesia being told by those around him that he’s this kind of person and how his name is this and how this person and this person are his parents and this is where he used to live… if something like that happened, the person would be confused, don’t you think? He’d feel so messed up that it’d feel as if his head were about to explode… that’s the kind of situation I’m in right now.”
“I can understand that.”
“You do? Truly?”
“Well, it’s because it’s the same for me,” I answered and thinned my lips into a smile. “I’ve been told ‘here, this is your younger brother. Here, this man here is your biological brother.’ I was told this out of the blue, and I said ‘oh, is that right…’ But if you think about it, I’d feel messed up too, don’t you think?”
“You didn’t want a brother… did you?”
“I’ve never even thought about whether I wanted one or not before.”
“Brother and sister… this is all such a joke, isn’t it?”
“Why do you say so?”
“Well, being here with you like this gazing at the night sky… it makes it hard to believe that you’re my sister. It’s like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’”
“If I’m not your sister, then who am I?”
I asked him this in a half embarrassed, half expectant way. I’m not sure if it was because he realized this or not, but he didn’t try to answer that question. But for me though, I felt a little relieved that he didn’t try to answer, because that’s what I felt what a brother would do.
“Well then, if you’ve run out of questions, I’m going to go back to eating,” he said this and began to start moving his fork again and eating with gusto. The thin sausages simmered in red wine were ripped in half by his straight white teeth with a dry snap.
I also went back to eating. For a short time after, we satiated our appetites by eating in silence.
I couldn’t help but think the more I talked with him, the more I wanted to know. It was similar to the feeling I had of wanting to see him the more I saw him.
This emotion couldn’t be summed up as being a heartrending type of feeling; and it goes without saying that what I felt wasn’t the kind of sexual attraction that sparked between a man and woman.
It was similar to the feeling of happiness that creeps up on you when you sit outside on the veranda in the middle of summer as fireworks are lit outside.
The fireworks that you had been looking forward to becomes fewer and fewer… three more…two more…only one left… once that’s over, the fireworks were done. You would put out the fire in the bucket full of water, and you would have to put back the lighter back in the house….
Even though you know that that joy would only be short-lived, you couldn’t help but relish the feeling that washes over you in that fleeting moment…. The pure blissful loneliness you feel at knowing it couldn’t last forever…
It is because you know that when the fire goes out, you’ll be consumed in darkness again so you couldn’t help but pray that the fireworks would continue for just a little longer… The childish, foolishness that overcomes you…
“Hey,” I said. The moment I said this, the mini tomato that I had put in my mouth burst, and the sour-sweet juice mixed with my saliva. That sour-sweetness helped me to say clearly what I wanted to say: “I’ll tell you something interesting.”
“I have so much fun hanging out with you.”
No sooner had I said this, did he reply: “It’s the same for me.”
“Let’s meet up like this from time to time again, okay?”
“Why only from time to time? Let it be everyday.”
“And take me to that bar in Shibuya that you work at, okay?”
“And when Misao-chan’s free, we should all get together.”
“Sure, we can meet with our aunt.”
“Is it okay if I call you when I want to go out shopping?”
“I’ll hold your shopping bags.”
“That’s not what I meant…” I trailed off vaguely.
When I imagined Shougo and I inside a boutique picking out sweaters and suits, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be fun. Doing something like that with Muda wouldn’t be fun in the least, let alone with other men.
But I hesitated to say this.
The bottle of Chablis was two thirds empty. I started to feel the effects of the alcohol.
Because of the alcohol, the night scenery outside the window became even more sparkling and it felt as if the lights had multiplied in number.
I thought it might be because my eyes had gotten slightly teary-eyed, so I tried rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand. The tears turned out to be the night scenery being splashed on by rain.
I was driven back in the metallic red Jaguar, and when we arrived in front of my Shirokanedai apartment complex, the clock had already struck and passed midnight.
I wanted to ask him if he wanted to come up for some coffee, but I couldn’t find the courage to bring those words to my lips. I couldn’t help but think that my hesitation was the very same as when I was inviting a complete stranger up to my apartment.
The more I asked myself, “why are you being so conscious of him?” the more I was at a loss for what to say next. It hadn’t been very long since we had reunited as brother and sister– I told myself. And with this, I covered up my feelings with a fake cheerfulness and forced a light-hearted tone as I said, “Well then, good night. I had fun.”
“I had a great time too. I’m sorry to put such an unnecessary expense on you though.”
“Don’t worry about it. Well then, see you.”
Without looking back, I turned and walked in the direction of the apartment complex entrance. The rain had settled into light showers, and my breath came out in small white puffs.
I stepped into the lobby, and as I tried to sneak a glance in Shougo’s direction to see if his car was still parked in front of the building, the cell phone in my bag began ringing.
It was a phone call from Muda.
“I don’t really have any special reason for calling,” he started. “But if you’re home, would you mind if I dropped by for a bit? Or are you still out somewhere”
“I’m out,” I replied. Even though I had arrived back at my apartment building, I still hadn’t returned to my apartment yet, so it wasn’t a complete lie.
“I was just about to head back, but I’m sorry– not tonight. I’m tired.”
“Did you drink too much?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“That’s what you get for going on a secret rendezvous behind my back.”
Despite what he had just said, he didn’t sound at all angry. Instead, the way he said that was as if he was teasing a young girl.
“It’d be nice though if I could stop by… if only just for a bit. I won’t stay long.”
“What’s with you tonight? It’s not like you.”
“As I listened to the sound of the rain falling, I just got this urge to see you. That’s all.”
“I don’t mind if you come, but I have my period today– not only that, but it’s my heaviest day.”
I realized what a direct way I said this in, but at the same time, I felt a strange sort of lonely satisfaction from saying it. When it came right down to it, what my relationship with him was based on was sexual and nothing more.
Whenever he wanted my body, I would give it to him, and in return he would compensate me with what many would consider an exorbitant sum…. Despite this give and take relationship that we shared, the only thing that allowed me to keep from feeling like a slave for being provided for by a man was thanks to the fact that he derived a certain form of amusement from my do-as-you-please lifestyle. Because of this, at first glance, it may seem that the vertical relationship we shared may seem to have flipped on its head, but in reality, that wasn’t the case.
I knew the reality of the situation. Not for one second did I ever forget. Even though I had the money that my father left for me, I knew that the reason why I was able live this way and continue to have such a freewheeling part-time job lifestyle was because of Muda. It was because of my sexual relationship with him that the person who I am now exists.
“I hope it’s not the case that you’re saying that because you want to distance yourself from me.”
There was no hostility in his tone. Rather, it was as if he was enjoying this conversation.
“If you’re so curious, why don’t you come over and see for yourself?” I said nonchalantly. “I don’t care. Only on the condition that you help me clean up the dirtied sheets after.”
He chuckled in a low laugh and replied, “I’ll pass. I can’t say I’m not disappointed though. Will you come to work tomorrow?”
“Let’s kiss in the kitchen.”
“Well aren’t you the starved child.”
“It’s just that I want you– that’s all.”
He said this as he yawned before hanging up with a quiet click.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 8 – 150 – 171]