Now that I think back to it, I wondered what it was that had happened.
I knew that it wasn’t something that I could figure out the answer to no matter how hard I thought about it, but even then I couldn’t help but think back, and every time I would do so, I couldn’t help but ruminate again and again on the memory in my mind– it was almost as if I was trying to cling onto that memory.
The moment the new year began and the sound of the New Years’ Eve bells began ringing from the television, when I had realized it, I was in Shougo’s arms. I knew full well that Misao was watching. I remembered that we had started out jokingly embracing each other, and how we had been laughing. And the hug itself was nothing more than a light embrace.
However, that embrace didn’t result in the light-hearted atmosphere like one that would often form around old friends who felt comfortable with one another. It was usually the case that in a situation where two friends jokingly embraced after consuming a bit of alcohol, they would be conscious of the reactions of their friends and yet that wouldn’t deter them from having a good time. I didn’t feel that kind of carefree feeling. For me, I was, for a moment, consumed with passion and it was as if some hidden force had pushed me into action because when I had realized it, I had jumped into his arms.
The first year that I spent with my biological brother who had been torn apart from my family just after he was born… it would be a lie to say that there wasn’t a part of me that was conscious of this. But, at the same time, I wondered if I just took advantage of that fact. Maybe from the very beginning, there was a part of me that wanted to embrace him… that wanted to touch him. In that instant the clock struck twelve, it may just be that something in me was unleashed.
The feeling of his strong arms wrapping itself around me kept flashing in my mind time and time again. The moment we had embraced, I felt his face near the side of my face, and although it was just for an instant, I also felt his warm breath. I had fit perfectly into his arms. It was almost strange how perfectly we fit– it was as if we were parts that had been cut so as to fit exactly in the other.
I didn’t know why I would keep thinking back to that. I couldn’t count the number of times I had exchanged a brief hug with a man on the sidewalk in the middle of the night. I had even gotten used to exchanging a light kiss afterwards. Those actions meant so little to me that after we had parted ways I wouldn’t even remember what had happened; that’s how insignificant it was to me. It was almost just a way of showing my appreciation.
Appreciation for treating me to a grand meal. Appreciation for diverting my attention from loneliness for at least one night. Appreciation for flagging down a taxi for me after we left the restaurant instead of scratching the side of his oily nose and saying a foolish line like, “it’s up to you, but would you like to spend some time together at a hotel?”…
But with Shougo… when we had embraced, that feeling of cool detachment was missing. Every time I thought back to that scene, I felt a feeling akin to fear.
He is my biological brother. Even if we had been separated just after he was born, that didn’t change that fact. I can’t be drawn to him. I can’t feel anything more than an interest in him as a sibling. Nothing beyond that can ever take place…
As soon as I had warned myself though, those feelings would bubble to surface time and time again, and I could no longer deny that I was being increasingly drawn to him as a woman would to a man.
That being said, for a while after, seemingly peaceful days followed.
I kept in frequent contact with him, and we would have lunch together. I also dropped by “Tadzio” where he worked, and drank the cocktails that he served. We went to see movies together, and afterwards, we took a stroll wandering about town. In some ways, the way we spent our time together was a perfectly fine way for an older woman and a younger man to do, and this helped to drape a tranquil calm over my feelings.
Whenever I was with him, no matter how mundane our activity was, I felt excited. Our conversations flowed like water, and even the scenery I had seen countless times seemed fresh and new. We would stop by a stationery shop, and even something like picking a ball point pen together made me feel a rush of happiness.
It was as if we were playful puppies as we laughed and joked around. We cracked jokes and poked jabs at each other without holding back, and the more we did this the more comfortable we felt, and our conversations had no bounds.
It may be that he was the first person after my father who I felt a close connection with. If I didn’t count Misao, up until now, I hadn’t really met anyone who I would consider to be someone close to me.
Shougo never once brought up the embrace we exchanged on New Year’s. It was the same for me. We both pretended that we had forgotten what had happened. We didn’t talk about our parents, his kidnapping, or the woman who had raised him either.
I didn’t avoid those topics because I was trying to distance myself from topics that were shrouded in a fine haze. It was because if we reminisced on the past, it would pain me to see so clear what our relationship was really based on.
This ambiguousness of this relationship called brother and sister irritated me. This person who I felt so close with was my biological brother… this fact gave rise to the stinging pain of resignation; at the same time, it gave off the odour of forbidden love that I was beginning to suffocate in.
It was just after the calendar had turned into February that Shougo said, “Now that I think about it, you haven’t taken me to that café that you work at yet, have you?”
He said this on a cloudy cold afternoon that looked as if it might give way to light snow any time soon. On that day, we had gotten together not for any particular reason, but just because one had asked the other, and we met at a café near Shibuya Station that was frequented by young people.
He had said “Now that I think about it…” in a nonchalant, offhanded manner, but I immediately sensed that this was something he had been dwelling on since long before.
“The only reason why I didn’t ask is because there’s nothing interesting to see there,” I returned my cup of hot cocoa back onto its saucer, and lit a Marlboro cigarette. “It’s a boring café. A dime a dozen.”
“Would I only cause you trouble to go there?”
“Of course not. Why would you even ask that?”
“Because it seems like you don’t really want me to take me there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If you want to go so much, I’ll take you there. I’d probably get glared at though because I’ve been slacking off so much lately.”
“By your lover?”
“Like I said… he’s not like that.”
As I said this with a forced smile, inside, I felt that the time had finally come. I had more or less opened up to him about the circumstances regarding my relationship with Muda.
However, I had had no intentions of ever introducing Shougo to him. Even now, as before, I met with Muda from time to time and engaged in a physical relationship with him. In turn, almost as a payment for my services, he paid for my monthly living expenses. If at all possible, I didn’t want to show Shougo that side of me.
“Since when?” He asked. The noise from surrounding tables drowned out his voice, so I turned to him and asked, “Sorry?”
A wry smile formed on the side of his lip as he repeated his question: “Since when have you and him…?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m asking when you began having this relationship with him.”
I exhaled smoke in a crude manner as I said, “I forgot. It goes a long way back. It’s been going on since he started to give me enough money so I didn’t need to worry about my day-to-day expenses, even though I never asked him to do such a thing….”
“Is he married?”
“Of course. He even has kids. The wife is a sensible woman who doesn’t go around badgering him and asking questions about why her husband would pay a lowly part-timer such an atrociously high salary. It’s because she’s the way she is that I can continue my relationship with him. That’s all there is to it.”
He nodded, “I figured that was the case. Even then though, I’d like to meet him.”
“Because I’m curious.”
“I told you, didn’t I? I’m just doing it because I need to out of necessity.”
“Even then, I want to meet him. … or is that not okay?”
I lifted my eyebrow high and rolled my eyes as I snuffed out my cigarette. “Well if you’re so insistent, do you want to head over there right now? But just so you know, we’re only stopping by, all right? To be honest with you, he’s been really curious about you too. He hasn’t said this to my face but I can sense it. He keeps calling you the ‘good looking brother.’ Every time he talks about you, he adds that nickname. It’s so stupid.”
“What is his name?”
I sighed and shook my head as a pained smile formed on my lips, “His name’s Muda.”
“It’s the first time I’ve heard his name… Muda-san…huh?”
I couldn’t help but feel how dirty it was to hear that name being pronounced from his lips, and instinctively I grabbed the receipt as I got up from the table. “Let’s go,” I said. “We’ll drop in, say our greetings and have a cup of coffee then leave straight afterwards. That’s okay with you, isn’t it?”
The café that Muda ran that was called “Muda-Tei” was located a few minutes walk from Hiroo station on the second floor of a building that was tucked away from the main road.
The walls were made of brick, and the kitchen goods had all been imported from Europe, and it gave off a gloomy oppressive atmosphere. Aside from the counter seats, there was only one other seat tucked under a large camellia-shaped table; there were no booths. The music being played in the background was a standard jazz fare. He had told me before this was a taste he picked up in his university days.
Muda was usually the one running the place, but he also had two employees aside from him. One was a forty-something woman named Watanabe, and another was a 30-something single man who had had completed an apprenticeship at a famous French restaurant. His name was Katsumata, and he spent most of his time in the kitchen as he was responsible for the various cakes that the café was famous for.
Watanabe’s husband was a business man, and he currently lives in Los Angeles for his work. They had no children. Watanabe who always kept herself neat and tidy, had been involved with Katsumata going a long ways back.
When I had asked Muda about this, he said he didn’t care if they had a relationship as long as they were willing to work, and I felt the same way. It was partly thanks to them that I could come and go as I please, and Muda, being Muda, could come over to visit me on those nights of passion because he could leave his café in their safe hands. He considered them to be treasures.
That night, when I dropped into the café with Shougo, there were no customers that I recognized there. There were only three university school girls sitting around the camellia-shaped table talking. I could see Watanabe behind the counter in the back, but I couldn’t see Muda anywhere.
When we had sat down at the counter, Watanabe, who was wearing a white silk blouse and black skirt came to greet me with a smile. “Well isn’t this a surprise. Mio, is this your friend?”
“I guess you could say that,” I said. “Is he here?”
“He just stepped out saying he needed to go to the bank, but he should be right back. As you can see, it’s pretty much dead tonight. I guess it must be because of the weather, being as cold as it is. Would you like me to pour you some coffee?”
Watanabe and Katsumata both knew of my relationship with Muda. They even knew how he had a soft spot for me and was paying for my monthly living expenses. They had also guessed where he went when he would sometimes slip out at odd times from the café without a word.
They knew, and yet they never once complained or criticized us. I figured it must be partly due to the fact that they themselves had a relationship that needed to be kept away from the public eye.
It didn’t relate to me, but they and Muda were in similar positions. They were all involved in affairs that they couldn’t tell others. They protected each other’s secrets, and it was almost ridiculous the lengths they went to pledge loyalty to keep the other’s secrets.
Watanabe was using a siphon to pour the coffee when the door to the café opened and Muda returned.
His gaze immediately settled on us, but there wasn’t any particular change to his expression.
As he slipped off the bold persimmon-coloured stole from inside his black leather jacket as he came over to us and said, “Why hello there. Could this man sitting next to you be your good-looking brother?”
“That’s right,” I replied and I didn’t want him to catch the annoyed look in my eye so I broke eye contact with him. “He said he wanted to meet you, so…”
“Is that right?” Muda asked. He went around the counter and faced me and Shougo.
“I was thinking I wanted to meet you too. Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Muda. Your sister is always a big help around here.”
“I’d say it’s the other way around– to excessive levels, I might add.”
I pretended not to notice the bite in my words. Muda’s smile didn’t waver though as he turned to Shougo to say, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am. When I look at you side-by-side, you two truly do look alike.”
“Oh, so this was your brother? I had no idea,” Watanabe exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. It must be because Katsumata had stepped out from the kitchen. Her change in demeanour was transparent.
Muda glanced at Watanabe and Katsumata, who slipped into the back together as he said, “Well, this is your sister’s work place. She doesn’t come on a regular schedule, but whenever she is here, the number of male customers bumps up. You could say she’s the face of the café.”
Shougo had a strained smile on his face, as he brought the coffee that had been served to him to his lips. Muda continued to ramble on by himself. He talked mostly of risky topics like how attractive I was to men with my cheekiness and how I wasn’t an easy one to handle, along with dime-a-dozen analysis of how men couldn’t evade the inevitable animalistic impulses as long as men were men.
Shougo nodded along and from time to time, a cynical smile formed on his lips, but he hardly said anything for the entirety of our stay.
I chain smoked cigarettes one after another, and my gaze drifted back and forth between the two who were as different as night and day. I knew what Muda’s intentions were.
He was trying to make it clear to Shougo that my relationship with him was one that couldn’t be broken even if he tried. He wanted to put it out there that he and I were a set and Shougo was nothing more than a late comer.
The situation might have been different if I could have felt a sense of childish jealousy coming from his actions, but from beginning to end, Muda retained a sense of calmness. That calmness made me feel the unpleasant bond that had formed between us all the more.
I realized this person didn’t have a sense of any of the deep past that existed between a brother and sister who had reunited after a twenty four gap. For him, it was all about what he could do to make sure he didn’t lose his place. His actions didn’t stem from underhanded intentions though– it was simply just his practical way of getting on in the world.
This man’s wish was to have me. He wanted to indulge me, give me freedom, and in this way, he wanted to continue to rule over my life…
It was a form of control. As long as I was being financially supported by him, I knew I couldn’t escape from his clutches. Even if I were to sleep with a hundred nameless men, at the end of the day, I would end up returning to him. I would be in his care, be fucked by him, be brought to a sexual peak even though I don’t even care for him and let out a scream that even I’m disgusted that I let out, and when it’s all over, I would be dragged down into a bottomless darkness where I would have no choice but to look down at the nothingness below.
“Are you finished?” I asked Shougo bluntly. “If you are, why don’t we think about heading out? I forgot to tell you, but I have to go back home a little early today because Misao-chan asked me to do something. Would you mind dropping me off at my apartment?”
For a brief moment, he had a dubious expression on his face, but he replied, “Sure, I’ll drive you.” He then began to rifle through the pockets of his jacket.
“Don’t be silly. It’s all right. The coffee’s on Muda-san, isn’t that right?”
“Why of course,” Muda said with a smile as he turned to wink at me. It was a coquettish wink that reminded me of his caresses when we were behind the closed door of a room. “Be safe out there.”
I didn’t reply and simply headed for the door. The first thing I did when we were outside was turn off my cell phone.
I knew that he would try contacting me later on. It had been over a month since I had responded to his sexual advances. Two weeks ago, he had told me while we were at work that he wanted to see me, but I lied to him that I was a little sick and wasn’t feeling well.
It could very well be that he realized the changes in me. And it would only be a matter of time before he realized those changes weren’t completely unrelated to Shougo’s appearance in my life.
The clock had already struck four, and the town was already being swept by the shadow of night. Perhaps it was because of the wind, but it felt colder than it had earlier.
“What was it that Misao-san asked you to do?” Shougo asked me this when we had gotten into the taxi that I flagged down.
“That was just an excuse. I only said that because I wanted to get out of there.”
“You were in a foul mood the entire time we were there.”
“I told you, didn’t I? I didn’t want to take you there if I could help it. I didn’t want you to meet him.”
“…but I wanted to know; I wanted to meet him.”
In the back of the taxi that was heated so it was almost uncomfortably warm, I suddenly turned to face him.
He had his gaze turned away from me, and he kept it straight ahead as he repeated, “I wanted to meet him.” His tone had a hint of harshness to it. “I wanted to meet this person you’re having an affair with. I wanted to know what kind of person he was.”
“Like I said, could you stop referring to him like that?”
“You told me that you didn’t want me to call him your lover, so what else am I supposed to call him?”
“It sounds like I’m not the only one in a bad mood today.”
“You’re the one who’s in a bad mood. Whenever I say something, you always tell me that’s not the case, and when I give up and try saying it another way, you say it isn’t that either. I can’t keep up with you.”
“You can’t keep up with me? What do you mean by that?”
He refused to answer and turned away from me to look out the window as he folded his arms. The silence between us continued. I looked out the window and bit the side of my lip.
Dusk was settling in the wintery town, and the illumination lights had already begun to flash. Snow will probably begin to fall soon, I thought.
I kept my gaze out the window as I said to him, “Hey, why don’t you stop my place?”
There was no response. I repeated again, more persistent this time. “Come to my apartment. And if you want to… stay the night.”
I could sense him hesitatingly turn in my direction. I didn’t do the same; I kept my gaze firmly affixed to the view of the town outside the window and hugged my bag that was on my lap tightly with both arms.
“You think I’m sleazy, don’t you?” I asked. My apartment had the air conditioner cranked up to the point that I was beginning to sweat. There were faint traces of condensation that was beginning to build up on the windows. The darkness outside clearly outlined our reflections.
I hadn’t set out any glasses. The only things that were on the table were the two cans of beer that I had taken out of the fridge and placed there. The contents had long since been consumed, but I made no move to leave my chair.
Shougo cast an upward glance my way as he said, “Why would you say something like that?”
“Muda supports me financially. In exchange for receiving a salary that goes far and beyond what I should be making, I sell my body to him. Doing that has become like second nature to me.”
“But that wouldn’t lead to you being sleazy. There are lots of women who get money in exchange for sex, even those who aren’t prostitutes. If you need to do that in order to support yourself, then there’s nothing else you can do. I wouldn’t judge you for that.”
“That’s just the thing though. I’m not poor. I have the inheritance my father left for me. I could just live my life off of that, and yet I live my life like this without touching a penny of it. Do you know why?”
He remained silent as he shook his head.
“It’s because there’s a part of me that wants to destroy myself. It’s not that I can’t live my life on the straight and narrow… it’s just that I don’t want to. Why don’t I just work? I could work anywhere I please. I could be grilling yakitori in some smoke-filled izakaya. I could have my blouse buttoned properly up to the very top button, and do reception work at some small company. I could do any of those things… whatever, whenever the mood strikes me. And yet, I don’t.”
“I’m not interested in working myself down to the bone to climb the steps in life. I know that I should live my life like that… or at the very least, admire those who are capable of doing that, but I just can’t. That kind of success… everything you’d been working for… all that could crumble away with a gust of air from the devil. The only thing I’m capable of is believing that.”
He listened silently. I continued on:
“That’s why it makes me always want to live my life in a dishonest way. There’s nothing more repulsive for me than to be told by someone that I’m pure or that I’m honest, or that no matter how difficult I am to deal with, when it comes down to it, I come from good roots. It puts me more at ease to be told what a sleazy, ugly woman I am for living a life that requires me to exchange sex for money. I don’t want to show anything beautiful that exists within me, and I don’t want anyone to see that either.”
“So the only person you’ve ever shown your true self to …is your father? Am I right?”
I lifted my head. I didn’t intend to show him such an expression, but I couldn’t hold back the cynical smile that formed on my lips.
“You sound like some second-rate psychologist. Anyone who has any notion about anything to do with life would be able to say that.”
“You’re right,” he agreed with a neutral expression on his face as he gazed at me. “But you’ve probably never been told that by your brother, have you?”
The light from the pendant light that hung over the table scattered the darkness in the room. I had turned off all the other lights in the room, so it felt as if we were washed in some lonely spotlight of a stage.
A little while later, I nodded and smiled stiffly, “You’ve got a point there.”
I could hear the distant siren of an ambulance passing by. I felt as if I were in the pit of the darkness of winter.
“Are you hungry? Would you like to eat anything?”
“No, thanks.” Shougo said. “Back in that café… I don’t know what came over me, but I felt this overwhelming sense of jealousy towards Muda. It felt as if… as if… I saw him as a rival for your heart.”
I silently gazed at him.
“I’m sorry. I know full well how stupid this sounds… but I truly did feel that way. It wasn’t the relationship you have with him in and of itself that I was jealous of… how do I put it… it doesn’t matter to me that he’s supporting you financially. It wasn’t about that…. it was more just picturing you and him…”
“You didn’t like the fact that I fuck him?”
In an instant, I felt the air in the room freeze. I sensed his inadvertent intake of his breath.
“Am I being too blunt? If I didn’t put it that way though, there are so many things in this world that are hard to figure out because we’re too busy being too roundabout about it. Just so we’re clear here? Muda only wants one thing from me, and that thing isn’t love. What he likes about me is my body. It’s probably the case that he’ll probably try to continue to have sex with me until I become an age when I’m too old to be of any use; and I’m fine with that. That kind of thing isn’t uncommon. I heard that inexperienced women ask while they’re in their bed, ‘so you were after my body, weren’t you?’ but to me, that kind of thing only makes me laugh. What’s so wrong with that? What other reason could there be? It’s the same for men and women alike. Sex is only something that comes about through consent from both parties, after all. People are always going on about love, but that’s all an illusion. Sex is sex. There’s no point in trying to bring in useless things like emotions into it.”
“You don’t always have to act the part of the villain, you know.”
“Act the part? That’s some talk coming from someone who doesn’t even know much about me.”
His chest underneath his black sweater rose and fell wildly as he glared at me. “I may not know much about you, but so what? What I do know about you is all that counts. Or what, are you saying that there’s some kind of secret book out there that has all the answers to this woman called Shimada Mio? Even if there were such a thing, it’d be of no use. The you that I know is all I need. I don’t want to find out anything beyond that.”
After he let it all out in one breath, the strength in his body deflated as he slumped over in his chair. His eyes, which were turned up to the ceiling, closed in frustration.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “…you’re right. There’s no need for me to put up a front around you… I feel so stupid.”
A static-like silence followed. But for some reason, that silence was comforting.
In that moment, I sensed that this person would never disappear from my life; that would never happen. No matter what happened, no matter what fervent argument we had, this person would never get up and leave. It was the same for me.
The reason being that he was my biological brother, and I his biological sister. We were both the sole biological link that the other still shared with someone on this Earth.
When I thought about how that brother was jealous about my relationship with Muda and how he opened up to me about his jealousy made warmth spread through my heart. Like spring, that warmth reinvigorated my dried up my heart, and brought forth powerful emotions from deep within.
“Hey,” I said in a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know why but I suddenly feel really happy.”
“We’re having our first serious sibling fight. Don’t you think so?”
He regained his composure and gazed at me with clear eyes.
“If only you weren’t my sister…”
“Don’t. You can’t say that. You know that, don’t you?”
“There are times when I feel hatred towards Misao-san. I know that she didn’t do anything wrong… on the contrary, everything up until now came about thanks to her, and yet I can’t help but feel this way. I can’t help but think: why didn’t she just let it alone? Why couldn’t she have left things as is? I was fine with the way things were before. I lived my life until now as Iwasaki Shougo without having ever heard the name ‘Shimada’. I was fine with that.”
“So you regret meeting me?”
“Yes, I do.” Shougo answered.
“But it’s because we reunited that we’ve been able to form such a close bond. It’s as if… well, it’s as if you’ve become a part of me. I can talk to you about anything. Even the things that would make any other person raise their eyebrows and lose their respect for me…I can tell you all of that.”
“That stems though from the part of you that knows it’s because I’m your brother, and that you are my sister. If only I never found out that you were my sister. If I could have remained oblivious to that fact, I’m sure I would have bumped into you somewhere and fallen in love with you.”
I felt a burning sensation in my heart. These feelings of confusion and doubt swept over me. Before I realized it, my hand had reached across the table. It was such a sudden movement that the empty beer can fell over and rolled onto the floor.
The sound of the can falling did nothing to hold back our feelings. Similarly, Shougo reached out to grasp my hand in his.
Our fingers both felt cold. Our palms were cold and clammy but it was soon replaced by warmth.
“You’re right… if that had been the case, I probably would have fallen immediately in love with you too.”
He slowly lifted my hand and brought it to his lips.
“Can I kiss you here?”
“I wish I could kiss you somewhere else.”
“ ‘Somewhere else’?”
I felt his dry lips being pressed against my palm and with that his warm breath.
As emotions of a happiness tinged with sadness consumed me, I closed my eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 11 – 213 – 235]