My memory of that night would at times whirl about inside of me like a dark fog, and yet, the details of that night were blurry, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t remember the vital parts of what he had told me.
It was even more so after I had recovered from my drawn out illness.
I tried to think back to what he had said… the things he had told me without being asked. I could remember bits and pieces, but I couldn’t recall what order they came in, the way in which he said those words, or the pauses that came between them, no matter how hard I tried.
It wasn’t just that; the very fact that he had held my hand that night and talked to me felt a step removed from reality, as if it were nothing more than a dream caused by the fever.
That being said, I was too embarrassed to ask him to tell me once again what he had told me that night. I was embarrassed, but also afraid to ask.
It was because I had a feeling that I shouldn’t hear what was told to me that night once more. I felt as if it were better for the both of us if my memory faded even further, until the bits that I still held onto were eventually forgotten.
I guess you could call it a gut instinct. In stark contrast to the lonely, heartbreaking story he had told me that night, I was overwhelmed by this feeling of wanting to live. A voice inside of me told me that now was the very time to live.
I didn’t want to think of death. Even if we could never have a sexual relationship, even if I had to hold back the urge to even so much as touch him, there was no denying I had fallen in love with this man named Shougo. And amidst this strong love for him was the undeniable spark of life.
That being said, the more I spent time with him, the more suffocated I felt.
This feeling was, as the word would suggest, the kind that was caused by love. Every time I would jokingly loop my arm through his, every time I would pretend that it was the alcohol that would make me lean against his shoulder and embrace him as I laughed… even for each and every childish action like this, I had to always be on high caution.
I wanted to touch him; I wanted to touch him longer and stronger. But it could never come to a point where it would lead to more than that.
The childish touches like that exchanged between playful pups would eventually become awkward as we both ached for something more. Our laughs would trail off, and an unnatural silence would replace them. We eventually couldn’t bear the silence any longer, and one of us would joke once again. Every time that happened, we would gaze at each other, realize what we were doing, and let go of one another. It was an endless repetition of this.
But if someone were to ask exactly what it was that I wanted from him, I wouldn’t be able to answer. Was it that I was wishing for a repeat of the brief kiss we had exchanged the first time I went to his apartment? Or was I hoping to share the passion that the kisses lead to?
I felt like though, that what I desired from him wasn’t something sexual. We often watched movies together late at night in my apartment. We would sit beside each other on the sofa, and absentmindedly watched some random movie. When we did that, there were a number of times when I felt him slip his arm around my shoulder or waist, and the warmth of that touch made me lean my body against his without even realizing what I was doing.
There were times I reached out to him to wrap my arms around his neck, and I would leave an affectionate kiss on his cheek, but that wasn’t something I did because I desired him.
What I felt was the joy of being able to touch him. Touching him always made me feel a deep calm, as if a spell had been cast over me. And as I let that calmness seep into me, the faint sexual desire that was supposed to have begun to sprout would mysteriously disappear.
There were times he stayed over at my place, but we never slept side-by-side. I always slept in my bed, and he always took the sofa in the living room.
If I opened the door to my room he would be there… he’s somewhere where I can easily reach him. If I said just one word, something would begin. I knew all that, but there was never a time when I had a difficult time falling asleep from the nervousness that came about from that knowledge.
We both slept in our respective rooms. And the next day, when we would use the bathrooms, we both timed it so we wouldn’t go when the other was there. So it made sense that there was never a time when we would see the other changing.
There were days when I wouldn’t see him for four to five days, and whenever that happened, I was struck by a fervent doubt. It wasn’t the kind that a person felt when she wasn’t able to see her lover; the doubts were more like the kind that came about when one could no longer bear the absence of someone who was supposed to be by her side.
When I felt these doubts, I didn’t hesitate to call or text his cell phone. And in most cases, his reply was instantaneous, as if he were also waiting for me to contact him. When I sent him a text message with emoticons, his reply also included them. Even if his reply was about something trifling, I would gaze at it time and time again, and I would instantly feel better.
At the same time, I could feel myself becoming s person who thought rationally; this has never been the case before. The harsher the storm was inside my heart, the more conscious I became of “the things I need to do” and of “the type of person I should be.”
On a warm day just after mid-April, I called Muda on his cell phone and asked him if he could meet me because I needed to tell him something.
Ever since I fell sick back in March, I had continued to lie to him by saying I was down with the flu, telling him I still hadn’t fully recovered. So it should come as no surprise that it had been a long time since I had last worked at his café.
Even though it was most certainly the case that Muda had noticed the changes in me, I didn’t want to continue to take time off of work and yet allow him to deposit into my bank account an exorbitant amount each month. I knew that the money my father left for me would run out sometime in the near future. I had no idea as to what I planned to do about the future, but the one thing I did know, was that I could no longer continue to live my life depending on Muda.
This was because I knew that financially depending on him also meant that my relationship with him would continue. It felt almost strange that until now, I hadn’t felt how impure and dirty that kind of life I had been leading was; it was time to put an end to this. This was for me, just as much as it was for Shougo. I didn’t want my relationship with Shougo to be tainted. I knew that continuing to associate myself with Muda would mean leaving a stain that couldn’t be washed out from our relationship.
Muda, who arrived at the café in Shirokanedai that I had suggested we meet at, had a gentle smile on his face that gave no hint of any bitterness.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “How are you feeling? You’ve lost a bit of weight.”
Time and time again I had continued to turn down his requests to come and visit me. It wasn’t possible that he hadn’t sensed what it meant for me to do such a thing, when our relationship was based on me having sex with him in exchange for receiving money.
“I’ve managed to somehow get back to a normal state,” I said. I kept my distance as I bowed to him. “I’m sorry to make you worry.”
“I wanted to see you, but you wouldn’t let me. It seems that you don’t like me anymore, is that it?”
“No, that’s not the case.”
“Why are you being so polite? It’s as if I’m talking to a stranger.”
I purposely kept my gaze averted from his as I shook my head. He was wearing a white shirt and a light-brown leather jacket. His skin had a glow to it, and he looked healthy. There was a bit of white in his hair, but his neatly arranged hair and his clean-shaved face gave off the feeling of the relaxed comfort of a middle-aged man who lived a carefree city life day in, day out.
No matter how you looked at it, he wasn’t someone who aroused disgust in a person. Rather, for some woman, he probably would have made the ideal lover. He was never jealous or possessive. He was good at being generous, and it was easy to be around him.
Seeing him made me realize all the more how little it meant for me to be made love to by him. Even now, it’s not as if I couldn’t possibly do the act again. Reaching out to him, being embraced by him, kissing him, having my clothes being taken off by him and offering myself to him.. .it’s not that I couldn’t.
From the very beginning, that was how our relationship had been. And it had monotonously continued; it was neither good nor bad. The relationship had practically melted into the fabric of everyday life.
At the beginning, I didn’t really pay heed to the money aspect, so it goes without saying that I felt no guilt about our relationship. There was even a part of me that found it ludicrous to feel something like the pleasure of the flesh to be a sin. So in some ways, Muda and I were on even playing ground. If Shougo had never appeared in my life, our relationship would have probably continued on as it was, and eventually, it may have ended up becoming a comforting, easy relationship like that of a couple who had been together for many years.
“I’m sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “I think things were going well between us, and I have many things to be thankful to you for. I mean it.”
For an instant, I thought I saw the expression on his face change, but I continued without stopping: “Please let me quit my job working at the café.”
“Well that came out of the blue,” he said. One eyebrow twitched slightly, but that was all. “You’re going to quit? So what does that mean?”
I took in a deep breath, lifted my chin and faced him head on.
“…I want to end things between us.”
He didn’t say anything. His expression remained neutral, but I could sense the light disappearing from his eyes. After a brief silence, he reached for his cup of coffee and took his time drinking it before placing the cup back on its saucer and lightly licking his lips.
“What’s the reason for this?”
“It’s not just one.”
“Does it have something to do with that young man coming into your life?”
“If I said he had nothing to do with it, that would be a lie, but it’s not just that either.”
“So are you trying to say… that you’ve gotten sick of me?”
“From the very beginning, our relationship wasn’t based on love or hate. Don’t you get it? That was the kind of relationship we had, wasn’t it? You were a good person, and you were kind to me. It may just be that you were too good of a person for me. You employed a good-for-nothing like me, and even though I hardly worked, you deposited an exorbitant amount every month…”
“So you’re trying to say I’m Mr. Nice Guy?”
“I’m not saying that.”
He had a sad smile. It was the first time he showed such emotion in front of me.
“I care about you, and I don’t think that will change any time in the future.”
It was a clear, sunny day outside. The streets were lined with beautiful trees from which light filtered through. The smiles of the people who walked on the sidewalk were basked in the light, and for me, it felt as if I were watching a different world from afar on a movie screen.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I bit my lip. “I can’t put it into words… I can’t tell you how frustrated it makes me, but I can’t say exactly what I feel into words. But… I can say this. I want to live a life differently from how I’ve been living it. I want to break free from the person I was until now.”
“Is that right?” He said.
I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t say anything more.
For an instant, I saw in Muda something akin to the love that my father had held for me. I realized that for the longest time, I had been subconsciously searching for my father inside this person.
That must be why I allowed him to caress him and make love to me. This was my way of silently rebelling against my father, who had suddenly left this world without a word; at the same time, it was also a sign of the psychological dependence I had towards my father, who remained just as large part of my life in death as he was in life.
Muda wasn’t angry. He didn’t lament and he didn’t spit out harsh parting words either.
All he did was turn his gaze to the trees that lined the streets outside. He blinked as if the light was blinding him as he nodded and said, “I understand.”
Time passed like sand in an hourglass, and Shougo and I got along as well as ever.
When we were together, we didn’t bring up the past, and we didn’t talk about the future either. Most of our conversations skirted around the heart of the matter.
Even when it came to what he wanted to do after he graduated from university, he was reluctant to talk about it. And as for me, I could never be in the right mood to talk to Shougo about things that I hadn’t yet fully decided on like how I was going to lead my life from now on– what kind of job I was going to try to find, and what kind of life plan I was going to make.
And yet, at the same time, every time our eyes met, sparks would fly. Deep behind our gazes, we could read the loneliness and unhappiness that the other had felt in their lives until now. Reading those feelings brought us even closer together, and it urged us to pursue the passion we felt.
On an evening in late April, I saw off Shougo, who was leaving my apartment to head to his part time job at Tadzio.
The previous night, he had come to my place late at night and we had spent the night together without sleeping a wink, and in the afternoon, we stayed in my living room exchanging few words as we dozed off from time to time.
He stepped into his shoes reluctantly. And in the small space of the entranceway, we faced each other.
We always exchanged a brief embrace before parting ways. It had become a ritual since a while back; it was though an embrace that gave no whiff of sexual desire.
From the window that had been left open in the living room, I could hear the sound of the rain. The rain had started the night before and had continued to today. We reached out to wrap our arms around each other.
I’m not sure if this feeling of not wanting to part from him was what made me do this, or if it was a result of a sudden overwhelming sense of sadness that swept over me, but in that moment, I did something I had never done before. My arms were still wrapped around him as I stretched up to kiss him on the cheek.
The instant I did this, I felt an almost frightening strength enter his embrace. His hands reached out to cup my face. And in his eyes, I saw something wet that sparkled under the light.
His lips were closed tightly. His well-shaped nose moved slightly. He closed his eyes, opened them once again, before he bit his lip with a dark expression on his face. There was a harsh unforgiving strength to the hands that held me– it was as if he were trying to crush something that he despised with all his heart. His hand closed roughly into a fist as they grabbed a hold of the hair near my ears. I felt my hair, and with it, my ears, being pulled sharply back. I winced.
“You’re hurting me.”
He apologized in a low voice as he released his hold on me. His eyes, which glimmered with seriousness, remained fixed on me. He took in a deep breath. He then wrapped me up in a strong embrace with grim determination.
In the apartment, I could hear the echo of the rain falling outside. Everywhere we touched… our chests, our cheeks, the breath released from our lips sizzled like fire.
We didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if there was anything that could be said.
He let go of me as if pushing me away. He opened the door and left the apartment without another word. He disappeared beyond the door as it closed behind him, and the heavy lock that was utilized in all the apartments echoed with a heavy thud as it clicked into place.
Even though I knew this wasn’t the time or place to cry, I felt a fierce emotion take hold of me. The force of that power reached my eyes. Before I realized it, I was fighting to hold back the sobs as tears streamed down my face.
It was on a long weekend in May that I told Misao about how I had quit my job at Muda’s café and had also ended my relationship with him.
I called her at her office. The reason why I decided to tell her this way was because I didn’t want her to ask me about the nitty-gritty details, but my worries were in vain. All she said was, “Oh is that right?” and she didn’t ask anything more.
“I’m sorry to tell you something like this at your office. You must be busy, right? I won’t keep you any longer.”
“Don’t worry about it. I just finished a particularly long and troublesome meeting with a client, so if it’s now, I have plenty of time to chat. Let me just ask you this though, if I may… did something happen? I mean, with Muda-san.”
“Nothing in particular; it’s just… I didn’t want to see him any more, that’s all.”
“Is that right?” Misao let out a small sigh. “Then I guess it couldn’t be helped. Well, if you think about it though, your relationship probably wasn’t one that would have lasted forever. The end would have come sooner or later.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, Misao-chan. I’m doing as fine as ever.”
“Well, breaking up with him is fine and all, but what are you going to do from now on? Are you planning on finding some other place to work?”
“Well, I’m not actively looking for anything right now, but I plan on doing that in the near future. Hey, maybe I should try working at your office?”
These were words I just said on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t anything that I had ever given a thought to about before. When it came to her work, I never took an interest in it, and I always considered myself an outsider. Not only that, but first and foremost, if we not only lived together but worked together, there wasn’t any way to avoid our relationship from changing. Even if it was Misao-chan, whom I cared deeply about, if she became someone who supported my livelihood, she would become someone whom I couldn’t fully let down my guard against anymore.
Misao though said in an enthusiastic voice, after a brief pause, “Eh? Well… I guess there is that option. I wouldn’t mind giving it some thought. Although I do have a secretary already, depending on the time and circumstances, there are times when I wish there was an extra helping hand, I honestly feel that way. That being said, I didn’t really want to go through the trouble of putting up any employment ads. You’ll never believe how difficult it is to find people you can trust to do a good job.”
“I’m not cheap to hire, you know. Are you able to pay handsomely for my services?”
“Well aren’t we the realist,” Misao laughed. “Are you trying to say that if I hired you, we’d go down under?”
“I’m just kidding. If you were to hire me, I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything more than pour tea to begin with, so if you would agree to me working there regardless, I’m fine with being paid the same as a college student working part time.”
“All jokes aside, do you want to give it a try?”
“Give what a try?”
“Like you were saying, working at my office.”
“Oh, Misao-chan. I was only joking!”
“You were joking? So you weren’t serious?”
“I haven’t given any real thought to work, I haven’t been able to convince myself of that yet.”
Misao was silent for a brief moment, but eventually she let out a gentle sigh on the other end of the line. “You’ve heard of the saying we are ‘born on the same lotus leaf in Buddhist Heaven,’ haven’t you? You and I… we live our lives sharing the same fate; it’s the same for Shougo-kun. In the end, you are both my only remaining blood relatives and I am the same for you. Whenever you change your mind about working at my office, please tell me; I’ll make it work.”
My grip was tight on the receiver as I nodded and whispered, “Thank you.”
That was when I seriously thought that it might not be so bad to try working at her office.
This year, I would be turning thirty. Like so many of the thirty-something single women in the world out there, I could start working a normal nine-to-five job working for small pay, leading a frugal but fun life…
Up until now, I had never considered putting down a serious life plan. The desire never once crossed my mind to live an honest, straight life. I had believed until now that to fall as down into the pit as I could was what it meant to be me; I didn’t even realize how tragic something like that was.
It was because of Shougo. It was his presence in my life that I changed. I loved him, so much that I felt as I was being burned from the embers.
If only he weren’t my brother… I knew it was fruitless to think that now, but I couldn’t help but be pained by the thought. I couldn’t help but how think of how blissful I would have felt now if he hadn’t appeared in my life as my brother…
If he weren’t my brother, I could have thrown away the soiled life I had left until now… thrown and forgotten about it to start life anew with him. Dreams wouldn’t have just remained dreams anymore– I could have turned them into a reality, taking a step forward in my life as I realized dreams with my own two hands. I would have been freed from the life that chained me to a life of living with my father’s shadow, and I could have been reborn as someone different— someone new.
But.. I thought. Even though he might be my brother, it was true that he was the one closest to my heart at this moment in time.
Despite the fact that each and every day, I carried within me the suffering from not being able to touch him freely, I was still able to make mine these feelings of happiness, calmness, and trust that I had never experienced before. I was able to feel the joy of becoming close to someone.
“Mio?” Misao asked. “Is everything okay?”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I’m fine.”
“Have you been meeting up with Shougo-kun from time to time?”
“Ah, as much as I can.”
“You two are close, I see.”
“You could say that. We might just be the closest siblings in the world.”
“Well could you tell him hi for me? Oh, by the way, Mio. Are you free tomorrow evening? I think I’ll be able to wrap things up with work pretty early tomorrow, so why don’t you come over to my place? I’ll whip up something delicious. It would be nice to have a chance to sit down and have a chat with you since it’s been a while…”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already made plans to meet up with Shougo-kun tomorrow.”
I cut her off mid-way. I couldn’t hide the excitement from my voice.
“We’re going for a drive. Well, it’s a drive, but not to anywhere far away. We’re just going to Yokohama, but we’ve had it planned since a while back. He made plans with the owner of the place where he works part-time to let him borrow his car. And since he was given the okay for tomorrow, we can’t change the days. The owner seems to like him quite a bit. But it’s not in a romantic light, it’s more like he’s taken Shougo under his wing. At any rate, the owner’s pretty well off, so he has a Jaguar and Porsche at his home. Can you believe it?”
It was fun to tell someone else of my plans with Shougo, and to tell them of the people in Shougo’s life. I wanted to continue telling her about our stories in the future. I felt light-hearted.
“That sounds like fun,” Misao said. She said this in a teasing voice. “Well, be safe. Don’t let him have anything to drink since he’s driving, do you hear me?”
“I know that. Of course I won’t.”
“Well then, call me whenever you get the chance. I have so many things I want to talk to you about.”
“I’m guessing then that things are going well between you and Kusuda-dan?”
“Don’t be silly, that’s not what I want to talk to you about.”
I laughed out loud. This conversation felt nostalgic, as if we were two girls bragging to each other about their boyfriends.
“At any rate,” Misao said. “I’m glad that you were able to put a period to that part of your life that involved Muda-san. I don’t know how you felt about that matter, but I think he was someone who, in his way, was always thinking about your best interests. But, it’s over, right? With that, you can start a new life for yourself.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think so too.”
“Well, there’s no need to rush. You’re still young; there is plenty of time to think about what you’re going to do. You have a mountain of potential; it makes me almost envious.”
“It’s the same for you too though, Misao-chan. You’re like a treasure trove of potential.”
“But I’m not young like you.”
“Why don’t you try finding yourself another boyfriend in addition to Kusuda-san?”
“Oh Mio,” Misao said in an exasperated voice before breaking out into laughter.
I joined in her laughter and with that, we ended the call, with our voices still mingling in joyous laughter.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 15 – 287 – 301]