Japanophile _ Part 4 A Story by Yuri Kageyama

Japanophile _ Part 4
A story by Yuri Kageyama

They smiled sheepishly beneath long spiky brownish bangs _ their photos, lined up one by one in the doorway to the entrance.
“Do you have a preference?” the waiter asked.
I had to get the No. 1.
That was the only reason I was here.
I was prepared to pay a small fortune, maybe 100,000 yen for this service at a host bar in Tokyo’s Shinjuku.
But the anxiety must have been obvious as the waiter tells me there is a discount for first-time women customers, and the first drink is on the house.
The place is not as dark or as big as I expected.
It looks much like any bar with the overdone felt chairs, the giant glitzy chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
A mirror ball circles lazily over a tiny dance floor, just a corner where the tables have been nudged over.
The host wearing what looks like a cheap suit that is probably very expensive sits across from me.
“What are your hobbies? Tennis? Oh, I just love tennis.”
Finally the No. 1 finds time in between chatting with the bar women who frequent the host bars to come to my table.
This is what he says:

I saw him every day, always sitting with the homeless guys next to the theater in Kabukicho.
He was so tanned I could barely make out his looks, but I thought he could make a good host.
He was so pathetic. But he reeked this survival strength from his entire being that I liked.
He was learning how to help clean up the manga magazines the homeless guys had collected so they could sell it and get money.
I hear the homeless guys were giving him 1,000 yen here and there.
Otherwise, he would never have really survived, despite that strength I told you about that he was reeking.
One day, I told him to follow me, and I took him to the soba joint around the corner from the theater.
“Give him a bowl with everything on top, zenbunose,” I said.
He looked startled like he had never had noodles with everything on top.
It was just 1,280 yen. Nothing for me.
But maybe it was something he hadn’t had for a while.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Why had my son been there at a dingy theater district, of all places, so helpless he needed to count on the mercy of homeless people and a host?
At the same time, I was filled with gratitude toward what they had done for him.
And I hated myself for not having seen through what could have possibly sent him to this fate.


Japanophile _ Part 3 A Story by Yuri Kageyama

At first, I thought he was just out with his friends, cavorting with a woman. He could be in his car. In her apartment. In a manga cafe. Anywhere, really. He was already an adult, having turned 23 last month, at least, technically an adult.
For years, I had never stayed up awake at night, waiting to hear the click of the door when he returned after being out late.
I was a liberal mother, and I remembered all too well how I had stayed out all night and hadn’t come home until the wee hours of the morning.
When he was nowhere to be seen by 11 a.m., I assmed he had gone straight to his daytime activity.
But to make sure, I called on his cell phone, not expecting him to pick up, but leavine a message and then a text message: Are you OK?
He usually replied, quick enough to put my worries to rest, sometimes in single letters like “Y” for “yes.”
Then I knew I could stop worrying.
But this time, there was no reply.
When there was no sign of him by 5 p.m., I began to think about going to the police.
I had already called and sent email to several of his closest friends.
One said he had seen him yesterday at a soba joint in Roppongi, maybe about 4 p.m., but he had not said exactly where he was going, except that he was off to see “someone important for a possible future business.”
He appeared calm, his usual jovial self, the friend said.
Nothing extraordinary, he said.
Had he been caught up in an accident, or was he a victim of a crime?
I was really beginning to get worried, panicked.
The police officers showed up at my door in a pair, just like in the movies, the good cop and the bad cop.
One asked what was he wearing? What had he said were his plans?
The bad cop did not seem happy when I told him I had no clue what he was wearing, and I had not asked about his plans.
But when the bad cop began to turn to me, almost interrogatively, the good cop intervened and told me they would let me know if they heard anything, acting as though our little conversation at our doorstep was some missing-person report.
The more I realized how useless this procedure was, my fear grew, a hotness welling up and choking my throat, about what had possibly happened to my son, who had suddenly vanished.
He could be out there, somewhere, kidnapped by yakuza or fallen over a crevice in his car, alone, hungry, in pain and utter terror, waiting for me to come find him.

Previous installments of this story:

Part 1


Part 2.

Japanophile Part 2 A Story by Yuri Kageyama

The toys piled up, evidence being submitted to prove an absent mother’s love.
The colorful trading cards were those warm hugs that were never given, the video-game cassettes in the dozens were those sleepless feverish nights forgotten, and the tiny cars that scuttled across the linoleum threatening to trip adult feet were those lullabies that fell silent. I wanted to prove I loved my toddler son, still too young to understand that I needed those hours away to pay the rent.
“When are you going to quit your job?” he would ask now and then, choosing a quiet moment he knows will get my full attention.
This is a serious question to be contended with. I want to cry. I would quit right now, if I could. But I don’t know how to tell him that.
His legs are starting to break out in hives, and because he scratches at his raw skin with his little clawlike nails, his calves are constantly bleeding.
Once I got a call from the social welfare office, wondering what’s going on. The doctor that I take him to for these allergies, as that’s what it is that is causing this itching, is giving me funny stares.
“My mommy doesn’t come home for a loooooong loooooong time,” I hear my son telling the doctor in his usual high-pitched singsong voice.
I was able to take some time off work the first few years after his birth. I dutifully followed the advice of La Leche League to breast-feed him as long as he wanted, or almost as long as he wanted, which turned out to be two years, after which I had to decide this was it.
He would cuddle next to my breast, sucking although he had grown to be more a little boy than a baby, staring into my eyes with total trust and the glee of possession, sometimes biting my nipple with his teeth or pulling with clamped lips until I had to ask him to stop. His looks said he was proud to have this privilege, especially because he no longer needed the nourishment.
A woman who happened to walk by remarked, “Oh, you are not working? So he doesn’t know the reality that is waiting for him; does he?”
I clearly remember the I-know-it-all expression of superiority on her face as though she had appointed herself a shaman fortune-teller, as do all those working women who went before me.
At least, they get to do that _ tell others what’s coming.
Even after my son started school, he didn’t really have a mother. I found out his friends were asking him: “Do you have a mother?”
It was a cruel, brutally straightforward question that children have a way of coming up with, but it was a valid question.
If others had moms picking them up and making nice lunches, and he didn’t, where was this mother?
Where was I for this child? Did this make me really a mother? Did I just want a child so I could have a child but without doing the job of being a mother?
I had to wipe the thought out of my mind when I was working. I had to forget.
Forgetting, you’d think, is something that happens naturally, what you thought you had tucked away in memory, some fold in your gray matter, slipping away. Oh, I forgot. But this was a different kind of forgetting.
It took a lot of concentration. But I was able to forget. If I did not forget, I would have lost my mind.
But I did forget.
But was this child able to forget?
Or did he have to fight the gnawing loneliness with all his might, fighting back tears and telling himself: “My mommy doesn’t come home for a loooooong loooooong time,” over and over?
It makes me afraid.
I cannot imagine such loneliness. To be a child and not have a mother. To be that tiny dot in the sky like a star all by itself in the universe and not know what is up or down, or if and when this horror will ever end.
To know not only that you are alone but that you are alone in this loneliness, that every other boy and girl had a mommy, that soft warm cuddly woman who came to pick kids up and made nicely decorated lunches.
How could a little mind forget? Even with all the colorful cards, games and tiny cars, reminding you that I do love you, how could he ever forget?
In his high school, there was one day hot lunch was not served, some strange practice to encourage parent-child bonding. My son didn’t even tell me.
I happened to see him jump into a convenience store to buy his lunch. That’s how I found out.
I felt a hot gush of guilt and sorrow as though it was enveloping me from the top of my head, the strange feeling I felt when I watched my father eat or my sister cry over nothing, when I was growing up.
I still have not figured out what this emotion meant. It tasted sour, like tiny pieces of glass, inside my mouth.

Japanophile _ Part 1 A Story by Yuri Kageyama

I woke up this morning with the certainty that I had just given birth.
The sensation was unforgettable, a soreness, more like a heaviness, at the pit of my lower stomach below my navel, that could remember a brutal tugging, tearing away at my insides, leaving me raw and bleeding. I could feel that warm wetness at my vagina, making my skin chilly as I sensed the liquid spread and clung to the sheets.
Having a truck run over you must leave you with this same feeling, but it would require a super-thin truck crunching over only your lower stomach.
I closed my eyes tight and shuddered, tucking my chin below the cream-colored flannel sheets, maybe trying to forget the pain, maybe trying to fall back asleep again, sinking into my burning-red dream again, as that was what it must have been _ a dream of giving birth? Or was it?
Did I just have yet another abortion? Or did I really give birth and since I am alone in my bed, was the baby whisked away, stolen from me before I could even see him, or was it her, claim the baby as my own?
But I must have given birth, really.
Why else would I be bleeding? Why else was there this throbbing that remembered with a certainty that was physical, like a slap, that someone was there, inside of me, before I awoke, maybe an hour ago, maybe a few minutes ago.
Surely, the baby had been there inside my uterus, which probably was snatched away with the baby, all while I was asleep, leaving me with this emptiness, this groaning pain.
For months, I had known this baby. I had grown accustomed to its presence, and I know it was a big-headed bulgy-eyed fish bobbing inside me, sometimes sucking on its thumb, sometimes chuckling, sometimes even asking what kind of life awaited when it was born.
He was already an individual, confident of his goals, his identity, that conviction he was there growing inside of me for a purpose, that he belonged there.
And so I was not that surprised he had left so soon.
But I missed him. I did not intend to claim him as my baby the way ordinary mothers would, as something dependent and therefore weaker in status.
He had been a guest from the start, proudly using my uterus, and promising to stay and be my child only if he felt like it and I fit his needs.
Even then, we had been so close for 10 months, or rather, because he had been inside me, a part of me. He took the food I ate to use as nutrients to grow from fish or worm to half-man inside my uterus.
So at that point at the umblical cord serving as a pipe so the baby could get nutrition to grow, never mind my uterus had gone missing, we were connected, and that was supposed to be eternal, long after the baby was born.
We were one, together, the same.
If I jumped from a loud sound, a door slamming, the crash of lightning, a harsh yell, he would jump, too, first inside of me before he was born, and now somewhere, wherever he was. If I drank a lot of chamomile tea, the baby would sneeze like I would sneeze. If I had chocolate cake, he would murmur, “Yummmy,” and feel his blood sugar level perk.
That was how close we were, inseparable, one, together and the same.
I knew what kind of look he would have when he jumped, sneezed or said, “Yummy,” even before he was born.
He had those impish eyes, that proud puckered mouth, that mischevous smile.
I own you, Mom. You will serve me forever, and you will learn so much from being my mother, he would be saying through that umblical cord like a playful toy-telephone connection inside my belly that I could easily decipher in my head, the same way dolphins communicate with each other in the ocean, bouncing sonic waves like ripples of aminiotic fluid.
We’ll have great times together, if you play this game right and I decide I like you, he was saying, even though from his tone, I could tell he was joking.
You will take one look at me, when I am born, and our eyes will meet _ my pale gray tiny eyes and yours, amazed and delighted and relieved the birth is finally over _ in a perfect magical moment.
And you will know I am the one, the one who had been with you all these months, he said. You will recognize me, instantly, of course.
And I will own you _ my mother.
I started to resent how the baby was not with me in the bed, as he should have been, when he was born, maybe not this time in my dream, and surely not that other time when the fetus was aborted, but you know that time, that real time, that time when he had been born.
No, it wasn’t resentment at all.
It was a soothing acceptance of knowing how I had given birth, maybe the same birth over and over, no matter how many times the baby went missing, or the baby got aborted, or even when I woke up to see he had been stolen from me in my dreams.
I knew I had given birth again.