Thursday, August 30, 2007
Nyoko could not stop herself from playing with the tiny white thread stuck to her black nylon stockings. She pretended her tiny fingers were a bobtail kitten’s paws, approaching the loose thread with stealth aplomb, giggling each time she missed. But then she suddenly stopped giggling and reprimanded herself. Nyoko firmly believed that sixteen year-old ladies who laughed too much on public trains showed a certain lack of sophistication, and she wanted more than anything to possess a certain air of grace. Indeed a few late night passengers on the Inokashira line watching her antics thought that she might not be quite right in the head or even a bit deranged. Each time the thread would move slightly, Nyoko would sit up straight in her seat, tap an orange painted fingernail to her front teeth, tisk out loud and then giggle. This entertained Nyoko greatly for a short time, but as usual, her short attention span always won in the end, and once again she found herself sitting with her legs clenched together tightly, as if she was pressing flowers between them for a book of sweet memories. Always the daydreamer Nyoko, remembering yesterday as if today. But for now, there were no tiny white threads or kitten’s paws. There was no pressing together of peony or morning glory. For Nyoko, ruddy cheeked and teetering on exhaustion, there was only the polyester blend of ill-fitted business suits rubbing against her face as she nervously made her way back home after a night of drinking and flirting with fast talking boys. One boy she liked very much. His name was Taku and he was from Shikoku where his family was rice farmers. He spoke with a very pronounced stutter, which often caught her off-guard and made her want to laugh. She had to constantly remind herself to not laugh, so finally, for fear of hurting his feelings, she had to ditch him completely and go to another club. Working her way through to the exit, Nyoko could not decide what would hurt the boy more, laughing at his speech affliction or deserting him altogether. She’d read in a foreign magazine recently that Tokyo trains had no smell. The article hinted that the antiseptic grace of nothingness was a peculiar Japanese phenomenon and that subway trains, whether empty of riders or packed like sardines, was pleasant to the nose at all times. Not so for Nyoko. Often, her highly acute sense of smell drove her mad. For instance, she could presently smell every scent on board the packed train, from the decaying teeth of the elderly to the stained fingertips of the fat gaijin in the corner with two cartons of Gauloise in her cloth shopping bag. Her limit, she promised herself earlier that evening would be three Jack Daniels with soda water. Nyoko knew her limitations, or better still, what became of her when not strictly applying them. But by the time she entered La Fabrique in Shibuya, she’d gone well beyond it, and was already rationalizing yet another whiskey. Whenever Nyoko found herself engaged in these gambits of reason, she would get very angry with herself. She would almost always think of an old teacher she’d hated at La Garenne, a boarding school she’d attended in Switzerland. The old woman was constantly quoting some dead poet or Marxist corpse. Once, when she caught Nyoko chewing gum during a history lesson, she made her memorize a quote from Dante Alighieri. It infuriated Nyoko, as the teacher not only made her memorize the quote but also made her memorize the proper spelling of Alighieri. So each time still, whenever Nyoko questioned herself on matters of the heart, she would repeat and repeat in her head, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in time of great moral crisis.” But now, her head was feeling heavy and she needed to be in her bed. She’d considered attempting to remove a well-worn copy of In Cold Blood from her bag, but she would have to maneuver considerably to even get to it, let alone manage to read it at all. She was surrounded by and pressed in by late night janitors coming home from work and party hoppers who’d just made the last train of the night. Even in her drunken state, she looked around at the desperate faces scrambling to get onto the train and found it all most uncivilized, no small amount of enmity arising within her. Then she saw him. He was a foreigner. His skin was brown like The Yamamba, the mountain witches, but evenly toned, not muddy like burnt amber. Creamy like cocoa and very smooth. He was Persian, he had to be she told herself. Nyoko held on tightly to the hand straps above her, just tall enough to help steady her for balance so that she did not topple over and onto two young men asleep in the seats below. She looked up quickly, just long enough to catch the chocolate colored man turning toward the window. She liked the way the few tiny black hairs grew on his sharp chin. It made him look even younger to her she thought. He could not be more than twenty. She wondered why he would be in Tokyo and not teaching Farsi to American children at the international schools in Iran. She imagined him wearing his prayer gown and cap, his lovely almond eyes closing reverently to God Allah. And just then he caught her eye. Nyoko turned quickly, once again considering going for the book, so as to create a sort of imaginary camouflage or wall between them. Instead, she slowly turned again toward the man, noticing now that he had somehow managed to move even closer to her. Nyoko could see that the man was very slowly working his way through the many people. She wondered if anyone else saw. She could see that he was cool and swift, but very graceful. He was now only two people away from her. One of the people separating them was a very large woman who wore a brass badge on her navy blazer. Nyoko wondered if the woman might be one of those crazy Mormons from America, but turning, she saw that the lady was a concierge at one of the fancier hotels. She was very impressed with the woman. To be a woman with a job of such prestige and acumen was a rare thing and a great honor in Japan. The other person separating her from the Persian was a young man with Down’s syndrome. She wondered why such a young man would be out so late unchaperoned. She smiled at him but his face made no change. He breathed through his mouth, which made him look more grotesque, like one of those hideous green rubber masques children wear at Halloween. The train came into another station, which allowed the configuration of people to change once more. And now the young Persian was right next to her. Nyoko kept her face pointed down and stared at the woman concierge’s large feet. She wondered if a woman in such high position might not manage to have less utilitarian footwear and perhaps invest in something a little more stylish. She tried desperately to occupy her mind on something else, something other than the man directly in front of her, now pressed, like everyone else, up against her. And then it happened. Suddenly, Nyoko could feel his hand now flush against her stomach. Keeping it still there, very still, he held it long enough so that she could feel the warmth of his palm radiating into her. Then he started moving his hand slowly in a light circular motion. Nyoko kept her head down, but lifted her eyes slightly, so as to see if anyone else could see what was happening. Satisfied, or perhaps suddenly indifferent, Nyoko closed her eyes and concentrated on the man’s touch. And then suddenly, the great barrier of cotton and civility lifted slightly and she could feel his actual fingertips touching her small round belly. She had to press harder on her eyelids now as this sent a bolt of tickling pleasure straight into the center of her body. She could feel the man’s fingernails as he gently prodded her navel. Each time he would put his finger in it, Nyoko’s toes curled. This made Nyoko giggle but the man quickly lifted his other hand to her face and gently stifled the laugh by touching her lips. It was then that Nyoko lifted her head and looked directly at the man. But just as she expected to meet his glance, and through his large sea black eyes go deeper into another part of him, the man turned his head the opposite direction as if to deflect any mutual communion with her. To Nyoko’s surprise, she did not feel spurned, nor did she feel sadness. This was, after all, a complete stranger. Instead, Nyoko only lowered her head again, closed her eyes once more and continued to concentrate on the man’s touch. And then his hand swept upward, and she could feel his fingernails once more tracing the soft under curve of her breasts. She wanted him to cup them and stop teasing her with his finger, so she pressed closer into him, nudging his finger away. To her surprise, the man’s hand was not so easily guided, and instead of holding her breast the way she wanted, he went directly to her nipples. Nyoko’s breathing suddenly stopped, and then like the apnea sleeper, as if suddenly remembering to breathe, she took in a large gulp of air. The man continued to look away, as if reading the gaudy advertisements, his face as still and unmoved as a pond covered in ice. Then he began to pinch the very tips of her nipples, quickly rubbing them afterward with his thumb. He gathered up one breast in his hand and pressing it flush against her ribs, he gently squeezed it until the mounding flesh protruded between his fingers. Then he squeezed them harder, his hand coming away from her skin, leaving a distinct handprint from the rush of blood to the surface. Nyoko could scarcely hold back the thrill rising within her, so to avoid reacting and subsequently being found out, instead she bit hard into her bottom lip, inviting pain, keeping her pleasure in check. Nyoko’s head was still bowed to the floor as the Persian worked her breasts masterfully while still looking nonchalantly away. But then, something very strange occurred. The train came into a new station, and just as the doors opened, a cold rush of air hit her, sending an icy gale throughout her entire body. Shuttering, it was as if Nyoko suddenly awoke from a dream. And just as she opened her eyes, suddenly a most palpable shame descended on her and her entire body turned in on itself. The Persian, feeling the rebuff, still cupping her breasts, with great apprehension turned his face down toward her. But Nyoko could not look at him. So quickly, the Persian removed his hand from her breast and pulled away from her. Nyoko paused for another moment and finally looked up at him. But she found herself suddenly incapable of not showing her disgrace. Then, all at once, as if to appease her and to half-heartedly admonish her of her collusion, his face suddenly becoming disdainful, he looked at her as a master might punishing a dog, turned abruptly, and walked out of the train and into the station. As Nyoko ascended the steps into the cold night air, she pulled her sweater tighter around her. She could hear dishes clattering and she could smell someone frying aji. The freezing air seemed to trump her intoxication and all she could think of now was what had happened. As she quietly walked past her sleeping parents, Nyoko recounted again and again the matter, working herself up into a state inexplicably, until finally the storm inside her head subsided, and she fell into a deep slumber.