The sleeping bag is damp.
I have been lying on it non-stop for three hours, and didn’t even notice it until now, shifting positions.
It is in one of these rare moments when the wind dies down and the surf drops to absolute silence… the gulls all around stop screeching as if collectively looking over their shoulders at the ocean, as I have.
Behind us, I hear our kite drop to the ground.
And the whole scene comes back to life again, birds, waves, and wind.
We have downed two bottles of wine, grilled eel, and a block of parmesan cheese.
This is the way I like to travel, with no itinerary, but rather a guiding desire – today’s is to see the sand dunes south of Hamamatsu.
And see them we have, for hours now. It is a strand of beach, whipped up into hills of sand by the incessant action of the wind, one kilometer deep by 8 kilometers long.
The sun is sinking in the west, and I am cradling this adorable woman’s head to my chest, and she coos to me slightly drunkenly in her ever so slight accent:
“Let’s go back to the hotel room and fuck like crazy.”
It is good to be in love, it is good to have a girlfriend. It is good to have a person who challenges you and who adores you, and who you challenge and adore right back. It is good to be in synch with someone, psychologically, intellectually, sexually.
But these needs never seem to be met by one person, and this woman is not my girlfriend.
“I can’t do that,” I reply. “you know that.”
“Then let’s go to an izakaya and drink some more and then go back to the hotel room and fuck like crazy.”
I am being good, and I laugh off her advances.
She has known from day one, well two, that I have a girlfriend, and that I am not interested in another.
But the important things are not what is going on between us, it is the feel of the wind on my feet and the smell of the sand.
I remove my arm from under her head, lolling it to one side as I rise and walk to our kite and coax it back up to the sky while she sits up behind me and lights a cigarette.
It is not quite dark enough to be called dark, but the wind has changed directions and flavors.
Can this be considered cheating in mind?
To have someone with whom I can speak in all the ways that I wish I could speak to my girlfriend, to do all those kooky things that she would never even consider trying, laughing off as immature or self-indulgent on my part?
Like staring at a hermit crab that we have just fished out of the harbor for half an hour to see how long it will take him to get up the courage to peek out of his shell at us.
Rescuing a long dead sea cucumber from a rocky grave.
Talking with a restaurant owner about his pet rabbits, long deceased, but whose amazing feats, like navigating flights of stairs in order to defecate into a little box, are forever memorialized in his memory.
“There are people for whom the details are important, and people for whom the big things are important,” I say.
“I am a details person,” she says, without hesitation.
Now, she hesitates, a little – “Well, what did you mean by what you said?”
“I don’t know, really. But you seem to.”
We are silent for a while. Pigeons are wrestling each other with their beaks. I wonder what they are doing.
“They are kissing,” she says, and takes their picture. Then she takes a picture of a landmark hotel. Behind her, one of the pigeons is squashing the other under his feet. talons, even. She is oblivious, and by the time she turns around, they are circling around each other, disheveled.
The night before, we had been lying on the beach. Today, we are returning back to our respective homes, where we will sleep and prepare for another day of work at the expo.
After saying goodbye, I search for a local-looking restaurant to get dinner. I enter, and can immediately tell that as a foreigner and non-local, I am not very welcome.
“We only have curry left,” says the owner. He is drunk and lisping, and the locals he is drinking with are eyeing me suspiciously.
“Curry will be fine,” I reply, and sit down at a corner table away from the unruly gang to watch the baseball on TV.
The curry is served up without fanfare, and I thank the owner.
As I am just about finished, his wife, the chef, emerges from the kitchen with a green chili on a small plate with a dollop of miso sauce on the side.
“Can you eat this?” she asks me.
“It is spicy.”
I dip it in the sauce and eat it while she watches me suspiciously.
“Do you need water?”
“No, it was delicious.”
She shrugs and disappears to the other side of the room. I hear her telling the rough-looking gang of regulars that I had eaten it. She come back with a plate full, and drops it next to me.
“Thanks,” I reply, and keep on eating the chilis. One of the regulars sidles up to me and delivers the regular speech.”
“Where ya from ya look a little Asian I can tell by the nose you don’t look Japanese you could eat those things, thought maybe you were Indonesian could tell by the nose people with a triangle nose they can eat spicy food, me also, I’m not all Japanese 800 years ago my family came from Mongolia, but here in Japan I need to keep that a secret.”
I nod and smile in all the right places. He is drunk. The woman appears to have lost interest, and after telling me that chilis are too spicy for her, she retreats to the kitchen.
“What are you wearing under your pants?” he asks me.
He looks around furtively. “You know Japanese underwear?”
“No,” I say.
“Well, there are no women around, so…”
He undoes his belt and drops his pants enough to show me the rag-style underwear that many older people in Japan still wear. Younger too, for all I know. Then he does his pants up again.
I swallow my bite of curry rice.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Of course not,” I reply. It was interesting to see.
The cook comes out again, and joins us.”
“I showed him my underwear,” said the local.
“Bullshit,” she replies.
“Yes, I did. didn’t I?”
This is getting weird, but I respond, “Yes, he did. It was interesting.”
“I’m worried he thinks I am some sort of pervert,” says the man.
“Not at all,” I say, and am thankful when the conversation turns to another topic, what I am doing in Japan.
“Show us,” the cook demands, when she learns that i am an acrobat. I can tell she doesn’t believe me. She is trying to get a rise out of me, but I don’t know why. I stand up and get ready to to a backflip as she calls out to the whole restaurant that I am supposed to be some kind of acrobat, and now I’m going to prove it.
I do a backflip, like a trained monkey, bow low, and retreat to my corner booth to finish the last bites of my meal. I gather my belongings, and graciously accept the presents that the customers of the bar offer me for providing a little entertainment tonight.
Before I go to the register to pay, as i am putting on my jacket, the old woman implores me to stay in japan.
“Please stay and live here,” she says.
“Of course,” I reply.
And it is time for me to go home, now.
The night before, we went to an izakaya. Three or so, to be specific, and ate and drank until we could eat and drink no more.
I love that she can speak Japanese better than I can, but that when it comes to the street, I still have an advantage.
We are mistaken for every dark nationality under the sun, except for Black and Asian. Indian, Spanish, Mexican…
An odd pair.
We fill up on food long before we feel the effects of the alcohol, so we head back to the hotel, picking up some strong Japanese fruit liquor along the way.
We turn on NHK, the Japanese public television station, which is showing the X-Games. stunt BMX.
“Did you ever do that?” she asks me.
“God no. It’s crazy.”
“You have done a lot of crazy things,” she says.
The lights are off now, and the alcohol has worn off. the television channel is changing as I drift between sleep and consciousness. It settles on a Japanese show in which a nerdy looking scientist recites facts about the surface of various objects in the solar system before naming them and showing satellite images of them. The antagonists of this science program are two women who squeal orgasmicly at the information.
Surface temperature of 270 degrees Celcius…90 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth… atmosphere made up principally of carbon dioxide…
“Venus,” I mutter. “Gold planet,” I repeat, in Japanese, eyes closed. The bed feels nice.
“Gold planet” confirms the scientist.
Brightest object in the blah blah blah tidal forces of blah blah no cratering blah blah
“Europa, moon of Jupiter.” the pillow is soft.
“How do you know all this?” she asks.
“Used to be my job. I was a…” fuck it.
“let’s go to bed.”
She knows that I am not just an acrobat, but she can only suspect. I don’t talk like how she imagines an acrobat would talk. I don’t ask acrobat questions.
She comes to bed. It is not the first time that we have fallen asleep next to each other, but it is the first time that she is breathing this way.
“I have the power, actually,” she says, “I can kiss you, but you can not kiss me.”
I don’t answer, but she moves close to me. She can tell that I find her attractive.
The next thing I know, I am no longer being good. There is kissing, and the breathing intensifies and I am flooded with images of my girlfriend.
She undoes her kimono.
I feel her hand on me. I can feel where this is going. Warm. A summer night.
“No,” I say.
She doesn’t stop.
“No,” I repeat, more firmly. “We need to stop.”
And she listens. Falling to the side of me. Breathing changing again.
Like a hubcap coming off a moving car.
“What are you thinking about?” she asks.
“If we do this, it can never be undone.”
And then she is on top of me again. I want to resist, but that enveloping pressure so familiar and yet as unique as a fingerprint, lulls my protests.
And it is over.
“How do you feel?” she asks?
“Nothing good at all?” she says, after a pause.
I say nothing.
“I raped you,” she says, “and now you hate me.”
I don’t hate her, and I tell her that. I don’t even know if I was raped.
I never said yes, but I didn’t fight back, and when I let myself go, I enjoyed it, but immediately after, all the reality came flooding back, and I was back there again.
I still love my girlfriend, and this woman knows that.
I can not sleep with this woman again, and she knows that too.
Though there are times when I am filled with a type of affection for her that I wish that I could feel for my girlfriend, I do not think that this woman could ever be my girlfriend.
And I will lie to my girlfriend about her.
And I continue to descend ever deeper into a complexity that I could have never imagined before I left the “right life” to find something else.
I feel so much more, for myself, and for others, than I ever did before.
And I am so much worse, and yet so much better that I ever was before.
In the morning, she asks me again how I am.
I smile at her, and say “you know.” And then pull her to me. When she can’t see me anymore, I stop smiling. My hand is on her thigh, and I embrace her from behind.
She is beautiful, even with my eyes closed, but she is not my girlfriend, and never will be.
“You make things too complicated for yourself,” she says.
Without a doubt,
I know that she is right.