Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 3 |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]


Winter was altering to spring. When Suzuki reached the street it was still twilight. The towers of the Barbican were not yet silhouettes, though their stained grey concrete teeth cut sharply into the pale sky. Feeling buoyant, Suzuki decided against travelling on the Circle line. Instead he walked on down Aldersgate Street towards St Paul’s station, with the intention of taking the Central line. He relished every step. The area was full of Japanese office workers looking for taxis. Feeling bold — feeling, indeed, luckier than anyone else in sight — he even considered taking one himself, but thrift prevailed. Money was important to Suzuki. He did not come from a rich family. As the commonness of his name suggested, he stemmed from a class which was once not allowed to bear a name at all. His grandfather, after having passed by examination to the status of junior officer, had died on the battleship Yamato, leaving his son, Suzuki’s father, to start the climb all over again, as a junior sales executive for one of the numerous, fiercely competing electrical appliance companies which had burgeoned in Japan after the war. In order to become a senior sales executive, Suzuki’s father had worked himself to mental exhaustion. The company had been generous and kept him at half pay as a consultant, but for all the years of Suzuki’s education, times had been hard. The pressure to do well on his family’s behalf had been the governing force of Suzuki’s life for as far back as he could remember. As a recruit for the bureaucracy he was being given his London pay and living allowance in yen, which meant, because of the favourable exchange rate, that he was earning well. But much of what he made he would have to take home. He did not resent this. He had no great material ambitions beyond the glittering, almost unimaginable prospect of possessing, one day, an apartment in Tokyo.

To this end he had begun a special bank account, which at the moment had pathetically little in it, but anything he might earn as a writer would go into it too, and who knew if it would not eventually swell to the required magnitude? The thought of that place of his own made parsimony voluptuous. Suzuki enjoyed managing the details of his living arrangements. When he got back to his room, the contrast between it and the girl’s flat he had just left was as if a videotape of an explosion had been run backwards. All the furniture was, of course, Western style, but his belongings were arranged with an accuracy which he was careful to disturb only on purpose, and always with a view to restoring harmony as soon as possible. Ideally the disturbance itself should be orderly. That very night he sat down to write to his sponsor, Shimura-san, the editor in the great publishing house who had first spotted Suzuki’s talent when he was still a schoolboy. Shimura-san had encouraged Suzuki’s writings while he was at Tōdai and had arranged for their publication in the professional magazines. In Japan, the magazines are where the business of literature is principally carried on. A début in the magazines requires sound management. Shimura-san had shown, on Suzuki’s behalf, a combination of forbearance and tactical certitude which his protégé would ever afterwards regard as a model.

When Suzuki arranged his sheets of paper on the desk and began to write to his protector, he was as concentrated as if entranced. A Western observer would have been justified in thinking that this must be a monk in his cell. The impression of monastic asceticism was abetted by the shrine-like arrangement of photographs on the sideboard. Suzuki’s personal photographs — his mother, his sister, and, from happier days, his father — were displayed in small silver frames on the bedside table. On the sideboard, however, in larger frames spaced carefully on a white cloth, were the photographs of his heroes. Shimura-san was there. So was Kawabata: the photograph had been taken in the year he was awarded the Nobel Prize, yet he was unsmiling. Equally grave was Matsushita, ancient head of the Matsushita group of companies, the great man whose capacity for long-term planning had done so much for Japan’s industrial rebirth. Also present were Admiral Yamamoto and Prince Saionji. The inclusion of Herbert von Karajan might have seemed inappropriate at first glance, but there was no Japanese equivalent for a master international musician with such a huge industrial capacity and so long a career. The common factor among Suzuki’s heroes was productivity over a long period and wisdom in old age. World fame was also a consideration, although Matsushita, compared with the flamboyant Morita of Sony. was a reclusive figure, and Prince Saionji’s name was known only inside Japan, and then mainly to historians. Politically isolated, his power sapped by the machinations of a cabinet increasingly under the sway of the military, Saionji, in those nightmarish last years of the 1930s, had never ceased to argue against the folly of a war with the Western powers. Admiral Yamamoto was there for the same reason: not for planning that brilliant feat of arms, the attack on Pearl Harbour, but for bravely having given his opinion in advance that a war against the Western democracies must eventually be lost. If Saionji and Yamamoto had been listened to, the tragedy might not have occurred. Suzuki admired these men, not so much for having persevered in a lost cause as for having been right, for having judged the situation correctly. The war party had so arranged matters that the Emperor had been unable to hear the advice of his wise men. Suzuki could think of nothing more perilous than that degree of hermeticism. He himself would have known little about Japan’s path to military disaster if Shimura-san had not told him. Japanese school textbooks were almost impenetrably bland on the subject. Most of Suzuki’s contemporaries knew little about their country’s turbulent recent history and cared less. Though Suzuki sometimes envied them their equilibrium, he was in no doubt that it was dangerous. He was grateful for having been saved from ignorance, and must of the gratitude he owed to Shimura-san, who incarnated the benefits of stating the case frankly. So in his letter to Shimura-san he mentioned the girl. Announcing his intention of being careful, he left the way open for his mentor to admonish him, or even warn him off. Suzuki might not act on the advice, but he wanted to hear it.

Early the following week, Suzuki also mentioned the girl to Rochester-san, not because he wanted the journalist’s advice — in most respects, that had proved good for nothing — but because he wanted to see if her name meant anything, beyond the renown earned by its original holder. Rochester-san said that he was ignorant in the area of what he called ‘acne mags’, but that it was not unknown, nowadays, for performers in popular music and its attendant fields to take an already famous name. There had been a Tom Jones and an Engelbert Humperdinck. There was, of course, Madonna. Soon, no doubt, there would be a Jesus Christ. Also, apparently, it was now common for minor cultural journalists in the fashion magazines to have names like Coleridge, Wordsworth and even Shakespeare. Suzuki had obtained his own copy of one of the magazines featuring an article by Jane Austen. He showed it to Rochester-san and asked his opinion. Rochester-san began reading it with obvious reluctance but after a while looked interested, and even started to nod with admiration. ‘She can write very well, this girl. Taiben joju imas. Is that how you say very good?’

Taiben jōzu desu. Almost right.’

‘Her style’s not very well organised. All over the place like the mad woman’s excreta. But she’s got a turn of phrase.’

‘What was that about the mad woman again?’ asked Suzuki, suddenly on the alert.

‘All over the place like the mad woman’s excreta. I got that from an Australian newspaper proprietor. Good, isn’t it? Wakarimasu ka?

Wakarimashita,’ said Suzuki, meaning that he had understood. Plainly Rochester-san was keen to get on with the lesson. Suzuki did not have to feign approval of his pupil’s diligence. Rochester-san had been doing some homework and would perhaps one day be able to sustain a simple conversation. Whether he would ever get far with his reading was a different matter. He was still reading everything in the Roman alphabet and could construe the phonetic scripts only with difficulty. He seemed incapable of retaining more than a dozen kanji characters. If he learned a new one, he forgot one he knew already. Also some of what he taught in return was so specialised that Suzuki doubted its value.

‘My editor plays snooker,’ said Rochester-san, ‘but I’m snookered. You see the difference?’ Suzuki did, but couldn’t see its relevance. They were standing on the balcony gazing down into the evening. In a field of lights, a tower said TELECOM. Suzuki politely failed to notice the embarrassing moisture in his interlocutor’s eye. ‘Chin chin,’ said Rochester-san, after refilling both their glasses. Since hearing that ‘chinchin’ was one of the Japanese words for ’penis’, Rochester-san had taken to saying it at every opportunity, invariably supplying his own laughter.

Talking to Rochester-san, however, was less of a trial than it had been. Suzuki was able to shift to automatic pilot while he thought about Austen-san. In his mind he had now begun to call her by her name. It seemed that she had some title to it. She was a writer after all. To his description of himself, Suzuki could add another attribute: he knew a promising young female English writer who dressed in the punk style, had large breasts, and had kissed him.

Next night after work he walked to her flat to keep their appointment. Once again she was not in when he pressed the button. This time, however, she did not turn up late. She did not turn up at all. He was outside the door for several hours and had an embarrassing conversation with a policeman. People who let themselves in or out of the door made it very clear that he should not try to go in. He did not want to. He would have liked to eliminate the possibility that she was up there in the flat dead by her own hand, but he could not visualise the scene by which he would obtain access. If he had told the policeman that a girl might have committed suicide up there, and the policeman had broken in and found that a girl had committed suicide up there, would not he, Suzuki, he a prime suspect on a charge of murder? He had better reasons, however, for not raising the alarm. Fears for her life had been in his mind since long before he saw her scars. The way she leafed through a book was enough to raise doubt about her chances of survival. But somehow on this occasion he was reasonably confident that she had simply missed the appointment. Such behaviour was, after all, even more part of her pattern than self-injury was. She would do nothing so dramatically apposite as to give an appointment to an admirer and then fail to answer her door because she was lying dead behind it. She was just not there. That Suzuki now recognised himself as her admirer only added to his irritation. Next day he called again and there was still no answer. This time he waited only an hour, always alert for the first signs of the patrolling policeman. Why had he not asked her for her telephone number? Her phone might be working again by now. Why had she not given him the number automatically? Why had he not read the number from the telephone in her flat and noted it down later? The card he had given her as a preliminary courtesy had his telephone numbers for both work and home on it. So why had she not rung? He was not sure his pride could take another fruitless early evening walk, which anyway he could not undertake until the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow he had another scheduled session with Rochester-san. Perhaps he could go to her place again after that was finished, but it would be late, and he might arrive simultaneously with the policeman. It was a dilemma.

Next day Jane Austen resolved it. As if having beamed down from a space-ship, she appeared in the bookshop during the most busy period, at mid-day. Instead of striking her in the face, Suzuki found himself agreeing to call on her that evening. He explained that he would not be able to arrive until the middle of the evening because he had one of his regular exchange language lessons first, and those he never missed. She said that she might have to go out in the later part of the evening, but at least they could spend an hour together. She intimated that it was very important that they did, because she had a lot to tell him that she couldn’t tell him here. Suzuki could endorse the latter part of that opinion. His colleagues were going discreetly frantic as they tried to deal with the customers while he spent an age closeted between the high shelves in colloquy with this apparition of a female. The way she addressed most of her remarks to him over her shoulder while pulling books at random from the shelves and stuffing them back upside down did not help. Further reminded, by the very way she did this, of her compulsively eccentric timekeeping, Suzuki had a horrible premonition of himself arriving at her front door half an hour after she had left it. No, his appointment with Rochester-san would have to be cancelled. He told Austen-san that he would be there straight after work.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Well, then. Now that you’ve finally finished wanking.’ Still manifesting disdain — she actually put her nose in the air — for how long it had taken to persuade him into a reasonable course of action, she pushed approximately between the other customers and left the shop. It was some time before there was a sufficient lull for Suzuki to ring Rochester-san and call off the appointment. Rochester-san accepted the situation without a trace of rancour. Several times, when obliged to leave suddenly for the Middle East or somewhere, he had made similar calls to Suzuki. But Suzuki disliked the sensation of squandering even a small part of his moral advantage. In his mental account hook he had an entry in the debit column. Though the choice had been his, inevitably he felt sharp resentment against Austen-san. The flaring access of animus soon faded, but he still carried the hot embers when he reached her doorbell, and the embers crackled back to life when the doorbell was not answered. Suzuki had his executive briefcase with him and wondered whether, to help relieve his feelings, it might not be wise to put the briefcase flat on the ground, kneel beside it, take a deep breath, and punch a hole through it. But in a remarkably short time, for her, Austen-san showed up. Once again she was carrying two clinking plastic carrier bags, which he once again, as gallantry dictated, took from her. She, with a great show of retaliatory independence, took his briefcase.

‘What is this? Its heavy. Have you got your wank mags in this?’ She was in her standard black uniform, her areas of revealed skin looking even more abruptly candid than he had remembered. The notice on the back wall of the lift had been painted out with black paint. Presumably it was the same graffiti artist who had employed the newly primed display area to supply, this time in white paint, a further message which went into more, and more explicit, detail than its predecessor. Still absorbed in what he had just read, Suzuki had followed Austen-san into her flat before he noticed that she did not have his briefcase with her. ‘Go and get it, then.’ She spoke as if he had inconvenienced her, instead of the other way about. Suzuki pressed the button to call the lift. When the lift came, it did not have his briefcase in it. As he rode down in the lift he reflected that he would have to get used, not only to wasting a lot of time waiting for her, hut to wasting a lot of the time he actually spent with her. When the lift reached the ground floor, the briefcase was not there either. Luckily, when he ran out into the street, the two little boys who were playing with it were still in view. They gave it back to him only when he frowned, a sight which made one of them — the larger one, strangely enough — burst into tears. Some man who was perhaps related to the boys shouted instructions from a balcony. ‘Bugger off!’ was the only instruction Suzuki understood clearly. Head back, Suzuki focused on the distant figure. The man looked large, bald and angry. ‘Garn, get out of it, you fuckin’ slant-eyed git! Sod off!’

Whatever it meant, it was a command Suzuki was glad to obey. He was back inside the lift before the man could reach the street. He realised that there was no point asking Austen-san why she had left the briefcase behind. The reason was obvious. She had put the briefcase down in order to leave both hands free for the challenging business of pushing the button, and then had simply forgotten to pick it up again. When he knocked on her closed door, it was a couple of minutes before she opened it, and then she looked at him as if wondering who he was. Is she acquainted, Suzuki found himself wondering, with any other Japanese men of my age, height and general appearance? ‘What a wanker,’ she told the wall. ‘The fuss you make about things. Are you all like that?’

‘Are who all like what?’

‘Japs. Wankers. Are you all like that? I mean really.’

But she must have felt at least a residual sense of obligation, because she gave herself to him almost immediately. Suzuki was pleasantly surprised to find that in respect of her person she was, by Western standards, scrupulously clean. The disorder of her surroundings had been misleading in that regard. Divested of her strange garments, she looked odd only at the wrists and in the vicinity of the head, where her spiky, dyed blonde coronet now emphasised that her face was of a disproportionately restricted area compared with the body below it. She verged on the hefty, rather like the Degas women Suzuki had so much and so many times admired at the museum in Ueno Park, but with the milky white skin of the Renoir women he had admired even more. On the skin of the Renoir women, however, you could see the streaks denoting the direction of the brush. Austen-san’s skin had the stillness of freshly fallen powder snow. Also, for all that her body was solidly made, her lower limbs were long and tapered. thus going some way towards fulfilling Suzuki’s ideal of the Western womanly figure. Suzuki did not precisely expect every Western woman to be as elongated as the Princess of Wales, but there could be no doubt that, viewed generally, the Western female figure differed from the Japanese female figure in ways which Suzuki could not blame himself for being interested in, since Japanese women thought the same.

In the previous generation, Japanese women had been known to compensate for their low-slung flat bottoms by purchasing padded pantie-girdles with a high curvature built in. In the new generation, Japanese females, like Japanese males, had markedly shown the benefits of a diet whose protein content had been steadily increasing since the Occupation. The steady increase had led to a quantum jump. Legs had grown straighter and longer. But in general, for both sexes, the Japanese figure still was, and would remain, balanced equally around the middle. The Western figure carried its centre of gravity much higher. The women, especially, were less earthbound.

Austen-san, although she was as tall as Suzuki, was not especially tall for a Western woman. She was even a trifle chunky. She still struck Suzuki as ethereal, an effect helped by her angelic texture. He revelled in her. The only anxiety was induced by the circumstance that there seemed to be nothing she would not let him do, so he could not eliminate the possibility from his mind that he was somehow failing her. Yet she seemed to be as excited as he was. Even though there was never any detectable evidence that she was experiencing an orgasm, there was equally never any detectable evidence that she would not soon do so. She seemed to be always on the point of crisis. Finally Suzuki decided that he had better put off that matter to be decided later. He could wait no longer. He closed his eyes and said the informal Japanese word for yes. To English ears it sounds exactly like a grunt. When he opened his eyes again, Austen-san was smiling. For once she was looking straight at him. Her teeth were exquisite. Suzuki was glad that they would never he painted black. Here was no geiko. This was a free woman of the West. Suzuki had sailed all the way to the heart of the secret.

‘Well, then,’ said Austen-san, ‘We’re a bit less of a wanker in this department, aren’t we?’

From that moment, even in his mind, he called her by her first name, Jane. Usually she didn’t call him anything, but if forced to do so she called him Suzuki, because his first name, Akira, was more than she could manage. Anyway, she said, she liked the sound of Suzuki. ‘It sounds dozy. Dozy and cosy. Cosy nookie, that’s you. That’s what you are.’ As he lay in her arms after they had made love, she would baby him. Many Japanese men are, in childhood, weaned late, and for them, in adult life, such affectionate treatment is powerfully soothing. Suzuki was grateful and showed his gratitude by tender caresses. These, she assured him, had been rare in her life. Between Jane Austen and Akira Suzuki, such peaceful interludes were to become the central, connecting thread of their affair as it stretched into the summer. Perhaps on that first evening they both had a premonition of this consoling fact, because they grinned at each other from short range, less like stunned novices than like established lovers who have been familiar with each other’s bodies for a long time.

Jane climbed into a crushed but clean navy blue cotton bathrobe printed with hibiscus. It looked better on her than it had on the floor, but no less crumpled. Yet Suzuki, sitting cross-legged on the bed, was aesthetically well pleased as he watched her through the frame of the kitchen doorway while she set about ransacking the shopping bags, pouring drinks, and laying out the ingredients of a possible salad. As on the first evening, Suzuki was handed a wine glass full to the brim with vodka. Some of it splashed over the brim and soaked his hand. As he watched her slicing tomatoes, he wondered if she had ever really tried to commit suicide at all. She might have done all that to herself while preparing a light snack. Yet there was a transparency to her that he admired. Her body carried no blemishes except those she had put there herself, by violence. Her hairstyle and make-up were merely an extended version of the sell-obliterating damage she had done with the razor. Her voluptuously curved outline was purely drawn. If she was incapable of propelling it into graceful movement, he would either have to imagine graceful movements on her behalf, or else simply try to accept what he saw. He tried to imagine her in Japanese traditional dress, slowly and meticulously laying out the utensils for the tea ceremony. The thought was instantly dispelled when she tore a lettuce to pieces without looking at it. He could hear the lettuce scream for mercy.

Daringly clad in nothing except his shirt and underpants, Suzuki sat down opposite his hostess at the tiny table in the kitchenette. Jane now began to tell him her news. It was no more coherent than usual. Nor, though laughter was interspersed, was it really any more light-hearted. She had gone to Paris to see the singer who until recently had lived here in the flat with her. His name was Ron. Apparently the fix she was in was really all his fault, the bastard. He had run up a huge phone bill making long calls all over the world, the cunt. That was why they had cut the phone off, the wankers. The big advantage about that was that the bank manager couldn’t make any more threatening phone calls, the wanker cunt bastard. Careful not to betray, with his facial expression, that he was undertaking a manoeuvre equivalent to making a U-turn across the central divide of a super highway, Suzuki suggested that he might be able to help her a little in the matter of money. Jane made her customary dismissive gesture as of someone trying to demoralise a wasp. It seemed that the article about Japan would restore her fortunes overnight. Her only mistake had been to promise it to one of the acne mags. But its editor had behaved so badly, pestering her all the time, that she had decided to give it to the colour magazine of one of the Sunday newspapers. She asked Suzuki for a few trendy names to put into the piece. When it emerged that Suzuki was a writer himself, Jane suggested — insisted, in fact — that she should interview him and modify the article so that the interview became the core of it. Suzuki would have been flattered if he had really believed that there was anything to modify. He was fairly certain, by now, that the article did not exist in any form. Apart from her mishaps, which were all real enough to touch, her life was totally unreal. Suzuki wondered how her affair with him would eventually be classified: fantastic, or mistaken? He was in a long way over his head, yet he had never seen so clearly. When she told him that her singing friend Ron was bisexual, Suzuki felt a thrill of fear so sharply defined that it had a cutting edge, like a short sword slashing his stomach open with its long, withdrawing stroke. ’I’m the only woman he can go to bed with. Its often like that. Pooves who’ve never had a woman in their lives try it once, with me. I hope you’re not one. Are there any Japanese woofters?’

Suzuki was smiling, but in his mental account book he had turned to a fresh page and entered a possible debt that might have to be cancelled with his life. By rights he should have put on his trousers, bowed low and walked straight to the hospital he had noticed just down the road. He restricted himself to telling her that she must never have intercourse with any of these men again. He forbade it. ‘Oo, aren’t we masterful?’ Jane asked the refrigerator.

So they went back to bed. Jane made noises shout having to go out. These were soon replaced by other noises she made; noises Suzuki liked. Like the Japanese lover of the blonde American princess in Big Comic, Suzuki was spending a lot of time with his head buried in his work, but he did not complain. If he had, the complaints would have been muffled. She made no grand gestures of awarding him the freedom of her body. She simply seemed to expect these things. He soon learned that it was up to him to decide when he had had enough. When he once again gave the monosyllabic signal that he had, she patted his forehead maternally and departed to the bathroom. He heard the clunking sound of a slab of porcelain being shifted. Surely not even she was so erratic as to dismantle the water-closet simply by sitting on it? She came hack with a small plastic bag from which she produced the makings of marijuana cigarettes.

‘This is Ron’s stuff. I don’t usually have it, in case the council breaks in. I don’t actually smoke it. actually. I used to once, before I got into drugs. You know, real drugs. But after that, I didn’t smoke it any more. What’s the point? So I just have the occasional smoke, because if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if you do, does it? So I smoke: so what?’


Suzuki had smoked a marijuana cigarette while at university and found it quite interesting. His instinct now was to run downstairs, find the attentive local policeman, and place himself under arrest. He was about to become engaged in doing absolutely the last thing an ambitious young Japanese visitor to a Western country should ever do. On future occasions, he would forbid her even to raise the subject. But this was his night of madness. Tonight he was in the Floating World.

‘Ooh,’ said Jane, after taking, holding, and only partly expelling a deep drag from the second cigarette. ‘I wish we had some drugs.’ His share of the first cigarette had left Suzuki feeling odd, but not so odd that he did not find what she said even odder. If this wasn’t a drug, what was it? Luckily all the active ingredient was soon gone. There had been more than enough of it to stimulate Jane into a version of her usual monologue more wide-ranging, and less connected, than ever. She railed against her parents in a way Suzuki found impossible to understand. According to her, they were wealthy landowners who had reacted with cruel incomprehension when she would not conform. She did not know which of them she hated more. But she hated the manager of the band more than both of them. Japan was where he had started to sabotage her, in fact. The lead singer was his boyfriend and together they had grown jealous of the attention she was getting. ‘I mean I would come out and the whole audience would just go, ungh! You know what I mean? I mean it was that kind of thing. It was that kind of experience. I know its past it and everything to say experience but it really was. They would just go ungh!’

She remembered Japan clearly. She had, she said, a natural affinity with Japan. That was why she had been chosen to write this article. She had seen a lot of Japan. There was a big hall in Tokyo. And there was a big hall in another place. And in Tokyo there was a place with a lot of lights, like Times Square in New York only better. With a big TV set and lights hitting the clouds. She knew what it was called. What was it called?

‘Shinjuku; said Suzuki.

‘See? I knew that. That’s why they got me to write this terrific article.’

‘You,’ said Suzuki dreamily, ‘are all over the place like the mad woman’s etcetera.’

‘Where did you get that? Nobody says that.’

‘The man to whom I give lessons told me.’

Nobody says that. I’ll tell you what, though.’


‘I know a few guys you could give lessons to.’ She dug a knuckle into his clearly defined abdominal muscles. ‘You’re just an old slag, aren’t you? You’re just an old sex-mad Jap slag.’

She smiled into his eyes. For what seemed an age he had her undivided attention. Then she looked sideways at the wall, leaned forward and kissed him.