Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 5 |
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Perhaps there was something to be said for a way of life in which bad thoughts could be made explicit without regrettable physical consequences. On the day when Jane once again materialised in the shop, Suzuki had the urge to stride across and swear at her. He considered this an improvement on the urge to stride across and throttle her. He had become Westernised. In the event, he did not even swear. He was too pleased. Also he was stunned. As usual she was in the art book section, but this time she was smoking a cigarette. The precious book about Japanese designs and advertising campaigns was once again in her careless hands, with the additional hazard that she was dropping ash into the valley between its open pages before impatiently leafing on and doing the same thing again. Suzuki arrived at her shoulder and with his voice damped down to a considerate murmur he aimed a message at where her ear would have been if it had not moved.

‘You are an amazing woman.’

‘Do you really think so, Sue?’ she cried out, apparently delighted. ‘You’re not just saying that because you’re a randy old slag?’

‘I meant you are amazing because you return here only to destroy that book. The book resists you but you do not give up. You return always with new weapons. Now you bring fire.’

‘Yeah. I started smoking again.’

‘You can afford to do it?’

‘It helps me stop worrying about money. I mean I couldn’t give a fuck about money, you know that. But the man from the bank sent a man around, and he keeps waiting for me ...’

Suzuki inwardly sighed with compassion at the thought of this latest recruit to the ranks of men who spent their lives waiting for Jane. He visualised a huge army stretching away into the distance, with himself at the head of it, wearing the uniform of General MacArthur. Having extracted from her a faithful promise that she would absolutely, without the possibility of failure, actually be there when he came to call after work that evening, he managed to get her out of the shop. She zig-zagged into the distance.

What he did next amazed him. A full half of the half hour he took for lunch he spent in the bank extracting two hundred and fifty pounds from his special fund. He couldn’t believe he was doing it. He told himself that it was a calculated risk. The distant prospect of his own place in Tokyo might even be brought closer. This gesture would bring her near; he would get to know her better; their affair would thus make even deeper modifications to his essential self, ensuring more adventurous art works, a more resounding success, and thus a bigger flat. He could see it now: a split-level maisonette like Mishima’s, with those wonderful Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe leather chairs. He tried to concentrate on its details. He very much wanted those leather chairs. The brute reality in the life of the typical young Japanese bureaucrat was that he could hardly afford to buy anything, even those home-grown products for which his country was famous. Japan was a prosperous country but its people were not. Suzuki did not enjoy Lionel’s jokes but he enjoyed them better than hearing Lionel and his fellow arbitrageurs discussing the performance details of their Porsche 928S’s and 6-series BMWs. Suzuki would get the Nobel prize before he could afford such a car. If he was very lucky, he might eventually own the sort of Toyota sports car that Lionel had traded in on the way to his first Porsche 944. Suzuki was not a materialist. He was spiritual about material things. He could taste their beauty in his mind. Only money could buy them, and the place to keep them. To contemplate risking even a small proportion of his precious money was like hacking at the rope by which he hung suspended from his future. Yet now the money was folded into an envelope, the envelope was in his pocket, and he was back in the shop counting the minutes before it closed. Japanese girls were shopping for the kind of Japanese comic books specifically aimed at Japanese girls: compendiums two inches thick with covers of ivory, mint green and rioting pink script. One or two of the girls were extremely pretty. Two or three of them actually. Why couldn’t he get interested in one of them? There was an expression in English about money burning a hole in your pocket. It stopped short of the mark. This kind of money burned a hole in your chest.

Striding the well-worn path to where she lived, he got his first few sentences ready. It was a familiar process. Beyond a certain point a conversation in one’s second language was not controllable, but it couldn’t even start unless you had the first few exchanges well covered. Suzuki practised saying: ‘I would be privileged to help you with your financial problem.’ He changed ‘problem’ to ‘difficulty’ and found it no less difficult, so he changed it back to ‘problem’. Mouthing the words, he was almost knocked down by a small Honda van, which bounced to a halt with squealing brakes. ‘Fucking chink git!’ cried the driver. ‘Whyncha get back to China then? Cross-eyed cunt.’

‘Thank you,’ said Suzuki, acknowledging his fault. The driver, mollified, pressed on. Suzuki arrived at Jane Austen’s front door and pressed the entryphone button. At first nothing happened, but what happened afterwards was truly startling. It was still nothing. Being almost killed by the little Honda van had been mildly depressing. Jane’s not answering her bell brought him close to despair. He hung his head, a mourner at his own funeral. Time passed. Without looking at the sky, he sensed it growing ever so slightly darker. Late afternoon was shading into the long twilight of a summer evening. At last he had enough energy to move his head. He looked along the street to the left, wondering if she would arrive from that direction, always supposing that she arrived at all. He looked along the street to the right. A familiar figure loomed. It was the man who had shouted at him from the balcony on the occasion of his briefcase having been misappropriated. This time Suzuki did not have his briefcase with him, which was lucky, because the man and his two equally large friends looked very aggressive. ‘Ear’s a fuckin’ chink what was fuckin’ rhand wiv aagh kids,’ said the man. ‘Ear! Chink! Watch it! Ya got vat? Juss watch it. Rye?’

Suzuki, wanting to tell the man there had been a mistake, perhaps unwisely attempted an air of colloquial ease.

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

‘Get old of is arms while I bash the cunt,’ said the man.

‘Nut the wanker,’ said one of the other men.

‘Come on China,’ said the third man, moving behind Suzuki, ‘Time for bye-byes, you pox-eyed nig-nog.’

Suzuki was in trouble. He would find it very hard to get out of this situation without serious damage being caused. He leaned forward and tapped the man behind him gently in the stomach with the heel of his left foot — not an easy blow to inflict with delicacy unless the shoe has been removed. Meanwhile the first man’s clenched fist was passing overhead, opening the arch of the armpit to a relatively easy knuckle thrust, but because Suzuki had only one foot to balance on he was obliged to hit harder than he would have liked. As the man behind him and the first man in front of him both fell with relative lack of force to the pavement, Suzuki would have preferred to step aside. He had barely enough time, however, to regain a two-footed stance. So he simply could not avoid hurting the second man in front of him, whose kick would have made contact if Suzuki had not caught it with his right hand and moved the offending foot briskly upwards. The man’s head hit the pavement with a crack that could be heard above the shrieks emitted by the other two men as they lay writhing. Suzuki prayed that no fracture of the skull had been inflicted. He bent to inspect the immobile man’s head. There was no blood. The breathing seemed normal. ‘What’s this, then?’ said the policeman, showing his usual uncanny ability to materialise just when he could be of least help.

Suzuki was eventually believed when he said he had been more intent on restoring order than perpetrating grievous bodily harm. The policeman took the point that Suzuki’s high grade in karate meant that the scuffle would have had a very different result if his intention had been other than self-defence. But the discussion took a long time and might well have resulted in the unthinkable disaster of official proceedings if Jane had arrived earlier. As it was, the three local men — the one with the smitten skull now conscious and moaning low like the other two — had already agreed that Suzuki’s insane act of aggression should be regarded as sufficiently punished. Jane loudly advised Suzuki to kick them all again but by that time the policeman had put his notebook away. Even more loudly, Jane advised Suzuki to kick the policeman. Suzuki was already escorting her firmly to her door.

‘You’re not going to let him get away with that!’ wailed Jane. ‘He should have slung them all in the nick. You’ve been discriminated against! Hey, copper! You’re a racist wan ...’

Suzuki gagged her as gently as he could with one hand while he fished out her keys with the other. Having got her safely through the door, he was somehow not surprised that she tried to seduce him in the lift. She was shiny-eyed with excitement. ‘Ooh, Sue, I saw you. They were flying around like aeroplanes. You’re so hard, aren’t you? You’re just a hard old macho stud.’ They fell through the door of her flat on to the floor. With her ankles around his neck and his nose in her stereo equipment, Suzuki wondered why he had come to England in order to live out scenes from a Japanese comic. In Japan he had lived out scenes from an early nineteenth-century English novel. Life in Tokyo was like a pump room in Bath and life in London was like a game of SF porno pin-ball in Shinjuku. Something had gone wrong. It was Jane, of course. Around her, everything went wrong.

‘Where were you?’ he said about half an hour afterwards. She was wearing the crumpled hibiscus bathrobe and he had regained his boxer shorts.

‘I was here, wasn’t I?’

‘You failed to answer the entryphone.’

‘Yeah, well, they cut it off, didn’t they?’

‘Did they?’

‘Yeah, or I wouldn’t have said so, would I? Don’t ask me questions all the time.’

‘I was trying to discover who, whom, who cut off the entryphone. Who cut off the entryphone?’

‘Council. They’re trying to get me out, aren’t they? Making aggravation. But I’ve still got my certificate, haven’t I? So they can’t actually sling me out, can they? So they try cutting things off, don’t they? Like the entryphone. They switched it off on me.’

‘Off on you?’ Of course, thought Suzuki, even as he vocalised the repetition. Off on. English prepositions could go together in almost any combination. Up in my room. Come on in. What was that one he had learned watching the snooker on television? It’s an in off. Once again Suzuki suffered a sudden, sharp attack of the fear that he would simply never make it with the English language: it was a corridor lined with doors, any one of which opened up on to — up on to! — an aircraft hangar packed to the roof with fresh difficulties. The attack passed, leaving this other fear, the one induced by her. Now was the time to withdraw: to assemble his clothing, bow low, and go. He opened his mouth to speak, and found himself asking ‘What magnitude of sum would be required to alleviate your immediate difficulties?’


Suzuki said it again, this time stumbling slightly. He had no trouble remembering the sentence. It had been well rehearsed. But he was disconcerted to find that she did not immediately understand it. She got it the second time, however.

‘Oh Sue, you can’t. It’d be hundreds and hundreds.’

‘I would be privileged to help you with your financial problem. Is that all the money you owe? Just hundreds?’

No, don’t be silly. The bank wants thousands. I should sue that bank. They’re dead scared I’m going to sue them, actually. Or write an article about them. They’re quite nervous about publicity because of South Africa. But with the council it’s only a lousy couple of hundred quid. I’ve already told them they’re getting it when the article gets published.’

‘By a couple of hundred you mean two hundred.’

‘No, three hundred. And fifty. Four hundred if you count what I never gave them last time. Which isn’t rightfully theirs. Bastards.’

It was more, frighteningly more, than Suzuki had bargained for. Then again, it could never have been a bargain. For this madness, he would receive his reward in the distant future, and only if disaster failed to intervene. As he rose and crossed to where his jacket lay crumpled, with one arm dangling, on top of the bookcase where it had been thrown, he recalled how less than half a century before men had gone to their deaths in just this manner, with one overpowering foretaste of heavenly beauty at the Yasukuni shrine, before they were taken away to their appointment with destiny.

‘You will not want to count this in my presence,’ said Suzuki, passing her the sealed, long white envelope. ‘So let me tell you it contains two hundred and fifty pounds. Perhaps it will satisfy them for a while.’

A Japanese woman would have placed the envelope carefully before her where she knelt. She would have gazed at it with bowed had as she began the long process of acknowledging her mixed relief, gratitude and humiliation. Suzuki was delighted by his own shock when Jane tore the envelope open, fanned the cash and threw it in the air. It was falling on them like leaves shaken loose by an earthquake as she kissed him. Within seconds he was giving her the Arm of Steel, her favourite preliminary manoeuvre. Straddling his extended forearm with her back against the wall, her legs around his waist, she pumped with her hips like an Olympic rower. This was what he loved about her. She didn’t breach etiquette: she obliterated the very concept of it. She set him free. She gave him danger. They fell on the bed. Somehow still clutching a ten pound note between her teeth, she did an ever more urgent, ever more frantic, ever more vocal version of her near crisis, her near fulfilment.

‘Yes! Yes! Fuck me, you Jap bastard!’

The words she used were only half comprehensible to him but then they always were. Through his own ten pound note he replied in kind.

Wa, sugoi! Kimochi ga ii! I-ku! I-KU!

After the shrieking and ebb-tide gasps they lay half dozing. Still palpitating, she said it was too much money. Pole-axed, he apologised that it was not enough. She said she had done nothing to deserve it. He said that she had already given him more than she could possibly imagine. She said she was confident that the money would be enough to make the council agree it was worth waiting for the rest. He said he was sure she was right. She said she could never pay him back. He was sure she was right about that, too, but did not say so.

‘I’m hungry,’ she announced, as if it was a discovery,

‘Do you want to go out? I could take you to a Japanese restaurant,’

‘That would be lovely, I was in one, In Japan, Not tonight, though, Because we want to do more of this, don’t we? Only done it twice, haven’t we? I’ll make us some dinner here,’

‘Shall we go shopping?’ He was yawning as he said it, A deep yawn that stretched him on a frame of bliss, like a high bar flyer who has already won the competition and flies freely into his corkscrew dismount with no anxiety for the result,

‘You’re shagged, aren’t you? You’re just a clapped-out old Jap stud, I’ll go down to the deli at Farringdon and get some things, You have a sleep, Snoozy Suzy, that’s you,’

She flicked his limp penis in farewell and went about gathering up money, Heavy-lidded, his vision filmed with sleepy tears, he drank in her naked poses as she stooped and straightened, She was from the Floating World, She had taken him there, into the city that lives by night, He was already asleep before she had finished dressing, The slam of the door came to him in a dream.