Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 8 |
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So their affair began again. Suzuki realised that it had never really stopped. The hiatus had been part of it, a pause for contemplation, like that moment in the tea ceremony when the guest examines the cup, admiring its pattern as a way of expressing gratitude. He and Jane Austen were tied together like the two lovers in Wuthering Heights, except that she was Heathcliff. He knew what ‘wuthering‘ meant. He could spell ‘heights’. He was getting somewhere with the English language. He was even getting somewhere with the English people, especially the women. So why did he feel, when the tube train pulled in, that it had come specifically to run him over? Perhaps it was because he had discovered the hidden cost of adventure, which is to alter the man who wished for it, so that the expanded horizon is seen only by someone else with the same name. Suzuki yearned for home like a prisoner-of-war, fearful that it would find him changed.

On the next Saturday afternoon the Tate Gallery held a most interesting cultural event. The collection of modern paintings had been rearranged according to some new principle that Suzuki didn’t quite grasp. To help ensure that he would not grasp it. Jane insisted on accompanying him. This meant that they didn’t get there until the event was almost over. Her mere presence was enough to reduce the whole experience to fragments. She kept telling him about painters she had known and about how she could have been a painter too. She assured him, in a series of piercing whispers, that every other woman present was a sexual deviant. Always eager, like any advanced language student, to eavesdrop on educated conversation, Suzuki resigned himself to hearing it in atomised form.

‘Bloody disgrace,’ said a bald man with long hair, ‘picture as good as that Sickert hanging down there in the dark.’

‘You sometimes wonder,’ said the tweed-jacketed woman with him, ‘why Stanley Spencer had to be quite so awful. Pitiless vision and all that, but why does he have to be quite so awful?’

‘Why don’t we ask her why she’s so awful?’ came the loud whisper in his ear. ‘What a dyke! Ker-runch!’

‘Can I help you?’ asked the bald man. Suzuki, at a loss, bowed. A girl who could have been the sister of the girl in Whistler’s portrait came running up, stopped near them, and called softly to a friend invisible beyond the archway into the next room. ‘Pascale! Pascale!’

‘Oo,’ said the voice in Suzuki’s car, ‘aren’t we too tiddly-twee? I bet we pee very quietly.’

Actually Suzuki thought the girl in question was the very model of unpretentious refinement. Her shiny shoes, her patterned stockings, her silk and cashmere — if her hair had been straighter she could have been one of the fine young women of Tokyo. She might have lived in an Azabu apartment, with a living-room so big that you could walk all the way around the dining table without bumping into a chair. She would be a successful man’s young wife, and yet she would have another existence, as a woman interested in cultural events. She would come to meet him in a coffee shop in Ochanomizu, near the bookshops of Jinbōchō. They would discuss some serious cultural subject. It would be a hopeless love. Of all its delectable qualities, the most cherished, for both of them, would be its virtual inaudibility.

‘In a trance, are we? YOO-HOO! ARE YOU RECEIVING ME, JAPAN?’

As the first step in going home together to her place, Suzuki took Jane to one of the cheap Japanese restaurants near St Paul’s. It was entertaining, in a way. Some of the young men present were acquaintances of his. They were obviously impressed. The low-quality sake made her drunk as soon as she inhaled its fumes. By the time she tried to drink it she could hardly sit upright. Her boasts about the perfection of her chop-stick technique proved to be ill-founded. An intact slice of raw tuna dropped from a considerable height into the sauce, splashing his tie. When he looked put out she restored his good humour by using her chop-sticks to tweak his nose. This could have been embarrassing but a group of acquaintances at the next table were open-mouthed. Suzuki was reminded of what a prize he had taken, or so it appeared. And wasn’t the appearance, in such matters, the reality? The look of the thing. A useful phrase.

After he had paid the bill, with the additional charge for the broken sake bottle, it took all Suzuki’s skill in the martial arts to get her from the table to the door. Luckily there was a cab passing as they emerged. The driver was initially hostile. At the end of the journey, the size of the tip Suzuki declared himself prepared to offer ensured that the driver would at least help to get her out of the cab. Suzuki alone, however, had to handle the task of getting her as far as the lift. By now she was dead weight. He employed a movement known as Moving the Bullock. Later, when he woke up in her bed, he felt a pain in his lower back, but it was probably because he was trapped under her. Later still, still feeling the twinge, after yet another hideously expensive cab ride he entered his own little room on tip toe, to find that all his silence on the stairs had been beside the point, because this time Mrs Thelwell had turned down the sheets on his bed only as a preliminary to getting into it. He was late. She was prepared to forgive him.