Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poem: Appetite (May 31, 2014)

still life-  I am still alive
something very sincere
about my feeling
choked my appetite  

between I want and I don’t want  
between my feeble strength and weakness
forcing is still alive
The appetite might come back like love

what I’ve saved up in my body
since long long time ago
and, I still eat and drink
just like an overdrawn bank account  
but, it will come back like love

Friday, May 30, 2014

Poem: Heartbroken (May 30, 2014)

the shuttered time
had cracked
my heart already
then, some communication
hammered it
I stopped everything
including my breath
my passageway in throat
was constricted-
a narrow narrow line for air
so I wouldn’t die from it now
but, why not die?
then, the night came
my agony
choked my throat
then, I was afraid of
everything-
including my ugliness
my misbehavior and misunderstanding  
my greed
time passes like
a whipping punishment   
putting pieces of memory
together to make a
paint like Gogh’s  
too real to my mind
but no way to understand

I couldn’t take morning light,
throwing up the water I drunk
the sadness’ panic
I sat and closed my eyes
I heard  
there is a different world of mind
from my mind
I only know that.
my face was numb
my hands moved quickly
to get ready
trying to carry myself
to the world
that I was getting ready
for now  
but why?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Children's Story: Toco Raccoon (2007)

It is morning. Sunlight reaches the riverside—

Here is Toco Raccoon, a very kind raccoon, washing a fig in morning light.

After breakfast, Toco washes his dish at the riverside. Then,  
Ranny Rabbit comes to him with a troubled face. Her charming long ears are down on her face.
“Good morning, Ranny. Why do you have such a troubled face?” Toco asks.  

“Good morning, Toco. It is because my hat blew away and stuck to such a high branch! I jumped and jumped as high as I could, but…”
“Let’s solve the problem,” Toco says and thinks how.
Toco takes a walnut and throws it towards the hat. The branch swings a little, as does her hat, but it does not fall.

“Toco, now I have a good idea,” Ranny says.
She jumps high and throws the walnut at the hat.
Now, it hits the hat and swings it strongly. Her hat falls to the ground—

but just before it is about to reach, the wind blows and the hat falls into the river.
“No!” when Toco and Ranny say—
Mr. Dan Duck quickly takes the hat with his bill.
“Here it is,” Mr. Dan Duck says helpfully as he gives the hat to Ranny.

“I am very happy. Thank you, Mr. Dan Duck. Thank you, Toko,” Ranny jumps back home.

It is afternoon.
Here is Toco Raccoon, a very kind raccoon, washing his pajamas at the riverside.

Fred Elephant comes with a troubled face. His long nose is folded and looks shorter than usual.
“Good afternoon, Fred. Why do you have such a troubled face?” Toco asks.  

“Good afternoon Toco. It is because I have constipation, meaning that I couldn’t poo for a few days. Poo stays in my tummy, so my body is heavy.”
“Let’s solve the problem,” Toco says and thinks how.
“Wait a minute,” Toco says and takes out a book called “Health Dictionary.”
“How to solve constipation,” Toco reads aloud from the book, “Eat many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Drink plenty of water. Exercise. Go to see a doctor if these don’t work out.”

“Really? Do you think I can solve my constipation if I follow these?” Fred Elephant wonders.  
“I am not sure, but you can try,” Toco Raccoon says.  
“Of course! I will.”
Toco Raccoon gives Fred Elephant some fresh apples that he has just washed.
“I will try. Thank you for your advice and for the apples,” Fred Elephant walks slowly to his home.

 
It is evening.
Here is Toco Raccoon, a very kind raccoon, washing a carrot for dinner.

After dinner Toco washes his dish at the riverside. Then, Tim Tiger comes with a troubled face. His energetic tail has no life.
“Good evening, Tim. Why do you have such a troubled face?” Toco asks.
“Good evening Toco. It is because my favorite mug was broken. I was drinking hot milk this morning and I dropped the cup by mistake. The mug was broken into pieces,” Tim looks down.
“Let’s solve the problem,” Toco says and thinks how. Tim Tiger stops crying and also thinks how.

How can they solve the problem if the cup is broken?

Night comes with no solution for Tim.

Before Toco and Tim say goodbye to each other, they close their eyes and pray together,
“Please let us solve the problem of the broken cup.”

Many birds are on the way back to their nests. The moon is about to glow after the sun finishes shining for the day.

The broken pieces of the cup are inside the garbage can in Tim’s backyard. These seem to have slept under the sunlight, but when the night comes, the lid of the can opens—

The pieces fly out into the air—

move towards the river—

and make a small bridge across the riverside.



It is morning. Sunlight reaches the riverside—

When Toco washes his breakfast the next morning, he finds a new bridge and goes to see Tim to tell about it.

After they go across the bridge—

they see many flowers and a small shop.

Tim finds a cup with a painting of a smiling moon in the shop—

and he buys it.

When they go back to the riverside, there is no longer a bridge.

“We cannot go home,” they once again have troubled faces.

There is Fred Elephant at the other side of shore.

“Toco! I ate more fruits and vegetables, drank more water, and did more exercise. Then, I did a lot of poo this morning! I feel fine and my body is much lighter. Thank you very much,” he shouts.

“You are welcome. By the way, we are stuck. We want to go across the river to your side,” Toco shouts.

Then, Fred Elephant makes his nose longer, making a great bridge over the riverside with his nose. Toco and Tim walk across and say to Fred Elephant,

“Thank you very much.”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Short Story: Irresponsible (2007)

       Here I am, going to a restaurant to wait tables. Again, I get off at this station in midtown Manhattan. I am just a waitress and undocumented alien, not an artist. I do not create any art work, but I find myself to be artistic. I read once that the artistic act is feminine because of the experience of receiving and bearing. I pass through every day and think about it. I happen to be feminine; I have to say that I am not tough at all. Quietly and sentimentally, I look at the mirror every night before going to sleep. To find some art on my face.
      I remember that I was here at the same station years ago, when I had just left Japan for New York. Back then I saw pedestrians going through the station stepping lively and with purpose. I saw the crowd of people moving away from me as if I were standing at a beach and feeling the sand moving away with the ocean waves, while I was holding the sand under my feet. At the time, it was of the greatest importance that I would be famous with regard to something my parents did not understand, though I did not know what I wanted to do. I used to become furious easily, and I hated many people who betrayed a hint of looking down on me. I hated them with a panic as if they were trying to steal a very precious item that I had in my possession. But because of my lack of effort and low spirits, I have remained a waitress. I feel myself becoming less and less ambitious and I no longer believe that I am going to be successful.
     When I enter my workplace, I notice that one of the chefs, Mr. Nozaki, has gotten his hair trimmed. The rest of his appearance is exactly the same as the usual Mr. Nozaki waking up from a lunch break nap. But his shorter hair makes me realize that Mr. Nozaki has other life events, like cutting his hair, besides morosely working here. Still, how does he talk to a hair dresser when he cannot even answer a customer who asks in English where the bathroom is? Being alone, dreamless and old, he seems to have the most miserable condition in life, to a woman like me. I am afraid of being unlovely and alone. My image of love is full of shadows in which I try to find light. I wonder if Mr. Nozaki has ever thought about love or about the difference between the dead and the living.
It is Thursday night. Mr. Nozaki is cutting up a whole salmon in a tiny dirty kitchen. The salmon in New York are more pink and fatty than the taut, red ones in Japan. It is cut into pieces by this old Japanese man and three Mexican boys. They are working so closely that their bodies touch in this small kitchen. At first glance, this kitchen looks like a mess, but all the knives, cutting boards, and containers of cut scallions, seaweed or tofu are stored in good order. It is good enough to cook food efficiently. I like this contradiction, that delicious dishes are made out of this messy kitchen. I feel as if I am walking into a lovely store from a littered street when I look at the neat and well-made plate on the kitchen table. The Mexicans and Mr. Nozaki are at the back surrounded by walls with pans and soup ladles hanging on them and looking like they are about to fall down.
     “Order please.” When I say this I feel one of the Mexican boys staring at my butt. He must be imagining having sex with me. I think my naked body would be very different from the way he imagines it.
     Mr. Nozaki hardly looks up higher than 45 degrees, except when I hang a piece of order paper in front of him. He believes that he needs to behave as coldly as he can when people are around him. His face darkens instinctively. He probably does not think about why he does that. Perhaps for him, people are all too noisy like yellow chicks, chirping a high-pitched noise that he cannot understand. Or maybe people always seem to him to be laughing inappropriately at a solemn funeral, which he is wordlessly attending.
     “Tut.” He clicks his tongue quietly, but loudly enough to make me hear.
Probably he has never hoped to be happier. Old, tired, working 6 days a week from morning to midnight, he is still incapable of speaking English after living in the U.S for more than three decades. He lives alone, and it seems unlikely that he has any friends here. He might not have any close family back in Japan, either, other people in the restaurant have told me. If I were he . . . I have a tendency to imagine like this. My difficult parents helped me to be imaginative. I think of how Mr. Nozaki is feeling and thinking, just as I used to try to read my parents’ thoughts when I was still too young to realize they were merely acting based on their moods.
     It starts raining. People crowd into the restaurant as if they are finding shelter from the sudden rain. I try to keep calm as usual. Fast and good work, I repeat to myself under the noise of people. I am very afraid to make a mistake; I am even more afraid of being criticized. The sudden rush of customers is testing my ability as a waitress and also as a person. I run into the kitchen to place an order, not forgetting to smile.
     However, “Tut. Fuck you,” Mr. Nozaki says! Did I do something wrong? This person who does not dare to speak English is using the word “fuck”! Does it come naturally from his mouth? What kind of strong man does he imagine he is? Is the bastard Japanese or American? I smile with my mouth closed. Turning back to the customer tables, I see the restaurant’s sushi chef, Mr. Uchida, crossing his arms and gazing at Mr. Nozaki.
     “Ignore the poor guy,” Mr. Uchida, the sushi chef, says to me with a hopeless smile. Naturally, it makes me feel better. Mr. Uchida is as old as Mr. Nozaki, I suppose. Unlike Mr. Nozaki, he is well-built. He has a house in New Jersey with a Japanese wife and three second generation children, all boys and all independent now. Except for him and his wife, Mr. Uchida’s family members have never lived in Japan.
     His oldest son sometimes visits the restaurant. When I serve him, he greets me very politely, and very politely I return his greeting. Then he says to me, “You are not Americanized at all. I love a Japanese woman’s courtesy, kindness . . . If I ever marry, I will choose a Japanese woman.” My smile disappears for a few seconds. I sense that he is viewing his ideal image of Japanese women in me. He is regarding me and seeing his serving wife before he even imagines dating me.
Mr. Uchida, the father, is also fresh. “The girl at Table Three has big breasts.” “The woman eating a California roll is very sexy.” He comments on female customers’ looks often. “Let’s go for a date,” he sometimes says to me, too. He looks half serious and half joking, so I really cannot tell if I should be annoyed or just laugh. His wrinkled face smiles innocently and deviously.
     “Now don’t stand here. Go back to work,” Mr. Uchida says aloud. I see Mr. Nozaki’s shoulders jump an inch also.
     Every night, as soon as the last customer leaves, the soft romantic lighting is turned up brighter so that the workers can see better to clean around the place. Another waitress, Ms. Chie’s face looks greasy and shiny under the sharp, clear light. She looks like a pizza. Maybe it is a skin condition, or maybe it is because she spreads her foundation like butter. Although it is oily, her skin looks pale and white as a hard-boiled egg. This pale, shiny skin is typical of many Japanese women. They use makeup a lot because their concept of good-looking skin is flawlessly smooth, like plastic. Ms. Chie’s eyes are narrow and balanced as though they are built into her face. They do not move very much with her facial expression.
     Ms. Chie starts recalculating the guest checks to make sure there are no mistakes. Her input keying on the calculator is extremely fast and she hardly ever makes a mistake. I go to clean the bathroom.
     Cleaning the bathroom is my favorite job. I enter the colder and quieter space with garbage bags, and I lock the door. I prefer locking the door. I am not doing anything bad, but it is better to lock it. I can be alone here. First, I look in the mirror. I stand up straight against the mirror and make a small smile, but a bigger one than the Mona Lisa’s smile. Looking at my face in the mirror gives me solace. I am not too ugly. I could be attractive. My face is round like an egg and flat. Without my cat-like eyes I could not even be close to attractive; as it is, my eyebrows are thick and straight, making my eyes look more like a raccoon-like cat. I imagine myself being an old Japanese actress, acting right after World War II: when many parts of Japan were burned to the ground by the United States Air Force, when half of the women wore Kimonos on the streets, while the rest of the women wore elegant skirts. If my smile were to be too bright, some might think I was disrespectful of those victims of the agonizing war. But nevertheless, this actress has to smile on the screen so the audiences can dream of her.
     Looking at the mirror is alarming. After passing through many kinds of events and thoughts without reminding myself of how I look, my heart shrinks into nothing. I avert my eyes from the mirror and open a black garbage bag. The bag becomes about a quarter-full.
When I come out from the bathroom, Mr. Nozaki is carrying three garbage bags, which are full of vegetable skins and customers’ leftovers.
     “Oh, mi amour,” a chubby Marcus says to me. He always leaves work without eating anything. He must not have eaten since lunch time and he has to start another shift in less than half a day. How can he be so chubby?
     “Mañana,” he whispers to me. Mr. Uchida glares at him.
     “Adiós. Bye,” I say.
     There is a vase of pink roses surrounded by white flowers with thin stalks. The flowers are bunched too tight in the small vase. I hold it carefully to wipe under it. Then I bring food to the employees at the table. I sit in front of Mr. Uchida and next to Ms. Chie. It is around midnight. Mr. Nozaki and the Mexican helpers have made soup with the bones of salmon and some vegetables. There was very little meat around the bones, but I know these bones can make a good broth. We need plates on which to throw bones! I set a plate in the middle of each table. Yes, we all work for the money and are not interested in being gourmets.
     Mr. Nozaki eats quickly and goes downstairs to change his clothes. I say to Mr. Uchida, “Mr. Nozaki is a mystery to me. I am always curious about him.” Then Ms. Chie makes an irritated face.
     “Don’t call older people a mystery,” she says with a nervous laugh. I think I know what Ms. Chie is thinking. She used to work at a bank in Japan. She said it is so serious there that you have to engage in each conversation and make each movement with dignity. She has told me before that not only do I not have any professional work experience in Japan, but that I also have no common sense, and I have no idea how to be formally polite at work.
     “You have never gone through what I’ve experienced in Japanese society,” I remember she said once.
     Ms. Chie means that younger people should not comment about older people in a work environment. Ms. Chie also does not like the fact that she has to share tips with me, half-and-half. Sharing tips equally with a younger person? This kind of thing must never have happened to her.
     “Him . . . ,” Mr. Uchida says quietly. “I feel Nozaki was abused by his family back in Japan or something like that. He told me he has not contacted any family members for a long time. He does not even know where they live. I suggested he contact City Hall to find out where his family is.”
What makes Mr. Uchida believe that Mr. Nozaki was abused? I cannot imagine Mr. Nozaki would tell anyone about it. Is it only because he has not contacted his family? Is it because of his oppressed personality? Nevertheless, it is clear that Mr. Nozaki does not have good memories about what happened to him in Japan. Usually, no matter how much you hate your family, you know where they are.
    Mr. Nozaki comes up from downstairs, wearing his own jacket and pants. As many people do on cold days in New York, he is wearing a puffy jacket. It is not a common black down-jacket. His is made of gray-checkered fabric covering the puffy fiber filling inside. Where did he get this jacket? I wonder. His own clothes do not look as shabby as his uniform.
     “Goodbye,” almost all the workers murmur. Subtly he nods, or seems to. The door closes slowly and the cold wind pushes against the door. A sharper air enters and cuts into the dull air in the room. His leaving makes the place somewhat different, like the moment when the light becomes brighter after the last customer leaves. Slyly, my eyes meet Ms. Chie’s confident gaze.
     “Yes, he is a poor guy, as Mr. Uchida says,” Ms. Chie begins.
     “True,” Mr. Uchida says, “He shows his bad mood to me all the time.”
     “Even to you?” Ms. Chie exclaims. “I understand that he does it to us, but not to you. You’re the head chef, you have a higher status.”
     I have just taken a large bite, but Ms. Chie mentioning the word “status” keeps me from chewing it for a few seconds. I swallow it.
     “Status sounds Japanese.” I say. This is a stereotypical thing to say. Ms. Chie and I glance at each other again, knowing that I have just said the type of thing that makes me uneasy myself. Uneasiness—is everywhere.
     “Well,” Ms. Chie begins kindly like a kindergarten teacher. “We are working at a Japanese restaurant. It is important to respect our traditional values—respecting the status of people, being more polite to them than we are to our peers. These days, young people often do not appreciate the beauty of Japanese culture. I know we are in America, the country of freedom, a country of fast food with bad service . . . I know you have almost no working experience back in our stricter society. So, working here is a good opportunity for you to learn about Japan.”
Ms. Chie is respectful. She has experience. But she cannot smile authentically at me. I think one of the reasons is that Ms. Chie has the fixed notion that I lack politeness and I am ignorant about what a disciplined society is like. I do try to be polite, but I sometimes get carried away and use words that are too rude for the situation as she sees it.
     I rarely feel that Ms. Chie is actually trying to have a good moment with me, although we see each other three days a week, have dinner together and sometimes even have to kill time together. Ms. Chie nods silently, averting eye contact with me, always looking down or far away. When I talk about my neighborhood in Queens or about the customers we both know, she usually says innocuous things like, “Oh, I know,” or something similar. But Ms. Chie does smile at me in her twitchy way, and also at customers and at most older people, with the exception of Mr. Nozaki.
     “Yes, yes, yes.” I am in a trap. I do not want to appear like an ignorant Japanese person abroad, who simply rejects “Japanese culture.” People like that often think themselves to be superior individuals because they are above the customary Japanese “standard.” In fact they are just mediocre, believing that Japanese people are characterless and always acting as a group. Being against the stereotypical Japanese culture does not necessary mean you are original. I do not want to become an affected dreamer from Japan.
     “Don’t say yes many times. Once is enough,” Ms. Chie says. “Yes must be said only once” is a common Japanese expression. It does not sound so preachy with her half laughing voice.
I have stayed in New York much longer than Ms. Chie. She came here six months ago from Tokyo. At the beginning I was not scared of her as much as I am now. I asked her the reason why she came here, and she had more than one answer for the question. One of the things she said was that she had to have some type of special skill in order to survive in society, which is, according to her, becoming more and more unstable. “Who would take care of me if the company where I was working went bankrupt? Who would hire me if I were old and skill-less?” She said that many women do not take responsibility for their lives. What would you all do if your husbands died and if you have only been living as simple housewives? (I do not know whether she was ever a wife.) She thought acquiring a special accounting degree in the United States would give her a great advantage in her life. “There are not many people who have this type of accounting license in Japan,” she said. She also added that many companies would want her if she had the license. A special skill, that is the most important thing to have in this society, she told me. My parents also talked often about how difficult it is to survive in society. They told me to study and behave well and to be prepared for it. It was as if there were always auditions in society: The audition to win in school and in the job interview. The audition to impress the old producers and directors. I used to wonder what might happen to all those people who are not smart enough to survive. Do they starve to death? Do they become homeless? There was only one homeless person in my city. I saw him sleeping on the street. He was the dirtiest person I had ever seen and he was always walking with a big white dog. Neither of them was thin. He was always talking to himself and stroking his dog.
     The sophistication of New York City was another reason Ms. Chie decided to come here. “I got tears in my eyes,” she said when she described the moment she climbed the Empire State Building for the first time. She hoped to live in this urban city with plenty of tourist spots. “I listen to many different languages around me. New York is my city. Just amazing! I will absorb everything, and I will survive as an international business woman.”
     Besides “Goodbye,” we have a very common expression at the end of work, which can be translated as “Thank you very much for being tired because of your work.” I say that behind Ms. Chie, who walks out of the restaurant a few steps ahead of me. The big messenger bag on her right shoulder tilts her body to the right, and she is swinging her left arm wildly. The cold air touches my back. I walk slowly behind her and do not overtake her. I am tired tonight.
     I feel that almost all the people in the post-midnight train to Queens are from restaurants. The Mexican men and boys sit with their legs open; the quiet passengers with jeans are probably servers. Those who dress well and have contented cheeks are perhaps customers. And the rest look tired, finished work or study. As we reach the Queensboro Bridge, many dots of light are forming the shape of the city. It is unbelievable that there are more people living in the city than the number of the dots. The skyscraper view from the Empire State Building that put tears in Ms. Chie’s eyes must have made the lights look even more gorgeous.
     My place is on the top floor of a three-story family house owned by a Chinese family. I climb the stairs. From the landlord’s apartment, their conversation in Chinese leaks through the wall. They talk by shouting, as if they hate each other. I know they are not really fighting, because they always talk like this. A situation is not always what it sounds like. My room is an attic. The four walls meet at the zenith of the house. I sit on my bed. I see a young woman in the mirror hanging on the wall.
My name is Yuriko. Yuri means lily. I was born in a small village in the northern part of Japan on a stormy day. The storm was the strongest in the preceding few decades, and it destroyed my grandparents’ garden, including all the lilies. My grandfather loved lilies. I am not sure whether he gave me this name to replace the lost lilies, or if he wished me to be like a lily. My age is a secret; I am afraid you will imagine something wrong about me because of my age. I came to New York when I was in my late teens. My suitcase was not heavy, because I had not owned much besides school uniforms until then, and I did not have many other clothes: only a pajama for home, a pair of jeans, and some t-shirts and sweaters. I studied at an English language school for about a year. Some people said that I was good at English. Maybe it was because I like unknown things; English was totally unknown to me. I like how my mouth utters the strange sounds while it actually makes some meaning. English “I” became me, though I had never been “I” before. I imagine an unknown language as a total darkness, but within it each word has a slight shimmering light. I leave a word in the darkness and I start seeing the shape of the cave. I tried to use expressions that other students did not know. “I am prone to eating donuts recently.” “I do not have any congenial friends.” I wanted other students to look puzzled when I uttered these expressions. But their faces never changed. The teacher said, “Great! But we do not use the term often.”
     Washing my face and feet is my requirement before going to sleep. I want my face to be clean and my feet to be warm. Slowly I take a few steps into my room. I wrap my feet with my blanket.
A dark room is my favorite place. I hide in it. I am invisible. I do not see any shadow of solitude. No one knows what is true loneliness. But if someone looked at my life, he would say that I have been lonely. I would hope to tell him so. I am always talking to myself.
     “Why don’t you have any friends? Does no one like you?” my mother used to say. She often sat on a couch and viewed me out of the corner of her eyes. My mother was a young and beautiful lady, but I did not notice my mother’s beauty as much as other people did. I was too close to her to notice that. She did not wear any make-up, and she wore thick eyeglasses at home. She sometimes told me that a man on the street asked her to have tea with him. He said that she was really beautiful. After telling this to me, she changed her clothes to a more homely style. Her face hardened. I could see something opaque in her eyes. When she looked at me, her eyes glowed with hate as if she wanted to take revenge against me. I knew she believed that she sacrificed her entire life by giving birth to me.
     “You were about to be killed; I was thinking of abortion. But when I saw you moving on the computer monitor . . . I felt sorry. Now I can tell you about my mistake. Never have any children. Never, ever. It ruins your life.” I was happy to hear that, because at least once my mother thought I was worthy of having a life and not ruining it.
     “I want to live free without a child. Why don’t you have any friends to stay outside with?” She slammed the door of her bedroom when I came home.
     Tell me—where are my friends? My classmates formed groups. I thought it was important to join them no matter what. I would approach a group and try to squeeze myself into it. When they seemed to like me, I felt comfortable. They wanted to form a harmonious and cheerful group. They went to the bathroom together, forming a herd in the corridor. I followed the herd, joining the end of it like a tail. But they did not need the tail any more. I started going to gym class alone. I felt other students averting their eyes away from me as if I were a homeless man.
     “It might be a better idea for an incompetent person like you to go abroad . . . like maybe to The United States. Maybe no one likes you here. Maybe somewhere else . . . ,” my mother said one day on a whim, while she was watching Beverly Hills 90210 on TV.
     “Yes?” Suddenly, the idea of a new world had come to me. And my father did not say anything in particular about the idea. I remember that I thanked them very much for letting me go.
     “How courageous you are,” people often comment on my departure. There was no courage necessary because I was too naïve to imagine what I was supposed to be afraid of. If I had been an obese person on a diet, for example, and if there were a mountain of french fries, I would have eaten them instinctively rather then refrain from them in an intelligent fashion. I trusted my mother’s words about me, about my doing better in the United States. I thought many things were impossible at home, especially making a friend. My mother knew that. Escaping from the place I had been would bring a new love.
     Everything that my mother said was rooted in what she was thinking about herself. I remember that my mother told me that if she ever had another life, she wanted to be born as a white woman.
     “Their faces are beautifully sculpted. Their eyes are deep and expressive, while Japanese women have small, narrow eyes like crabs’ eyes. Their bodies are gorgeous and . . . their breasts are ten times bigger than Yuriko’s,” she laughed. So, it is possible that my mother told me to go to the United States based on her desire to be a different woman. But it is difficult for me to imagine being someone else. If I did not look like this and did not think like this, which part of me would actually be me? If I did not have this mother, who could have given birth to me?
     Wrapping myself with a blanket, I wonder how Mr. Nozaki is doing now. He must be sleeping—how is he sleeping? I cannot picture him sleeping next to a woman, though you might say that one never knows. Perhaps he curses people all alone before he goes to sleep. Or maybe he just sleeps, like a child.
     “Maybe working here is a good opportunity for you to learn about Japan.” Ms. Chie comes into my head then, cutting across my image of Mr. Nozaki sleeping. I decide to be quiet and good, speaking politely like a royal family member, when I work with her next time.

Short Story: Three Times (2013)

Three times in my life I was called a bitch by three different women. 
The first one was by a manager of the restaurant I used to work at. One summer night, I was expecting a date after dinner shift. I sweated a lot on that day and applied perfume around my neck and wrist.
“Where are you heading, smelling  so nice and sexy?” the restaurant manager smiled over a glass of white wine. She was in her early twenties, as young as I was back then. But, she was much more ambitious than I was; already being a restaurant manager while studying in a business school. It seemed good for her to do restaurant business since she loved food. She was especially fond of meat and she ate few pieces of it every time she went into the kitchen. She often wore tight dresses, which stuck to her overweight body, which I thought would be very glamorous for some people.  
“Just hanging out with my friend,” I was embarrassed and grinned slightly. By the entrance of the restaurant, there was a boy waiting for me. He was one of the waiters there. The fat manager, for some reason, stepped outside and looked at himfrom head to toe. Neither of them said hi. Then, she came back in and said, enjoy, to me. I stepped out and showed my face to him with the most beautiful smile I could make. In dark lukewarm summer night air, he gave me a hug. He took me to a bar several blocks away from the restaurant. We sipped beer and looked outside the window, where we imagined the obese female manager passing by at any moment.  We talked about her and laughed.  “Weird,” he said as if he was saying I was not weird. It was as if he was saying the manager and I were not the same women.
Later, we went to my apartment. It was our first date. He made three big kiss marks ; one on my neck, right side of my chest and right breast. I wondered if he made them on purpose. We laughed about it but I was worried about how to hide them.
“Have you ever seen this big kiss mark on anyone’s neck?” I asked him anxiously.
“No, I haven’t,” he smiled. I wondered how much he cared about my embarrassment.
The only turtleneck I had was a black sweater and it was the middle of summer. I tied a handkerchief around my neck, which doesn’t look fashionable at all, and a part of the mark on the neck was showing from beneath. The part of the mark on the chest was showing around the collar of the T-shirt I was wearing. The only safe mark was the one on my right breast.
“You guys are wild,” the manager said to me. I wondered why she cared so much about my private life. Some men love big women like her; she must have slept with some guys. Or, did she like him, the guy I was dating, who was not there on that day. She seemed to be behaving vicariously on that night; partly because she was my boss and partly because of the marks. The restaurant got busier  past 7 o’clock. She was sweating. We ran into the kitchen and tried to grab the same dish at the same time. Then, she said to me,
“You, slutty, bitch!”
Well, this happened a long time ago.
   
Soon after that, I met a  professional woman, an ad agent, who was working overtime every night. She had a deep and exotic face. Her eyes were sharp and big and her eyebrows were left untouched as they grew. She didn’t wear any makeup as if she wanted to be close to nature. I think she was a smart person. Not only her academic background told me so, also she spoke slowly  full of knowledge.   
Despite her work, she and I often hanged out since she needed only three to four hours sleep a day. I guess she liked me. I asked her many questions about politics, arts, and what she thought about her life and she enjoyed explaining them to me. She had a long time boyfriend of nine years. They said hello briefly to each other as if they were strangers and they didn’t look like they were in love. He was an artist. He used to design clothes and crafts. His art studio was covered by tribal masks, statues, or some mysterious brown carpets. One night, they, I and some artists-like people were drinking at his studio. That night, she looked like she was in love with him for the first time. She was caressing his shoulders and said that one of her co-workers asked her out but she rejected the invitation.
“You are so lucky, do you know? You are so lucky,” she said. He was not saying anything. I hanged around  for a while, said good-bye to everyone and left. As I turned the corner of the street, her boyfriend grabbed my shoulder from behind me.
“Can I show you my apartment? I saw you were interested in my mask collection.” I was not really looking into the mask collection, but probably I made some comments about it. I couldn’t be really into anything when people were around making  noises; I was always trying to be sympathetic and say something.
“Maybe, next time. Let’s have a gathering at your apartment with all of us,” I said.
“It’s just around the corner.”
I had been naive about what men were thinking. I was not unpopular among men since I was a child, but I was never sure if they were attracted by me physically or sexually until they stopped talking and started touching me. He loosely took my hand and we started walking. The door of his apartment opened, and closed.
“See?” his arm pointed out the wall with lots of something. Then, he kissed me. It was not a lie that I was shocked and confused. How could he do that? I didn’t show I was attracted to him and I was his longtime girlfriend’s friend. 
“Don’t think anything. Don’t think anything,” he repeated. What does it mean? He had no authority for my thinking. No one could be responsible for my feelings if I didn’t think. I pushed him away and ran. I was not feeling much on the way home. There was nothing but calm wordless confusion. On the night, I told what happened to my room mate, though I didn’t like her much because she was too strong and too outspoken. But, that night I thought I wanted to get some reactions from her. She told me that I had to tell about it to my friend.
“If you two were true friends.”
I dialed my friend’s number.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” when I said that his kisses seemed to stay on my lips.
She  thanked me for telling. That was the last voice I’ve heard from her. She used to call me once a week but she stopped calling me. I thought I probably hurt her. She probably loved him madly, whom I could not find anything attractive. Probably, that’s why I could tell her easily about what happened, thinking that she would also dislike him like I did. I was thoughtless. Probably, I did a right thing. Probably, I should have just warned him, whom I didn’t want to talk again at all. I called her a few more times. She texted me back, “you are a bitch.”  
The last time I was a bitch from someone’s eyes happened fairly recently.More than a decade had passed since I received the you are a bitch text. I was living alone in a small studio after my marriage had failed. Around the time, I met a woman while I was eating at a restaurant in my neighborhood. She complimented me on the food I was eating and our conversation  started. Despite the fact that she started talking to a stranger in the restaurant, she was extremely polite, smiling and nodding as if she admired me. She agreed with all that I said. I complimented the ordinary grilled fish that I was eating, like when you talk about weather with your neighbors. She told me how healthy fish was, especially the kind of fish I was eating. We exchanged our contact information. About four or five months after, she suddenly called me.
“Do you want some books?” she said.
“What books?”
She said she was moving out from her apartment. Her husband recently told her that he no longer wanted to live with her.
“So, do you want the books I am throwing out?”  
I said, no thanks and asked where she was going.
“My parents’,” she added she would be back here soon. “My husband might change his mind.”
“Oh, please let me know if there is anything I can do. If you want, stay at my place for a while when you come back,” I said. And, she did. She was very thankful to me for letting her stay even though I didn’t know much about her.
“Not a problem. I  live alone and I can invite anyone I want to my small apartment,” I said. I was not necessarily a kind but overly sympathetic woman.
On the first night we talked about her marriage and a bit about mine. According to her, her husband suddenly became moody and cold to her about half a year ago. He didn’t give her any reasons. And, she said she didn’t have a clue why he acted like that. I thought it was probably because he had found a woman. Maybe, she thought the same but didn’t want to say so.
She often talked a lot. She was angry about lots of things happening around her and in the world. She was angry when my neighbor asked her about her race. She argued that recent kids were dumb because they were educated under less stress than when we were educated. She criticized lots of her ex-coworkers but not her husband. One morning, she was talking about something and I was not listening much but saying yes, yes,and she became angry.
“You can be rude to me like that since we are friends. But, I am warning you because I don’t want you to do that to other people,” she said in a low voice to contain her anger. I thought she had a point.
“I am sorry,” I said quietly.
“No, no, no, it was a joke,” she said. She often said it was a joke after showing her anger.
I had a small party with several of my friends in my apartment. I wanted to have the party but I also wanted her to meet my friends since she seemed not to have many close friends. She seemed to enjoy it. She was very drunk only after a few cans of beer. She talked about her divorce and laughed about it. All my friends were supportive and smiling. She thanked me for helping her out. She asked everyone how she or he got to know me.
“Let’s talk about her,” she said. She was in the center of our circle and everyone was looking at her. “I start,” she said.
“As everyone may know, she is, in fact, very very manipulative. She dumped her husband and hurt him so bad. She is a bitch! This bitch! Let’s talk about this bitch now! What do you think?” There was silence among my friends. Many of them were grinding in this awkward situation.
“Okay, Okay. I am a bitch. It’s boring to talk about me since everyone knows that I am a bitch. Let’s talk about....,” I tried to say thing.
“Oh, No! Again you didn’t understand me,” she said. “It was a joke you bitch,” she said.