Fuji Rock and Ever After
Archives Series: Vol 1. First published in Gutter 6, Spring 2012.
I need a bath. This is disgusting. Every millimetre of skin is tight, crawling with dirt, hair dry and brittle. I brushed my teeth in the restroom and it just made things worse, like when you write your name on a car and the clear lines show stark against the filth. It feels like decades since my last bath. But it was… three days. Three days in a field with nothing but wet tissues for hygiene. Ew.
“I can’t believe that guy,” Aya-chan says for like the thousandth time. “I can’t believe that guy.” That’s what Aya-chan does: repeat herself as if she thinks you didn’t hear her the first time or didn't understand. Like everything is this big drama for her, momentous, and if people don’t react like it’s the end of the world she’ll just keep going until you do or until you tell her to shut up.
It’s dark in here which is just as well. None of us look good, not just me. Like zombies or something, cosmetics caked over exhaustion. Try to rest against the wall but the décor in this izakaya is old style and the walls are uneven, spiky. At least it’s quiet. A table of boys near the door, university students like us, noise and drinking games. Janken-poi. Some salarymen at the counter, drowning though it’s only Monday. That’s it. Them and us, stinking after three days of dancing, walking and camping out. Refugees from my leaving party.
“I can’t believe that guy. He actually thought I’d... In that tent. In the middle of a festival. With all those people around.”
He had thought that. We all had. And Aya-chan would’ve after the usual drama. She would’ve if he hadn’t got bored and wandered off to find another girl, one less addicted to melodrama. There’d been about seventy thousand people in that field, so he hadn’t had to go far. But she doesn’t want us to say that. She wants us to screech in horror and sympathise with her, to say honestly, men these days, what are they like? But we don’t. None of us have the energy. None of us can see the point. I can’t see the point. Not tonight.
The food starts to arrive and we devour it. Little plates dotted along the table, wooden skewers at angles, a meaty pincushion. Tsukune, yakitori, asparabacon. Anything hot, anything fast. Is this my last yakitori? It must be. No yakitori over there.
The tebazaki chicken is burning and spicy; the grease takes the last of the chill from my fingers. The nights were cold and I didn’t pack enough warm clothes. My first music festival and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ll know better next time. Next time.
Shimo-chan takes a swig of beer and sighs, looks around for the waiter, impatient for the next dish. She really needs to diet, but she won’t. She’s always been like that and doesn’t care. “So,” she says. “Same time next year?”
They all nod. No one really knows if they can go next year but no one wants to spoil the campaign mood. The mud, the tiredness, the camaraderie: like returning warriors. We survived, crowds and toilets and buses and now we’re lingering halfway between the field and home, unable to admit it’s over. They nod and no one looks at me. They’re all thinking it: Sure, we might go, but Kasumi won’t. She won’t be here. I’ll be thousands of kilometres away. By Thursday morning I’ll be in America. Even now I can’t quite believe it.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Father said, meaning it’s a great opportunity for him. He’s a liver transplant surgeon, at the top of his game and the only way is up. So he got a job in Athens, Georgia without even discussing it. I’ve never heard of Athens, Georgia. When he said “America” I thought of New York and LA. That wouldn’t be too bad. All that shopping and restaurants, museums and cafes. Broadway and Universal Studios. There are bound to be lots of other Japanese people there, so I could make some friends. I doubt there will be many Japanese people in Athens, Georgia. I can’t imagine what’s in Athens, Georgia. I can’t even pronounce Athens: the ‘th’ gets stuck behind my teeth and comes out as either ‘se’ or ‘te’. That stupid English teacher Max making me say it again and again and again, repeating it like one of Aya-chan’s stories.
I don’t want to go but I have no say. My voice doesn’t count. I mean, I’m old enough to stay by myself but no, I have to change schools, go into an English program. When my friends graduate, I’ll still be a first year. Also, I’ve seen American movies. I know what happens to new kids, especially foreign ones who can’t speak English well. Ones who aren’t blonde. Outcast. Alien. Freak. I’m being sent into exile.
Little brother, Taichi-kun, he can’t wait. Nothing in the world for him but baseball and America is baseball, so he’ll be fine. What can I do? Max says volleyball isn’t so popular except on the beach and he says it in that way where he means girls in bikinis jumping around and is thinking about me in a bikini jumping around. Anyway, there’s no beach in Athens, Georgia.
“Hey, Kasumi-chan, don’t be down,” Miho-chan says. “Come on, drink up. You’ve hardly touched that.”
True. One sip of my Calpis Sour and then I’d ignored it. Miho-chan is right. I’ve known these girls since elementary school and I don’t want my last memories of them to be miserable. A big drink from my glass and I feel the alcohol enter me, soothe tired muscles the way a hot bath would. Another drink.
“That’s the way,” Miho-chan says. “So, who did you think were the best?”
“Yucca, definitely,” I say. “Their music is just so beautiful.”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” says Shimo-chan. “But a bit boring. No singing. It’s not music without a singer. They weren’t as good as Nhhmbase. They were intense.”
The same argument we’ve been having for years. At least that’s something I can take to America, something Father can’t make me leave behind. No one in Athens, Georgia will know the bands I like, but maybe there are people who like similar music. In those movies there are always kids in the background who look normal, who look like they know of a world other than sport, cheerleading and popularity. Maybe I can make friends with them. Be with the extras in the background.
The salarymen leave, bumping chairs, leering at us. The boys are calm now, settled into conversation. There are four of them in the same Uni Qlo jumpers and Gap jeans, but a fifth is sitting slightly apart from the group, like he’s not with them. He looks like something out of Death Note: black fedora, black jacket with silver chains, black trousers cut just past the knee, oversize wallet in the back pocket also with silver chain, black boots, laces loose.
These people, do they dress like this everyday? Go to work or college like that. Do they dress up like it’s Halloween just to go to the 7/11 or is it a special thing? Goths, punks. Lolita girls, Visual Kei. In Tokyo they dress up on a Sunday to hang out at Yoyogi Park but what do they wear the rest of the week?
The guy at the table must be at university to be friends with the others. Does he wear his Death Note look to class? What do his parents say when he comes downstairs in the morning, when he comes home at night? Does his father silently shake his head or does he say something insulting? Does he shout and stomp and talk about standards? Does his mother tell him to tie his laces, to pull his waistband up to his waist? Or does he usually wear Uni Qlo jumpers and Gap jeans?
He looks up before I can look down. Eye contact. Face flush and gulp at my drink too fast, choke.
“What is it?” Miho-chan says.
“Nothing. Went down the wrong way.”
Face burning, I keep my eyes on Miho-chan, try to think of something to talk about. Nothing. There’s nothing there. I feel like a puppet with its strings cut. No energy. I just want to hide. A bath, sleep. Sleep forever and ever, like some princess in a fairy story. Centuries of dreamless sleep, centuries pass until I’m woken by the kiss of some Prince Charming. By themselves my eyes shift back to Death Note. Some Prince Charming. Still, the connection is made and the idea of kissing him screens itself in my head.
He notices me looking again, I can tell, but he doesn’t make eye contact. Instead, he leans forward. He looks quizzically at the most preppy boy.
“What? What is it?”
“This,” Death Note says, leaning over and pulling a cigarette from his nostril.
“Ohhh, amazing!” says Aya-chan. Everyone else is looking too. I must have zoned out and they saw, followed my sightline.
“Do another, show us another trick.”
“Can you make Aya-chan disappear?” says Shimo-chan.
Death Note is writing something on a chopstick sheath. He crumples it into a ball, picks up three sake cups and, oh no, he’s coming over to us. He sits directly opposite me. I can feel the dried sweat, the mud, the knots in my hair and the stink coming off me. I half expect him to stand up again and back off. He doesn’t.
“What’s your name?”
“Kasumi,” I say in a voice stronger than I feel. “What’s yours?”
“My name’s Aya.” He ignores her. He shows me the three empty cups and the ball of paper. I nod. He places the ball on the table, covers it with one of the cups and shuffles the three around. Another trick. I watch his hands move smoothly over the table, rings catching the light.
“You’ve been to Fuji Rock.”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“He’s magic!” says Aya-chan.
“You’re still wearing the wristband.”
“Did you go too?” Miho-chan says.
“No. I had to work. I wanted to go.”
“What do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a hairdresser.”
“Do you always dress like that?” I say the words before my brain can stop me. I blush, but he doesn’t look angry. Shimo-chan laughs.
“Usually. Not when I visit my grandmother. She doesn’t like black. Says it reminds her of funerals. But then she’s eighty-seven. Everything reminds her of funerals.” He stops shuffling the cups. “Which one is the paper under?”
I haven’t been paying attention. “Um, the middle one.”
He lifts it. Nothing.
“So must be right.”
“Eeeeeeh?” screeches Aya-chan. “Where is it?”
“Disappeared. Gone.” He stands up. “See you later,” he says looking at me. Casually waves at the boys on his way past, then he too is gone.
“Weird,” says Miho-chan.
The Gap guys are looking over, but none of them has the guts to do anything more than look, and no one is interested in guys with no guts. It seems like a good moment to call the weekend over. We pay up and head outside for tearful farewells.
Everyone else lives within walking distance but I have to get the train two stops. I hate goodbyes, even though I’ve never had to say goodbye like this, and I’m glad they all go in other directions. Dragging it out over many minutes and many corners would’ve killed me. My face must be quite a sight with all that crying.
I wait at the lights, watching the red dashes count down, waiting for the green man with his jaunty hat and jaunty step to appear. I’ll miss the green man when I go. He always seems so happy, on his way to meet his girl, all dressed up in his fedora like Death Note. I used to imagine he was on his way to propose and that’s why he was looking so smart, so sharp. A ring in a box inside his green jacket, hopeful smile and a million thoughts buzzing in his head. Good luck, I tell him when he appears. I hope it all works out. I cross the black and white in front of one of the new hybrid buses and a girl in a black K-car, dashboard crowded with soft toys all looking this way, like some muppet festival. I can learn to drive when we get to America, Father says. But they drive on the other side, everything opposite. When I come home I won’t be able to drive here. I’ll be like a foreigner in my own country.
Turn right in front of the bank and step through the spilled light and music of the gyoza restaurant. I look in and everyone looks out, curious. Smells good. I’m not hungry but I almost stop, I’ve got to do everything because every time is the last time now. Past the hotel, businessmen bowing, past Family Mart, Sukiya, MacDonalds, Ogaki Bank, Big Echo, get a leaflet for an izakaya which I’ll never get to use, cross under another green man on his way somewhere and into the Meitetsu station. I’ve still got nearly fifteen thousand yen on my fare card. How am I going to use that by Wednesday?
The train is quiet; a fat middle-aged man in a Tigers cap, a guy in a suit, not much older than me, asleep with his mouth open, a woman in a long flowery skirt reading a book hidden behind the bookshop’s wrapper. All the usual adverts. Sugiyama’s terrifying legal grin, like a crocodile. Inuyama castle surrounded by cherry blossom, map of a hiking trail. Beat Takeshi looking at an ECC teacher, bored. Their slogan is ‘why not?’
See you, Takeshi.
Bath over and time for bed. Mother wants those “disgusting clothes” so she can wash Fuji Rock out of them. Already the weekend is disintegrating, disappearing, another memory. The dirt has gone, the tangles. Once the clothes are neatly folded into my suitcase and my Converse - “These are disgusting, beyond redemption” - dumped in the bin, there’ll be nothing left but the wristband.
I empty my backpack on the floor, pushing washing into one pile, not washing into another, adding them to the mound already in the washing machine. Check the pockets of my jacket. Some money, keys, rubbish. Something makes me look down as the rubbish falls into the bin. Paper, a chopstick sheath rolled into a ball. How did he get it into my pockets without me noticing? He must have thrown it. I mean, surely I’d have noticed him leaning over the table and reaching a hand out. I pick it out the bin and unfold it. Kasumi, Give me a call, Ryu and his phone number. He knew my name before he came to the table. He’d been listening to us talk. That trick, the whole performance simply to give me his phone number.
The clock moves into Tuesday. It’s too late to call now, and on Wednesday, tomorrow now, I’ll fly away. That still leaves one night. I put the paper in my purse and climb into bed. I’ve said goodbye to the girls, I’ve nearly finished packing. This part of my life is nearly over. Every time is the last time now.
I enjoyed this. I was pulled in to one of those moments when youth teeters on the brink of The Future, between the known (Japanese adolescence) and unknown (life as an expat in the US)...a skillful rendering of scent, exhaustion, as if the spent feeling of youth is played out at Fuji Rock, and the intriguing twist of a magician's interest. Glad I found this, April 5, 2022.