Sunday, 23 April 2017
When Ai Met Yu; Part 1 - A Country Boy
There’s nothing more embarrassing than lying in bed next to your boyfriend and realising that you’re scared stiff of doing anything. It’s horrible, like your whole soul has atrophied. I didn’t know what to do. He was staring at me, his gentle gaze and smiling face making me feel all soft and warm. I wanted to hold him, I wanted... He reached out, touched my arm.
“It’s alright, Ai. I’m here.”
And how the hell did I get here? Well, that’s quite a tale.
My name’s Airnori Uchida. When this story starts, I was 23 going on 24, just out of university, and living in a small but not uncomfortable apartment in Meguro City, Tokyo with my sister Hiroe and father Daisuke. My Mom died when Hiroe was just seven, and I’ve been someone who could take care of her when Dad stayed late at work. He’s the kind of Dad everyone should have – he may need to dash out on people, but when he’s here he shows love and takes part in what we do and is a complete killer at anything, even Shiritori.
I was a guy looking for my ikigai, and looking for a job where I wouldn’t be at risk from an ignominious karoshi incident. I guess I was a bit of a freeter – all the salaryman jobs made me feel unclean. Dad didn’t say anything. He’s like that. He’s a salaryman, but he didn’t want to tie me down to anything. Hiroe just likes anything I do, even if it’s just taking her for a trip into Shibuya or a walk in Yoyogi Park. I’ve always loved the bustle of the city, and if I have to move I’ll be really disappointed.
“Hey, onii-chan! Look at that.”
Hiroe pointed into the window of a department store. A cardboard placard there proudly displayed the release of Final Fantasy XV. My sister’s quite the gamer, I’m not so much. Prefer books.
“Yeah, quite the buzz. But you haven’t got a PS4. Sorry.”
“Yeah, it’s silly. They’re so expensive. Say, onii-chan, if you get rich in your new career, what’ll you buy me for a birthday present?”
“Not that, for a start. Get it yourself.”
“Oh, so cruel.”
She grinned in the way she always grinned at me when I was being strict. I need to be – she’d play games 24/7 if I didn’t watch her. Then she’d hate herself for missing out on whatever she’d miss and get depressed.
“Weren’t your friends gonna join us?”
“Oh yeah. Can’t think where– There they are. Itsuki! Mana!”
Itsuki and Mana were members of Hiroe’s class in high school. She’s only eighteen, in her third year, and those three have been as thick as thieves since elementary school. I was the ‘big brother’ figure who guided Hiroe into their care. They came over, Itsuki gave me the usual ribbing for distracting Hiroe, Mana talked non-stop about her new boyfriend – or maybe boyfriends, I never could tell with her – and Hiroe just giggled and nodded. That’s what she’s like; she lets people rabbit on and then rabbits herself, tuning herself to their frequency one might say. I’m not like that at all. I’m just a big clutz, and Hiroe loves me for it.
With Hiroe in safe hands, I went to my nearest ramen bar and decided to have a bowl full. Not drowning my sorrows in the traditional sense, but near enough. As I ate, I thought about my routine today. Finish here, go to the gym, perhaps go into a store and brows, the usual job search on my computer when I got back home, help with dinner, mend that hole in my shirt. Then what? I didn’t know, or maybe I didn’t want to know. My day went roughly as planned, and getting back in I found Dad home early and already cooking. Hiroe wasn’t back yet, and wouldn’t be as she was sleeping over with Mana. It was a boy’s night in.
I helped get dinner done, then we sat and I listened as Dad unburdened himself to me about some trouble at work. He did this as I’d listen and even if the finer details escaped me I could understand the basics and offer support. With dinner done, I got my laptop and began my job search. Dad might have prompted me, but he didn’t. He knew I needed to find something on my own. I’m just stubborn like that. I then did my best to mend my shirt. I’ve gotten quite good at sewing, a boon to Dad when he’s in a tight spot with clothes. That done, I decided to have an early night. At least, that’s what I told my Dad.
In my room, under my covers, I retrieved the one piece of manga I kept hidden from both my Dad and Hiroe. It was a one-shot manga I bought on a whim, and couldn’t throw away no matter how hard I tried. It was by Gai Mizuki, and I spoke to me in a way I didn’t know how to handle. I remember the teller gave me this knowing look as she put it into a plain wrapper for me. No malicious, just knowing. I’d gone in there out of curiosity, and nearly wet myself with excitement at some of the mangas I picked up. There was this weird one called Priapus, a few by some guy named Dainyu Dougumo, and even a section of stuff by Gengoroh Tagame. Mizuki’s work seemed alright, even if one manga of his I flicked through seemed like Tagame’s more twisted work.
As I glanced over it under my bed covers, looking at it using a low-powered torch so I didn’t need to have my room or desk light on, I caught myself shuffling in time to what was going on in the panels. I snapped it shut then, and genuinely considered just tearing it up and throwing it away. But I couldn’t. I...just...couldn’t.
Yeah, you can probably tell, can’t you. I’m still not sure myself, but anyone else looking at me would jump to the conclusion in a heartbeat. I’m gay. How long have I been gay? That’s a silly question. You don’t question things like that. Any more than you ask someone how long they’ve liked girls who give you a ‘puff-puff’. But I’m not gonna get the same response from people if I say I’m gay. I mean, look at us – a culture whose proud embrace of Western ideals had pushed us forward. It’s also pushed us back. I’d never have been afraid to say this in Nobunaga’s day. Now, I don’t want to be called a ‘seme’ or an ‘uke’, or be pegged as some tragic figure or sex junkie. I’m not like that. I’m just not.
That night, I didn’t have any dreams I remember in detail, only fragments of emotion that didn’t leave me feeling well the next day. In fact, I felt bloody terrible. Dad said so and checked me. I had a fever, so he admonished me to stay inside and get well, while he headed to work using his little white face mask in case he caught it from me so he wouldn’t spread it. He also phoned Hiroe, then got me some medicine and a hot drink before regretfully heading out to work.
That day, I stayed in, wrote, did more job searching, read some of my books, watched TV, made myself lunch, and generally treated myself as recuperating. By the following day I’d recovered well enough to head out on the town. I decided to walk in Yoyogi Park and sit there relaxing near a large stand of bamboo that had been planted there. The seat I took was right next to a small Buddha statue, and as I sat and looked at the cityscape through the trees, I saw someone else looking down at the statue beside me. He glanced at me, and I felt struck by lightning.
“Yu? It’s... Is that you, Yu?”
The man blinked, stared at me, then responded. “Ai. It’s you!”
The memories came flooding back. Memories I thought I’d never seen rekindled. I should start at the beginning.
It was when I was in Waseda University; getting in was the most arduous time of my life, and going through it was one of the best. I was nineteen, little bit of a punk, still wondering whether I liked guys or not. This guy had just been transferred from Kansai. After writing his name on the board as per tradition, our homeroom teacher Sayaka-sensei introduced him to us. His name was Yusuke Ishinori, same year as me but a bit of a country boy from Kansai unused to the big city. I remember him introducing himself, with a Kansai accent thicker than butter, and I saw a couple of the guys sniggering behind their hands. I decided to treat him right.
The next few weeks were difficult for him, like they always are for a newbie with an obvious accent. I contrived to make his acquaintance, and he saw through me in ten seconds flat. Nevertheless, he shook my hand and said he’d love to have me as his ‘guide-come-bodyguard’. Never heard anyone call me anything like that before. I liked him, and got to know him. He was a honour student from a wealthy family aiming for a prestigious career in the arts. He certainly had talents, and I joined the university’s recital circle. I’d joined the sports club, and he decided to follow suit as it’s on a different day to the recital circle meetings.
After one session in the sports hall, we hit the showers and I found myself chatting with Yusuke. After a while, the talk turned to our lives. It was the first time I’d ever talked like this to anyone.
“Ever been to Kansai?” he asked.
“Never. I haven’t been outside Tokyo. Mom was from Ishikawa, but Dad’s a Tokyo man through and through.”
“It’s my first time visiting Tokyo. My family’s always stayed in the country before now. I’ve lived in places like Sansa, Nishiwaki, Kato, Kameoka. My mother works in Osaka, while my father has a country mansion just outside Kameoka.”
“Why the move to Tokyo?”
“Things changed. My parents are working abroad, and there weren’t any vacancies outside here for someone of my year and level. I only get the best from my parents.”
“You must be the apple of their eye.”
“I am. What about you?”
“Dad’s just a salaryman. But I’ve got a great little sister. She’s going through high school at the moment.”
“Oh. Sorry. That was horribly rude–”
“Don’t sweat. I’m not some sensitive guy. She was a good mother to me, but she’s gone now.”
“Mind me speaking frankly?”
“I’m surprise your father can afford this place. It is one of the more exclusive universities in the city. Not the most exclusive by any means.”
“He may be a salaryman, but he gets good posts and good pay. He only wanted the best for his kids. Mom wanted the best too.”
It was then that Yusuke leaned round and looked directly into my cubical, a smile splitting his face. “You know, I like you. I think we’ll get on well.”
“Yeah, sure. The city punk and the country boy.”
“How about we have nicknames. Here, now.”
“Eh? Where’d this come from?”
“I’d like something for us to distinguish ourselves from the crowd. Like in some slice of life school anime. Hey, yes! Like Azumanga Daioh.”
I felt a little embarrassed, and blushed to the roots of my hair. “Well, we’re hardly Osaka and Kagura. And... you watch Azumanga Daioh?”
“Well of course. It’s great. Why, don’t you?”
“Well, I prefer other things.”
“Maybe after we’ve figured out our nicknames.”
“Fine. Let’s do it. They need to be short. One syllable.”
“Fine. I say they need to have multiple meanings. All good.”
“Find too. What’s your name again?”
“And I’m Yusuke. Hmm... Got it! Ai and Yu.”
“You what?!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
Yusuke looked hurt. “Why not?”
“But they’re girls’ names.”
“Ai’s a girl’s name, I admit. But Yu’s unisex.”
“Er.... Okay.” I must have looked deaminated at that point. “Well, I guess I’m Ai obviously. So what’s that mean...? Love, affection, indigo... Okay, I guess that’s alright. And you’re Yu. Yu is...”
“Yu has a wide abundance of meanings. I think the best ones would be tenderness, help and friend. Alright with you, Ai?”
“Yeah. Yeah it is. Yu.”
So things grew. After a few weeks, Yusuke pushed and prodded me into joining a manga circle. It wasn’t just about the latest strip or volume, but also encouraged drawing. That started me drawing. I didn’t have any professional training, but I wasn’t getting signs like my work was that of a beginner. To be honest, I even got a teacher looking at my work and thinking it was a special work-in-progress handout from a professional artist. But that’s just a little diversion. At least, for now. I don’t think I’ll ever be a mangaka.
But things turned a little sour one day. It all focused around our tough-guy sports coach, this seriously hard-riding dude called Kagami. He’d ride newbies, but he’d treat us fair if we didn’t dishonour the team. He seemed to take a liking to me, as he’d always save his best encouragement and advice for me, but after a while he seemed to cool off. Looking back, it was after I took Yusuke under my wing. I guess that’s what set the whole thing off.
Anyway, about a month after Yusuke joined the sports club – it was after a touch volleyball match – Kagami asked me to step aside with him. He looked all furtive. I followed. Why wouldn’t I? Anyway, we ended up in the closet reserved for gymnastics equipment and such, and I didn’t know what to think. When we were in there and the door closed., Kagami looked straight at me, and said in a weird way
“You’re an Onee. I want you.”
I didn’t know what to think at first. I’d heard the term, but as I said, I didn’t think of myself as gay at the time. All I knew was that Onee was what you called those people on TV who were all effeminate if they were guys and butch if they were girls.
“I don’t know what you mean, Kagami-senpai.”
“Cut the crap, Airnori-kun. I saw you looking at Ishinori-kun. He’s cute, but he’s not gonna steal you from under me.”
“Kagami-senpai, you’re scaring me.”
“I want to.” Kagami grinned at me. “I want you scared. I don’t want you running to our Sensei.”
“You know, I like it when you call me ‘Coach’.”
I had been backing away from him, and now I was pressed against the wall. Kagami was on top of me almost literally, his hands were on my shoulders and creeping up towards my neck, and his crotch pressed against mine. I felt sick, but I knew he could silence any cry in an instant. I turned away, clenched my teeth, pursed my lips. All Kagami did was chuckle.
“Playing hard to get. Makes it all the better.”
He began rubbing his crotch against mine, his hand felt up my neck to my hairline, he pressed his lips against my cheek. I wanted to scream, to bite, to punch him. But I was also enjoying the experience. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was then that the door opened.
The voice snapped loud and clear. Kagami pulled away from me and stared at the two figures in the doorway. It was Sayaka-sensei and Yusuke. Kagami stiffened, and I felt sweat on my brow. Under Sayaka-sensei’s stern eye, Kagami shuffled out of the room and Yusuke was left to lead me out into the changing rooms. Once there, I rushed to the toilet and was physically sick. When I’d calmed down, Yusuke explained.
“This isn’t the first time, according to Sayaka-sensei. But it’s the first time it’s ever been sexual. He’s already under suspicion of bullying students and using his authority role to escape retribution. Well he won’t escape this time.”
“What’ll happen to him?”
“The policy for bullying is more than strict here. They don’t want another Otsu City on their hands. Even if he isn’t prosecuted, he’ll never have a position of authority again.”
“Didn’t you know? What’s he’s done... It’s covered by law these days. If they can make it stick, he’ll do time. If you’re willing to testify...”
“But is that enough?”
“Nothing’s ever enough.”
Well I did testify. Me and about ten other boys and girls in the school. And that bastard was given time for indecent assault and property damage – the latter was some vandalised bicycles. I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it without Yusuke, and afterwards I was given a week’s sick leave as I was mentally exhausted. I later heard it was Sayaka-sensei who’d been gathering the evidence against Kagami and roped Yusuke in to keep an eye on me. She’d been worried he was ‘sizing me up’ as Yusuke called it.
“It was nothing.” that was all he would say, aside from this. “I guess I was a ‘Yu’ for you after all.”