Please note that this content is sexually explicit. We recommend that you should not read this content if you are offended by sexually explicit material.
‘All life is suffering.’
I read it again. Focusing hard on that line, my eyes squint and I feel my face push back a grimace. I search for the mention of God in this pocket-sized pamphlet, before I put the Buddhist pamphlet into the top of my business shirt pocket next to my pens and close to my heart. But there is none.
From deep in my suitcase, I dig out my parents’ letter. My eyes concentrate on the card of Christ who is naked, nailed, and bleeding on the cross: under that the words Happy Easter are written. Behind the card is a letter on the family stationery are words unmistakably written in my Mother’s precise script with the antique golden ink pen I gave her last Christmas. I knew she would like it, because as well as charity work endorsed by the church, calligraphy was her interest. A past image of her jumps into my mind. I see her at her study table, which had been weathered by many years as it was inherited from her great, great grandmother. For some strange reason she reminds me of a Mother from a Jane Austen novel. The letter reads:
We’re so proud of you. Our only son is spreading the word of God to the Japs (those heathens). At this Easter we’re thinking of you, praying for you and hoping your thoughts are on Christ’s suffering and the blessing of His resurrection. We pray you have your armour of God on.
I neatly fold the letter, resisting the impulse to it rip it up there and then. If only they knew.
Unknown to church and parents, I hadn’t knocked a door or preached the Word in months. Now, I roll up my shirt’s sleeves and return to reading,
Can’t wait till you return home next month after a long year in ‘the wilderness.’ It’ll be a joyous communion and celebration, bound together as a family again. It will be an absolute delight to see your face and hear your voice again. The future is so exciting. Soon you’ll marry and give us our first grandchild. Don’t forget you are almost 25 and it’s getting too late!!! HA HA. Don’t want to be Christmas cake, do you? Over 25 and no one wants you! Tick tick tick! LOL isn’t that what the Japs say?
God Bless and Peace be with you this Easter,
Your mummy dearest LOL is sitting in the pagoda, which your Father finally completed. Rejoicing in the gorgeous autumn sunshine while sipping tea: couldn’t stomach that green tea you sent, much prefer the Earl Grey with a slight dash of honey. Don’t tell your Father. I’ve told you, but the church has organised a welcome home party. There are a number of good Christian girls interested in hearing about your missionary work. Don’t forget: don’t tell your father- act surprised.
Love again always in Christ
I’m relieved I am not there and instead am sitting in the temple’s grounds beyond the Japanese garden that is supposed to infuse calm and clarity. At the entrance there are tori gates made of spruce pine and towering 40 metres above the visitors, who are forced to look up to soak in the sight. I read somewhere it was supposed to signify entering a different world-one of contemplation not communion. Though, it didn’t calm me. It overwhelms and yet strangely compels me.
Two huge demon statues, with faces scowling, sat guarding the entrance of this Japanese temple beyond the garden boundaries. They scare me because they remind me of demons and the devil. Yet they were suppose to be benevolent warrior guards that were strong enough to fight off bad luck and evil forces. I can’t concentrate on them more than seconds. I turn away nervously, trying to find my way and fighting off confusion.
While stumbling through the pathway, I don’t recognise or appreciate the plants that had been so expertly groomed to create balance and symmetry. They were like bigger bonsais. For some odd reason they remind me of giant green button mushrooms. Except, there are some azaleas like in my parent’s garden. They seem to bleed red and contrast too hard against the greenery. These jar rather than balance my mind. Mostly there wasn’t much colour, except the dominating many shades of green. Beyond that, was the ocean bleach of pebbles. The pebbles had been raked and tamed to look like rivers rippling. This stone river surrounds the side of the temple that was stained red and black. Apparently the temple was rebuilt after the bombings of the war. Nothing seems too permanent architecturally in Japan. Finally, I find the temple without having a panic attack.
I gasp slightly: look up to the Bodhi tree that provides me shade. In an attempt to calm myself, I focus on the leaves now emerging freshly green in spring. Sun seeps through the foliage with a softer golden hue than in Brisbane, Australia, where the sun would be sweltering now. Here I sit silent, alone. My eyes look at the line of cherry blossoms. They surround the temple courtyard in two opposing lines and are blooming in pink brilliance, which contrasts hard against the ragged trunk and branches. Blossoms fall on my head, which I try to forget is balder than 5 years ago, and I brush the purple petals off adding to the carpet of them on the ground. It occurs to me, what if no one does want me. Maybe there was more behind that letter’s joke about Christmas cake? This thought drifts away, as if caught on a slight wind. Birds that I’ve never seen before circulate in arcs: I watch them gliding and landing around the Japanese garden. Some birds rest on stupas, prayer wheels, trees, and some perch on the temple’s roof. I run my fingers through the grass covered in dew, sprinkled in blossoms, and I appreciate the lawn’s coolness and texture.
This calmness evaporates when my new friend, Takayuki Chiku, approaches, almost bounces up to, me. He stands above me adding to the shade. I trace his face with my eyes. That Japanese face is framed by his hair shaved to his naked skull, but topped with a tangle of dreadlocks that always seemed to be exploding from his head like new ideas visualised. A steel bar threads through his nose reflects the light and rubber circles expand his ear lobes. A leather strap with John Lennon’s picture on it hangs and sways around his neck.
Spring is cooler here. I button up my suit jacket, shiver slightly, and warm my hands against my bone slacks. I worry about grass stains and fold my arms. Takayuki is used to the cold here. He only wears a cut off t-shirt revealing bulging arms which make you want to be wrapped and squashed in them. From his standing position, he falls down and leans into my side. His ripped Levis rub against my leg. His boots rest on my brogues, and he shares my now brighter shade. Tingles prickle through my legs.
Without a word, he roughly takes off my eyeglasses and gently puts them in his pocket. For a second that seems like minutes I say nothing, because I can’t still my thoughts and think clearly. Sometimes words are not necessary. They escape me.
Yet now Takayuki’s American accent punctures the silence with, ‘Did anyone tell you, you look like Harry Potter?’ He laughs deep from his chest and pokes my lower abdominal with one finger.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I frown fighting off a hint of a giggle.
Sometimes, Takayuki jokes around in a Texan drawl impersonating Dr Phil, or speaks with ghetto slang and calls me a cracker. Today, he smiles and thrusts sake into my hand. In unison we lift up the bottles, toast and say,‘Kampai!’
He moves even closer to me. Exposed by rips in his Levis, his tree trunk for legs glide over mine and push me over while he sings The Smiths’ song, ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ Even though I giggle, I soon straighten my lips and uncomfortably check my fly, which feels open. With a hand rubbing my chin while my body sinks into the coolness of the lawn, I then forget my embarrassment.
I ask my crazy friend, ‘Do you really believe in re-incarnation?’
‘Yep, why not?’ Takayuki says, looking up to the sky and loosening the top button on my shirt which is starched stiff as cupboard.
‘What if you come back as a bug?’ I ask, this time restraining laughter.
‘Then, I’d be a butterfly with a short, but beautiful life. Have another drink, cracker.’
Takayuki moves away about one metre and places the IPOD headphones on. He begins thumping his fist in the air, as his body sways on the grass. After a while, he offers me one headphone. It is playing his band. I know this by the sound of his voice over the rupturing music’s guttural throb. I listen without moving, because I much prefer the band’s more acoustic set: just Takayuki’s voice drifting over the sound of the guitars.
Suddenly, he lifts me up with one hand and whispers into my ear,
‘What’s the sound of one hand clapping?’
‘The sound of one hand clapping?’ he says louder.
Then he claps with one palm saying, ‘This, this…’
He turns around and flees toward the Buddha statue, whose steel eyes overlook the park and emanate serenity.
‘I’ll race you!’
Takayuki sprints ahead looking back and gestures for me to follow him to the ten-metre statue of Buddha. I force myself to follow; even though, I don’t really want to. But I trust him and realise I would follow him anywhere.
Finally, I catch up and can’t believe that I can climb into a religious icon’s head, as if it was a theme park. Through the darkness inside the head, Takayuki has reached the top of the creaking steps. His sporting prowess shows from rugby training. Bathed in the sunshine filtering through the opened Buddha’s eyes, Takayuki continues dancing, laughing and listening to his IPOD. Eventually I reach the top, but get tangled over my own feet and trip halfway down the stairs smacking my head hard. That is when I blackout.
All I remember is the vision. It is clear as the sun and as scary as a child’s nightmares. Clearly I hover over myself burning at the stake, writhing in agony while flames leap around and burn through me. In the vision, there is no pain, just fear and the squeals of a swarm shouting,
‘Burn witch! Go back to hell!! You are condemned.’
From above, I see my face, not as a man, but as a woman who has long hair now singeing in the heat. A gaze full of anguish, but also defiance, is cast out at the assembled pack. Joy and hate multiply through the assembly. Hundreds of eyes surround me and transfix on the flame. Some throw faggots on the base of the blaze fuelling it further. As the firestorm leaps higher, cheers and smiles rise from the mob.
The next thing I remember is waking up as if from a dream under the shade of the Bodhi tree again. Takayuki’s face is leaning forward full of concern instead of laughter. He must have carried me down from the steps. I’m not even aware of a slight headache, just Takayuki’s and my eyes locked and entranced. My hands caress his arms uncertainly, as I push myself up. Then Takayuki’s arms grab the base of my back, and he draws me up towards him closer than we had ever dared be before. With our eyes transfixed quite naturally, our faces seem to melt and our lips meet. While his hand massages my neck, he kisses me, at first slow and then deeper and harder sending an increasing electricity surge through me. My face reddens. I am unsure whether the rush of blood is from embarrassment or excitement- maybe both. Our kisses continue, lingering. My hand trembles while exploring his body, which feels hard as diamonds, and those shoulders seem never ending. Opening in my chest is a burst of adrenalin that feels like millions of steel butterflies trying to burst out.
Past, future and time seem to melt over the next days as we submerge ourselves in the heat of the ryokan. Sake and red wine is constantly refuelled beside our futon, as we get lost wrapped in each other’s nakedness; our entwined bodies cascaded like waves. We don’t and won’t go out for food.
It’s early morning. Waking up on the floor in a futon, my eyes slowly open. Quickly I wipe any sleep from the corner of my eyes, in case he sees it. Morning’s first impressions count. We are wrapped in each other like two jigsaw pieces. Also, we are shrouded in white sheets. Birdcalls, the crispness of the air, and the rising sun form the background; as my eyes transfix on his body, which is as golden as the sunrise. My more certain hand trails from his navel just above his manhood, which is covered in sheets; until, my fingers snake up his chest to meet the hollow under his Adam’s Apple. After a tickle he stirs, smiling.
He says,‘Genki desu ka?’
‘Genki. I’m great, you?’
‘Best way to wake up. Beats screeching alarms.’
After he dips his finger in the red wine, sucks it, offers me the remnants on his finger, and hugs me with the other hand.
Takayuki says, ‘Never slept so well. Ecstasy is exhausting. Feel like we landed back on earth.Our sex was sacred.”
‘Really?I feel so light, for me it was more like a sacrifice than sacred.’
‘You mean your innocence?’
‘No, not really.More like my breath is deeper and I have let go…finally.’
‘Just don’t let go of me,’ he says now growling bear like and hugging me with two arms.
“You think too much”
I say, ‘Do you think?’
‘No I don’t. I experience!’
‘Again, I have no idea what you are talking about?’
‘Well there’s a road. On one side is sensation and on the other is logic. I’m walking in the middle.’
‘Just watch the traffic. Don’t get hit!’
‘Didn’t know you were funny? That’s the first time you told a joke.’
‘Better than being a joke.’
‘Right on cracker.’
Sometime later that morning we meander down the streets to the temple. Together we are oblivious to Kamakura’s ambience of traditional shopfronts, and proceed to wrap our wishes on the prayer wheel. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I ask anyway,
‘What did you wish for, Takayuki?’
‘I’ve already got it, silly. It’s you, us. By the way, I think you can call me Taka now.’
Taka turns away suddenly. He has vanished. Urgently my neck cranes the bustling crowd. I can’t even see his back walking away. Taka has disappeared so quickly it saddens me deeper than those second kisses. Again I see if there is any sleep left in my eyes to check if I am still dreaming. If it feels too good to be true, it is. No one is that charming. Some say words until they get what they want. Again I am alone. I stick out. A tall lithe gaijin in the swarm of Japanese faces, towering above them, my buzz cut contrasting against their ebony hairstyles. I feel more odd than desperate. My posture seems taller than before. Looking down, I realise I am wearing Takayuki’s Ramone’s t-shirt that is two sizes too big for me. Maybe a sign it was never going to fit: two cultures, two religions, and two men. Perhaps, it was not such a jigsaw after all. This time, I am standing by myself and not sitting: no bodhi tree is in sight.
Kindergarten children in blue and white sailor uniforms march down the street with backpacks almost bigger than their entire backs. Some pass without looking. A girl, with a bob hair cut looks way up, smiles sweetly and shyly. A little angel I think. She encourages others in the group to look. Some smile and others look fearful. Others gaze ahead uninterested. Still others point and laugh. One boy- unusually stocky for a Japanese boy- maybe a future sumo wrestler, runs up to me and points saying,
Yes. I am an outsider here, a naive one. Regretting everything, it occurs to me that I should go home, sooner the better. Maybe Christmas cake after all.
Suddenly, Takayuki’s height and knot of dreadlocks flows out of the crowd and he offers me postcards,
‘Write to your Mum and tonight we can feast on,’ smirking he continues, ‘Food and keep dancing until we fall exhausted.’
I take the postcard and on it I write to Mum,
Yes, Mum the Japanese are heathens and I love them, one male in particular called Taka…So yes, I am gay in both ways, A) extremely happy- sorry, I won’t be coming home soon and B) I love men.
I look up from the card. Once again, I study the cherry blossoms still falling with the winds and feel that same spring wind release a decade of lies and suffering. Strangely, I realise I am not thinking of anything except the moment and my breath: a wave of awareness awakens within me. Past guilt, future worries don’t exist. Snapping out of the present mood, I continue writing. Struggling for more words and wincing my face in concentration in the sunshine, which is now brighter. I write:
Don’t worry Mum, I can always adopt…. Don’t tell Father unless he can handle it. It can be our secret, hopefully not a guilty one. Love you.
Hopefully still your loved son,
I turn it over and see the Kamakura Buddha against the glow of a sunrise. Yes I have been inside the Buddha’s head. For once, I find my way by myself, mail the postcard and walk to the Kamukura Buddha. I feel the warmth of the sun against my skin and feel its warmth beat within. Slowly I whisper, “Thank you God.” Before joining Taka for the feast, I clap with one hand and laugh, realising to the observer I may very well seem insane, but it doesn’t really matter. Nothing more matters than the pulsing surge of release and joy in this precise moment.
© Allen Davies 2013
After not quite bumming out while doing an arts degree, because despite huge involvement in student politics and drinking sessions over the course work, Allen didn’t drop out. After graduation he had no idea what to do. But he ended up in Japan. Initially Allen freaked out at the megalopolis, crowds and the underground subway, which he had never seen before as he came from a small town in Queensland. Over the next years he submerged himself in Asian cultures: Korea Thailand, Cambodia, Indochina. In these mystical places he studied Buddhism and photography. There was always something missing and he found Melbourne- UNESCO City of Literature. Allen lived in inner city working class Richmond, then north side Reservoir, devoting himself and obsessing over his poetry and debut novel and went to college to get a Diploma in the craft and art of writing. It is entitled ‘Gaijin Skin’, in three parts. As I am also a poet as well as fiction and Non fiction writer my publications include: This Next Wave: Genie, I Wish and Boyhood Nature poem, Not Waving, Drowning in notata.net (offline now), ‘Tears’ prose in French mgversion2 (online), ‘This’ literary zine (online) Fantasy Trip erotica/short story, more poetry on greendoorpublsihing (viewable online still) and ‘Bitter Years’ short story in LULU publishing Forever Families anthology. I write to make sense of my world and because it’s a magnificent obsession, or condition.
Bio: How did I come to write this debut novel?
I fell in love for the first time.
– with another country and people and men and myself.
Do you want to be the next Featured writer?