Made in Tokyo

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Where can you go when nowhere can fix you?

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Part 1. All over the place

Cologne, Germany
One glass of water

There is so much happening in my life right now. So why do I feel so shitty?

Traveling is much more than a hobby or a way of passing the time. For me, traveling has become an escape from my real self. Before the start of every journey, I fill myself with high hopes and the promise of future happiness — the best feelings in the world. During the trip, I am busy with new experiences, consuming them quickly and to the fullest. On my return, I recover my inner balance, digesting every moment while battling with the dirty laundry. There’s no bittersweet travel hangover after a week or so, but a feeling of emptiness. I need more. I need to get my next dose as soon as I can. Where can I go this time? Rome, Singapore, Phoenix? Anywhere, please. Can I book my tickets right now? Something to look forward to? Can I do it? Please. Please. Otherwise, I won’t make it. Life is just so unbearably dull.

I am a bit over 30. Female. I’ve got blue eyes and four tattoos. I’m good at drinking and not so good at sleeping. Well, sleeping with other people doesn’t count — that’s a whole different story. I don’t believe in marriage. I’m not sure what kind of emotions I have when I see kids. I’m a well-known control freak, and a dear friend of mine often lovingly calls me Stalin. I have lots of rules. These rules apply both to me and automatically to the people around me in a ten-step radius. When it’s warm, I drink cold white wine, and when it’s cold, I prefer red. When it’s as cold as in Siberia — I stick to whiskey. These are just some of my rules. Aren’t you excited to hear more? Okay, here we go. Usually, I walk around my apartment naked. I think my neighbors don’t mind, at least no one has complained about it yet. The male ones, especially, seem to be quite happy with this arrangement. I guess I’m like many other people, and there is not so much that’s extraordinary about me. I’m simple. I’m raw. I’m not at all unique in any way. I like the sun, I hate the rain — things like that. What is truly important, is that I madly love travelling. It’s not just a stupid hobby for me, something evolved out of boredom or having too much money; it’s not what I do when I save some extra cash and have two weeks worth of vacation guaranteed by the always-too-friendly HR people at some faceless international company I could be working for. It’s just me. I can’t live any other way. Perhaps, I travel too much. It would make some other people sick. The problem is that I’m addicted to traveling, and I love it.

So is travel a blessing or a curse?

Just think about it. It is constant change, the act of consuming other people’s bodies, emotions, unique quirks. The bizarre soundtrack of New York reminds me of a boyfriend I once had. The many vivid smells of Milan bring memories of a girl I once had a crush on and her beautiful freckled face. The dull colors of Berlin take me back in time to someone I can’t even remember: I only have a taste of his dry lips tucked away somewhere deep in the corners of my mouth. I am always going places or thinking about cities I’ve just returned from. I’m always somewhere in-between and never entirely there.

Is travelling just a scam? Sometimes I think that. Can anyone live, exist, stay only in one place forever? Without substitutes — be it other people, drugs, or other destinations? Can I remain just as I am, without any add-ons, without supplementary layers, without maps or telephone numbers of lovers I can neither remember nor forget? Can I survive without consuming new impressions like air, without overthinking, doing it all automatically, unconsciously? What horrifies me is that I know the answer already. I can’t. I just can’t live without changing places. I am quickly bored and being in one place is incredibly hard. It’s torture. It has nothing to do with being smart or unique. I feel like I’m cursed and shallow, but there’s nothing at all I can do about it. In fact, I’m writing this as I book my next flight.

Can a human’s life be significant? Is there any meaning in life at all? Suppressing these thoughts by devouring new experiences, meeting new people: it’s like heroin to me. The more I do it, the bigger the hole inside me grows. Where does it all lead to? I am afraid to find out. The strange thing is that it only gets worse. You meet someone you like a little more than most. Someone who makes you a little less nervous, someone who smells more or less decent in the mornings. Someone you can tolerate better than fried onions or warm beer. Then you keep him. Keep her next to you. The best strategy is to get married so that he or she doesn’t run away as fast as they can. Bind him. Make her say vows. Create some fake feeling of importance. Force him to believe that you are supposed to be together, that it’s meant to be. You two have already suffered enough in this life. Now you can be together, relieved and revived. Connected. Never apart.

Marriage creates this pleasant illusion of not being isolated. You will always have at least one person publicly connected to you: you’ll never be alone again! Isn’t it charming? Wait, it gets even better. Soon, most likely the day after the wedding, you’ll realize that being married is not enough anymore. That’s why you have the honeymoon: to spice up the illusion. If you don’t do that, why, you’re practically dead. With the honeymoon not yet over, you’re already planning your next getaway. Ideally, somewhere new each weekend. One escape after another: the secret to successful living. No one has been brave enough to write a book about this yet or offer coaching sessions or juicy webinars. I wonder why. Perhaps I should start?

Eventually, you get used to your presumably happy family schedule: wake up together, bang each other to imitate some semblance of a real, intimate connection, head to work and occupy yourself with the feeling of doing something meaningful (in 99% of cases, it’s not). I believe eight hours of labor per day is prescribed under ordinary circumstances. Go home after that, or even better — go and take part in a sport or hobby, meet someone for a drink or smoke, cloud your mind, distract you mind. Then, without too much thinking, talking or feeling, quickly sedate yourself and go to sleep. Repeat the next day. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Shit, it’s the weekend. What do we do? Don’t panic. Here’s a tip: sleep longer to make sure you spend less time with your own self, then engage in a whole range of exciting activities. Fuck. Do drugs. Go out. Get drunk. And travel, of course. Do whatever it takes to stay distracted. And always plan weekend trips. You’ll have the same daily schedule with the same to-do list but in a new place. Sweet, huh?

I am, I exist, I am, I exist. That’s a mantra people repeat when they meditate. But it’s precisely what I want to escape. I don’t want to feel it and I don’t want to think about it. Why? I am afraid. I have no idea what to do with myself, and it seems that just living life is not an option anymore. That’s actually why I got married. That’s why I dream of having millions of kids when times are particularly dark. That’s why I love traveling so much. So, where do we go next? Rome, Singapore or Phoenix? I wish Hajime could take care of the flights, and I’d book the hotels like we did before but this is not going to happen.

Somewhere on the Baltic Sea, Russia
Two bottles of cheap apple cider

It all starts with acid. This time I put it right on my tongue, not under it. Why? I just want to taste it better. It bites. It stings. It is so sour I almost spit it out. But of course, I don’t. The next six hours depend on this little piece of paper. So I patiently observe how it slowly dissolves, gently, second after second, leaving behind bitterness and opening up new, bright horizons in front of me. These days everyone can exchange the constructed normality of the world for something magical and impossible to predict. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. It’s also quite cheap. You’re free to make this choice, but then you have to be brave enough to go through with it. You have to stay fearless no matter what. What are you opening yourself up to? Absolute freedom, of course. The total freedom of being 100% you. No more, no less.

It’s Tuesday evening, 8:04 p.m.. Finally, I get rid of this wet piece of paper; it just falls out of my mouth when I laugh too hard. When it happens, I end up laughing even more, happily, joyfully. I would have never guessed 10 hours ago that I would end up at Chloe’s house by the sea. Taking acid. Just the two of us. On a Tuesday night. How did that happen and why?

It was the first day of autumn; unusually warm, hot even, with too much sun, too much sweat, and too little fresh air in the crowded city. Suddenly, I experienced a moment of brutal awakening: a horrifying mix of “too much-ness” came over me. I needed to do something about it. Right away. So I canceled all my important meetings, rescheduled all my important errands; called all the important people to postpone whatever I was supposed to do with them (something important, of course). It took only 10 seconds to understand that none of it really mattered. What really mattered was that it was 37 degrees Celsius outside, I was sweating like crazy, even though summer was technically over. I really needed to do something about it.

So I hopped in a cab. I told the driver to get me to the seaside as fast as he could. I promised him a big tip if he could do it in less than 30 minutes, which is impossible. The driver nodded: challenge accepted. Cold, mechanical AC air started fighting with my sweaty face. In three minutes the driver was driving so fast that the sky got somehow mixed with the road into this abstract, impressionistic mess. I shut my eyes. A feeble attempt not to get carsick.

When I opened my eyes, I was by the sea. I could feel the heavy, slightly salty air even with the windows up, and the AC blasting — it was colder than the North Pole. The driver had made it in 26 minutes. He grinned cheerfully, proud of himself. This somewhat overweight man with striking ginger hair had incredible posture –back straight with the top of his head almost pressing into the car’s ceiling. He was happy. I was happy. I tipped him, cash, and the more money I gave him, the wider his smile got. At one point I didn’t want to stop giving him cash out of bare curiosity — how wide could his smile get without ripping his greedy freckled face?

The sun was licking my bare shoulders as I walked to Chloe’s house. The city bustle didn’t exist anymore. Thirty or so homes peacefully coexisting by the sea, not a shop around, not a single cafe or restaurant. No one was running. No one was rushing. Chloe’s house was another 10 minutes away and I didn’t meet a single person on my way there. It felt great.

A bit later I finally saw her, Chloe, welcoming me on some forgotten road, waving her arms like crazy, almost jumping. We hadn’t seen each other for quite a while. I smiled with relief. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my dry teeth. We both knew: from that point on, the real fun would begin.

After a brief welcoming exchange, we dove into her house, and I was finally able to exhale, as if I had been holding too much stale air in my lungs these last few days. It was getting better, much better. It was good to see Chloe. I’ve known her for a long time. She’s older than me. This time she had short blonde hair. Her eyes are always glowing, despite the season or the time of the day. She’s single and free. She has a dog. This time she had some acid at home as well. Chloe carefully studied my face. I let her do it, as she’s not one to judge. Chloe reacted immediately, registering my still-tense smile as if my face muscles had gotten stuck in some bizarre facial expression. She understood. We didn’t talk much yet; I just asked her to put some music on to make the transition smoother. A gigantic warm wave poured into my ears immediately, and I started dancing, because why not? Because I suddenly felt much better and there was no one to stop me. With every random dance move, my tension drifted away. Why do I dance? I don’t ask myself, it just happens. Why do you blink your eyes? You just do it and never really think about it. It’s the same thing. Fuck this. I was just going to dance. I needed to lose all control because I was tired of being myself.

The next four hours or so, I tried to slow down. It was painful, and it took time. My brain was still going at full speed. I kept answering all those annoying calls, still replying to meaningless emails in my head, trying hard to accomplish all the goals that someone else had assigned to me, had made me believe were all so vital. I was automatically doing all the things that made me feel alive. Alive and important. Belonging to something, to someone. I did it because I’d been doing it for years. Why didn’t I just stop? Well, why do some people keep drinking? It was the same thing. I was exhausted. I wanted to escape my skin.

But finally, I got there. Here. Yep, it took time, but I got to the point where I could relax. Well, I couldn’t rest just yet, but I could already feel relief coming. So I made a decision: to not go home and to stay with Chloe for the night.

It was only this morning, that I’d gotten a message from Chloe, she was asking how I was doing and where I was. We had lost track of each other some time ago. Seeing her message was strange, we were not lovers anymore, and we were never friends in a traditional sense.

Chloe invited me to visit her in a new house — a last farewell from an ex-husband. It was a beautiful, faraway location. I’m polite, okay, so I’d usually just say “thank you” and come up with a valid excuse and stay in the city. I don’t invite people to my home and I don’t like going to other people’s homes either. I prefer bars. I value the option of being able to leave whenever I feel like it. But this morning when I got her message, after a sleepless night generously provided by my daughter, I felt this sudden urge to say yes. Chloe and her house, it was like a dream — a faraway oasis, a hidden reality to which I’d suddenly gotten a VIP pass. I just couldn’t resist escaping my life, at least for a bit. I’m quite excellent at that. It is something I’m not proud of.

So I came to see her. It was such a relief not to have any dull expectations slapping me in the face. Since I’d gotten married, my private life had become all about expectations. My husband Hajime demanded I be there for him all the time, even when I needed to be by myself. He requested this unconditional love — something I couldn’t even provide for myself. With Hajime, it often felt like I was living with a stranger. Usually, I’d say a bunch of mean, nasty things I’d regret an hour later. That was my natural response when he was asking for too much. When I recalled now the things Hajime had said to me in response, angry and upset, I immediately felt like I should have said something even worse to him. I wish I was better with words so I could have hurt him more when I still had the chance. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t good enough, even at hurting people. The only thing I was good at was running away. So right now Chloe was providing me with shelter. Just working like crazy today wasn’t enough anymore. That’s why this morning I immediately replied that I was coming to visit no matter what.

I needed time to relax, to get a tiny piece of my freedom back. I could make my own decisions now; I could stop caring. I could pretend my growing pain never existed, as if it was never planted inside of me to begin with.

It always feels good to reinvent myself every once in awhile. So I do it today. I just had to arrange for a babysitter, pack a way-too-healthy lunch for my daughter, and get into a cab. What matters right now is here, in this house and inside my tall, tired, trembling body. It’s all happening now. I tried to put Hajime in a small box, then throw it away in the in front of me. I hated myself for thinking about him so much every day, and especially today.

The music is still playing loudly in the background. I continue dancing, as if in slow motion, contemplating my mood, observing my passing thoughts. I am completely sober. The energy that’s been compressed inside me for days and months, is only now coming to life. I get high off of myself first, off the music, off the moist sea air. Overdosing slowly on freedom, almost drowning in my own hypnotizing, oily smile. Barefoot on the dark wooden floor. Even though it’s the first day of fall, it is suspiciously warm, so I get rid of half of my clothes. Life can be so easy — why ever overcomplicate it? Chloe doesn’t mind me being almost naked; she’s already seen my body in all its possible conditions many times. Now she’s busy with her errands. She’s in the garden working relentlessly on some flowers or something. I can see her back, her unusually short hair and that long, beautiful neck I was hooked on before. Chloe lets me be alone because she knows how much I need it right now. I see her smiling face in the window, checking on me, and I smile back. I am so thankful to be here right now. Alone but carefully watched by her moist eyes.

Hajime had always demanded that I give him all the love I had. It was the fuel he ran on. He needed it to wake up, to get up and to work, to talk, and to pretend that he was an average human being. In fact, I know that he just fed on my feelings. He never really accepted any other emotions because they were not good enough. Most of the time I’m not good enough. It is what I’m running away from. At least I always try to.

Eventually, Chloe comes back inside the house. She casually starts making dinner, and I help out. This is when I’ve decided to stay longer. I don’t want to go home tonight. A quick call to the babysitter, she already knows how it goes, I’ve done it before.

“I think there’s still some pasta left,” I quickly give instructions regarding my daughter’s food intake into the phone while cutting some red onions on Chloe’s request.

Here we are, two women who’ve known each other for more than ten years, making dinner together. It’s been good and bad, terrible and easy, but tonight we deliberately share only decent memories. By now Chloe also looks quite exhausted. She finally tells me that the whole never-ending divorce process is finished now. She just got the papers this morning. That’s why she sent me that message. I’m making a quick mental note that I’m not the only person who is running away. Chloe is officially single now. Her daughters have grown up. She got herself a small dog. But she just had to call me to help her escape this blinding reality of her new, lonely life.

“So I got this puppy from a shelter. I found him last week, took him here, washed him with some smelly dog soap, and I’ve barely seen him since. He’s mostly out fucking other dogs in the neighborhood,” her expression was critical, but with a devilish grin. “So now that fucking puppy, I named him Peter, only comes home to eat. I see a considerable resemblance to my ex-husband. Thank God, I’m finally divorced.”

Peter, Chloe’s ex-husband, was someone I never really liked. He tried to kiss me with his tongue hanging out of his mouth once right after their honeymoon. I never told Chloe. But Chloe did tell him everything about our secret relationship after he signed the divorce papers. She already knew that she’d gotten almost everything she’d wanted, including two apartments in Paris, a recently bought and never really used getaway house by the Baltic sea, a new crazy expensive car, and most of Peter’s money. Unfortunately, she could not persuade the judge to cut off his penis, which she wanted to keep in her home in the drawer for the sake of “protecting the female species.”

We are making a stew of some sort, putting together whatever we can find in the fridge — tomatoes, celery, onions, cheese, and rice all ended up in one pot. A chilled bottle of apple cider magically appears as well. Usually, we drink wine. Turns out it was the only thing Chloe had at the house tonight. I’m pouring two generous glasses of cider, while complimenting Chloe on her fantastic music choice. I haven’t been listening to music at all for a while now.

We eat outside. There are no people around, only a couple of empty houses, big trees, a long road, and the sea hiding down the hill. Chloe’s dog is hesitating whether it should join us or not, too scared to come closer, too loud for us to ignore. The too-energetic puppy watches us, stoked with power, jumping all over the place like a horny monkey.

“In the end, I’m happy it’s all over with Peter. And please promise to stop me if I ever decide to get married again.”

“But hey, Chloe, if you were never married, we wouldn’t be in this beautiful house now. So marriage does wonders for some. Maybe you’ll get lucky again,” I smirk.

“Well, you’re right, I guess. But never again, seriously. Enough is enough,” she looks at her dog, who is trying to steal food from her.

“Let’s see what you say in a couple of years.”

“What about you?”


“Do you want to get married?”

“No. Never again.”

Chloe is looking at me, weighing my words with precision, holding a glass of cider in her hand. She knows me. She’s not asking any more questions. Okay, maybe one more.

“Too early to talk about it?”

“I think it will always be too early.”

The air is finally cooling down, and we notice that the sun is cheerfully orange instead of the golden yellow we saw half an hour ago. Both of us chew slowly and watch the warm sunbeams circling on the gray surface of the house. It feels good to see the sunset from a new angle. I can’t stop thinking what it would have been like if Hajime and I had gotten a divorce six years ago when we were on the verge of splitting up in New York. Whom would I be running away from now if not from Hajime?

Chloe is doing the dishes. She made me sit and do nothing. I feel that there’s nothing else that can intensify the feeling of emptiness and relief which has turned into a strange shade of happiness that’s filled me up completely, spilling wildly from my eyes, echoing in my cynic laughter. I am calm now. I feel safe. Life is good, sort of. I can’t tell whether my whole life is actually good or it just seems to be extremely pleasant right now, at this moment. There’s no time to think any more about it because Chloe casually hands me a piece of acid. She chats about the weather, her stupid puppy, and some people we both know. She takes it with me: mouth open, eyes shut, brain curious. We both turn this page, eagerly leaving behind all the crap. Something new begins right now. We are bathing in the last shadows of the purifying sunset light. My favorite song is playing. The world seems more significant than it really is. This world is finally the right size, the size of my enormous, lonely heart. I don’t need to run away anymore, at least not tonight. Isn’t that great?

It turns out Chloe went out last night and met some “reckless young people” as she obscurely puts it. She took acid with them. Chloe first saw those young folks next to the supermarket, where she was getting groceries. They recognized her and started waving. She used to be big in politics. Chloe was surprised that these youngsters knew who she was and next thing she knows, they were doing drugs next to that same grocery store, as people were walking out of it, hands full of vegetables wrapped into colorful plastic bags. It was in the late afternoon and after they’d swallowed some acid, they just started walking somewhere, nowhere, really, chatting on the way. An hour later Chloe was already kissing all of them, one by one, with deep, wet kisses. No one cared about the age difference, about genders, or commitments. Everyone was high and in love with each other.

“It’s like I was 16 again. I was free and I was doing whatever I felt like. Just imagine, we were listening to Lou Reed, drinking, and making out. It was just perfect. I didn’t even get robbed. At one point in the morning, I just took a taxi and got back home safely, ate some breakfast, switched to glasses from contacts, made some tea, and started checking my emails.”

I suddenly realize how tired Chloe looks. It must be all those spontaneous nights outs — they weren’t so easy for her anymore even though she preferred not to notice it. It’s becoming harder to stand against the excitement of being alive after you turn 30.

It was clear from her first experience that the acid was good, so Chloe bought more as a take away. It was her second acid night in a row, but she made it look like it was okay, nothing special, just the usual routine of a happily divorced middle-aged woman.

“I didn’t sleep and I feel a bit dizzy. Not a big deal. I need this right now,” Chloe said putting a tiny white square on her tongue.

I knew everything about Chloe. We used to be together but not at all in the typical way couples are “together”: going out and drinking tea, staying home and raising kids. We had crazy wild sex at exclusive boutique hotels; we had rough sex in taxis all over the world; we exchanged long, deep kisses at airports to get piss off or arouse all the passing by strangers; some weeks and months we were neglecting each other violently, with so much ruthless aggression in our hearts. When I first met Chloe, the very first time, I saw someone strong and somewhat posh. She was the kind of woman who would sit in a restaurant with a straight back and her chin up high, drinking a Martini — or something as meaningless as that — with one hand and with the other she’d be making some abstract notes in her leather notebook with a very expensive pen which she barely used because she actually wasn’t into writing, but she had it anyway, to make a statement that she was different than everyone else. Deep down she was different, I could only imagine, Chloe was precisely just like one of those reckless young people, and I always knew it. That’s why I fell in love with her many, many times over these years. These days she was trying to remember what kind of person she was before marriage, before politics, and even before me. Chloe was going back to her roots, still hoping that she could bring her true self back to life, that it wasn’t too late.

Peter was a rich, successful entrepreneur and he needed someone to complete this idealistic picture of his great life. He was searching for a beautiful, unique woman, who would be slowly sipping expensive drinks next to him in a killer dress during all those never-ending meetings with his important business partners. Peter didn’t care that Chloe’s favorite drink was beer. I think he didn’t even know it. Peter and Chloe were married for over a decade, a long time for this day and age, when some people get divorced right after the first night.

“You know, when I saw this random message on his phone, from his way-too-young PR girl or something, saying that she’s all waxed and ready for him, that’s when I knew that I’d just had enough of his bullshit. It was our wedding anniversary for Christ’s sake. Peter didn’t give me any presents, of course, no flowers or anything like that, but seeing that message was kind of the best gift I could’ve gotten. That was when I made the final decision to get a divorce. I called the lawyer that same day, and I was clear that I wanted to squeeze out as much as I could from him. Thus, this house, most of the paintings he had, cash in my account, and my single life, the most important.”

I nodded, looking around this stylish, minimalist place, mostly finished in white and gray. I knew for a fact that there were lots of other girls, and sometimes boys, that Peter was spending time with behind Chloe’s back. Hajime had gotten to know Peter at some point. Occasionally they’d had some business together. Hajime would tell me Peter’s secrets because he didn’t like him too much. Also, because Hajime wanted me to be faithful in our marriage and that was one of the ways for him to control me. At least, that’s what he thought. Hajime only knew Chloe as my friend. I don’t think that he could imagine that Chloe and I had such a rich history.

Before the acid starts kicking in, we have about 30 minutes to set up a cozy space where we’ll spend the next four hours or so. Chloe has this terrific idea to climb on the roof. It seems to be dangerous but only for a moment that passes immediately and leaves behind a sweet feeling of something long forgotten. I take the bottle of cider and start climbing, carefully gauging my every step with extra caution. One, two, three. Wait, why am I counting? Six, seven, and finally we make it. The view is outstanding — the vast, absolutely gorgeous sea and a couple of clouds. It’s so picturesque, as if a four-year-old kid drew it himself, spilling dirty water from his watercolors. My daughter could have painted it this way. Maybe that’s what she is doing right now, in our empty apartment, showing her new paintings to the babysitter who doesn’t really care much instead of to me. I try ignoring this thought.

Nature seems so personal, as if it was created only for our wondering eyes. Chloe looks genuinely happy. I haven’t seen her this happy for years. Acid helps a lot with recreating lost and long forgotten pure joy.

Sitting on the roof, I look around. It’s dark now. When and why did that happen? I try not to move too much, sticking closer to the roof. Chloe is more casual about her posture, looks like she does this every evening — first comes acid, then out to the roof. She even manages to bring the music up, how cool is that? I feel different parts of my body stirring at different speeds. I am a big octopus that got out of the sea and got stuck on the roof, totally confused and speechless.

There’s something else that catches my attention — some magic lights have spread out in front of our feet as if spilt and forgotten by someone — it’s the rest of the houses beaming without a single sound below. This view is so beautiful, so intimate, I open my mouth and start saying something, which makes Chloe smile even more. Chloe is nodding fast, at the same time turning up the music. I immediately forget what I’ve just said. A sudden rush of happiness tickles me somewhere behind my ears. Next, a wave of liquid warmth on my hands. My body is slowly adjusting itself to significant chemical changes. Yes, I feel it; I know this sensation pretty well, so I keep a tight hold on the roof. Wouldn’t it be so lovely to fall from this house in the middle of the night? What happens when you fall? Do you necessarily die or do you just get badly hurt? There are so many exciting questions to ask.

“How are you? Do you feel anything?”

“I think so.”

“Check out those crazy helicopters. What are they looking for so late at night?”

“They’re looking for the moon, I guess.”

“But it’s so big, how can they not see it?”

“Because they’re high too?”

We are both quiet. Only a couple of years ago we were both married, living more or less happy lives. Now we are single, traumatized by our past experiences, looking for quiet.

Chloe and I were never officially together. We stopped seeing each other a long time ago. She was making it big in politics, and all of a sudden she got serious about her personal life. Basically, I was her personal life. She didn’t turn out to be the average hot chick Peter wanted to have by his side. She was smart, way more intelligent than him in too many ways. Chloe and I broke up just before I got together with Hajime. I’ve only had sex once with her since then, under very fortuitous circumstances. We never talked about it, as if it never happened. Well, anyway, what’s there to discuss? Isn’t it strange when people talk about love instead of making it?

“I think I’m a bit less high compared to last night.”

“Chloe, I seriously don’t think you’re supposed to take acid every day. It starts to lose its effect when it accumulates in your body.”

“Well, I don’t think that men are supposed to fuck multiple women at the same time,” replies Chloe with a cynical smile. “But they do it anyway.”

I know that Chloe is still hurt even though she tries to seem so carefree about her divorce. I want to hug her, but I’m afraid to get too personal all of a sudden. That was never how our relationship was. We were never just nice to each other, unless it was part of the foreplay. We were horny, demanding, and crazy, but we never did care about our true feelings too much. For a moment I feel awkward because I realize that I am afraid to care for other people, including my own daughter. I am just naturally afraid of being a nice person because it’s usually kind people who get hurt all the time. That’s why I prefer hurting others instead. I make my move first.

“Oh my god, this is a revelation,” I say out loud, utterly stunned by my late-night discovery.

“What, my dear?”

“I am a horrible person.”

“You are okay. You are just like everybody else. There are no good people; it’s just some stupid marketing bullshit. People suck. I don’t’ trust the humanity.”

“So I suck too? Fuck you, Chloe,” I say, smiling again. “Oh sorry, I meant to say, thank you, of course,” my smile widens.

We both end up laughing. I spill some of the cider on the roof. It’s so much easier just to laugh it off than actually talk about our fears in depth. We never did it, really, and never will. Neither of us knows how. It doesn’t bother me. I accept it with a humble bow.

Everything is in the right place now. Everything finally makes sense. It is not so often in life when one is capable of experiencing this highly enjoyable freedom of thinking. Thoughts are short and concise. Nothing bothers me at the moment. Music makes the most sense of all. I feel good — as if the stuffy world I was a part of this morning doesn’t exist anymore. For sure it doesn’t exist in my brain. Hajime is on some other planet. I feel his grandiose, faraway presence. I turned off my phone a long time ago, and there’s no way anyone can reach me. It feels so good to be unreachable. Nature is nurturing me, the moon is cradling my body on her long yellow arms, and the air is cuddling with my salty bones from all that sea air. My whole body is dissolving into the first day of autumn, experiencing to the fullest the slightly painful change of the season. The major transformation in myself repeats the season’s cycle: one Me stops, another Me begins. The tiresome city life ends, nature starts. The real Me is here right now. I see Me as some other person. I am watching my face. I feel my hungry blood pumping. I am not a nice person. I am not kind. I am not friendly. I’ve been told too many times how selfish and cold I am but fuck it, I’m still alive, and I’m here.

This revelation happens as Chloe and I are still talking. I have all these thoughts running around in the back of my head. Now, I slightly shift my focus to Chloe’s moving mouth. I catch some sounds too. We are still talking. Both of us have this feeling that we talk about something essential all night… but when I wake up four hours later, with a fucking headache, I can’t remember much of what we spoke about. What was it? Why did I come visit Chloe — someone I haven’t seen for over five years? Why did I stay overnight and share a bed with her? In the morning, when I woke up earlier than she did, why did I go alone to the sea? All these questions dissolve after my first cup of coffee. I turned on my phone and it immediately starts ringing as I take my last sip of my usual black fuel. I am too weak to ignore my phone. So first I get another cup of coffee and then I immediately get my life back in order. I reluctantly check notifications. More than a dozen unanswered calls from the babysitter. I scroll through her text messages and turns out my daughter couldn’t fall asleep and was crying half of the night. What a shitty mother I am. I barely feel anything at all.

“I am a horrible, horrible person,” I say out loud this time, no idea why I did it, why I ran away. I hurt someone I love last night, someone who depends on me so much, my daughter. Now I will be torturing myself for the rest of the day, the rest of the week. The rest of my life, most likely. Welcome back to my ecstatic reality.

For those four hours I managed to sleep, the weather had enough time to change from warm and mellow to cold and gray. I pack quickly and go. The last thing I notice before leaving is my half-finished glass of cider. Why didn’t I finish it? I ponder on the way back to the train station (I couldn’t get a taxi, no one wanted to come to the middle of nowhere). Perhaps, some things need to stay unfinished to be remembered.

In the evening I call Chloe to thank her for a great night. We both know that I will come back one day. I didn’t say anything about how I really feel: extremely lonely, depressed, and weak. How desperately I wanted to just be happy. How eagerly I was praying to be satisfied with myself. How horrible my nights were without Hajime and my mornings after those sleepless nights were usually even worse. How much pain I had during the peaks of my unresolved depressions, often provoked or intensified by the ongoing conversations I had with him in my head. Was I doomed to go through this anger and frustration with my life every day?

It is all me. It’s time to go home — to my strange, half-empty home built on destroyed hopes and never-ending nightmares. I’m going back to work, to my apartment, and to my daughter, who is probably still crying.

And what about Hajime? There is no way I could go back to him.

Hajime didn’t call me. He never calls me anymore. I looked at his contact details, still saved in my favorites. The only starred contact I had. Hajime didn’t call. He didn’t send me a message. It is how it’s going to be until I die. I need to get used to it. I will never stop missing him, wanting him, and dreading knowing that I will never see him again. I love him so much, and therefore I suffer. I still keep him in my heart, willingly tripling my misery. Do I accept him unconditionally? Did I finally learn how to do it? I will never tell him that because I just can’t. I feel horrible because I depend on him so much and he doesn’t even know it, and there’s no way I can reveal this anymore.

The train is slowly taking me back to the only reality I know. I am looking out of the window, staring at the drizzling light rain coming out of the low, dense gray skies. Nature is falling asleep, and so do I.

Maybe I’ll come back and visit Chloe next week. But most likely in another five years or so.

Tokyo, Japan
Buckwheat shōchū on the rocks

Long distance flights between Europe and Japan are always excruciating. This time, we were on three legs to arrive in Tokyo. I don’t complain about the hours spent waiting for a plane, or boarding, or flying, or passing through customs, or even doing it again, and again, and again. It is the price I pay so I can reach one of my favorite cities in the world. I am eager to suffer before I can indulge, and I would go even further if that’s what was needed to be with my dearest Tokyo.

As soon as we step out of the doors of Haneda airport, my personal Lost in Translation experience begins. I enjoy every second of it. It’s impossible to explain why I find Japan so comforting. Maybe it’s because I don’t fit in here at all. Just look at me. I am tall (185 cm or 6’1”), horrifyingly blonde with cold blue eyes. I don’t speak any Japanese (the ten random words I’ve picked up from Hajime barely count). I don’t know much about Japan’s beautiful traditions. I tend to screw up when I try to apply the limited rituals I’ve read about on the plane: I bow at the wrong moments, I hold my tiny teacup with the wrong fingers, and I end up putting too much wasabi on my sushi (I hysterically cry later in the middle of a tiny restaurant somewhere in Harajuku). The worst is tipping, of course. I forget it every time I come here. It’s especially hard when you wake up, say in New York, where you are almost obliged to leave a tip bigger than your check and in less than 24 hours you are in Tokyo where the whole idea of “tips” is utterly meaningless and foreign.

Hajime’s father was Japanese. Hajime barely knew him, though. His father had a heart attack at an age when there wasn’t a speck of silver gray in his hair. Hajime was raised by his mother. She was German. So Hajime had spent most of his childhood years in Europe. They moved away from Tokyo when Hajime was a bit over a year old. His first steps were in Tokyo, walking from his father to his mother in a typically small Japanese apartment. Tiny steps in Hajime’s tiny universe. Hajime’s mother, Ida, hated Japan. The only thing she liked about Japan was Hajime’s father. And he loved it there. Tokyo was his home, and the level of energy he had in his natural habitat was breath-taking. Hajime was a sweet boy, happily smiling to the polite strangers and eagerly eating fresh sushi for lunch. Back then he didn’t care whether he was in Tokyo or somewhere in Berlin, as long as he was close to both of his parents.

Ida met Hajime’s father when she was visiting Tokyo. She had just graduated from one of England’s top universities where she passionately studied law. Ida came to Tokyo with her girlfriends to have some wild fun (finally, after all that time spent with books and papers), and to eat some sushi, the food most lawyers survive on. Ida was getting ready to embrace her new desk job and her trial-focused life. She was a moderately cute, ordinary German girl with long blonde hair and high cheekbones. Ida was never too passionate about the law (her parents were), she didn’t like travelling (it was just a thing that other people did), she never really had a boyfriend (why would anyone need a boyfriend when you had all those unread books?). There was absolutely nothing about her that stood out. If you put Ida in a room with 30 other people, you would not notice her. Let it be even five people, she would blend in with one of the walls, dull and unimpressive. What was immediately noticeable, that Ida was crazy hardworking and utterly motivated to become a lawyer, a dream she had reluctantly borrowed from someone else. Ida was comfortable with being a vessel of someone else’s dreams and desires.

At first Tokyo seemed strange to her. Wild and horrendously unusual — so different from London where she had lived for the past few years and even more different from the small, typical German city where she had grown up. Tokyo wasn’t like any other city she had visited before. Ida was an average tourist, and she hated that feeling. She hated not fitting in. She hated karaoke as well but one of her friends, Jane, a super active London-born girl, wealthy and perhaps way too energetic, was really into getting drunk and doing typical “fun things.” One night, under the spell of some horrendous jetlag, they ended up in one of those hidden bars, a bunch of female graduates, drunk and hungry for some unusual entertainment. Ida wouldn’t have gone at all but Jane had insisted, and she was also paying. So all of them got drunk on sake, filled their bellies with unusual snacks and were ready to rock and roll. Ida wouldn’t usually mind having a drink or two, but today she went at full speed. She was the most unattractive of all of the others and she wanted to compensate for it with the amount of sake, consumed with rage, in furious silence.

This is when Ida met Hajime’s father. He was at the same bar with his work colleagues, a usual night out after a whole day of disintegrating office life at a minimalistic, brightly white-lit small room filled with tables, chairs, computers, and immobile people who looked like objects. Hajime’s father was a lawyer. He was working for international clients, mainly big property firms, spending days in his office buried in papers filled with tiny letters in English and Japanese. He loved it. He had worked for the company for only nine years, almost 10, actually, and he was hoping to work there for the rest of his life. He was considered to be successful. He was single. He was drinking even more than a typical office worker in Tokyo. He was out every night until 3 a.m., fishing for some tourists, young girls from Europe or America, counting on his extremely fluent English and his unusual, mysterious Japanese accent. The suits he wore were expensive, the cologne — well-known Gucci, and he was, well, the truth was that he was indeed handsome.

That night he met Ida. She was singing, well, she was trying to sing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and Hajime’s father took it as a call to action. He made a move. Ida was already way too drunk. Too much sake made her extremely curious. They talked at first, while he was getting more shochu at the crowded bar, introducing her to a real Japanese drink that wasn’t well-known to tourists. Ida was young, fresh, untouched. In other words, she was a virgin. Her mouth, a bit too dry from all the drinking, was asking all sorts of questions about his work, she was genuinely interested in hearing more details, all so boring to anyone else. At first she was sure it was all about work, she couldn’t imagine that someone as handsome as this rather tall Japanese man with strong arms and almost no beer belly would be interested in someone like her. That night Jane had made her wear one of her dresses, a tight black slip, showing off Ida’s back more than she was used to. Maybe that sudden interest was only because of the dress? Yes, it must be the dress. Ida straightened her back as if spreading her wings and letting them glow in the pleasant darkness of the karaoke bar filled with heavy smoke and cheap glimmering disco balls.

“This is not my dress.”

“Excuse me?”

“Jane, that girl,” Ida pointed at Jane, who was running around with the microphone, super stoked about singing the next song. “She gave it to me. Usually, I wear blue jeans and a white button-down shirt.”

“With high heels?”

“No, with loafers.”

“Look, I wear button-down shirts every day. It’s fine. I like them.”

“So you don’t like this dress?”

“It’s okay too. It’s not about the dress anyway.”

“What is it about then?”

“It’s about what’s under it.”

No one had spoken like this to Ida before. It was all so new and somehow magical. She knew nothing about cheesy moves, no one ever gave her any compliments, really. The only compliments she was used to were from professors at the university praising her hard work. Ida wasn’t necessarily talented. She was meticulous and that is what matters if you want to be a good lawyer.

Curious, she was looking at this handsome stranger’s eyes with the same precision as she looked into her dear law books at home. This man was someone who seemed to truly care about her body, about her undiscovered sexuality. He wanted her. It was clear. Ida felt so good all of a sudden. She immediately stopped talking about law and kissed him. She kissed him first! Jane saw it of course. She started cheering loudly, much louder than necessary. Drunk Jane was sure it was the dress that did the trick. Jane nodded with approval and went back to singing a long forgotten Elvis Presley love song.

When Ida woke up the next morning in an apartment that looked like a parking space, as minimalist and as simple as that, her lover was already gone. It was Thursday or something like that, so he just rushed off to the office as he always did. Ida was hangover and couldn’t find any aspirin in that foreign apartment. There was literally almost nothing there. Stacks of papers. A glass of water. Four pairs of equally polished men’s shoes. A couple of books on the table. One lemon in the fridge. That was when she remembered that last night they couldn’t find any condoms either.

Ida left the apartment silently, hoping not to meet any neighbors on the way. The Japanese knew nothing about the walk of shame; it wasn’t part of their culture. It was the first and the last embarrassing experience in Ida’s life. Two days later Ida and the girls left the country. In a month or so she found out that she was pregnant. Ida left a message with her Japanese lover’s secretary, which stated simply: “I am pregnant. Ida from London”. The secretary almost refused to take this message, being shocked by her straightforwardness. It is how Hajime’s father found out that soon he would have a child, his first and only child. He flew to London on the next flight and proposed to Ida. He was 40 years old, Ida was almost 20 years younger. It wasn’t romantic, and it wasn’t charming or sweet. They were both clueless as to what to do, and they did the most obvious thing: got married and kept the baby.

Hajime knew this story, told by Ida, word for word. Hajime always wanted to ask his father why did he propose. He could have just moved on. Ida was so far away. His father could have easily pretended that nothing had happened, that he wasn’t the father, that he had nothing to do with it. Ida wasn’t asking for anything from him. She had just informed him, calm and distant, not looking for any drama, money or anything else. Ida was sipping hot tea in England while the father of her child was getting drunk in Japan. But she had made a decision: “He has to know.” This is how their realities collided.

I had a chance to meet Ida a couple of times before I married Hajime. By that time I already knew the whole story, but I never asked for details. I didn’t have the right to do that. Ida and I had a specific arrangement: we never really talked, never asked each other anything significant. Ida never wanted to know whether Hajime and I were planning to have children. I always had a feeling that she wasn’t interested in that at all. Hajime was her only child, and she never remarried. She was married for a year before she became a widow. For the rest of her life, she was focused on pursuing her career as a lawyer. She never came back to Tokyo. Ida hated it. She became successful; her primary focus was matrimonial law. Ida didn’t have any emotions when she was dealing with her clients. She was extremely efficient, focused, and cold-hearted. Ida was a perfect lawyer and a horrible mother. Hajime found out this much later, in one of his attempts at therapy. I was afraid of Ida and preferred not to have any contact with her. It worked out for both of us just fine.

For Tokyo was my true love. Yes, the city was confusing and weird at times (most of the time) but who cares. The thing is, I don’t mind all of that embarrassment. The Japanese don’t seem to care too much either: they smile at me as if they’ve seen a strange foreign creature. Their innate sense of politeness never allows them to stare. They greet me warmly, they smile at me gently, they disregard me peacefully. And I am this massive fucking unicorn stuck in a room with them. Absurd. It is more or less how I feel in Tokyo every day and I love it. In other countries, I’m just a female art curator.

Airport, taxi, hotel. Hotel, taxi, Shibuya. It’s 9 p.m., Friday night. We didn’t come to Shibuya for its famous crossing. Hajime and I are heading out for some shabu shabu, thinly sliced beef boiled in hot water. It’s not enough to experience this city just by looking at it. You have to consume it. It all starts with food, all those incredible dishes capturing your imagination: everything from packaging in grocery stores to the pungent smell of hot udon. It’s the milky texture of salmon on your sushi. It’s that unforgettable taste of green matcha ice cream. Rice cakes. Wagyu beef. Juicy apples from a gourmet market, $25 each. Here, one experiences life either savory deep-fried or sweet and totally raw. The beauty of this endless culinary spectacle is almost blinding. My body and soul are overwhelmed by a food culture which surpasses art. Me and Hajime, we both understand that we can be saved by one thing only.

“Two buckwheat shōchū on the rocks, please.”


“Arigato daimas.”

Hajime doesn’t speak Japanese. He has something Japanese in his appearance. His eyes are this bizarre almond shape; his hair is much darker than mine. But Hajime is not entirely Japanese. I realize then that he must always feel like a unicorn, let it be in Tokyo, London, or Berlin. He never fits in. He doesn’t have a culture which is his own. He doesn’t have a real home. He was raised mainly in Germany and England, but he’s not fond of either. Hajime always misses Japan but whenever we come for a visit, he looks like a crippled child: he can’t speak the language, he can’t write or read in Japanese, he doesn’t know much about the local habits, he lacks cultural background knowledge, and he is totally clueless about most of the contemporary references and cultural codes. Hajime is treated as a foreigner. Wherever he goes.

I don’t drink much hard liquor. Usually, this is one of my rules, but Tokyo smoothly changes that. Alcohol here tastes different, especially shōchū. There are many kinds of shōchū. It can be distilled from almost anything: from rice to brown sugar. Shōchū is as clear as water, but its texture is much softer and denser. It’s 10 p.m. now. I am enjoying some tantalizing food with Hajime in a restaurant hidden from tourists’ prying eyes in noisy Shibuya. I take my shōchū on the rocks, letting the extravagant taste of it mingle with the meat and spices of my meal. At this hour, the usually calm and quiet Japanese start to unveil their hidden wishes. They laugh as loud as they can, they drink and smoke, some of them singing some inadequately cheerful Japanese songs. Hajime and I are the only ones here speaking English, but no one cares. Everything goes on with complete respect towards our unicorn personalities.

I order my fourth shōchū two hours later in a fancy bar in the Roppongi Hills. Shochu with oolong tea works just perfectly as well, calming me down after a series of long flights. The taste is subtle, reminding me of anything but alcohol. Maybe rainbows taste like this. Or stars. Or moonlight. My mind bounces from thought to thought, but I’m not even drunk. I’m high. I’m high on the best of the best: culture, food, and some my all-time, favorite drink. I’m high on this illusion that I am as close to Hajime as I can be. I feel it only here, in Tokyo, the city where the love of my life was made. Japan is impossible to forget. Hajime is impossible not to love. I keep wanting more, much more of both of them. I don’t mind getting overdosed. I crave it.

By the time we knock back our fifth drink, both Hajime and I understand that after this it will be impossible to stop. Somehow we end up back at the hotel and fall asleep, conquering the jetlag. It was a wise decision to make it to the bed.

Politeness, perfection, productivity. These are not the words I think of when I wake up the next morning with a severe headache. I drink a glass of water hastily and then throw up before taking a shower. I don’t handle alcohol too well. We planned to do some reluctant shopping and occasional sightseeing. So we shower together and get dressed, skipping the dull intercontinental breakfast. The buzzing pain in my skull gradually disappears as we stroll through one of Tokyo’s many downtowns in the drizzling November rain: the mountains of glossy skyscrapers, mixed with toy-like side streets. I thrive on this beauty, although I am not supposed to fully understand it, not as a gaijin, a foreigner. Perhaps I am not capable of comprehending the exquisite city planning, the delicate politeness of the careful smiles, the unbearable accuracy of all the details: ranging from clothes to architecture, unique deli shops and traffic management. Tokyo is a world which I was never supposed to discover. Yet how can I not end up being completely blown away by its magic? All these over-the-top experiences remind me that I am a strange creature married to a weird mutant. Two unicorns trapped together trying hard to be better versions of themselves. Japanese versions, maybe.

“I don’t want to leave.”

“But we just arrived last night, Hajime. We don’t have to leave until next Saturday.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Do you want to move to Tokyo?”

Hajime takes a long pause, slowly drinking his black coffee. His mind is clearly somewhere else. I am looking at his plain gray T-Shirt and matching loose trousers. He didn’t shave this morning but he still looks sharp. His half-Japanese eyes suddenly turn to me as his lips finally start moving.

“Would you move to Tokyo with me?”

“Well, not tomorrow but eventually sure, why not. I love it here.”


“In a year?”

“Let’s do it. We can sell our Berlin apartment. We can start over.”

“What exactly do you want to start over?”


Saturday, Ginza, 9 p.m.. We are meeting our friend Matthew. We are eager to see him, expecting a promised two hours of hardcore karaoke battles with strong drinks and bad snacks. We’re waiting in the subway, our meeting point. I watch strangers passing by, fast, thousands of them, a full river of Japanese blood. This is the only way of drowning that feels good. I am part of it. I am slowly dissolving into this meaningless sensation of joy.

Matthew was born in Australia but has lived in Tokyo for almost 20 years now. He came here as a young and curious teenager and ended up getting married to a Japanese girl. Two kids. Years of not-so-happy marriage. He was never quite accepted by his Japanese family nor his Tokyo peers. Matthew is now in his forties, divorced, and always smiling. He reminds me of another kind of unicorn. He treats Tokyo as his playground where he can spread his wings and lose his head completely.

This city is all about crazy entertainment: heavy sumo girl fights, drunk karaoke with half-naked drag queens, its trillions of bars, clubs, and restaurants, almost all of them having some bizarre sexual connotation. Matthew loves that shit. When some young Japanese bird (Matthew primarily refers to females as birds), sits down on his lap, he is utterly delighted. He looks like the happiest boy in a candy store. Last year, we went to a fetish bar called the Black Rose, where I witnessed Matthew’s nipples getting waxed by two Japanese girls dressed in tight leather bikinis. Just a casual Wednesday evening in Tokyo, that’s all. Hajime, Matthew, and I are addicted to this feeling of strange randomness. In this vertigo of odd experiences, Hajime wants to find a place to belong. Matthew needs to have fun. I am looking forward to having a little bit of both.

Tourists and Japanese people alike innocently wander the streets of Tokyo, ignorant of the 7th-floor fetish bar next door, or the club where visitors can take a single Polaroid picture of a naked Japanese girl, or the Goth cafe where girls prefer to hold a cock in each hand instead of a drink. Stop me now, don’t let me keep going. In Tokyo, anyone can discover thousands of these kinds of places. There is no point in getting offended, surprised, or freaked out. There are lots of hidden gems like this, not available to the masses. As a tourist, you might think at first that Tokyo is not as much fun as they say but that is only because you don’t know where to look for fun; a peculiar kind of fun.

This time we start in Ginza. Matthew is taking us to “some dodgy place where we can experience some spice.” Hajime is stoked; I am more nervous. You never know where you’re going to end up on a night out with Matthew. I wouldn’t be so nervous in Europe or in the USA or in any other place in the world, but this is Japan, and here anything is possible. I mean, literally anything.

It’s raining cats and dogs. We take a taxi to the secret venue. Matthew slowly, patiently teaches us a phrase which we need to use as a password to enter the club. It sounds mysterious, even in Japanese. I’m curious enough to ask, “Matthew, what does it mean?” He smirks and answers, “Tonight, I will try.” He told us earlier that he had no idea what the club was like. Matthew’s Japanese colleague confessed to him that the place was “quite risque.” I decide to focus on learning that phrase instead of pondering what’s in store for us. Meticulously, I repeat it in my mind, over and over again. “Tonight, I will try.” When we get out of the taxi, and I’m standing under the pouring rain, I believe that I really will try anything tonight. I am ready to take some risks.

The club is nestled on the fourth floor of some obscure building with a cozy grocery shop on the ground floor. The only entrance sign shows a string of numbers written in white on a black background. As soon as we step out of the tiny elevator, the three of us are trapped in a small, badly-lit corridor. We ring the bell, and a Japanese man in a black T-Shirt pulls open the heavy door. He looks quite relaxed when he sees us: not too friendly, but not too cold either. Matthew immediately starts speaking in rapid Japanese, and the man, a little surprised, continues examining us. It’s clear that the bodyguard doesn’t speak any English and without Matthew, we wouldn’t make it in. He responds with something unclear and gives us some forms to fill out. So far, the club experience reminds me of a bank appointment. On page 2, I leave check marks where Matthew tells me to. On page 3, I write my date of birth and other personal details. It’s all in Japanese, of course. I still have no idea what lies within, behind another large, shining door. We are in some waiting room with these boring papers. I start sweating. What in the world are we getting ourselves into?

Next — money. An entrance fee of $100 each, cash. Matthew translates that we need to take off our shoes. “Yeah, sure,” I say. I’ve just decided that tonight I will try not to be surprised by whatever happens to me. Total Zen. I am a unicorn. I am just a unicorn who wants to be a better version of itself. Look, I am a barefoot unicorn from now on.

We pass the money to the man at the entrance, we get rid of the papers, and in exchange, he opens the next door. The room beyond welcomes us with a sticky darkness, light hidden within its corners. I see 10, maybe 15 people in a cramped space. It reminds me of a typical living room poorly remade to look like a bar: black walls, black floors, black ceiling, a bar, and a couple of mats on the floor, black as well, of course. Most of the people are naked. Wait, are they? It’s too dark to tell really. I realize as soon as my eyes get used to the shadowy gloom that many are at least partially unclothed. I have little time to think it through before a skinny Japanese man in super tight leather boxers appears in front of me, immediately taking us to another small room. He starts giving us instructions in Japanese, with Matthew translating the most relevant parts to us. Matthew is smiling happily.

“The room for couples is there, the room for singles is that one. Couples can only play with couples, singles — only with singles.” I notice a young Japanese lady exiting the shower, completely naked. I see her pink nipples, and I slowly reassure myself that I am just a unicorn. I’m back to my mantra. We are advised to get undressed or pick some costumes. Hajime doesn’t seem to be too excited by the prospect of getting dressed up as a horny nurse or a Japanese underage girl. I am already thinking about what lingerie I’m wearing. I am ready for everything. I am a unicorn. Total Zen.

We find out that we can leave our clothes on if we want. Everything else must be locked away: no photos or videos are allowed in the club. We return to one of the previous rooms where the crowd is eagerly welcoming us, cheering with some animal-like excitement. We three are the only foreigners. I grab some water at the bar, almost frenziedly: it’s hot in the room, perhaps to ensure that none of these half-naked people catch a cold on this rainy November day. We sit down on some mats in a circle of people who are drinking, smoking cigarettes, and talking. I am surrounded by naked female nipples, all except mine — I am still wearing my tight skirt and matching gray T-shirt. I somehow feel sexier than anyone else here right now.

It takes me a while to understand that we are in a private swingers club. The penny finally drops when two Japanese guys try to touch me with some unexpected passion. A naked woman sits down next to Matthew, casually placing his hands on her not-so-young breasts. So where are we? I look at Hajime and he knows, he knows exactly where we are. Either I’m too naïve or too young because I’m still clueless or I just haven’t been to a swingers club before (it’s the latter). I am feeling calm rather than excited. My eyes are naturally big but now they have tripled in size. I look around the room. Japanese music plays softly in the background as the club’s clients allow their gazes to wander, eyeing each others’ bodies, silently evaluating. They calculate using some formula tucked into their minds and private body parts. These eyes are studying us, the tall unicorn, my charming half-Japanese husband, and Matthew, a child of love from Australia.

The woman who had placed Matthew’s hands on her breasts — technically still young enough to be classified as a bird — is now sitting on his lap, kindly massaging his penis with her juicy hips. He touches her boobs without much passion, more out of curiosity. Matthew even manages to look bored. I take another sip of ice water and try not to look at her star-shaped breasts. I don’t want her to take it as a sign that I might be interested. I catch myself thinking that out of all these people, I am only interested in Hajime. I am sitting on the mat, safely nesting in between his legs, holding one of his ankles: as if looking for some protection from all the lecherous eyes turned in my direction. I am dying to know whether Hajime is eager to experience another pair of breasts, just like Matthew, or whether he’s still primarily interested in mine. I watch him sipping his beer nervously. I catch his honest smile in the darkness. I am happy to smile back — a brief, innocent exchange among the boobs, dicks, and curious gazes. I guess it would have been easier to have some alcohol flowing through our blood, but we did take some pills given to us by Matthew on the way here. I’m not sure that the drugs are working or that we even needed them at all because the place itself is way too surreal.

My views on sex are clearly different from the bar’s clientele. Instead of hungrily jumping on a Japanese gentleman or one of the many half-naked ladies, I prefer to study my Hajime’s handsome face, blind to everything else. I still find it a bit confusing that I am so turned on by my husband.

Our marriage has not been easy. Some days I am pleasantly surprised by how much love we have. Other days I am horrified by the amounts of anger, hate, and dissatisfaction we place in each other. It has never been stable and smooth. From the day we met, we’ve been on a painful rollercoaster, diving into pain, breathing in lust, exhaling with relief when we climb out of yet another valley. I never could get used to it. I always had my emergency suitcase pre-packed.

In the meantime, Matthew’s new female friend takes his hand firmly and guides him to one of the rooms. Tipsy Matthew giggles and leaves us behind. I can’t tell whether he even likes this woman. I guess Matthew just wants to play.

The room they’ve entered is right behind us. The wall is semi-transparent so that people can participate or watch.

“I wonder what they’re doing in there,” I say.

“I guess Matthew will get a blowjob or something,” Hajime replies.

“I hope he’ll have fun.”

We are both smiling, looking at each other. I notice an undertone of light nervousness in our voices. We are trapped in this foreign environment and we try to stick together, without losing sight of each other along the way.

We continue sitting, observing. Soon I lose all interest in what is happening around us, even though the action is intensifying with every minute. Some kind of show begins, and I see a skinny boy in his early twenties in the middle of a room with a mic. The lights emphasize his fake tan and extra tight neon briefs. I turn to whisper something into Hajime’s ear, and when I look back at the stage, I notice the man’s penis is carelessly hanging out of the briefs. It is not a particularly impressive specimen. That guy continues to talk in a high-pitched tone, holding his microphone with one hand, while pointing at people with his half-erect penis with the other. He speaks Japanese, a beautiful language that now sounds evil. A few people suddenly appear on stage —“volunteers,” I figure — and they start challenging one another in all kinds of stupid ways. I look at Hajime’s face. It is clear that he would prefer if the blonde Japanese guy had his penis back in his briefs.

“I love you,” as I whisper into Hajime’s ear, I immediately realize how inappropriate these words sound here. A warm smile pops up as he replies:

“I love you more than anything”.

More and more bare dicks continue to appear in the shadows of the improvised stage. Pink glitter mingles with bare skin. Tasteless pop music is getting louder, along with the crowd’s voices, intensifying every second. The air in the room is stale and heavy from cigarette smoke. The darkness consumes the light. People devour each other. It’s midnight now, and it’s only the beginning. It feels like there is no way back and from now on it will only get worse and worse.

“Do you like anyone here? I mean, do you want anyone?” I ask Hajime.

“No, not really. It’s strange but I only like you.”

“Same. You know, I am pretty sure that I don’t want to have sex with anyone here. Except for you. But I guess after this we’ll have to wait at least until tomorrow. I just want to get in a hot shower, lie in bed with you and cuddle in silence. I need some romance to compensate for all this craziness.”

We both laugh anxiously. When I glance back at the stage, I notice a girl shyly unveiling her small boobs, surrounded by five male volunteers. The audience goes crazy, indulging the show. I look around. Many people have arrived since we came. The room is full now. I see all the other bodies crawling closer to me. I want to get out of here. The only thing I want to do in this club is talk to the man I married. I want to take a long, cleansing hot shower with him in our hotel room. I need to feel his hands on my back. I want to fall asleep in his arms. Unfortunately, Matthew is still busy with his bird.

“You know, I think I’ve learned something about myself tonight, Hajime.”


“Sex to me means much more than shoving dicks and tits into some random strangers’ faces. I care about what we have. It sounds extremely old-fashioned, but I truly enjoy making love to you. I don’t want this kind of swinger scene in my life. I think I’m over it, I’ve already done all this kind of crazy stuff. It’s just not so much fun at the end. It’s empty and pointless. Look at all these people here; they all look so lonely, just observe. Some of them are covering it up with a little fake courage, but it’s just loneliness in the end. Do you know what I mean?”

“I’m so relieved. I am extremely happy to hear that from you. You might have said something completely different, and then I don’t know how I would respond. But I know what you mean. I agree. I’ve been there myself, I did it before. It’s not fun. I just want to go back to the hotel with you. As soon as possible.”

I’m studying Hajime’s face. I see his bizarre eyes in the darkness. I see his gaze, the way he looks just at me; his lips, curved in a shadow of a gentle smile. This is when I realize how happy I am. Having him in my life is one of the best gifts I’ve received so far. I don’t want to fuck it up. It doesn’t matter that we had another big fight on the way to Tokyo where I ended up demanding a divorce and shouting in front of the gate that I couldn’t care less about him. It doesn’t matter that only a couple of days ago Hajime wrote me an email saying how much he hated me. Our relationship was always turbulent, but right now, right now at this very moment, in the swingers club in Tokyo, we both felt right about what we had. We both felt love. It’s strange that sometimes we have to put ourselves in weird surroundings to experience it. And here we are, in the middle of this wild raging show, hugging each other gently as if it was our wedding day. I felt protected and deeply adored. I didn’t want this feeling to end. Hajime’s body was warm; it was the body I knew, it felt like it was mine. This is the body I loved. This is the only man I needed in my life.

The captivating moment is soon gone. We continue our discussion after enjoying some more refreshments, glancing back occasionally at the room where Matthew is apparently still busy. A couple of strangers have joined the show, watching whatever is going on between Matthew and the girl with the star-shaped tits. Hajime and I have both relaxed after our conversation. It is such bliss to discover something new and pleasant about yourself and your partner, something that neither of us knew until this trip to Japan. Turbulence. Our whole life was built on never-ending turbulence.

“I think I’ll have one more water.” In the midst of this dark and alien night, I retreat into my thoughts, reflecting on yesterday evening: shared between us two alone, with shōchū and shabu shabu. I realize that the future holds more evenings like yesterday and less of what we’ve discovered just now. It makes me feel good, relieved.

Finally, Matthew comes back. The girl he just spent the last 30 minutes with quickly loses interest in him. She notices the stage and runs over to it right away. She quickly reapplies her red lipstick and jumps onto the platform, rapidly starting to undress a man whom I’m sure she’s never met before. She’s busy putting his penis into her mouth, casually, like a straw into a refreshing Mojito.

“So how was it? Worth a $100?” I ask Matthew. He is watching the stage, a tiny bit perplexed by the bird’s unstoppable enthusiasm.

“Nah, not really.” Matthew smiles shyly. We all start laughing.

“Let’s go somewhere else.” Hajime shouts over the raging crowd.

“Good idea,” Matthew replies.

We take our stuff from the lockers in silence. We can’t say much to each other on the way to the taxi. I feel that I’ve just seen a ghost, or too many ghosts trapped in one small, awfully lonely place. We are all relieved to leave.

Sitting in a taxi, I find myself staring, astonished by the driver’s white gloves. All taxi drivers in Tokyo wear these white gloves, I knew that before, but I can’t take my eyes off of them right now. I am trying to make these two realities coexist: one of the pristine white gloves and the other which we discovered tonight in the club. Purity and scum. What I saw tonight was not the Tokyo I fell in love with. But tonight I fell in love with Hajime again.

Can anyone trust a city? You can like it, love it, be mad about it, but the chances that you know it, I mean really know the city and what lies beneath its sheets, are low. There are dark undergrounds and undiscovered spaces; there is always something escaping from your grasp. There’s always something changing and evolving. Perhaps it’s the same with people.

The night streets are covered with the sleek sweat of heavy rain, bottomless and damp. A mix of my recent impressions from the club collide with memories of Mount Fuji, the beauty of Japanese art and literature, with culture, with politeness, with everything I adore about Japan. All these realities don’t seem to coincide. Perhaps it all makes sense to a Japanese, but not to a foreigner.

We are on our way to some other, regular bar this time. Everyone is silent and timid, and suddenly Matthew says, “You know, it was that woman’s birthday today. She turned 40.”

“Wow, what a way to celebrate,,” I say and we all laugh again, we are loud and happy to be out of that place. Suddenly we’re back to normal — we make careless jokes and giggle. “I hope when I turn 40, I won’t be busy giving blowjobs to random people,” I add to Hajime.

After a quick drink at a bar, we drop Mathew off. He shyly apologizes for the swingers club, admitting that it was a little too much even for him. Hajime and I can’t stop making stupid jokes. “I hope you can get some rest, Matthew,” I say, and give him a warm hug. His tall figure slowly disappears into the distance, making its way through the shining bustle of the night city.

“You can’t have any other evening with Matthew. Look, he went out with a married couple, and still managed to get a blowjob from a birthday girl. The world is truly his playground: we are merely visitors who happened to play in his company,” Hajime says with a soft, friendly smile.

As we fall asleep, spooning, I realize:

“You know what the worst thing about that club was?”


“They didn’t even ask for the secret word.”

Cambodia, Siem Reap
The Blowjob Cocktail

“Could you please make sure that we get the best English-speaking tour guide in Siem Reap?”

“Yes, sure. I will try, okay sir? I will really try. Okay? Thank you very much, sir. Thank you.”

The concierge at our small boutique hotel was either a bit slow or just ambiguously dreamy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet — she is looking at me with a soft, milky smile. Her dark hazelnut gaze catches mine, all the typical European shades of blue, with some buttered happiness. Why is she so happy, this extra-polite Cambodian girl? Is it because she is enjoying her life in this small country, heavily damaged by wars and bombs? Maybe she does enjoy it, or perhaps she doesn’t. What if this concierge doesn’t like me at all. She doesn’t have to. And even if she finds my strange, typically-white appearance atrocious, she hides it well. Her smile reminds me of the glimpses of the early rising sun I saw this morning on the way from the airport. Where does this sweet smile come from, if not Cambodia? If love, as they say, was invented in India, then hearty smiles come from Cambodia. That’s what Hajime told me when we arrived here on a long flight from Tokyo.

The same concierge advises us to rest for half an hour before the tour starts. She is busy looking for the right guide to show two jet-lagged European tourists the surroundings of dusty Siem Reap. It’s just enough time to make a stop at the bar before we hit our first tour. When you have enough time for a drink — do it. That’s the fourth rule of the travelling. That’s what Hajime told me when we first met in Paris.

It’s around 30 degrees Celsius outside, and it’s not even midday yet. The bright golden sun is cooking us all in a greasy city pot: salted by sweat, boiled by the heat.

“Do I really need to wear boots in this kind of weather?” I ask. “I wish I could just wear sandals. It’s so freakishly hot.”

“Yes, you should wear boots,” Hajime replies with confidence. “We’ll be walking all day around Angkor Wat. Sure, you could wear sandals, but you won’t be able to see your feet after from all the dirt and dust. Stick to the boots.”

Hajime was in Cambodia about five years ago with his ex-girlfriend. It’s a strange feeling to visit a place knowing that some time ago your lover was already here and he was busy eagerly fucking someone else. Now, it’s different. It’s me this time. I wonder, how different it feels for Hajime? What if it was much more fun with his ex-girlfriend? I’ve seen her only once, purely by accident. Hajime and I were at the train station when she suddenly appeared, Hajime actually had to hide behind a juice stand, so she wouldn’t see him. I took that brief moment to study her calm face and her thin, colorless lips. The woman didn’t notice me; she didn’t know who I was. I was just a stranger to her. What I felt wasn’t jealousy, but a wicked sensation of seeing into the future, imagining that one day Hajime might be hiding just like this from me.

It’s my first time in Cambodia. I still feel adrift — in other words, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m finishing a too-strong mango daiquiri at the bar, trying not to overthink anything. It helps that my brain is half frozen from the ice and the other half is mute due to severe jetlag. Before we leave the empty bar, yet another happy face (again, how do they even do that?!) takes away my glass at the bar. I smile at the young lady and she smiles back.

“Did we leave a tip?” I ask Hajime.

“Of course. I always tip in Cambodia, that’s the only way they can survive,” Hajime replies, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe five years ago his ex-girlfriend already asked the same dumb question.

We jump in a tuk-tuk. Golden yellow seats with violet stripes welcome us, along with a cheerful overweight driver in his best salmon-colored shirt. He looks tired but still smiles joyfully. Later Hajime explains that the driver spends the nights right in his tuk-tuk. Then we meet our tour guide.

“Hi, Hi! Welcome to Cambodia, you guys! Welcome to Siem Reap!”

The first thing I notice is the way he talks: super-fast English with some accent that is impossible to detect. It sounds like a vibrant mix of three or five various languages all spoken fluently at the same time. He wears a black Nike baseball cap atop funky tousled hair (dyed ginger), a sleek tour-guide shirt with a government logo that looks extremely serious, tight jeans, and $3 second-hand shoes, on their last leg. He talks fast and he moves even more swiftly. The tour-guide smiles and happily waves his long dark arms. He seems to have a lot of energy in his blood. Hajime and I look dead compared to him.

“Okay, guys. My name is Abi. My real name is too long for tourists to remember, so I invented a new name. Not bad, huh?”

Not bad indeed. “Nice to meet you, Abi,” we say, giving him our full attention.

Our tuk-tuk is moving fast, overtaking other vehicles. The horny wind blows in my face, ripping off the filthy city dust.

It’s been 15 minutes or so since we first met Abi, and I suddenly realize that we’ve been laughing nonstop the entire time. Instead of boring us to death with frustrating history facts, he changes subjects wildly by the minute, surprising us each time by delivering a new act. I feel like we are watching the circus. I am a bit confused and very much entertained at the same time. Hajime is clearly enjoying it. He is smiling non-stop at Abi as if asking for more.

We quickly bond with Abi without knowing any personal details about each others’ lives: they’re not important now anyway. We briefly exchanged a couple of words about politics and lifestyle, shout out some jokes and enjoy some laughs.

“How is it even possible that we not only got the tour guide who speaks the best English, but also the best tour guide possible?” I quickly whisper in Hajime’s ear when Abi is poetically watching the rice fields passing by. All of a sudden he looks as serious as the government logo on his shirt.

It seems that Abi needs only two seconds to recharge and then the show goes on: quick jokes about all those Russians selling bombs to the Cambodians, interlaced with a few remarks about how Abi is the best ladies’ man in the country.

“So, yeah, I usually have one girlfriend per year,” he explains. “I’ve already been with girls from Japan, China, Korea, there was a French one too… No girls from Cambodia. Why? Too strict. No holding hands, no going out, no movies, or kisses. If you love me — marry me, this kind of thing. And there is something else I’ve got to tell you… Oh, wait, we need to get out now. Guys, welcome to the first temple.”

Abi is a not only a local superhero among the female population; turns out he is a historian and a university professor as well. He’s been making a living since he was 12 years old, and he knows the rough streets of Siem Reap, perhaps too well by now.

“When I was little, my mommy had to work so much to make only $1 per day. It is nothing, but she was always saving at least 50 cents for me and my younger brother’s education. Every day.” He talks about such things carelessly, as if he didn’t have to go through it: it’s just an impressive story to tell, some unusual fairytale of some sort.

“No need to get all sad about it now,” he shrugs. And he goes on, changing from one subject to another, peppering our conversation with questions that range from somewhat intimate to completely silly. He starts a charming interrogation as soon as we finish looking at the first temple and are back in our tuk-tuk with a driver who is even more tired by now. We have only about 15 minutes until we reach the next temple, but Abi successfully manages to ask questions of the broadest range possible.

“So where do you guys come from?”

“Do you agree that Japanese girls are the most sexually open women in the world?”

“Is this your first time in Cambodia?”

“Are you here on a honeymoon?”

“Do you understand that your husband will be the last man you will ever sleep with?”

“Will you come tonight to my Blowjob Cocktail bar?”

Blowjob Cocktail bar? At first, I thought I misheard him — the roads were busy with noisy tuk-tuks running one after another, tourists shouting everywhere, bikes, foreign music playing, someone singing — a colorful blend of sounds which were not supposed to coexist in one reality, now brought together by some accident. I had to repeat the name of the bar out loud to share my amusement. Abi burst out laughing and passionately starts explaining the story behind the bar’s name, which was, in fact, real.

“I just thought it was a good name, a unique name. Because why not? So I went for it and invented a Blowjob Cocktail too. I can’t tell you the recipe just yet, but I’d say that it’s super popular among party people, oh yeah! I think it’s because of the coconut rum. So, will you come for the Blowjobs tonight?”

“Of course we will.” It is the first and, most likely, last time in my life I was this casually offered a blowjob.

I am still thinking about this Blowjob bar, busy fantasizing, a little perplexed, about how exactly a cocktail called Blowjob could taste. All of a sudden I am distracted by our entrance to Angkor Wat: the biggest temple on Earth. Not a single tourist. The laughs of the previous tour group still hang in the complete stillness of the temple air. With one hand, Abi shows us the most popular spots for taking romantic pictures, and with the other motions towards the wall carvings, explaining the daily life of the Khmer people.

“Guys, look at this girl carved on the wall. See how beautiful she is? I think she likes me. Hey you girl, what are you doing? Feeding cows? What’s your name? Are you on Facebook?” Abi makes a hilarious scene, effortlessly bringing the ancient people back to life. Other tour guides, suddenly appear out of nowhere with their sheep-like groups, all wearing the same official shirts with the government logo. They get distracted by his performance and start laughing. Abi doesn’t care about other visitors; he’s putting on a show just for us. In a second Abi becomes deadly serious, explaining that the people of Cambodia built these temples with love, and not because someone forced them to. It is what pure Cambodian love is, apparently.

It’s hot outside, 40 degrees Celsius or more. I can’t take my eyes off a sign which kindly explains clothing which reveals the knees or shoulders is not recommended around Angkor Wat, so as not to disturb the monks which reside in a temple nearby. I, meanwhile, am wearing high-waisted shorts and a top which nicely opens at the shoulders. It seems that Abi doesn’t notice any signs:

“I know where we need to go because I remember, not because I follow instructions,” he says. “By the way, my eyes are not so good, but I can see the good-looking girls pretty much wherever I go, oh yeah!” I understand his sense of humour more and more with every joke he makes. There’s definitely a clear pattern.

Noise, dust, poverty, and dirt. Welcome to Siem Reap. In this mass of empty plastic bottles, $1 fruit shakes filled with sugar, and dusty pebbles which always get in your shoes, the smiles of Cambodians blossom like rare flowers: one look and you melt. I melt too, but not only because of the warm welcomes — a fourth Mango Daiquiri from the Sun Bar is doing its job. There are countries where you need to be either drunk or high to comprehend what’s going on. In Cambodia, you need to be both.

“I like open cultures where I can say words like blowjob or glory hole without being punished,” Abi comments while preparing his signature cocktail, the Blowjob.”

By the time we get to his bar, it is already evening. The orange sun is down and, finally, it is much darker — at least this way you can pretend that there is not so much dirt on the streets. The sweet taste of coconut is tingling the tip of my tongue. I rarely drink cocktails, but in this evening heat of late November, a cold Blowjob seems like an excellent idea. The bar is really a pink car, five seats, neatly parked on a busy road. Whoever is thirsty is welcome to stop by and enjoy a cocktail on the asphalt. We are sitting on cheap plastic pink chairs. Abi is chatting cheerfully, still dressed in his tour guide uniform with a serial number (there are more than 3,000 official tour guides in Siem Reap, and he is number 2491). Abi is fixing one cocktail after another. He says that most likely he’s not going to sleep at all tonight: tourists party at night and they need fuel. Abi wants to make some extra money which is much more exciting than relaxing to him. He will stay up but we won’t: tomorrow morning we need to get up at 4:30 a.m.. Hajime and I head back to the hotel, tipsy and tired, tired from the sun, sweat, sand, and Abi’s non-stop chatter. We need to sleep.

The AC is on full blast in our room. When we get up in the morning, it’s still dark outside: Hajime, still half-asleep reaches for his warm sweater — dark, cold, are we in Russia or what? The next minute, we’re sitting in the tuk-tuk, heading to one of the biggest temples to see the sunrise. Abi is with us of course. He’s wearing the same shirt and jeans and blabbing as intensely as the day before. He slept for only an hour. The rest of the night he was busy mixing Blowjobs for some hot Japanese girls: one of them seemed to really like Abi, but she got away in the middle of the night. Abi doesn’t want to talk about it; no time — he has too many questions.

“Tanya, so you’re 100% Russian, right? Is it true that no one smiles in Russia? I read that smiling is bad in Moscow. I went to Moscow myself three years ago, but it was winter. Minus 30 degrees! I didn’t leave the hostel. Crazy, huh? Too cold, too cold. No one smiled.”

“Well, people smile of course, but it’s not like in Cambodia. They smile when they have a good reason.”

“In Cambodia — everyone smiles all the time. Because if not smile, how to live?”

Driving through the dark, intriguing forests, I feel what I haven’t felt for weeks, not since this long trip across Asia: it’s chilly outside. I enjoy this sudden change of weather. Abi says that right now, it’s perhaps 18 degrees Celsius. Of course, it’s too cold for him.

Some people thrive on beauty, harmony, or the precise order of things. In Siem Reap, none of this is possible. There is not much of elegance in this city: a small settlement of around 200,000 people that is just hectic. Sometimes it seems that there are as many tourists as locals — the foreigners eager to dive into the variety of cheap fruits and cut-price cocktails, the locals are keen to offer tuk-tuk rides, affordable amateur massages, and even less expensive clothes. Cambodia, after all, is the world’s biggest sweatshop: here in the local markets, one can easily find anything which is sold around the globe but ten times cheaper. “Lady, want to look? Look is free!” Young market sellers try hard to push their baggy trousers with elephant prints for $8 each, when you can buy them for $2 or less if you just haggle a bit harder.

The beauty here is not about clothes, architecture, hairstyles, or cars — the typically beautiful, the world that we know or the world we’ve gotten used to does not have any value in Cambodia. Here, in Siem Reap, and in Cambodia in general, the beauty is in the colorful sunsets, the lost magic of Angkor Wat, the large rice fields topped with palms and, most of all, the honest smiles of the people. For a foreigner, it takes anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to switch their perspective. Honestly, I’m still having a hard time.

Suddenly, we arrive. One of the most prominent temples in front of us — still dark, hardly visible to us. Our driver is already setting up a hammock for himself in the tuk-tuk so he can sleep while we are peacefully watching the sunrise. I feel somewhat bourgeois in Cambodia. It turns out I am privileged all of a sudden. I never thought of myself this way. Abi confirms that our driver sleeps like this every night, in his tuk-tuk — he doesn’t have a home, a real home. His family with too many kids to feed lives somewhere in the countryside. The driver saves the money he makes for them. He is wearing the same salmon shirt. He smiles at me as we take off and I know that he’ll be there, with that same smile, to offer a bottle of cold water as soon as we get back.

It’s 5:10 a.m.. Abi shows us the best spot to welcome a new day, a place where he usually takes all his tourists. There are so many people staring at the temple already; hundreds of them arriving every minute. I hear German, English, French, and some other languages I fail to recognize. Somehow, we get surrounded by a group of noisy Chinese tourists. Well, how is it possible not to? Here, at this supposedly peaceful location they’re loudly consuming their continental breakfasts and taking meaningless pictures with the longest selfie-sticks I’ve ever seen.

“I could have made a lot of money with people from China, but I don’t want to work with them,” Abi explains, wearing his fake Ray-Ban shades in the dark. “They pay good, but you need to take them to all these Chinese shops, to all those special Chinese places to eat, manage them, and they never listen.” Abi stops, then muses, “In Asia, girls want their skin white, in Europe dark, why?”

“I guess you always want what you don’t have,” Hajime answers, smiling.

Isn’t it why we travel, after all? We fly, drive, and walk to all these new countries and cities to compare them to what we already have, to what we already know. Often, we do it on a subconscious level, without really understanding what’s happening. And then if we see something that moves us in a new place, something that we are not used to — like coconuts and ripe mangos, fresh sushi, sandy safaris, wild casinos, or genuine hospitality — we are desperate to come back for more. When we are faced with something that we don’t like or can’t understand, we sigh with relief and come back home — actually, we think, our home is not so horrible after all.

Abi was born in 1989, on the day the Berlin Wall fell. His grandfather was a teacher under the Khmer Rouge; his grandmother was a French translator. Abi talks warmly about his family, but most passionately about his mother.

“When my brother and I were little, my mommy worked all the time — but now she is like a queen. She lives in an apartment and goes to clean other people’s houses only four times per week,” he says on the way to another temple. Now Abi supports his mother and his older brother who lives in Phnom Penh and is studying to become a doctor. Abi also has a son in Japan. He wires his ex-girlfriend some money occasionally but not as often as he wants to.

“We Skype once per month maybe, and once per year, I send money to my son,” Abi explains. “I am a bad daddy, I know this, I know this.” His laugh becomes heartbreaking when he goes on to admit that his son didn’t recognize him when they Skyped last month.

The sun is already high up. We are tired of walking and talking. It is our last day with Abi and tonight is our last evening in Siem Reap before driving to Phnom Penh. We are saying goodbye to Abi’s Blowjob Bar. By now I’ve gotten used to its concept: happily chilling on the road, watching cars and scooters passing by so close that I could raise a toast to them with my pink plastic glass. Abi is eagerly preparing our last Blowjob cocktails, casually making comments about his day.

“Yeah, so, after our morning, a six-hour excursion to the floating villages and the Lady Temple, I went to the university to teach for three hours. Then I opened the bar. I think tonight I will be working late hours again. It’s the Water Festival, and there are too many thirsty tourists. Can’t miss them — haha!” Abi is telling his story with a tired smile — never complaining, enjoying life, and enjoying girls, in particular. Tonight he is wearing tight black pants and an even more impenetrable black shirt, looking extremely Japanese with his chaotic haircut. I’m finishing my last Blowjob, he asks me a question, keenly inquiring about our upcoming journey.

“You know what’s the most popular place in Phnom Penh?”


“The traffic jams, haha!”

The next morning, we start a 10-hour car ride. This time our driver is very silent. I am not sure he speaks English at all — I assume this is the reason behind his almost robotic stillness.

We’ve been on the road in the car for two hours, and it already feels like that hyper Abi, his sugary Blowjob Cocktails, and all that bizarre Cambodian charm never really existed.

Phnom Penh welcomes us with the best mango daiquiri, served chilled in the Foreign Correspondents’ Bar. The dusty memories from Siem Reap slowly drift away even further. There was so much of Abi over the past days, Hajime and I barely spoke to each other. After days spent with tour guides, I just felt like I wanted to be alone in a fresh hotel room, silent. Hajime intends to hit the hotel bar by the pool. I am lying in my black lingerie next to a massive fan in one of the smaller, cuter hotels, looking out the window, finally enjoying my solitude. I think I was able to relish my time alone because I knew exactly where Hajime was, what he was doing, and when he was going to be back. Since Tokyo, which was a yet another new highlight in our marriage, things had calmed down. We weren’t fighting anymore, but we weren’t incredibly loving either. We both needed to keep some distance.

In a couple of days when we fly to our next destination, I find something in the pocket of my leather jacket. A Polaroid of Abi, optimistically looking at the camera in his dark shades, smiling and holding my first Blowjob cocktail. I leave it behind, hiding the photo in one of the books at the airport bookshop. This has nothing to do with my real life.

Changi airport, Singapore
Tiger beer, unlimited amounts

We have a stopover in Singapore. As Hajime and I are walking out of the aircraft, I start pondering: How many flights have I already had in my life? It was just a random thought. It felt good numbering things, and it was making life more comfortable. I didn’t share this feeling with Hajime because we haven’t been talking for a couple of days now.

He is right next to me, unfortunately. We flew Economy, so my long legs were half-way squeezed into his during the whole flight. Hajime pretended that he didn’t notice.

Since we’d left Phom Penn, we’d barely talked. That’s the beautiful thing about travelling: on the road, you always have an excuse not to talk much to the people you’re with. It’s easy to cover up the wish to be left alone when you travel. Sure, there are just so many new impressions that you need some time to digest them all. Just need some alone time after all that sightseeing. Just want to keep it quiet. That was both mine and Hajime’s excuse for the last few days. As we were resting from all the talking, we got in a strange spiral of some easily visible irritation towards each other. I despised the amounts of weed Hajime was consuming every day. Hajime hated my judgmental face and the fact that I could exist without additional substances. To piss him off, I was buying my own weed to smoke in the mornings before he woke up.

I could always feel that exact moment when our love was turning bad. After getting incredibly high on each other, on drugs and alcohol, there was this bitter hangover afterwards. The ecstasy of affection would often leave this heavy sourness behind. As soon as we would reach another peak of this precious feeling, the next second it was gone, it was over, it was somewhere behind us, and we were rushing down the hill.

It would be either me or him, but there was always someone who felt it first. And that was the fragile moment when love turned into hate. We would look at each other with different eyes, witnessing all the flaws, noticing everything that we detested. Everything that we loathed. With the precision of a surgeon, we were cutting each other’s old wounds open, finding out what was beneath that rotten skin with an intense interest fueled by disgust. There was never anything good. Each time we did this, our old injuries would begin to bleed anew.

Usually, it would start because I’d suddenly get tired of Hajime’s erratic behavior. Of him almost never honoring his own words or promises. After each night, filled with liquor and drugs, he would promise “to get back into shape”, “to drink and smoke less”, “to be good”. However, he would quickly forget about it by the next evening. Evenings were too tempting. There was always some fantastic wine around. There was always a way to get drugs. There was always so much hiding in the darkness of the night. Hajime was curious enough to check every corner.

My hangovers were worse than his so I couldn’t go on forever. I needed my breaks once in a while. I needed some days at least with an illusion of me being myself, being sharp and going to bed sober. I was okay being sober. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I still could handle myself pretty well. From time to time I could survive dry for a couple of days, weeks, without anything that would change how my brain works. Hajime was different. Depressed Hajime was extremely frustrated, and this deep annoyance was keeping him from accepting himself. His own character wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t smart enough, handsome enough, or wealthy enough. That’s why Hajime was always looking for something to alter his mind. He wanted to run away as far as possible from his crooked personality. On days like this, he saw me not as his wife but as someone who was standing in his way of sweet and long-awaited self-destruction.

“Hajime, how do you feel?”

“I feel like I need a drink.”

“Let’s get a foot massage or something. Or have lunch in the lounge. We still have four hours before our next flight.”

“I just need a drink. I’m very thirsty.”

As a compromise, we went to some restaurant with over-priced crabs and other local delicacies. It was in the afternoon, middle of the work week. The restaurant was crowded and smelled like old food, bathed in oil. We sat down, and Hajime ordered a beer, without looking at the menu. He was tired; his skin was gray. In a minute he was already sipping the beer while I had only just went trough the chef’s offers. By the time I ordered some fish soup, Hajime was already drinking his second beer. I was already irritated with him getting drunk off some cheap wine on the plane, and now I couldn’t even look in his direction. Hajime knew what was happening. He knew all my mood changes precisely, he could feel it immediately. To piss me off more, he would always ask anyway.

“What’s up with you?”


“You’ve been very unfriendly and cold for the past two days.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Hajime. Just stop it, please. You know what’s up.”

I didn’t feel like discussing my supposed “bad mood” because we’d already talked about it too many times in the past. By this time, I’d gotten sick of reminding Hajime how much I missed him. How much I missed Hajime, the true Hajime, the real one, the Hajime I haven’t spoken to in years: sober and clean. Maybe the real problem was that I didn’t know him like this at all.

I couldn’t remember a single day when he wouldn’t drink or get high. I only had morning hours to witness a shade of the real Hajime, the only one I loved, but mornings were always too difficult, so his mood was terrible unless he was high on too much coffee on an empty stomach. I knew exactly how it was going to be from the day we met. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with him. Our relationship was just an illusion of something good. Perhaps I never knew his real, pure, unmodified, clean self. When we met, and we met in a bar, we were both already half drunk. Our relationship was just a pathetic attempt for us to settle for something, for at least this: a never-ending, love-hate relationship between a depressed addict and me, a woman with far too many strange issues. That was the truth. And I still married Hajime. I eagerly said “yes” to all the horror. There was no one else to blame.

My father was an alcoholic, of course. He was mainly drinking because he was desperate. Life just didn’t seem to be worthy of itself. My father’s primary interests were drinking and cooking. A strange mix, right? Apparently, he enjoyed making food. I remember how once he prepared this peculiar bright orange-colored dish. I was thinking, what am I eating? I just got back from school and was starving, so I was consuming my lunch, standing in the kitchen, still in my school uniform. When my father saw me he said: “It’s fish.” I hated fish. I could never eat it. But somehow he made it not only edible, but it also tasted good. On that day he was extremely proud of himself. He tricked me.

My father was sober when he was cooking in the mornings, and in the afternoons he would usually go to a local pub in the neighborhood where we rented an apartment to casually get drunk. My mom and I had to fish him out, that was the first thing she did after returning from work. Maybe that’s how it started with me, I never really liked evenings from the beginning. From an early age, I figured that way too many people turn into disgusting creatures after dawn.

I don’t have particularly happy memories from my childhood. Most of my recollections from the past are semi-good ones, like my father teaching me to drive a car, or taking me hunting, or telling me I should read his favorite book, and all these memories are darkened by the feeling that all these beautiful things happened just before he got drunk. You can’t experience anything to the fullest when you’re dreading something bad. I couldn’t, at least.

I was sure that I would never marry anyone who is similar to my father. But somehow, it was precisely what I did. And who was more desperate in the end — me or Hajime?

The worst part of our doomed relationship was that most of the time I was too weak to protest, to show my real emotions, or to just walk away from Hajime. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I started adopting Hajime’s lifestyle: alcohol and drugs were so needed, that soon they became irreplaceable in my daily routine. At one point I heard myself saying things like: I need to smoke a joint so that I can fall asleep, or I need a glass of wine so I can work. I need some ecstasy for good sex. I’m going to order some LCD instead of going to therapy. Could you get some coffee so I can wake up?

With Hajime, I started forgetting myself. I was losing the essence of my soul; it was fading away more and more with every passing day, mutating and changing under the weight of the substances I believed I needed to exist, to be, to survive. The moments when I was sober and I was finally alone with my true self were the worst. It is when I saw how annoying I was. How everlastingly bored I was as a person, and how entirely unhappy I was with the life I had chosen. Maybe this is what Hajime felt as well — annoyed and exhausted by his character. We fell in love because we looked better in the other’s eyes, we seemed to be more interesting. We pretended to be these undiscovered, fascinating characters. Much later I figured out that it was just a scam.

“One more glass of wine, please.”

“Hajime, are you serious?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?”

“You’re hammered.”

“No, I’m not. I wish I were.”

“You are drunk. I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it. You can sit at another table if you want.”

I got up and left the restaurant, teeth clenched, fists glued with anger. The sound of Hajime’s voice, drunk and ugly, the intonations, the specific way of how the letters were falling out from his mouth was making me sick. Hajime’s almost unconscious eyes — disgusting. His crude way of getting wasted, cheap wine mixed with beer and then wine again — repulsive. The fact that he was my husband? It was just killing me.

Too many people at the airport. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept walking as fast as I could, away from him. It was rush hour, many planes were landing now, and people were shuffling looking for their connection. I felt like I was the only one who had no destination. Yes, I was furious. I was sad at the same time, too. But none of this mattered really. There was no point in taking these emotions seriously. It was part of living with Hajime, having fights and misunderstandings like that almost every day, drowning in crippling hate and reuniting with manic passion.

Today was a bad day. I saw it coming. Hajime started drinking on the plane, bothering the flight attendant for more and more red wine. He barely ate anything, focusing on drinking. I couldn’t even look at liquor. I was hung-over from the days before and needed to detox. Hajime’s body never needed a break. It was unstoppable.

I only had to know one thing: what kind of mood Hajime was in before he started drinking. Today it was clear that his mind was occupied with some twisted, dark thoughts. He wasn’t talking much. Hajime wasn’t reading, watching movies, or sleeping on the plane. He was holding his plastic glass of lousy wine (welcome to Economy), staring at one point in front of him. I hated days like that. It meant that it would get even worse.

He never bothered to explain what was he thinking about on days like that. Hajime would usually shut down, turn off his smile, swallow his tongue, and fill himself with whatever was around — wine, cigarettes, some light drugs. I was left to ponder alone: what was up with him? What was the reason for his sudden change of mood? I often thought it was my fault.

A couple of years ago he did try to explain something about his peculiar personality. Hajime was reluctant and wanted to keep his desperation to himself, but somehow I finally persuaded him to open up a little bit.

“It has nothing to do with you.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I chuckled, trying hard to be friendly and supportive.

“No, seriously. I usually think about my childhood and I get sad at first, and then quickly become depressed and angry.”

“What do you think about?”

“A lot of things. Sometimes I think about my mother. I never really felt that I was meant to be in her life and it hurt me. As I got older, it became worse and worse. Over the years she stopped trying to pretend that she loved me. Sometimes I think about my father too. I try to imagine what kind of person he was. But all I have in my memory is a couple of photos, which my mother gave me a long time ago. I often think that if he were still alive, he would really, truly love me. We’d be friends, real pals. I imagine that, and it makes me feel a bit better but only for a second because I know it’s not true and it will never be like this.”

“You look just like your father. You showed me those pictures.”

“Yes, I do. Only eyes are different. Mine got twisted with the European influence.”

“I love your eyes, Hajime, I’ve never seen anything like them.”

“And I love you. And not only your eyes, even though they are much more beautiful than mine,” Hajime replied, trying to change the subject quickly.

I had many more questions, though. I just couldn’t let it go, so while I still had a chance to talk about something important, I continued.

“Hajime, forget about me. Do you love yourself at all?”

“Why do you ask? It is such a strange question.”

“It’s just I often have this feeling that I’m not sure whether you do. Look, we’ve been together for six years now, and I think from time to time that I don’t know you because you’re hiding something from me. I sometimes feel that you don’t like yourself very much; that it’s hard work just to be you. That’s why you created someone else, someone whom you are trying to be instead. Does what I’m saying make any sense?”

Hajime looked at me very carefully. He had an odd expression on his face, as if he was slightly offended but also somewhat intrigued by what I had just said. His look reminded me of a secret spy, all of a sudden discovered by a rival agent. He wasn’t smiling anymore, he looked deadly serious, absorbing my bitter words. I could tell he was thinking of how to answer, he was trying to find the right words in his head, hidden like pearls in the ocean inside his brain cells. He was taking his time, and for a moment I thought that I’d lost him again, that he was already floating away to somewhere else, far, far away from me. But then he came back. Hajime was still grave. He looked me right in the eyes, right through me, tickling the space behind my eyelashes with his hard glance, and then he finally answered:

“You are right. I hate absolutely everything about myself.”

Hajime’s posture changed immediately. As if he was naked and ashamed of his body even though he was fully clothed, wearing loose gray pants, a matching long sleeve shirt, and the shiny silver boots I’d gotten him as a gift not so long ago. He looked like a little boy who’d been caught eating chocolate late at night in the dark kitchen, his mouth dirty and his fingers sticky. He was ashamed to admit the existence of his real feelings. Feelings of his self worth, that weren’t as positive as he usually exhibited to the outer world. I was one of the few people who knew the truth now, to whom he had confessed. Hajime couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about it anymore, he immediately went to refill his glass, and check his watch and his phone for notifications. He wanted to be busy, or at least to seem so. Hajime wished to be unavailable so he wouldn’t have to think or to be reminded of how painful it was to be Hajime.

We never spoke about it again. It was clear that his wounds were deep and I would only make them bleed more by reminding of the past, which was already echoing every day into his present. I had to pretend this conversation had never happened. I moved on. I think it was easier for me than for him. For the next few weeks Hajime was reticent, distant, and did not let himself be affected by my concerns, questions, and assumptions. He just didn’t talk to me at all.

Strange, but he always claimed that he believed in unconditional love. He wasn’t a Christian; he didn’t think about love concerning God and his grace. But Hajime knew for a fact that unconditional love existed and that was the kind of love he declared he had for me. He often would say that he accepted me and loved me completely, not preferring my better qualities or trying to fix my bad ones. I never quite believed it was possible because I couldn’t love Hajime or anyone else, really, that way. My feelings were strong and deep, deeper than I’d ever experienced before, but knowing Hajime, and now with a better understanding of what was happening in his head, his heart made me uneasy. I couldn’t just accept his suffering, his self-hate without trying to fix it. I wanted to be the one who could magically improve Hajime and make him feel better. Why would I ever think that something like that was possible? I don’t know. However, that was the only kind of love I knew. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t understand how unhappy he was. The only problem was that all my love meant nothing to him because the ground he stood on was barely there, it wasn’t there at all, to be honest. Hajime was floating on air, and he was scared. I wanted to be the one who could cement the sky he was trying to build ground on.

My idea was simple: I wanted to bathe Hajime in tenderness. At first, every day and every moment we were spending together, his happiness became my only goal. I imagined Hajime being my master and myself a timid servant, offering him love in all possible amounts, treating him like a king, giving him as much of everything as I could. It was my mission.

In the beginning, it worked. It was even surprisingly easy. “Hajime” became my mantra; I was eagerly repeating his sacred name as often as I could so as not to lose my focus.

I was working at the Pompidou Center in Paris back then, researching a curating project I was leading. Hajime and I, we were living together in the city. He was working a lot as well, busy making money. Paris seemed like a good city for us to be in, especially for Hajime. It offered him all the beloved wines in unlimited amounts, his favorite cheeses, massive meats, and lots of butter. But most of the time Hajime focused on wine, of course.

My only focus except for my demanding job was Hajime and his crazy mood swings. I was trying hard to be his influential father, his caring mother, and his passionate lover, all at the same time, providing him with unlimited amounts of affection and devotion. I think Hajime quickly understood what I was doing. He didn’t protest at all, he just quietly let me do my thing. First, he was kindly accepting my love. At one point I was thinking about him so much, I stopped thinking about myself. Once, before a big meeting at work, one of my colleagues harshly informed me that I looked like shit. I was so involved in producing constant love for Hajime, that I had neglected the fact that I had to take care of myself too. I had only one goal back then: to provide my depressed partner with so much love, that it would get under his skin and make him change his mind about how he felt about himself. I was naive enough to think that I could do that.

I spent months trying. Honestly, I don’t remember much about that time now, that’s how much I was consumed by Hajime.

One particular night stands out, though. We celebrated Hajime’s 38th birthday in Paris. Of course, Hajime hated birthdays, but I planned to fix that too. I booked a table at an extraordinary, genuinely exquisite restaurant with an unusually rich wine card. I got myself a killer dress with an open back, which sheepishly covered my ankles, knowing how much he loved to see me dressed like that. I didn’t want to look good because I felt good. I did it only to make Hajime just a tiny bit happier. For a present, I bought him a camera he had always wanted. Hajime was too lazy to buy it himself and actually commit to taking pictures, but he often talked about wanting to. I thought I had planned everything perfectly. I did my best to be the perfect partner. But, I missed one thing which I had to learn the hard way: I couldn’t forecast Hajime’s mood. And it was horrible that evening.

The dinner started badly. Hajime was already half-way drunk when he got to the restaurant after a business meeting. I reminded myself of my mantra and decided to focus on the good. Well, at least he came, that’s a good start, I’d said to myself and fixed my posture, spreading my shoulders like wings. Hajime didn’t notice the dress, focusing on the wine card instead. I reminded myself of the unconditional love he claimed to have for me and disregarded his obsessive interest in beverages. Everything is okay; everything will be fine. Just a rough start, I was calming myself down, nervously fixing my hair. A fork accidentally fell on the floor as I was moving my elbows too much, full of anxiety. Hajime raised his eyes from the wine list, disapprovingly, then went back to studying it with care and precision. His eyes were hungry. He was focused, and he made it clear that I was just one of the distractions around. I felt stupid. Hajime, Hajime, I whispered to myself and decided to get the present out. All he said was “thanks.” He didn’t even unwrap it, and later he forgot the camera at the restaurant so the day after I had to go back to pick it up myself.

Hajime quickly ordered two bottles of some red wine. I didn’t know many people who would order two bottles right away, and only for two people having dinner on a weekday. I felt the danger approaching but didn’t show any signs of being worried. Hajime is perfectly capable of controlling himself. He is an adult. It’s going to be a good evening.

We had a set menu with five dishes, but Hajime’s main dish was liquor. In between obsessively gulping the wine, he looked both lost and angry.

“What happened, Hajime?”


I ended up eating alone as I watched Hajime drink. By then, there was an undertone of cold hate in his eyes. He was analyzing every new glass of wine and what damage it would do to his body and mind. Hajime was utterly absorbed by that feeling. He worshipped it. I saw that his only motivation for drinking tonight was to hurt himself. It was one of those wicked days.

After his first bottle which took him about 20 minutes to finish, I knew for a fact that the evening was ruined and there was no way to reverse it. I couldn’t catch up with him. Hajime was moving fast. He was restless. He was grabbing his wine glass violently, taking large sips and holding the poisonous liquid in his mouth for a long time and only letting it slide down his throat after it had burned his tongue. He didn’t talk much. When I tried to make a toast, celebrating the day Hajime was born, he asked me to stop. I bit my lip, trying not to cry. The sour taste of my blood almost made me hysterical, but I didn’t show it. Hajime, Hajime, I was still repeating to myself, wanting to cry out at the top of my lungs.

The food didn’t taste good, and my dress felt awkwardly uncomfortable as soon as it had been depreciated by my partner. I was not loved that night. I was not valued, I wasn’t significant. It could have been so easy to pretend that I didn’t exist at all. Maybe it sounds worse than it was, but the truth is there were many nights, too many nights, like that over the course of my relationship with Hajime. There was no unconditional love. It was just a bad joke.


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