Authors: Sujata Massey
I’ve never thought of myself as the blindfold type.
The club was packed as tightly as Tokyo’s Cube 326…
The claim I’d made about a morning meeting had been…
After I’d put the bonsai straight out of the apartment,…
Senator Harp Snowden had a weakness for good food—good Asian…
I was glad to have eaten the curry puffs with…
“No!” Hugh said.
The situation at Dulles Airport was chaotic, with my navel…
To sleep a full first night in Japan, followed by…
Takeo had a girl.
Mr. Watanabe caught up with me a few minutes later in…
Despite Richard and Simone’s protests, I left Salsa Salsa soon…
Half an hour later, the two of us had waded…
During the twenty minutes I’d been in the Kaikan, the…
The 8:02 train out of Tokyo Station was still scheduled…
Fifteen minutes later, I was in water again. But this…
Five minutes later, I had fixed the dinner tray and…
Afterward, Takeo fell asleep almost immediately.
“Emi-chan, how wonderful to see you. You came all by…
The train system was running again, but slowly. While I…
Chika looked down at the fuzzy balls on her house…
I had a premonition of bad media, so I expected…
My aunt had no idea of what scandal was, I…
I bowed, but Mr. Harada was staring intensely. I wondered whether…
My departure for Sankei-en was complicated by a special delivery…
Waseda! I’d spent a junior year abroad here, so I…
Omote-sando had always been my aunt Norie’s idea of shopping…
“Emi?” He turned to me with eyes filled with pain.
My journey back to Yokohama seemed to take forever. Outside…
Identification check. The only thing I had going for me…
While I was talking, classes had ended. Richard and Simone…
The saving grace, as the night rolled on, was that…
I’d been planning to travel to Kyushu on the bullet…
When I first visited the island of Kyushu, I was…
I’d been expecting a luxuriously appointed shop, but the studio…
There really was no chance of leaving Kyushu that night.
It was noon when I’d transferred from Haneda Airport to…
I jogged up the wide driveway, which led through a…
Kenichi Harada had tossed down his own throat all the…
: Japanese-American antiques dealer and woman-about-town.
: a lawyer from Scotland currently working for a firm in Washington, D.C.
: Rei’s socially and politically connected cousin.
: a British band with buzz, featuring Hugh’s brother, Angus Glendinning, and Angus’s friends Sridhar, Keiffer, and Nate.
: Rei’s footloose first cousin, the daughter of Rei’s aunt Norie and uncle Hiroshi Shimura, who live in Yokohama. Chika’s older brother, Tom “Tsutomu” Shimura, works at St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo.
: rising star at the State Department’s Japan desk.
, code name I
: the consul of the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C.
: colonel in the U.S. Army.
: a senator from California.
: Rei’s former roommate, a Canadian teacher of English.
: a friend of Rei’s living in Tokyo who teaches French.
, code name
: Rei’s former boyfriend, now head of the Kayama School of Ikebana.
, code name T
: eighteen-year-old daughter of Kenichi Harada, minister for the environment (alias Harmony), and his wife, Yasuko.
: Emi’s friend.
: celebrated potter; a Living National Treasure, who is married to Nobuko.
, code names B
A and B
B: brothers and partners in an antiques business based in Istanbul. Ali is single. Osman is the father of a son, Ramzi, code name Robert.
Plus a motley crew of students, fishmongers, cops, cabbies, club kids, and others who make a trip to Tokyo the ultimate experience.
I’ve never thought of myself as the blindfold type.
Not on planes, not in beds, and certainly not in restaurants. Especially not a place like DC Coast, where I was sitting on the evening of my thirtieth birthday, listening to my dinner companion trying his best to be persuasive.
“What happens next will be very special.” Hugh said, picking up the small black mask that he’d placed next to our shared dessert. “You don’t have to put the blindfold on inside here. Just a little later.”
“You promised no party,” I reminded him, but not sharply. My stomach was filled with a pleasant mélange of tuna tartare and crawfish risotto and crispy fried bass. It had been an orgy of seafood and good wine, just my kind of night.
“Hmm,” Hugh said, studying the restaurant bill.
“If it’s not a surprise party, where are you taking me?” I prodded.
“Let’s just say I’ve got two tickets to paradise.”
I rolled my eyes, thinking Hugh was showing his age, when I’d rather keep mine confidential. I didn’t mind having a delicious, leisurely dinner, but he’d practically rushed me through cappuccino and crème brûlée. Hugh was frantic to leave, making me think he definitely had something planned.
As we waited for the car to be brought to us on the busy corner of Fourteenth and K streets, Hugh folded the tiny black blindfold into my hand. “It’s never been used, if that makes you more comfortable. I saved it from my last trip to Zurich.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in regifting?” I asked lightly.
“Well, you didn’t want a ring. What else can I offer you?” The undercurrent of irritation in Hugh’s voice was clear. I’d worn his beautiful two-carat emerald for a short while, but ultimately returned it, because engagement rings scared me just as much as turning thirty did. Hugh was thirty-five; he’d been ready for the last three years. I wondered if I’d ever be.
The valet pulled up with the car and jumped out to open the passenger side for me. I got in, feeling a mixture of excitement and fear about what lay ahead. As we pulled off into traffic, I reclined my seat as far as it would go, hoping that this way, nobody would notice the woman with short black hair and a matching mask over her eyes. Anyone who caught a glimpse might think I’d just come out of plastic surgery or something like that?though most Washington women who went in for that flew to Latin America, where the plastic surgeons were good and there were no neighbors to bump into.
“Are we headed for the airport?” I asked, with a sudden rush of hope.
“No chance.” Hugh sounded regretful. “It would have been fun to get away, but I can’t risk any absences when the partner-track decisions are forthcoming.”
Hugh was a lawyer at a high-pressure international firm a few blocks away. He’d been working for the last year on a class action suit that still wasn’t ready to roll. His work involved frequent travel back to Japan, the country of my heritage, where we’d met a few years earlier. I would have loved to travel with him, but I couldn’t, because I was banned from Japan. It was a complicated story that I didn’t want to revisit on a night when I was supposed to be happy.
“Don’t think about it,” I muttered to myself. It was my habit to talk to myself sometimes, to try to shut out the bad thoughts that threatened what was a perfectly pleasant life.
“What don’t you want to think about?”
“I’m getting nauseated from wearing a blindfold in a moving car,” I said. “Not to mention that my nerves are shot because you won’t tell me what’s going to happen next.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Just hang on, I’ll open the window.” Hugh pressed the control that slid down the passenger-side window next to me. “We’re just going around the corner to park. Will you survive another two minutes?”
I nodded, glad for a chance to listen to the sounds of the road. I could tell this wasn’t our neighborhood, Adams-Morgan, with its mix of pulsating salsa music, honking horns, and shouting truck drivers. All I heard was a slow, steady purr of cars caught in traffic. After a while, the car moved again and turned a corner. Then it stopped. Hugh’s window slid down.
“Paradise, sir?” A strange man’s voice asked.
“That’s right. We’re staying till the wee morning hours,” Hugh said. “Will this cover it?”
Before the parking valet could answer, I had a few words of my own. “Hugh, you
that I have a nine-thirty meeting at the Sackler Gallery tomorrow. You can very well stay until the wee hours, but I can’t.”
“Job interviews come and go. Thirtieth birthdays are only once!” He sounded positively gleeful.
My door was opened, and I unbuckled my seat belt. Then I felt a hand on my wrist, helping me out.
“You must be the girl getting the big birthday surprise.” The valet’s voice came from somewhere to the left.
I was busy working through the situation?was this a boutique hotel, maybe??when Hugh tugged my hand. “There’s going to be a downward flight of steps in a moment. Just take it slowly.”
“What kind of a hotel has subterranean rooms?” I demanded.
“You’ll know soon enough.” Ten steps, and then a flat surface. “I’m going to hold the door open. Just step through.”
I had no sight, but my other senses were bombarded. First, the sounds?” Japanese Girls,” an Eels song pounding ominously, and lots of voices: talking, laughing, shrieking. Then there were the smells?smoke from cigarettes and sandalwood incense.
Someone took my other hand and pressed briefly down on the area over my knuckles. I guessed that I was getting a hand-stamp, the way bouncers did at bars.
“Hugh, this is so silly,” I complained. “I want to see where I am. If this is the S and M club we read about in
I’m not going any farther.”
Hugh sighed and said, “I’d hoped you’d stay blindfolded until the magic moment, but if you’re that anxious, you may as well take it off. Go ahead.”
Had I known of the series of events about to unfold?not this night, but in the crazy, dangerous days that rolled out, right after my birthday?I might have just kept the blindfold on. I would have remained in Hugh’s thrall, powerless to make my own choices, but secure?still twenty-nine and safe as houses.
But I’m not the kind of girl who stays in one place for long, whether it’s a city or a nightclub vestibule.
I slid off the blindfold, and opened my eyes.
The club was packed as tightly as Tokyo’s Cube 326 on a good night—impressive for a live venue rather than a DJ club. I had never been inside a place in Washington this crowded and smoky. Wasn’t there a no-smoking law in Washington clubs now? I wondered about it as I scanned the crowd, looking for familiar faces.
“Is that Kendall?” I asked Hugh, pointing to a slender redhead in a black leather jacket who looked like my married cousin from Potomac, but who was embracing a handsome younger man with a goatee.
“Yes, I gather she brought a toyboy from her office. But there’s an even better spectacle right ahead.” Hugh touched my shoulders and turned me so that I was facing the other side of the room. A stage was set up with a drum set and keyboards and microphones. Above it was a banner that said in glittering silver letters, HAPPY DIRTY THIRTY, REI!
I looked from it to Hugh. “You promised you wouldn’t throw a surprise party.”
He raised his eyebrows. “But I told you I was taking you to Paradise.”
Suddenly I got it. This unfamiliar nightclub was probably a hot new music venue on U Street. I was amazed Hugh had been able to book it on a Friday night for something as inconsequential as my thirtieth birthday party.
I asked, “Is this Club Paradise?”
“Yes, isn’t it brilliant?” He squeezed my hand back. “I had to keep the newspaper away from you all week so you wouldn’t catch wind of what was going on.” Hugh looked very pleased with himself.
“But I must know only a fraction of the people here.”
“Andrea, Kendall, and I shared the invites. There are about a hundred fifty of our crowd here. The others, well, they’ve all paid to get in and that helps make up the cost of booking the space. I’m sure they’ll be your friends by night’s end—” As he spoke, he was putting a small glittering tiara on my head.
“People would pay to come to my birthday?” I was becoming even more confused as Andrea, a beautiful but moody restaurant hostess who’d become a good friend recently, came over to deliver some air kisses.
“Happy birthday, Rei,” she said. “I’m going to handle the door and make sure nobody gets in on the guest list who should be paying.”
Kendall bounced up and gave me a kiss on the lips that tasted like a Cosmopolitan. “Happy dirty thirty, dear. You know, I tried to talk Hugh into staving your thirtieth off for a few more years, but he wouldn’t listen. Men!”
“What do you mean? She’s thirty tomorrow.” Andrea looked at Kendall as if she thought my cousin, who loved to brag about her M.B.A., couldn’t count.
“A lot of girls don’t publicly celebrate thirty until they’re a little bit older, like thirty-five. Some of my friends from boarding school are going to do that, and I’m trying to decide whether I can carry it off. What do you think?” As Kendall spoke, she was twinkling at the young man she’d draped herself over before.
“It looks like some of your friends are here,” I said, not wanting to answer her question. “You’ll have to introduce me.”
“Hugh let me bring about seventy-five of my nearest and dearest. They’re so excited about the show, just thrilled once I explained about—”
“Watch it, Kendall,” Hugh said warningly.
“Hugh, I never! George is just my intern, okay?”
“I’m sure he meant about the show, Kendall, not your toyboy—” I bit my lip. The Viognier I’d had at the restaurant had made me too loose.
“Let’s get some drinks,” Hugh suggested. “Then I’ve got to dash up there, get the emcee thing started. We’re half an hour behind schedule.”
As Hugh brought each of us a drink and then wound his way through the crowd to the stage, I watched Kendall’s pretty girlfriends in their preppy prints and Hugh’s lawyer friends in suits begin to circle each other. Around them were many more young people in black leather and heavy metal, as well as fashionable young men with shaved heads and guayabera shirts, and girls with ironed hair and thigh-high boots. Now I understood why Hugh had been so obstinate about my clothes for the evening.
I was wearing a favorite pair of black shorts with a vintage Adolfo jacket in purple and black bouclé. Underneath the jacket was a purple camisole that barely grazed my navel, which glinted with a couple of pearls—a recent body alteration about which I had mixed feelings. Because I didn’t want to be taken for a hooker, I’d insisted on mid-heel sandals rather than the Manolo Blahnik stilettos Hugh had given me that morning. Now I was sorry I hadn’t worn the Blahniks, but overall, I was well dressed for the setting.
“Come on.” Kendall took my hand in hers. “Let’s get close to the stage so you’ll be right there for everyone to see when Hugh makes a personal tribute.”
“Kendall, I don’t know anyone! I hardly want to be embarrassed in front of hundreds.” I was being so Japanese, I thought while Kendall resolutely dragged me close to the stage. She was from my American side—my mother’s old Maryland family. I couldn’t believe she was so enthusiastic about Club Paradise. She was no stranger to the bars at Zola or Zaytinya, but this place was considerably more downscale than her usual party haunts.
Hugh placed his whisky glass on a speaker and picked up a microphone. The raggedy buzz of noise faded as he greeted everyone in the suave Edinburgh-goes-to-London-and-next-flies-to-America accent that made Americans swoon. What was it about the British accent that made everything sound smarter? It was similar to the effect of a Japanese accent, which made everything sound sweeter.
Hugh said how pleased he was at the turnout for the birthday celebration for someone known to readers of the
as the current “Most Notorious Woman under Thirty.”
“Rei’s the first girl who’s made the listing without sleeping with a politician, and for that, I’m enormously grateful,” he said as a spotlight suddenly found me in the crowd. I waved reluctantly, because to hide behind Kendall would be pathetic. The people in the crowd were grinning at me now. A cocktail waitress with a nose ring pressed a
into my hand, and—ignoring all the warnings I’d heard about taking drinks from strangers—I sipped it, glad for something to do while the roasting continued.
“Now, when Rei and I met, she thought we had nothing in common until I lured her into my car to listen to my collection of eighties and nineties tunes. To make her birthday really special, I wanted to bring her that music she loves.”
If a band was the focus, the spotlight would move from me. Great!
“Knowing Rei’s taste, I aimed my sights at the European bands. I tried for Echo and the Bunnymen, but unfortunately, that lot are playing a show in London tonight.” A chorus of groans. Apparently Echo wasn’t a big favorite here. “Next I went for Bjork, but she’s undergoing a crisis of fashion confidence and won’t leave the house.” There was some light laughter. “Massive Attack are recording the score for the next Lexus car commercial, and Garbage said they have to put out their recycling tonight.”
There were more groans and a call from the back of the room, “Get on with it!” Hugh refused to be rushed. He took a sip of whisky and said, “I began to think there was some kind of bad star hanging over the night that Rei was born, but in the end, the answer was right before my nose. It’s a mystery band, an up-and-coming British group that had its video premiere on VH1 last month, and made it into the British equivalent of Billboard’s listings. They’re touring the country, and this is their only stop in Washington. They turned down the bloody 9:30 Club to be here with us tonight!”
There was sharp applause at that, and I began to feel the hairs on my arm prickle. There was only one band that I knew Hugh was close to, and that was his brother Angus’s group, Glaswegian Hangover, which was making a ragtag tour on the west coast at present.
“So, without further ado, let me introduce a band with true grit and originality. Yes, the band you’ve been waiting for…Angus Glendinning and the Glaswegian Hangover!”
The lights started flashing, and the band took the stage. I screamed with the others because I hadn’t seen Hugh’s younger, guitar-strumming brother in three years. The twenty-year-old who’d slouched around Tokyo with auburn dreadlocks had shaved them off so only a thin auburn halo edged his head. He wore a black T-shirt studded with rivets and tight blue jeans tucked into motorcycle boots.
The crowd howled as Angus picked up his guitar and lashed into an old Beatles song, “Happy Birthday,” with a few new lyrics that made me blush. He followed it with a song that I’d heard him working on in Japan, all discordant clanging, but with new lyrics about being dragged into a war by an older brother he’d once loved but now hated with every ounce of his being. I would have liked Hugh’s take on the lyrics, but he was back at the bar, grooving to the music while he waited for another drink.
I checked out the rest of the band. On bagpipes was a mournful-looking blond wearing a denim jacket and kilt with combat boots. An Indian-looking guy in a Manchester United football jersey was lost in the rhythms of the drums. There was a black bass player dressed in a battered leather jacket and jeans. All they needed was a Japanese to complete their United Nations, but I wasn’t volunteering.
The band finished the song with a defiant upward-climbing riff and then Angus took a sip from a bottle that a fan thrust up at him. “Thanks, love. And thanks to Shug for organizing the venue and, what’s that, a free round of McEwan’s for all? Brilliant!”
Half the crowd surged toward the bar, wanting to take advantage of the beer. The die-hards who stayed at the stage started screaming names of songs they wanted to hear. “Methadone Morning!” “On the Train!” “Bleeding Heart Liberal!” I realized that the band’s CD must have aired on more than a few college stations. The Glaswegian Hangover were semifamous.
“We’d love to get the jam going with a few songs off our new disc,
. This song’s called ‘Pudding’ ‘cause it’s unhealthy, which is the way we like it.” Angus’s accent was affected Glasgow working-class, which probably was crucial if your band was called Glaswegian Hangover. “We’ll be playing our new songs mixed in with Rei’s birthday track. Oh, and Shug—that’s me brother, right?—wants me to let everybody know that our celebrity guest has arrived and will be appearing onstage shortly.”
“Who is it?” I called out.
Angus shook his head. “Don’t know exactly, but it’s supposed to be a Japanese celeb. So don’t go awaaayyy!” He launched into “Pudding” with a crash of guitar strings.
I wondered who the musician might be as I started dancing with Hugh, who had suddenly showed up and grabbed me around the waist. I had trouble keeping my balance, given the two
I’d downed in the last half hour. Hugh moved behind me as the band slowly segued from its song about a Scottish school dinner gone wrong into the Grandmaster Flash classic, “White Lines.” I was quickly wrapped up in the beat and the feeling of Hugh’s body behind mine—finally, Hugh had to physically direct my attention to the stage, where I saw the Japanese guest: a young woman in a gold leather skirt, white go-go boots, and a white halter top. A curtain of perfectly streaked hair—gold and black—hung before her face, and when the hair flashed back, I saw my twenty-two-year-old cousin Chika’s face.
“Chika!” I screamed in delight.
“I gave her my frequent-flier miles!” Hugh shouted in my ear. “She didn’t want to miss your birthday!”
I turned and hugged him. “So she’s staying with us!”
“Yes, she’ll come back with us tonight. And I hope you don’t mind, but the, ah, band will be with staying over, too.”
“But where?” I knew I should be accommodating, but I felt a frisson of annoyance. Every week, it seemed, Hugh invited at least one or two overnight guests. Whether they were lawyers from his office having wife trouble, rugby players who’d been served eviction notices, or drinking buddies from Adams-Morgan who’d had one too many, Hugh unfailingly brought them home. He liked company. Hell, he’d been keeping me in his apartment, on and off, for years.
“Any free bit of floor,” Hugh shouted again to make himself heard over the din. “The lads are accustomed to bunking in bus stations and bathtubs. And they’ll only be here a couple of days. It’s not going to be like when Angus stayed for months in Tokyo.”
“Hope not.” I winked at Hugh, because I was actually fond of his hard-living brother. I turned back to the stage to admire my cousin Chika dancing in her high-heeled boots. Almost mechanically, she moved her arms and turned her hips, a robot-like contrast to the wild and woolly band, and the flailing bodies in the mosh pit in front of the stage.
“Chika’s too cute,” Kendall shouted in my ear as she danced by me. “Find out where she bought those boots.”
“I’ll ask!” I was overflowing with so much happiness that I wasn’t shy anymore. My head felt light and my body full of rhythm as I jogged up onstage to join my cousin. We embraced, and before I knew it, Angus had grabbed us both in a pelvis-grinding hug. Chika pulled away, obviously startled by the bald white boy, and the audience roared.
Angus launched into my favorite 1980s classic, “Lips Like Sugar.” As Chika and I started to dance together, I gazed over the mosh pit and into the crowd. All the way from the bar, I saw Hugh smile at me and raise a McEwan’s in salute.
Kendall had commandeered some male friends to boost her from the mosh pit to the stage, and the next instant she was dancing alongside Chika and me. I wasn’t surprised; Kendall was the most competitive woman I knew. She wasn’t one to stay out of the limelight for long.
I danced between my cousins, thinking about my Japanese past on one side, and the American future on the other. I was shot through with joy, not caring that my Lycra top was inching upward, revealing the navel ring glinting in the spotlight. Chika was performing a careful series of steps, and Kendall was unzipping her black leather jacket and, now, pulling off her T-shirt.
Her T-shirt? I took a second look. Kendall, seemingly delighted by the catcalls of the audience, was wearing only a red lace bra and jeans. I glanced at Chika, who looked unimpressed, probably because girls in Japan had been disrobing on nightclub stages for years. Now I glanced back over the bobbing heads on the dance floor, looking for Hugh. He wasn’t at the bar. He was probably close to the stage, getting a bird’s-eye view of Kendall’s cosmetic enhancements. That’s what they had to be. We’d shared an outdoor shower during a beach vacation in college, and she’d been much smaller. Although maybe I was being unfair—could the breasts be a result of childbirth?