Authors: Andrew O'Connor
Tags: #ebook, #book
was born in 1978 in Warragul, Victoria. He studied Arts at Melbourne University before travelling and working in central and northern Australia. For the past four years, Andrew has divided his time between stints teaching English (ESL) in various regions of Japan and writing in Australia.
First published in 2006
Copyright Â© Andrew O'Connor 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
National Library of Australia
O'Connor, Andrew, 1978â.
ISBN 978 1 74114 871 8.
ISBN 1 74114 871 5.
Set in 11.5/14pt Adobe Garamond by Asset Typesetting Pty Ltd Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my parents, brother and sister,
who always believed.
For Toshiko, who made it possible.
arly on a Tuesday morning, two weeks after we met in a bar, Mami Kaketa appeared beneath my bedroom window.
âNoah?' she called. âNoah?'
It was an icy morning and there was a cold burn in my toes. I rubbed them together, one clenched foot atop the other, and watched white breath plume towards the low, mildew-stained ceiling. In the distance, engines fired and faded as motorised carts hauled the day's catch around Tokyo's Tsukiji fish marketâfrosty tuna, writhing squid, octopuses, eel and seaweed. A dog was yapping mechanically somewhere and, across the alley that ran below my room, Nakamura-san, the owner of my hostel, was grimly beating her futon as she did every morning at ten past seven.
I staggered to my window, wrenched it up and peered down groggily. Was this another dream? It was difficult to say, though Mami appeared real enough. She was shifting her weight from foot to foot to keep warm and biting at her bottom lip. Even from two floors up her eyes, the irises dark, the whites far larger and rounder than on most Japanese, jumped out and demanded admiration. A stray cat rubbed against her shin and she gave it a sharp, unthinking kick.
âWhat are you doing here?' I asked uneasily.
She shrugged, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand. âVisiting you. You look tired.'
âI didn't sleep well.'
âFrom what you've told me, you never do.'
A rock dove, perched on a level powerline outside my window, eyed me suspiciously, first with its left eye, then with its right. Below it another birdâa large black crowâ marched arrogantly up and down a neatly trimmed hedge, pruning it for bugs. Both were oblivious to the January cold, and to Nakamura-san's din.
Mami was not.
âThat's loud,' she said, pointing up at Nakamura-san. I followed her gaze. The old woman's thin bedding, stained yellow by sweat and other secretions, was slung over a lime-green balcony rail. She used a broad, straw paddle to beat it, pausing for air between each wallop, then raising the paddle and bringing it down with a whoosh. Despite the cold she had broken a slight sweat, and her usually pelt-dry skin glistened in the morning sun.
âGood morning, Nakamura-san,' I called to be polite. Nakamura-san looked from me to Mami, then back to me. Her thin, wispy white hair fluttered in the breeze like a tattered flag. In reply she straightened from her usual awkward hunch and brought the paddle down with unaccustomed force.
âDoes she understand English?' Mami asked.
âHow do you know for sure?'
âShe's my landlady. She runs this hostel.'
Mami nodded and yawned, covering her mouth with an elegant, long-fingered hand. She was one of those girls whose body gave an impression of immense athleticismâ lithe, agile and decisiveâbut who, I felt sure, could not have sprinted more than a few hundred metres without collapsing.
âEnough about her,' Mami said, finishing her yawn and cutting me off. âStick your head out so I can see you properly.'
Doing as instructed, I discovered other residents also had their heads out, interested to see who it was yelling up from the narrow, normally quiet alley. One grizzly middle-aged Englishman, a newcomer to Nakamura's, drummed on the hostel's rusty iron exterior.
âSome peace!' he demanded, but Mami ignored him. Only the rock dove took offence, launching itself into the air where it hung precariously for a moment before steadily rising. I watched it dip and peel away.
âI can only count four clouds in the whole sky,' Mami said. She pointed to each in turn, arm up and out and spinning in stages like a lawn sprinkler. âThere, there, there and â¦ there. Four. Or is that last one just smoke from a factory? I can't tell.' She stared up at me, one eye clamped shut, waiting for my verdict. The alley around her was cluttered. It was full of pot plants and colourful plastic crates, the latter full to bursting with cans and bottles ready for recycling. A little distance from where she stood a bearded old man, bent double with a trowel, was waiting for an even older dog to do its business. It strained unsteadily, looking set to topple sideways, and when it finished he flicked the shit towards an open drain.
Reluctantly, I peered up into the early morning sky. âIt's a cloud,' I said. âMaybe. I don't know.' I wanted her to go away; visits like this were out of the question.
âWhat's with all the corrugated iron?' she asked.
âIt covers half the windows.'
âBut you don't know why? You don't know very much, Noah.'
I surveyed Nakamura-san's lifeless concrete balcony with its antiquated aircon unit and pale blue rope for laundry. It looked drab and depressing. There were no plants as on balconies belowânothing at all had been done to soften the grey. Nakamura-san, now hanging out underwear, caught my eye and frowned.
Looking back into my room, I tried to think of a polite way to get rid of Mami but nothing came to mind. My head was sluggish with sleepâor, more accurately, with lack of it. I had again given up my sleeping pills, flushing them, and with them the groggy days and nights they struggled to stake out.
Seeing Mami open her mouth to speak, the middle-aged Englishman once again drummed on the iron beneath his window.
âShut the fuck up!' he shouted.
âI'm not talking to you, idiot,' Mami snapped. âGo toss off!' She stamped her foot and it echoed loudly in the alley, like a handclap. The man shook his head, muttering. But something made him pull his creaky window shut, sliding the lock into place. Nakamura-san, suffering a piercing coughing fit, hurriedly lit a cigarette. She pulled back her glass sliding door and retreated into darkness.
âI'm coming up,' Mami said. âThere's too much going on down here.'
âIt's a mess.'
âI don't care. Messy is more interesting. What number?'
âI don't think youâ'
âI think I should. What number?'
âThe second floor, 211.'
Quickly, I tried to hide everything that belonged to my girlfriend, Tilly. I rolled up her things in bedsheetsâframed photos, jewellery, perfume, magazines, candles, a hairbrush full of long auburn hair. But there was simply too much, too many things. I was terrified. I had never cheated on a girlfriend before and dreaded above all else being revealed as just another cad. Then the absurdity of my actions struck me; I flung the whole pile onto the floor and sat on the bed. Glumly, fretfully, I waited for Mami.
But she did not come. Three minutes became five, then ten. I thought about the hostel, specifically about how it must have appeared to this most unexpected guestâlike some sort of sinister carcinogenic lump probably. Most of the corrugated iron on the building's exterior had been painted black and had turned brown with rust over time. Any sheets which had been left silver (like the one covering my window) had fared worse; their rust was orange and dribbled from rotting nails like glacial sewerage. The rear of the building was constructed with smashed-in weatherboards. The roof was a collection of semi-dislodged tiles. And across all of this hung red, green and white wiring, like a string of forgotten Christmas lights. It was clearly a building with more years behind it than ahead, and I wondered if Mami had simply thought better of entering, had turned on her heel.
I stood and inspected my reflection in a small mirror sticky-taped to the inside of my wardrobe. As always it was a fairly depressing sight. My russet hair glinted red in the sunlight and needed a cut. It fell languidly around my pasty face. My chin was dotted with white-headed, angry acne, and my eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. I was contemplating picking at my face when Mami knocked on my door, startling me.