23 March 2011
Write Queer London 2011: Overall Winner
I met Akira Arashi.
Normally one would begin by detailing when and where and how they met someone but all I recall is how he threw a door open and walked in, wrapped in a shroud of blinding light like an ancient sun-god, followed by an invisible army of loyal fiendish creatures throwing buckets of whitener at the world; the whitener erased everything around and all that was left was him.
His last name means ‘tempest’. It should have made me think.
I met Ran in a London cinema - the art-house stronghold Curzon Soho, to be precise. It was during the festivities for the Chinese New Year, complete with crowding of lower plebs and raving Chinese imperialists in the streets, fireworks and blatant overuse of red, so I decided to sneak inside some quiet place and muse over the historical inferiority complex of us Japanese. When I entered the auditorium was already completely dark. Then someone grabbed my wrist and pulled me down in a seat next to them.
Arashi is a storm; a natural disaster of unseen dimensions that comes suddenly, irresponsibly, cheerfully, and sweeps everything away. One of the meanings of his given name, Akira, is ‘bright’ - and I reached for that bright storm as if I fell right into it.
I saw those saucer eyes staring at me and I had to smile. The moth and the cremating light, is it now… A cute boy with ‘naïve’ written in bright neon letters over his head ogled me without letting go of my arm way too long for any passable excuse to be left for it, so I decided to take my chance. Not surprisingly, it worked.
“We could go to Eat Tokyo; it’s right behind the corner…” I suggested hesitantly.
The shining godly creature which hadn’t pulled its hand away for the entire length of the movie paid the bill at the cinema bar and followed me only to look a few minutes later with undisguised horror at the small place with the white kikyo emblem on the sign.
“It has some of the best food around…” I already saw I had somehow made a grave mistake.
“And then what, the Karaoke Box behind the other corner?” He gave me an amused look. “Are we doing this Tokyo-style because we are countrymen? Or do you prefer one of those bars which are around here anyway?”
“I don’t frequent those bars...”
“They certainly don’t compare to Tokyo host clubs,” he mocked me openly.
“I’m from Yokohama…” I was completely lost.
“My place,” he declared with sudden resolution and waved a cab, adding over his shoulder, “I don’t cook under any circumstances whatsoever - but I’ll have something delivered. And if your common sense tells you not to go with strangers, remember this: one, common sense is inversely proportional to genuine intelligence; two, it’s vastly overrated; and three, being guided by common sense is going window-shopping for life itself. Coming?”
That’s not the way evil tempts you. It’s how it takes you by full frontal attack.
I watched Ran blushing as I touched very accidentally his hand in the cab and the little voice inside my head giggled uncontrollably ‘win’. Thou shalt tremble and fear to confess, till thou suddenly break into passion with yes, love, and yes… Ah, this is bad. Now that I had to think of fellow libertine Aleister Crowley’s hilarious declarations of affection for his beloved Lucius, I won’t be able to stop leering. I wonder if Ran knows who Crowley is. Well, the youth of today are not expected to know dead English occultists with a glorious talent for writing porn poetry, I suppose. Maybe instead of taking him home I should have gone for the London Eye and recited the whole thing. The raison d'être of Ferris wheels is kissing and telling obscenities, after all, even if you have to hire a private capsule for it.
Arashi is a writer. His family is rich, and he is a bestselling author, so he lives like evil sorcerers and charming princes should - in style and splendour. Belgravia. Penthouse. I had to get my mind around that first. How did dirty, crowded and overpriced twenty-first century London suddenly turn into a classic fairy tale? I secretly pinched my hand. I really did, and it didn’t change a thing about the expensive white furniture or the spacious rooms or the rooftop terrace with its view of the beautiful white rows of the houses underneath. I had honestly believed such things to exist only in movies.
Ran still goes to university and, being six years younger than me, some might consider him too young for me to corrupt. Unfortunately, I have a pronounced weakness for helping people get rid of their innocence. I regard it as an occupational disease of romance writers and therefore a thing of inevitability.
There are numerous art objects, too, which look all original to me. One I know to be a replica though is found directly on the living room table. I have been to the British Museum - it’s the first place to go here anyway - so I know what the Warren cup is. It is - well, basically, Roman guys having sex on the sides of a drinking cup, and it is very popular with the British, as far as I can tell.
“Do you like it?” He caught my glance.
“Explicit,” Arashi repeated ironically. “I think it’s a lovely work of art, but explicit is something else. Just a sec… Here, a copy of a Suzuki Harunobu print, also from the collections of the British. Now kindly thank them for making it available for free, and our great culture for producing it.”
I looked and I knew my face was turning very, very red. A patron - and a Kabuki actor - and the picture doesn’t hold anything back. I have seen shunga art before, of course, like everyone else, but something in that one - is - deeply embarrassing. Maybe it’s the beautiful young actor who makes me think of Arashi… and the things I’m thinking - things I shouldn’t be thinking if I want to be able say at least one more coherent sentence - and Arashi enjoys embarrassing people - I could tell immediately by his devilish grin.
I don’t exactly know how things came to Ran moving in with me, but to my defence it must be said I was hardly ever home during the week it happened. Publishers, agents, contest organizers, social event promoters and media had all conspired to call and book me for something within the same five days and in moments like these you don’t really notice things moving around or your coffee brewing itself without your aid, or any such sneaky dealings of the supernatural… until it’s too late.
I fell for Arashi straight away. He let me move in with him only a month later; I was the one who asked, and I believe he agreed out of general distractedness. The first time he actually spoke to me was another week after that - and then he did it as if I had always been there.
He stormed out of his study and pushed a manuscript in my hands.
“Take this. Fax it, email it and bring it personally over first thing tomorrow morning! Contact details on the back. Oh yeah, read it first. If there is anything you don’t understand, cross it out. It is meant for readers of average intelligence. Also, I can’t be disturbed until I finish what I’m working on, so when my editor calls tell him I drowned in an attempt to imitate Virginia Woolf but no two people could have been happier than we have been and I’m waiting for him on the other side together with the Jesuits and Machiavelli to commit seppuko and come publish our works in the name of a greater good.”
“Can’t I just say you’re working?”
“Can’t I just replace you with a dog?”
“Are you sure you want a dog doing to you everything I do?”
“Are you sure you want me to answer that question? Get lost. Deadline anathema. Go, noisy ghost, by the power of three chapters missing I compel thee!”
“Ran. Sweetheart. I’m under pressure. Do as I say. I’ll take you out on a date in paradise once I’m done with this, I promise. Quit angsting around and do it! Read. Edit. Fax. Mail. Bring. Go! I’m still in machinegun mode. Go before I switch to H-bomb!”
I have to say I actually ran. And I hadn’t even seen the real storm yet.
I called Arashi by his given name only once and he gave me a look scarier than stepping on a landmine, so I never used it again. And then I overheard that conversation on the phone. All that got through to me was that he told someone - someone other than me - it was okay to call him Akira. I told myself not to make a scene about something as trivial as that and then pathetic me shouted at him the moment he hung up.
“Are you done?” he asked coldly when I had stopped for a moment. “I’m going to bed. I am a genius, so it can’t be helped.”
I stood there, perfectly unable to assimilate what the hell he’d just said - and he simply left.
The next morning I found him in the kitchen, sitting at the table with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, and not even looking at me.
I sat quietly down and waited. I know I shouldn’t bother him in the morning, because he has very low blood pressure. It is nothing uncommon, but he doesn’t simply have it - he suffers from it. That means he wakes up with great difficulty, gets up on one of the four wrong sides of his bed in the vilest of moods, and gives everything around the glare of death accompanied by a banshee wail of coffee abstinence. The Colombian corto doble he drinks is one concoction from hell itself which only a demon like him can drink – it’s basically four to ten normal cups of espresso compressed into one, and serves to compensate for the fact that coffee can’t be taken intravenously.
And then he told me without looking up from his newspaper that he wants me to move out.
I dropped my cup.
I watched it fall in slow motion and break on the floor.
That’s how fairy tales end - without any warning, not even on short notice, just like an avalanche breaking down upon you out of a clear blue sky.
I gasped and then I screamed for my life. I cried. I begged. I threatened to kill myself. I told him I would do anything if he would only let me stay. I yelled things you haven’t heard even in the most desperate soap opera scene - and I meant every single word of it.
“You’re throwing your life away. I can’t stand such sound levels in the morning so I’m about to kill you,” he said peacefully.
“My life is mine to throw away!” I shouted hysterically through tears and sobs. “Please! Let me stay! I cannot - I won’t live without you!”
“I wonder what you’ve been reading. Your lines are so banal that they actually physically hurt my head.”
I felt like a kitchen fly. No, worse, I felt like the proverbial moth flying to its death inside the flame. Only Arashi looked more like a deadly blizzard than a fire. My heart was trying really hard to jump out of my chest.
“Blackmailing me with suicide,” he suddenly said with the clever, unforgiving, freezing eyes of a tiger crouching before it jumps to rip its prey apart. “I grant you that your idiocy beats even the inner conviction of militant peacekeepers and religious terrorists...”
I felt as if he had slapped me. It didn’t matter, though - I waited.
“Go wash your face,” he waved me abruptly away.
I ran to the bathroom. My knees were shaking. My entire body was shaking and I breathed deeply in and out a few times. I did my best to look somewhat normal when I returned.
“So,” he finally put the newspaper away and looked up at me. “You’re set on staying?”
“Yes!” I declared with what would have been deadly resolution if my voice had been less shaky.
“Very well then,” he sighed and stretched. “Done talking? Want to sleep with me? I’m told make-up sex is great, especially in the morning.”
I wanted to say something - I wanted to say I didn’t get his sudden change of mood, and if that was not a real breaking-up I’d kill him in his sleep but I really hope it was not, and my head’s a mess, but in the end all I managed to whisper was “I love you”.
“Yeah, I must admit it looks like that,” he looked at me strangely for a second and then burst into laughter. “Ah, you would have made best friends with Lorca. You know who he was?”
“A - Spanish poet?”
“Moonlighting as one, yes, but primarily a stalker. Dalí, Aladrén, every guy he fell in love with panicked and got married. Creepy, huh?”
“I won’t give up even if you marry,” I tried a weak smile. “I - I love you - Arashi -”
“Akira is fine, if it matters that awfully much to you,” he interrupted me, “But don’t start thinking anything strange because of it.”
“I’ll call you whatever you like best”, I said quietly.
“Hmm, you give up too easily for someone who yelled at me over that whole name thing,” he grinned, got up and put his arms around my neck. “What I was trying to say before you went on an emotional rampage… My aunt called yesterday. She is staying here for a couple of weeks, so if you won’t move out for a while you’ll have to sleep on a futon in my room. And beware of her - she happens to be a world champion in sake drinking. That was it… But then I couldn’t interrupt that smashing soliloquy of yours, could I?”
I froze - and remained frozen solid for a while. I wanted to kill him. I really did. I really, really did… but his eyes sparkling like the snow on the rooftops outside hypnotized me and I kissed him instead.
I met Akira Arashi. That sums up the life of one Ranmaru Yamada from Yokohama, 21 this month, student, unmarried and happily chained to a god of storm upon his own request. It is a lesser known fact that there are genera of moth - the lovely white Arctic moths - that feel fine at temperatures down to -70°C - way below your average snowstorm. Cool, isn’t it?