This happened ten years ago, in autumn.
I was twenty-four at the time, and terrified about turning twenty-five.
To my mind, being ‘young’ meant up to the age of twenty-four. I truly believed that after twenty-five, I could be a cool lady, but a cool old lady. This may have had a lot to do with my longing to be a celebrity – something that would never happen – and with the fact that I worked in a gyaru girls’ bar.
All of the men who came to the bar – and I mean all of them – they liked their girls young. Nineteen-year-old Yume-chan was more popular than I was, and when her junior, eighteen-year-old Mari-pooh (who was actually sixteen) started working there, it was sealed.
That was why I lied at work and said I was twenty-two. Even Jurie, the only one who, at twenty-six, was senior to me, would fudge her age by three years – and if her skin was looking good, by five years. Jurie was saving up her money for plastic surgery, and she said that when the day came that she could no longer fake her youth with surgical means, she would kill herself. Then she really did die. Not by suicide, though – ovarian cancer.
I heard that Jurie lived to be thirty-five. I wonder whether she wanted to die, even once she’d been diagnosed with cancer. Maybe she thought that at thirty-five, she was an old lady – she’d lived long enough. Even now, I still think of Jurie every so often.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with my story, the one I want to tell now. I want to talk about hair removal. Pubic hair removal, to be specific.
The reason I decided to prioritize having my pubic hair removed – rather than my arm or leg or underarm hair – had to do with the fact that a salon Jurie had told me about was having a half-price sale. The coupon she gave me was for ‘half-price unlimited VIO hair removal’.
Before then, I hadn’t known that one’s nether region was called VIO.
‘How could you not know that, Lina?’ Jurie looked at me incredulously. Then she drew me a picture.
‘The V is for the front. You get it – like when you stand in front of the mirror naked, right? The I is for down there, and the O is, well, you know.’
Unlike an acronym such as VIP, where the initials abbreviate the words it stands for, VIO illustrated the parts that it referred to.
‘Aha, I see!’
I had never realized that Jurie was so skilled at drawing. When I complimented her, she admitted somewhat shyly, ‘I wanted to be a manga artist when I was little.’
She went on, ‘This is a seriously good deal. Try finding a better price.’
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Yup, it hurts. But it’s seriously easy.’
I have never been particularly hairy. It wasn’t too much trouble just shaving with a razor, and I actually enjoyed plucking my underarm hairs. But for some reason, my pubic hair – and only down there – grew unusually thick and dark (so much so that Jurie’s out-of-the-blue recommendation for VIO hair removal made me wonder if she somehow knew how bushy I was). My V-area looked like a furry animal was stuck on there, and as far as I could tell by touch, this deviation from the norm extended to my I area and beyond to my O area.
I had thought about getting a Brazilian bikini wax. But I was terrified by the mere idea of having wax applied to my pubic hair and then having it ripped off. Of course, a laser was scary too, and although I still didn’t quite understand how it was done, I had the feeling it would be more tolerable than waxing. On par with the difference between being split open with a hatchet, or dying by electric shock. As far as I could imagine, they were both pretty terrifying.
Jurie, who’d already had her VIO done (in fact, she’d had her whole body done), insisted it was easy.
‘For real – you’re saying it’s easy?’
The prospect of my pubic hair not poking out of my bathing suit – or even from my underwear – was certainly intriguing. The underwear we wore at work was really tiny. I always wore a thong under a mini skirt, with bare legs and no stockings. And so I was persuaded by Jurie’s smooth talking (it seems that Jurie got a cash-back bonus for referring friends to the salon), which is what led me to the door of a laser hair removal salon for ‘half-price unlimited VIO hair removal’.
The salon was located in a multi-tenant building at Shinjuku Station’s east exit. I took the elevator to the fourth floor, where the doors opened onto the unnaturally pristine space of the reception area.
I was escorted into a private room, where I undressed from the waist down. I put on a gown while I waited, and then a woman came into the room. She seemed more like a girl than a woman. Her cheeks were rosy, her face unassuming.
‘Nice to meet you.’
She was not Japanese. Her nametag read ‘Yō’ in katakana. ‘Pleez, on za bed,’ she said in broken Japanese.
I laid down on the small treatment table, and Yō rolled up the gown. My V was exposed. I was self-conscious, but there was still more awkwardness to come.
‘Pleez hold up one leg.’ I did as I was told. ‘Flop to side.’
I brought my raised leg down to the side. Now my I was exposed. Although the room was warm, the lower half of my body was cold. Choked with embarrassment, I saw Yō pick up a hair clipper.
I emitted a sound as I let out my breath. I mean, a stranger was about to shave my pubic hair.
Yō brought her face in close to my V and I as she began shaving. It was mortifying to have someone scrutinizing my VIO area like this. I wasn’t worried so much about freshness, but I did wonder if she might think it was a peculiar shape.
My leg must have been gradually closing. Yō held it in place. Quite firmly. And so I psyched myself up for what came next. Yō wore a surgical mask – she was nothing if not professional.
By the time she had finished shaving everything (when doing the O, she had pried my buttocks apart), Yō had broken a slight sweat. Without stopping to daub her brow, she took out a small white adhesive patch. She then proceeded to stick it on the right side of my groin, right next to my I.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I cover your mole.’
I’d no idea that I had a mole in such a place. ‘Uh, why are you covering it?’
Yō sniffed when she said this. ‘What?’
‘Laser burns. Because mole is dark.’
‘You mean it burns anything darkly colored?’
Yō attached another patch. This one was near my O. Apparently I had two moles in the vicinity of my VIO. I had an odd feeling as I regarded Yō, who knew things about me that I hadn’t known.
‘Um, does it only burn dark things?’
‘Yes, only dark things.’
Yō looked sort of proud. With that same expression, she donned a large pair of goggles. With the goggles on, she looked even prouder. Almost brave.
‘That’s why blondes can’t burn.’
Yō put a towel over my eyes. Then, without another word, she swiftly began ‘the treatment’.
It sounded like the shutter on an old camera. My V let out a shriek.
It was hot. My ‘dark parts’ were burning.
Just then, I had a frightening thought. A laser that burns only dark things.
A laser that burns only people with dark skin, people with dark hair, people with dark eyes.
My V and my I and my O – the whole area hurt. It felt hot. I mean, after all, it was being burned.
Even through the towel, I could tell that the room lit up each time the sound popped. It must be harmful to the eyes, which is why Yō was wearing goggles. I kept my eyes open in the blackness created by the towel covering them, as thoughts of an outrageous murder weapon floated through my mind.
My next appointment was two months later. Apparently the treatments were synced with my hair growth cycle.
Of course the prospect of that same pain awaiting me was frightening, but my brainchild – the new weapon – was even more disturbing. Why had such a thing occurred to me? I tried to put it out of my mind, but the moment I sat down on the toilet seat, or during breaks between customers at work, or when I was in the bath, I would be seized by thoughts of ‘the weapon’.
At first, the one who appeared in my daydream was Yō.
This must have been influenced by that moment when I had thought she looked brave. In my imagination, Yō wore goggles and her white salon uniform as she burned dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin.
But that image didn’t last, and I couldn’t rid myself of this uncomfortable feeling. As she wielded the weapon, Yō’s face was too unassuming – she looked so young.
More than that, she herself was ‘dark’. Her hair was black like the depths of the sea, her eyes seemed as though they had been blotted out with a magic marker. Her skin was quite pale, but she had moles that stood out against the lightness, like a reverse night sky. There was no doubt that she numbered among those who would die by this laser.
The weapon was soon being wielded by various anonymous ‘pale people’. Faces I had seen in advertisements or on television took turns carrying out the massacre.
Whenever I thought of ‘the weapon’, my VIO always felt warm. It would prickle with heat and then grow hotter. Yō had done an excellent job – she hadn’t scorched me at all – but the area still felt hot. As if down there were being broiled over a flame. Of course I had never experienced anything like that, but now I knew that kind of heat.
I wondered why I was unable to get these images out of my head.
These kinds of things had no connection with my day-to-day life. I was twenty-four years old and worked in a gyaru girls’ bar where the customers often asked for my phone number. I dieted all year long, I liked sweet cocktails, it took me an hour to put on makeup, and I’ve been scouted for cabaret clubs when walking through Shinjuku or for adult videos when walking through Shibuya. I was young, still.
But something in me had changed.
I don’t know how to explain it, but the change had begun the instant that my VIO had been irradiated.
First, I began an intensive search. I had to know whether anyone else had conceived of such a terrifying weapon. The technology must have existed, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had thought of it.
When I typed in the words ‘weapon burn black’, the first search results that came up were for gunpowder. Apparently gunpowder is also known as ‘black powder’. I kept searching. Some of the things I found were ‘Banned weapon causes fate worse than death’ and ‘Weapon banned from use deemed “inhumane”’.
I couldn’t stop searching.
Hollow-point bullets expand when they penetrate a human body, to increase their destructive power. Napalm bombs are extremely difficult to extinguish, so victims often die from shock that is triggered by the pain. Cluster bombs rain death over a vast range, while white phosphorus shells burn through and completely destroy human flesh. Anti-personnel landmines are designed to injure rather than kill, not only prolonging the suffering of those injured but also enabling one to target and kill the medical support rescuing the wounded.
Defoliants cause the leaves on plants and trees to wither and fall off, and are used to destroy food resources, though many of those exposed to such agents also suffer illnesses and develop cancer. But far above the rest was the nuclear bomb. No other weapon compares with the destructive power of this explosive that derives its force from nuclear fission reactions.
Next I looked up massacres that had targeted Black people. Not surprisingly the results were about racial discrimination. Slaves and African Americans in pre- and post-Civil War America, brought over from Africa and forced to work in abominable conditions; lynchings in which Black men’s genitals had been cut off and they had been hung from trees. Billie Holiday had sung the song ‘Strange Fruit’, based on a poem inspired by a photograph of a lynching victim.
There have been genocides carried out by people of the same color too – and Black people have not always been the only targets. Rwanda, Nigeria, Congo, Kosovo, Poland. Korean residents were massacred in Japan after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and there was the Rape of Nanking in 1937. The world’s most infamous holocaust was carried out among white people. When I look at photographs, I myself can’t tell the difference between Germans and Jews. Then there’s the music video from the musician M.I.A. that depicts people with red hair being singled out and shot at by the military or forced to run across minefields.
I had thought that Yō had seemed too innocent when she had held that terrifying weapon in my daydream, but there have been even more innocent, actual children brandishing weapons and committing murder. Perhaps the most brutal of all, militias in Congo and Uganda have brainwashed young boys to the point where they have been willing to kill their own parents or become suicide bombers.
Needless to say, these massacres all involved rape.
Victims were suffocated, their faces buried in mud as they were raped from behind.
They were raped before the eyes of their young children. They were violated with guns, bottles, knives, dirt – all kinds of items. Those who lived suffered the death of their spirit, ‘a second rape’. Unable to share their pain with anyone else and crippled by flashbacks, they took their own lives. There were so many ‘survivors’ like these.
My searches even affected the predictive text on my smartphone. For instance, previously, I might have gotten ‘gel nails’ when I started typing ‘ge’, but now it offered ‘genocide’. ‘Mu’ had gone from ‘Muji’ to ‘mustard gas’; instead of ‘Hollywood’ for ‘ho’, what came up was ‘holocaust’; and even just ‘P’ gave me ‘PTSD’ rather than ‘peel’.
I started going to the library too (before now, I hadn’t even known there was a branch in my neighborhood). I checked out all the books related to various massacres, one after another, and brought them with me to work. I carried a tiny Louis Vuitton purse, and of course the books didn’t fit inside, so I bought a large, plain tote bag. And since it was difficult to carry a heavy bag while wearing high heels, I bought some flats too.
Ordinarily, during lulls between customers, I would chat with Jurie or the other girls (the owner of the bar had a hand in many different businesses and was almost never around). But now I couldn’t bear to, and I didn’t care what the others thought. I’d sit behind the bar and open up one of the books I’d borrowed.
I did not expect the reaction I got from Mari-pooh, the youngest girl who worked there.
‘What are you reading, Lina? Something about the atomic bomb?’
I showed her the thick book with the seal from the library on it. ‘Ah – I think we have that at home.’
‘Huh? Are you sure?’
‘I remember seeing it at my parents’ house. The cover is so scary, don’t you think? Wow, that brings me back. My great-grandfather survived the bomb.’
‘Really? Do you talk to him about it?’
‘No way, he’s dead!’
‘Who survived, what bomb?’ Yume-chan joined the conversation. I explained to her what we were talking about, and Mari-pooh did an image search on her smartphone.
‘Ugh, what the hell?’
Yume-chan reeled away from the phone, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I took the phone from Mari-pooh, cursing under my breath as I scrolled through the images.
‘You know, you shouldn’t be reading that book. My grandmother used to tell me not to let anyone know that my great-grandfather survived the bomb,’ Mari-pooh said.
‘I guess because they’d discriminate against us?’
‘Why would they discriminate?’
‘That’s what used to happen way back when. Some people couldn’t get married,’ she said.
‘Really . . . ? But why . . . ? They were the victims, weren’t they? It makes no sense to discriminate against them!’
‘I know, it’s totally tragic – I mean, the bomb was dropped on them.’
‘Japan is the only country to be the victim of nuclear weapons.’
‘You mean it’s never been dropped on anyone else?’
‘That’s right. And it happened to us twice.’
‘Hiroshima, right? Where else?’
‘Oh, yeah – I’ve heard of that!’
Jurie was a short distance away from us, playing with her smartphone. Every so often she would look over at us, but she didn’t join the conversation.
I visited the salon two months later to have the treatment done again.
Of course Yō was the one who did it. I wanted to talk to her – about the weapon, about the massacres, about rape.
But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. The memory of Jurie’s outburst a few nights before made me hesitate.
I had been having another conversation with Mari-pooh and Yume-chan. About the forms of rape that were happening all over the world. And the massacres that were going on. We were talking about the victims. And about the perpetrators. If a customer came in, we’d interrupt the conversation, and then when he was gone, we’d pick up again where we left off.
As before, Jurie had not joined in with us. I hadn’t thought much of it – she had always been fickle – but that day, she seemed kind of on edge. After the second interruption, when we started back up again, she finally raised her voice.
‘What the fuck!’
We all turned to look at Jurie.
‘You talk and talk about all these things, but then what? Does it make any difference?’
‘Scary,’ Mari-pooh murmured. She spoke very quietly, but I still heard her.
‘Huh? What did you say?’
‘Uh, no, it was nothing.’
‘Every so often, someone like Lina comes along. Suddenly all worked up about the way the world is.’
What do you mean, the way the world is? I wanted to ask, but I held my tongue.
‘You think you’re pacifists? And that it makes you so fantastic? Who do you think you are to talk about that? We’ve got everything in life. It’s ridiculous for people who have the time and money to shop at Muji everyday and to get our nails done and our hair removed to be pacifists – ha!’
Mari-pooh and Yume-chan silently went back to work. Quite diligently, in fact, doing things they didn’t normally do like wiping down the bottles and faucets. It seemed they had tacitly decided not to go against Jurie. ‘Sorry,’ I had said in a low voice, and then just waited for a customer to come in. But nobody else showed up that night.
Ever since then, I’d begun to feel embarrassed whenever I gave any thought to the state of the world.
For instance, I felt like it must be pretty arrogant to ponder tragic events while curling my hair or spending an hour putting on makeup in the safety and comfort of my home. Sometimes, when autotext would predict something from my search history like ‘cheap salons’ or ‘tattooed eyeliner’, I could still hear Jurie’s voice.
‘Who do you think you are to talk about that?’ But Jurie wasn’t here. It was just me and Yō.
Click! That sound reverberated within the quiet space. Every so often my body would react to the pain (with a flinch), but neither Yō nor I made anything of it.
I couldn’t see Yō’s expression, since my eyes were covered with the towel.
Yō was a professional. She did not speak unless spoken to. Thus, as long as I didn’t say anything to her, she would just continue administering the treatment in silence.
From time to time, Yō would pause in her task. Not because she was thinking – there must have been something wrong with the machine.
‘So, what is it about Yō? Are you worried she feels the same as Jurie?’
I had told Mari-pooh and Yume-chan about Yō.
‘Well, cause we all live in this peaceful country, and we have time for things like hair removal, you know? And here we are, talking about the world and war and all . . .’
‘Huh? What’s wrong with that?’
‘I mean, Yō gets up close and personal with my VIO, shaving my hair, you know – it’s a pretty tough job. And she had to have come here from another country. So, Japan is pacifist, right? And VIO hair removal is expensive, plus I’ve got a Vuitton bag – it’s like, here I am with my luxury goods, paying someone to take care of my privates, while talking about being anti-war . . . ?’
‘What do you mean, Lina? You feel bad for Yō because she has to do hair removal?’ Mari-pooh had had eyelid surgery to make her eyes look bigger, and as she said this, she opened them even wider now.
‘Isn’t that the same as thinking we’re stupid just because we’re only high-school graduates?’ Yume-chan chimed in.
‘Yume-chan, I only finished middle school. And I barely went at that, so I’m practically an elementary-school grad!’ Mari-pooh said with apparent pride.
‘That’s for sure. Anyway, we are pretty dumb,’ Yume-chan said somewhat gleefully.
‘Now I get it – is that why Jurie seemed so mad?’
Jurie had quit a few days earlier. She had been saying that she wanted to stop working at the bar for a while, and then she finally did it. She hadn’t replied to any of my emails, so I figured she must really be angry.
‘Like she said, “Idiots talking about the world!”’ Yume said.
‘But I don’t get it – why can’t idiots care about the world?’ Mari-pooh asked.
‘Cause we don’t know anything?’ I ventured.
‘That makes no sense! How much do you have to know to be able to talk about something?’ Yume exclaimed.
‘Yeah, that’s right!’ Mari-pooh agreed.
Now that Jurie had quit, I’d been thinking of leaving too. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of being the oldest one there, and somehow I couldn’t imagine working at the bar when it was just me, Mari-pooh and Yume-chan.
Of course, the three of us kept up our conversations during breaks at work. I remained on the verge of walking out the way that Jurie had. Some of it had to do with age, but it was also about looks and common ground. I mean, Jurie and I both might have looked like gyaru girls, but we weren’t committed to the subculture in the way that Mari-pooh and Yume-chan were. Mari-pooh had what seemed like 500 lash extensions on her surgically altered eyes, she had a tattoo of Jesus on the palm of her hand (even though she wasn’t Christian), and she always wore red to represent the ‘color gang’ her boyfriend was in. And Yume-chan used to work in a soapland brothel, until she had to quit because she was always getting yeast infections and, despite how sensitive her eyes were, she never took out her colored contact lenses before bed, so her eyes were always bloodshot.
Maybe it was stressful to keep interrupting the conversation when someone would come in – eventually the two of them started asking customers for their opinion on things.
‘What’s the PLO again?’
‘Why isn’t Japan opposed to nuclear development?’
Some of the old men lectured them, What are you fools talking about? And a few guys were bummed out – these were not the kinds of conversations they came to a girls’ bar for. But some customers got into impassioned discussions, sharing what they knew and even lending books. Mari-pooh and Yume-chan never failed to impress, no matter who came in to the bar.
In the two months since I had last seen Yō, she had gotten a bob haircut.
Her chin-length hair was remarkably dark. How many times had I imagined it being burned? Yō’s hair would burn well. Her eyes too. Despite the fact that she worked in a hair removal salon, Yō was rather hairy – her whole body would burn right up.
Yō listened quietly whenever I spoke to her. There was no way to know if she understood everything I said in Japanese, but even through the towel over my eyes, somehow I could tell that she was paying attention.
When the treatment was finished, Yō carefully removed the towel.
She hadn’t said a word, other than that. That’s how it always was, the whole time I was going to the salon.
Yume-chan quit the bar, and then Mari-pooh quit too. Yume-chan said she was going to work in a cabaret club, and Mari-pooh said she’d be waitressing in an illegal mah-jong parlor. We exchanged contact information and kept up with each other for a while, but eventually we lost touch.
I had thought the bar would stay open but it went under. I drifted from job to job – selling children’s clothing, cashier at a drugstore, working as a clerk in an architectural firm. None of them lasted very long.
Ultimately, the hair removal took a full year.
I got used to Yō being up close to my VIO and even to having my buttocks pried apart. There was considerably less hair, and so the pain had also significantly decreased. I had already half-forgotten how much it had hurt, and how hot it was, the first time I was irradiated by the laser.
On the last day, Yō worked in silence, as always.
Her bob had grown out, and her hair was in a ponytail. Over the span of the year, Yō had not lightened her hair or ever worn color contacts. She had been dark the whole time.
Ordinarily Yō would carefully remove the towel from over my eyes and wait for me to come down off the table. But this time she held me back. She passed me a hand-mirror that was no bigger than her face, and she said, ‘Pleez look.’
Until that moment, I had never seen my own VIO. I had only ever touched it with my fingers, just to confirm what it felt like.
I remained seated, drawing up my knees so that my VIO area could be seen in the mirror.
Of course, the first thing I should have noticed was how thoroughly my V area had been taken care of. My pubic hair was now a perfect, inverted triangle – it should have been obvious that it would now fit neatly within even the tiniest panties. But I didn’t see that – I was riveted by the sight of my own full VIO.
It was very complex. It looked like a flower that had just come into bloom, and it also looked like a new species of reptile. The deepest part trembled, moist and crimson, and resembled an internal organ rather than skin (perhaps that’s actually what it was). The protuberance above my I was round and sprightly, moving in perfect sync when I took a deep breath. The folds around my O area were shaded in darkening gradations, and were surprisingly stretchy to the touch.
Beside my O, and near my I, were moles. Those two marks I hadn’t known were there. One was long and thin and slightly raised, and the other was shaped like a rhombus and smooth. I stroked these moles, that had been left unburned. I sat there, touching my VIO. As many times as I must have touched it before, it felt like the softest thing I had ever touched. I cried. Like I was crying for the first time.
Yō watched my reaction. She didn’t hurry me at all. ‘Thank you,’ I said to her, and she smiled. That was the first time I had seen Yō smile.
Nine years have passed in the blink of an eye. I’m now the same age that Jurie was when she died.
None of those jobs panned out but, all in good time, I seem to have wandered into work that I find quite interesting. I’m now a receptionist at a beauty shop. It’s a big beauty shop that has a nail salon and spa attached to it.
The world has keep moving during these ten years.
There’ve been large earthquakes, hurricanes have destroyed cities. Many people have died, some people have murdered others. The Islamic State stripped away the dignity from everything, Yazidi women were sold into sexual slavery, Rohingyas were forced to choose between being driven from their homes and villages or being killed, the Palestinian situation only worsens. The rapper Childish Gambino made a video in which he called attention to the ways that racism and violence continue to exist in America. The sight of such horrifying news would bring me to tears, and then I would fix my makeup ruined by crying and paint my nails. That’s how I passed the days.
Recently, I chopped off my long hair to chin-length. The beauty shop was participating in a charity drive, so I donated my hair. As a result, the owner of the shop – with whom I had previously only ever exchanged greetings – struck up a conversation one morning before the salon opened.
‘Do you have an interest in contributing to society?’
The owner leaned forward to speak to me where I sat behind the reception desk. She was in her fifties and ran several shops throughout the city – she had the air of a shrewd businesswoman. She was a little intimidating, but after breaking the ice, I found her to be friendly and straightforward.
‘Yes, I do. Have an interest.’
It wasn’t that I was specifically interested, per se, but simply put I was happy to be helpful to someone, and more than that, I didn’t want to disappoint the owner, who had gone to the trouble to ask me about it.
‘I’d like to make more of an effort to get involved with groups doing those kinds of things, and so I’m looking for other ones.’
She showed me the notes screen on her smartphone as she said this. There was a long list of URLs.
‘These days, young people think of so many exciting things. It’s so easy to offer support through apps, and there are programs that make contributing to society feel like playing a game. Look at this one – you download songs you like, and a percentage of the profits go toward creating a system that enables the hearing-impaired to enjoy music.’
The website, Music for Everyone, was completely in English. I had heard that the beauty shop owner had studied abroad in England when she was younger.
‘There are so many things out there.’
‘There are. I contribute to this one, and this one, and this one,’ the owner scrolled down the screen. She moved pretty fast. I couldn’t keep up with everything she was showing me, but the letters VIO jumped out off the screen.
‘Ah, what was that?’
‘Did that say VIO?’
‘Uh, let’s see, was it this? What was that one? Oh, my friend who lives in Canada told me about it. It was recently established by a friend of his.’
‘Is that VIO the same as the one, down there?’
‘Oh? Ha, ha, ha . . . not that! It’s only referred to as VIO here in Japan! Let’s see, it’s an acronym for Violence and Injuries’ Opposite. His group opposes violence and injury in all forms.’
‘Could I take a closer look?’
The website she had opened was indeed in English. But unlike the other sites, this one included photos of the founders. There was one, it must have been taken in a park – a woman with beautiful, flowing hair was looking into the camera and smiling.
‘Oh, since they’ve only just started up, they must still be in the midst of putting up information,’ the owner explained, having noticed what I was looking at. I was amazed that, even in her haste, she intuited my feelings and anticipated my questions. I continued to stare at the image.
‘She’s pretty, isn’t she? The founder must know that an attractive person will draw people’s attention so he uses a big photo. It says her name is Yō Shun Lee. She must be Chinese?’
Yō Shun Lee.
‘Um, what does it say?’
The owner must have had her own appointment to get to. She had her coat on, and was on her way out. She had just been making conversation as she was leaving, and here I was, holding her up.
‘Yes. I’m sorry, but um, just an idea of what it says.’
The owner read through the English text, murmuring under her breath as she translated it for me.
‘Well, they oppose all kinds of injuries. Not a single person should ever have to suffer. Uh, there are no gradations of pain. Because, um, an injury sustained by one person – no matter what it is – causes pain for all of us. Weapons whose purpose is to kill serve to negate the existence of humanitarianism. Hmm, it’s kind of complicated.’
‘No, I understand. I get it!’
The owner regarded me with a strange look on her face. She held my gaze for a bit longer than normal.
‘Give me your email address and I’ll send you the URL. Since you’re so interested, you can copy and paste to translate the text. And it’ll be a good way to study English.’
We exchanged contact information. I never would have expected the owner to give me her personal email address.
‘Got it! I just sent it to you.’
At that moment, the shop’s phone rang.
‘Ah, there’s the phone. I’d better be on my way!’
The owner stuffed her smartphone into her pocket and rushed out of the beauty shop. She seemed so nice. I was pleased.
I answered the phone and made an appointment. I was distracted – I had to keep asking the customer to repeat herself. Ms Kawara, 2 p.m. on the 23rd, haircut and massage. I sung the details to myself so I wouldn’t forget as I entered the appointment into the shop’s system.
Was that really her?
The makeup of the woman in the photograph had seemed a little heavy, and she was smiling a bit too hard. Still, I had no idea where Yō had been these ten years, or what she was doing. And Yō would have known nothing about me over the past ten years.
After all this time, was that really Yō’s smiling face?
‘I forgot something!’
The owner came running back inside. We smiled at each other, and I waited for the phone to ring, which didn’t take long. The shop ran a brisk business. It was the day before a holiday weekend, so things were especially busy.
I was dying to look at my smartphone, but I resisted. Amid my impatience, every so often I would surreptitiously touch my VIO. Over my clothes, of course.
I had spent a year on the VIO hair removal, but my pubic hair was stubborn. It had started growing back, and by now my V, my I and my O were furry again. The area certainly wouldn’t be covered by tiny panties, but I no longer felt the need for hair removal. I was happy to replace tiny panties with a pair of big ones.
Illustration courtesy of the author
Feature photograph © Ruth Hartnup
This story is part of our 20 for 2020 series, one of twenty timely and exciting new works from the Japanese published here at Granta.com. Find out more about the project here.