Mariko was known as one of the most stunningly beautiful women in Tokyo. Her smoldering eyes and winning smile charmed smitten hearts and inflamed hopeless desires. Many a soul panged how one night with her would change a life forever. Sharks and vultures, sycophants and adolescents, pinged her on a daily basis in a circling swarm. Marriage was never more than a whispered "Yes" away. Yet with these blessings comes a curse.
While so many wanted her for what she was, Mariko must find the one who wanted her for who she was. She must not sell out her smile. She didn't need "a" marriage like many of her friends ("I'm just happy to be married!"), she had to have "the" marriage in order to make her life work. With very few understanding this she felt quite alone and isolated. But how does the most beautiful woman in Tokyo explain feeling lonely and isolated?
Kenji also felt alone and isolated in the shimmering city of lights. But no one would harbor ill will for his feeling that way. Blinded at a young age, he had grown into a dark world. He felt very sorry for himself, never trusting anyone to have an interest in him. Having never seen his own face, he assumed it to be one of ugliness - cursed like the rest of him. Life was an endurance test until the blessed relief of being six feet under.
Feeding into his cursed outlook, Kenji took a job as a masseur, a job in which he had no interest but was the traditional role for a blind person in Japan, the lack of sight allowing for modesty by the client. Though while not enjoying it he still ruthlessly forced himself into performing well - but it was the same as forcing his head under water; he could only stand it for so long. Others had a reason to try to live, Kenji believed he did not.
A drunk driver brought these two souls together, the superstar and the loser. Her back misaligned by the wreck, part of Mariko's therapy was massaging by Kenji in the clinic where he worked. He'd already heard word of her, listening to the low, envious voices of the men who spied her. Kenji had never seen such a commotion and when he found out he was to be her masseur was wildly bitter at the gods above. Freaks do not wish to be exposed to the beautiful people.
"Your touch is superb. You know exactly where to go."
In Kenji's world, compliments are insults. If only she knew what he had to go through to provide that touch! It was not sustainable and to be liked for what brought him torment was no prize indeed. Six feet under cannot come soon enough. He should have done a poor job so he could be rid of this "wonder woman" as the guys called her. Kenji did not need to be reminded of the divide between him and the likes of Mariko.
Not wanting to encourage further "compliments" and having missed his chance to drive her away with feigned incompetence, Kenji decided to use his secret weapon: he'd be himself. That will run her off! Take your false compliments and mockery elsewhere. The light does not belong on me.
"Even without hearts and minds,
"Plants wither in the passing days.
"In seeing this,
"Are we not ashamed?"
It was as close as Kenji could come to what he thought was insulting her without directly taking a shot. She with her fine beauty and countless suitors could never know the shame or the lowliness of a life like his, he assumed. He would feed her the ugly truth and she would duly flee to the hills to continue her life of the undoomed.
"A poem I once heard." In truth, it was Kenji's own, poetry his one most valued refuge from a wearying world.
"I very much like it. No life should wither. But how often do we face that?"
Kenji's stunned reply was with his hands, caressing her as a work of art. She must be preserved at all costs, a woman like this. She speaks of truth and not of the drowning lies Kenji hears day after day. She had fed him water in the dry desert. Could this be real?
Mariko insisted Kenji be her only masseur. If Kenji could have seen himself he'd have realized he was beaming like the sun. That night, in bed, he thought of nothing but her. He'd put his toe in the water but surely he could go no further. If he kept being himself at some point she would reject him like everyone else. "To good to be true" was the phrase to remember.
The next day, Mariko very excitedly dreamed to him.
"Even if I
"repeated a love's name
"could outward life match
"the intensity of our hearts?"
She explained she'd been inspired by his poem. Inspired?? By me?? Is heaven for everyone, after all? Again, Kenji could only reply with his hands, his delighted heart wallowing in this kindred spirit. She touched his inner life, of the world needing no eyes. What could he do for her? He'd give his life if he could.
When passing to his predetermined path home, Kenji heard the men at the clinic talking once more, fantasizing about Mariko. His heart burned in murderous jealousy. These were men who could offer a life beyond him. They could lay with her in the night, sharing her most intimate moments. Kenji too desired that beyond all else - only he had never seen her face.
He knew he must come up with a reply for her poem. In his private times of poetry, Kenji did not feel blind. He wished to live in those times forever. But a cursed man's poetry would surely be as rejected as he was. Still, she was giving him a chance to live - a chance he could not humanly resist.
"I had a vision last night. May I share it?"
"Yes, please do!" answered a truly delighted Mariko. Her enthusiastic response had him floating on air.
"By a flowering bloom,
"and by the lamp of the moon
"she reads her letter."
She gave no immediate reply but Kenji felt a shudder through her body. Had his arrow hit home?
"That's very beautiful. So simple, so clear. I can see it perfectly."
Yes! He, Kenji the cursed, had given her physical pleasure by his words. Let the clinic hounds match that! At first, he was disbelieving he could ever have anything in common with such a lovely creature and his pride knew no bounds in her relating to him. Now he wished her ugly to the world so he could keep her all to himself. These therapy times - these appointed, outwardly arranged times - consumed Kenji to the point where he desired them only more and more.
Mariko, for her part, felt herself too walking out on frozen ice, not knowing if it would break at any moment. She feared a man to whom her physical charms meant nothing. She'd never before realized how much she relied on that. Poetry had long been a secret passion of hers but she dared not face her need for it. She was being awakened - awakened by a blind masseur with a mystical face. What does it mean?
Kenji was asking himself the same question: what does this mean? It was like a long lost dream come true. In fact, he found a new part of himself gone since childhood. He must hear her poem tomorrow. He must know of her and continue to explore. Was life really life?
"Things That Make One's Heart Beat Faster," she proudly announced. "Do you wish to hear my list?"
Kenji wanted to scream an orgasmic "YES!" but fear halted him. It was the first time he'd held back from her (which scared him). "I want to hear them all," he meekly replied.
"Chirping sparrows feeding their young. [Originally she had written "watching sparrows" but changed it to "chirping" for Kenji's sake]. To sleep in a room where fine incense has been burned. To wash one's hair, make one's toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one."
"Those are wonderful, truly. Small moments that live forever."
"I have one more!" Kenji smiled unabashedly at her uncontainable joy. Even he could see she held him in high esteem. "It is night and one is expecting a visitor. [Kenji's heart sank thinking that visitor could never be him] Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters."
"Oh, my," gasped Kenji reflexively.
Never had Mariko's smile shined so brightly. She had feared her need to write but this joining of souls inspired her to new heights, creating as never before. To be known as a poet, not simply a holder of beauty that fades. How far down this line can she go? Where does it end? Could she write poetry that actually sells? All she knew was she didn't want this ride to end.
But the end weighed heavily on Kenji's mind. He'd flashed in deep anger when he heard the news, wanting to choke the life out of that voice. Mariko's sessions were coming to an end. This exciting, glorious peek into her life had lifted and exhilarated him like an explosive tornado. What happens when her assigned time with him goes away? Would she see him in real life?
Kenji's poetry output had exploded with Mariko's arrival, he could barely eat a meal without a new inspiration interrupting him. He couldn't write like she could of life and visitors and scented robes - though his love of hearing of her living world knew no bounds. Yet she envied his insights into the universe - a trait which cannot be bought nor learned. Each was a greater person together than apart - where each felt a fraud in comparison.
So what does it mean to write? Kenji and Mariko filled holes in the life of the other that even a spouse might never fill. Could he live with a need he could never marry? Could she live with a need outside of a marriage? They had tasted heaven as some never do. But the train was pulling into the station, the surreal trip coming to an end. Would they get off the train together?