An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful (32 page)

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We had lunch in a restaurant by the lake where she was more attentive than I could have ever wished. She filled and re-filled my sake cup, laughed at my stupid jokes in Japanese, hung on to my arm as we strolled, insisted on buying me a small box inlaid with
the local marquetry as a souvenir. She then told me there was
somewhere
else she would like me to take her.

The hotel was one of the most impressive buildings I had ever seen. I had just pulled out of a bend entering a small village and there it was. So unexpected, just spilling out of the mountain side, easy as you like. That was its architectural strength. Its organic nature. Summing up in an instant all that was exquisitely beautiful about Japan. Grace, elegance, subtlety, attention to detail, respect for the natural form. I drove into the forecourt where a few other military vehicles were parked. Christ, there was even a staff car flying the Stars and Stripes. Perhaps the old Supreme Commander himself had stopped by for a cuppa. A couple of white-gloved
flunkies
took the jeep, leaving me and Sumiko standing in awe in front of the building. I thought of myself, Feldman and Winston stopping off on my first day in Tokyo to get our photographs taken outside the Imperial Hotel. That Frank Lloyd Wright edifice was
magnificent
but what I stood staring at now really moved me. I didn’t know why. Perhaps it was the romantic in me. I brushed down my uniform ready to escort my lady through the swing doors.

‘No, no,’ she said, looking quite shocked. ‘I want the gardens. Will you take me there?’

It turned out her father had worked at the hotel as a gardener before the war. She had grown up nearby with her mother and her two sisters, often coming by to play in the grounds but never going into the hotel itself. That was strictly off limits for children of the staff. She skipped ahead of me now, running out of sight. I followed her through an avenue of trees, brushing aside the strands of cobwebs left in her wake. I came out into a clearing where she stood by a dried-up pool. As I approached, I realised she was crying.

‘It was once so beautiful,’ she sobbed.

I had to admit the place could have used a good gardener. Weeds overgrew the whole area, branches needed pruning back and the pond area either needed to be refilled or dug over altogether. Half the plants were dead, the rest struggling to survive in whatever light filtered through the overhanging foliage. There was an old waterwheel rotting away on the side of a small mill deeper into the
hillside where the stream had clogged up on its fall down into the pool. The wheel would have been an intricate structure of
excellent
craftsmanship in its time, but many of the struts hung loose, its hoppers were filled with mud, and right at the top a bird’s nest. I let Sumiko cry her heart out into my chest, then led her back to the hotel. I felt her trembling beside me as we spun through the swing doors and up the carpeted stairway. I was mentally going over my excuses to the sergeant at the motor pool as I checked both of us in for the night. We were given the Fuji Suite.

T
HE
W
ATERWHEEL
, C
HAPTER
8

My job was coming to an end even if nothing official had been said. The American desire to persecute or prosecute the Japanese for what had happened was beginning to wane. Most of the
interrogations
had been completed and my superior, Captain Feldman, was now involved in the trial procedures. But even these cases were half-hearted affairs with most of the sentences of the
high-ranking
military men and politicians being downgraded from death to life imprisonment. Other prisoners on shorter sentences had already been shown the gate to the Tokyo streets. My turn was coming round too, time to pack up the uniform and head off home before the Yanks started getting tough on Korea. I was
English–Japanese
bilingual with a lieutenant’s pip on my shoulder and I didn’t think work would be hard to find on Civvy Street in the new world order.

My relationship with Sumiko had blossomed. If that was the right word to apply to a liaison between a
panpan
girl and her
customer
. She was my
onrii
lady. I was her
onrii
man. Or at least I hoped I was.

The hotel in the hills outside Hakone had become our
favourite
haunt whenever I could wangle a jeep out of the motor pool. We would go there on special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries and the like. The staff had come to know me well and I always
chose the Fuji Suite. We cherished that room with its views on to the hillsides. And the walk-in cupboard with the light that went on and off automatically with the opening and shutting of the door. Sumiko just loved that. As if that simple contraption summed up the most decadent luxury. The hotel was also blossoming,
restoring
its reputation as a haven for foreigners, long experienced as it was in the ways of the Western visitor. Sometimes a famous guest would add a certain magic to our stay. We bumped into Nehru once in the gardens on a stroll out to the waterwheel.

The waterwheel had been restored now. The whole area where it sat cleared up to create a perfect little hideaway. I would sit there often and contemplate the structure, be lulled into pleasant meditation by its constant cycle as I watched the hoppers deliver or extract their loads to and from the pool. A symbol of life. A symbol of reincarnation. I would sometimes bring a small bag of
bread-crumbs
from the dining room. Sumiko would delight in watching the carp rush and hustle to suck up the tiniest morsel. That was what she was doing now as I sat on the low surrounding wall, smoking a cigarette.

It wasn’t often I felt pleased with myself. For I had done nothing of significance in this mediocre existence I could call my life. But as I watched Sumiko feed the fish, I would like to think I had restored a little goodness into her life. I had brought her back to the place she used to play happily as a child while my financial contributions continued to keep her family alive. And in her own way, Sumiko had given me what she could. A little bit of tenderness to a man so hardened by the atrocities witnessed in the past few years. I might have been fooling myself into thinking there was something more than my money that had bought me this little bit of happiness. Or perhaps I had learned something from my American paymasters after all.

T
HE
W
ATERWHEEL
, C
HAPTER
16

J. David Simons is the author of two previous novels as well as a number of short stories and essays. His first novel,
The Credit
Draper
, was shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize. He has also been the recipient of a Creative Scotland Writer’s Bursary and a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. A former lawyer, cotton farmer and journalist, he also worked for seven years as a university lecturer in Japan. He now lives in Glasgow, the city of his birth.

The Credit Draper

The Liberation of Celia Kahn

 

Praise for
The Credit Draper

‘An odyssey of cultural confusion and survival. Full of hope, honour and sadness.’ J
UDGES OF THE
M
C
K
ITTERICK
P
RIZE

 

A subtle, beautifully written story … a truly fine debut which heralds the arrival of a bold new voice in fiction.’
R
ODGE
G
LASS
,
AUTHOR

Praise for
The Liberation of Celia Kahn

‘A modern classic.’ D
AVID
B
ELBIN
,
AUTHOR

 

‘This is a compelling tale with characters who imprint themselves on the streets of Glasgow.’ S
CARLETT
M
C
G
WIRE
,
T
HE
T
RIBUNE

 

‘It is always a joy to find a novel which is such an entertaining and compelling read, is faithful to the history of the times and which also explores so many stimulating political themes.’ A
LAN
L
LOY
D
,
M
ORNING
S
TAR

Published by Saraband
Suite 202, 98 Woodlands Road
Glasgow, G3 6HB, Scotland
www.saraband.net

Copyright © J. David Simons 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permission of the copyright owner.

ISBN: 978–190864327–8
ebook: 978–190864328–5

Printed in the EU on paper from sustainably managed sources.

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BOOK: An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful
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