Shinjuku led me quietly onwards. Flashes of sound pinged off each other, breaking the peace like bullets. A door of a pachinko parlor opened briefly letting a deluge of excitable music and the sound of steel ballbearings against the flippers and plywood of the pinball machines flood the street. The rising cadence of desperate gambling, barely hidden beneath a façade of cuddly toys and cheap knock-off handbags at the booth where tickets got exchanged for prizes, and prizes for money, fought against the socially enforced wa of the moment.
At that precise moment in time, walking the streets of Tokyo late at night with two tiny children, one no more than a baby, I hated pachinko with a passion. I hated the tattooed goons with their bubble perms and outlandish teddy boy leopard skin jackets, missing pinky fingers and their humanity. I hated the noise and the fury and the bright lights and the waste of money and time and energy. I hated the sad faced office ladies toting small bottles of collagen enriched energi-drinku with more caffeine and stimulant amazonian extracts, and the bleary eyed salarymen with their cans of boss coffee, wasting the time that they have to spend on themselves on mindless bouncing ballbearings and games of chance that are rigged to be lost most of the time.
I hated the fact that the streets were clean and the smell of inveterate cigarette smoking. I hated my life. I hated the fact my left eye was so swollen I could not see out of it, and that my legs were bruised purple from ankle to hip. I hated the fact I had no money and the baby was crying for a feed. I hated the fact that I had to carry a four year old on my hip, because she was so tired she could not walk any longer. I hated the fact that I could not go back home because, one, he would not let me back in anyway, and two it was not safe to go back yet because he was still raging and smashing and threatening to kill me imminently with extreme prejudice. I could not take another moment of being told I was ugly, I was fat, I was too loud, the children were irritating him. I could not take another second of him jealously screaming to stop breastfeeding the breastfed baby at a few months old. I couldn’t take another second.
At the time I thought it was Japan that I hated. I thought it was the heat, then the cold. I thought it was the curious stares and constant demands to know where I was from and why I was there, and was I going home. This was my home. I lived there, for better or worse, and there was no way I could leave with my children without the Hague convention demanding I went to jail and returned them. Parental child abduction. What a joke. Legally enforced domestic violence more like. The law demanded that I stayed in Japan, and that it was the sole responsibility of the Japanese police to deal with the situation I found myself in. Back then, right at the start, beating your wife was not illegal in Japan. The cops had no skin in that game. That shredded outer shell was all mine. Six or so years went by and domestic violence became a civil matter. Hurrah. Except the cops still had no interest in stopping him or helping me. Domestic violence charities refused to take a gaijin into their shelter. The nuns at the church sometimes let us sleep there, but they were too frightened of upsetting my husband, and so refused to do so again.
The baby was still screaming. His little face was bright red and contorted in desperation. I had no money for a cup of coffee, and nowhere to sit down. There was no park nearby that was safe to sit in. I sat down outside the pachinko parlor, the bright lights, wide awake crowds and heavy noise forming some kind of barrier of safety, picked up the baby from his stroller, unbuttoned my shirt, pulled out a boob and put his head towards my skin. Happy silence. The girl scowled. “I wanna go to sleeeeeep!” Now it was me crying. I took over where the baby stopped. Great big gulping shoulder-shaking sobs. Huge wails of desperation. I am not one for giving up. I have never much been one for talk of ending it all, but at that moment in time, no end in sight to the beatings or the humiliations, with nowhere to go and no one to help me, I wanted nothing more than to cease to exist. Everything hurt.
I stood up, put the baby in his stroller, ignored the stares and the gossip, put the heavy girl on my hip and started walking towards a Lawson combini. I had no cell phone, he would not buy one for me. I started towards a pay phone, when I realized I didn’t have a single yen on me. I wanted to call him, and see if he would answer, if he had calmed down. I wanted to test the water to see if I could come back into the apartment, since I had no other options, and put the girl to bed. Perhaps sit with the baby and watch tv. Bathe him. Put him in a clean diaper and a fresh onesie. Hug his sweet little body and kiss the top of his head. I had no choice. I had to go back blind.
“OK, baby. Let’s go see if Pig has calmed down yet, shall we?” She nodded her head. It was too much to ask of her. It was too much, full stop. I turned back towards the road that led up to the apartment building. My back was screaming at me, the Girl asleep on my shoulder, nuzzling into my neck. My legs were wobbling under the strain. The C section scar, barely healed, screaming at me to put her down. The baby, fussing. I started counting my steps. Just another ten: one, two, three, four…..When I got to ten, I insisted my body move another ten. I kept on going. Just to the street lamp. “Come on!” I told myself, “you can do it!” I held onto the street lamp like a drowning woman. I could see the apartment building. I couldn’t go on any further. I considered laying down on the sidewalk and sleeping right there. The Girl’s sweet little round face grimaced. “Iwannagotobed!” I put her down for a moment and looked at her in the eyes. She pouted at me. “You are going to have to walk, just a little way, just to the house, ok?” She went limp and refused to move. I picked her up, wondering if the scar could still split open, my arms like lead, and I carried her back to the apartment. As I put her down to open the door she started screaming. The poor kid was so tired she could not think. Baby, Girl, stroller and me made it into the elevator, up to our floor. Up to the door. I rang the bell. Nothing. I knocked on the door. Nothing. I rapped on the window. Nothing. The fury rose in my chest. Nothing.
Twenty minutes later, after the baby and the girl started wailing so much it would disturb the neighbors, he decided he didn’t need the hassle and opened up the door. I dropped the girl into bed, kissed her cheek and said goodnight to her. He was waiting outside her bedroom door. I said goodnight to him. He slapped me round the face, trudged back to his room, shut the door and turned on his television. Grateful it was over, and that he had work in the morning, I picked up my baby, bathed him, changed his diaper, put him in clean clothes and took him to the sofa to feed him properly. Pressing the ‘on’ button on the TV, finding something to watch that was mindlessly calm and sitting there wishing I could just sleep safely I resolved to stay awake and guard them, and that is exactly what I did. I would let myself sleep when he had gone to work.
Outside the house was silent. Somewhere down the road the pachinko parlors were still whirring, the bars were still hopping, there was life out there. A life that I was shut out from. I was living a daily hell instead.