“I HATE white! I HATE black!” Massoud reported from the end of the kitchen table one night, “I LAAAV…what is RIGHT!” He slammed his fist down on the fake wood table.
From the side he looks like an Egyptian hieroglyph. His nose is a flat hook, and his mouth a straight line. His eyes are dark and look straight into you when he speaks, and his hair is pulled back in a kitchen worker’s ponytail.
He sits in one of the wooden chairs in the kitchen, rocking back on the back legs, leaning against the wall. Soon, he will fall asleep and come crashing to the ground, awake, startled, as if this had never happened before (instead of every night), pick himself up and smile sheepishly while everyone laughs. He will laugh too, and then will say “shat up!”, and then he will light a cigarette.
Taxi-Driver-Tom asked him once how many nights he sleeps in his room. Massoud answered two hours a week.
We made fun of him for wanting to listen to Neil Diamond. He laughed with us and then asked why. Someone tried to explain to him that nobody actually listened to Neil Diamond, but he was not swayed.
Zeljko and Dave’s band was playing at a little club in Takadanobaba. Everyone from the house went. It was a Christian mission office during the day, and there were Bibles all over the room. A makeshift bar had been set up near the door, and there were religious posters scattered about the walls,
I got a beer, and went over to Andrew, the architect who was just out of school and working with one of Japan’s greatest architects. Andrew had just been refused entry into Japan because the Immigration officers didn’t believe he had a job and was applying for a visa. He had to fly all the way back to New York and try getting in again. He got in this time, and was standing near the band setup waiting for them to start.
“Hi,” I said, “I heard you got kicked out!”
“Yeah,” Andrew drawled, “it pisses me off. They wouldn’t even let me make a phone call! Had to fly all the way back to New York!”
“Japan is all about spaces,” Andrew had said once, gesturing way out in front of him, his eyes rolling wildly around the room. “Everything has just the right amount of space around it. It’s the space that allows you to see the thing. If you look at Japanese architecture…no, that’s too obvious…look at the way they set the table…look at how things are displayed in stores…look at the way people walk down the street, there’s always the right distance between people. Shit, look at the way the stones are scattered in the river, or the way the tree branches spread out – it’s not just what humans have done…it’s everywhere…it’s fucking eerie!”
The lights went down, and Dave, Zeljko and the drummer stepped onto the small stage.
There were some chairs set up along one wall, and the Japanese girls who had come were sitting in them. For the first part of the evening, they swayed back and forth and clapped to the music, which I thought was an odd accompaniment to “Start Me Up” and “Wild Thing.” Later on, they abandoned the chairs and stood in groups around the room.
Massoud had been standing near the bar. Suddenly, he pushed forward into the small space in front of the band. His head was down, and he flailed his arms around him. He bent his knees, splaying his legs, and lifted his head up. His eyes looked straight ahead, his mouth was a straight line, open only enough to breathe. He jumped up and came crashing down, jumped up again, and then went down to the floor, in a Russian squat, kicking out his legs, with his hands down on the floor to support himself.
Then he sat down and spun around and was up again. He lifted his head to the sky, panting. His whole body was shaking, and he flung his legs and arms, as if trying to throw them off his body. His head was tilted back, and his mouth opened up into a wide grin, as if he could see something up there the rest of us couldn’t. When the music stopped, he stood there for a moment, frozen as he had danced, and then stumbled backwards, caught himself, and turned back to the crowd.
The room was silent, and then suddenly exploded in cheers and applause. Andrew the architect grabbed a beer from the bar, walked up to Massoud and handed it to him. Massoud took it. Andrew stuck out his hand, and shook Massoud’s hand. Massoud said “thank you,” between breaths.
“My man!” said Andrew.
The band was starting to pack up, and people were starting to drift back to the house. I left with Nuri and Jody.
When we got to the top of the stairs, we saw two policemen asking to see Alien Registration cards.
“Oh what Bullshit!” Said Jody, “come on!” She led us around the policemen before they had a chance to stop us.
From across the street, we looked back. Massoud stood there as the police went through his things, searching his pockets and his bag. “They think he’s got drugs,” said Jody. They asked Andrew for his Registration card. He showed it, and they waved him on.
“Should we stay?” Asked Nuri.
“No, we can’t do anything,” she said. “Ah, he’ll be alright, Dave and Zeljko are still there.” The police waved more people on, still scouring Massoud.
“The bastards,” said Jody, “come on then.”
Zeljko dressed up for his twenty-fourth birthday. He wore a black T-shirt and tight black jeans and a black vest under his black leather jacket. Someone had given him a big white button that said something in Japanese, and he pinned it to his vest. His hair was greased back slicker than usual, and his face was bright, his lips cherry-red like he had been standing out in the cold. He looked like the “Joker” from Batman when he grinned.
Zeljko beckoned Shiraz over and she leaned up to him. He whispered something to her and she pulled away, laughing. A little later, she pulled me aside and said she’d just been propositioned by Zeljko.
“Really!” I said, “you going to go for it?”
“Well…” she said, “he said he wants both of us.”
“I see,” I said, raising my eyebrows, and walked away.
Massoud stood near the bathroom door, watching me, a frown on his face. He beckoned me over.
I came over and he looked in my eyes, his mouth clamped shut and his forehead furrowed.
“I don liike…what Zeljko says. He say he want to touch to you and touch to Shiraz.”
“Zeljko is good,” I said, “Zeljko is your friend.”
“Mmmmm…I don liike it. Is naat good. Is naat good.”
We went to Roppongi after the party, and danced at Gas Panic Bar. There was Zeljko, me and Massoud, in a triangle around the table, with a fire in the middle.
Massoud’s knees were bent and he threw his arms up in the air as if to fend off an attacker – first to one side, then the other, opening his mouth in a gasp of surprise each time.
We had something in common, I realized, me and Zeljko and Massoud – it was the way we danced. We did it all the way, whatever the music told us to do, not what anyone else said, even if it looked crazy. And we knew that each of us would do anything for one of the others.
Massoud got up on the table, in the middle of the fire. He shook his whole body, bouncing from one foot to the other, and then sat down on the table and splayed his legs up in the air. He jumped up again, and teetered backwards. Zeljko reached up and steadied him, and he threw his hands out in the air and crossed his feet and sat down again, kicking his legs up in the air.
He jumped up again, and really fell off the table this time. Zeljko picked him up off the floor, and tried to hold him back from getting back on the table, but he twisted out of Zeljko’s grip and was up again. Zeljko looked at me and shook his head.
One of the guys from the bar had come over by now and was reaching up to grab Massoud. “Oh no,” I thought. The bar man had no idea what he was putting his hands on. He was bigger than Massoud though, and was able to lift him from the table, cradling him in his arms like a child.
Once on the ground, Massoud wanted to get back onto the table. The man from the bar held him back, and in an instant, Massoud’s limbs were flying all around and nothing could restrain him.
Someone got hit. Someone else grabbed Massoud from behind and started pushing him to the door. They got to the wall, and Massoud struggled to break free, pinning the guy to the wall. I ran over to Massoud and grabbed his shoulders, pushing him down to the floor.
He was panting heavily and his eyes were closed. His nostrils flared open and closed, and sweat trickled down his face.
“Massoud,” I said to him, “are you OK?”
His eyes still closed, he nodded his head up and down.
“OK,” I said, “we’re going outside, come on now.” He nodded and said OK, and let me help him up.
He opened his eyes, and I led him towards the door, my arm around his back.
He saw someone’s face, and spun around, ready to go for him. “No!” I said, “come on!” I pulled him towards the door.
Just then, a Japanese guy with long hair and an American Indian nose grabbed Massoud, getting him in a head-grip, and moved him towards the door. I could see Massoud wire up again, and he struggled to get out of the guy’s grip.
“No!” I screamed at the guy, “let go of him!” He kept his grip.
I reached over and grabbed a hunk of the guy’s long hair, pulling it as hard as I could.
“Let go!” I screamed. “He’s not doing anything! We’re leaving!”
“Let go my hair!” The guy screamed. I pulled harder.
“Let him go!!” The guy’s grip relaxed and Massoud struggled free. I pushed my way through the crowd and out the door after him.
When I got outside, Massoud was lying on the ground, his legs wrapped tightly around the middle of the bar man who had first pulled him off the table. They lay on the curb in a death grip, with several people crouched over them, and the man’s long blond hair in Massoud’s tight fists. The man’s face was distorted in pain.
“Jesus!” He was saying, his face in the pavement.
Zeljko was leaning over them, talking to Massoud.
“Hey, come on man, let up… come on… Massoud… enough’s enough… come on…”
Massoud’s eyes were clenched shut, and his nostrils were flaring again, every muscle in his body tight, and even if his eyes had been open, he wouldn’t have seen any of us.
I stood there not knowing what to do. The guy whose hair I had pulled came out and shoved me in the shoulder. I realized he was a lot bigger than me.
“Hey, that hurt!” He said to me.
“He wasn’t doing anything!” I said, “you didn’t need to grab him!”
Suddenly, there was movement on the pavement. The bar man screamed as Massoud’s grip tightened.
“Ow, Jesus!” He screamed, not to Massoud.
I knelt down by Massoud and put my face on his chest. I said his name over and over again. I could feel his heart beating against my cheek, and I kept on saying it until it got in, and I felt his muscles loosen a little.
As soon as they did, the man was up on his feet, panting, saying “Jesus Christ!” and running inside.
Zeljko helped Massoud up, and they both walked down the street. I turned back to the door and saw the blond man coming out again, with a baseball bat.
I ran towards Massoud and Zeljko. “Run!” I yelled, “he’s got a baseball bat!”
Zeljko looked back, and kept walking Massoud towards a side street.
“We’ll be alright,” he said, putting his arm around Massoud’s shoulder and walking slowly away.
We walked up some stairs and sat Massoud down at the top. I sat down next to him, and Zeljko stood just below us looking up at Massoud.
“Never!” Said Massoud after he had caught his breath, “NEVER in my country does a man HIT to another man in the face!”
He stopped, to breathe heavily for a moment. “HOW can he do such a thing?? I will KILL him!! FUCK to him!!!” Massoud slammed his fist into his palm.
Zeljko stood there, still breathing hard, nodding his head slightly.
“You want to go back there and fight them?” He asked Massoud.
“I will KILL to him!”
“Alright, let’s go!” Said Zeljko, “let’s go back and fight the whole place – come on!” He reached down for Massoud’s hand. Massoud waved him away.
“Alright, then knock it off! Come on, let’s go home!”
Massoud looked around him.
“I do not have my bag,” he said, looking up at Zeljko.
“Alright, I’ll go back and get your bag,” said Zeljko. He turned where he was and hurried down the steps.
Erik and Philippe had followed us to the stairs, and they stood there now, at a short distance.
“WHY do some person do such a thing to another person?” Asked Massoud again.
“Why would some person HIT…” he slammed his fist into his palm, “…to another person’s FACE? Do you understand it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You do?!?!” He looked at me in shock, “please tell me. Why?”
“Because they’re drunk,” I said.
He nodded his head and said nothing.
Zeljko came back with Massoud’s bag and my bag. He handed mine to me.
“Alright,” he said to Massoud, “you ready to go?”
Massoud was staring straight in front of him. “I cannot understand it… I cannot let another man HIT to my face for no reason…”
“Aw come on Massoud! You know you hit them pretty good too…”
Massoud looked up.
“You definitely had the upper hand in there Massoud,” said Zeljko, “I’d say you gave out a lot more than you took.”
“Yeah you did! You had that guy pinned to the ground outside…we couldn’t get you off him…”
Massoud laughed slightly.
“Come on man,” said Zeljko, “it’s my birthday. I don’t want to stand out here all night. Let’s just go.”
Massoud sat there for a moment, and then stood up and said “alright,” and walked down the stairs with Zeljko.
Excerpted from Memoirs of a Gaijin, by Bretigne Shaffer
I am a pirate.
Fiction and commentary about the beauty of civilization and the evils of the coercive state