Biba Jibun23 min read
Every night as I sleep on my futon, I dream that I’m a rabbit, running on a river of moonlight. My fur is white, my legs strong and swift, and I’m going to see Mama.
Papa said that Mama left because she was one of the obake, the spirit folk. She tricked him into marrying her when he was a rich man and could buy her French perfume and trinkets from Cartier’s. But then Papa’s company got bought by a Western interest which wasn’t of a mind to buy Papa along with it. When next the full moon beckoned, Mama turned into a silver rabbit scented with Envy by Gucci, a platinum Bulgari watch around her throat, and flew out into the night.
Actually, I don’t believe in rabbit spirits. Papa only said such things when he had too much sake, which was often. One night, he wandered away and never came back. They found him in a public bath house, drowned in a puddle of grimy water. Everyone says he got drunk and passed out, but I think he was looking for Mama, following the moon’s reflection in the water.
After that, the government sent me to Tokyo to live with my uncle and his family.
“Your uncle is away on business, Rinako.” Auntie Hina told me by way of greeting at the station, her voice pitched higher even than a daytime talk show hostess’s. “When he comes home, you’re not to bother him. He’s an important and busy man.”
I bowed low, giving myself time to school my expression to suitable meekness. “I’ll do my best not to trouble anyone,” I said.
She pursed her lips. “Your best or not, your father’s death was a great inconvenience. And quite an embarrassment, too, especially after your mother’s behavior. Don’t expect me to be lenient if you take after your parents. I cannot abide whores and layabouts.”
Her tone was so sugary, dripping with onna kotoba–the polite inflections and honorifics of women’s speech–that it took several heartbeats for me to grasp her words. Then I gaped in speechless outrage. Did she have some mental sickness which caused her to spew foulness like a diseased dog? I glanced to Haruto for explanation, or a speck of humor or sympathy. I’d have had better luck appealing to a block of wood. He was immersed in private music, a pair of ear buds trailing from his head.
From that, I understood that I could expect no warmth or welcome in my new home.
In the next days, Auntie rushed me around the city, registering me for school and buying my uniform and textbooks. She complained all the while (in dulcet tones) of how troublesome I and these chores were.
My impression of Tokyo came in flashbulb bursts of storm and bluster. The skyscrapers with illuminated advertisements blazoned on their sides brought to mind the peaks of swelling tsunami. The harried people and speeding traffic whipped to and fro like windblown debris.
Uncle came home late on Saturday, an event I anticipated with equal parts anxiety and dread. To my surprise, he was as affectionate and kindly as Auntie and Haruto were not. As soon as he saw me, he embraced me.
“Daughter of my brother, be welcome!” he said. “May past sorrows flow downstream, and may you find here a sanctuary of harmony, respect, and tranquility.”
The tightness in my chest loosened. “I am grateful to Uncle for taking me in and pray that he will not find my presence too much of a nuisance.” I wanted to say more, but Auntie interrupted.
“Husband must be very tired after working so hard. Shall I help him to bed?”
“Surely sleep can wait for me to properly greet my niece,” he protested. But he let her lead him off.
With Uncle home, the storm and gale of Tokyo transformed to clear skies and sunshine. He conducted a tea ceremony in my honor, and we played Go like Papa and I used to. But my heart sank lower than my knees when I learned that Uncle had to leave for another business trip. I helped Auntie make fried sticky rice for him to snack on and watched him depart, already missing his gentle smile.
Monday morning, I awakened from being a rabbit to the polyphony of Haruto’s Malice Mizer ringtone. The beginning of school, new friends and studies to immerse in. As I pulled on my new uniform–blue tartan skirt and white blouse–I resolved to embrace optimism, even when Haruto pretended he didn’t know me and insisted I walk behind him all the way to the rail station.
But my jaunty smile flagged as soon as we arrived. The school was in all ways a miniature of Tokyo’s chaotic tempest. The other girls, despite the dress code’s admonitions, wore makeup that made their eyes look huge and round, black lashes outlined in damson or smoky grey. Expensive jewelry glittered from their wrists and ears, and their hair was colored and highlighted in shades from palest sand to richest coffee.
Homeroom sensei looked me up and down, his mouth puckered as though tasting something bitter. “You’re from Gifu Prefecture? Che! Why does the headmaster always send me the slow ones? Well, don’t just sit there, tell the class who you are.”
The girls giggled behind their hands during my halting introduction, their mocking whispers of dasai and baka loud in my ears. The boys yawned or pretended to nap; one even snored–for real or not, I had no idea. When I finished, I put my head down, cheeks flushed and eyes burning.
I couldn’t bring myself to approach the girls who had so derided me. So I ate my lunch in lonely isolation and tried to concentrate solely on sensei’s lecture during my afternoon classes. Unfortunately, he had a dry, monotonous teaching style and, furthermore, was covering material I had already studied in my old school.
After school, Haruto and his friends clustered together, smoking Peace brand cigarettes as they ogled women in designer clothes. He sneered and waved me away. “Get lost. I don’t want some baka farm girl hanging around.”
It’s not like I wanted to hang around a bunch of conceited smokestacks, I told myself as I trekked alone to the rail station.
When the train arrived, it was jammed with commuters: students, salarymen, and office ladies. I squeezed into the last car, and more bodies pushed in behind me. My stomach churned, assaulted by cloying perfume, stale cigarette smoke, and sour sweat.
I was so intent upon not being sick that at first I didn’t notice that somewhere between Shibuya and Harajuko stations, a man’s hand had settled on my leg. Surrounded by blank-faced commuters, wedged so tightly I couldn’t move, I had no idea who it belonged to. As the train jostled along, the hand slipped higher, burning a sweat-slick trail from knee to thigh. At the next juddering stop, my agitated insides heaved, and I shoved free from the car. I fled into the closest ladies’ toilet to throw up. Stomach as empty and deflated as my spirits, I splashed water on my face, trying not to cry.
The door opened, and a girl in a school uniform identical to mine stepped to the sink beside me. She pulled a glittering gold bag embossed with distinctive Louis Vuitton monograms out of her schoolbag. After dumping an array of makeup on the counter, she proceeded to sketch in her eyebrows with a dark pencil.
“I saw what happened, you know.” Her voice was low and rich. “You’re supposed to yell ‘chikan‘ when they grope you. Everyone says train perverts make them want to puke, but you’re the first I’ve seen who really has. You must be new to Tokyo.”
“You shouldn’t let them fluster you. They like it. It excites them.”
I lowered my eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Do you always apologize when you’re mistreated?” She rubbed streaks of silvery-white from a Chanel compact over her eyelids. “Then again, I guess some people enjoy being kicked.”
My cheeks blazed. “What is it about everyone in Tokyo?” I demanded. “You think because you’re rich you can criticize and judge me? Flashing around designer products isn’t a sign of inner quality; it only means you’re materialistic and stupid enough to buy them!”
My outburst gave me a moment’s satisfaction; she froze, a tube of Dior lipstick halfway to her mouth. Until she laughed. Not the delicate, girlish giggles women are supposed to have, but a full-bellied laugh that filled the small bathroom, bouncing like pebbles against the walls.
Furious and humiliated, I made to leave, but her hand darted out, grabbing my wrist.
“Don’t go. I take it back. You’ve got balls. I like gyaru with balls.”
I considered marching out anyway, but her masculine way of talking, forthright and bold, intrigued me. I let her pull me back. “Gyaru?”
“You know.” She painted her lips with shimmery purple. “Girls, gals, gyaru. There’s himegyaru, the princesses; yamanba gyaru who dream of Hawaii and surfing; and kogal gyaru, like me. Biba jibun, viva the self, I say. So. My friends call me Yumi.”
“Uh, I’m Rinako.”
Yumi wrinkled her nose. “Rinako? How boring. It’s bad enough you’re so colorless and mousy looking, like you wandered off a farm. I’ll call you ‘Rini’.”
“I did, I guess–wander off a farm, that is. Until last week, I lived in Gifu Prefecture.”
“No wonder that train pervert honed in on you.” Yumi stopped studying her own reflection long enough to scowl at me. “Quit looking like I stepped on your tail. Of course someone from Gifu wouldn’t have any rail sense. Here, I know how to cheer you up.” She dug in her gold bag and pulled out makeup palettes and brushes. Overriding my protests, she covered my face and eyes in colored creams and powders. Bemused, I even let her shorten my skirt with jumbo safety pins.
“Shimatta!” she exclaimed. “Wouldn’t you know it? Your front’s uneven, and I’m out of pins. Wait–” Tugging a half-sewn teddy bear from her bag, she extracted an embroidery needle from its magenta face. With a swift stab, she pinned the offending pleat into place. “Biba jibun!” Yumi swiveled me to the mirror. “What do you think?”
With my eyes outlined in white and black and my lips painted a pale, shiny pink, I looked like a prostitute. Or a panda. If pandas importuned men on the street.
A drumroll clatter from Yumi’s bottomless gold bag saved me from answering.
“Hang on, it’s the telekura.” She rummaged out a tiny pink mobile and flicked it open.
“Moshi-mosh…oh, Daddy!” Her voice pitched up an octave. “I’m so glad you called. I was doing homework with my girlfriends, so boring….” With her free hand, Yumi swept makeup, brushes, and bear into her schoolbag. “…I’d love to have dinner with you. Can I bring Rini? She’s my best friend.”
“…you’ll like her. But you have to promise to be extra nice. She’s new to Tokyo, a real cherigaru.”
My eyes widened. Had Yumi just told her father I was a cherry girl, a virgin?
“Hai, we’ll meet you at the station. Abayo!” She snapped her phone shut. “We’ve got a date. He’s taking us to Tullio, seven thousand yen a plate. Hope you’re hungry.”
My eyes widened. “Are you sure your father won’t mind me tagging along?”
“My father?” Yumi smirked. “Like he could afford Tullio. That was some pitiful salaryman, probably fat and balding. Don’t you know what a telekura is, a telephone club? He’s taking us on a date.”
“You’re a prostitute?” I blurted.
Instead of being offended, Yumi only rolled her eyes. “Che, Rini, at least try to lift yourself out of the backwoods muck. Not prostitution, enjo kosai, a compensated date. I support his ego; he supports my lifestyle.”
“A seven-thousand-yen dinner for just your company?”
“Seven thousand yen?” She snorted. “I wouldn’t spit on a salaryman for 7,000. He’ll fork over at least fifty thousand for ‘just’ my company.”
“And nothing more?”
“Of course he’ll want more, but unless he’s super cute, he’s not getting it.”
“He won’t insist?”
“If he tries to, he’ll regret it. Salaryman hunting is almost as much fun as shopping.”
I blinked, startled by her savage tone. A trick of the light bleached Yumi’s toffee-streaked hair to magnesium smoke, her eyes flat and luminous as a cat’s. I blinked again, and the demon in a schoolgirl’s uniform became only Yumi.
“Don’t fuss, Rini. A lot of gyaru do it. It’s fun. Maybe he’ll take us shopping so we can buy you some decent shoes.”
I studied my penny loafers as I trailed her to the platform. It’s true I’d always wanted a pair of high heels like Yumi’s Prada slingbacks.
When the train arrived, I hesitated, the memory of the chikan still fresh. Yumi slid an arm around my waist, and propelled us into the current of boarding commuters.
“Lesson one in Tokyo train sense,” she whispered into my ear.
“Oh, Rini,” she declared, her voice high and carrying. “I heard the funniest thing from Momoko the other day. You know, the cute girl in band club?”
Was it my imagination that pressed salarymen closer, their eager heat and hot-sweat smell crowding nearer to eavesdrop?
“Some filthy chikan grabbed her breast on the Saikyō Line,” Yumi continued, “but she had the presence of mind to scream and identify the pervert.”
Was it also my imagination that there now seemed a hairbreadth of space around us?
“What happened?” I asked.
“The other passengers trounced him before the next stop, and on top of that, he gave her twenty thousand yen so she wouldn’t report him to the police.” Yumi giggled. “And you know what?”
“What?” The hairbreadth widened to a gap.
“She took his yen and turned him in anyway!”
I laughed with her. For the rest of the trip, I had no concerns about chikan; all the salarymen in our vicinity kept their hands in clear view, their eyes forward. At our station, Yumi only murmured, “Excuse us,” and they all but fought to clear us an aisle.
“End lesson one,” she said as we exited the platform.
“What do you do when you’re alone?”
“I pretend to call a girlfriend on my phone and tell her about Momoko’s adventures.” Her eyes sparkled. “Of course, the reception is so awful, I have to shout.”
“But I don’t have a mobile.”
“Shimatta! Really? I suppose you could ride the women only cars. Except they’re always overcrowded. Personally, I think the chikan use them as an excuse. ‘Any gyaru not riding a women-only car must want to be felt up,’ they say.” She scowled. “It’s the chikan who need their own cars. They can grope each other to death.” Suddenly, she tweaked my sleeve. “Look, Daddy’s already waiting for us.”
A blue BMW roadster idled by the curb. Yumi hastened to the passenger door and flung it open. “Daddy, what a sexy car you have!”
Inside, a chubby man in a salaryman’s suit-tie uniform waved. “Come in, come in!”
Yumi shooed me into the back while she clambering into the passenger seat. “I’m Yumi and this is Rini.”
“My name is Yamada Tarō–“
Yumi pouted. “Now, Daddy, you don’t want us to be all stuffy and call you Tarō-san, do you?”
“Yes, of course not.”
No one seemed troubled by his contradictory answer, and we lurched into Tokyo traffic.
“You know, Daddy, Rini and I were having a tickle fight before you called,” Yumi said.
“But no matter where we tweaked each other, we couldn’t make the other squirm.” She leaned her head on Daddy’s shoulder. “I bet you’re good at tickling. I bet you could make us both squirm.”
A horn sounded, and Daddy jerked us back into the proper lane. Unconcerned by her hazardous effect on the salaryman’s driving, Yumi bounced in her seat.
“Goody, there’s Tullio! I’m so starved, I could eat a whole sausage in one swallow.”
I smothered a giggle at the salaryman’s audible gulp.
When Yumi said she was starved, she meant she’d become a ravenous emptiness to rival the most voracious of hungry ghosts. Tullio served Italian food, which I’d never had before, and Yumi ordered extravagantly: antipasto as well as soup and additional dishes with her entrée. How could she possibly eat it all? But devour it she did, demonstrating that while she might have the mountainous stomach of a restless ghost, she certainly didn’t have the needle’s eye mouth to match it. For myself, I only ordered a simple spaghetti dish in vegetable broth, uncertain of my stomach’s forbearance.
As we ate, Yumi chattered between bites, a dialogue ranging from teasing to indecent. Daddy’s face turned beet red before the end of the antipasto. During dessert, he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands and strangled his napkin into a twisted rope.
After finishing her strawberry custard, Yumi seized my elbow, towing me along as she stood. “Arigato, Daddy, that was great. Abayo!”
The salaryman lurched up. “Can’t you stay a little longer?”
Yumi paused to consider, a slender finger to her lips. “We need to do some shopping, but I suppose you could tag along.”
“Shimatta, I forgot.” She screwed her face up like a sea urchin. “I spent the last of my pocket money yesterday. I guess Rini and I will go home and do homework.”
“That’s no problem.” Beaming, Daddy took out his wallet and piled bills into Yumi’s outstretched hands. I didn’t know which was more impressive, Yumi’s shameless ploy or how easy Daddy was to manipulate.
He drove us to a trendy store in Shibuya where Yumi picked out a pair of Fendi platform sandals for me and a silver charm bracelet from Tiffany’s to hang on her slender wrist. Daddy paid the extravagant prices for these gifts without protest, and Yumi let him breathe her hair and hold her hand. However, when he asked, “Would you consider going to a love hotel with me, Yumi-chan? You, too, Rini-chan?” Yumi shot him down without even the pretense of an apology.
“We can’t,” she said. “Homework, you know. Exam hell is coming up.”
Daddy looked like a scolded puppy as Yumi and I skipped off, arm-in-arm, to the rail station.
Out of earshot, I let my amazement spill out. “I lost count of how many yen he spent on us! And you do this all the time?”
“Told you it was fun, didn’t I?” Yumi pulled three ten-thousand-yen bills from her pocketbook and handed them to me.
“I can’t take that,” I said.
“It’s only fair. He was more generous because he wanted to impress you.”
“Didn’t you see how he gazed at you with his calf-eyes?” She winked. “Besides, now you can buy a mobile and tell all your friends about Momoko’s adventures.”
My fingers closed over the money.
When the train arrived in a welter of wind and noise, I crowded into the women only car, marked by a pink sign and defended by a somber security guard. I waved at Yumi as we pulled away.
During the ride, I used a tissue to scrub the makeup off. Auntie would surely have things to say about my late arrival. No point in making it worse by coming home made-up like a panda streetwalker. However, Auntie was on the phone and didn’t even look up at my entrance, much less bother to interrogate me as to my whereabouts. Lucky me. I crept to my room and unfolded my futon.
That night, as I leaped along the moon path of my dreams, I wasn’t alone. A toffee-streaked rabbit with a Tiffany bracelet around one paw kept pace.
“Inari, the god of foxes, invited me to join the ranks of his celestial servants,” she said.
“What an honor,” I replied.
“An honor? Hah! I told him, ‘Get lost, old pervert.’ Why should I want to be a fox? Kitsune are so wanpa, so conventional. But no one sees a rabbit and thinks ‘Dangerous! Watch out!’ Nobody expects a rabbit to have teeth.”
“That’s because rabbits are dainty and well mannered.”
“Are we?” The toffee rabbit bared white incisors, sharp as any predator’s fangs. “Where do good manners get us? Skinned, salted, and laughed at, that’s what. Lesson two–“
Haruto’s alarm sounded, and I woke before the toffee rabbit could complete her lesson. Perhaps I was goaded by temper, but instead of the clunky penny loafers, I slipped on my new designer shoes.
Auntie didn’t bother seeing us off so she failed to notice my footwear. But Haruto did.
“You’ll break an ankle in fancy shoes like those,” he said as I caught up to him. “Who’d you steal them from?”
“The headmaster,” I snapped. “He likes dressing up as a woman, you know.”
“Baka farm girls shouldn’t put on airs.”
“Dasai cheribois shouldn’t ogle girls’ legs. You’ll lose your teeny chinko to a fox.” Should I have said “rabbit” instead of “fox”?”
Haruto’s face turned ruddier than red bean paste. The light changed, and I shoved past, done with walking behind him.
At school, I hoped to see Yumi in the halls before the morning’s lessons, but I couldn’t find her. The other students were as unfriendly as before. Saeko, at the desk behind me, sank her painted nails into my arm as I passed a worksheet back.
“Baka slowpoke. Can’t you move any faster?” she hissed.
Still seething, I didn’t turn around to collect Saeko’s assignment when sensei announced time. I watched through a curtain of hair as she reached for my arm, manicured claws extended. Swiveling, I stabbed the point of my pencil into the top of her hand.
She shrieked. Blood trickled from the slight puncture.
Sensei hurried over. “What happened here?”
“So sorry,” I said. “I thought I saw a roach creeping on Saeko’s desk. But it was only her hand.”
His eyes narrowed. “Saeko, go to the nurse. As for you, Rinako, maybe they do it differently in Gifu backwoods, but students here do not behave so disgracefully.”
“Shimatta,” I said. “Wouldn’t you know it? In Gifu, they taught us to be courteous and considerate to others. How slow I am. Even with Sensei’s expert demonstration of how unacceptable that is, I still got it wrong.”
I thought he would hit me. Instead, he jerked me to my feet. “Take yourself to the headmaster’s office immediately!”
Smiling sweetly, I gathered my books and skipped out.
To my delight, a welcome voice hailed me before I’d gone more than five steps.
“Ohayo, Rini!” Yumi lounged in the hall, scrutinizing her reflection in a Versace compact. “Where are you off to?”
“Sensei sent me to the headmaster.”
She snapped the case shut. “That dasai old pervert. Have you seen how he stares at girls in their gym uniforms? Believe me, you don’t want to get cornered in his office. Let’s go shopping instead.”
Still heady with defiance, I grinned. “Biba jibun.”
We spent the day splurging in Shibuya. I tried on (and purchased) makeup from a dozen cosmetics counters, bought a pastel blue mobile, and let Yumi coax me to a salon where they colored my hair tawny brown. Afterward, Yumi announced she was famished and took me to a little sushi eatery overlooking the scramble crossing.
“Pretty sweet shopping, huh?” Yumi polished off another maki piece. Her prodigious appetite had already tucked away enough for a family banquet, and she seemed intent on devouring every last grain of rice.
“I can’t believe how much I spent,” I groaned. “Thirty thousand yen in a single afternoon.”
“So? It’s not like you can’t get more. I’ll show you how to register your new mobile with the telekura. With your innocent face, you’ll never lack for callers or yen.”
I toyed with a slice of pickled ginger. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll run into someone less accommodating than last night’s Daddy?”
“You worry too much.” She stuffed a whole nigiri roll into her mouth. “All men are pathetic and perverse, and salarymen most of all. Hey, you going to eat that sashimi?”
I slid the spiced squid over. “Maybe you don’t worry enough.”
She munched on a tentacle. “I’m a realist. Salarymen are little boys who never grow up. They’re bullied at home by dried up fishes like your auntie and at work by their bosses. They can bluster danson johi, ‘honor men and disparage women,’ or wax on about love and desire, but all they really want is to feel important. Some flattery and attention, and they’re happy. Scold them, and they fold like paper tigers.”
“You’ve never met a nice man, someone respectful and kind–“
Yumi shoved her chopsticks straight up in her rice bowl. I gaped, speechless. Only the dead receive food with standing chopsticks. I couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d squatted and used the table as a toilet.
“I loved someone, once. He was a nice guy. Rich, too.”
I swallowed. “What happened?”
“He treated me like a princess. It was perfect, except he didn’t like how I talked sometimes, or some of the things I wore or did. Little concessions. No problem, right? Until I woke up one day in wanpa clothes, spouting onna kotoba platitudes, and fretting about how to bow just right so I wouldn’t disgrace him. Dasai! I was so disgusted I couldn’t stand myself. So we fought. I told him I couldn’t be anyone other than myself. He called me willful and shameless. I agreed. Then he hit me.
“And that was that. He didn’t love me, only a fantasy he thought was me. But I didn’t love him, either. He was no more the man I loved than I was the princess he wanted. So I left.”
She waved her hand. “Don’t fuss. I’m glad. It taught me to value myself.”
The drumroll of her mobile startled us both. She recovered first, digging it out.
I started shoveling my purchases into my schoolbag. Over the rustling, I didn’t hear her “abayo,” only the clack of her mobile shutting.
She tossed a crumpled bill onto the table. “Got a date, Rini. See you.” Faster than the memory of a summer breeze, she was gone. It seems she didn’t want me along.
Dejected, I shuffled across to the Shibuya station and hopped a rail home. I spent the evening apologizing to Auntie with Haruto smirking in the background. School had called, of course. Most of her admonishments rolled off, until she spoke of Uncle’s disappointment. Then every word she spoke found their mark, filling me with barbed guilt and burning shame.
That night, my rabbit paws stumbled along the moon path, tripped by rocks that lunged out shouting “baka” and “dasai” as I darted by. Ravening demons chased me, the snap of their teeth loud as gunshots.
Floating serenely on a boulder, the toffee rabbit preened overhead.
“Help me,” I cried. “They’re going to kill me!”
“You worry too much. Just stop running.” The toffee rabbit checked her reflection in a moon-shaped compact. “Can I have your sashimi?”
When Haruto’s alarm jarred me awake, I was grateful.
At school, word of my incident with Saeko and altercation with Sensei had spread. Everyone treated me like a lunatic, watching me with wary eyes from a safe distance. It spared me from malicious pinches and kept their whispers out of earshot, mine at least, but I felt more lonesome than ever. And trying to find Yumi was like looking for a teardrop in the sea.
After school, I wandered around Shibuya, roaming the shops Yumi and I had visited, hoping to find her. But I didn’t. Footsore and glum, I bought a movie ticket with my last yen and sat in the darkness, trying to escape into the story of a samurai haunted by the yurei of a murdered prostitute. But the samurai’s arrogance annoyed me, and I ended up rooting for the yurei. Disappointingly, he persuaded a monk to exorcise her. The end. With no money and no companionship, my only option was home.
I was elated to find Uncle sipping tea in front of the television.
“Konbanwa, Uncle.” I bowed. “I didn’t realize you were due back today.”
“My company decided to recall me early to Tokyo. Surprise, hey?”
“If I’d known, I would’ve come straight back after school.” I looked around. “Where are Auntie and Haruto?”
“Your auntie wanted to cook something special and went to the market, and Haruto is still at juku, cramming for university entrance exams. Come sit.” He patted the cushion beside him. “I’m glad to have this opportunity to talk.”
I knelt beside him.
“Auntie tells me you got into some trouble at school.”
I ducked my head.
“Sometimes it’s hard finding your way in a new place.” He patted my knee, leaving the weight of his palm in my lap.
“I’m sorry, Uncle.”
“Never mind. A pretty girl like you will make friends. So charming in your school uniform.” He tugged the hem. “You’ve altered your skirt, have you? To make it more fashionable?” His hand crept beneath it.
No longer comforting, his grip tightened. “Girls your age are so coy, going out of your way to display some bare skin but pretending to be outraged when a man shows his appreciation.” His voice was calmly matter-of-fact, as much at odds with his behavior as Auntie’s voice with her words.
“Expensive new shoes, makeup, a visit to the salon. You’re the same sort as your mother. Your father was scandalized, but I don’t mind. Of course, I have yen enough to pay.”
His hand cupped my groin, and the clash of hot shame and sickening revulsion made me dizzy. Disoriented, I was a rabbit again, pursued by demons. I blinked, and the moment passed. Although a nightmare still chased me with panting breath and hungry eyes.
But I was done with running.
Watching Uncle through a fan of eyelashes, I imitated Yumi’s brashness. “Fifty thousand yen. It’s my first time, you know.”
“Fine, anything you want.”
“But is it safe here? What if Auntie walks in?”
“If she does, she’ll keep quiet.” He pushed my skirt higher, leaning closer. I waited until the heat rising from Uncle made the hair on my arms prickle. My teeth weren’t as sharp or long as the toffee rabbit’s, but they were sharp and long enough. I sank them into Uncle’s face.
He roared and jerked away. My mouth filled with the acrid-sour taste of blood, and I spat, the bite of meat splattering the floor.
“Nobody expects a rabbit to have teeth,” I murmured.
Uncle cupped his face, blood pouring between his fingers. “Demon whore!” He raised his fist.
I laughed. “Demon? Why, yes, Uncle. Did Papa never tell you? My mother was an obake.”
His face darkened, but he made no further move to strike me.
I got to my feet, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “But I’m no whore. Don’t worry, I won’t trouble you further with my bare skin and coy looks.”
Although my mind buzzed in a turmoil of betrayal, rage, and despair, my feet knew what they were doing. They took me from my uncle’s house to the rail station. It was the only route they knew.
A train rumbled up, and I shoved my way into the first car. I didn’t know where I was going. I had no plan.
When the chikan stroked my leg, I almost welcomed the distraction. This time I could see who it was, a salaryman hiding behind his briefcase, eyes fixed on the newspaper in his lap as his hand wandered. Pressed between his arm, swayed by the train’s rocking, my skirt stung me–the prick of an embroidery needle plucked from a teddy bear. I slid it free. (Shimatta, now the front’s uneven!)
“Chikan,” I whispered and stabbed the salaryman’s hand.
Unlike the pencil at school, the needle had one purpose: to pierce. The salaryman yelled, his briefcase tumbling to the floor. The spine of steel had gone all the way through his hand, and he couldn’t grip the end to pull it out.
The car came alive, faces turning, voices raised.
I pointed. “Chikan!”
The train shuddered to a stop, and the doors slid apart. The salaryman scrambled out. I followed, slipping through the mass of commuters as though I drifted upon a floating boulder.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw me.
“Chikan,” I murmured. He shouldn’t have heard me, but he did, just as I heard him groan, the wordless terror of a hunted animal. His features transformed into a theater mask, mouth distended and eyes wide.
In the periphery of my attention, the grumble of a new train approached, twin headlights illuminating madness in his eyes. The salaryman sprang off the platform. Brakes screamed; people shouted. He spun to me, face triumphant, a moment before the southbound line smashed into him.
I didn’t wait to see the wreckage of what had once been a man. Should I have been horrified? Sickened at what had happened? I wasn’t. Departing platform and station, I felt nothing.
Outside, the full moon washed the city to a pallid sameness. The scent of Gucci’s Envy hung in the air, and I turned to find Yumi. Her hair, magnesium smoke with toffee streaks, flung out behind her, stirred by a nonexistent wind. Instead of a schoolgirl’s uniform, she wore a white kimono embroidered with gold leaf Louis Vuitton monograms.
“Ohayo,” she said.
“Konbanwa, Mother.” I bowed, a formal greeting for a formal occasion.
“So you figured it out.” Her face elongated and sprouted fur. Long ears rose from toffee-streaked hair.
“Papa knew you were an obake. I told myself I didn’t believe in spirits and demons, but some part of me knew he was telling the truth.” I shrugged. “So what happens now?”
My mother regarded me with the round, liquid eyes of a rabbit. “Whatever you like. It’s your choice. It has always been your choice.”
What would I like?
Overhead, the moon was swollen and bright, closer than ever I’d seen it. Around us, the street was a river of silver, no longer anyplace in Tokyo. And I, I was a white-furred rabbit. I bounded into the sky, glorying in the strength and swiftness of my legs. Mama leaped beside me, grinning, fierce rabbit teeth bared to the world.
But wait, there's more to read!
This 2009 reprint by the late Eugie Foster is one that feels eerily prescient.
Citizens change their identities based on the masks they are