Freedom’s Mask – Chapter 1, Part 5

This week’s post is the final portion of the first chapter of Andrew’s new novel, Freedom’s Mask (© 2017, ISBN: 978-1-976-40079-7). The book is NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK FROM ALL AMAZON OUTLETS! Get it today before the price goes up once it is also available through other retail outlets. An ebook version can also be found here as part of Amazon Kindle’s new Scout campaign. A standard Kindle version will be available after the new year. Be the first to buy and the first to review this thought-provoking new book.

Chapter One, Part Five

I tried to apologize but my throat was still not having it. I’m sure I looked very embarrassed though, and I certainly felt every bit of it. The atmosphere was heavy, incredibly uncomfortable, and not helping matters any the boss silently got up and headed towards the bathroom. Tomor looked at me for another long moment, sighed, and then stood himself. He came back to the table a moment later and set an opened bottle down in front of me that looked a lot like a beer. Was it a peace offering? Had my nonverbal apology been accepted? I glanced up at him and saw that he was already back at the stove finishing whatever he had been preparing earlier. For the moment it appeared that the storm had passed.

The sound of water being run wafted over to me from down the hallway and I deduced that meant that the boss was at least able to wash to some degree; she must have been using the sink to make do. Not as good as a shower, true, but certainly better than not washing at all after a hot day spent in the great outdoors. Everything had worked out fine, I thought; kind of. I would have to be careful the next day, if I were even still here to shower at all. It was both freeing and frightening to be so powerless to make any decisions about my own person.

I timidly started my drink and found that it was in fact a beer, a very nice pale ale that seemed to perfectly suit an evening at home. Immediately I began to feel better, more relaxed and much more at peace. I watched Tomor as he cooked; he was just stirring whatever he had in the frying pan and glancing at a couple of pots on the other burners, it didn’t look too demanding. He was chatting away again, possibly to himself, but turning his head in my direction every now and then. He really must have thought I spoke their language. He motioned a few times to the bathroom and repeated the word “milee” in a compassionate tone. Was he talking about the boss? Was that her name? I recalled that she had introduced herself and the others when she first spoke to me but I couldn’t remember what she had said at the time. As soon as my voice was back I thought that I’d have to try out my new “Yemore Frank Tollman” line on her and see if that prompted a reciprocal re-naming on her part. Whatever was wrong with my vocal chords the medicine that Tomor had given me for my head didn’t seem to be helping. I assumed that if they had had something for my throat they would have already given it to me; they knew it wasn’t working, after all. I saw little choice but to just stick it out. It would have been nice to be able to communicate, but anyway I couldn’t speak their language and they evidently couldn’t speak anything other than their own so it was probably just as well, all things considered. I was surprised that they hadn’t at least tried out a little English, but then there was an awful lot that puzzled me about the place. I was nearly ready for another beer.

The boss came back with her hair down. It was shorter than I had thought it would be but suited the way her face formed a soft angle at the chin, more or less following that line and bobbing under slightly just above the shoulders. She still looked a bit irritated; I sat up straighter and tried to hide the fact that the beer was sitting in me so well. I had always found appearances to be paramount. Noticing her hair made me realize I hadn’t bothered to notice much about Tomor’s. His was tied up in a bun as hers had been, I saw. Jet black though, a couple of shades darker than the boss’. Somehow that made me think that despite everything else I was still in Asia; I found that comforting. All roads on the continent lead to Tokyo, I told myself. Or that was at least how Tokyoites saw it, and for all intents and purposes that is what I was. The locals would never admit to that; me being first, foremost, and always just a foreigner to them, but after a decade in the city that was how I saw it and nuts to them if they tried to tell me otherwise.

Dinner was then served. A bowl of mixed vegetables over a bed of rice with a side dish of fried tofu and another of most likely seaweed soup. A fresh beer as well, for each of us I noted. My impression was that it didn’t look bad – it looked good, actually – but that it was a little on the light side; maybe it was just starters, I told myself. It wasn’t.

We all ate with spoons, and for me that didn’t take long. Had I been able to join in their conversation I might have eaten a bit more slowly but there really wasn’t much to get through. Based on all that I had seen thus far the couple didn’t appear to need to cut corners – aside from their farm tools, that is. Was I being served some kind of Buddhist diet? If I was then we definitely weren’t anywhere in north Asia as I didn’t know of anyone in the region who took the whole no meat precept seriously, but then I already knew that it hadn’t been north Asian flora I was seeing. The food did taste nice, and I did feel mostly full afterwards, but where was the fun? It occurred to me that if everyone here ate like this then it would be yet another reason why all the people I had seen looked so thin. Had I somehow got caught up in a weird healthy cult?

Whatever its demerits, dinner – and the beer – at least had the effect of relaxing the boss and that lifted the mood of the whole table. It had been a long time since I had a dinner at home without the TV and/or my smartphone for company and it felt nice. I would have offered to wash the dishes afterwards but I was worried about water use, and anyway Tomor motioned for me to sit down while he saw to the cleaning up. The guy impressed me. As he began on that the boss disappeared for a couple of minutes and then came back carrying a load of wet clothes in a big wicker basket. She pulled open a sliding door behind the dining room table and started to hang them to dry on a rack on their balcony. I immediately jumped up and began handing clothes to her from out of the basket while Tomor saw to the kitchen. She nodded her thanks to me as she continued working; step one of ingratiating myself and the beginning of my charm offensive had clicked into gear. I had no idea how long I’d be staying here but I had to do something to get on their good sides, and the boss especially I was eager to please.

With the chores done I was more than ready to just relax and happily followed the boss into the living room while Tomor wandered off for what I guessed was his turn to wash himself. The boss pointed at the couch and said something over her shoulder to me as she headed towards where I knew the bedrooms to be. I wasn’t sure what to do and didn’t see a computer or TV anywhere so I sat down and just kind of looked at the surface of the coffee table. After that trick Tomor had pulled with his smartphone doohickey I thought that maybe there was a projector or screen hidden somewhere in there that we could all watch things on. I had already seen so much that was new, and become so completely disoriented by my circumstances, that I felt like nothing would have surprised me. When the boss did come back with a twelve-string guitar in hand, she took one look at me sitting there on the couch and stifled a laugh. I will admit that I probably appeared a bit ridiculous if you were to take the time to pay attention to me. I was wearing what must have been Tomor’s clothes, and as he was taller and thinner than me the combined effect of those factors meant that my sleeves and legs were hanging loosely off their ends while absolutely everything else was too tight. She set the guitar down on one of the upholstered chairs and went away again, returning quickly with what looked like a tape measure. She then had me stand up, took my height, shoulders, waist – that part greatly excited me – and also measured my feet, chatting away in a friendly banter the whole time. After she had finished that, she next retrieved and punched away at the little tablet gizmo, re-measured my feet and then typed a bit more, before finally smiling and saying something along the lines of, “Douforkentetalaborsinth. Temsikurlteyendogo. Sotou!” What I heard was two sentences and an exclamatory word on the end, but I understood well enough that for the time being I would be wearing what I was wearing. She plopped down into one of the big, deep chairs and started tuning her guitar. I returned to my place on the couch opposite her and settled in. If we weren’t going to be watching any movies at least I could stare at the boss.

I must have nodded off. A hand on my shoulder startled me and I lifted my chin off my chest to see the boss standing there, Tomor now seated in the other chair at the end of the table reading a book. An actual paper book. What a legend the man was. The boss said something and smiled a little before taking a step towards the hallway. Was she leading me away? She must have been. Finally. We were going to their bedroom for wet, sloppy, and intense sex while Tomor sat there and read. At least in the flicker of my fantasy we were; what actually happened was that she led me to their spare room and pointed at a padded mat that had been very generously laid out on the floor.

That, though, was another odd detail. I was used to sleeping on futons from my days before I moved into the city and spent the money to get a real bed, but I hadn’t seen them anywhere outside of Japan. Other places had things they called “futons” of course, but usually they either involved a folding couch in some respect or were single mats. A proper futon, I knew, has both a firmer lower mattress and a softer upper mat, the sheets and blankets then go on top of that layer but the whole ensemble can still be folded up into thirds. My bed was just like that; and all set up in the manner of good hospitality, ready for me to crawl inside.

I kind of bowed my thanks to her – old habits, I guessed, as I still had no proper bead on where we were, but then again I supposed that we still might have been in a bowing culture – and as the boss shut the door behind her I took a moment to look around before returning to dreamland. It was a simple and small room, carpeted in a shade of white that was a touch darker than the walls and mostly empty save for a few books that had babies on their covers and some mixed newborn toys and clothes inside a wooden chest that sat in the corner. Was the boss pregnant? Were they trying? That would be perfect – a side fling with me could then easily be disguised by the boss. The thought of that as it formed made little sense even to me, but I was still half asleep and given what I had been through that day my brain was clearly at low tide. I then allowed myself to wallow in anticipation. If I did in fact find myself stuck for some days wherever it was that I was then pursuing the boss would have to be my goal. It was decided. Moving into the soft folds of the futon the next incoherent thought to take root was that I might somehow bed down for the night and wake up back in my own apartment, or at least on one of the platforms in my home Metro station; that both comforted and disappointed me. I felt that if I did then it would mean having missed out on a singular adventure. An adventure that perhaps had not been real after all, but it had seemed real enough as I lived through it – and wouldn’t that make it real? Waking up like that would also, though, mean safety, security, and the pleasing continuation of the known. All that I was used to. As appealing as those features usually are for people, to me they were only partially reassuring. I had a life to get back to sure, but it wasn’t one that I couldn’t let go of.

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