“Why don’t you get a divorce? (早く離婚したら, Hayaku rikon shitara?).”
We are in our usual cafe, Madoka and I, a quiet little place where jazz flows softly from overhead speakers and everyone seems to talk in whispers. I stare at her over my coffee cup. Does she have any idea how lovely (美しい, utsukushii) she is? Strangely enough, she doesn’t seem to. Nor is her bland expression in keeping with the bombshell she has just dropped. Divorce — the word has never come up between us before.
“I think about it sometimes,” I admit.
“You don’t love your wife.”
“Don’t I? I don’t know. It’s not that simple. What is love, after all? (所詮愛なんてわからないものさ, Shosen ai nante wakaranai monosa) Is it just sex?”
“Well, you would say that, at your age. And then there are the children. Once you have a family, you can’t simply turn your back on them (背中を向けることができない, senaka wo mukeru koto ga dekinai): ‘So long guys, keep well, I’m off to start a new life.'”
“You could if you wanted to. Other men do.”
Madoka Hashimoto. Age: 19. Occupation: student. School: Wakaba Tandai (短大, junior college) — where, until my forced early retirement six months ago, I taught Japanese history and literature. One morning she knocked on my office door. “Professor, I have a question.” It was about Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess whose sacred copulation, say the ancient myths, produced the islands of Japan. In fact, she had more than a question, she had naked desire (赤裸々な性欲, sekirara na seiyoku), and I was its object! Of course, I should have resisted, put her in her place — “I’m here to teach you, not to be seduced (誘惑される, yūwaku sareru) by you.” No doubt there are teachers who would do that. Why aren’t I one of them?
In a way, I wish I was. It’s true there’s no great love between Reiko and me, but she’s a good wife after a fashion, and over the years we’ve built a life together that is at least comfortable, if no longer passionate (情熱があまりなくても、楽だ, jōnetsu ga amari nakutemo, raku da). At my time of life, do I need passion?
To be perfectly honest, what I most longed for, before Madoka, was not passion, not furin no koi (不倫の恋, an extramarital love affair), but seclusion (隠遁生活,inton seikatsu). A persistent daydream (永続的は空想, eizokuteki na kūsō) was of escaping to some place, some island, where my only companions would be nature and books. Impossible, of course, like most daydreams. I only mention it to show that my natural inclination does not lean me in Madoka’s direction, let alone into Madoka’s clutches. “Clutches” — that’s a stupid way of putting it, as though she entrapped me and I were an innocent victim! Inochi wa yayakoshii (命はややこしい, life is complicated). A man can act perfectly freely and yet at the same time be disgusted with himself for not acting differently. Madoka’s beauty does not make my role — that of sukebe na sensei (スケベな先生, dirty old-man professor), any less sordid (むさくるしい, musakurushii) in my own eyes.
So what to do? Break off (別れる, wakareru) with her? “No, Madoka,” I imagine myself saying to her, “I will not divorce my wife, I will not see you again, find yourself a boyfriend of your own age (自分の歳ぐらいの彼氏, jibun no toshi gurai no kareshi).” How would she react? With a shrug? With tears? I don’t know. What on earth does the girl see in me anyway? What drew her to me, of all people? If I were ikemen (イケ面, good looking), then the fact that I’m old enough to be her father might not matter so much. As it is . . .
“Listen,” she says. “Do you know the magazine ‘Varya’?”
“It’s a monthly (月刊誌, gekkanshi), very interi-muki (インテリ向き, highbrow). The editor-in-chief is my uncle. He named it after a Russian mistress (愛人, aijin) he once had. Pick up a copy. Look it over.”
“Because he’s looking for somebody to write a column. I mentioned your name.”
“Well, you’re looking for something to do, aren’t you?”
“A column about what?”
“About whatever you have opinions on. Which in your case” — she flashes me a smile — “is just about everything, isn’t it?”
Fiction series “Keyes Point” appears on the first Bilingual page of every month.