Women of the Shadows


uring my months in the air force I had spent little time in the cities. Unlike most of my associates I rarely entered the bars and never once patronized any of the numerous brothels. In conse­quence, I received a lot of teasing. It is difficult to explain why some of us abstained. As I have indicated, however, sexual relations out of wedlock were viewed by my people somewhat differently than they were by those of various other cultures. Despite the Imperial Rescript, the satisfying of physical appetites was not considered immoral in the traditional sense as long as it did not interfere with one’s duties and obligations.

My own attitude was partly the result of pride. Having come from a wealthy family of high social standing, I did not wish to debase myself by association with the lower elements of city life. In addition, I was still very young and shy. Women made me uneasy. It was even hard for me to converse with those outside my own family.

In any event, I did not consider the purchasing of sex, like meat across the counter, especially admirable. Certainly it was no achievement. One man’s money was as good as another’s. Frequently, as I noted with scornful amusement, men whom the average woman would never have offered a second glance in civilian life were coming to view themselves as great and captivating lovers.

On the other hand, I did suffer temptation. Sometimes at night, outside the base, I heard the feminine voices, laughter—occasionally warm and comforting, more often brazen and seductive. And often those sounds filled me with frustration. “The time is late Kuwahara,” I told myself. “Better live life to the full. Go find the best in town. You’ve got the money.”

Occasionally as I strolled through the city with Tatsuno and Na­kamura, the prostitutes who approached us were amazingly aggressive. One in particular—a woman, perhaps in her early thirties, with large, jutting breasts, makeup so heavy her face appeared embalmed, and a lavishly painted mouth. She had actually seized my arm and tugged me toward a shadowed doorway. I could smell the musky odor of her body blending with the cloying scent of tobacco breath and perfume. How well even now I remember the throaty voice: “Come along, young airman, I can make you happy all night long for only a few yen!”

Simultaneously excited and disgusted, I had shaken her off, stam­mering, “No, no thank you.”

How Tatsuno and Nakamura had laughed. Then they had almost roared when in mock anger she shouted, “Oh, so you don’t like a good woman! You are not a man yet, correct? Just a baby. Come back when you are a man, akachan; maybe I will give it to you free!”

Now that we were allowed overnight passes, only a few men slept in the barracks. On those hot nights, sometimes only two or three of us there, I tossed, even talked to myself. Wiping the sweat from my brow and upper lip, I would hear the words: “Come back when you are a man, baby dear.”

Once, about midnight, I sprang from my cot and began yanking on my clothes, nearly tearing them. Damn that leering face! That smug, brazen. . . . Damn that sexy, ogling countenance, that pliant smirking mouth! Damn those large, impertinent breasts! I would show her! She would never call me a baby again—not when I was through with her. She’d moan, weep, plead! That’s what she would do.

I stubbed my toe and swore aloud, then blundered into my open locker door and swore even louder. “What’s the matter, Kuwahara?” a voice drifted from the far end of the barracks.

Stifling a desire to shout, “Shut up and mind your own business!” I stood by the locker, clenching my fists but offering no reply. What was there to say? For a long time I stared into the locker’s confines as though it were the void, letting its darkness fill my head, letting it absorb and dissolve the faces and the voices, allowing its emptiness to enter my soul and blot out everything.

Finally, I lay down again, heaving a sigh. At last a slight breeze was sifting through the barracks. I remembered how I had reacted, seeing girls—some no older than thirteen or fourteen— standing in the shad­ows, along the darkened facades of buildings and the alleys. Many of them were no different outwardly than girls I had known at school.

Then, too, I reminded myself that a visit to one of those places would not be very enjoyable anyway. Nakamura had tried it, just once, and had returned to the base sickened and disillusioned. In the pallid light of morning he had awakened to reality, gazing upon the woman beside him. The paint had worn from her mouth except for a few remaining flakes, and her eye shadow was smudged like ashes. Her hair was di­sheveled and ratty, the breath rasping from her open mouth. Nakamura had retreated swiftly, suddenly aware that he might have contracted gonorrhea, or syphilis.

No, I would never make Nakamura’s mistake. At least, I would go out with my self respect in tact. Then, however, a thought surfaced. There was one thing I could do in the time remaining, something to ease the endless anxiety and frustration, at least make life a little more bearable. There were night clubs in many of the towns run by our military, places, I’d been told, with a rather pleasant, home-like atmosphere, where one could simply order a meal or a drink. And, of course, there were girls,

girls to dance with or merely visit.

What was the name? I wondered. The one nearest our base there in Oita? The Tokiwaya Club—that was it. Yes, I would go to the To – kiwaya just to see what it was like. Perhaps it would help take my mind off Okinawa. Perhaps I would not wonder quite as often when my death orders were coming.

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