Read Non-Stop Till Tokyo Online
Authors: KJ Charles
For my parents, whose support has been unqualified, if not unquestioning. I expected no less.
With huge thanks to Minako and Koichi Honda.
Tokyo, March 2002
Jun threw me out of the car at Ameyokoch
The traffic had been so dreadful on the way to the station, and I had been so trapped in my own frantically circling thoughts, that he had apologised three times before I realised what he was apologising for.
“You want me to get out?” I stared at him. He stared through the windshield. “But we’re not at the station.”
“I’m sorry.” He used a polite form,
—literally “I am being rude”. He wasn’t being rude. He was abandoning me to what could be my death.
“Jun-san, you can’t. I haven’t changed.”
“Change in the station. Get out now, please. I’m very sorry.”
“But Mama-san said—”
He leaned over me and popped the door handle. There were horns blaring all around us as we blocked the congested street.
“Go through Ameyokoch
, into the station. Change there. Leave your hair on till you get there,” he added as I grabbed at the telltale blonde locks around my face. “Hurry. Good luck.”
He unclicked my seatbelt and pushed at my arm. I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell him what a chickenshit, gutless bastard he was. “Thanks for the lift,” I hissed, swinging my legs out and grabbing the big bag and my handbag from the back seat.
“Dumb tart,” he said levelly, and slammed the door behind me.
Kuso shite shine!
” I screamed at the car as it drove off.
Go shit and die!
A couple of shopkeepers gave me looks of disdain at my filthy language, mixed with unconcealed assessment. My manners and my appearance marked me out as deserving both.
I was at the back of Ameyokoch
, one of the most crowded marketplaces in Tokyo, full of tiny alleys and stalls. I hated Jun for leaving me, but I couldn’t blame him. If they were coming for me, they would have taken him too. At least there was no way anyone could find me in the press of people here.
was one solid block of early-rising or non-sleeping humanity, young men setting up stalls and some of Japan’s endless supply of old people haggling for the early bargains. A million elderly women were arguing over the price of piles of silver mackerel and orange roe; bright red-and-white octopus chunks; salmon eyes the size of golf balls, four to a box; squid fresh, floppy and purple, or dried and looking like parchment with tentacles; great red Hokkaido spider crabs; piles of dried goods and oversized fruit and clothes of all kinds, leather and denim and plastic, and phone cases and knock-off watches; and the clangs and clatter of a pachinko parlour somewhere close, and everybody shrieking for attention or space, and…
And I had twenty-six minutes to get through it and catch the train that would save my life. If they weren’t at the station already.
I pushed and shoved, the panic starting to choke me. Tokyo is too crowded for people to worry much about shoving; people who are scrupulously polite about personal space at home can ignore full-length body contact with six strangers on the subway. I started off begging people to excuse me—
—but after a couple of minutes, stuck behind a man carrying a half tuna the size of a calf, the panic was taking over. If I missed the train they would find me. I could disappear if I got the train, but in Tokyo I was a danger to everyone around me.
” I shouted.
Get out of the way!
The colloquial rough speech, coming from a non-Japanese, startled a few people into moving. I pushed past, shoved my way around a gaggle of old ladies, found my path blocked between a barrow laden with cheap green alien toys and a gang of men scooping ramen noodles into their mouths.
“Hey, sexy girl. Come and say hello.”
“Please, excuse me,” I panted, trying to wriggle through. One of them grasped my arm. “Get off. Let me past.”
“That’s not friendly.” He scowled, red-faced, and I realised he was drunk. “
should be friendly.”
That meant “piss geisha”. He was calling me a whore with big ideas of herself, and he was big, and he wasn’t letting go.
I took a deep breath and shrieked in his face, “
Shita ni! Shita ni!
That was a trick I’d picked up from a guy named Taka.
is what the retainers of great lords would shout to peasants on the road—
Everyone in Japan has seen enough samurai movies to know the phrase, and the effect is about the same as bellowing, “All rise for Her Majesty!” on a British train. It startles people off balance, and the split second of slack-jawed astonishment was all I needed to wrench my arm free and shove my way past. I ran as best I could, elbows out for balance, cursing my ludicrous five-inch heels and clutching my heavy bag.
My hair and dress were far too obvious; if they had men here, they’d see me go in the front. Luckily, like many Tokyo stations, Ueno doubles as a huge shopping mall. I went in through the trendiest, sluttiest boutique I could see instead, one with stairs down to a lower storey that opened into the station. I looked around wildly as I emerged into the concourse—no use, it was crammed with people, with suits, with wild crests of hair and dye jobs in every colour—said a prayer to anyone who might be listening, and darted for the nearest ladies toilet.
The only obstacles I encountered were a group of schoolgirls, off on a trip in their old-fashioned navy uniforms and round sailor hats, huddled round a vending machine in the pigeon-toed stance of prepubescent Japanese girls, who stared at my lurid outfit with awe and envy; and a pair of tiny
, the old ladies who everyone calls “aunties”. They muttered audibly to one another as I brushed past them, clearly assuming I couldn’t understand.
I tottered into a cubicle, locked it and leaned against the door, feeling the sweat sliding down my backbone under the clingy fabric of my dress. Or, rather, Kelly’s dress. That bitch.
No time for that. No time to catch my breath, no time to let my heart rate slow. I had seventeen minutes left—it had taken nine minutes to get through
and it had felt like as many hours. They would be circling out there. Looking for me.
Looking for the gaijin slut in the bright pink dress.
I pulled off the shoulder-length blonde wig and ran my fingers through my own black crop, fluffing it out. It was unwashed and wet with sweat, but it would do. I peeled Kelly’s fuchsia Lycra off my body and dropped it on the floor with a vindictive stamp. That
Next, the bag, a big cotton sack. I pulled open the drawstring neck and tugged out my favourite leather bag, with a vaguely briefcase look to it. I kicked the sack behind the toilet and popped the clasps on the bag, praying Noriko had packed everything I needed. Fifteen and a half minutes left.
Oh, thank you, Nori-chan: on the top of the bag were makeup remover wipes. I had to use about six to get the night’s caked war paint off my face, scrubbing as hard as I dared without making my skin red. I needed to wash but I couldn’t risk going to the sinks, in case anyone saw me partway through my transformation. Instead I let the chemical wipes do their magic on the bright pink lipstick, the thick mascara, the pale foundation, the blue eye shadow, dropping the multicoloured stained tissues into the toilet bowl one by one, until finally my compact mirror revealed a clean, unobtrusive, sufficiently Asian face.
Except for the eyes.
My eyebrows were too pale; only last week I’d had them bleached and dyed a dark blonde to go with the rest of the gaijin look. A quick swipe of black mascara dealt with that, although it also made them look heavy and hairy. No matter. They were looking for a hostess, not an office lady who didn’t pluck.
There was nothing to be done about my eyes themselves except to wear dark glasses; the Japanese don’t go in for sunglasses much, and it was more likely to attract a second glance than I wanted, but it was that or stare up with my bright baby blues at the face of somebody who would kill me if he identified me.
Oh God, oh God, they were going to kill me. How the hell had this happened?
Nine minutes and counting.
Noriko had packed exactly what I needed. My push-up padded bra came off and was replaced by a simple white T-shirt bra that did nothing for my limited cleavage. I scrubbed under my arms with the wipes, attacking the sweat of panic and exhaustion. The white cotton blouse Noriko had selected was unwearably wrinkled, and I felt a weak sob catch in my throat when I looked at it. But my interview jacket and pencil skirt were in a dark, suede-like non-iron material that never crumpled. I tugged on the skirt with shaking hands and dragged the blouse tight under the waistband, hoping for some magical smoothing effect, then fastened my jacket over it, praying that the worst of the creases would be concealed.
Low-heeled black shoes—oh hell, Noriko hadn’t packed me any stockings. Well, I’d have to go bare legged; it was too late to do anything about it now, and I had to move. The Shinkansen would be leaving in six minutes and Japanese trains don’t run late. If I missed it…
The makeup went back in the leather bag. I went to kick the bitch’s dress behind the toilet, then realised that it would be glaringly obvious in the pale pink-and-cream cubicle. Suppose someone called out after me that I’d left it? I shoved dress, bra and five-inch hot-pink heels into the bag, pushed my shaking hands through my hair again, flushed the toilet for effect and heaved in a breath.
Thirteen minutes ago, a sluttish gaijin with long blonde hair and blue eyes, all makeup, heels and cleavage, and everything in a lurid shade of hot pink, had strutted into the station toilets. I hadn’t needed the muttered comments of the
to tell me what I looked like.
Now a reasonably smart OL—office lady—emerged from the cubicle. Sensibly cropped hair, no makeup, smartly dressed and
oh my God
fuchsia talons that screamed my subterfuge aloud. How could I have forgotten? I clenched my betraying hands, digging the nails into my palms. Maybe there was a vending machine selling white gloves, stockings even—no, no time, I had to get to the platform.
I clattered up the stairs, zapped my ticket through the machine and joined the stream of people heading for the Shinkansen platform, keeping my head well down. My dark suit merged into the crowds heading north on the bullet train, and we were all hurrying, as everybody does in Tokyo, so surely
wouldn’t see me, if they were even there. Ueno has dozens of platforms, dozens of exits, hundreds of thousands of people passing through every day; the odds of them spotting me were surely tiny—
But they were there anyway.
Two goons. Yakuza. Japanese mafia.
Yakuza were people I had tried to stay well away from so far, and usually it wasn’t hard. You just avoided any man with a tattoo—there are a few non-yakuza sporting tattoos these days, but someone who wants to look like a gangster is probably even more trouble than the real thing. You avoided the big dark cars and the shiny suits, the men who looked like salarymen but with harder eyes, the fake designer brands worn with just that giveaway lack of style, the strapping young guys with their bleach jobs, even the occasional old-fashioned punch perm. Guys like the two at the top of the escalator, on the platform, waiting for me.
They were big men, arms folded, glowering at the crowd. I felt sick and cold, but I couldn’t stop walking now or they would see me going against the tide, and in this press of people I would never be able to get away from them. I dropped my gaze to the floor, kept my fingers folded into my palms, marched up the escalator in step with the crowds.
The bullet train with its duck-bill was waiting for me on the platform. My very own white charger. Uniformed attendants wearing the white gloves I wished I had were waving people on with controlled hysteria. One minute.
I kept my eyes fixed forward, as though the goons couldn’t see me if only I didn’t look at them, and marched off the top of the escalator and onto the platform, right past them.
They didn’t stop me. I don’t think they even looked at me. For men scanning the crowds for a blonde gaijin, I was just one more OL.