“Let’s grab a drink tonight!” Onishi-san slapped me on the shoulder from behind so hard I went sprawling comically across my key board.
“Oh…well…actually I…” I tried to deflect his unwanted invitation but it was hopeless.
“Nonsense! Stop trying to make excuses! We haven’t had a drink together in ages!”
“Alright.” I said quietly.
I hated drinking with Onishi. I could see the evening before us even before we had finished work. We’d take the train to the station near his home, convenient for him but a considerable distance from where I lived. We’d have dinner in a cheap noodle bar and then head next door to a tiny, filthy hostess bar where he was a regular. There he’d spend entire time making smutty jokes and bragging falsely about all the women he’d slept with.
Onishi was crude. At work he’d leave adult comics lying around on his desk. I’d seen him call junior female staff members over to his desk, flirt with them immaturely, and then stare at their bottoms as they walked away. He’d been warned about sexual harassment twice that I knew off. He was a bully too. Those same freshmen employees who he’d ogle would be blasted by him for even the most minor mistake. I’m quite sure he became aroused by scaring them, by humiliating them in front of everyone in the office. I hated him. Everyone hated him.
Unfortunately however, he was senior to me in my department so it was virtually impossible to refuse his orders to drink cheap swill with him in some dive of a backstreet bar.
“Cheers! Hahaha!” Onishi slammed his beer glass into mine so hard some of the contents sloshed over the rim and onto the counter top in front of us. He seemed not to notice and downed most of his drink in a single gulp before belching loudly. “Ahh! That’s the stuff!”
We ate our noodles and talked about general and extremely boring work related stuff, none of which I had any interest in or even remembered. Despite eating noodles and being in such a low-brow establishment Onishi was such a noisy, messy eater he still drew disapproving looks from other diners. He slopped sauce down the front of his shirt and tie and sucked the thick noodles into his mouth with such vigour that, as the tips vanished into his mouth, they flicked like tiny whips flecking my shirt with the greasy sauce as well.
Onishi drank three beers to my one and then, as I’d predicted, dragged me down the street to the hostess bar.
“Onishi-kun!” the madam cried out with fake delight as he opened the door, “Long time no see! How have you been?”
“Busy! Too busy!” He replied, shaking his head, lying. He was never busy.
“Too busy to visit your old friends it seems!” scolded the madam, pouting like sulky child.
“Mama!” Onishi laughed and continued the charade, “You know I got promoted last year! I’ve got so much more responsibility now, I can’t just run off and go drinking whenever I like, as much as I’d love to!”
“Oh! You senior management are all the same! As soon as you get to the top you forget your poor little friends!”
“Forget? Haha! How could I forget…” And the theatrics went on for several more minutes. Onishi had obviously been lying to the woman for years trying to impress her by making his position in the company sound far more important than it was. Onishi hadn’t got to the top, he wasn’t anywhere near it and never would be, he held a middling position in a small department and would never go any higher. And besides the madam didn’t seem like she needed to be impressed, as long as her customers paid their bills she couldn’t care less who or what they were. What I found even odder was the fact that Onishi seemed to think I’d fall for the farce or at least play along with it.
We sat at a small table on vinyl covered sofas that felt greasy when I touched them. The place was dark and smoky and the atmosphere was without any redeeming qualities. The décor was a mishmash of random objects that had somehow fallen through the door over the decades as if the bar was the last resting place for things that had no other place to belong. On the table danced a plaster hula gal under a plaster palm tree coated in dust and next to a plaster surfboard with ‘Waikiki’ written down its length, a pair of feet poked from the stand on one side of the little scene indicating that the gal had once had a partner of some kind, long ago broken off and lost. A teddy bear shouldered between bottles of whisky behind the bar still shrouded in the plastic wrap it had been in when won at a carnival. That too was so filthy with an age of accumulated cigarette grime it was impossible to determine what colour the suffocated animal was. I thought sadly of the teddy waiting there for years and years in this depressing place of depressed grown-ups waiting for a child to take it home and love it as its destiny should have been. Instead it, like all the other junk gathered in this graveyard, would one day, perhaps soon when the place finally went bankrupt, be stuffed in garbage bags and carted off to an incinerator.
“Cheers!” Onishi chanted for the dozenth time that evening. We knocked glasses again and I wondered how many more I’d have to drink before I could escape. Meg would be sitting at home alone watching TV, a scene of boredom on any other night perhaps, but one I would have done anything to have been able to be part of at that moment.
“So…” Onishi lowered his voice and leaned across the table between us as if we needed to talk in private even though we were, and had been all evening, the only patrons. He had a look on his face, sly, and loaded with what I sensed was about to become sleaze. “…how far have you got with her?”
“Who?” I said, honestly confused, “What are you talking about?”
“Come on Eiji! Don’t be coy with me! We’re old friends!”
“Sorry, I really have no idea what you’re saying.” The fact that he’d referred to our relationship as friendship revolted me so much I didn’t even feel like guessing what he was trying to get at.
“Eiji! Really? I’m talking about that little cutie Nishi-san! I’ve seen you and her in the coffee room, looks like its gets pretty cosy in there, don't tell me nothings going on old pal!”
I felt nausea rise from my stomach and work its way up my throat. I pictured Nishi and I in the coffee room, separated from the rest of the office by the glass wall and her and I engaged in a private, pleasantly light-hearted but loaded conversation. But it hadn’t been private after all, the slime Onishi had been watching us the whole time and building a fantasy, crude and explicit, in his mind about what he thought was going on between us. What made it worse was that the things he imagined could very well happen if I allowed things between Nishi and I to continue on the path we were on, although they would never have been the ridiculous scenarios I’m sure Onishi dreamed of. I instantly made the choice there and then that nothing was going to happen between me and Nishi, simply because I didn’t want Onishi to have the satisfaction of having his fantasies come true.
“Onishi-san, honestly you’re mistaken about Nishi-san and I, there really is nothing of the sort happening between us, we are just colleagues, I’m married besides!”
“Relax! Your secret is completely safe with me! I wouldn’t report you, I’ve been down that road myself and I can tell you it wasn’t pleasant, as far as I’m concerned what happens between two consenting adults is their business, even if they are working in the same place.”
The way he spoke implied that he thought his episodes of sexual harassment that he’d been cautioned over had involved consent from the part of those poor girls.
“Actually,” he went on, “I am a tiny bit jealous, I think I might have had a chance with her myself, she used to flirt with me all the time, but,” and he took a long sigh, “you got there first!”
“Really Onishi, you’re mistaken, there’s nothing going on between us, I’d rather we dropped the subject if you don’t mind.”
But he ignored me and continued as if I’d said nothing at all.
“I bet she’d be great in bed, she’s no stranger to it, fresh from university where she got around the dorms for sure, that cute little ass of hers and she’s got enough up top too if you know what I mean!”
And we went on like that for several minutes. I said nothing and just stared at the table between us, refusing to indulge him and make things worse. It was irrelevant to Onishi that I was taking no part in the conversation any more, he just wanted to enjoy himself with his physical appraisal of Nishi’s body and the intimate skills he was convinced she must possess.
“Another drink!” he finally said, a command rather than a question.
“No, really, I shouldn’t have any more and I have to get going to catch my train.”
“Oh, I guess your wife is waiting for you?” Onishi said, and even that simple statement had a suggestive tone as if he was imagining what Meg and I would do when I got home.
I offered to pay half the bill but Onishi insisted on treating me not that the act was anything to do with generosity, it was more to stamp his ownership on the evening and that everything that had passed between us was his property, I hadn't given anything away but somehow in his mind I had openly admitted and shared the details of our sordid and steamy affair. That was enough for him. That was all he’d wanted from the night and he considered the expense as money well spent.
“Take care Eiji, well have to do this again soon! Then you can tell me how things are getting on, you know, with our little secret!”
I couldn't humour him for a moment more, I bowed and walked away.
When I reached the corner for some reason I looked back. Strangely Onishi was still standing in the doorway of the little bar, I could see him silhouetted in the light shining from behind him. He was grinning. I can’t explain how I knew he was grinning, his face was completely obscured in the darkness but I knew he was. He raised his hand slowly and waved. I turned away and walked on.
In the station I vomited in the bathrooms, less from the alcohol and more from my need to rid my person of anything to do with Onishi. I hate vomiting and for most of my adult life I’ve made sure I never drink so much that I need to. That night was different. I felt a certain kind of joy as I heaved into the toilet bowl. Everything I spat out reeked of Onishi. Every half digested lump of noodle I expelled was a piece less of him inside me. I felt like someone who had incurable cancer who had found a way to vomit the disease, cell by cell, from their system.
I threw up over and over feeling better with every mouthful I lost.
I washed my face in the sink with cold water and wiped my face with my handkerchief. For a moment I stood looking at my reflection in the mirror. I’m sure now that it was just the alcohol but somehow I seemed to look new. It was if I had shed my skin and become something different to what I had been just hours before. I suddenly thought of going back to the bar to find Onishi. I thought of walking up to him where he'd still be seated on the greasy vinyl sofa and grabbing him by the lapels. Of raising his face up to meet mine so that he could feel my breath on his face and smell the exhalations laced with vomit.
“You animal!” I’d say to him, “If you think you had even the slimmest chance with Nishi-san you must be the most deluded creature to have ever walked the planet! As if such an attractive, intelligent and sensual girl as her would even choose to sit next to you on a train is ludicrous! You disgust her and everyone else who knows you! You aren't just jealous of my relationship with her, you're enraged with envy because you know that I can have her whenever I want and that you'll never get anywhere with her or anyone else unless you pay for it, or force it!”
And then I’d pull my fist back and smash him hard in the middle of his ugly, fat face. Blood would spurt from his nose and he'd fall back into his seat in shock without every uttering a word. I’d turn and walk back to the station knowing that I wouldn't have a job the next day but not caring in the slightest.
I saw myself walking into the office the next day for the last time, I wouldn’t bother wearing my suit, I’d no longer be an employee. I’d take a cardboard box with me to clean out my desk.
As I opened the office door a wave of happy applause hit me as the entire office stood up from behind their desks to clap. I stood there dumbfounded and wondering why everyone was so pleased that I’d been fired for punching Onishi. Then suddenly I was surrounded by my colleagues, all of them trying to shake my hand at once.
“Well done! About time someone smashed that asshole! Good for you! I wish you’d done it years ago!”
My female co-workers all thanked me for ridding them of their lecherous tormentor, Nishi’s hand was warm in mine when she shook it gently and when I went to my desk there was a cup of tea waiting for me, underneath was a piece of pink note paper with her personal phone number written on it.
Later my boss called me to his office and instead of giving me my marching orders as I’d expected he offered me a promotion, to Onishi’s position.
“We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years,” he told me, “and you’ve gone and done what needed to be for us! Well done and congratulations on the promotion!”
I took the escalator down to the platform in the underground station. There were still several trains before the last and I had no need to worry about making it home. I lined up on the platform with the other passengers still with the image of Onishi’s face exploding with blood.
I turned to see a young man, around twenty years old, next to me with a lit cigarette in his mouth. He was skinny, pimply, his eyebrows were plucked and his attire and hairstyle were such that in the parallel universe he must inhabit he would somehow be considered cool.
“Excuse me,” I said, “smoking isn't allowed here, would you mind putting your cigarette out please.” I’d been breathing Onishi’s toxins all evening and I’d had enough. I’d just broken his nose and I felt powerful and reckless.
The boy just looked at me, sneered and kept on smoking. I looked around at the other people on the platform. They had all heard me ask him to stop smoking, they could all smell the smoke, they all knew that smoking was prohibited within the confines of any station. And no one did anything, no one looked in my direction.
“Didn't you hear me?” I said now raising my voice, “I asked you not to smoke here, were inside a station!”
“So what?” he said and just looked away letting out a long, slow, insolent drag of smoke.
In one quick move, so sudden it surprised him, and myself, I snatched the cigarette from his fingers and threw it onto the track.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he shouted.
“Smoking isn’t allowed here,” I repeated, “this is a public space, please respect the people around you!”
“Who do you think you are, that’s my cigarette!”
I turned to face the pimply little weed. My back was to the tracks and behind me I could hear the train approaching through the station.
‘Well, if you want it so badly why don’t you go and pick it up?”
The kid started to say something but then stopped. He stood there looking at me and I stared back at him looking him in the eye, not looking away.
The train stopped at the platform and the kid walked past me and boarded. My instinct was to board another carriage and let the incident be over. But I didn’t. I followed him into the train. The kid took at seat. I stood in front of him, even though there were plenty of free seats, and continued to stare down at him.
“What?” the kid asked.
I just shrugged and kept staring. I could see he was afraid, he must have been thinking I was some kind of nutcase, one of those lunatics you read about in the papers who one day just lose it and start stabbing random people for no reason. Or perhaps he thought I was a real baddie, a tough guy that doesn’t look tough at all so you know he really is. I could feel my leg shaking inside my trousers and hoped the kid couldn’t tell.
“Why are you looking at me?” he said. I just shrugged again and kept staring.
The kid looked away. I thought he was doing quite well, keeping up his own tough guy act. I was physically bigger than him but I’ve never thrown a punch in my life and I was sure he had, probably quite recently too, and with his youth he’d be lightning quick compared to anything I could do.
I suddenly felt sorry for him. He was scared. I nearly cracked. I almost apologized and held out my hand to shake his. I thought of getting off at his station, tell him I’d just been joking and buy him a pack of cigarettes, perhaps we could even have a beer together, bond and become friends, laugh about the whole thing and have a great story to tell whenever anyone asked us how, unlikely chums as we’d be, ever met.
But I didn’t. I reminded myself he’d been smoking in an underground station, it was a fire risk and a health hazard as well. He’d shown no concern for those around him and I had asked him politely to stop. He’d ignored me. He’d lit up only moments before the train pulling in, was he going to finish his cigarette in the carriage?
I was angry now at the other passengers on the train. Every single one of them would have been as annoyed as I that the kid had been smoking where he shouldn’t have been, and yet no one did a thing. No one backed me up when I confronted him. People were aware of the exchange we’d had and were still having but they all pretended they knew nothing, playing with their phones, reading books or pretending to be asleep.
“It’s your fault,” I wanted to shout down the carriage, “that people like this little asshole behave the way they do!” No one looked up at me, probably they, like the kid thought I was a drunken madman to be avoided at all costs. “If more people like me spoke up and put their foot down when something like this goes on it wouldn’t happen! We wouldn’t have people smoking public places, talking on their phones on the trains, putting their feet on the seats! You all hate that kind of thing and yet not one of you does a damn thing about it! You’re all too afraid even though you know you are completely in the right! You do nothing and so little pricks like this one keep up this antisocial behaviour!”
The train stopped at a station and the kid got off giving me the finger as he walked away. I sniggered back at him unconcerned. I wondered if the station was really his actual destination or whether he was just trying to get away from me; he crazy old man who stunk of beer and vomit.
“How was your night?” Meg asked when I finally got home.
“Awful, as expected.” I told her.
“Yes, the man’s an animal, I’m never drinking with him again, I don’t care what his position is!”
After I’d thrown everything I’d been wearing in the laundry, brushed my teeth twice and showered I went to bed. Meg was still awake though the light was out. I climbed in beside her and, when I gave her a hug before sleep, I realized she was naked. She wanted sex. I wanted it to. After the incident with the kid, which I hadn’t told Meg about, I felt powerful and reckless. But I couldn’t. I knew Onishi would know that I’d be home by now and I pictured him, ugly, fat, drunk, imagining what Meg and I were doing. After a couple of attempts Meg gave up and turned over.