Read Schoolgirl Online

Authors: Osamu Dazai

Schoolgirl (2 page)

I emerged from the path through the shrine's woods and, close by the station, found myself on the road with four or five laborers. As usual, these guys spat out some nasty and unmentionable phrases in my direction. I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I wanted to pass them, but to do so, I'd have to thread my way amongst them in order to slip by them. That was scary. On the other hand, if I just stood there without saying anything, and waited a good while to let the laborers get far enough ahead of me, that would take much more guts. It would be rude, and they might get angry. My body grew hot, I felt like I was about to cry. I was ashamed to be on the verge of tears, so I turned and laughed in the direction of the guys. Then, slowly, I started walking after them. That might have been the end of it but, even after I was on the train, my chagrin had not dissipated. I wished I would hurry up and grow stronger and purer so that such a trifling matter would no longer afflict me.

There was an empty seat right by the train door, so I set my things down on it and smoothed the pleats on my skirt a little, but just as I was about to sit down, a man wearing glasses moved my stuff and sat down himself.

When I said, "Uh, that was my seat," the man forced a smile and then, unconcerned, began reading his newspaper. When I thought about it, though, which of us was the brazen one? Probably me.

Grudgingly, I put my parasol and the rest of my things up on the rack and hung onto a strap. I started to read a magazine, like I always do, but as I riffled through the pages with one hand, I had a strange thought.

Given my lack of experience, if my books were taken away from me, I would be utterly devastated. That's how much I depend on what's written in books. I'll read one book and be completely wild about it—I'll trust it, I'll assimilate it, I'll sympathize with it, I'll try to make it a part of my life. Then, I'll read another book and, instantly, I'll switch over to that one. The sly ability to steal someone else's experience and recreate it as if it were my own is the only real talent I possess. Really, though, my guile is so bogus as to be offensive. If I were to experience failure upon failure day after day—nothing but total embarrassment—then perhaps I'd develop some semblance of dignity as a result. But no, I would somehow illogically twist even such failures, gloss over them smoothly, so that it would seem like they had a perfectly good theory behind them. And I would have no qualms about putting on a desperate show to do so.

(I'm sure I've even read these same words before in some book.)

Really, I don't know which is the true me. What ever will I do when there aren't any more books to read, or when I can't find another role model to imitate? Probably just wither away, helpless and sniveling profusely. Anyhow, these aimless thoughts I have on the train every day don't do me much good. The unpleasant warmth I still felt in my body was unbearable. I felt I had to do something, somehow, but would I be able to fully grasp what that was? My self-criticisms seem basically pointless to me. I would start to judge, and when I'd get to my negative or weak traits, I'd immediately begin to indulge or wallow in self-pity, and then decide it's no good, why not just leave well enough alone, so I've given up on criticism. It would be best if I just didn't think of anything at all.

In this very magazine, there was the headline, "Young Women's Shortcomings," with things various people had written. As I read it, I got the feeling that they were talking about me and I started to feel self-conscious. So the authors, some of them—well, the ones I normally thought were stupid, not surprisingly, said things that sounded pretty stupid, and when I looked at their photos, the ones who looked cool had cool things to say—they were so funny that at times I chuckled out loud as I read. The religious ones were quick to bring up faith, the educators were all about moral obligation, and the politicians trotted out Chinese poetry. The writers were smug, using fancy words. They sounded stuck up.

But what all of them were writing about were merely certainties. Impersonal things, things lacking depth. They were far removed from anything like real hopes or ambitions. Basically, uninspired things. They were criticisms, yes, but not actually things that had any positive bearing on my life. There was no introspection. No real self-awareness, self-regard, or self-respect. It may require courage to say what they said, but were they really able to take responsibility for the consequences? They may adapt their lifestyle to their environment, and may be capable of processing this but there's no true attachment to the self or to that particular lifestyle. There's no real sense of humility. A scarcity of creativity. Only mimicry. Any sense of innate "love" was simply lacking. They may put on airs but they had no dignity. Instead, all they did was write. It was really quite startling as I read. There was no denying it.

Yet everything in the article seemed like these people had just tried to write it down—it seemed different than the way they usually felt, optimistic somehow. They used lots of phrases like "the true meaning of" or "essentially," but they didn't really grapple with the meaning of "true" love or "real" self-awareness. These people probably knew all about it. But if that were so, they might have been more specific—just a few words, something simple like, go to the left or go to the right—if they could use their authority to show the way, it would be tremendously appreciated. Since we had already lost course on how to express love, if someone, instead of telling us not to do this or that, were to instruct us convincingly about what we ought to do, all of us would gladly pay heed. Doesn't anyone have any self-confidence? I doubted that the people who had published their opinions here always felt the same way, in every situation. They scolded us for not having any real hopes or real ambitions, but if we were to pursue our true ideals, would these people watch and guide us along the way?

We have a vague notion of the best place we should go, or the beautiful places we should like to see, or the kinds of places that would make us grow as a person. We yearn for a good life. We have real hopes and ambitions. We feel impatient for an unshakable faith that we can rely on. But it would require considerable effort to express such things in our typical life as a girl. Then there's also the way that our mothers and fathers think, and our brothers and sisters too. (I may say that they're too old-fashioned and stuffy, but really I don't feel any contempt for my mentors in life, or my elders, or married people. On the contrary, they must know about a million times more than I do.) I mean, the members of our family are part of every aspect of our life. We have acquaintances too. And friends. Then there's also the "world" that constantly sweeps us along with great force. When we see and hear and think about all of this, we hardly have any time to fuss about being true to our own character. The smartest thing would just be to go quietly along the same way with all the other regular people, without calling attention to ourself. Extending discipline for the minority to everyone else at the same time seems particularly cruel. As I grow older, I have begun to understand more and more how ethics taught in school and public mores are two different things. Those who insist on keeping ethics in school look like fools. People think they're eccentric. They'll never succeed, they'll always be penniless. I wonder if there are people who don't lie. If there are, they must always be losers. Among my relatives, there is one person who behaves with propriety, who has a strong faith and pursues his ideals, who really lives in a true sense, although everyone else in the family speaks poorly of him. They treat him like an idiot. Me, I can't bring myself to go against mother and everyone else for the sake of my ideals, while knowing all along that I would be beaten down, defeated. It scares me. When I was little, when my feelings about something were completely different from the others, I always used to ask Mother, "Why is that?" At those times, Mother would dismiss me with a word and then be angry. Bad girl! What's wrong with you? she'd say sadly. Sometimes I'd ask Father too. He would just smile and say nothing. Then later I'd hear him tell Mother, "That child stands apart." Then as I gradually got older, I grew timid. Now, even when I make an outfit for myself, I wonder what other people will think. The truth is that I secretly love what seems to be my own individuality, and I hope I always will, but fully embodying it is another matter. I always want everyone to think I am a good girl. Whenever I am around a lot of people, it is amazing how obsequious I can be. I fib and chatter away, saying things I don't want to or mean in any way. I feel like it is to my advantage to do so. I hate it. I hope for a revolution in ethics and morals. Then, my obsequiousness and this need to plod through life according to others' expectations would simply dissolve.

Oh, there's a seat over there. I hurriedly grabbed my parasol and things from the rack and quickly squeezed myself into the spot. To my right was a junior high school student, to my left was a lady with a child on her back and wearing a nenneko that covered them both. The lady had on too much makeup for someone her age, and her hair was coiled in a popular style. She had a pretty face but there were dark wrinkles on her neck and her coarseness made me want to hit her in disgust. It's amazing how much your thoughts vary, depending on whether you're standing or seated. When I'm sitting down, my mind fills with fickle and apathetic thoughts. Across from me four or five salarymen who all looked about the same age were just sitting there. They must have been around 30. I didn't like any of them. Their eyes were empty and dull. They had no vigor. But now, if I so much as grinned at them, I could very well be dragged off by one of these men, falling into the chasm of compulsory marriage. A mere smile can determine a woman's fate. It is frightening. Fascinatingly so. I have to be careful. My thoughts were really rather strange this morning. For some reason, the face of the gardener who had come to tend our yard two or three days ago kept flickering in my mind. You couldn't mistake him for anything else other than a gardener, but something about his face seemed quite unusual to me. To put it dramatically, he looked like an intellectual or a visionary. His skin just had a dusky firmness to it. He had nice eyes, and an imposing brow. He definitely had a pug nose, but it matched his dark complexion and made him appear strong-willed. The shape of his lips was also quite nice. His ears were a little dirty. When you looked at his hands, of course, he reverted to being a gardener, but with his fedora worn low on his head and shading his face, it seemed a shame that he should end up a gardener. I asked Mother three or four times, I wonder if he has always been a gardener, until finally she scolded me. The furoshiki that my things were wrapped up in today was the one that Mother gave me on the very first day that gardener came to our house. We were doing a thorough house cleaning that day, so the kitchen repairman was there, as well as the tatami man, and Mother was tidying everything in the wardrobe, so that's when she found this furoshiki and gave it to me. It's very beautiful and feminine. It's so pretty, it's a shame to tie it up. Sitting here now, with it balanced on my knees, I kept stealing glances at it. I stroked it. I wanted everyone on the train to notice it, but nobody did. If someone would simply take a look at my pretty furoshiki, I would be willing to go home with him and marry into his family. Whenever I run up against what's called "instinct," I feel like I want to cry. As I begin to realize from various experiences in my life just how enormous our instincts are and how powerless we are against the force that drives us, sometimes I think I might lose my mind. I become distracted, wondering what I should to do. There is no way to resist or accept the force; it simply feels as if some huge thing has blanketed me whole, from the top of my head, so that it can now drag me around freely. There is a certain satisfaction in being dragged around, as well as a separate sad feeling as I watch it happen. Why is it that we cannot be happy with ourself or love only ourself throughout our life? It is pathetic to watch whatever emotions or sense of reason I have acquired up to that point be devoured by instinct. Whenever I let the slightest thing make me forget myself, I can't help but be disappointed. The clear confirmation that that self—me, that is—is also ruled by instinct makes me think I could cry. It makes me want to call out for Mother and Father. But even more pathetic is that—to my surprise—the truth could be found in aspects of myself that I don't like.

We were already at Ochanomizu. When I stepped off onto the platform, somehow I felt completely unfazed. I tried quickly to recall what had just happened, but I couldn't for the life of me. Anxiously I tried to think of what came next, but there was nothing. My mind was empty. There are times, like this, when something is quite affecting—when you think I would feel awkward or ashamed, but as soon as it passed, it would be like nothing had happened. The present moment is interesting to me. Now, now, now—even while you try to pin down an instant, it flies off into the distance, and a new "now" arrives. Whatsit anyway? I thought to myself as I plodded up the stairs to the bridge. Ridiculous. Maybe I am a little too happy.

My teacher Miss Kosugi was beautiful this morning. As beautiful as my furoshiki. Miss Kosugi looked lovely in blue, and she wore a striking crimson carnation on her breast. But I would like this teacher a whole lot more if she weren't so "composed." She's a bit too poised—there's something unnatural about her. It must be exhausting to be her. And she seems somewhat obscure—there are many things I don't know about her character. Like, she seems gloomy but she's trying too hard to be cheerful. Nevertheless, she is an attractive woman. It seems a shame for her just to be a schoolteacher. Her class isn't as popular as it used to be but I—and I alone—still find her as charming as ever. She's like a young miss who lives in an old castle on the shore of a mountain lake. Ugh, I've praised her too much. I wonder why Miss Kosugi's lectures are always so stiff. Is she a fool? It makes me sad. She went on and on, explaining to us about patriotism, but wasn't that pretty obvious? I mean, everyone loves the place where they were born. I felt bored. Resting my chin on my desk, I gazed idly out the window. The clouds were beautiful, maybe because it was so windy. There were four roses blooming in a corner of the yard. One was yellow, two were white, and one was pink. I sat there agape, looking at the flowers, and thought to myself, There are really good things about human beings. I mean, it's humans who discovered the beauty of flowers, and humans who admire them.

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