Read Schoolgirl Online

Authors: Osamu Dazai

Schoolgirl (3 page)

At lunchtime, people began telling ghost stories. Everyone screamed when Yasubei told hers about "The Locked Door," one of the "Seven Wonders of Ichiko," the First Higher School of Tokyo. It was interesting, not so much spooky as psychological. But because of all the fuss, even though I had just eaten, I was hungry again. I ran over to the anpan lady and got a caramel bun. Then once again, I fell in with all the others and their scary tales for a while. It seemed like every last one of them was just wild about ghost stories and all. I guess it's one form of excitement. And then, it wasn't a ghost story, but the talk about Fusanosuke Kuhara was very amusing indeed.

In the afternoon, for art class, we all went out into the schoolyard to practice sketching. For some reason, Mr. Ito always puts me on the spot. Like today, he made me be the model for his drawing. The old umbrella that I brought with me today received a welcome reaction from everyone—it made quite a stir in class—so much so that even Mr. Ito heard about it, so he told me to take it and stand over by the roses in the corner of the schoolyard. He said that his drawing of me would appear in the next exhibition. All I had to do was be his model for 30 minutes. I was glad to be helpful, even in the least. But it was very tiring to stand there, facing Mr. Ito. The conversation was a bit too persistent and boring, maybe because he was paying me so much attention—even while he was sketching me, the only thing he asked me about was me. I found it troublesome and annoying to answer him. He seems like an ambiguous person. He has an odd laugh, and he's shy, even though he's a teacher. His utter diffidence makes me want to throw up. I could barely stand it when he said, "You remind me of my younger sister who died." I suppose he is a nice enough person, but his gestures are too much.

By gestures, I should say that I myself use quite a lot of them. What's more, I employ them slyly to my advantage. I can be so pretentious that it's hard to deal with sometimes. "I overcompensate, so that I become a monstrous little liar ruled by the conventions of poise," I might say, but then, this too is just another pose, so it's hopeless. As I stood there quietly modeling for Mr. Ito, I prayed intently, "Let me be natural, let me be genuine." I thought I would even give up reading books. I would scorn the pointless, haughty posturing, scorn its abstracted way of living. There I go again—pondering the purposelessness of my day-to-day life, wishing I had more ambition, and lamenting all the contradictions in myself—when I know it's just sentimental nonsense. All I'm doing is indulging myself, trying to console myself. I give myself too much credit—Mr. Ito's drawing of someone with a heart as impure as mine will surely be rejected. Why would that be beautiful? It's a terrible thing to say, but I guess it ends up making Mr. Ito look pretty stupid. He doesn't even know about the embroidered roses on my underclothes.

Standing there silently, trying to keep still, I had a sudden and intense desire for money. All I needed was ten yen. The book I really wanted to read was Madame Curie. Then, unexpectedly, I wished for Mother to have a long life. Being Mr. Ito's model was strangely difficult. It was exhausting.

After school, the temple priest's daughter Kinko and I snuck over to Hollywood and got our hair done. I was disappointed when I saw the finished product, since it wasn't what I had asked for. No matter how you looked at it, I didn't look cute at all. I felt wretched. Totally dejected. I had slipped over here just to have my hair done, and now to feel like such a scruffy hen made me deeply contrite. I felt scornful of myself for our having come here. Kinko, on the other hand, was gleeful.

"I wonder if I should go to my omiai meetings like this," she suggested brusquely, apparently under the illusion that before long her own marriage was sure to be arranged.

She went on, "What color flower should I wear with this hairstyle?" And then, "When I wear a kimono, which style of obi is best?" she asked in all seriousness.

Kinko really is an adorable fool.

When I asked her sweetly, "With whom is your omiai?" she answered straightforwardly, "Every man to his trade, or so they say." A little surprised, I asked, What does that mean? I was even more surprised when she replied, It's best for a temple daughter to become a temple bride. I'll never have to worry about where my next meal comes from. Kinko seems to lack any trace of a personality and, as a result, her femininity is at full tilt. I only know her because we sit next to each other at school, and I don't consider us particularly close, but Kinko tells everyone that I am her best friend. She's a lovely girl. She sends me letters every other day and is generally very nice to me, which I appreciate, but today she was a little too jolly which, not surprisingly, had put me off. I said goodbye to Kinko and got on the bus. For some reason, I felt kind of glum. There was a disgusting woman on the bus. The collar of her kimono was soiled, and her unkempt red hair was held up with a comb. Her hands and feet were dirty. And she wore a sullen look on her darkly ruddy androgynous face. Ugh, she made me sick. The woman had a large belly. From time to time, she smiled to herself. The hen. There was really no difference between this woman and me, having snuck off to Hollywood to have my hair done.

I was reminded of the lady next to me on the train this morning with the heavy makeup. Ugh, so vile. Women are disgusting. Being female, I am all too familiar with the impurity found in women, it sets my teeth on edge with repulsion. It's as if that unbearable raw stench that clings to you after playing with goldfish has spread all over your body, and you wash and wash but you can't get rid of it. Day after day, it's like this, until you realize that the she-odor has begun to emanate from your own body as well. I wish I could die like this, as a girl. Suddenly, I think I want to be sick. If I contracted a serious enough illness, and I were to sweat so profusely that I wasted away, perhaps then I would be cleansed and pure. In this lifetime, it is really impossible to escape? I am beginning to understand the significance of a steadfast religion.

I felt a little better after I got off the bus. Maybe I should not take public transportation. I can't stand how unpleasantly warm the air is. Nature is good. Walking along with my feet on the ground, I felt better about myself. I really am a bit of a scatterbrain. I'm happy-go-lucky. I sang out softly, Let's go home, let's go home, what do you see on your way home? Look at the onion field, let's go home, they're crying 'go home' so let's go home. It annoyed me that I could act like such a carefree child, and it made me want to lash out at the weeds, who knew nothing but to grow taller. I wanted to try to be a good girl.

The country road that I take home everyday has become so familiar to me that I no longer notice how quiet it is. There's nothing but trees, road, and fields—that's all. I thought today I will try to pretend that I am from somewhere else, someone who has never been to this country town before. I'll be, hmm... the daughter of a wooden clog maker with a shop near Kanda, who's never set foot outside of the city. So then, what did this countryside look like? This was a brilliant idea. A sad, pathetic idea. I put on a serious expression and made a point of looking around. As I walked down the road lined with small trees, I gazed up at the branches with their new green leaves and let out a slight cry of delight. As I crossed over the earthen bridge, I stopped and peered down at my reflection in the water and barked, imitating a dog. Then I looked out at the fields, squinting my eyes with an air of enchantment, sighing as I murmured, Isn't this nice? I took another break at the shrine. It was dark in the shrine's woods so I hastily straightened up and hurried through, muttering timidly with a slight shrug of my shoulders. I acted surprised by how bright it was when I came out of the woods, and while I was engrossed in trying to see everything afresh as I walked along the country road, I was somehow overcome with a terrible sadness. At last I flopped down in a meadow by the side of the road. Sitting atop the grass, the exhilaration that I had felt up until that very instant disappeared with a thud and was replaced with a gripping earnestness. Calmly, I gave some thought to how I'd been lately. What was wrong with me these days? Why was I so anxious? I was always apprehensive about something. Just the other day, someone even mentioned to me, "Hey, you're getting to be so mundane."

It's probably true. There definitely is something wrong with me. I have become petty. I am no good at all. I am pathetic. Out of the blue I nearly cried out at the top of my lungs. Pshaw... as if a loud holler was going to cover my gutlessness. I have to do something more. Maybe I am in love. I lay back on the green meadow.

"Father," I tried calling out. Father. Father, the sunset afterglow is beautiful. And the evening haze is pink. See how the rays from the setting sun melt and blur into the haze, which is why it takes on such a soft pink glow. The pink haze drifts and sways amongst the grove of trees, trailing above the road and caressing the meadow, before gently enveloping my body. It infuses every last strand of my hair with its soft pink light and then lightly embraces me. But this sky is even more beautiful. For the first time in my life, I want to bow my head to the heavens. Now I believe in G-d. The color of this sky, what would you call it? Rose? Flame? Iridescent? The color of angel's wings? Or a huge temple? No, it is none of these things. It is much more sublime.

"I want to love everyone," I thought, almost tearfully. If you stare at the sky, it changes little by little. Gradually it turns bluish. Then, with nothing more than a sigh, I felt the urge to be naked. I had never seen anything as beautiful as the translucent leaves and grass. Gently, I reached out to touch the grass.

I want to live beautifully.

When I arrived home, Mother was already there with houseguests. Not surprisingly, she was laughing cheerily at something. When it was just the two of us, no matter how hard she laughed, Mother never made a sound. On the contrary, when she entertained guests her face didn't smile at all, instead high-pitched laughter rang out. I greeted them, quickly went around to the back and washed my hands at the well, then I took off my socks. As I was washing my feet, the fishmonger showed up, calling out, Here you go! One large fish, thanks for your business! He set the fish on the well. I didn't know what kind of fish it was but something about its fine scales made me think it came from the northern sea. I put the fish on a plate and washed my hands again, and I caught a scent of summer in Hokkaido. It reminded me of the time I went to visit my older sister in Hokkaido during summer vacation two years ago. Perhaps because her home in Tomakomai was near the shore, you could always catch the scent of fish. I could clearly picture Sis, alone in that big empty kitchen at eveningtime, her white womanly hands deftly preparing fish for dinner. I remembered how, for some reason, I had wanted to be coddled by my sister, I couldn't help but crave her attention, but she had already given birth to little Toshi, and Sis was no longer my own. The fact that I couldn't simply fling my arms around her narrow shoulders had dawned on me like a chill draft. I stood in a corner of that dim kitchen with a feeling of intense loneliness and, stunned, kept my gaze fixed on her pale, graceful fingertips as they worked. I yearned for everything long gone. It was so curious, the way I felt about my family. With anyone else, if we were far apart, they would eventually grow fainter in my mind until I forgot about them, but with family, their memory seemed only to grow fonder and all I remembered were the beautiful things about them.

The oleaster berries by the well had barely started to turn red. They would probably be ready to eat in another two weeks. It was funny last year. One evening I had come out by myself to pick and eat the berries, and Jappy had watched me silently until I felt bad for him and gave him a berry. He ate it right up, so I gave him two more, which he gobbled too. Rather amused, I shook the tree, and as the berries trickled down, Jappy eagerly devoured them. Stupid dog. I had never seen a dog who ate oleander berries before. I reached out, picking more berries and eating them myself. Jappy was eating them off the ground. It was funny. Thinking about this made me miss Jappy, so I called out his name.

Jappy strutted over from the direction of the front door. I was suddenly seized with a furious surge of love for Jappy, and as I caught hold of his tail roughly, he gently bit my hand. I felt like bursting into tears, and I swatted him on the head. Unperturbed, he drank water loudly from the well.

When I went into the house, the lights were already on. It was quiet. Father was gone. I felt his absence within the house like a gaping void that made me shiver with agony. I changed into Japanese clothes, giving a little kiss to the roses on my discarded underthings, and when a burst of laughter rose from the parlor as I sat down in front of the dressing mirror, I suddenly felt angry for some reason. Everything was fine when it was just the two of us, Mother and me, but whenever anyone else was around, she seemed strangely distant—cold and formal—and those were the times when I missed Father the most, when I felt the saddest.

Peering at my face in the mirror, I looked surprisingly lively. My face was like that of a stranger. An animated face, liberated from my own sadness and pain and seemingly disconnected from such feelings. Although I wasn't wearing any rouge today, my cheeks were attractively rosy, and my lips glowed prettily. I took off my glasses and smiled softly. My eyes looked so nice. They were so pale and clear. I wondered if staring at the beautiful evening sky for so long had made my eyes look like this. Lucky me.

I went into the kitchen a little jauntily and then, while I was washing the rice, sadness washed back over me. I missed the house where we used to live in Koganei. I missed it with a searing pain. Both Father and Sis had been in that lovely home. And Mother had been young there. When I would come home from school, Mother and Sis would be chatting amusingly in the kitchen or in the living room. I'd be given a snack, and they'd both dote on me for a little while, then I'd pick a quarrel with my sister and be scolded, without fail, and I'd rush off outside to ride my bike as far away as I could. In the evening I'd return and we'd have a pleasant dinner. I really did enjoy it. There had been no need to reflect upon myself or be anxious about my impurity—all I had to do was be coddled. What a tremendous privilege I had enjoyed. And I hadn't even cared. There had been nothing to worry about, or to be sad or bitter about. Father had been a splendid and wonderful father. Sis was kind, I had constantly hung about her. But then, gradually as I grew up, first I began to disgust myself, and before I knew it that privilege of mine had disappeared and, stripped bare, I was absolutely awful. I hadn't the least desire to play up to anyone, I was always brooding over something, and I faced constant hardship. Sis was married off, and Father was no longer here. Mother and I were left all alone. Mother must have been terribly lonely too. She once said to me, "From now on, the joy in life is gone. Forgive me for saying, but when I look at you, the truth is, I don't feel much pleasure. Without your father, perhaps it's best if there is no happiness." She said that when the mosquitoes come out she suddenly thinks of Father, when she does the unsewing she thinks of Father, when she trims her nails she also thinks of Father, and especially when the tea is delicious she thinks of Father. No matter how much I sympathize with how Mother felt, or how much companionship I offer her, I will never compare with Father. Marital love is the strongest love in the world, stronger than familial love, and a precious thing it is. Such impertinent thoughts, even when I was alone, made my face grow hot, and I smoothed my hair with a wet hand. Swishing the rice as I washed it, Mother seemed very dear and pitiable to me—I ought to cherish her with all of my heart. I would take this silly wave out of my hair immediately and grow my hair much longer. Mother has never cared for short hair on me, so if I grow it out and then show her how it looks done up properly, I bet she'll be pleased. But to do something like that out of sympathy for Mother seems absurd. Horrible, really. When I think about it, my irritability these days is definitely related to Mother. I want to be a good daughter whose feelings are in perfect sync with Mother's, and just because of that, I go to these absurd lengths to please her. The best thing would be if Mother could just intuit how I felt, without my saying anything, and she could rest easy. No matter how selfish I am, I will never do anything to make myself a laughingstock—even in my pain and loneliness I will still protect what is important. Since I love Mother and this house so very dearly, she should have absolute confidence in me, and just be carefree and relaxed. I will make sure to do a good job. I will keep my nose to the grindstone. It would be my greatest pleasure—it's the way I should be living anyway. But nevertheless, Mother still treated me like a child, without the slightest faith in me. Mother loved it when I said childish things, she acted so thrilled the other day when I made a show of pulling out the ukulele, plunking away on it and being silly for her. "Oh, is it raining? Are those raindrops I hear?" she feigned, teasing me, and she probably thought I was actually being serious about some silly ukulele. I felt so wretched I wanted to cry. Mother, I'm an adult now. I know all about the world now. Don't worry, you can talk to me about anything. If you were to confide everything to me, even things like our household budget, telling me exactly how it is, then I certainly wouldn't pester you to buy me shoes. I'll be a steady and frugal daughter. Really and truly. In spite of all that. "Oh, In Spite of All That"... wasn't that the name of a song, I chuckled to myself. At some point I realized I was standing there like an idiot, both hands idly thrust into the cooking pot, my thoughts ranging from one thing to another.

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