The Waiting Woman

 It was a cold day. That morning, he had had a tiff with his wife. Sundays were precious, and he had wanted to lie in, but his wife had insisted on nagging him about his salary. She had flung a pillow at him, and to crown it all she had slipped into her outdoor clothes and left the room.
     Here we go again, he thought, his head still buried beneath the quilts. She'd probably not be back for half a day as usual. It was a favorite trick of hers lately. All she'd do, he felt sure, would be to go to her mother's or somewhere and have a good bitch at his expense. But let her, if it made her feel better. For his part, he was quite content so long as he could snatch just a little more of this delicious, honeyed sleep.
       When he awoke, the clock at his bedside said past eleven, and the hollow in his belly was too clamorous to permit further sleep.
         His wife was still not back. He tutted to himself. It was most irritating. As usual, he supposed, he would have to go to the nearby cigarette store and call the noodle restaurant or somewhere if he was to get anything to eat.
           There was no help for it. He changed into his everyday clothes and set off on foot for the cigarette shop some twenty or thirty yards away, the collar of his jacket turned up against the cold wind.
             The shop stood on a corner of the crossroads, diagonally opposite the corner of a wire-netting fence surrounding a baseball ground owned by some bank. He had just finished dialling the number of the noodle shop on the public telephone when he noticed the young woman, standing with her back to him, one hand resting on the wine netting of the baseball ground.
               Her legs were magnificent. She was wrapped in a dark brown, slightly worn overcoat with a big collar, and her long hair tumbled softly over her shoulders.
                 Her face, however, was turned away, her eyes gazing fixedly along the road leading to the station. She must be waiting for someone... Idly, he pictured to himself some nice young man running up late and all out of breath: a romantic, heart-warming little vignette.
                   Just then, a voice addressed him from behind. The middle-aged woman in the cigarette store was leaning toward him over the showcase.
                     “See that girl?” she said, directing a significant glance in his direction. “She's been standing there like that for a good two hours! ”
                       “Two hours? ”
                         Just then, the girl turned round.
                           He could not keep the admiration from his face. Her hair was a little disheveled, and she wore no makeup, but her features, in their youth, beauty, and freshness, amply made up for this. Her large eyes were fixed on him as though in alarm. Her mouth was a single splash of red in the fair skin of her face. Immediately, she swung away again, as though to show her indifference to him. Her nose, seen in profile, was straight, and the stray hairs behind her ears stirred charmingly in the wind. She was probably still in her teens.
                             But she did not start walking. Hastily he bought a packet of “Ikoi”cigarettes and hurried straight home, recovering from his confusion as he walked. Either way, he told himself over and over again, attractive girls like that were remote creatures who had no connection with men like him.

                               The second floor of the lodging house, which sheltered four families including him and his wife, had its own cooking space and toilet. The toilet had a window, from which one could gaze directly down onto the cross roads with the cigarette shop.
                                 It was nearly an hour later that he really began to worry about the woman. Glancing idly down at the crossroads from the window as he was about to leave the toilet, he felt a spasm of shock in his chest. The woman in the dark brown overcoat was still standing there.
                                   It was an odd kind of shock, as though a gimlet were boring into his chest. Back in the room, he turned the pages of a newspaper he had already read from front to back, but his eyes took in neither the print nor its meaning. He had only seen her in the distance, yet the image of the young woman standing with head bowed, dejectedly drawing line after line in the road with the tip of her shoe, lingered as though branded on his retina.
                                     He went to the toilet again. She had stopped playing with the tip of her shoe, and had turned her head to watch the road in this direction. She yawned capaciously.
                                       An hour later, unable to bear the suspense, he again peered out from the toilet. This time she was slowly walking round and round on the same spot in dainty circles, peering around her indecisively as she did so.
                                         The cold was piercing, the clouds lowering in a wintry sky. A thin layer of ice covered the bottom of the sink in the cooking space. The woman must be cold. She must be suffering....
                                           He could stay idle no longer. He left the lodging house and walked hurriedly toward the crossroads. She was nowhere to be seen. Then, just as he got to the crossroads, she came walking toward him. He understood: in the direction from which she had come there was a small park with a public toilet.
                                             Glancing briefly at him, she averted her face again and came to a halt at the same spot as before. She stood like a stone statue, offering not the slightest opening for conversation. He turned toward the cigarette store....
                                               Gazing at the pointlessly growing pile of Ikoi on the table, he heaved a great sigh. How long did she intend to wait there? All he could think of was the clock, marking off the minutes relentlessly, impersonally.
                                                 Gradually, his sense of impatience and frustration began to get the better of him. It was already past three. That meant she had been, standing at the crossroads for a full six hours. Once more he went to the toilet to confirm that she was still in the same place, then, oblivious to everything else, rushed down the stairs and out of the lodging house again. He was no longer aware of the cold.
                                                   As he drew closer to her, however, he found he had no idea of what he was going to do. Perhaps he would say: “It's all right now—go home at once. Any man who'll keep you waiting for hours on end in this cold weather is a swine... ”
                                                     And yet, what good would such talk do? “Mind your own business, ” she would say in a strained voice, “It's nothing to do with you. ” Almost certainly, he would find his overtures rejected out of hand. At the thought, the pace at which his legs moved suddenly slackened, and something seemed to drain out of him at each step. Her cheeks, he could see, were red. Now, however, she seemed more composed; her arms were folded, and she was gazing at the wire netting. He bought another packet of Ikoi. In the end, he went back to his room, no word spoken, nothing accomplished.

                                                       Half-past four. Four packets of Ikoi lay on the table, and he was sipping the liquid from a fresh bowl of noodles. The woman was still in the same place, wearing a brooding expression. He flung his chopsticks down and sprawled out on his back on the tatami.
                                                         Either way, he told himself, it was abnormal for an attractive young woman to stand in the road for hours on end in midwinter. Of that he was certain. What was the purpose of this endurance, this self-sacrifice? And why, come to that, did she have to stand at that particular crossroads?
                                                           Perhaps, though, she was not waiting, but being waited for? She might be keeping a lookout for something. Her standing there might itself be a signal for something.... Could she be mixed up in a narcotics deal? Yes, that was it—a ring of smugglers had probably acquired her services, either through large sums of money or through intimidation.
                                                             He had another idea. In all likelihood her lover had had an accident or fallen suddenly sick. But she, apparently, did not know about it.
                                                               Yet all the while his imagination roved, he was really trying to avoid one particular idea. He realized the fact himself. He was, in short, reluctant to think that such a young, attractive woman could be stood up by her lover and kept waiting for eight hours at a crossroads in winter, yet still, pathetically, be unable to bring herself to leave the spot. To suffer the torments of rejection, yet to remain rooted, waiting, clinging to one slender thread of hope.... In his imagination he wanted to spare her at least— such a young, attractive woman—from that kind of distress.
                                                                 Yet there could hardly be any other reason for her to stand there so long. Gradually he found himself being driven into recognition of that fact. More and more, her distress loomed vivid and inescapable. That was the thing that hurt most. Irritably, he ground out his cigarette.
                                                                   She was still standing, unresigned, in the blustering, knife-keen, wind. He felt his heart beginning to ache and his throat to constrict. He got up. Enough—he would tell her and have done with it. “Here, girl-resign yourself to it. Hurry up home and get warm. Then you must find yourself another man. That's the only course left for you now. For a young, attractive girl like you to be unhappy— why, it's intolerable. How can anyone ever be happy if even you aren't? Where can there be happiness, anywhere? Come now, you must forget your faithless lover. You must be happy, eh? ”

                                                                     Evening was beginning to swathe the surroundings in a gloom from which the cross roads stood out pale and distinct. Still she was there. She was bending over the road, knees bent.
                                                                       Alarmed, he ran toward her. Then he pulled himself up short, taken aback. With untroubled expression, her head bowed innocently, she was bouncing a ball in the road. She was singing to herself in a low voice.
                                                                         Now he was standing right by her, but still she gave no sign of awareness. The white ball bounced with a hard sound on the road, traveling to and fro between the asphalt and her hand. Suddenly, it flew off to one side. He picked it up.
                                                                           For the first time, she looked up. Her face bore no sign of either suffering nor sorrow.
                                                                             “Give it back to me, please, ” she said in a crystal-clear voice.
                                                                               He hesitated. “Are you waiting for someone? ”he got out at last.
                                                                                 “Yes, ” she said in a low voice.
                                                                                   “You've been waiting an awfully longtime, ” he said. “Aren't you cold? ”
                                                                                     “They'll soon be here. ” She got up and stretched out her hand. “I found the ball lying here. If it isn't yours, give it back, please. ”
                                                                                       “Ever since this morning.. ”
                                                                                         “They'll be here soon.”
                                                                                           She all but snatched the ball from his hand and, sinking down on one knee, began bouncing it again. Her posture clearly rejected him, ignored him.
                                                                                             All of a sudden, he was seized with a burning shame, a frenzy of shame that was akin to rage. Without more ado, he started running for home. He rushed into the room and beat with his fists on the table, cursing out loud all the while. His cheeks were flaming.
                                                                                               Of course, he told himself, gritting his teeth. Of course— he had gone too far. He had insulted her. He had insulted her sacred love. She was merely living out faithfully a love which it was beyond her to control. He had tried to treat that love as though it were something that could be replaced. What a fool, what a boor he had been!
                                                                                                 He felt ashamed and cut off. Yet he must, he told himself, accept himself for what he was, just as she did. Suddenly, he began to wonder when his wife would be back.
                                                                                                   Nine o'clock came and still she was not home. To his amazement, the woman was still in the same place. Looking out of the toilet window, he could see her from time to time, a shining figure picked out by the headlights of passing cars.
                                                                                                     He crept between the quilts and tried to make himself stop worrying about her.
                                                                                                       Even if she froze or starved to death in the road, he could only stand by and watch; such human unhappiness was beyond the help of man, even of the person concerned. To realize that, and to put up with it—that was true human courage indeed.
                                                                                                         Still muttering imprecations on a person or persons unidentified, he drifted off to sleep. He was still asleep when his wife came into the room and shut the door.
                                                                                                           “I'm back, ” she said, shaking him by the shoulder.
                                                                                                             He looked at the clock. Eleven. His wife was still in her overcoat.
                                                                                                               “Did you see anybody standing opposite the cigarette store? ” he asked.
                                                                                                                 “No, ” said his wife with an odd look.
                                                                                                                   “Nobody. ”
                                                                                                                     He experienced a feeling of relief—almost as though he had escaped from some punishment to which he had been condemned—mingled at the same time with a slight feeling of dissatisfaction.
                                                                                                                       “What have you been doing all this time? ”he asked, looking directly into his wife's face for the first time. “I expect you went home and had a good bitch about me? ”
                                                                                                                         “You're wrong. I wouldn't go there. ”
                                                                                                                           “Then where did you go? ”
                                                                                                                             “A park on the outskirts of Tokyo. I've never been there before. I stood there all day. ”
                                                                                                                               “What! ”
                                                                                                                                 He sat up in bed.
                                                                                                                                  “Stood there all day? Why? ”  “Well, you see.. ” She looked embarrassed. “I just wanted to be alone. These days, whenever we have a quarrel, I always go somewhere to be alone. It gives me back my will to live. ”
                                                                                                                                     Her gaze was perfectly serious.
                                                                                                                                       “At first I used to go home and complain, But that only makes trouble for them, and then— they're only human too, aren't they? Somehow it only makes more unpleasantness all round. So.... ”
                                                                                                                                         “I don't believe it, ” he said. “Of all the...Whatever were you doing all day by yourself? ”
                                                                                                                                           “Waiting, ” she replied. “Just waiting quietly till I got the will to come back to life with you again. ”
                                                                                                                                             “Without anything to eat or drink, in this cold? ”
                                                                                                                                               “That sort of thing doesn't bother me a bit. Don't you see? I just wanted to be alone. If I can just be alone, I feel quite free and easy, as if I'd had a dose of oxygen... But, you know, it worries men if a woman stays standing in one place, doesn't it? It's stupid, when all the woman wants is to do nothing, think of nothing, just to be left to herself…There was a silly man like that today. Wouldn't leave me alone. Said I'd been standing there for hours. I expect he'd been watching me all the time. He must have had a lot of time to waste. Stupid man! ”
                                                                                                                                                 “It's not true, it's not true! ” he groaned.
                                                                                                                                                   He was thinking of the woman, the woman who had been in the same place for twelve hours. Admittedly, his wife might have spent the same amount of time in the same way. But the girl had been different. Absolutely. She had been standing there all day out of love.
                                                                                                                                                     “It is true! ” his wife said. Suddenly, she raised her voice. “Why, what a lot of cigarettes you bought today! Five Ikoi's! Oh, I know—you won them at the pinball parlor! ”
                                                                                                                                                       He said nothing, but put his hand on his wife's knee. She gave herself at once into his embrace. Though her cheeks were very cold, her breath was soon coming in short gasps, almost impatiently. Without warning, he felt his breast pierced by a sharp pang of love for this wife of his, by a memory, like an open wound, of the day three years before when first their lips had met. He felt it as an ache, an ache that was distant and remote yet identical with the pain he had been feeling all day.
                                                                                                                                                         The cars roared by in the road outside. For a brief moment, a vision of the woman in the brown coat, of her beautiful legs, flashed through his mind. But he shook his head as though to dispel it, and slowly tightened the arms encircling his wife's body, her body that still smelt of the cold, wintry outside air. 
                                                                                                                                                                                         Translated by John Besfer

                                                                                                                                                           Yamakawa Masao was born in Tokyo in 1930. On February 20th of last year he died in an automobile accident at the age of thirty-four. Because of his rich talent and fresh style, he was regarded as the most promising writer of recent times, and his loss was widely lamented not only in literary circles but by the public at large.
                                                                                                                                                             His first novel, A Vacation for the Band (Bando no Kyuka 1950), was published in Bunrin, a magazine of the Literature Society in the Faculty of Literature at Keio University, where he was enrolled in the Department of French Literature. From that time he had already started to work on Mita Bungaku, a literary magazine of the university.
                                                                                                                                                               From twenty-four to twenty-six, he was on the staff of Mita Bungaku, which had a tradition going back to its founding by Nagai Kafu (1879—1959), the great novelist. Yamakawa was actually performing the function of its editor. In spite of his youth, he had a knack for discovering new talent. In this postwar period, commonly known as the Third Mita Bungaku, he filled its pages with new authors and literary critics and established another epoch for this magazine. He was responsible for the debut of Eto Jun (1933-1998), the essayist and critic, who began his career with an article called “Natsume Saseki.” Whenever he had free time away from his work,he wrote.
                                                                                                                                                                 Daily Death (Hibi no Shi, 1957), a full-length novel, which might be regarded as his first serious effort, appeared serially in Mita Bungaku. This semi-autobiographical work clearly expressed his own literary mission as a member of a generation coming after the postwar group of fresh writers, who had developed prematurely in the postwar years, haunted by the vision of futility and compelled to gaze steadily at the dissolution of his own period of youth. He tried to oppose the “self” as a separate, distinct being with the natural ties and the crumbling family system. In this work Yamakawa attempted to describe as faithfully as possible, the social and family problems faced by today's Japanese youth.
                                                                                                                                                                   He was nominated four times for the Akutagawa Prize. Those works considered were; At the End of the Act (Engi no Hate, 1958), That One Year, (Sono Ichinen, 1958), Beach Park (Kaigan Koen, 1961), and Like Love (Ai no Gotoku, 1964).
                                                                                                                                                                     The combination of an urbane, literary style, which expresses ideas precisely and intuitively, and a plain but honest theme creates the appeal of his writings.
                                                                                                                                                                       Yamakawa has also written many short stories abounding with refined, urbane wit. Fast Friends (Shitashii Yujintachi, 1963) is a small anthology of these superb stories which are rare examples even Japan. Matte iru Onna (A Woman Waiting, 1962) is the first story in the above volume. Omamori (“The Talisman,” 1964), also from this collection, has appeared in such foreign publications as Life (1964), Panorama and Komsomolskaya Pravda.

                                                                                                                                                                            YAMAKAWA Masao
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                                                                                                                                                                            YAMAKAWA Masao

                                                                                                                                                                            Novelist. February 25, 1930 - February 20, 1965. Born in Tokyo, graduating from Keio University, Literature Department, majoring in French literature. Started writing novels as a student, publishing a host of works in “Mita Bungaku” the campus literary magazine and other issues. Started to be engaged in editing the third wave of Mita Bungaku in 1954. Several of his short stories including Engi no Hate (The End of Performance) became candidates for Akutagawa Prize for a number of times. He had an urban sense and refined writing skills as a ‘Keio Boy’ writer, depicting post-war youth world in his theme of self-consciousness and performance in style of Sartre, winning recognition as creating a part of accomplishments of post-war literature. He represents a generation between “the third new faces” like Yoshiyuki Junnosuke or Endo Shusaku and the generation of Ishihara Shintaro or Oe Kenzaburo. Promising new writer as he was regarded, a traffic accident in 1965 took his life before fully blooming his gift.

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