Understanding people is almost as difficult as quitting cigarettes. A brief look at the human condition by author Tohka Kuszono
Translated by Hamish Smith
“Don’t you think it’s kind of a joke that smoking makes you look manly?” my friend Kaname asked, peeking at me sideways.
“Who looks manly?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from the video clip playing on the computer and glancing back at her. It was Saturday afternoon and we were at my apartment. The remains of last nights drinking session were strewn about the place. It was as if you couldn’t take a single step without tripping over one of the empty beer cans and chip packets that lined the floor of my tiny one room abode.
“You do, don’t you?” she said, driving peanuts into her mouth one by one as she spoke.
“But aren’t I a proper lady?” I asked.
“I know, I was joking,” came her reply, “You’re so hopeless that what little coolness you do have really stands out.”
I’m not hopeless. I coughed a little. She’s just being rude.
Kaname and I have been friends for almost three years. I was at a welcoming party for my workplace and all the girls there were quite anxious, trying their best to catch the attention of the guys, who were looking rather bored. Everyone was on their way to another bar when I decided to duck out early and head down to my favorite video game arcade. I was casually playing a fighting game and Kaname was the other player. We were playing different characters in the same game, but she was a level above me. I was starting to hope that she would take it easy on me. Once the match was finished, she looked over at me and said ‘Well done’. I was annoyed and a little confused, but I remember saying ‘You’ve done even better’ back to her.
Before I knew it we had become friends. What really made me like her is that she caught me smoking in my room and just said ‘Well, that seems like something you’d do’ without any real sense of surprise. Until then I had pretended to be a non smoker, pretended that I hated cigarettes. The truth was that I was sneaking smokes in my room. Our relationship was so good that she would come over and stay once a month on a Friday night. Last nights drinking session was an extension of that. For the past few months I had been busy with my boyfriend, so she hadn’t been able to stay over for a while. I wondered if she had forgotten me, her being so carefree.
“That just means you think I’m hopeless,” I said. My cigarette was burning down to the filter so I put it out in an empty can. I put another cigarette in my mouth and searched around for my lighter.
“Well aren’t you?” Kaname said, a cheeky smile on her face, “Strike a pose, try to light your smoke with a lighter that’s out of oil. That seems more like you.” She was getting more and more rude. I tried to think of a rebuttal.
“I think you might be missing the point. From the outside I look like a cool older sister,” I said.
“Isn’t that odd,” she said, messing up my shoulder length hair, “People must be blind or something. No one notices, not even your boyfriend, despite you obviously trying so hard.”
“Quit it,” I said as I pulled myself away from her and lit my cigarette on the gas heater.
“It will be a long time until people find out that I smoke. I’m trying my best. You know what I mean.”
“Like not smoking in front of the one you like, even though you’re a heavy smoker? Such a touching display of effort and false self control.”
“…No, I mean..,” I said as I furrowed my brow.
“That’s right. I have made a huge effort. I was crying on the inside not to be seated next to smokers on dates. You know what I mean!” Just thinking about that makes me hate myself. My boyfriend hated smokers. In fact he seemed to hate most things about me, not just the smoking. He seemed to love his ideal version of me, not me as I was.
I hadn’t had many boyfriends for someone my age. Most of the other girls around my age were settling down and getting married. I thought that rushing into something like marriage made a person weak. It was great up until we started getting serious, I felt wonderful when he told me that he liked me because I’m strong and frank, but that was just the side of me that I let everyone see.
I badgered him to go see a comedy movie. As soon as it had finished he had forgotten what it was about, and even though I felt tired that day, I played tennis with him like he had wanted me to. My anaemia was starting to make me dizzy, but my boyfriend was too busy chasing the ball to notice.
And there was the time that he had me reserve Christmas dinner at a restaurant he saw recommended in a magazine, saying he was too busy to do it himself. I got stuck with him cancelling that dinner, saying he was too busy with work. He told me that I’d be alright, that I’d understand. He was unapologetic. He told me I wasn’t the type to start complaining about something so trivial. Don’t you understand anything, what are you thinking!?… is something that I certainly never said. I wanted to scream at him and slap him clean across the face, but I just smiled and said, “That’s fine. Because we’re breaking up.” I didn’t even love him, I just felt cheap and stupid. But at the time I thought it was a compelling ending to that chapter of my life.
I called Kaname over, drank a heap of beer and smoked. Kaname doesn’t smoke. Instead of giving me clichéd words of comfort, she lent an ear to my constant complaints in my cloudy room.
“It’s because you keep pretending to be strong, but I do think that’s one of your good points,” she said, tipping the remaining crumbs from her bag of peanuts into her open palm.
“I guess you’re just in the habit of trying to look cool. I think it’s a bit of a joke, you looking cool when you smoke. Because you’re weak,” she told me.
“Oh shut up, it’s good to have a gap between who you are and how people see you,” I said. I leaned against the heater with a smoke in my mouth and returned my gaze to the video clip. I could see the reflection of Kaname swaying against the dull black of the computer screen. Kaname, a sweet girl with a dirty mouth. Regardless of what I had to tell her, she was the friend that understood me the best. ‘You’re so cool’ I mumbled inside my head as I looked at her reflection. Well said, Kaname. You’re the cool one, looking as though you’re about to tell me that you’d give me a kiss to chase away the cravings, so I wont need my smokes any more.
Original work Copyright © 2013 Tohka Kuszono All rights reserved Original text can be found at Tohka Kuszono's home page http://wit.bitter.jp/rk/rk-top.html
English translation © 2013 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved