Stories of Freedom
The Young Foreigner’s Friend and Guide
Copyright © by Hideo Asano
“Every man has a right to live and be free, no matter what class or race. Don’t go hang him on a string,” said a Jamaican, Mrs. Carman, declaratively in our conversation, in a Brixton pub in London.
Absolute appearance is absolute false!
What you see is unreal, what you don’t see is real!”
It’s not a Horserace
Most black men in Japan love to introduce themselves as Americans to the Japanese.
Often there is no way you could know that your girlfriend or wife would leave you. But if it happened when you were approaching old age, you would feel depressed and lost. It is like a coup d‘etat to a man.
So Brown was a lucky man. He was still in his mid 30’s. As a verbal-American, he called himself Brown in Japan instead of his own poetic African name. He was small, slim and had pure-shiny-black skin and walked like a brother. He walked rhythmically; his body swinging from side to side with his shoulders rising and falling and with his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers; his shoulders appeared to be sliding down to the ground as he strode. His shoulders and feet worked together rhythmically. Usually he was wearing clothes in black, with a black beret slanting to his right.
Even though he stayed many years in Japan, he still kept his own lively personality. He kept his own style. He talked and walked like a cheerful African American. Certainly he didn’t act like many gaijin, foreigners, who are staying in Japan. Many gaijin don’t want to talk with no one.
In Japan, he kept himself busy dancing with girls in nightclubs. “Dancing and music are what makes me happy. Because it’s in my blood,” Brown said. He poured all the money he had saved, through selling old car engines to his own country, into his dancing and a beautiful girl he had met in a bar and they fell in love and decided to marry, despite her family's disapproval.
They had flown to Nigeria together, after shipping a cargo of used motor engines out to his country, to get married and to do some business there. Three months later, after they had returned from Africa. But she was broke off from her own family. They didn’t want to see her any more.
“I will stay by you forever until I die, because you did this for me,” Brown said to her.
Their marriage went smoothly for two years, after coming through a crisis, even though she called him “Jerry-san” occasionally; and his business was good and their daughter became a model for magazines.
The crisis in their relationship occurred after she had returned from hospital with her new born baby when there was a call from a young Japanese girl in the early morning. Brown lay beside her.
“May I speak to Jerry?” the girl had said in Japanese on the end of the other line.
“There isn’t such person,” his wife, Noriko, said, but the girl insisted on talking to Jerry.
“Could you describe what he looks like?” Noriko had asked.
“He is black and small.”
Brown picked up the receiver and hung up angrily but a few minutes later the phone rang again and Noriko picked it up.
“Can I come to identify him?” the girl had said.
She must be joking, Brown thought. In Africa, if she comes my wife would cut her throat.
“Please come,” Noriko had said.
“All right I will be there soon.”
Unbelievably Brown heard the door of a car slammed shut outside and then there was a knock on the door of their apartment. Noriko opened the door.
“Please come on in,” Noriko said.
“I want to know the truth,” the girl insisted.
Brown pushed her toward the door angrily but she refused to leave. So he shoved her out of their apartment and then closed the door after he threw her shoes out of the door.
His wife was crying and he was begging for forgiveness for what he had done. Brown held a paring knife in the style of hara-kiri.
“I will kill myself, if you don’t stop crying. I will kill myself, if you don’t forgive me,” he said tearfully.
“Please don’t do that,” she begged.
He dropped the knife and both held each other and everything calmed down and things went smoothly again as usual as if nothing had happened. But, the following day, the girl called Noriko again and told her everything.
While she was staying in hospital he had an affair with the girl. Brown picked her up and brought her to his apartment saying he was staying in his friend’s apartment. He didn’t cheat his wife intentionally. He felt extremely lonely being alone. But that was how their early marriage life started and he never imagined how it would end now.
Often, after she came home from her work, she complained about the people around her where she worked. They were talking about her husband being black. He felt bad. So he urged her to quit her job. So did she.
“Staying at home alone she felt bored while I kept busy with my business. So I bought my wife a computer to play with it to kill her time and learn something new,” he said.
Less than three months after she started to use the computer, she left home with her daughter without saying a goodbye or leaving a note. Through e-mail she had met a Japanese man.
“In Africa, once a woman has a baby she can’t run away with another man. It’s like she is handcuffed,” he said. He complained that he was being used by her; his wife wanted to have a dark colored exotic child, so now she is using their little daughter as a model.
You would totally believe what he had said before reading a letter forwarded to him that said, Watakushitachiwagenki de orimasu. Watakushiwamodorimasen. Anata no bouryokuniwataeraremasen. Did he marry her for the paper like many other blacks to stay in Japan? “We have no choice. The Japanese government doesn’t give us working visa,” one of the African men who came from Nigeria had said in Tokyo.
“You should forget it,” I advised.
“It’s hard to forget.”
“It’s not worth spending your time and energy on.”
“I want to kill her boyfriend! I mean it!”
“Calm down. He is nothing to do with you. Blame your wife.”
“Thank you. Thank you. That’s it!” he said, his favorite words whenever he heard the words he loved to hear.
“That is part of life you have to go through.”
“There---a loophole---her---I kept busy with my business,” Brown said.
“You better forget it. Time is your friend. Time will comfort you.”
“Thank you. Thank you. That’s it!”
One day, after she had left, her older brother called him that he wanted him to leave Japan with his daughter, and was willing to provide the airfare. Brown also thought it was not a bad idea because not seeing his daughter was so painful he could hardly take it. But he knew well that she wouldn’t give their little daughter up. Her brother promised him that he would try to persuade his sister to give her up. Brown doubted it.
“Love doesn’t work because this society is not ready for it. But I tried my best,” he said tearfully. “Since we married there was constant pressure from her family to break us up. Even a few days after we had the baby, her brother called me to see him in a Denny’s restaurant. Her brother urged me to leave the country with my baby without letting his sister know. He said, ‘Your baby has no future in Japan. She will suffer.’ He asked me to sign a paper written in Japanese, which I couldn’t understand, so I asked him what it is. ‘Rikon’, he said. I know the word. I just grabbed a glass that stood in front of me and hit it hard against the table and walked out.”
Before she left, his business didn’t go well and she started complain to him that that’s not her fault but his fault. Did she take revenge on Jerry? Or his domestic violence? Before he married her, he had heard all kinds of negative stories from his African friends who live in Japan. But he thought she was the exception, like many gaijin who were going out with Japanese girls, saying, “mine is different.”
Brown probably had a perfect-looking “mine” for self-assurance forgetting that “mine” is harder than you picking the right race horse, even though looking for one in the combination of legs and heart isn’t as hard as looking for one in the combination of brain and heart.
It seemed you will never have a clean, fine ending of the relationship between man and woman, except death either of them. He was resentful about how she left. It took him four years to find the truth of her out. But it’s not bad that if you think of twenty or thirty years you had spent with her. Rather he is luckier person because he might not go through this again. It’s just something like drinking a cold bitter beer to make the underneath of your tongue stinging-fire on a hot day.
Africa was all in his head until he now sat on a stool in Good Times, a cafeteria in Tokyo, looking out at girls walking by through the window on a cloudy afternoon.
“Oh, I miss my wife. She wasn’t that---”
“Yeah. But I need bucks,” said Brown. Then, “Hi,” he said to a girl who sat now only a stool away from him.
African Brothers do not Lie to Each Other
Two black men were sucking lemonade through straws, sitting at a small table in a subway cafeteria. One was slim and tall wearing Navy blue shorts to match his Navy blue sailor’s shirt and the other was well-built, wearing a red and white-striped rugby shirt with khaki trousers. The slim one had small thin face with thin lips. He was a fresh-looking young man, always dressed fashionably. The well-built one had a nearly round face with boyish gentle eyes, broad nose, and extremely thick lips; the thick lower lip shone bright in the light. Tribal marks on his cheeks and many spots of tribal marks along his smooth skinned right arm were shined in the light. He hated the French. Both of them were making good money selling imported American sportswear, maybe not actually from America. They were talking very little. Their eyes were fixed on the young girls who were walking by, when I approached them. I liked to hear the sound of their mother tongue, Ghanaian, even though I didn’t know what they were talking about. It sounded very soft and smooth.
“Hey, Brother, could you buy me something to eat?” I asked the well-built fellow after we had linked and slowly pulled forefingers until they snapped apart at the end with their middle fingers. By doing this I felt I was also belonged to the same tribe as the African man. I felt we were brothers.
“All right, what you want to eat?” the African stood up.
I walked over to the counter with him.
“A meat pie, all right?” I pointed to the display window.
“All right. Drink?”
“Coffee will do.”
“Mito paihitotsu to kohihitotsu,” I said to the girl who stood behind the counter.
“Hey, George,” I called the well-built fellow, “are you still saying you are from America?”
“Come on. What’s your problem?”
“I still like Dansoko better than George.”
“As you wish.”
“Is it good?”
“Why don’t you get a job?”
“You have to eat.”
“I am eating.”
“I am serious.”
“I have a serious job.”
“I hope you will be all right.”
“I know what I am doing.”
“I guess you know what you are doing.”
“Tell me more about your country.”
“Anyhow, Nimo, Africa is beautiful. I want you to smell the sweet smell of the earth of Africa one day.”
“I want to.”
“Nimo, one thing I want to tell you. Listen. You must listen. Don’t get upset when African man says he is American. Listen. We are trying to survive. Actually the Japanese are demanding that too. You know the Japanese like America. You must understand. If you say you are from Africa you may not get a job or even you won’t get the right wages. You must understand. But African brothers won’t lie to African brothers.”
“I understand. But they don’t have to do that to me.”
“Because they afraid of you. They don’t know who you are. Not only black people. Whites too. Sometimes they are lying too.”
“Hey, I have to go,” George said. He stood up with his friend. He put his large hand on my left shoulder and squeezed it hard as if the fingers of his left hand were digging deep into my body. I touched his left forearm gently, sending signal of a see-you-later or ciou.
Secure My Freedom
Robert was a middle-aged man, a shoemaker, who had lived alone in Northeast London since his separation from his wife. Occasionally she visited him to cook, to talk and to clean his flat. Their twenty-year-old son was still in contact with them. Robert wanted to return to his native Jamaica to live with his own people when he retired.
He loved to cook. His freezer was full of meat. We were drinking cold canned beer. He sat on the edge of his bed and talked about slavery. His hands worked with a knife in a large bowl on his lap making a salad. I liked to hear about it from him, sitting in a comfortable chair. Most of the things he said were very familiar to me from my own knowledge of slavery. I’ve heard or read about it in America. He talked vividly, as if he himself had been a slave.
“To this day there are many plantations of fruits and sugar cane in the Caribbean Islands. The whites brought snakes from America onto the Caribbean and released them into the bush to prevent slaves from escaping the islands,” Robert said.
“It sounds like Goree Island where slaves were kept until the slave ships came to pick them up. I’ve heard of it from a Senegalese. No one could escape from Goree Island because of the dangerous sea with sharks,” I said.
“White people looked for snakes all the time to put out into the bush. At night you can’t watch everybody,” he said, as he stood up with the bowl in his hands and went into the kitchen.
I remembered what an African British woman had said. “Many women were frightened,” her whole body was trembling violently, “when they were pregnant, because they had to kill their own new-born babies. They didn’t want to see their children become slaves to the world. ”
Robert returned and sat with the bowl and a smaller empty one. He scooped the salad carefully with two forks and put it into the small bowl and handed it to me.
“This is a real good salad,” I said, enjoying it with the beer.
“This is a Caribbean salad,” he said proudly. “After the abolition of slavery, white people brought mongoose to kill snakes. Slaves were worked as cooks, housekeepers, cleaners--- Today we have time to start and to stop work but not in those days. Slaves worked more than the rest.”
“If you were born on one of the islands as a slave you wouldn’t know the meaning of freedom then?”
“Definitely not. You would only know your master who gives you food and certainly nothing outside their small world,” said Robert. “Even---she had to sleep with her master if she was chosen.”
“England offered freedom to the slaves in America to fight on the British side. A lot of slaves fought against Americans, wanting to be sent back to motherland Africa.” I said.
“If the law to abolish slavery wasn’t passed, there would still be slaves around,” said Robert. “Many slaves died on the way to England, America or the Caribbean Islands. In those days, it took months because ships used sails, not engines. The slaves were packed in each slave ship like canned sardines.”
“If I were a slave, I could challenge a lion as a gladiator to secure my freedom,” I said.
“Important---it was a spiritual fight! ---and many things have not yet been told truthfully. Many things were actually invented by the African people but---”
“Do you know that a slave in America invented the cotton picker?”
“No. But I can believe it. Blood plasma and blood bank---and---” said Robert. “Western people are even copying music and dancing from the African people.”
“Picasso introduced African arts to the Western world.”
“Many stories have not been truthfully told or written,” said Robert. “Most of the things that we know are only accurate to a certain degree. There aren’t many things which are totally true. There are two sides to a coin. You have to judge by yourself.”
“People are afraid to accept the truth.”
“Do you think Jesus was white? Definitely not white. He probably had a dark brown complexion with dark brown eyes and dark hair, if he wasn’t black.”
“The color of his skin is irrelevant but his message.”
We talked more about 400 years of African slavery.
“The cruelest thing was that they were not allowed to talk to each other.”
“Blues was born out of cruelty.”
“Drumming is speaking,” said Robert.