Diary of a Nihilist
by Aaron Hayes & Daniel Dives
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
My room was a little cramped, but reasonably comfortable. The bathroom containing tub, shower, toilet and basin was as confined as humanly possible, the bed left barely enough room around the edges between the walls for my legs to squeeze through. The television set had one hundred yen slots for the porn channels and after four days of going without, that was luxury enough for me.
A painting of jungle animals living in harmony together also managed to add a nice touch to a largely bland-looking room. It was a nice thought by the painter, though I felt a little sad that it could only ever be just that, a thought. For, as the wildebeest has horns, so too does the lion have claws. They were that way for a reason. Paradise, harmony, it would not look like that, for these were the fallen fruits of evolution, clearly designed for a life that was, as Hobbes so eloquently put it, nasty, brutish and short.
I grabbed my backpack and headed downstairs. “Any sights you’d recommend?” I asked the receptionist.
“Do you like hiking?” she said, as she took my key from behind the counter.
God, you are beautiful! A serene vision of her sprawled out naked on my bed crawled up my legs. I shook the images back to their maker and said instead, “Yes, I love hiking.”
“Well, there’s Mt. Tara nearby. It’s about a forty-minute hike from the base to the summit.”
“Really? Is it far?”
“You can borrow one of our bikes if you like. No charge.” She flashed another heartwarming smile.
Maybe you’d better stay here, whispered the lewd Lord of lust in my ear.
“Should only take about fifteen minutes to get to the base,” she added, as her eyes began to understand something of the shade beside me.
“Thanks,” I said. “Sounds good.”
Following her hand-drawn directions on the sheet she’d given me, I rode out into the dense forest area surrounding Mt. Tara. The start of the track was near a camping ground; little wooden cabins and picnic benches dotted the nearby landscape. It was quite picturesque.
Unfortunately, though, the hike up the mountain itself was largely disappointing. Much of the path was constructed from unsightly rocks and stones, and most of the surrounding greenery had been chopped down, burned, or covered with even more unsightly stone. The skeletal remains of the trees pointed upward, urging me on, as though embarrassed to be seen in their naked state.
Nearing the end of the dirt track, approaching the final set of steps to the peak, I passed by a Shinto shrine. In a tiny ornamental mirror, I caught a glimpse of my shadow leaving its imprint in the ground and thought of what Taka had told me about the ‘Akuma’.
I ascended the steps only to discover the view from the top was not much better — everywhere the sight of human destruction, everywhere a landscape scarred. The hills looked like waves of greens, browns, and grays rolling towards the horizon, seeking their escape. I found myself gazing upward, watching the fading remnants of something yet to be butchered by mankind... a simple cloud. I watched as it retreated, fled, then gradually faded to blue.
On the way back to town, I admired the traditional designs of some of the houses and accompanying bonsai gardens. I had to remind myself that a handful of them, the old wooden ones, were built without the use of any nail or screw. They’d withstood the changes of seasons, winter cold, summer heat, an endless row of typhoons, and earthquakes, yet their fragile exterior hid the flexibility within, the same fragility that gave them the strength to stand tall.
There was a quaint charm to the details: wooden panels on the outside to protect the house and its owners against the forces of nature; paper siding inside, doors without locks; trimmed trees, matsu or tsuge, with branches shaped in round plateaus, looking like clouds and bringing luck. The tsukubai, a nifty way to let water flow or trickle down a piece of bamboo into a small, open basin, fed by fresh water from a nearby stream, allowing nature to be ever present.
The swerving paths, made of round stones, usually diverted left or right by a large, solid rock blocking a brazen attack — never leading directly from gate to door in a straight line. Straightness was considered unnatural in Japan as was perfection, and looking at the nature around me, I had to agree.
I decided to stop at a little sushi restaurant I had passed on the way to Mt. Tara. The place had a definite charm to it, and I was curiously struck by the sign displayed outside which read: ‘He who fails to see himself reflected in the water only sees the bottom of the lake.’
I wondered what it meant. The sign was old and weathered, as was the sushi restaurant, so whoever had put it up had seen a connection between the two.
“What a big nose!”
Two little girls walking a dog passed me, unaware I understood Japanese.
“All foreigners have big noses!”
“I know. I wonder why?” said the first one as she felt the length of her own nose.
The other shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“They tend to be stinky. Maybe they can’t smell so good and need bigger ones; otherwise, they’d just embarrass themselves.”
They giggled. A high clatter of sounds only young girls can produce.
It made me smile. I padlocked the bike to a bench outside as a foreboding shade of feathers ascended into the gradually darkening sky. I entered through the veiled entrance.
“Irasshai!” said the Mama-san, a portly woman with a weatherworn but kind face.
“Konnichi wa,” I replied, with a stiff bow. I promised myself to get back into training every day rather than once a week. Sitting behind a desk most of the day and hoisting pitchers of beer at night had turned me into a living scarecrow — mostly scaring away the memories of my athletic days as a high school brat.
The owners appeared ecstatic to have a foreigner in their restaurant. The Mama-san guided me to a small cubicle in which a solitary knee-high table stood. I removed my shoes and stepped up onto the surrounding tatami mats, grabbed a couple of cushions for my bony backside, then ordered, by picture, a selection of nigirisushi.
Sadly, in eighteen months, I had only learned to read about three hundred kanji characters and still found myself pointing to pictures on the menus, or displays in the windows outside, when ordering at restaurants.
The foreign voices coming from the television set above the main counter contrasted strangely with the traditional atmosphere of the restaurant. An episode of the first season of American Idol was on. A black girl with straightened hair, one of the top ten contestants, was teasing another black female contestant about her naturally frizzy hair. The other contestants clapped and laughed, along with the judges. I wondered why the natural style of a black person’s hair was funny — and why it’s so hard to find black celebrities in America without straightened hair. Randy Jackson, why did you laugh?
An old woman with dyed jet-black hair, seated in the cubicle opposite me, not in the least bit shy, stuck her head in my direction. “So you’re eating the tongue sushi? Next time try the red meat variety, especially the leg selections. They are truly delightful.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
“Imported from America, you know,” she continued with a satisfied grin, and sneaked a glimpse at the television screen as she pushed back her empty plate. “They always have nice, fresh foreign imports.”
“If I’m in again, I’ll be sure to try it,” I said, too embarrassed to tell her I hadn’t actually known I’d ordered tongue.
“How long are you here for?”
“Just a few days.”
“Will you be visiting Yutoku shrine? It’s one of the three biggest Inari shrines in Japan, you know,” she said, a hint of misplaced pride escaping the corners of her wrinkled lips.
“Yes, I’m actually heading out there tomorrow.”
“You’ll love it! Be sure to take a camera. You do have a camera, don’t you?”
I gave a light nod toward my backpack. “Sure do.”
“Oh,” she said as though she’d just remembered something, “you’re not here for the ‘Gata-lympics’, are you?”
The Gata-lympics were Saga’s own Olympic Games, held on the shores of the Ariake Sea. I hadn’t specifically planned on going to the supposedly famous ‘Mud Olympics’, but, having read about the assorted races and competitions in my guide book, figured it could be worth my while.
“No, I’m just doing a bit of traveling during my holidays. I might have a look though. It sure sounds interesting.”
“Oh, you really should! They have mud wrestling, cycling, tugs of war, and even swimming races. You should see everyone afterwards, all caked in mud. It’s so funny. Everyone looks so similar!”
She was a nice woman, avoided the bland introductions I was growing tired of, and went on to say how nice she thought it was to see a young man traveling the length and width of Japan. She said her husband had died from karoushi, over-work — an all too common and sad phenomenon in Japan — and said at times she longed for bygone days where life was less of a dog-eat-dog routine. Days when people had time to share the goodness and simplicity of life with each other. Days when people cared more for one another than the lives of their favorite fictional TV characters.
Along with the juicy aftertaste of tongue sushi in my mouth, the smiling face of the Mama-san as I paid my bill was the last thing I remember before a sudden explosion of pain erupted at the back of my head followed by me waking up here.
Awake, withered flame. My eyes opened to the darkness of a confined, cool concrete room. I heard faint sounds, dulled vibrations from above, but nothing distinguishable. Apart from a faint flicker of artificial light above, I couldn’t see much of anything. My backpack was at my feet, but feeling inside, it was soon apparent that everything had been removed aside from my book, a pen, and the bottle of water.
The stench was horrendous, a sickly smell; I couldn’t place it but it was somewhat familiar. I was groggy. The back of my head was throbbing. I had had the most strange of dreams, visions of vengeful skeletons marching through Tokyo’s streets, resurrecting flowers laid to rest in a garden of torture as a blackened figure, perched on a tower, watched curiously from above.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I began to make out the outline of an image beneath the flickering light. Something began to appear, disappear, and then reappear. I moved closer, crawling. It was human, a foreigner, but the body did not move. I inched closer still. The tips of my fingers touched something slimy, a thick liquid... blood. What lay before me were the severed remains of a legless body.
I snapped my eyes shut to block out the scene. Suddenly, I remembered the old woman’s words: “Imported from America, you know. They always have nice, fresh foreign imports.”
Staring death in the face, I smelt its foul breath upon my brow, felt its cold hands gently clasp my throat. For what seemed like hours, I screamed. I was losing my mind. I didn’t want to believe the nightmare I had awoken to, the hideous dream into which I had been thrown. I kicked and banged at the door to no avail.
Defeated, insanity closing in on me, I sat next to the body, eyes closed, my head slowly moving left to right, right to left; the forgotten ghosts of dead revolutionaries circled me, shouting, “Why does the fool pity himself? Morality is but a human construct! There is no ought, only is!”
The body beside me moved. I leaned in close, voice cracking, I cried out, “Who did this to you? Where are we?”
He pointed with a trembling finger to the mirror mounted on the wall to his right, where he had scribbled something in blood.
He can’t talk! His tongue had been removed! His mouth, chin, and shirt were covered in blood. I crawled around him to get a closer look, blood gently flowing away from my rickety palms. Beside him was an open and bloodied copy of Stirner’s The Ego and its Own. He had been copying a passage which read: “For me you are nothing but my food, even as I am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use”
I shivered. Something cold, dead, icy, drove its tentacles deep into the unexplored ruggedness of my barren soul. Up until today, I had thought I was different, special, destined to be somebody. I used to think, ‘If only others saw what I saw, knew what I knew, felt what I felt.’ However, as I read those dreadful words, as though bloodied and abandoned amidst the wild ocean, face-to-face with my image reflecting in the eye of a finned incubus of terror, I finally realized the reality of my existence, the true nature of my being, and consequently... the sheer insignificance of my life.
I crawled back to my corner of the cell, reached into my bag and pulled out the pen and the pitiful excuse for a ‘philosophy of life’ I had been reading: The Lotus Book of Essence. I sat upright against the wall and flicked through to the end of the book, frenziedly stabbing random pages as they bled red ink. The last few pages were blank, as was my mind. Then, slowly, I began to write.
My name is Steve Allen; I am a nihilist ...