79. The Itch

Saturday evening, July 8th


I take the cell phone from Azami. “Moshi-moshi.”

“This is Yūri,” says the voice on the other end. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”

“I’m so sorry, Yūri. I lost my phone the other day and I . . .”

I’m getting tired of having to lie to everyone. If I had my druthers, I would be up front with my friend and tell her the truth that in less than twelve hours I will have to go in for questioning. I would also tell her what I fear most: that the cops might arrest me the moment I set foot in their office. But this is Japan. You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve here; you put it in a lacquered box, wrap it up in a furoshiki, and shove it into a dark corner of your closet out of sight with the rest of your troubles.

We agree to meet at Small Spaces in an hour. In the meantime, Yūri will contact the others and tell them where to go, and I will hurry back to my apartment and try to call Naila again.

It should be around seven-thirty in the morning in D.C. If I don’t get through now, there won’t be another chance until Sunday morning. And that is cutting it far too close comfort.

I dial my cousin’s number. The phone starts to ring. Fourteen rings later, there’s still no answer.

“Goddammit!” I shout into the receiver. Trying the number again, I get nothing. 

“She’s not home?” Azami asks.

“I don’t know. I don’t know whether she’s out or whether she’s just not answering her phone. What I do know is that I’m going to be up shit creek if I don’t get in touch with her before tomorrow morning.”


Smoking yabatill the wee hours of the night with dé Dale and Nori on Ko Samui would have made a fitting epilogue for my experience with stimulant drugs, one that had until then been rather positive in many respects. Regrettably, it would prove to have only been The Prologue.

Not long after returning to Fukuoka, dé Dale was made an offer the businessman in him couldn’t easily refuse: several hundred grams of crystal meth at a price that tickled his animal spirits. As soon as the deal had gone through, dé Dale parceled the speed out to anyone he could contact, unloading as much of the drug as possible, save a hefty personal stash for himself and his girlfriend Nori, who was now smoking like a champion.

I, too, was persuaded into buying a large portion of it.

“Shinji will be in town,” dé Dale murmured cryptically over the phone. “If you want to meet up, it’ll have to be at ‘twenty o’clock’.”

Twenty g’s! Good God!

Twenty grams was more than enough to keep me twisted around Shinji’s little finger for the remaining seven months of 2001. I didn’t know if I could trust myself around that much speed.

“Twenty? I’m kind of busy. Can’t we meet earlier? At, say, five?” I offered. Five grams would have been more manageable.

“No. It’s twenty or never. And so you know, our friend won’t be as generous with his time next time.”

“Twenty, huh?”

If only I had said “No thanks” to dé Dale, the next few years might have turned out differently. I probably wouldn’t be facing jail time today. But, I couldn’t. Something within me just wasn’t capable of saying “No” to dé Dale.

“Deal me in.”


 I managed at first to keep the habit at a minimum, smoking only on weekends, but it didn’t take long for those weekends to start including Thursday nights and then Wednesday nights, and the occasional Tuesday night, as well. By the time Sunday night would zip around my body would be screaming for sleep. Four or five days speeding, with the pedal to the metal, and only occasional catnaps on my sofa, would finally catch up with me and utter exhaustion would drag my listless body into a groggy tomb.

By Monday morning, I would be feeling much better than I had the right to be. My appetite would have returned, too, so I would make a breakfast of misosoup, asazuképickles and rice. I’d drink several glasses of vegetable juice for the health in it.

“Today I’m gonna eat healthy,” I’d declare, “and rejuvenate. Yes, rejuvenate! Lots of fruits and vegetables for Rémy’s poor body. And vitamins, yes, vitamins! Ha-ha!”

I would put the lighter and rolled up 1000-yennote away in my sock drawer and tell myself I wouldn’t be needing the paraphernalia today, that I’d be able to get through the day just fine without it, thank you very much.

My confidence would be unshakable: I would get through the day without lighting up, end of story.

The itch, after all, is gone, I’d tell myself. I’m rested and the furthest thing from my mind is smoking.

I would have to remind myself, of course, that this was the case, that I was okay, that I was above it, that smoking even a little . . . Nah, I didn’t need it. I just didn’t need it . . . Besides, there were so many other things to fill my mind: my dissertation, the errands I had to run, the calls I had to make, the dinner I wanted to prepare, and the date I wanted to arrange.

But, Shinji would be back in no time pestering me, peeking over my shoulder to see what I was up to.

I’d tell him to shoo.

I would busy myself, instead, with work and even make some progress on my dissertation. I would have a nice lunch, more vegetables, and be feeling pretty damn good considering all the abuse I had put my body through recently. And yet, I wouldn’t be able to shake the feeling that wherever I went, whatever I did, Shinji was shadowing me. 

“Just go a-way, will ya!”

As the day progressed, my thoughts would turn increasingly to Shinji, and I would have to convince myself that I neither needed, nor wanted, to smoke.

“Why, I could smoke whenever I wanted to,” I’d say to myself, “especially when you consider how much meth I have tucked away in the old sock drawer. There’s no reason to smoke up on today of all days, when the weekend, well not quite the weekend, but Thursday night was only three short days away, and I’d be able to smoke myself silly then. Just think how goodit will feel to smoke again after having not smoked for a few days.”

This argument would gain traction, convincing my head of the benefits of waiting. My body, though, was never fully convinced. So, I would go out to run errands, if only to put some physical distance between the drug and myself, and that would do the trick for the next few hours.

By the time I would come home, though, there would be an itch I would give my eyeteeth to scratch. And so, straight to the sock drawer I would go and remove the rolled up 1000-yen note, sticky with white soot, and one of the many small Ziploc bags of meth stashed there. I would sprinkle the crystalline shards onto a fresh sheet of foil, light up and inhale deeply.

The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.