Bob, an African American bouncer, yawned as he checked his watch. 3 AM. Ah, the night was still young. His partner nudged him and gestured to a group who was passing them by. Bob stifled another yawn as he trudged up to the group and handed them some flyers. He glanced at his watch again. It was four more hours before he could call it a night.
The streets were still full of people. Women in formal cocktail gowns and fur stoles walked the same street as girls in gaudy leopard print skirts. Japanese salarymen, clad in their usual dark suits, were shoulder to shoulder with burly American servicemen on R&R. Tall, blonde, and leggy women from the former Soviet Union discretely advertised themselves on the street. Cute Asian women, clad in coats, heels, and provocative smiles, enticed people to have a massage. Groups of young people, their arms around each other, emerged from a karaoke box, still belting out the last song. Well-dressed yuppies, their bleary eyes and pasty skin contrasting with their expensively cut suits, sipped espressos as they tried to sober up.
Bob took a deep breath as he leaned his hip on the metal railing that separated the sidewalk from the street. The air was a combination of cigarette smoke and sewerage stench mixed with heavy perfume, sweat, and alcohol.
He grimaced and sighed. It was another ordinary Saturday night in Roppongi, otherwise known Tokyo's active nexus of sin.
Roppongi was an unusual mix of the classy and the kitsch. Although it boasted of posh complexes such as Roppongi Hills and Roppongi Midtown, the area remained inundated with small establishments with their gaudy, blinking neon signs piled one on top of the other.
The are was home to one of the largest foreign populations in Japan, the people who frequented the area were an eclectic mix. Everyday, diplomats rubbed elbows with bouncers, financiers stood side to side with hostos, and socialites shopped at the same delis as maids.
Perhaps he and his comrades were the most conspicuous of all, Bob mused as he took note of the numerous burly African men who roamed the streets in pairs. Usually clad in American hip-hop attire or in head-to-toe black with a lot of bling, they could be seen working the streets asking men and women about their entertainment preferences. If one succumbs to their catcalls, he is almost forcibly dragged to the club they work for.
Loud music spilled onto the streets as the door of one of the nearby discos opened. Bob glanced over to see a man and three women, all well dressed and reeking of smoke and alcohol, woozily tried to make their way onto the main street. The man and another girl seemed to supporting a woman, while the fourth member of the group was hastily scanning the streets for a taxi.
Lucky guy, Bob thought as he shook his head and approached a group of Americans on the next block. This was Roppongi after all; it was nothing he hadn’t seen before.
“It wasn’t like this when she turned thirty,” Tessa commented as she looked back towards Jon and Kaye. She hefted Ana’s bag over her shoulder and once again scanned the streets for a taxi.
“That’s because there’s a big difference between turning thirty and realizing that your age isn’t on the calendar anymore,” Jon retorted as he and Kaye supported a tipsy Ana.
“Happy birthday to me,” Ana sang as her head lolled on Jon’s shoulder.
“Darling, you stink,” he gently chided.
“Marry me Jon,” she hiccupped.
“Dear god, I hope you don’t mean that,” he said, smiling a bit.
“She’s more drunk than I thought,” Tessa murmured worriedly.
“You don’t say,” Jon commented, swallowing back a bark of laughter, “why else would she proposition me when we all know I’m gayer than the three of you combined?”
“I hope she doesn’t throw up,” Kaye, who was helping support Ana, said as she shifted Ana’s weight. “Ana, we’re never bringing you anywhere ever again,” she added as she privately wondered how their evening had degenerated into this.
The evening had started normally enough. The four of them decided to celebrate Ana’s 32nd birthday with an all-nighter in Roppongi. They started out with dinner at a nouvelle cuisine restaurant in the Roppongi Midtown complex. And although their combined bill could have easily financed the purchase of a new designer bag (albeit a small one), they rationalized that it was worth it since they hadn’t been out in ages. And after all, they could afford it. Such was the life of young, single expatriates who made their way in the corporate world of Tokyo.
Jonathan Aguirre arrived in Tokyo a few years ago as a consultant for an American financial company. He greatly preferred living in Tokyo than in Manila, where he was constantly under the watchful eye of his parents who had long suspected—but never confirmed—the transgender proclivities of their eldest son. He met the girls at a free screening of a Filipino movie in Shibuya. They had instantly bonded over snide, off-the-cuff comments about the performance of the movie’s protagonist, a former buff action star who was now openly out-of-the-closet. Their friendship was sealed over tapsilogs and San Miguel beer at a Filipino restaurant in Kinsicho afterwards. Jon was the typical metro sexual, his clothes were stylish without being too trendy, and his hair was cropped and neat. In fact, he looked every inch the man you’d want to take home to mama, save the fact that he was gay. He surveyed his recent cohorts in crime as they waited for a taxi and wryly reflected that if he were straight, he’d certainly be a very lucky man.
Ana, whom he was supporting, was the eldest of the group. Juana Madrigal came from one of the big Chinese-mestizo families of Cebu. Against the wishes of her parents to coddle their only daughter, she had tried to establish herself independently. If her parents had had their way, she would have settled in Cebu, married a family friend, and entered into the family business. However, she chose a career in the academe. She came to Japan came to Japan to complete a doctorate in condensed matter physics after finishing a masters degree at the University of Texas under a Fulbright grant. After graduation, she accepted a position at Rikaku Kenkujo Riken, one of the leading research institutes in Tokyo.
Although Ana’s bones bespoke her mestizo heritage, she was blessed with fair skin that could turn golden with a bit of sun. She was of medium height and had a slender, athletic build, though Jon knew she hardly exercised if she could help it. Her chocolate brown hair, which currently flowed down her back in a wavy mass, was usually bound up tightly in a ponytail. And her eyes, which were currently closed, were an amazing dark brown, and were framed by a thick set of lashes. Being the eldest of the trio, Ana had adopted a motherly attitude that tempered the hard edges she had acquired from years of trying to carve a career in a competitive, male-dominated research field.
Unlike him and Ana who came from somewhat privileged backgrounds, Katrina Maghari, better known as Kaye, who was supporting Ana’s lank form on the other side, came from an impoverished family. However, by sheer determination and hard work, Kaye put herself through school with the support of several scholarships. Upon graduation, she managed to secure one of the coveted scholarships to Tokyo and was now working as one of the youngest managers of a local headhunting firm. Kaye was very good at her job. Jon suspected that it was not only that she was bright and efficient, but also that the blend of Kaye’s golden brown skin—which Jon jokingly likened to the color of the lechon, a Filipino delicacy of roasted pig kulay lechon—wavy black hair, exotic almond-shaped eyes, wide generous smile, and killer legs, made her someone you’d sit up and take notice of. Couple all that with her good instincts about people and her innate predatory skills, it resulted in a package most CEOs found impossible to resist.
Ana and Kaye arrived in Tokyo at the same time and attended the same Japanese language school for six months. Although there was a slight difference in their ages, they instantly bonded and decided to share an apartment when they had to move out of the student dormitory where they lived when they first arrived.
Teresa Chua, the final member of the group, moonlighted as an English teacher at one of the language schools in Tokyo. Tessa’s looks were typically Tsinoy—slang for Chinese-Filipino—she had a tall and willowy frame, fair skin, straight black hair, and eyes that disappeared into slits when she laughed, which was quite often. Although she came from a blue-collar family, Tessa, being the baby of the family, was used to being spoiled. She possessed an innately childlike and happy-go-lucky attitude. After she graduated from university, she had worked at a couple of call centers before deciding to give teaching English abroad a try. Tessa’s brother Tony was an old school friend of Kaye’s, so when he learned of Tessa’s new-fangled plan to move to Tokyo, he suggested that she look up Kaye. Her elder brothers, who like Kaye were very driven people, were puzzled at Tessa’s seeming lack of ambition. They secretly hoped that some of Kaye’s sense of purpose would rub off on her.
However, instead of Ana and Kaye influencing Tessa, it seemed to be the other way around. Tessa’s carefree attitude was like a breath of fresh air, a reminder for them to loosen up. Her youth and vivacity reminded them of the things they had forsaken in their single-minded climb to success. All in all, they were a good counterbalance for each other. In fact, the outing tonight had been Tessa’s idea.
After they finished dinner, they sampled fancy cocktails at a couple of bars, downed Cuba libres and tequila shots at a Salsa club, before they finally ended up in a small, hole-in-the-wall disco.
A flicker of worry passed over Jon’s face as he glanced at Ana as she mumbled indistinctly in her inebriated state. He hoped everything was all right, but it worried him to see her so. Ana, who was normally so pragmatic about alcohol consumption had started downing tequila with a vengeance that had alarmed them—all because of those blasted emails.
It was about 2 AM when Ana had received the emails from home. One was from her mother, who was currently touring Spain with her nieces. The contents of the email were typical of her mom—filled with anxiety at Ana’s unwed state, coaxing her to see the light, and come home to work in the family’s import-export business. They had a new manager, she wrote, who was the son of one of her good friends, and the whole family agreed that he was the perfect match for Ana. This, however, was nothing new. Ana’s mother was a regular e-mailer and the gist of her e-mails were always so.
The other was from her erstwhile best friend, and now sister-in-law, Lynne. According to Ana’s drunken dissertation that night, Lynne and she had met at university. They had studied the same major, and had roomed together after staying at the university dormitory for a year. They were both intelligent and focused, and both dreamt of one day working at a large research facility. They were the top students of their class and were both offered positions in the university after graduation. They had applied for Fulbright scholarships at the same time, and although both had passed the initial screening, only one of them went to Texas to study.
Ana partially blamed her family for Lynne’s defection; after all Lynne decided to stay because of Ana’s brother Jorge. Jorge, being Ana’s eldest brother, was tasked to come to Manila and badger Ana into coming back home to Cebu. He didn’t succeed in bringing Ana home; but he brought back a wife instead. Lynne forgot all about experiments, publishing papers, and data. She quickly settled into life in Cebu and happily bore Jorge a child every two years after their marriage.
It was the reason she was e-mailing so late, she wrote, as her youngest was currently teething and putting up an endless fuss. The e-mail went on to convey the greetings of the rest of the family in Cebu and to give updates on Ana’s godchild. Tanya was starting school soon, Lynne wrote, she was really excited about it and had spent ages at Gaisano and Ayala looking for the perfect school bag. It also went on to describe the state of the business as well as updates on her brother’s new ventures.
Although the e-mail in itself was innocuous enough, it was the post-script that had really got to Ana. Lynne reported that she was thinking of having a tubal ligation. Three kids were more than enough, she had written, and she wanted to start on a career once the kids were a bit older. She was thinking of going into fashion and designing a line of raffia bags for export. Raffia was so hot in the States right now, she wrote.
“A ligation!” Ana exclaimed in despair, “she’s only my age,” she wailed, “She’s having a ligation and I never even had sex yet.”
That raised the collective brows of everyone sitting at the bar. By then, Ana had been heavily into her cups and had fairly bellowed her comment. Tessa started giggling, but Kaye shushed her and tried to pry a mojito from Ana’s grip. However, they weren’t able to dissuade Ana from drinking; she seemed hell-bent on sampling all of the cocktails on the menu and even accidentally drank the margarita of the guy who sat next to her on the bar. Jon had to buy him a new one.
“Its not as if I’ve never been in love,” Ana hiccupped, “it’s not my fault that Daniel is really focused on our research … I don’t really blame him … its really pioneering stuff, it is! I just have to get him to notice me. ”
Jon had rolled his eyes at this. They had all heard about Ana’s one-sided romance with Daniel-the-wonder-scientist at one time or another. Japanese-American Dr. Daniel Sato was five years her senior and was interested in the Grand Unification Theory (Kaye secretly referred to him as the antiChrist). Ana had read his papers and had admired him even before they had met. In grad school, his pioneering research was one of her inspirations. When Ana heard that he accepted a position at the university research institute where she was working, Kaye reported that she had been in raptures for over a week. However, that didn’t compare to meeting Daniel in the flesh. Kaye, who had met him once, said he wasn’t bad-looking, if you liked the academic type. His green eyes and curly dark-blond hair favored his Caucasian mother, but his medium height and lanky frame was typical of most Asian men.
“If I could just get Daniel to see me in a new light, I’m sure we’d hit it off,” Ana drunkenly mused, “Ha! I’d love to see the expression on mama’s face when I bring him home.”
Kaye raised a delicately shaped brow and swallowed back a comment. She personally thought that if Daniel had ever had romantic inclinations towards Ana, they’d have manifested in the two and a half years that they had known each other.
“Well, it’s not as if you don’t have any prospects,” Tessa said as she patted Ana, “what if you try to make Dan jealous or something?”
“Would that work?” Ana asked hopefully.
“It usually does,” Tessa answered, her ponytail bobbing. Sounding as if she had experience being a Mata Hari, she continued, “And if it doesn’t induce him to action, then you’ll know for sure, won’t you?”
“Can’t I just compromise him or something?” Ana whined.
“Hel-loo. Sweetheart, you do know that the Regency period ended eons ago, don’t you?” Jon chided. He looked at the other two, “What has she been reading aside from all those boring scientific journals?”
This sent Tessa into spasms of laughter, “I spied a bodice-ripper under her bed last week,” she reported.
Kaye shook her head, “That’s it. Ana we are going to cancel our cable subscription. You’ve been watching too many Pinoy telenovelas lately.”
“Not really,” Ana hiccupped in protest, “I haven’t even seen the last two episodes of that Jericho thingie…”
Tessa started giggling and Jon shook his head wryly.
“Darling,” he chided, “you really need to get out and get laid, preferably by wonder-Dan-man.” He then turned and continued in a whispered aside to Tessa and Kaye, “After which she’ll hopefully realize he’s a fag and get him out of her system.” Kaye snorted into her beer and Tessa burst into fresh gales of laughter.
Ana smiled conspiratorially, “Hoo-kay, I’ll make him jealous then. All I have to do now is find some guy to use.”
She suddenly stood up and tottered on her heels as she spun around, “I need a man, any volunteers?” That was the last they heard from Ana that night. She passed out on the bar shortly after.
They finally bundled Ana up into a taxi. They headed towards Jon’s flat in Shinagawa, where they usually stayed after a night out in Roppongi. Although Jon’s place was much smaller than the girls’ shared flat in the suburbs, it was clean and luxuriously appointed. Best of all, the astronomical rent was partially subsidized by his company.
They arrived at Jon’s apartment almost thirty minutes later. Jon hefted Ana up in his arms and carried her to his rooms, cursing under his breath all the while. Kaye smirked as she made the observation that he almost looked straight with a woman in his arms. Tessa guffawed as she padded after them. Oblivious to everything, Ana slept through it all.
After laying out some plastic covering, Jon laid her out on his sofa as Kaye and Tessa made tea and coffee in the dining area. They were a lot more subdued than when they had started out.
“Fun night,” Jon sarcastically commented as he sat down beside them.
“Hey, you have to admit that it had its moments,” Tessa argued.
“Sinabi mo pa, when Ana announced she was a virgin, all the eyebrows within a ten-meter radius shot up to their hairlines,” Jon snorted.
“Personally, the I-need-a-man part was more my thing,” Tessa giggled as she looked towards Ana shift her position on the sofa.
“If I do this when I turn 32, just shoot me. Please promise me,” Kaye emphatically begged as she slid into a chair at the dining table, a steaming cup of green tea cradled in her hand. Some tea spilled over from her cup and Jon worriedly admonished her to take care not to get any on the carpet. As usual, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies fell on deaf ears, and he sighed as he stood up to fetch a rag.
“I never really knew how strongly she felt about Lynne,” Tessa mused as she sipped her tea.
“Well now we do,” Kaye replied.
“Not only that, half the patrons of 911 now know how she feels too,” Jon chuckled, as he came back to the table to mop up the spilled tea.
“I guess it was really hard on her …” Tessa mused, “I mean, after being cosseted by her family for years, Lynne must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to her. You know, someone who shared the same ideals as she and was still considered normal in the world.”
“Tessa, they were at UP,” Jon reminded her, “They were all activists of some sort.”
“Ooops, I forgot,” Tessa giggled, as she glanced at Kaye.
Sure enough, Kaye was quick to complain, “Hoy, that’s my alma mater you’re lambasting.”
As Jon and Tessa laughed, Kaye looked at her watch and groaned. It was almost 5 o’clock in the morning. She glanced worriedly at Ana who had started snoring softly on the couch. She had always thought that they were two of a kind—ambition-driven and focused. She loved Ana like a sister and thought that she understood her better than anyone else.
Although Kaye privately admitted that she could never be as saintly as Ana, who had never even dated anyone in all her years in Tokyo, she empathized with her frustration. Kaye, with her propensity for serial-dating, understood how hard it was to find a decent man in Tokyo.
It seemed that all of Ana’s romantic hopes and dreams had been suppressed by ambition and all those long hours of toiling in the lab. And now, somehow those secret dreams were suddenly spilling out of her. Kaye smiled as she heard her friend snore. For all her protestations that she was a strong and independent woman, she needed someone. For her sake Kaye hoped that she would find something to spice up her life, and soon.