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(Original Japanese text translated by author)
What makes someone a strong woman? The ability to speak frankly? Patience? Or the power to maintain her identity, without compromise, in the face of intense suffering? Ayako was that last kind of strong woman.
Now that I think about it, things were really tough for her at that time. I myself would have had a nervous breakdown, to be sure. I only have the highest respect for Ayako, who never revealed the extent to which she was suffering.
At first, we were so happy, and had no inkling of the impending storm. Our Korean vacation is a particularly fond memory of mine. I remember getting into a small boat with Ayako and drifting lazily on some lake for about two hours; then when we disembarked, we had been sitting so long that we were unable to walk properly, and we both burst out laughing. The Korean residents just stared at the two of us. I’m sure they thought that these tourists were quite peculiar! Like two drunks supporting each other, we hobbled our way to some nearby kimchi ramyun place for dinner.
Having ordered our food, while waiting for it to arrive, we did our best to remember what little we knew of Hangul characters, but of course we got nowhere with that and soon gave up, instead inventing our own new version of Hangul, which we called “Ayagul”. I remember that we wrote messages to each other, using our new Ayagul script to spell out our Japanese messages. Our messages got more and more, shall we say, interesting, and Ayako’s face began to turn bright red, and she abruptly abandoned the game. I complained, of course, but right after that the ramyun arrived.
Speaking of which, I love Ayako’s face. Perhaps the word beautiful may not spring to mind, but it is certainly one of those faces that you see once and never forget for the rest of your life. And the more you look at such a face, the more you come to understand that the beauty of the face lies in its awesome power to inspire the deepest, most extreme love. It may seem strange, but to be honest, the most attractive thing about Ayako’s face is the deep sense of yearning etched in it. It makes you want to comfort her. Yet from the very beginning, it was obvious that she could not be comforted.
One day, from out of nowhere, Ayako told me for the first time that she loved me. “Huh?” I thought. Well, we were dating, so I had assumed all along that she loved me!
It was then that I came to realize what a shallow, superficial person I was.
It is often said that men lack social skills and are insensitive. But I always think, “maybe so, but that excludes me!”
I had no idea that Ayako had been concealing her passion. I had always thought of myself as being quite average, and lacking any special qualities, so for someone to be so smitten with me was, frankly, somewhat scary. My fear must have shown on my face, and it was very hurtful to Ayako; that was the beginning of her suffering.
After that, we were no longer able to behave naturally. We were always on edge, choosing our words carefully, and so on, so the relationship became somewhat strained. That too must have been part of Ayako’s suffering. She kept saying “My selfish words have ruined everything”, and I would always deny it, but she never listened to me. It had all become too much for her, but she continued to be so much in love with me that even though she wanted to break up she found herself unable to do so; it was a pitiful situation indeed. I tried my best to be kind to her, but now that I think about it, my actions and attitude were far from satisfactory.
The situation continued for two years. If anything, her passion became more intense, and I became more and more afraid. Yet never once did I feel that she was a nuisance or a bother. After all, I too loved Ayako dearly. But I did not share her intense passion.
Perhaps if somebody else had found herself having to deal with unsatisfied desire of that kind, she would have attempted to escape from such a difficult situation somehow, perhaps by descending into alcoholism or something. With Ayako, though, however frustrating things became, she had no intention of losing her identity, and however much she had been hurt, she did her best her to remain the same Ayako as always.
What happened in the end is that one day, Ayako told me that she had something to discuss, and so we went to a Korean restaurant in the neighborhood. There, she said, “I’ve thought a lot about it, and I’ve decided to give up”. That was it. Ayako’s powerful resolve had settled everything. Right after that, the kimchi ramyun arrived, and while eating, we had a most enjoyable conversation, and things became quite cheerful.
Subsequently, a most splendid friendship came into being, and continues to this day. I have the greatest respect for a woman as strong as that. I have the greatest respect for Ayako. For the rest of my life, I know that she will always be special to me, whatever may happen.
8 Japanese Women