The Pipe Dream

W.F. Bellais II

(This is a continuation of the stories from “A Boy’s Adventure.”)

With promotion to corporal, after a month in the regiment at Nara, Japan, he thought of himself as an adult; no longer a boy just out of high school. With corporal stripes on his uniform his status changed to non-commissioned officer, a NCO.

He celebrated his promotion and new adulthood by purchasing a pipe and a pouch of sweet smelling tobacco. Often seen about the regiment with a pipe in his mouth, his barracks-mates complained about the odor of his tobacco choice. Complaints and occasional hot cinders falling from the pipe did not deter him. However, the pipe had problems. Keeping the fire going in the pipe bowl proved to be a difficulty. He did not like the sour tobacco juice he swallowed occasionally. Nevertheless, he would not be without his pipe—the symbol of adulthood.

One Friday, after he had been in Nara for about two months, one of his barracks mates asked, “What plans do you have for the weekend?” He said, “Why?” And he then added, “I don’t have any plans in particular.”

His barracks companion, a three-stripe or buck sergeant, said, “I know a girl who lives in a nice home up in the hills, she has invited me to spend the weekend and wanted to know if I had a friend.”

The boy says, “Wait, this is not, you know, a house of ill repute?”

The sergeant took offense at the question saying, “Oh, no, she is nice. She lives in a home in the country. She has a friend and wants to make the weekend a foursome. I promise nothing bad, no problems, just a nice weekend.”

Still uncertain he said he would like to go. He had his doubts, however, but he said to himself, “What the heck, I am a man now, not a kid and girls in the country sound like a good idea.”

That evening the sergeant came to the boy’s bunk to tell him it was time to go. Jumping from
his bunk and picking up his pipe and tobacco from the top of his foot locker he joined the sergeant.

The Army bus traveling between camps and various American military compounds in Nara took them to a stop at the edge of the city where they began their walk to the country home. Within minutes the sun set; the two walked on in the dark on an unpaved lane heading up a steep hillside. Insects buzzing in the warm night air and pungent odors added to the summer discomfort.

The boy complains, “I hope you know where you’re going.”

The sergeant replied, “Just watch out for the honey pots;” referring to storage containers on the edge of rice paddies for unpleasant fertilizers.

“I’m planning to stay in the middle of the trail; you lead and I’ll follow.”

Deep road ruts made the hike arduous and their low quarter shoes filled with pebbles but for the boy the pipe and tobacco pouch in the side pockets of his summer khakis make the hike even more uncomfortable.   After a half-hour hike, lights appeared at the summit.

thessergeant announces “Here we are.”

“Where are we?” The boy asks. Nervous, the boy felt out of place in farm country.

Soon, however, the sergeant stopped walking and the boy continued until he bumped into the sergeant in the darkness. After regaining balance the sergeant said, “This is the house.” The boy saw the dim glow of light; the outline of a small house. He stumbled up to a raised platform that to him seemed to be a porch. The house, elevated off the ground by three feet, did not have a door but instead a sliding panel made of wooden slats and rice paper. The sergeant pushed the panel to one side and they entered. The house had no decorations and only one piece of furniture, a table with very short legs. He would later learn that the table is called in Japanese, zataku.

The boy’s asks the sergeant, “You sure this is not a whore house?”

The sergeant replies, “No, of course not, these are friends of mine; we won’t pay any money or do anything you don’t want to do.”

The boy says, “Okay, but I worry about these things; I have no experience with women.” The sergeant told him to relax and enjoy the moment.

At that moment an interior wall slid opened. A young man appeared. He bowed and said, “Welcome, gentlemen.” The sergeant bowed in return and then looked at the boy indicating he too should bow. He did and says, “Thank you for inviting us to your home.”

“My name Hiro and I am your host.”

The boy, confused, looked at the sergeant who only smiled at Hiro.

The sergeant says, “I’ve heard of you, Hiro, where is your sister?”

“Oh, She with father and mother tonight.” Then he adds, “Dozo, we eat.”

Hiro returned to the room from which he came, and then came back  with three zabuton, cushions, for them to sit on at the zataku. Before the evening ended the boy’s knowledge of Japanese increased. The two Marines sat sideways on the cushions. Their legs too big and too long to go under the table and neither could sit on their knees in Japanese style.

Dinner included bottles, two liters each, of Asahi Beer. Hiro invited the Marines to drink up and enjoy, which they did. Dinner arrived, brought in by an elderly Japanese woman in kimono, and the boy asks, “What is it?”

Hiro says, “Tuna, rice from cooker with spice, and vegetable.”

“Vegetable?”

The sergeant instructs, “Don’t ask questions.”

Chop sticks came with the meal made of black lacquer and mother of pearl inlay, the chop
sticks added eloquence to the sparse table.

The boy says, “Very exquisite; I have used chop sticks only once; with some success, I might add.”

Hiro advises he has forks if needed. The boy and the sergeant ate with chop sticks. The boy,
uncertain of the menu, did find he could eat the food before him; another two liters of Asahi helped.

After dinner the boy struggles to take the pipe from his right pants pocket and the tobacco
pouch from his left pants pocket. He said, “These things, in my pants’ pockets have bothered me all evening, there’s no place to carry them in this uniform except my pockets. I should have put them on the table earlier.” Then he adds, “A pipe is not as easy to carry as a pack of cigarettes”

The sergeant nods in agreement and then said, “Be careful this is a fire trap.” As soon as the pipe and tobacco appear Hiro rose, left for the adjacent room, and then returned with an ash tray. “Gentlemen, smoke as you wish.”

As the evening progressed girls never arrived. At a late hour the sergeant yawned, Hiro suggests another bottle of Asahi, but the sergeant declined. The boy also declines. He did like it and had mentions to Hiro that Asahi Beer tasted good.

Hiro stood and said, “Come with me, gentlemen.” The two Marines stood and Hiro escorted them to another room. In the room they saw comforters, sleeping mats, and two rice-filled pillows. Hiro pointed to the items on the floor and says, “You sleep here tonight.” Then he told them where the benjo or toilet could be found and that there was a bath and wash room they could use.

The bath and wash room, located outside the house, included a washing space with hot and
cold spigots, stools, soap, towels, and razors. In a corner of the space a large tub filled with steaming hot water awaited them. Both Marines knew the custom of bathing in Japan. They washed and rinsed in the bathing area first and then went into the tub to luxuriate in the hot water.

The two Marines slept late. Finally awakened by Hiro about nine he invited them to use the bathing area again and then told them breakfast is ready. The sergeant thanked Hiro and then rose to prepare for the day. The boy had no idea what the day would bring and wondered why he was in this house on a hilltop overlooking Nara on a bright Saturday morning.

After dressing the two returned to the room where they had eaten the evening meal and were
served a breakfast of boiled eggs, toasted bread and something the boy thought could be called bacon.

Hiro joined them and began to talk about himself. Studying engineering at the Kyoto University, he hoped to go to America some day, and liked cowboy music. The boy complimented Hiro for his command of English and apologized for not knowing Japanese. Hiro proceeded to teach the two Americans a few Japanese phrases.

The three carried on a leisurely conversation until noon. Throughout the morning the boy puffed on the pipe. Continuing to have problems keeping the fire in the bowl, he puffed, lighted one match after another, until the ash tray could hold no more match sticks. The sergeant complained that the pipe smelled and seemed to be general nuisance; Hiro only smiled. The boy complained about the complaints and kept trying to look sophisticated and skilled at pipe smoking.

As the air warmed the boy realized they had been sitting on the floor at the zataku for three hours; his legs numb, he stoodAbruptly  asking  to be excused.

Hiro stands, bowed asking, “Problems?”

The boy says, “Just need to use the head.”

Hiro, puzzled, asks, “The head?”

The sergeant volunteers, “The toilet; the benjo.”

“Ah, so. You know where it is.”

When the boy returns he finds lunch being served. In the room with Hiro and the sergeant
were two young women. He looked at the women and then the food and felt an urge to excuse himself. Before him a smelly dish of something he did not recognize had been offered as lunch. Also on the table little lacquer plates held balls of rice wrapped in something green. He sat and then grimaced. No one noticed.

Hiro says, “My sister Natsumi and friend Kiku.”

The boy and the sergeant acknowledge the presence of the two young women and continue
eating. Hiro says something to the women in Japanese; they giggle and cover their mouths. The sergeant looks at Hiro inquisitively.

Hiro says, “I told Natsumi and Kiku that you drink much Asahi yesterday and you must sleep here.”

The sergeant says, “You bet, too much Asahi.” He looked at the two young women and smiles.

Without notice the older woman in the kimono appears, takes up the eating equipment and
unconsumed food and soundlessly departs. Hiro rises, bows, and says he will return. A few minutes later he comes back in the room with twelve two-liter bottles of Asahi Beer in a beautifully lithographed cardboard case.

Hiro says, “Now we all drink beer.”

The five sit on the mats through the afternoon. The older woman brinfs another dinner of fish and rice and something else the boy did not recognize.

He constantly fusses with his pipe, knocked burnt tobacco into an ash tray, refilled the bowl, and puffed hard to keep it lighted. The sergeant suggests the boy get rid of the thing, Hiro smiles, and the women turn away from the smoke but never complain. This symbol of adulthood remains in place regardless of the environment.

The boy did not want to admit, however, that the food, the Asahi , and the tobacco worked together to make him feel woozy and sickly; then he thought, also, it could be the food. He
arose from the floor, excused himself, went to the benjo, the toilet, and vomited.

Convinced he could no longer drink Asahi and eat Japanese food the boy decided time had come for him to leave and return to the barracks. After cleaning himself, the boy reenters  the room says to the remaining four, “I have to get back to the barracks; I have an early morning tomorrow.”

Neither Natsumi nor Kiku understand him. Hiro asks, “An early morning tomorrow? What does that mean?”

The sergeant interprets, “He has to be at work earlier than usual.”

Hiro understands, “Ah, so; you must leave.”

The boy agrees, thanks Hiro for his hospitality and bids the two women a good night. He asks his sergeant friend, “Are you leaving?”

The sergeant says, “No, I am having too good a time; I’m staying.

The boy pushed the rice paper panel aside and departs.

Still not feeling well he reels down the narrow lane. Even darker than the night before the lane proved difficult to maneuver; he stumbled and remembered the warning about the honey pots. The boy straightens and makes a very deliberate effort to remain focused on the road beneath his feet. Becoming aware of lights and now approaching the city he felt confident  he would safely return  to the barracks. Adding to his self-confidence he stood on level ground.

As he congratulates himself on safely coming down the hill in the dark and not falling into a honey pot he hears someone shouting, “Hello, wait; hello, wait.” He could not find the voice’s source. Still disoriented and feeling woozy from losing his dinner, locating disembodied voices coming out the darkness took more concentration than he could muster.

The voice continues, “Wait! wait!”

Finally, the boy recognizes the shouts came from behind him and sounded female. The boy
turns to see Kiku racing down the lane; running so fast he expected her to trip and fall. She did trip at the last moment and fell into the boy’s arms.

“What’s wrong?” he says.

Panting heavily she struggles to say, “You forgot your pipe and tobacco.” She held the pipe in her left hand and the tobacco pouch in her right and continued to lean against the boy breathing heavily.

Kiku stood just a few inches over four feet and for a Japanese girl she seemed a little chubby to the boy, but having a female leaning against him breathing and panting gave him much pleasure. Finally, he moves her back a little, takes the pipe and puts it in his right pocket, and then takes the tobacco pouch and puts in his left pocket. Again, he felt that carrying a pipe and tobacco pouch in his pockets made him uncomfortably bulge. But, now his hands free he could bring Kiku closer to him and he embraces her.

Staying embraced in the darkness they both remained quiet. She continued to be breathless, but no longer winded; Kiku laid her head on the boy’s chest and then pulled herself closer to the boy until he felt all of her femininity against him.

“What’s next,” he thinks. He begins to wonder,  “Should I take her back up the hill to the house; maybe this would be the what I hoped for and expected.” Instead of taking any action he continues to hold her close.

Kiku’s round but petite body smelled nice and she looked nice. The boy thinks, “I can fall in love with her.” He looks down and begins to speak, but she stops him and kisses him hard on the lips. He pulls back slightly to look at Kiku again and then kisses her, at first gently, then passionately. The joyful rush of love continues. The two kiss and kiss for several seconds longer. Neither gropes at the other; they simply kiss with passion.

Just as suddenly as Kiku had begun kissing the boy she stops. Took his hands into hers and says, “Good bye; we will see again another time.” The boy stands there in amazement. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He watches Kiku retreat up the hillside lane and into the darkness.

The boy returns to the barracks still feeling weak and unsettled, but he did believe he had an experience worth remembering.

The next morning he sees his pipe and tobacco on his footlocker and just looking at them reminds him of the Japanese food and Asahi he had consumed the past two nights. He left them on the locker and vows he would not smoke a pipe again. Kiku had been enough to help feel like a man. He wanted to see her again. He never did.

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