There were many ways you could feel another’s affection: in his facial expressions, words, attitude, and the way he favoured you over everyone else. But if all of them were direct to you at once? This was precisely Douno’s current predicament.
Kitagawa became inseparable from Douno, and his attachment was enough to raise the eyebrows of those around him. He never left Douno’s side for a moment, through lunch break, and after dinner until lights-out. They had been close enough before because they sat beside each other; now, Kitagawa was practically nestled up to him.
“What’re you reading?” he would peek over and ask, whenever Douno was reading a book. At first Kitagawa would be content to read with him, but when he grew bored, he would pester Douno with suggestions to play go or shogi instead. Douno was unskilled at both, but since Kitagawa insisted, he played one or two games. When he tried to wrap up, Kitagawa would stubbornly protest that he wanted to keep playing. When Douno refused, he pouted and sulked, but still did not leave Douno’s side.
“Let’s hold hands,” he said one night, moments after lights-out.
“Friends hold hands, right?”
We’re not children, Douno thought in exasperation, but since he had no especial reason to refuse, he held the man’s hand. Kitagawa clasped and re-clasped Douno’s hand over and over. It bothered him a little, but not for long; before he knew it, he fell fast asleep. When he woke in the morning, they were still holding hands. Not only that, their clasped hands had slid out of their futons into plain view. Douno felt a jab of fear as he realized they could have been caught by the guard and given a warning.
Kitagawa woke up when Douno moved his hand. He blinked sleepily, then grinned at him. He chuckled softly as he hid his face behind the futon, then peeped out again.
“What are you doing?”
Kitagawa ducked underneath his futon without answering. A guard passed them in the hallway, but did not warn Kitagawa for sleeping with the futon over his head. The guard was apparently kinder and more lenient than most.
Kitagawa was in high spirits for the rest of the day. Not a shadow of distant aloofness was to be found on his face; he talked animatedly and laughed often. After their meal, Kitagawa sniffed at Douno’s clothes as a dog would do. Douno wondered if he still smelled after his bath.
“Do I smell?” he asked.
Kitagawa shook his head. “You smell good.”
“Is it the soap, maybe?”
Kitagawa pressed his nose against Douno’s neck to breathe in his scent, then stuck out his tongue and licked Douno’s neck. Douno flinched. Then, for some reason, Kitagawa began to playfully bite Douno’s head.
“Wh―What’re you doing?” Douno stammered, trying to extract himself from the man’s grasp, but Kitagawa latched onto him from behind and prevented his escape. Kumon guffawed as he watched them.
“What, Kitagawa, planning on becoming a cannibal?”
“Of course not. I would never eat him,” Kitagawa replied in all seriousness. “Then Douno would disappear.”
“There you have the truth of it,” Shiba said solemnly.
Kakizaki cackled before turning to Kumon. “Uh, what does he mean by ‘the truth of it’?” he asked stupidly. Kumon turned up the corners of his mouth in a sly grin.
“It’s when a man and a woman fuck each other and have babies,” he said bluntly, before emitting a short vulgar laugh.
Kitagawa stopped chewing on Douno’s head. Still holding him from behind, he began to rock back and forth.
“S―Stop fooling around, or we’ll get in trouble by the guard,” Douno protested, but Kitagawa refused to listen. After some moments, the voice behind him spoke.
“That’s what you get for thrusting,” Kumon told him. “Now your dick is in the mood. Go take five in the toilet.”
Kitagawa fetched a tissue form his shelf before entering the washroom. Douno knew it was only a natural biological reaction; more than once, he had also done it himself in his futon. But, Douno thought indignantly, did the man have to choose to get an erection behind him, out of all places?
Kakizaki sidled up beside him while Kitagawa was in the toilet. They were still not allowed to leave their designated places after dinner until rest period, but Kakizaki appeared not to regard that rule.
“So, Mr. Douno, are you and bro Kitagawa, like, together?” he whispered.
“Together, as in―?”
“You know, do you guys have butt sex?”
Shiba, in an attempt to let it get no further, interfered by thumping a hand on Kakizaki’s head.
“Do you think they could, in a group cell?” he said with some exasperation. “Kitagawa’s just horsing around with Douno, that’s all.”
“Yeah, but, I was just thinking if that’s true, I’d like to join in, too.”
Kumon made a disgusted sound. “Go stick a pair of chopsticks up your ass if it’s so damn lonely,” he spat.
Kakizaki wrinkled his nose in an offended way.
“I only play the top, Mr. Kumon. You’re only able to make fun of homos because you don’t know what butt sex can be like. It’s really tight down there, you know. It’s awesome.”
Shiba closed his book. “No matter how tight it is, I don’t think I could stand to see the balls hanging there,” he commented.
“Enough about asses already!” Kumon snapped angrily, his brow creasing in discontent. “If you like ass so much, you can go into solitary and jack off all you want. I know, why don’t I let the guard know about it? It’s the least I could do,” he said nastily.
Kakizaki shook his head. “Noooo, not solitary,” he whined, “it gets lonely in there.”
They were still talking when Kitagawa came out of the toilets. He stood behind Kakizaki with an expression of displeasure on his face.
“That’s my spot,” he growled menacingly. Kakizaki hastened back to his place. Having settled back into his rightful spot, Kitagawa turned to Douno. When their eyes met, the man flashed him a grin.
During the daytime, some factory workers were forced to leave by the guard. About a week ago, their factory guard had changed from a middle-aged senior officer to a young man in his late twenties. Officers were switched around often, but the young officer this time was needlessly intimidating and doled out punishment slips at the smallest disturbances. As a result, his reputation among the inmates was less than favourable.
That day, two inmates had gotten into an argument during work. The disagreement was to do with their jobs, but the officer had pressed the emergency alarm without even seeking an explanation. The two inmates were forcibly removed from the factory.
The officer made a show of looking disgusted at their lowly conduct, then dismissed the rest of the inmates with a warning that they were to work quietly if they didn’t want to be met with the same punishment. Then, he yanked out an unruly nose hair that was protruding from his nostril.
Douno was furious. Who did this man think he was? Just because you’re an officer, it doesn’t mean you’re above everything, he thought angrily. A surge of wrath boiled inside him, which made him almost stand up to protest. But the word “punishment” crossed his mind, and he was unable to get out of his seat. This made him feel even more cowardly and depressed his spirits further.
There was an exercise period that day as well. Outside in the dead of winter, under a cloudy sky and the weak rays of the sun, one had to keep moving constantly or risk freezing one’s fingertips off. Douno took a leisurely walk around the circumference of the grounds, and Kitagawa accompanied closely beside him. When Douno stopped, he stopped; when Douno sat down, so did he. Kitagawa never left his side, whether it was during exercise or mealtimes. Rumours among the inmates at the factory that they were “together” had by now also reached Douno’s ears.
It was not pleasant to be thought of as a homosexual by those around him, and Douno was irritated every time he was teased about it. But he never thought of pushing Kitagawa away. He was hesitant to spite the man who looked at him with a childish, even a dog-like affection. Douno was also unable to deny the pity he felt towards Kitagawa’s unfortunate upbringing.
“That guard gets to me,” Douno said forcefully. “Giving them a reprimand for something as small as that. He doesn’t understand how much impact a single punishment can have on us inmates.”
Douno took advantage of their seclusion to vent his frustrations to Kitagawa. One had to choose his listeners carefully here, even when airing complaints. If you were overheard making unfavourable remarks by an inmate who was after brownie points, the inmate would snitch to the guard, who would then pick you out as a target for relentless bullying. Douno had heard before of a man who had racked up penalty slips for every little thing he did wrong. He was ultimately sent into solitary, and began to suffer from depression because of persistent bullying. There was another inmate who, upon being released on parole, promptly murdered the guard in charge and was thrown back in prison again. Douno could now understand how the man must have felt.
“Hey, can I lie down on your lap?”
The heat of his anger had risen to his head that for a moment, Douno could not comprehend what was said to him.
“Use your lap as a pillow, I mean.”
Granted, back in their group cell, their seats were designated and they were not free to lie down during free time. But that doesn’t mean you have to do this where everyone can see, Douno thought briefly.
Besides, he had been in the middle of speaking. He was not expecting an answer since he was simply complaining, but he wished Kitagawa would at least attempt to show him that he was listening.
“Yeah, but you know...” Douno began.
“Give me your lap.”
Kitagawa refused to abandon his persistent attachment to Douno’s lap. In the end, Douno lost the war of wills and surrendered. Here I go, feeding rumours again, he thought. Kitagawa laid his head down on Douno’s lap with his face turned towards Douno’s torso.
Douno was concerned that the guard would give them a warning, but the guard was currently looking away from them, busy watching the softball game.
Kitagawa’s head, which had so far been lying still in Douno’s lap, shifted over. Kitagawa had pressed his nose into Douno’s crotch and begun to sniff at something. Douno felt squirmish.
“H-Hey, stop that.”
“It smells like you.”
“Knock it off.” Douno grabbed the man’s head with both hands and pushed it away from his crotch. Kitagawa clicked his tongue irritably and gave up trying to press his face between Douno’s legs, but steadfastly refused to move off his lap.
In the end, Kitagawa had resorted to clinging to Douno’s legs to avoid being pushed off. Douno chuckled at the man’s stubbornness.
“What was your first name again?” he asked nonchalantly.
There was a short pause.
“Kei,” Kitagawa answered.
“How do you write it?”
“Two earths on top of each other. ―What about your name?”
“How do you write it?”
“’Mountain’ with ‘religion’ underneath for ‘taka’, and ‘script’ for ‘fumi’.”
“Kei is a cute name,” Douno said warmly. Kitagawa glanced up at him.
“It’s like it belongs to someone else.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’ve never been called by it before.”
Douno was wracked with pity to imagine what kind of environment the man had grown up in for him never to be called by his name.
“What a waste,” he said softly.
Kitagawa grinned. “It’s almost like you gave me that name.”
“Shall I call you Kei from now on, then?”
Kitagawa nodded enthusiastically in his lap. “Can I call you Takafumi?”
“Takafumi, Takafumi,” Kitagawa repeated over and over, for no reason. It was endearing to watch, and Douno reached out to gently stroke the man’s shaven head. Kitagawa half-closed his eyes blissfully like a cat. The thought crossed Douno’s mind again: how could a man with such a young boy’s heart kill another person? The longer they spent their days together, the more Douno could tell that Kitagawa was calm by nature, and was not a hot-tempered person. He definitely did not seem the type to murder a person out of careful calculation, or even in the an act of passion.
Perhaps it was bad to ask; but Douno’s desire to know burgeoned, and he surrendered to his curiosity and posed the question vaguely.
“How did you get into jail?”
Kitagawa tilted his head questioningly. “You don’t know?”
“I’ve heard rumours, but...”
So you do know. End of story, Kitagawa seemed to say as he closed his eyes.
“I’ve heard,” Douno insisted, “but I can’t... well, I just can’t believe that you would kill someone.”
Kitagawa opened his eyes a crack. Douno could feel the man looking at him steadily. Maybe he had stepped into touchy territory―Douno hastily tacked some words to the end of his sentence.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I shouldn’t have tried to force it out of you. I’m sorry.” Douno took a breath and gave a short sigh. Their conversation was over―he was convinced that it was.
“My mom came to me on a rainy day,” Kitagawa murmured suddenly. “She came to my dorm at the construction site. I hadn’t seen her in ten years. I didn’t know who the middle-aged woman in front of me was until she told me she was my mother. She said we should catch up over a meal, so we went out. She treated me to a meatloaf set at the diner. After that, she asked me to lend her money because she said she was in a rough spot, so I did.”
“Then she came over and over again to borrow money from me. She came one day in the winter, when it was raining, and when I told her I had no more money, she took my hand and told me to come with her. I followed her into a warehouse, in the back, where some guy was lying on the floor. She gave me a knife wrapped in a handkerchief and said, ‘If you don’t kill this man, I’ll be killed. So kill him.’ So I stabbed him, like she said.”
You know, Kitagawa murmured as he looked up at Douno.
“You know people don’t say anything when they die? They don’t even scream. I didn’t know how much I had to stab him for him to die, or how I could tell if he was dead.”
Douno pressed his right hand to his forehead. “And you told this to the police, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I told them that I killed him.”
“No, I mean that your mother told you to kill him.”
“I didn’t. My mom told me to say that I did it, so I did.”
A flurry of incredulity came and went in Douno’s heart.
“Why didn’t you tell the truth?” he demanded. “You say you ‘killed him’, but how do you know he wasn’t already dead? How do you know you weren’t just used as a scapegoat?”
“I dunno,” Kitagawa answered. Douno was seized by anger.
“Why didn’t you think of proving your innocence? If he was really already dead, you would have only damaged a lifeless body. You might’ve been charged, but you wouldn’t have had to stay in prison for so many years!”
“I don’t care whether he was dead or not,” said Kitagawa flatly. “I’d never even met him before. Besides, you get more cred in prison if you’re serving for murder, and no one messes with you.”
Douno was stunned. He could not understand Kitagawa’s mind. No matter if his own mother had begged him; how could he kill another man? How could he think it was alright? Where was this man’s moral uprightness?
“Why do you look like that?” Kitagawa knitted his brow. “You wanted to hear it, Takafumi. You asked me why I killed him.”
“I told you because it was you. I didn’t tell the officer, the lawyer, or any other inmates. My mom told me not to tell anyone, you know.”
Douno did not know how to answer him.
“If you haven’t told anyone until now, why did you tell me?”
“Because you wanted to know,” Kitagawa repeated, then pouted. “Because I like you more than my mom. What’s wrong with favouring the one that I think is better?”
“Favour? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kitagawa lapsed into a bewildered silence.
“Favouring is favouring, what else?” he said finally.
Douno tried to force Kitagawa’s head off his lap, but the man clung to him in protest. No matter what Douno did, he was unable to pry Kitagawa off. If he made a fuss, he felt like the guard would come running, so Douno gave up trying to extricate himself from Kitagawa’s hold.
“I want to be with you more than my mom, Takafumi. Even if we’re together, even if I touch you, I feel warm.”
Douno wondered if this man had worshipped his mother―even the kind of mother who transferred her crimes to her own son―and his heart ached at how barren Kitagawa’s history of human relationships must have been.
“Once you get out of here, get a proper job, and become able to cherish someone, you’ll find someone a lot better than me.”
“I’ll be an old geezer by the time I get around to that.”
Douno tilted his head in lieu of a question.
“I’m turning thirty next year. You were the first person I met like this, Takafumi. So if I go from there, the next person’ll come in twenty-nine years, right? I’ll be close to sixty. A geezer. I think I’d rather hold on to you.”
Despite Douno having told him earlier not to, Kitagawa pressed his face into his crotch.
“I wanna have sex,” he muttered.
Douno felt his heart jump.
“All this time, I’ve never looked at a guy’s ass and wanted to do him. But I want to with you, Takafumi. Have I turned into a homo?” Kitagawa said thoughtfully. “I wonder if people usually turn homo so quickly.”
“A-Are you sure you’re not misunderstanding?” Douno stammered.
“I am not,” Kitagawa insisted. “Even now, I want to undo your fly, drag your dick out and try licking it. I feel like your jizz would smell nice too, Takafumi.”
“Stop it, Kitagawa!” Douno said sharply.
“Aren’t you gonna call me Kei? Come on, call me Kei. You named me.”
Douno trembled violently. Something akin to both rage and humiliation, yet not quite either of them, coursed through his body.
“Don’t be mad.”
“Wh―How could I not be?” he snapped.
“Why’re you mad? I only said the truth.” Kitagawa finally lifted his head. His absence left a cold spot on Douno’s lap.
“You know, I thought about it,” Kitagawa said. “I thought and I thought, and I really do want to have sex with you. I thought about why it was sex, and I realized something.”
Douno looked up.
“I’m in love with you, Takafumi. That’s why I want to have sex with you.”
“You’re just slapping an excuse onto your lust,” Douno spat.
“Married couples have sex because they love each other, right? It’s the same thing. I love you, Takafumi, and that’s why I wanna have sex with you.”
“No!” Douno snarled, then looked hard at the ground.
“Why’re you saying I’m wrong? I’m saying I love you,” the voice whispered at his ear.
Douno did not know how to answer him.
If this was outside of the fence―Douno thought. Suppose his male friend had confessed to him. If Douno didn’t feel the same way, he would put it into words and decline frankly. Then, he would keep a physical distance and spend some time away from him. Douno’s rationale was that this would allow the other person to calm his feelings.
Douno was frank with Kitagawa. “I like you as a friend, but I don’t have any romantic feelings for you whatsoever. So I don’t want to have sex with you,” he stated firmly.
“Then, I’ll make you like me so much that you do want to have sex with me,” Kitagawa had said. He could keep a distance, Douno thought, but in their group cell and at mealtimes, their seats were beside each other. There was no way to keep distance, even if he wanted to.
Kitagawa’s level of physical contact grew more and more intimate. One night, Douno woke to a strange sensation on his lips. When he realized that he was being kissed, and that the kisser was Kitagawa, Douno barely managed not to yell, and kicked away the body on top of him instead. There was a large thud, and the night guard came running. Everyone pretended they were asleep, and claimed not to have heard anything. The guard insisted he had heard noise from this room.
“I didn’t hear any sound, sir,” Shiba said. “But if you did, then maybe it was one of the cells further up, or upstairs?” The guard gradually seemed to lose confidence at Shiba’s suggestion, and relented. Once he left, Kumon turned to them.
“Do it quietly, for gods’ sakes. Quietly!” he hissed. Douno knew what “it” referred to, and Kumon’s words were unbearably humiliating.
The next morning, Douno waited for lunch break to scold Kitagawa. When he told Kitagawa that it was against general etiquette to do things like that without the other person’s consent, Kitagawa asked why.
“While I was sleeping? It’s cowardly!” Douno snapped in a small voice, in a corner of the bookshelves.
“It’s better when you’re sleeping, isn’t it? I figured you’d be mad if you were awake.”
“But when you’re sleeping, you don’t notice what I do. Since you have no idea that it’s happening, in your head it would be same as it not happening at all.”
“I’ve kissed you five times already, but today was the only day you woke up.”
Douno was shocked to know that this was not the first time. Kitagawa looked at him almost challengingly.
“Are you gonna be mad at me for those other five times, too?” he said.
“I’ve had enough of you,” Douno said angrily.
“You can be mad all you want, but your seat is still beside mine.”
Douno was sick of talking to him, but when he tried to leave, Kitagawa grabbed him by the right arm.
“Let go of me,” Douno said shortly, trying to shake his arm free.
“But I love you,” Kitagawa murmured at his ear. Douno’s heart contracted.
“I love you,” Kitagawa repeated. “I love you so much, I want to kiss you even when you’re asleep.” His eyes narrowed. He kept repeating “I love you”, whispering right into Douno’s ear, as if he was fully aware of Douno’s agitation. Douno was annoyed at Kitagawa for the decidedly un-childlike manipulation he was using to make Douno lose his composure.
“Don’t throw words around like toys. You make me sick,” he said scathingly.
“I really love you, Takafumi.”
Douno stared at his feet. Even outside the fence, even as a joke, he had never been told “I love you” so many times in his life―not once.