Thomas Wictor

On the run with a Canadian

On the run with a Canadian

When I first arrived in Tokyo in September of 1985, I moved into a guest house. I got to know several of the long-term residents, one being an older Canadian woman named “Rachel.”

Tall, slender, and elegant, she was…unnerving. She seemed wracked with pain, even though she had a good sense of humor and laughed a lot. Her blue eyes were those of a traumatized refugee, shinier than normal and somehow brittle, like glass Christmas ornaments that could shatter at the slightest touch.

Another older woman at the guest house hung out with Rachel and me. She looked and sounded exactly like Jane Curtin. The three of us had dinner and beer together almost every night. Both of these women were in their late thirties, while I was twenty-three.

Though I was deeply attracted to a third woman in the house—Nakamura—I really liked Rachel too. Something about her made me want to protect her.

A shortcoming

I don’t have a savior complex. With me, the desire to save was real. I mean, genuinely rescue and then walk away. None of the women I dated needed saving. In fact, I’m drawn to butch, self-reliant women. The saving I fantasized about was of the firefighter variety. Climbing ladders into burning houses. Diving into a river to rescue a drowning child. Shooting it out with a bad guy.

The obvious reason was that I wanted to save myself, though I didn’t know at the time that I’m beyond salvation. I’ve only actually saved people from physical danger a handful of times. The circumstances can’t be described without me coming off as bragging or seeking accolades, so we’ll skip them. All I’ll say is that these incidents happened long after I lost my urge to save. They were happenstance. I was there when someone needed help.

As a twenty-three-year-old in Tokyo, I wanted to save Rachel, and I got my chance. And how. Luckily I wasn’t called upon to do what I was sure I could do. If things had gone the way I wanted, I’d be celebrating my twenty-ninth year as a corpse instead of writing this post.

After I’d known Rachel for a few weeks, she told me one night over beers that she’d fled to Japan to escape her abusive husband. He’d beaten her so badly that he’d put her in the hospital with a ruptured spleen. Another time he’d broken her cheekbones with his fists. He’d also knocked out her teeth. She showed me that she wore an extensive upper plate.

“He told me if I ever left him, he’d kill me,” she said as her eyes filled and spilled over. “I’m terrified that somehow he’ll find out where I am.”

“If he shows up here, I’ll protect you,” I said. “I studied karate for years. I’m not afraid of him.”

She looked at me with sad, pitying affection. “Tom, he’s so strong that he can break a baseball bat over his knee. You’d be no match for him. Nobody is. He once took on six police officers and won. They had to call in half the police force and shoot him with about thirty bean-bag rounds before he gave up.”

I still wasn’t afraid. If he appeared, I’d hit him across the Adam’s apple before he even said anything. The problem everybody had was that they went through various steps of escalation: talking, arguing, shouting, shoving, and then fighting. Nobody ever instantly chopped someone across the throat. I’d always thought that if I were faced with someone I knew to be a genuine threat, the best thing to do would be to use lethal force right away.

As Nakamura and I got to know each other, she told me that she didn’t want a boyfriend. It was almost a relief, since she was the sexiest woman I’d ever met. We’d go out and prowl Tokyo, taking photos, and sometimes she’d tease me by running out her extra-long tongue and touching her chin with it. The mixed messages drove me crazy. Rachel said she thought Nakamura and I made a good couple.

“I know she said she doesn’t want a boyfriend,” she said, “but she’s just testing you. She wants to see if you’ll hang in there. And she’s so cute and busty and has that nice, round bottom, so you know every guy she’s ever met has hit on her. She just wants to see if you like her for her mind as much as her body.”

It didn’t seem possible that someone as sexy as Nakamura would want me, but Rachel was adamant. I decided to just go with the flow and see what would happen.

My dearest wish comes true

One evening Nakamura and I came home to find Rachel and Jane Curtin in the kitchen. Rachel was white-faced and in tears.

“My husband’s on his way here,” she said. “One of my cousins told him where I am. My mother just called to warn me.”

I felt only excitement. “Where is he right now?”

“He’s on the plane. I have to get out of here. This is really asking a lot, Tom, but can you please come with me?”

A chance to be a knight in shining armor!

“Of course. Where are we going?”

“There’s a place a few hours outside Tokyo where I can stay. It’s sort of a battered-women’s shelter run by Buddhist monks. They’ll let me stay for free in exchange for English lessons.”

“When do you want to go?”

“Right now.”

That night I went on the run with a Canadian, still sure that I could defeat any twerp of an angry husband.

“I’m really sorry that you had to come,” she said on the train. “It’s just that I’m so afraid. It feels like I’m being electrocuted. My heart’s been pounding for hours.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I told her. “I’m happy to be with you.”

We arrived in the small town at about midnight and took a taxi to the shelter. It was a beautiful, modern, comfortable building. The monks were not only friendly and solicitous, their handshakes were unbelievable. Though they were gentle, their palms and fingers were as hard as granite. Almost certainly they were karate masters who’d spent years on the makiwara. These sweet, deadly men showed Rachel and me to a room and told us to get some sleep.

Our futons were on opposite sides of the room. After I turned out the light and got into bed, I heard Rachel approach. She knelt beside me, leaned down, and kissed me on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

The next morning I had a conversation with a monk before I left.

“Rachel’s husband is a very dangerous man,” I said. “He’s beaten her badly many times, and he said that if she ever left him, he’d kill her.”

“Oh, we’ve had lots of husbands like that,” he said cheerfully. “They like to break women’s bones. We show them what it’s like to have their own bones broken. Miss Rachel is very safe here. The police don’t like us to call them until the man is in no condition to fight, so we make sure that he can’t fight ever again.”

He squashed my hand in his iron grip, and I went to say goodbye to Rachel. She already looked much better, her grayish pallor gone.

“The monks told me that if anybody shows up here,” I said, “they’re going to break his bones for him.”

She actually laughed. “I can’t believe this. It’s like I have fifty bodyguards. Thank you so much for coming with me.”

I hugged her and took a taxi to the train station. Back at the guest house in Tokyo, Nakamura told me that Rachel’s husband had been arrested at the airport and immediately deported. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had contacted their Japanese colleagues, who hadn’t suffered any casualties dealing with the bastard. Having since seen Japanese cops in action, I think they shared my philosophy of instant incapacitation instead of escalation.

Rachel decided to stay with the monks anyway; we lost contact after I moved in with Nakamura. I hope nobody ever abused her again.

We were both very lucky. At twenty-three I was living in a fantasy world when it came to handling murderous lunatics. If it happened again today, I’d ambush the son of a bitch. There’d be no confrontation. In Japan I’d go to the sporting-goods store, buy a golf club, and lie in wait for him. Here, I have other means of self-defense.

Seeing Rachel transform from a weeping ghost into a laughing woman was gratifying beyond description. Still, part of me wishes that her husband had made it to the shelter and met the monks. I can still feel their handshakes.

Everyone should get to experience what they dish out. For some reason they never like it. Wonder why that is?