The Japanese journalist asks the usual question:
“And who are your favorite writers?”
I give the usual answers:
“Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, William Blake and Henry Miller.”
The interpreter looks at me in shock:
But she realizes at once that her job is not to ask questions, and she continues her work. When the interview is over, I want to know why she was so surprised at my answer. I tell her that Henry Miller may not be a “politically correct” writer but he was someone who opened up a vast world for me, an author whose books are filled with a vital energy that we rarely find in today’s literature.
“I’m not criticizing Henry Miller, I’m also a fan of his, “ she answered. “Did you know he was married to a Japanese woman?”
Yes, of course I did. I am not ashamed to be fanatical about someone, so I try to find out all about their life. Once I went to a book fair just to meet Jorge Amado. I traveled 48 hours on a bus to meet Borges (which ended up not happening for my fault: when I did see him I stood paralyzed and could not say a word). I rang John Lennon’s doorbell in New York (the doorman asked me to leave a letter stating the reason for the visit, said that Lennon would eventually telephone, but this never happened). I had plans to go to Big Sur to see Henry Miller, but he died before I had enough money for the trip.
“The Japanese woman is called Hoki,” I answer proudly. “I also know that in Tokyo there is a museum with Miller’s watercolors.”
“Would you like to meet her tonight?”
What a question! Of course I want to be close to someone who lived with one of my idols. I imagine she must receive visitors from all over, and requests for interviews, after all they lived together for nearly 10 years. Won’t it be difficult to ask her to spend some of her time with a simple fan? But if the interpreter says it is possible, then better trust her – the Japanese always keep their word.
I wait anxiously the rest of the day, then we get into a taxi and everything begins to feel strange. We come to a halt in a street where the sun probably never shines, with a viaduct passing overhead. The interpreter points to a second-class bar on the second floor of a building that is falling to pieces.
We climb the stairs, enter the completely empty bar, and there is Hoki Miller.
To hide my surprise I try to overdo my enthusiasm for her ex-husband. She leads me to a small room in the back where she has installed a small museum – some photographs, two or three signed watercolors, a book with a dedication, and nothing else. She tells me that she met him when she was doing her Master’s in Los Angeles and to support herself she played piano in a restaurant, singing French songs (in Japanese). Miller went to have dinner there, loved the songs (he had spent a good part of his life in Paris), they went out a few times, then he asked her to marry him.
I notice there is a piano in the bar – as if she were going back to the past, to the day that the two had met. She tells me delightful things about their life in common, the problems because of the difference in age (Miller was over 50, Hoki was not yet 20), the time they spent together. She explains that the heirs from the other marriages were left with everything, including the copyright on the books – but that was of no importance, what she lived is beyond financial compensation.
I ask her to play the same song that had called Miller’s attention many years ago. She does so with tears in her eyes, singing “Autumn Leaves” (Les Feuilles Mortes).
The interpreter and I are also moved. The bar, the piano, the voice of the Japanese woman echoing off the bare walls without any care for the glory of the ex-wives, the oceans of money that Miller’s books must bring in, the world fame that she could now be enjoying.
“It wasn’t worth fighting for the inheritance, love was enough,” she finally says, understanding what we were feeling. Yes, seeing the complete absence of any bitterness or rancor, I understand that love was enough.
“The Zahir” is being published all over the world this year. Click here for more information.