The Japanese journalist asks the usual question: “And what are your favorite writers?” I give my usual answer: “Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, William Blake and Henry Miller.”
The translator looks at me astonished: “Henry Miller?” But she soon realizes her role isn’t to digress and gets back to her work. At the end of the interview, I want to know why she was so surprised about my answer.
“I am not criticizing Henry Miller; I’m his fan too,” she answers. “Did you know he was married to a Japanese woman?”
Yes: I’m not ashamed to be fanatic about someone I admire and try to know everything about their life.
I went to a book fair just to get to know Jorge Amado, I travelled 48 hours in a bus to meet with Borges ( this ended up not happening due to my own fault: when I saw him I froze and said nothing), I rang the bell of John Lennon’s door in New York (the porter asked me to leave a letter explaining the reason of my visit and said Lennon would probably call, this never happened). I had plans of going to see Henry Miller in Big Sur, but he died before I was able to gather the money for the trip.
“The Japanese woman’s name is Hoki,” I answer proudly. “I know too that in Tokyo there is a museum devoted to Miller’s watercolors.”
“Would you like to meet her tonight?”
But what a question! Of course, I would like to be near someone that lived with one of my idols.
I imagine she must receive visitors from all over the world and several interview requests; after all, they stayed together for almost 10 years.
We stop at a street where the sun probably never shines, as a viaduct passes over it. The translator points to a second-rate bar on the second floor of an old building.
We go up the stairs, we enter the completely empty bar and there is Hoki Miller. In order to conceal my surprise, I try to exaggerate my enthusiasm about her ex-husband.
She takes me to a room in the back where she set up a small museum – a few pictures, two or three signed watercolors, a signed book and nothing else.
She tells me that she met him when she took a masters degree in Los Angeles and played piano in a restaurant to support herself, singing French songs (in Japanese). Miller went there for dinner, loved the songs (he had spent a great part of his life in Paris), they went out a couple of times and he asked her to marry him.
She tells me delightful things about their life in common, about the problems originated by the age difference between them (Miller was over 50, Hoki wasn’t 20), of the time they spent together. She explains that the heirs from the other marriages got everything, inclusively the copyrights of the books – but that didn’t matter to her, what she lived with him lies beyond financial compensation.
I ask her to play that music that caught Miller’s attention many years back. She does it with tears in her eyes and sings ‘Autumn Leaves’ (Feuilles Mortes).
The bar, the piano, the voice of the Japanese woman echoing in the empty walls, not caring about the ex-wives’ victories, about the rivers of money Miller’s books shall make, about the world fame she could enjoy today.
“It wasn’t worth it to fight for inheritance: his love was enough to me,” she says at the end, understanding what we felt.
Yes, for the complete absence of bitterness or rancor in her voice, I understand that love was enough.