In my second year at university I had my own show on the student radio station. The audience rarely reached double figures, but during the day the station was pumped into the student café below us and occasionally someone would bang on our door to ask for a request, or to complain about something the DJ had said.
I have an eclectic approach to music, mostly off-beat indie stuff, and I played whatever it crossed my mind to play at the time. I figured that if I liked a song then surely someone else out there would like it too. They rarely did though, there was more banging on the door to complain about my musical choice than there was for the rest of the presenters put together. "You put me off my scrambled egg," someone once said.
Just before the show I'd been given a Shonen Knife CD by Phil and had immediately fallen in love with it. It demanded to be played.
"For those of you thinking of Tokyo," I said, "A couple of tracks to take you there."
I played the Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner (Theme), and followed it with Free the Bee, a Melt Banana track I'd heard the night before on the John Peel show.
"Where do you find these bands?” asked Fish, whose show was on before mine and who often hung around when I was on air to "See how it shouldn't be done." Fish was the most mainstream DJ on the station and he regarded my musical taste with the same mix of fascination and disgust that the early settlers regarded the "noble savages". He could neither look my record collection full in the face, nor turn completely away from it.
There was a knock on the studio door. "Another of your fans, Terrence," said Fish, laughing.
Two girls walked in, an exceptionally tall Japanese and a short blonde, her exact mirror opposite; whereas one was sleek, fit and wore fashionable clothing, the other was frumpy, adorned with cardigans and spoke with a Dorset twang.
"Are you the DJ?" asked the Japanese girl. I was sitting behind a mixing desk, wearing headphones, a Shonen Knife CD in my hand. There was nowhere to hide.
"I am," I said, "Though any complaints about the playlist you need to talk to Mr Fishwick," I said, pointing at Fish.
"No complaints, no," she said, "I wanted to thank you for bringing a piece of Japanese culture to Wales."
"I liked it too," said her friend. "Keiko was playing me the album last night."
Wow, this was a first, a fan. I'd never had one of those before, and now I had two. But before I'd properly made them Fish tried to poach them from me
"We have a broad musical spectrum," he said "To reflect the global perspective of the university."
"You are Mr Fish?" queried the girl called Keiko, "We were listening to you in the café downstairs. You played Radio 2."
"Ah, yes, he said, but that's not my choice, it's all playlisted."
"But I thought you said you made the playlist?"
I was doing a link and changing records during this conversation. Most of the other DJs had a 'no talking when I'm on air' rule, but I thought it made my show more homely if I had people around me, chatting and laughing. Quite a few people would walk in during my show, friends and other DJs, so I probably had more listeners with me in the studio than out there in the big, wide world.
"I'd love to hear the album," I said, as soon as I could join in the conversation, "I've only heard a few tracks on the John Peel show."
"Ah, John Peel, I love your John Peel." Keiko laughed. "Yes come back to mine and I‘ll play you the album."
"I have a show to do, I'm not free for another hour."
"We'll come back in an hour then," she said. "For now though we have to go."
The blonde girl smiled, "I have a History lecture."
"That must be the closest you've ever come to a date, Terrence," Fish laughed, after they'd gone. "Come back to my place and hear my Melt Banana CD. Oh, sorry, I've just remembered, I've got a History lecture."
Fish stuck around for the rest of the show though, whether he was hoping to see the girls again, or maybe he just liked my music. Andy, Shreek and a couple of the other DJs passed through, and talk of my two 'fans' had already passed into C-Air legend by the time my show ended.
I was packing my things away when there was another knock on the door. It was Keiko and the other girl. "You still want to come back to ours?" Keiko asked. There was a rush and a push behind me; it was Fish, hurrying to join us.
The blonde girl introduced herself as Jordan. The girls shared a room in Beck Halls, a three-minute walk from campus. Jordan was studying History and Keiko was doing an International Business Studies course at Tokyo University, as part of which she was spending a year in Swansea, though what Wales could teach the Japanese about business remains unclear to me to this day.
It was only the second week of term, but already there was a homely feel to the girls' room. Jordan made coffee for four while Keiko put on the much-anticipated Melt Banana album, which Fish would later describe as being "Less rhythmical and twice as terrifying as the dentist's drill,” but I loved it, it was full of energy and intensity.
We sat and chatted, with the music in the background. It soon transpired that both Keiko and Jordan had boyfriends, Keiko’s in Tokyo, Jordan’s in Dorset. Fish quickly lost interest and left shortly after these revelations.
For me though, Keiko and Jordan's unavailability was a godsend. It meant that we could just concentrate on hanging out together, on being friends. There was no 'underlying tension'.
This was my second year at university. My first year had been spent almost exclusively with Matt and Kelly. We’d lived in the same halls of residence and spent every conceivable minute together as a threesome. It was only at the very end of the last term that Matt and Kelly had paired up as a couple and I suddenly found myself on my own.
After Fish left, we sat talking for a while longer. Keiko had to go and phone her boyfriend and I was left alone with Jordan. We talked about many things, including the book I saw on her bedside table: Norwegian Wood.
"Like the song," I said. I love the Beatles, even though they were too mainstream for me to ever play on my radio show.
"It's by a Japanese author," she said, "Haruki Murakami."
I tried out the name: "Har-uki Mur-ak-ami." It sounded good. She lent me the book to read and I became an immediate fan, an addict almost. In a sentence, let me tell you what I like about Murakami: it's simply that he really catches the weirdness of falling in love, and falling out of love, the absurdity, the uncertainty, the loss even of your very sense of self, or maybe the discovery of your sense of self. The surreal nature of real-life romance is never effectively portrayed in traditional books or movies. Reading Norwegian Wood, in all its surreal glory, was a reassurance that maybe I was normal after all.
I started visiting Jordan and Keiko all the time. I'd ended up moving in with people I only knew vaguely, and didn’t particularly get on with, having had to abandon my original plan of living with Matt and Kelly, so I was happy to be out of the house. We ate together most nights, mostly simple things; vegetables, pasta, maybe some grilled fish.
I was in their flat so often they ended up getting a key cut for me, even though it was against all the rules. We didn't go a bundle on rules, anyway.
Mostly we listened to music, ate pasta, drank beer, talked. It wasn't the same dynamic I'd had with Matt and Kelly, partly because the three frequently became two. We were all doing different subjects and had different timetables. Keiko and I went jogging along the seafront, and I'd often be left alone with one of the girls while the other went to phone her boyfriend.
They also had a world without me in it. I spent a lot of the day in the radio station, I was Music Manager, a glorified title for the task of getting freebie CDs from record companies, so I was frequently on the phone, filling in feedback forms or listening to any damn thing they sent me. There were also regular nights out with the radio crowd, which Keiko and Jordan avoided, and I'd still meet up with Matt and Kelly and play guest gooseberry.
But when we could, we did things together, as a threesome. We went to the local bars, the pubs the rest of the students avoided, the ones that were rumoured to be dangerous for students. True, if you behaved like a spoilt, noisy, English brat you could get into trouble, but to us the locals were friendly, and generally found the combination of two frumpy middle class English kids and a trendy, giant Japanese girl an amusing distraction. We saw upcoming indie bands downstairs in the No Sign Winebar, local R&B acts in the Cardiff Arms, and anything from jazz to folk at the Tatler Club.
I had a car, and on weekends we'd drive down to the Gower and go for long walks along the coast, taking bottles of water and packed lunches. "Every day's a picnic," Jordan said once, and that's how it seemed. Life was good.
Sometimes we stayed in and listened to music, Keiko and I liked to surprise each other with our respective culture's fringe music, with Jordan loving the event, though not such a music fan.
We developed in-jokes, laughed at all the 'normal' students and the dreadful nightclubs and pubs they frequented, but we got to know each other well enough to see below the fun. Keiko was missing Japan, not just her family, boyfriend and other friends, but the whole culture. She could rely on nothing, every day she discovered something else that the Welsh and English did differently.
Jordan had her own worries. Her father had developed Parkinson's a few years previously, and was in steady decline. "It's like this time when I was ten," she told me. "We were on a walk in Dartmoor and I watched this pony, one of those tiny ponies they have on the moors, walk into a bog and sink to a marshy grave. It's the same sort of descent into death, only in ultra-slow motion, as his limbs gradually deteriorate into disuse. Just like the pony in the mire his fate is unavoidable. He might take 20 years instead of 20 minutes, but it's the same useless struggle."
Keiko was downstairs, on the phone to her boyfriend. I held Jordan to me, closer than I'd ever held her before. She smelt of a day without washing, the full eek of a Jordan, but in a good way. I could feel her warm body beneath her sweatshirt.
"We're all doomed," I said, trying in my own way, to comfort her. "Maybe we'll live for another 50, 60 years instead of your dad's 20, but it's the same mortal fate awaiting us all."
"But your death hasn't started yet, that's the difference. Dad's dying already, just stupidly slowly. His body's trapped in the mire of Parkinson's and I'm watching him sink away. There's nothing I can do, it's like that poor pony."
In turn, I told Jordan about my problems. My parents had gone through a messy divorce a couple of years previously and I was plagued by bouts of deep depression. "Sometimes I feel I'm just adrift from the rest of the world," I said, "like there's no real connection between me and everything else."
"I'm your connection," Jordan said, and touched my arm tenderly.
At nights, sometimes, the three of us would walk to the beach and, between talk, laughter and games, each of us would wallow in our own thoughts, three silent bodies together, like three satellites held in the same orbit but following their own paths. I'd stare out across the sea, towards the Devon coast, but my mind would go to that dark place, surf the seas of mental turbulence. In company, with Keiko and Jordan, I knew that I could visit that place without the risk of sinking, without drowning in the mire of my own misery.
Keiko couldn't afford to fly home for Christmas, so she spent most of the break with Jordan and her parents in Dorset. I went down too, for a week. Jordan spent much of the time with Keith, her boyfriend, so sometimes we were a foursome, sometimes a larger party. Either way, it was strange to realise that Jordan retained a life outside us. At university, we seemed to be all each other had, yet below the surface there lay another world of friendships, family, an entire unseen history.
One day in February, I let myself into the flat to find Keiko in tears on her bed. "He's left me, Terry," was all she said, her voice lilting slightly on the ‘r’s, as it always did when she said my name. I sat down beside her, and before we'd even thought about what we were doing, we were kissing and I was removing her top, stroking her firm, tender flesh, kneading her breasts.
She pushed me away, at first I thought she was saying “no”, but I realised she needed me naked and she ripped off my T-shirt and trousers. Soon we were exploring each other frantically. I realised that Keiko hadn’t made love for six months, with her boyfriend on the other side of the world. For me it was over a year.
Her breasts were small. I experimented with cramming a whole breast inside my mouth, going from breast to breast, mouthful to mouthful. My mouth moved on, down to explore her thighs, and the delicious aroma the area gave off. We kissed and licked and felt each other for a while, before the inevitable penetration. I carried condoms, more through hope than for any intended practical use, but they were useful that afternoon.
Not long after we had made love, Jordan walked in, catching us in post-coital cuddle. She stared at us briefly, before turning and walking out. By the time we'd gotten dressed she was nowhere in sight.
We waited for a while, assuming she was simply giving us a bit of time alone together, but after two hours we began to worry. We agreed that Keiko should stay and wait, in case she returned, while I searched.
I found Jordan on the beach, in our usual place, staring out to sea. She said nothing as I sat beside her. I could see from her face that she had been crying. I put my arm around her, saying nothing, and we sat there for a while, sharing a moment, not speaking, listening to the gentle breathing in and out of the ocean.
Somewhere in the universe the words, "But you have a boyfriend," existed, but they were not available to me in that moment, they were several million miles away. We sat on the beach, hugging each other tightly, as if the force of our hug was the only thing stopping the tide rushing in and sweeping us away.
The silence contained so much. Looking back, I understand the entire unspoken script. Jordan was having problems with Keith, they were almost certainly going to split up over the Easter break. Then, Jordan and I could have gone out, and would probably have spent the rest of our lives together.
Me and Keiko were destined not to last. Just like a pony trapped in a mire our fate was unavoidable. Keiko would return home in May. We would try to keep in touch, but I had no desire to move to Japan and she had no desire to leave there. She was too bound up in the people and the places; in her life. I, in turn, was too bound up in mine.
And that’s what happened.
Keiko went back to Japan in May. We split up just before she left, to avoid a long-distance stagnation. It was perfectly amicable.
Jordan and Keith split over the Easter break, but by May, when I became single again, she'd already hooked up with a guy on her History course.
The three of us remained friends, but our whole dynamic changed. We were no longer the interchangeable trio, we were a couple and their friend, sometimes a foursome with Jordan's new boyfriend. We remained friendly satellites, but no longer sharing the same orbit.
I still see Jordan, we’re still friends, though she lives in Dorset with her family and I live in London. There's a significant geographical distance between us now and the closeness we felt that year seems equally unreachable.
When I see, hear or read Norwegian Wood, or hear Free the Bee, or Tortoise brand pot cleaner (theme), or one of almost a million other reminders, I am taken back, to that year, but mostly to those moments on the beach, staring out to sea, failing to speak.
If I had spoken then, my whole life would have turned out differently. Just two little words are all it would have taken. The world "him" and the word "leave", though not necessarily in that order.
For I know she would have.