Looking far away, there was only the sign of the Doraemon Tea Shop. Like a borderless white pocket in a fourth-dimensional world, it could be as small or big as you wanted it to be, emitting endless bright light.
Editor’s Note: The following introduction is part of a notebook Queer Time, co-edited by Ta-wei Chi and Ariel Chu, which gathers contemporary queer Taiwanese literature in translation. To read the full Queer Time collection, visit its home here.
Click to read Jenna Tang’s English translation
NOBI NOBITA’S BODY
By Leah Yang 楊隸亞
Trans. Jenna Tang
“Nobi Nobita’s Body” references an all-time popular cartoon in Taiwan: the Doraemon series. Most of the characters in this short story, such as Nobita, Gian, Suneo, and Shizuka, are named after the show’s characters. The cartoon focuses on Doraemon, a robot cat who emerges out of Nobita’s desk drawer from the 22nd century, bearing extremely advanced technological tools. Doraemon lends his help after Nobita’s future grandson requests that he try to make Nobita’s life easier.
In the cartoon, Nobita is a boy who’s often being bullied, while Gian is known as a gigantic bullying kid, with Suneo staying constantly at his side. Shizuka is an obedient, adorable girl.
In this story, the protagonist Nobita uses she/her pronouns.
Content warning: One of the scenes in the story contains sexual assault.
There are always ones who would say,
This is Mine.
I once said proudly,
For me, there’s nothing that’s really mine.
Nowadays, I know nothing means
We don’t even have a name.
And sometimes we have to borrow one.
You can guide me to a place where I can observe everything from above.
Forget me on the other side of the ocean.
I wish you happiness and health.
––Theo Angelopoulos, The Suspended Step of the Stork
Nobita pressed the pause button on her remote control at the movie on the screen, and the remote responded with a beep right away. Closing her eyes, she threw her body onto the sofa. The entire house returned to a complete silence.
She sensed an indistinct sound of running water.
The running water of the movie’s riverside wedding slowly flowed out of her TV screen. The water found its path around the room and gradually flooded the house. The river drifted toward her body, wetting her flesh and soft breasts. And then she felt throes of pain, and a burning smell from nowhere. She traced and touched her lower breasts: at first there was only a drop or two, and then big patches of bright red blood flowed out from her body ceaselessly. The water in the river was suddenly dyed scarlet red.
A second before Nobita could shout from pain, her girlfriend’s phone alarm noisily and inconsiderately sang out: 旋轉，跳躍… 我不停歇…
“I told you not to watch that gloomy movie before bed. It’s good that you have your day off.”
Her girlfriend enjoyed very different things from her.
She enjoyed quietness, while her girlfriend embraced vibrancy and noise; she loved watching movies, but her girlfriend preferred going to KTVs; she usually had her toothbrush, toothpaste, bath towel, and face wash lined up properly, but all her girlfriend did was remove her makeup and simply rinse her face. Whenever her girlfriend finished using the bathroom, it was like a typhoon had swooned by. When Nobita got off work, she liked resting at home, occasionally going to a coffee shop over the weekend to relax, but her girlfriend preferred going to nightclubs and making friends on her apps. Sometimes, out of nowhere, she would order popcorn chicken delivery, chatting with someone past 3 AM before she went to sleep.
Shouting, groaning, and sighing, noisy as firecrackers on Lunar New Year, her girlfriend finally headed out.
Nobita slowly picked up the shower cap and knitted blouse draped over the sofa in the living room, fishing out a single earring hoop that had fallen into the sofa gap. It was a long teardrop hoop, glittering with silvery white light like a waterfall. She held the earring gently in her palm, tracing the pattern of the accessory with her fingers, touching the tiny hidden rhinestone. She recalled the first time she’d given her girlfriend a hug; it was as though a feather hanging from a Japanese wind chime had brushed past her cheek. With such smoothness, she hadn’t been able to spot what had been faintly prickling her skin.
It turned out that they were diamonds.
Nobita circled the teardrop earrings with her fingers and quietly laid them down in the accessory box, where they looked like white snakes.
When she closed the drawer, she saw that under the box lay a hardcover notebook.
There was nobody in the house but herself. What could she do? She picked up the notebook and checked the front and the back, seeing the traces of how often it had been used. That noisy little brat, she even kept a diary? Pinching the corner of the notebook, she thought about putting it back as if nothing had happened, but her hand slipped.
The diary fell on the floor, and long, crisp papers poked out from its side:
July first, black tea latte; July tenth, black tea latte; July thirteenth, black tea latte.
She found a good number of papers with the same drink order. The list started from the beginning of July, accumulating with fragmented intervals but lasting all the way to December. It had been almost half a year.
She saw her girlfriend’s handwriting: That Summer. She had added a hand-drawn heart at the end.
Emotional, Nobita picked up all of the crisp papers at the same time, afraid that her hands would leave indentations on them. She took a deep breath and used her fingernails to press all the receipts back between pages in the notebook, and then pushed the notebook back to the bottom of the drawer. She used the accessory box to press the top down and make it look like nothing had ever happened.
Did her girlfriend really love her?
After they had been dating for a while, they had finally faced each other, body to body. In the dark, it had taken some effort from her girlfriend to take off her clothes. She had smoothed over Nobita with her hand and asked suspiciously why Nobita seemed to have three navels down there. Nobita had turned awkward. She had been wearing the binder for too long. Her breasts had been flattened for as long as she had been out of her apartment. They had begun to droop, like swings, and then they had decided to settle on the Earth’s surface, and so they had never returned to where they belonged.
“It wasn’t until I was almost in my thirties that I had my first love. It hasn’t been easy,” Nobita thought.
In the past, she had joined online groups, LGBTQ social events, female sports clubs, Hand-in-Hand community proms, lazi lesbian dating apps, and even senior lesbian groups. From free entry to membership or subscription, she had tried them all. In each group, there had always been several polite and modest new acquaintances smiling and welcoming her. But at the end of the gatherings, under the soft music of a coffee shop or a disco, chatting with the girl she liked on LINE had always been like trying to keep using the free WiFi from a shop that had just closed––she had never been able to reconnect.
She hadn’t known when someone had called “close sesame” on her life.
The treasured girl of her dreams had gone dormant.
An audio message came from her girlfriend: “Let’s go to the seaside for our anniversary.”
Nobita could clearly imagine her girlfriend pulling out sets of pink bikinis from the closet, wearing a pair of sunglasses on top of her head, and posing as though she were looking at some faraway scenery. And then after that, she would pose again, pretending that she was ready to play beach volleyball.
Thinking about her girlfriend’s proposal to go to the beach, Nobita was determined to resist.
Nobita would rather die than actually go there.
“Let’s go hiking in the mountains instead,” Nobita replied. “It’s better for our health, and we can get some fresh air,” she added.
She imagined the full sense of security that covering all of her body with her clothes would give her.
The two of them weren’t able to reach a middle ground, so they not only didn’t speak to each other before bed, but also slept back-to-back.
In Nobita’s dream, her girlfriend was not yet her girlfriend, but Nobita was already Nobita.
When Nobita first visited the tea shop to apply for a job, she met a girl, a tall and hefty manager, swaying her arms and walking toward the entrance. She stared at her thick, evenly trimmed bangs for a long time. Then, the manager smiled, pointed at the name tag on her chest and said, I’m Wang Gian. Just call me Gian. In our shop, we have Shizuka, Suneo, and Wang Sosmart. Gian pointed at the three girls brewing tea and cooking boba at the back. “Alright, welcome to our team. The Doraemon Tea Shop has all its members now.” Excited, Gian attached a name tag with “Nobita” on Nobita’s chest.
And that was how Nobita had become Nobita.
The tea shop was close to schools and an MRT station. By four or five in the afternoon, they would have finished delivering all the orders to schools and offices, and then they would have the rest of the time to themselves. It was not close enough to dinner time, so no new customers would come in. All of them stayed at the shop, claiming different corners and chatting with each other.
While stirring the boiler for cooking boba, Nobita began talking with Suneo about her life in the high school dormitory.
“Me and several girls in my dorm room were assigned to clean the school’s military officer’s dorm, and when we opened the drawer, we found a box of condoms in a folder. At that time, everyone was curious about sex. There was a girl with a big mouth from music class; she would blow a condom the way she did with balloons. Oh my god, I still remember that she kept yelling, ‘So greasy, why is it so greasy, so slick and oily!’ But she looked like she was having fun; her mouth opened wider than when she was playing her instrument. She kept blowing into the condom, never expecting that those condoms would very soon become the balloons for the school anniversary.”
“Oh my, I can’t hear this anymore. So lewd! You young people––tell me more!” Suneo took away the stirring rod from Nobita and began to stir the boba.
“Everyone blew the condoms up like bubbles, and all of the girls from the dorm tapped and passed the long-lasting bubbles with their palms. Everyone was enjoying themselves, but then…”
“But what? Do tell.” Suneo sniggered.
“Why did the military officer put condoms in his office? What’s the need? Didn’t he have a family? I remember he had a wife and a daughter in elementary school. He only had to stay the night at school once a week. Hm… and he always arrived very late and woke up super early.” Nobita recalled the dormitory she had stayed in during high school. Even though it had been one that separated boys and girls, the distance between their buildings had been nothing but an empty patch of middle ground. Besides closing the metal gate ceremoniously at midnight, there had been no walls at all.
Everyone had been busy blowing, hitting, and playing with bubbles. And in a bubble, they had grown from seventeen to eighteen.
“I’ve been wanting to get breasts since high school.” Suneo laughed deeply in Nobita’s ear.
They lifted the big boba pot together, adding ice water and rinsing the pearls. They were so close to each other that Nobita was able to see, despite Suneo’s pale skin, that she had dense stubble on her chin and at the corner of her mouth. For a second, Nobita watched so intently that she almost lost her place in the conversation.
“Everyone says stubble makes a beautiful girl,” Nobita replied quickly.
“Aiya, our new girl knows what to say. Such good taste. I’ll get bottom surgery when I save enough money. Surgeries cost so much––literally burning all my savings.” Suneo blinked and laughed.
Nobita moved her eyes underneath, looking at Suneo’s zipper at her crotch. A slight bump like a small hill. And then in a trance, she looked back at Suneo’s round, fresh-steamed-milk-bun-like breasts.
“Let me tell you, I was in too much of a rush. I did it too early, and now everyone else is doing teardrop implants. Unlike me. With these two, I have to massage them every day in the shower, otherwise they’re going to stiffen like rocks. Sob.” Suneo scooped up boba, adding brown sugar water, one scoop after another.
“Can I touch yours?” Before getting Nobita’s consent, Suneo reached her hand very deep inside of her clothes.
“Oyo, this is the type I actually want. So soft, so bouncy.”
Just then, Gian and Wang Sosmart walked in. They pointed at Nobita and Suneo, laughing out loud. Nobita felt like she had only just got to know Suneo. The way Suneo touched her really made her uncomfortable. But then, everyone was laughing. Gian, Wang Sosmart, Suneo, and Shizuka, who later pulled back the curtain—they all seemed so cheerful. Everyone just kept laughing, and Nobita didn’t know what to do. All she did was laugh with them. Haha, haha, as stiff as it sounded.
“Alright. I was just joking with you. I’m going to the front to prepare the boba milk tea for an order.” Suneo lifted a bucket full of hot and fragrant boba and walked toward the tea shop’s prepping area at the front.
She watched the backs of Suneo and Wang Sosmart, so thin, and exactly the ideal look Nobita had always hoped for.
When she was still a student, there were so many Wang Sosmarts, tall and strong, playing on the basketball court. But she was better at running than at playing any kind of ball sport. At home, she was not allowed to keep short hair, so all she could do was tie up her long hair into a ponytail, letting it dangle left and right at the back of her head, beating an unsatisfying rhythm.
She was more afraid of the arrival of a long vacation or the Lunar New Year festival than of any of the exams she had. Whenever she arrived home late at night, she would hang the chest binder she bought online from the balcony, only to find it cut into pieces and thrown into the trash by her mother, who woke up early. Her mother said this kind of asaburo thing would affect her physical development. What’s so shameful about being a woman, it’s not like you are brainless with huge breasts, so many girls want big full breasts like yours, why don’t you cherish what you have… As her mother nagged, she stuffed several yellow lace bras she’d bought from the traditional market into the luggage Nobita planned to bring to school.
“Hey, look at that, everyone. Three balls running together.”
“Are those E-cups?”
“Oh, so mean. How could you say that? That’s totally downplaying them. They look at least like G-cups to me.”
“Hahaha… I can’t deal with this anymore.”
Everyone stood in the broadcast room behind the podium, speaking to one another. All their voices spread out from a microphone that was still on. The rankings of sports competitions were announced along with their words, spreading toward different corners of the campus, and then all the way to the bottom of Nobita’s heart. She hid herself in the storage room in a female bathroom, sitting with all the brooms and buckets.
She was pretty sure she had never stepped on those classmates’ toes. Whenever she bumped into them in the school cafeteria or at the stadium, they always said hi to each other. Was it because she didn’t ever win any trophies for her homeroom class? Or was there another reason?
“I heard she doesn’t like boys?”
“Haha, I win!”
It was as if the corridor outside the bathroom stalls were mid-party–– splashes of water, footsteps, and laughter mixing with the smell of sweat after sports. The entire space was humid and sweltering.
These buckets had never been exposed to the sun, and they emitted a thick, moist odor that smelled extremely awful. Nobita couldn’t help but tear up, and she could only use the edge of her sportswear to dab at her swelling eyes.
Nobita hadn’t told anyone in her world that she’d once stood outside the military officer’s dorm, thinking that she had been alone. She stood by the sewage drain, and under her feet were scatters of cigarette butts and clumps of dirt. Light from a TV screen reflected off the window with the old paper decor; Little Tiger in the movie Sixty Million Dollar Man had just pulled down his shorts and was about to use the bathroom, then Stephen Chow was about to press the button on his remote control and fly to the moon—the military officer sat with his back against the window, slightly reclining. His left hand suddenly went limp and dropped to the side; the other half of his body, however, trembled vigorously.
A familiar yellow-laced bra dangled between the legs of his khaki pants.
The girl with the big mouth from music class sat blowing bubbles between the TV and the military officer.
She lowered her head one moment, then lifted it up the next.
And then, the bubble seemed to break. Like Little Tiger in the movie, the military officer growled deep in the back of his throat.
The day after the announcement of their college admission results, Nobita cut off her long hair at an old-school hair salon in town. She carried her thick, leveled bangs and short hair along with two big suitcases and headed toward the bus station.
She was heading to Taipei.
Things would probably take a turn for the better once she arrived there.
Once, she saw a few Ts with completely flat chests in a cosmetic surgery ad on social media. They had wide shoulders and were wearing plain shirts with several buttons undone. They were showing their absolutely scarless bodies.
“As long as I save enough money, something like this wouldn’t be difficult to get; as long as I save money, I can turn nightmares into good dreams. Get handsome, more handsome, even more handsome.” Sitting on the bus speeding on the highway all the way to the North, Nobita opened a memo on her phone and wrote down her first wish after reaching adulthood.
Nobita didn’t know if the real Doraemon actually fulfilled everybody’s dreams. However, she had pinned all her hopes on the Doraemon Tea Shop. Besides money for her three meals, gas for her scooter, rent, water, electricity, and her cell phone fee, she saved up every single penny. It had been a long time since she bought new clothes, even though there were always anniversary sales at department stores or discounts at different malls. In summer, Nobita always wore her cheapest big wide sports shirt; in winter, she had her down sportswear from her employer, and on the back of her jacket was this colorful, funny font that said: Doraemon Tea Shop.
It was very different living in a city than in a small town. A shop’s closing time in a small town was the same time all the stores in the city were opening up. Nobita felt that her body had fallen into a cave of jet lag. After closing the shop late at night, Wang Sosmart would give Shizuka a ride with her scooter and go home, while Gian and Suneo would go to Kanpai Train Yakiniku Restaurant and have their late-night barbecue, leaving Nobita alone to do the last clean-up and lock the door. She would arrange all the receipts and sort the trash. She took care of Gian’s shop as though it were hers.
There were cups and cups of black tea latte, so many that they were like the Woodcutter’s Spring in the Doraemon series, the milky-beige water ceaselessly springing out from its source. She remembered that in the cartoon, if something dropped into such a spring, one’s Goddess would appear. According to the story, one shouldn’t lie, and if one told the truth, the Goddess would offer something better, newer.
“Black tea latte, 50% sugar and 30% ice, thank you.” The pair of silky white earrings, dangling with streaming lights, swayed with the girl’s long hair like shooting stars. A foggy, romantic atmosphere sifted through Nobita’s world.
“We’re closing.” Nobita pointed at the ordering screen she had already shut down.
“Do you work here because you like these drinks?” That was the first time her girlfriend had started a conversation with her.
“I’m saving money. Sometimes I do deliveries. Deliveries and no absence means a 10% bonus,” Nobita said.
“What are you saving money for? Your phone looks so old, your screen’s even cracking.” The girl pointed at Nobita’s phone, hanging above her chest.
At first, Nobita didn’t feel like explaining, but then she considered that this girl was just a stranger, so it didn’t really matter.
“I’m saving money for breast reduction surgery.” Nobita was shocked by her own articulation.
“Why? You look great. Look at me, people call my breasts a barren land. Shoooooo…. a plane could fly out from here!” The girl made hand gestures imitating an airplane that was taking off.
Nobita couldn’t help but laugh.
In the winter rain late at night, the entire Doraemon Tea Shop was like being immersed in a Woodcutter’s Spring. Nobita felt like she was leaning against the cashier desk listening to the rain and chatting with a Goddess.
That night, Nobita sold not only a drink, but also her own heart.
“It’s free. There’s no need to pay.” She opened the fridge, following the proportions and making a cup of black tea latte, 50% sugar and 30% ice. She placed it on the counter.
Then Nobita and the girl took out their phones and shook them, adding each other on the LINE app.
“Thank you. There’s no need to ‘bear’ your breasts. If yours are too big, I can give you a hand.” The girl sent her a message, joking.
“Thanks. There’s also no need to ‘bear’ a full bladder; we won’t lend our bathroom to anyone else.” Nobita replied, also joking.
It was during the arrival of a cold current that her girlfriend first visited her apartment in the night. The entire city was surrounded by winter rain. The sound of the rain didn’t affect the level of intimacy between them. They didn’t have sex, but that was the hottest night Nobita had ever experienced.
There was no heater or clothes dryer in Nobita’s apartment. She simply hugged her girlfriend close to her body, feeling her tremble out of coldness.
Her girlfriend said, So warm. And then she held Nobita’s hands.
The temperature outside continued to drop: ten, nine, eight, seven degrees Celsius.
The entire world quieted down, and her girlfriend fell asleep soundlessly, as though she were in the embrace of a huge warm dog.
Since then, Nobita liked winter even more.
Ever since Nobita had gotten a girlfriend, she had cut down her hours at the tea shop. Sometimes she overslept and forgot her time to check-in at work. And then Gian would desperately call her on the phone or Suneo would speed to her apartment to press the doorbell. And then she would rub her weary eyes, changing into her uniform and starting her shift.
Drowsiness in the winter was a flirty lover, calling her back and forth, torturing her spirit.
After turning off her alarm countless times, Nobita wiggled her way out of her quilt. She didn’t have time to brush her teeth or wash her face. She staggered toward the small balcony at the back of her bedroom, about to retrieve her clothes that had long since dried up.
The chest binder was made of black Lycra with a strong hook and loops at the seam, and the edge was hanging at the brink of a clothespin like a cornered creature. With the coming of a strong wind, it continued dangling and swaying toward the sky.
Tipping her toes and stretching her arms, Nobita tried to grab it as usual.
A stronger, more ferocious wind blew toward her, making the chest binder turn a few circles and slip away from Nobita’s fingers.
Very quickly, the chest binder slipped away from Nobita’s balcony all the way to the sky. It began to fly higher and farther, flying all the way to somewhere Nobita couldn’t see at all.
Her black chest binder was swallowed by the darkness of the night.
Nobita stood in a trance on her balcony, not knowing what to do.
After that she came back to her senses. She suddenly gasped for breath, falling and sitting in the narrow balcony corridor like a scuba diver who had stayed overtime holding her breath underwater, lacking oxygen.
The darkness ate away Nobita’s clothes and her body. Looking far away, there was only the sign of the Doraemon Tea Shop. Like a borderless white pocket in a fourth-dimensional world, it could be as small or big as you wanted it to be, emitting endless bright light.
Nobita suddenly felt so cold.
She went back to her bathroom, grabbed the showerhead, turned on the hot water, quickly took off all her clothes, and let the water run over her body. She pressed out some shower gel, rubbed out soft dense bubbles, and smeared them onto herself. Circles and circles of bubbles slowly spread out from her body.
Nobita placed her hands in front of her body and slowly cleaned her breasts. Her pale skin began to heat up; her nipples, because of the hot water, had slightly swollen up and grown red.
Before she officially reached thirty years of age, Nobita finally caressed her body for the first time.