FOUR EPISODES, TOKYO

Esquire (Philippines) - - NOTE & ESSAYS - MICAELA BENE­DICTO

In Tokyo, in an al­ley, I say to no one, I have new sto­ries, Luis, and old ones I failed to tell you, that you will never know.

ON MY FIFTH NIGHT, I WENT TO A VINYL BAR WHERE the last man who sat next to me rep­ri­manded me for smok­ing, af­ter I had been sit­ting qui­etly be­side him dis­cov­er­ing the ge­nius of Yuk­i­hiro Taka­hashi and Yel­low Magic Orches­tra. The man kept it all in­side for a whole hour, then started yelling at me in Ja­panese. The peo­ple be­hind the bar were kind and re­as­sur­ing, but I was so drunk I cried. Another night, I got re­fused at another place for be­ing alone. The man at the door told me he couldn’t ad­mit “just one.”

So I went to a closet bar in an al­ley I had been to twice be­fore, where the owner tended the bar him­self, where a man ran­domly passed out sweet potato cakes, where I met a guy whose sis­ter sold key­boards to Ryuichi Sakamoto, where an Aus­tralian girl who liked dream pop had a photo on her phone with Matt Pre­ston from Masterchef, where an Ital­ian man told me about a lake in Hakone, where a Ja­panese man in a busi­ness suit told ev­ery­one he used to be a “gang­ster” when he was 16, where a youth­ful surfer sur­prised ev­ery­one when the bar owner told us he was ac­tu­ally 39, where ev­ery­one got even more shocked and ap­plauded and kan­pai-ed when I ad­mit­ted I was the same age.

I ran and caught the last train, grabbed a mys­tery meat stick from 7-Eleven while a Ja­panese ver­sion of “Day­dream Be­liever” played in the back­ground.

THERE IS AN OLD MAN IN A HAT WHO IS SOME­THING of a V.I.P. at the bar. He al­ways comes ac­com­pa­nied by a small en­tourage. They say he owns the whole al­ley but I can’t tell if they’re jok­ing. Once in a while he would let slip an English phrase in a shock­ing 1950s Amer­i­can drawl, like, What the hell are you talk­ing about? or some­thing. The rest of his speech is not in this ac­cent. Last night he asked me what I did and I said I was an ar­chi­tect. He said, I’m an ar­chi­tect. Show me your work. So I showed him pho­tos on my phone of two of my house projects. He said, Beau­ti­ful, like Le Cor­bus­ier. He got his phone and showed me his, the stand­out be­ing a build­ing with three vis­i­ble col­umns and what looked like lay­ers of waves cas­cad­ing on the fa­cade.

He said, Now you’ve seen Tokyo, you must try some­thing new, maybe some­thing softer, maybe with color. He then asked, What do you think about when you de­sign? So we bor­rowed a pen and some bar re­ceipts, where I drew a di­a­gram of the Z House idea and he sketched a map show­ing the location of the build­ing with waves. I asked what his name was and he said, Oh, I’m not fa­mous. I made him write it though, there on the back of the re­ceipt, and his name—I kid not—was Mic. THE SHIODOME STA­TION WAS UN­LIKE OTH­ERS IN Tokyo; it was vast and de­serted. The col­umns ta­pered and my foot­steps echoed against re­flec­tive sur­faces. I went to this dis­trict to look for the Nak­a­gin Cap­sule Tower, but upon emerg­ing from the un­der­ground, I found my­self lost in a high-tech part of the city with iso­lated sky­scrapers and a maze of con­struc­tion bar­ri­ers dis­sect­ing the high­ways. There were peo­ple in suits and I ap­proached a few of them, but they were ei­ther un­fa­mil­iar with the old struc­ture or un­cer­tain of how to get there on foot. Mid­way down the wrong path, I saw a mid­dle-aged man in a black T-shirt and glasses, and I had a feel­ing he knew. Yes, the one with the con­crete boxes, he said, and mo­tioned for me to fol­low him.

We climbed a long flight of stairs to a sur­real net­work of el­e­vated walk­ways, and sud­denly a string sec­tion started play­ing and I couldn’t tell where it was com­ing from.

The ef­fect of this bizarre sound­track be­gan to man­i­fest it­self in the 15 min­utes we were up on the bridge, and to my as­ton­ish­ment, I be­gan to de­velop ro­man­tic feel­ings for the nav­i­ga­tor, per­haps be­cause there was noth­ing else up there but the tops of build­ings, and some­one with a lit­tle screen silently walk­ing with me in the sky, help­ing me find some­thing. Fi­nally we de­scended a flight of stairs into the street, and the sight of the con­crete cubes in the dis­tance snapped me back to re­al­ity. There, I pointed. Bye, he said.

IN ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE, LUIS SAID TO ME, No­body re­ally knows what goes on in a re­la­tion­ship ex­cept the two peo­ple in­volved in it. He said this more than once, in in­stances where a cou­ple we knew went through some­thing we could only won­der about. I long to tell him, I am the only per­son in the world who knows what re­ally hap­pened be­tween us, be­cause you are no longer here. I am the only one left that bears this knowl­edge. I am the astro­naut in that ghost town in that old Twilight Zone episode, an­swer­ing a ring­ing phone with no one on the other end. I am the lone char­ac­ter in Ray Brad­bury’s Mars, af­ter the last rocket to Earth had left.

In Tokyo, in an al­ley, I say to no one, I have new sto­ries, Luis, and old ones I failed to tell you, that you will never know. There are a num­ber of th­ese al­leys, long and nar­row and dark around the neon signs, and in th­ese tun­nels away from the crowds I am alone again with our story, the story no one knows but me, di­vided in seg­ments and tucked away in what I imag­ine to be small dis­tricts in my sub­con­scious, the de­tails of our time kept in closet-sized places by canals and laneways, wait­ing for me to ar­rive so that they can reap­pear. Micaela Bene­dicto

Ar­chi­tect and mu­si­cian

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