FOUR EPISODES, TOKYO
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