Adrift in the Tokyo Reverie

Lavender Nikes, star-patterned navy blue leggings, and a puffy pink snow jacket. She is no older than five, and her mother is pointing at images of food items in a picture book, pausing each time to let her daughter identify and name them aloud. “Tamago!” she yelps, looking up for approval, and her immediate joy at her mother’s answering nod is so entirely pure and so hopelessly unabashed I have to look away.

Tall, like an overgrown weed. He stops me as I am exiting the subway to tell me his full name and that I am exactly his type. I am wearing a baggy, black-and-white sweater with a skull on the shoulder, ill-fitting jeans, and ragged sneakers. Not exactly the peak of archetypal feminine allure. There’s a nonzero chance that this is a scheme to entrap me in one of Tokyo’s many cults, but there’s a charmingly boyish breathlessness to how he waits for my answer, eyes shining anxiously, as though with tears. I briefly consider pretending I don’t speak Japanese but he doesn’t strike me as a creep or a threat (though “conman” is still, I remind myself, a distinct possibility), so I level with him.

“I’m already seeing someone,” I say, keeping my tone light, friendly, patient, without any hint of reprimand, like a kindergarten teacher explaining a moral lesson to a child.

An almost immediate rejoinder: “Then, how about being friends?”

I have to smile at how expeditiously he is managing the encounter, zooming from romantic hero to self-imposed friend zone without missing a beat. He doesn’t appear disappointed in my rejection, which is equal parts suspicious and funny. I ask him to tell me more about himself; this expression of interest in him seems to put him on the backfoot, but his answers are surprisingly bashful, earnest, and descriptive, eroding my distrust. His name is Yuta, and he is a college student who likes to surf. I tell him where I am from, in the vaguest terms possible, though not my own name.

Yuta, if you are not, in fact, a scam artist, I hope you are doing well today. Actually, even if you are a scam artist, I wish you well. I wish you the best of luck in love and life.

My mind is a wave breaking against the shore of my body. Sitting in a coffee shop, hands shaky around a mottled ceramic cup, I think about living out numbered days, one foot in front of tragedy until it finally catches up. I look out the window and spot myself, walking down the street. I am physically unassuming: short, small. My hair is long and unruly. It’s almost spring, and warm enough that I have traded my cable sweater for a soft plaid shirt inherited from my brother. I am looking up and forward, eyes distant but focused, as though I could discover some cosmic truth hidden in the sparse clouds on the horizon. But when it comes to this life, the less I know, the better.


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