Watching the cabs fold into the horizon of the city, something squeezes me, knocking against the comfortable fog of the alcohol. I feel it, an uneasy melancholy begging to be let out, to be thought, considered, felt. I steel myself against it, diving into the details of the still-thriving city-carnival that surrounds me, imagining the histories that must lie with every shop, livelihoods gilded in neon, souls walking the pavement in search of meaning, their concrete miracle too familiar to ever be remarkable.
I turn and see Hideki standing beside me, eyes trying to follow my gaze.
“Yeah,” I stammer, “This city, it’s just so big.”
The statement escaping my lips without any real consideration or thought, embarrassing me the moment it leaves my lips.
He nods, his tone devoid of judgment, “It is.”
“You ever get lost in it?”
“For a while.” He tilts his head in consideration, “You get used to it. I grew up in the mountains. Small town. A village, actually. Up north. When I first got here,” his eyes widen in feigned or remembered shock, “I was surprised. Terrified. Everything was so busy. If you weren’t moving, if you didn’t know exactly where you were going, no one had time for you. They just pushed past you and kept moving. I remember thinking, ‘They look Japanese, but they don’t act like it’ you know? Everything is just…no, the city gets easier. The trains, the abuse, the hours, you get used to it. Well, most of us. Others just pretend, I guess,”
A heavy silence falls between us, the quiet quickly getting the better of him, “So, where are you staying?”
A map of the city unfolds itself in my head, unfurling a picture of two loosely familiar islands of concrete and a half-intuited understanding on how they connect. I motion towards the crosswalk in front of us, “About twenty minutes that way. What about you?”
“I don’t know. I have a place uptown where I usually go after the trains stop, but…” his voice drops off, dismissing the remains of his answer, “Come on. I’ll walk with you.” He takes a step forward and then stops suddenly, hinting for the first time at the alcohol eating away at his center of gravity.
We manage to cross the street before he stops us in front of a convenience store, snapping his fingers in suddenly captured realization. He nods apologetically, swearing it will only take a minute as he walks inside. I turn to face across the street, my back pressing up against the long glass panels that line the entire front of the store. A pachinko parlor sits across the street from us the call of the machines still audible through the parlors massive double doors. The sign flashes, spiraling in clusters of rampaging color, the sign so bright it seems to be warning the world against itself, knowing full well that would come regardless, fortune and some small strand of hope in hand.
Hideki eventually emerges beside me carrying two ice cream bars wrapped in reflective black packaging. He gestures for me to take one, “I thought you might like one.”
“Uh…sure. Thanks,” I take the bar, surprised, but not ungrateful.
“So, shall we go?” he asks, quickly unsheathing his bar.
He takes his first bite as we begin to walk. I examine mine more carefully, watching the way the chocolate coating smokes on contact with the night air. I nibble experimentally, the taste some kind of bittersweet chocolate cookie mixed with chocolate ice cream, its coolness more satisfying than its taste.
I smile, “It’s delicious.”
I figure he’s going to talk, but he doesn’t. He just nods appreciatively as we continue down the street. I expect one of us to say something, but somehow neither of us does. At first it feels heavy, leaving me fearing the silence hides a lack of interest, a slowly dawning regret of offering to keep me company. I search the air for something to say, some small thing to ask which could lead us into the safety of simple conversation, but find nothing. Instead, we slip into distraction, watching the roaming walls of tired suits, the buildings that stand above them, and those that truly belong here, the night-born demi-gods that shine among them like phosphene shadows. They walk the city’s brightest districts, declaring their allegiance to this place, this life that exists while others deign to sleep, clad in dark hued Victorian dresses, pastel wigs, and angel’s wings.
Even after the ice cream is gone, and the people and bright lights have faded to empty sidewalks and ordinary streetlights, the feeling lingers. A pleasant silence that makes the space between us a different world entirely. A place made separate, free from any anxiety, any fear. We walk slowly, only the loosest sense of destination pushing us forward. A moment frozen, the road beneath us the only history that matters.