Tokyo Night [NEW]

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

The crisp, cold air tightened the flesh of Agil’s cheeks almost painfully. It raced dryly up his nostrils every time he breathed in and fell heavily into his lungs. He almost counted how many times he breathed in and how many times he exhaled a thin cloud of vapor. At ten in the evening, there was hardly any traffic on Roppongi Dori. A car in nondescript gray passed him slowly, pale faces devoid of expression inside, perhaps due to the weather, perhaps due to a certain degree of urban apathy, perhaps due to the pale film of mist on the windscreen. Sometimes he heard the odd heavy truck thundering past on the overhead highway that rode on stark, built-for-function concrete supports anchored in the middle of the road. His feet that had learned to walk on very flat island roads had a certain indescribable difficulty in handling the barely perceptible slope that would eventually take him to his very lonely room at the Ana Intercontinental.

Loneliness and hunger usually do not cohabit well with Maldivians, especially when they travel. Sometimes when traveling overseas, one would simply skip going to lunch at a table for want of companionship, or begin to crave food during the most unholy hours of the night when the body fails to adjust to time zones. And when in some internationally owned hotels in Japan, the sulkiness that comes in the ice bucket in Japanese hotels by even the most flamboyantly advertised twenty-four-seven in-room dining waxes petulant at night. It is not linked in any direction to tips given or service charges levied when it is demanded past the witching hour. It makes itself obsolete when experienced for the first time by killing off any vestiges of appetite for seconds. That was one of the reasons why Agil walked right past the grand entrance of the Ana, right past that strange little flight of stairs which is yet one more entrance, and on towards the nearest Seven Eleven which he knew would probably be open.

He heard her before he saw her. A firm, steady, slow-paced tap-tap of the stilettos then in fashion warned him of an approaching female. Having been told that the Japanese were usually reserved and reticent, with a tad more than a normal dose of xenophobia to boot, he decided not even acknowledge the presence of another human being even if he ran straight into her. Thus, when she materialized out of the light haze that seemed to surround everything in the near distance, all he saw was a dark, slim form walking firmly and slowly towards him. Mercifully for the both of them, he thought, he reached the Seven Eleven and scooted in.

Loneliness and hunger sometimes do not cohabit well in Japan either. Sometimes when one is lonely, one simply skips meals and makes up for it with a hastily gobbled donburi off a plastic bowl. Usually for the yuppies that would subscribe to this fad, hunger is something that is dealt with only when it hits suddenly and with a vengeance. That was why Chieko walked straight into that little Seven Eleven she saw on her left, just after she saw the hungry-looking Indian gentleman did. Her own hunger, left over from a skipped lunch, could wait no more, not even for the warming ember on the tip of a just-lit Mild Seven to burn down to the filter. The poor cigarette, which broke the recently-announced ban on smoking in public places in certain parts of Tokyo, had to go into the disposable ‘ashtray’ she carried in her handbag along with a little book which told her how to avoid over-friendly foreigners from under-friendly parts of the world.

“Good evening!” Agil greeted the young woman at the counter, clad in regulation orange. Like most Maldivians brought up on a diet of English as a Second Language à la Cambridge, he assumed that everyone on God’s wonderful earth would be Anglophone “Where can I get a sandwich which does not have pork in it?”

“Good evening! Sorry, sir! No Ingris! Ah.. watashi wa eigo o hanasanai!” The poor girl blurted out, apologetic to the extreme.

He had no choice but to look about him for help: he was hungry; he simply needed something to eat; the fact that he had never eaten pork in his life growing up in the Maldives made the very idea of touching pork, let alone eat it, repulsive. That left him no choice but to look about him for help. And his first choice was the nearest person who had to be Chieko, despite the fact that all his sensibilities screamed at him not to disturb a solitary Japanese girl at that time of the night.

“Please! Do you understand English? Anata wa…English ….o hanashimasu, ka?” The Indian was speaking to her. Even though she did understand the language that was begging for comprehension, all her instincts told her to deny that she did. She had been told that Indians were cheap, pushy people who were always looking for a chance to rip one off. But this particular man looked decent, almost gentleman-like. And he certainly was decent enough to attempt a few, slow, halting words of Japanese, albeit with the wrong stress patterns.

“I do!” Her own words immediately made her smile, not because her fears had suddenly evaporated but because she had learned to associate those words with Hollywood weddings. Thankfully, the humor made her feel more relaxed and more welcoming. “You must be from India! Are you looking for some vegetarian food?”

“No! no! I am not Indian. Watashi wa morujibujin des… Maldivian, yes? Do you know the Maldives? Touristy honeymoon land, you know? Shinkon ryoko? Hachimitsu no tsuki?” He could not resist experimenting with the Japanese word for honey.

And that was the ice-breaker! Two beautiful human souls that had been pre-conditioned to fear each other through preconceived ideas in their own cultures, misconceptions, stereotypes, and a host of other mistakes, decided to open up to each other so delightfully in that little Seven Eleven on Roppongi Dori, Tokyo, Japan. By mutual agreement, and with a lot of shared bowing, a great deal of smiling, and even a few laughs, they chose to order one pre-packaged tuna donburi each. And thanks to the final mixture of Japanese and English that eventually permeated the establishment in what old-fashioned language teachers would have called plain old murder-mode, had they been within earshot, even the shop assistants who microwaved the food had warm smiles on their faces. Perhaps they had a story to share with family or friends when they went home at the end of their shift.

The nearest place they could sit down and share the food was up that strange staircase nearby, making the impersonal suite at the Ana a very warm and friendly place on that wintry Tokyo night. And as they looked out through the window, they saw the colorful lights of Tokyo Tower competing with the winking of the flashing red lights on the buildings nearby.

It looked like a celebration….

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Comments

  • salvine  On October 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    It’s a nice story and I was expecting more …. is there? Like what the new found friendship will lead to or something unexpected…

    • ldive  On October 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      The continuation of events must be left for the wise man and woman, and certainly in their private zone. It is up to the imagination of the reader to fill in the “more”, where it leads to it….. and so on!

  • Mysterystar  On October 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Lovely story.

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