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I swiped my Suica card across the sensor and passed through the gate into Shinjuku station. People, oceans of people, flowing across beds of granite and concrete, pouring around vending machines and kiosks, cascading down stairwells and escalators. They, not him or her, them, those, one mass, one body of water. Though they did not always flow towards the same destination, sometimes dividing and merging like masses of currents, they all rolled like rivers stemming from the same sea. Again, I was stepping between the bodies of the city and en route to find the dirty parts of a clean city.
Every few months something in me, some light, needed filling with darkness. I grew up on the rundown streets of a town recovering from an economic crash other parts of the country had forgotten. The streets were like a constant Saturday night haunted by the unemployed looking for more beer, a fuck or, more often, a fight. At seventeen, a third beating in two years left me with a constant sense of paranoia. That was a why I chose to move to Tokyo: safety. I never imagined that the lack of danger would leave me with a new sense of anxiety. As though I carried a boulder on my back for twenty-six years and missed it once I put it down.
During my last three years in Tokyo, I have often taken trips to the sleazy parts of the city. A night in the hostess clubs of Roppongi or Kabukicho talking to women that smiled and looked unhappy at the same time. Tokyo’s idea of danger was like Disneyland’s idea of fun: well-advertised, well-cleaned and well-staffed by underpaid and underage employees. But tonight, I wanted more than watered down, sexual deviancy.
I twisted and turned through the functional chaos of Shinjuku station, avoiding individuals seen only as flashes of clothing, accessories, and bare legs. With my iPod turned up loud, and Pavements Crooked Rain album dominating at least one of my senses, the navigation was more computer game than reality.
His stillness caught my eye. He stood amongst the people like an island of untainted charcoal. I tried to get a closer look but the bodies pushing against me made it difficult to make out details, and yet the silhouette of the man had charred onto my retinas. Even as I moved beyond any line of sight, his shape remained ghosted like a shadow puppet across my vision; his thin soot-coloured hair blowing in a breeze without direction. Already at the steps, I tried to forget him and boarded the Yamanote Line to Gotanda.
Outside the station, crowds pooled around Uniqlo and Mos Burger before dissipating into a drip near the deafening, neon monoliths of the pachinko parlours. The area throbbed with the excitement of Friday night as groups stumbled to and from izakayas too drunk to be going in either direction. Every cluster seemed like a staff Christmas party despite it being the middle of the summer and all were male dominated.
I moved away from the busy end of town, past the first street near the station, up along the mobile-phone shop. The shop was a mishmash of appealing technology undermined by two staff stood yelling into a megaphone about money-back offers while waving cheap, hand-drawn signs.
I could still hear the incomprehensible yelling when I reached the alley. The atmosphere there was stark yin to the playful yang nearby. This area was a nonsensical pattern of alleyways and passages. People mulled here as well but they were residents under the signs that offered massages to patrons of clubs like Kitty Cuddles and Pink Fountain. They were lost to the place and trapped in the neon reflections of fake sex and cheap love.
It only took a minute for a woman to approach me. She
wore a cute, pink dress and had a white flower pinned at the top of
curly, dyed-brown hair. Her walk was almost a skip and, when she got
close, she touched her right hand to her chin to emphasise the coquettishness
of her movements.
“I’m not sure. I was looking for something
a bit different.”
“You seem confident,” I replied.
“Please, not with her. Our place is much safer.
Her shop is not good for anyone, even Japanese.”
As I moved away, the girl with the flower shouted after
The girl opened her mouth to speak but then her face changed.
More than her face, the world around us changed. My skin goosebumped
with cold and the lights from the signs flickered. Her eyes, which moments
ago had held such innocence and hope, grew large and glazed over with
the onset of tears. I realised she was staring behind me; locked in
place by fear. I swung around. The lights went back up and the August
temperature returned. The Onyx Woman stood waiting for me ten metres
away. Again, she shrugged and bit her lip.
“Sorry, wait a moment. What’s the cost? I
mean, you haven’t mentioned the menu,” I asked.
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“But what’s the entertainment, is it a strip
club, a snack, what?”
I stopped for a second and tried to think. My hands were
shaking and something rolled around my stomach in waves. At the same
time, adrenaline had begun pumping through my legs and hands and
Metal stairs led down into darkness. A faint smell of
rust and a stronger smell of stale alcohol mixed in the air. Whoever
had opened the door was gone. I followed her down the steps. Each slow
footfall made an echo and I pushed my hand against the wall to my right
to counter any slips.
The room was thick with cigar smoke. To my left a bar ran along the wall. A mixture of red velvet and dirty mirrors adorned the place. Past the bar, I had no comprehension of size. There seemed to be other clientele but when I tried to focus on them, the smoke thickened making it impossible to see features or demeanours.
“What would you like to drink?” the barman
asked. He wore a white shirt with a black waistcoat. It took me a moment
to realise he had asked me the question in English. I ordered a beer
and, as he moved to get it, I turned to thank the Onyx Woman for bringing
me – there was only smoke and the door.
“Sorry, I can’t see her,” I replied
squinting in effort to see further into the bar.
He moved away to serve an old man down the other end of
the bar. I picked up my beer and realised he had not asked me for any
money. I guessed I paid on the way out, which meant I had to be careful.
The cold glass in my hand soothed me and I took a long gulp.
I looked to my left – a table. A small table, the
type you would put a house phone on, but there was no phone. Instead,
decorated in blue velvet, someone had placed a shoebox. The smoke cleared
around the box, only the box, and unlike every other place in the bar,
I knew the distance between it and myself. I knew the steps to it. I
knew the inches and the shuffles to it. In fractions of seconds, I could
measure how close it was to me and I wanted it to be closer. It was
not an urge to be closer; it was a need. The box was pulling me towards
it. My legs twitched beneath me and I felt like I had drunk five cups
The Onyx Woman was there now. Her inky-black hair refracted
light from the disco ball overhead. She took my hand and pulled me close.
I could smell her for the first time but I could not place the scent.
As we danced, beneath the melody of the disco music, I could hear the
chanting of an ancient tribe. When the chanting stopped, she grabbed
my arm and walked me to the box. The music returned to jazz and the
hags in tight clothes returned to some corner of the bar. My hand shook
as I moved it towards the red velvet lid of the box. I looked to my
side but the Onyx Woman had gone. I pulled my hand back. I tried to
convince myself that nothing in that box was capable of harming me.
That anything so small held little danger to a grown man but I knew,
through some survival instinct, it would damage me. I knew opening that
lid would mean something bad. With a quick intake of air, I shot my
hand forward and knocked the lid from the box.
I was closer.
But it was not darkness, it was the words that mouth spoke to me, billions upon billions of those words, projected in front of me, repeating and repeating in tiny fonts until no other space remained and I had lost perspective of the individual letters. Typefaces had written over the rest of reality and in writing created a new truth: a universe as black as the Onyx Woman’s hair but with nothing to reflect.
The shapes came.
They changed, shifted and formed into two: one man and one woman. The man wore a charcoal suit and had raven like hair. The other was the Onyx Woman. They swirled together in the air like an orgy of vocabulary: letters and words cascading into black shapes that undulated together. And, with fingers consisting of verbs and nouns, they drew back the curtain of verses.
I was standing on a mountain with a sky above me like that onyx hair. Below, a woman was sitting by a small campfire. Something moved through the forest beyond her: something heavy and slow dragging itself across the underbrush. The woman did not run. She wanted to be there just as I wanted to be there as well.
I understood, as I watched her, what we had been afraid of before the cities and the villages and the tribes. We had bargained away that danger and the price was not merely crowded trains. She had been the first to seek the darkness and I was the latest. It came out of the woods and, as its massive, scale covered arm swung down to pick her up, she looked at me and smiled. Her onyx hair swirled in through the sky, as the thing moved her body towards its large, dripping mouth.
I had no room in my modern soul for that thing. The lack, I thought I had, was not enough to cope. I had sought darkness and I received it and now ached with the knowledge of them. Somewhere I began to cry. I wanted it to stop. I wanted the darkness gone; I wanted people, anyone to comfort me. I wanted the light back.
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