Window Shopping in Tokyo by Kirsty Capes

Published in Issue 3 | Illustration by Raahat Kaduji

Published in Issue 3 | Illustration by Raahat Kaduji

Here is my impression of our reunion:

It is a disaster. Your flight is delayed so you text me to tell me not to meet you at the airport. You’re due to land at 2 a.m. You’ll get a taxi to my apartment in Shimokitazawa. I live in one of the rougher parts of the neighbourhood with box-shaped houses converted into studio flats and tiny windows and graffitied yellow tiles on the exterior walls. My apartment is one room with the kitchen, bedroom and living room all in the same space. I have three sets of cutlery and two pairs of pillowcases. I don’t have curtains so I drape a thin piece of beaded blue fabric over the window. I hope that this makes me seem unconventional and bohemian to you. I think about sleeping until you arrive but my body is churning at the thought of seeing you. I can’t sit still. I wonder whether I should have bought a camp-bed or an air bed for you to sleep on. The flat has no sofa, and one low-slung queen-size futon for the pair of us. I don’t usually have visitors. I haven’t seen anyone from home since I moved here nine months ago to teach at the university. I pass the time by thinking of all the ways I will make you look at me.

And here’s me, reading a magazine article about teenagers with terminal illnesses in the dim light of the desk lamp, waiting, and you, knocking too loudly, taking up too much of the doorframe. You look tired. Leaner than the last time we spoke in person. I watch you look at me, too, pretending not to. I wonder whether you’re thinking I’ve lost weight. I want to tell you about it, but everything’s unfamiliar after so long. And you’re hugging me in a kind-of detached way, telling me it took you twenty minutes to get the driver to understand where you wanted to go, telling a story about a skateboarder you met in South Korea. You’re laughing before you’ve finished the story, filling up the air in the room. Something about a dog and a pair of trousers and I say, what? And you say, what? And before I can answer you say, don’t worry.

I have to wake up for work in four hours, and we both ought to sleep. But that we could ever lie side by side on that thin bed, after so long of not touching each other, of not smelling each other’s skin in the night and in the morning, seems bizarre. I can’t look at you in the face. I apologise that there is no bed for you. I apologise for everything. I can’t stop apologising. You spread your parka on the floor and lie down on it, your shoes still on, your head propped up on your suitcase. I say don’t you want to take a shower and you say huh? And then before I can answer you say, no, I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll do it after you’re gone. 

I teach three classes at the university the next day. I enjoy leaving you curled up on the floor. The first class is a lecture for undergraduates, on the literary pastoral. The next two are extra-curricular sessions for students to practice their conversational English. The teaching space is on the seventeenth floor of a grey, oblong-shaped faculty building, and the rain lashes through a single-glazed window that is stuck open. Raindrops land on the back of my neck, cold, as I explain the particulars of the present continuous. 

Walking home from the train station that evening, I imagine that each of my footsteps leaves an imprint in the concrete, and that over many thousands of years they’ll fossilise, and one day these fossils will get dug up, and someone will display them in a museum. An interactive exhibition. A mile in the shoes of.

When I open the door, my hands are clenched up with the cold. You’re not here. I think about cooking something for when you come back but then I remember what kind of person I am now. While alone in the kitchen I think about how I should hold my body when I talk to you. How I should arrange my face. I think about that last conversation we had before I left – the argument – when you said I had been clawing away at you like an infection. I think about looking in your suitcase but I change my mind at the last moment, my fingers singing as they touch the steel of the zipper. I snap my hand away quickly. I miss my dog, who is living with my sister in Bognor Regis for the duration of the academic year.

You get back after ten, laden with a paper bag and two cups of steaming sea urchin soup. I want to ask where you’ve been but it’s not my responsibility. I have no right to that information. You seem pleased with yourself about the food so I don’t remind you about how much I hate fish. I wish I had never let you come here. That last argument – you know all they eat is fish, right? You hate fish. We sip the soup in silence and when we’re done you say, smiling in a genuine kind of way, I guess you like fish now, huh, and I say, I suppose so, I suppose I do. 

You’ve bought an air bed, too, from a homeware shop in the department store near the train station. You forgot to buy a pump, though, so you can’t inflate it. I am kind of hoping you will just let it go and sleep next to me, but you don’t. Instead you lay on the floor. It’s still raining. I’m pretending to be asleep when your arm reaches up and snakes under the duvet, bridging the expanse between our two bodies. You hold my wrist in your hand, testing the pressure of your thumb against one pulsating artery.

The next day we take three different trains to get to Odaiba Beach by the rainbow bridge, and you tell me about the beaches in Thailand. You say, those beaches were much better than this one. The sand was lighter. I say, well, I like this one, and you say huh? and I shrug. Our teeth are chattering in the wind and it’s hard to talk. And when we speak we say small things. You: I’ve never seen you wear that colour yellow before. Me: it’s a new coat. You tell me the funny story about the skateboarder again, except this time you forget to mention the trousers.

That night after we’ve showered and the room is dark, you take my hand in bed, from air bed to queen-size futon, across the void of the laminate flooring, and you know that I know this time, because you can see that I’m awake. And I’m watching you do it. And I’m reminded of something I read a long time ago, about how two things can never truly touch because there will always be atoms between two surfaces, stopping them from achieving ultimate contact. Your hand is dry and hot while mine is soft and cool. You say, look what a perfect pair these two hands make. 

We are in bed now. And you reach into your suitcase and take out something. A condom. And I say what, what, what are you doing? And you pause for a moment, staring at me with this expression I can’t fathom, and then you shrug, get up, go to the fridge and help yourself to a Diet Coke. I turn over and pretend to fall asleep while you gulp it down, my stomach curling up into a glass marble, my fingers and toes all fizzy. After a moment you get back on the floor and pretend to fall asleep too. I want to cry but there’s nothing in the ducts.

On the day you’re due to leave for Taipei, I’m getting out of the shower and you say, well, I guess it was never going to work out, huh? And I say what wasn’t? even though I know what you’re talking about. And you gesture vaguely at the air between us. I am due to leave for the university in half an hour and you are due to catch your flight this afternoon. Nevertheless, I let you run your hands lightly across my collarbone. And you pinch my shoulder, the left one, lightly but with enough pressure to send a message, and I take the teapot from the stove, with its fresh brew, and pour the hot tea onto the contents of your open suitcase. There was nothing so special in there after all, I can see now. You watch me pour the tea all over your things and when I’m done you say some things never change and then you say is this really how it all ends, and I tell you to stop speaking in clichés. 

Sara Jafari