by Sakura Nakashima
On soft footfalls, we step into the cavernous wooden loft painted the same fading yellow as the concrete corridors outside. From the exterior, it appeared to be a condominium development, standard for this crowded area of the city. But as I look around now from the inside, it seems like four stories in one. Very quiet. A cold floor made of poured cement shocks my bare foot each time I prance to catch up with the host hastily guiding me.
We go up to the roof as Tan tells me how he got this place. Though his voice is echoing off the bare walls and vaulted ceiling – or maybe because of this – I cannot seem to catch any of the words that come out of his mouth. Relax, he advised while passing the coffee shop a block away. It’ll take a while before you feel anything. I wasn’t sure what he meant then, and I’m even more confused now. Like an aircraft with a mechanical flaw left unchecked, signs and sounds around me aren’t reading correctly. Each step feels like a color. Then I suddenly grasp the notion that I can’t feel color.
Unless, of course, this is a dream.
On the roof, the city in front of me is like a gigantic sprawling factory, with blinking lights and wisps of steam tracing invisible animals in the air. A bat is released from the window of a tenant below, and we watch it fly up and over the nearby buildings. What the hell? crosses my mind for the fourth time tonight. I silently side-eye Tan, who is standing there with a madman’s smile and hands dug into pockets. Gazing across the glowing mass below, he looks like the only thing that would make him happier is a beer in hand.
As awkward as this encounter is becoming, the longer I stay here, the harder it is to bring myself to break away.
It’s that paralyzing feeling one gets at a cat cafe, once the bonding has started. Or the emotional dullness one feels after witnessing too much violence.
While I stand there, shivering in my coat, the velocity of city traffic, ambulances, motorbikes – basically the cacophony of human life – rises to the rooftop from the smoky urban grids below. It begins swirling into a rhythm, and before long, I have almost deduced a pattern among all of it.
As a light turns on in the kitchen window of an apartment in the east, a couple sits down to dinner in the west district.
As a baby is born in the bright, sanitized working class hospital, a photo album with scenes of teenage vitality is cracked open for the first time in six years.
As a single tear is shed at the bar counter to vintage jazz, drops of sweat rain across the packed dancefloor in an underground music venue.
The waves of sound grow and grow, mixing with voices in more languages than I recognize, and find complement with the tapping, chopping, and buzzing of a thousand lights switching on and off. Ribcage shaking as this force fills me, I turn my vision towards Tan again.
He’s not there.
I close my eyes. I open them. Again.
Eyes shut, I listen around. なんて？
Wintry syllables command me again. This time I make an effort to open my eyes.