It was four in the afternoon when he got out of bed. On a day the pain had won, but at least had been allowed to win so that now, when he finally got out of bed, everything was exceptionally quiet. No thoughts worth risking.
I won't try, he assured himself. Brushing his teeth was just brushing his teeth and not the first part of some big doomed revolution.
It was deliciously quiet. So mercifully quiet. He could just barely hear the demons scraping.
No thoughts please!
He was grateful to be hungry. He stood at the counter drinking milk from the carton and forking in a few sardines.
He decided to go out. Even though he knew that going out was almost certainly ill-advised.
But there was no reason not to go out, he assured himself. He would be very careful. He wouldn't think. Or he would think as little have possible. There would be no gratuitous thinking. He would have only the most essential thoughts. Those that were absolutely required.
Also, he would also be very careful to only see and hear only entirely neutral things, so as not to excite himself.
Nothing was a problem so long as he paid careful attention. Exactly enough attention. Not too little. And certainly not too much.
Out he went.
The hottest summer in history was over. More than 100 people had died, even here in privileged Tokyo. Now it was over. Next summer would be worse. Presumably.
He was the sort of person who was careful to always keep one eye on doom. So that, when it did finally show up, no one would be able to say that he was surprised.
Today, however, was cool. And it was astonishing to see how quickly life had recovered in the little pots the lined the edge of the street, which had looked entirely dead just a few days before. Already the herbs and the impatiens had straightened up and turned green, pushed out a new set of leaves. Without so much as a nod toward the smashed burned season, which had so nearly killed them.
In five minutes he arrived at the station where the train was just about to arrive, as it was always about to arrive, here in Tokyo, the absolute convenience, efficiency and anonymity of which combined to create an absolute gentleness, like choosing to die by starving oneself to death, as Jain monks do, ceasing to eat rice, then fruit, then milk. Finally even cutting out the water.
No thoughts please!
As the train entered the station he watched carefully. Whenever possible he avoided areas where people seemed likely to disturb him, whether by being homeless, or young, or mentally unstable, or attractive. Men who smelled bad were almost as much of a problem as men smelled good.
Tokyo was an ideal city -- 97% of people acted as though their participation in life was purely obligatory. Public displays of enthusiasm were positively frowned-upon. Even vital signs were expected to be kept to a minimum.
This train car, the third, seemed all right: a few schoolchildren, a grandmother, and businessmen. All of whom were either asleep or transfixed by handheld hypnotic device. If he'd been bare ass naked it would only have been noticed later, by whomever was paid to watch the security cameras.
He stood by the door, fully clothed, selecting his thoughts with care.
Hopelessness carries with it an element of cool. Wasn't it so? A little breeze. The mania had gone, with its accompanying binge.
Self-lacerating regret, a sense of waste -- what could be more familiar? How else could he ever feel so entirely at home?
And it was a relief to see the world, where people could be counted upon to wear pants and ignore him. There's no way to thank these people. It simply isn't done. People wouldn't understand. They might even be alarmed.
For example: the little girl with pigtails who stood opposite him, accompanied so delicately by her nervous father, off to work the late shift in his suit and tie.
The little boys with square backpacks and safari hats who, as far as he knew, had never once asked their elders, "Why does it make you feel so much better, if I spend my childhood commuting to school dressed like a World War One soldier?"
Or this this old woman, her hair the color of plums -- she could have made space for him to sit down -- and she wouldn't, not in a hundred million years. "Thinking of attacking me, dubious foreigner? Well, I'll have you know that I am carrying no more than 2000 yen, these pearls are fake and I am not above using brute force and a hair pin to defend myself."
He decided he'd go to gentlest part of town. Just to have a walk, a coffee. He would need to transfer trains. But he was doing fine. Better than usual.
Anyone who saw me now, he told himself proudly, would assume I am more or less functional.
He felt so good he even bounded up the stairs to catch the next train, darting in the doors just as they closed. Usually this train was packed; often he was pressed against the only person in the Metro area eating something cheese-flavored out of crinkly bag. Of course. Because demons were out to get him.
This time however, the train was quiet. Evidently the universe was experiencing one of its rare cooperative moods. As soon as the doors open he dashed for the one open seat. Success.
Only when he paused to catch his breath -- and looked across the aisle -- did he realize his horrible mistake.
He ducked his head down. Why hadn't he checked first, as he always checked before sitting down? Why had he put himself recklessly in the path of danger?
His number one fear was now upon him. And he couldn't jump up now. That would look odd -- if he decided now to stand beside the door, change cars. That would look peculiar, or maybe even slightly crazy.
Now he must sit and try to act normal. Try to act normal was the motto of his life. He tried to live up to it, but he was always failing.
He tried to remember his mantra -- but, in the middle, was it hrim or was it hring? Counting to ten in a foreign language was also out of the question. Terror was upon him.
Across the aisle from him sat a well-dressed European man, remarkably handsome, the sort that exudes success. With features so prominent you can't help but notice how excellent they all are: his eyes ears nose mouth all special order from wherever it is first-rate people are manufactured.
And his clothes. His clothes were stunning. What were these things called? Did rich people still call it a trench coat or was that now a vulgar term?
Looking down he could see the man's dark pants, which were ordinary enough. Except they were not ordinary at all. They were the kind of tip-top luxury pants made to look ordinary, but obviously not ordinary, handmade in Italy probably, for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
As for the shoes -- the shoes did not bear thinking about. If he stepped on the toe of one those shoes he's had to make payments for the rest of his life. Like student loans.
You could tell the man was high-class European because he looked as though the world was his personal possession, but also he disdained it somewhat. Clearly it was not quite up to snuff. At any moment he might make up his mind and send it back. Get me another world, please. A fresh one. And another chardonnay.
In this world, meanwhile, Hell was well underway. Because he knew he shouldn't look. And could not help looking. He just wanted to know -- what was it exactly that made the man so powerful, so luminous, so at home in the world?
He thought, if I look one more time I will understand. But then he looked. And cowered. And craved to look again.
This man looked like every moment of his life he was about to give a short dismissive laugh and shake his head.
He tried to remind himself that he was also male and white and neither young nor old. Why did he always feel like saying technically white? Because obviously he was not the same tip-top high gloss ruling class white of this powerful and beautiful stranger.
He looked again. Actually the man was going bald. But it wasn't like aging or decaying bald. As though he'd decided to go bald, so as to better display his perfect head.
The man shifted in his seat. (He worried: Is it my fault? Am I looking too much? Am I already wildly out of control, or am I still passing for subtle?)
Doubtless the man needed to shift in his seat because of his large penis. One more reason why his pants had to be tailor-made. ("Giovanni, a little extra space down there." "Yes, sir, I remember.")
Actually the man did not think his penis was large. In his hometown this was just a normal penis. In the pharmacy of his hometown they sold eight varieties of magnum condoms with just one "small" size option. For tourists.
He wanted to stare. He wanted not to stare. He wanted to learn how not to stare. He wanted to stare, to understand. He wanted to know how it was done.
He knew there was nothing he could offer this man that would not be disdained. Even adoration. Especially that.
A short dismissive laugh and a shake of the head. Imagine being able to do that. To answer the world that way. What glory! What success!
He didn't want to be dismissed. He didn't want to be humiliated. Again, again. He didn't want anyone to see how hungry he was, how desperately hungry, in this city as gentle as starving to death.
He screwed his eyes shut and ducked down his head. Listened to the recorded voice call out the stops.
When he opened his eyes the man was gone.
Today at least he hadn't been dismissed or ridiculed. Of course, he had been dismissed and ridiculed. He was sure of it. But at least -- he hadn't needed to actually see it. He was already multiply rejected: it was no longer necessary to attend each rejection personally.
How grateful he was for the smoothness of the train, for the ordinary faces which surrounded him on every side. They were all dull and, it seemed to him, that they were all dull as a favor to him, so that he could simply admire them, without feeling too self-conscious. So that his sanity might continue just a little tiny bit longer.
That day he made it all the way to the cafe. And it was not such a great sin that he stammered repeatedly while attempting to order his coffee. Coffee shop attendants were accustomed to nervous people. Dispensing nervousness was their profession.
The next time he was granted an opportunity, he could be counted upon to pulverize it. Today, again, there was significant pain. Much of it self-generated, some causeless.
He felt so tender toward the world. Even though he did not feel at home. So excruciatingly tender.
Even at this cheap cafe, the woman was polishing the brass handle of the door.