Tokyo | Teen Ink


August 8, 2022
By dasein SILVER, Vancouver, Columbia
More by this author
dasein SILVER, Vancouver, Columbia
5 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked"

The grey-eyed man sat in the back corner of the café, day and night.

Nobody knew his name, not even the cafe employees, who, between their work, first looked at him with an almost childish infatuation, yet quickly grew weary of his stiff Athenian face, unresponsive, marble-like and unaffected by time. Still, he was a novel fixture in the halfhearted young people’s daily toil, as they vacantly flicked the switches on the coffee machine in this small, unfrequented street corner in Tokyo, springtime, 1964. Mixed with the indistinct chatter of the radio were muffled sounds of raindrops pattering on the window, trailing delicate threads of water as they made their way down. One or two stray tourists wandered past once in a while, umbrellas enclosing their faces. Inside the cafe, one minute was precisely identical to the next.

A middle-aged woman in her early forties wiped her hands on her brown apron diffidently, sensing that she should be doing something. With a bowed head she inspected her surroundings, and traipsed near his table.

"Sir, would- would you like a refill of your, um —" the employee flailed in her speech for a brief second, then gestured towards his drink hopelessly.

The man slowly turned his head to observe her, an almost mechanical movement. In the silence she shifted, uncomfortable.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

Instead of resuming his usual position, the man leaned back, supporting his cheek with his fist, and glanced at her, absentmindedly flicking a napkin on the table. The napkin was filled with scattered scrawls and equations. He flipped it over, unveiling on the other side a scrupulously accurate replica of Da Vinci's Circle Of Man. 

Seeing no need to remain any longer, she oriented herself abruptly and awkwardly back towards the counter.

Unexpectedly he spoke, freezing her movement midair.

“A question, if you have time.”

She did not speak.

“You’ve been working here for how long?”

The woman cleared her throat with a soft cough and answered him without turning around. “Three years,” she declared, her voice like a tarnished old instrument unpracticed for decades. 

“How is it?”


“Ever want to do something else?”

“No, not really.”

“And you were born here?”

It was not like he was curious, not intentionally. But she knew that even through the storm of his previous small-talk-like interrogations and his detached facade, he tuned his ears intently for the answer to this question. She could feel his eyes trained on her back. Maybe he wants to live here, she surmised. Live like an artifact    Every day, always the same

“Yes.” She turned around now.


I do not know what he is getting at. “Nineteen-twenty-one.”

“Before the war started.” A thin mist of scattered memory began to overcome his shadowy grey pupils, not coloring them, rather adding to their depth, like a layer of cloud juxtaposing the profundity of a placid lagoon. Before the war started    It seemed at once like the war was the genesis of everything, of death and life, but that was not so. Before the war started  People lived then, he reminded himself lightly. People lived then that he knew of, and they were happy. She is forty-three now   “That’s how old he was,” he unconsciously verbalized.

The woman pretended as if she did not hear, huddling the astray thought under her jacket and rendering it back into its concealment in his mind. “It has been twenty or so years since the war.” She informed in a gentle voice. She did not know how much he could remember.

“Twenty years.” The man wondered, as if he had not known this before.


“Twenty is enough, twenty.” He marvelled to himself quietly, and she could not help but hear the words he said. “Remarkable! Twenty to calm the anger and assuage the pain, and that is enough.” Without knowing he has started tracing Da Vinci’s life work again at his fingertips. Without looking his pen did not once drift from its designated orbit. “After twenty, all those who remember and still hate have died out. Then there are those who still remember, but have moved too far along to hate any longer.”


The woman sat cross-legged on her bed, and tried to glimpse clearly all the figures swarming around it. Himari Clara Riku Hinata    She counted the names on one finger. She never could count past twenty. She could only pray. She prayed that her closest friends would not be among this march of the dead. She prayed that the dead are satisfied, and will not return to ask for more than she could give. But suddenly, as a face whirled past, the woman’s eyes widened.

In haste she reached out, her fingers almost grazing something present in the air, something that dissolved immediately as she approached.

So he is here, the woman thought absentmindedly.

“Even the gods have to have mercy on us and our Eddie,” he used to remark optimistically, her husband. He loved saying things like this, as if it made him more powerful, somehow, justified his hope. He also loved the sun. She’d watch him in admiration as he basked in the early dawn shower of pure golden daybreak. “Come,” he’d invite her. “This is living.”

With a decisive flick she jerked the light switch up and leapt headfirst into the midsummer of 1951. The room was half illuminated by a single bulb, burning incandescent in the darkness. A cup of black coffee swivelled on its stance above the cupboard. The ghosts are no longer visible in her periphery. But they are there.

Maybe time ended after the war started   the woman began to think.   After the war started   The napalm, the screams, the barren streets marked the conclusion of her life that she did not know nor feel. After the war started   If it was all fine, she would not be here, with a voice scathingly stuttered by the intermittent roaring of bombs, with a posture forcibly bent by the blazing debris weighing down her shoulders, with eyes dazedly petrified by light, as it came in such a great flash that day two cities were erased from the map. With a life so inert it was almost as if nothing would happen for the years she had left in Tokyo. With the same day inhabited over and over again. I cannot bring myself to live, truly


Night immersed itself over the back corner of the Tokyo café, where the man and the woman remained. It had long ago closed. The woman was outlining her life with a few simple strokes, uninteresting black ink on an infertile canvas. Yet the man concentrated intently on her bland description looking up to her in her pulpit with a strange engrossment when she gave an insipid account of the most common things; renting a house, visiting a market, pouring coffee.

Suddenly, a gust of wind meandered through the open window and into the wide room, scattering the neatly stacked belongings on a chair behind her. Cheeks red, the preacher quickly bounced around, trying futilely to catch her unbalanced objects.

Baffled at the hiatus in her narrative, the man heaved himself up, grunting at the effort, and attempted to help her. Catching sight of a bulky stack of hospital bills, he stumbled in surprise.

“What -- you’re sick?” he exclaimed before he could stop himself.

She didn’t look at him. “No, my mother.”

At that, the man’s face softened.


“The war,” she murmmured lightly, revealing the many-layered anguish behind it.

He nodded, knowing better than anyone to not prod on people’s tender spots.

To his surprise, the woman continued talking. “I’m her only link in the world, but I can’t pay this much on my own -- Eddie and I are struggling enough already.”

“Eddie?” The man repeated, his back to the woman.

“My son,” the woman clarified.

The man whipped around.

“His entire family died in the war at a young age,” she recounted monotonously, and forced a smile. “I’m just glad I was able to salvage one thing.”


Winter, 1947. Northern winds swept along war-torn freeways and alleys, riddling the city with bitter frigidity. Two years after the war. A man hastened along with the winds as if he was part of their march, taking each step with dire urgency. Another man trailed him.

“Mr. Jackson. Or can I call you Robert?”

“Jackson.” He found his own voice cold, much like the frost-tinted Los Alamos streets.

“You are headed to the press release?”

The man did not reply this time. Without warning he took a sharp left turn. The other surrendered, exhaling loudly in fatigue, white fumes curling from his mouth in the harsh cold.

There is something missing, the man thought.

It has been quite a while since he’s slept. His eyes were shaded with imprints of grey and black, almost like a jeer, or a boast of his toil. All his energy was occupied by particles invisible to his own eyes. He hasn’t been eating. But smoking, he has been, shoving dozens of burnt-out cigarette butts down his coat pocket like halfheartedly feeding livestock.

There is someone missing.

The man suddenly winced, struck by the memory of an appalled face staring back at him. Listen – Francis – listen to me   He implored, begging Francis to hear him, but when Francis looked at him, it was almost as if he was regarding a monster, a killer, someone that he didn’t know anymore.

Of course it was Francis I missed. Francis was always the virtuous one, the incorruptible one, the one that he was not. Francis   The man laughed, almost mocking himself. Out of all the people in this world, I wish I was you, Francis. At once he did not know whether he admired or loathed Francis. All he knew was that they met at university, simpler times when they would palaver in the library with all the vigor of two arrogant young geniuses who had so-called ‘bright futures’. And when nobody else wanted to, Francis was there, to unearth warmth in the rock bottom. In the worst of the worst, Francis would tell him a story over and over again until they both fell asleep. “In the desert,” Francis would say as if it was the first time, “there once was a voyager.” And he would listen too, as if it was the first time.

In any case Francis would have nothing but contempt for him now. He and he alone was the villain of the war. Francis never stopped trying to convince him to derail nuclear testing, never stopped trying to prevent him, but he was a physicist, before all else. His only destiny, to find the answer. A physicist stops at nothing  The man sneered. Like it mattered. They could not make him regret. He could offer no guilt for them to latch onto.

As he pictured himself retreating into his own skin like a political cartoon and disdained at the image, something suddenly occurred to him. I do not know if it is the world I hate, he thought, or myself

There was someone, once, too. But even Francis left eventually. Died in the war at forty-three, twenty years ago. Said his hospital was bombed, or something. Still the Second World War between them when he died, their ending sealed by the tongue of enemy gunfire. I wish I might’ve said one last word with him   Francis   that I wasn’t Death, the destroyer of worlds

Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, gone in seconds. He did not even know if he could convince himself.

“Where are you headed?” He had asked that day when Francis had come all the way from Paris to visit him, merely weeks before the Los Alamos laboratory first convened.

“To find some sun, stupid.” Francis had glanced at him, a half-laughing, warm, almost indulgent expression flickering on his face. “You coming?”

Then, before he could respond, Francis had raced out of the room. The man had stood, dumbfounded, when his professor entered.

“What are you doing?” The elderly scholar inquired, perplexed.

The man smiled, for an instant something akin to tenderness flashing on his inscrutable face. “Finding some sun,” he simply said, regarding the springtime glory spilling from the windows, and ran out before the baffled senior could question him further.

It has been twenty years. Maybe he has been erased. Maybe he has been sympathized with. Maybe the war’s scars have all been buried, like we do with the dead, rest them underground lest they gasp for breath again in our minds. After the war started   Alas, even if the world forgets about him, he cannot forget.


“In the desert, there once was a voyager.”

The man paused, pursing his lips. In the silence of night at the quaint Tokyo café corner, his only accompaniment was the sound of air in space. Curious. I know this story by heart

“The voyager is pursued by a lion. He is hungry and thirsty. He finds a well, but he tumbles down it.”

The man was not a talented narrator -- the few descriptive words that he did use were given to him by Francis. However, maybe this story was meant to be told this way. Abruptly, and straightforwardly.

“He holds onto a vine. Observing his surroundings, the voyager finds that at the sides of the well are four poisonous serpents approaching. While below, there is a venomous dragon, an almost certain death. What’s more, the vine starts to slip as two mice start chewing on it.

“Suddenly, a beehive tumbles down, and five drops of honey fall directly onto the voyager’s outstretched tongue. He revels in the sweetness, and closes his eyes.”

So he finished, and surveyed his listener’s face. She indicated for him to continue.

“It’s done,” the man said.

“But the voyager? Did he survive? What happened?” The woman was so enthralled in his fictitious account that she lost her stammer, as if the voyager was not just another unnamed, cardboard face, but a specific figure slowly emerging from the haze.

“I don’t know,” the man replied simply.

Francis never told him.

The woman stared at him quietly. She suddenly found herself thinking of someone. This story isn’t fictitious, after all. Living like you’re trying to prove something, that you won’t forget, that you won’t feel guilt   Living like an artifact   years and years

“He was forty-three.”

The woman looked up, momentarily bewildered, and met the man’s gaze. His eyes were twin midnight pools, calm and stagnant, yet ever-moving, hiding all that it heard and all that it felt under its waves.

“He told me something once,” the man said.

Francis was hunched at a corner of the university library. The young college student looked up at the man, eyes red.

“We’re all just stumbling in the dark, chasing shadows, leaping at any hint of light, any way out,” Francis avowed hoarsely. He cleared his throat. “I want you to remember…”

“He would say this: ‘it’s never really too late to live. Never too late to turn back.’”

After a moment of astonishment they both laughed, incredulous, hearing their greatest hurt reverberate around the room, so easily said it was almost painfully ridiculous. Francis’ words were muffled behind layers and layers of disillusionment and mistrust and deceit. This has been going on too far, my whole life, to stop now

But as the mist faded, an image remained before the woman. Her husband, standing in the light. An image that she had been terrified to imagine again. It was almost as if, across vast distances of space  and time, his mouth was pronouncing these words. Never really too late   Suddenly she knew something, was tracing something with her mind, a vague silhouette, a montage of childish features and wildly cut hair and boyish dimples. Someone to live for. Eddie.

“Why are you here?”

Yes. That question. He felt an impulse to shrug, but resisted the movement, carrying the weight of her query instead of dropping it down his shoulders. A business trip? Robert Jackson: A series of talks on non-nuclear-proliferation. What does that even mean? Maybe it was business, in a way; business with the organizations and the governments and the world and all that. But there must be more to it. Maybe it was business with himself. A give-and-take, a redemption, a new life.

“Twenty years,” the man sighed. “Enough to die once and live all over again.”

The woman suddenly spoke. “Enough for anyone.”

He paused for a second, then realized that she was consoling him. Never really too late   he has not been consoled for a while now. It feels different.

Would I go to hell? He’s wondered before. Surely I would. But now he thought something else. It’s been a while since he’s really thought, and now he was thinking something different, a philosophy not unlike Francis’. Life is fine to live even if it leads to hell. The man chuckled, sardonically. “You’re right.” One thousand years trapped in a fiery pit is better than one million. You’re right.

His irony fading, he continued to contour Da Vinci with his thumb, tracing the head, then the chest, then the limbs. Unexpectedly he directed his stare towards the paper napkin figure with a sudden intensity, as if seeing it for the first time. There remains yet, something.

The woman gazed at him silently. Something struck her about his face, a warm tint glazing over his august Athenian physiognomy, fleshlike and awe-inspiring, like that of a healing patient from their previous pallor. Eventually she retracted her gaze, and moved fluidly to the counter, pouring herself a cup of dark coffee, sprinkling a few drops of honey and watching the golden saccharine syrup seep deeply into the dark. There remains yet, something. And as time continued its unhurried stroll, the people in the café were unaware: unaware that above the house-tops and the sprawling metropolis, light was rising over Tokyo.

Similar books


This book has 0 comments.