The sun sets. Shinjuku is bright but only selectively, a flashlight flicking on and off between spots you're not supposed to see at night. I wander until I look up and the Kinokuniya bookstore shoots out of the ground before me, a hive of brick and soft shoes plodding fixed lines in and out. I bite my nails and watch the people come and go like ants as I prepare to join them.
I enter the store and make straight for the elevator. I go inside and count the buttons from the bottom until I get to number five. I take a deep breath, hold it, and press the button. An amber bulb flicks to light and off I go.
Elevators are curious. Each time the door closes and opens, I wonder if I've left behind my reality. Have I stepped into an alternative universe where things are mostly identical except for one critical component I don't realize has changed? The thought makes me anxious and I bite at my thumbnail.
I'm alone for four seconds until the elevator shudders to a stop and the doors swing outward on the third floor. A mother and a child enter wearing matching salmon-colored skirts. The elevator is narrow, little more than a phone booth, so the woman and I are nearly touching without trying.
The door shuts. Reaching past me to press the eighth, top button, the woman's hand brushes against my arm. My head snaps up instinctively. Sumimasen, she says. I nod but don't look away and we stare at each other. Her high cheekbones are painted with touches of foundation to cover any blemishes and her lips shine with gloss that smells faintly of lychee, all offset by obsidian hair. She finally has the decency to blush and that's my cue to realize how absurd I must appear staring at her in an elevator.
The door opens once more on the fifth floor and I rush off. I look back and the girl waves at me with one hand while clutching her mother's salmon skirt with the other. I scrunch my face. Am I smiling? The mother and I make eye contact once more. I think I might be blushing now.
The girl waves until the door slides shut and the elevator and the elevator continues its journey without me.