Monday, January 27, 2014

The nurse

The woman on the Ginza Line wears a surgical mask that covers her nose, mouth, and most of her chin. She could be a nurse, with that eggshell jacket over grey pants. I bet she has a cute mouth under that nickel's worth of filtration fabric, the kind that curves up a little even when she's not smiling.

I should introduce myself. Maybe I wink and tell her I have an illness. That probably earns me a slap, or she pulls the emergency stop lever, sending the train into a lurch a few hundred yards shy of the station. The people on the platform would lean over the cautionary yellow lines and gawk at the train that stopped short. That is, if she understands me at all and my words win more than a puzzled glance.

We're alone in the car. She reads a glossy, crumpled copy of Vogue. An airbrushed vixen as pale as the moon's on the cover. I don't recognize her.

The train stops at Shinjuku station and she gets off. It's not my stop, but for some reason I get off too. I think I'm bored. I could use a drink.

I follow my nurse at a distance. Pachinko parlor lights shine like stars in my eyes because in the city there are no stars and sometimes no sky. When she stops to poke around a newstand I buy a pack of Seven Stars from a vending machine and light one. The smoke burns and dances down the back of my throat.

She descends down a random stairway. The back-lit sign above reads "BAR: Second Chances" with what I guess are the appropriate characters beneath in angular faux brush-strokes painted in thick black lines. It's too perfect. I leisurely finish my cigarette, flick it away, and follow her down.

I emerge into the bar. What does she do? Scream? I might scream if I realized someone was following me. Then I'd probably get perplexed looks from a hive of salarymen that would rather watch their shoes or follow precise lines from home to work and back again. That lanky white man, they'd think in words I don't know. Does lanky even translate? Baka gaijin.

The room would be better lit if not for the smoke like a veil on the lights. It's sterile otherwise, with white walls accented by red and blue lights that take turns going on and off through the haze. Of course this a place a nurse would come.

My nurse doesn't scream or even notice me. She sits at the end of the bar. There are a few others in the narrow bar, but they're no concern. Her mask is off and she's smoking a cigarette and rotating a pack of Camels in her hand. She even already has a drink, a full glass of pale amber, maybe umeshu.

I sit three stools away from her. Why risk it? I raise my hand and order an Asahi, dropping a 500 yen coin that rumbles and settles on the opaque plastic bartop.

"Weren't you on the train?" I only turn my head at the slightest angle when I speak. Her posture stiffens. She heard me but doesn't respond.

My drink arrives and I nod to the bartender. He's small and twitchy. Like me. Only his hair's luxurious and nearly draped over his eyes.

"The Ginza Line?" I try again, still not looking at her. "Don't worry, I'm not following you or anything like that." I laugh a little too hard, and when I realize it I pull another Seven Stars and light up. She's inching away, leaning into the wall on her left like she's hoping it will swallow her up and take her away. Sometimes I wish the same thing for myself.

Sumimasen, she mumbles.

"Gotcha," I say. Can't press my luck. My Asahi's barely cold and I drink it in ten straight gulps. Each tastes like smoke. The bartender and my nurse both watch. He's astonished and I can't see her eyes which are hiding behind the smoke wafting from her Camel. Sumimasen, I tell her.

I stumble back from my stool and leave without looking back. Her cigarette hangs limply from her mouth. It's beautiful, by the way, just a bit upturned. Like I always imagined.

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