Monday, February 3, 2014

The veranda

I chain-smoke Seven Stars cigarettes on my diminutive veranda, squeezing my feet sideways because they won't fit any other way. A rusting, corrugated metal wall separates me from my neighbors, who proudly own an identical outcropping that juts a foot or two from their equally coffin-like tube of an apartment. The metal is splashed rudely with sky-blue paint, heavier in some patches and thinner in others.

A couple lives next to me. The man is young and wears inexpensive suits he purchases in a bag as demoed by pale mannequins at clothing stores in acridly-let underground malls adjacent to a subway stations. He's drunk when he returns from work outings with his colleagues and demands more sake. I sip Suntory and smoke while leaning over the railing that guards my veranda, listening to him inhale his drink in sloppy gulps that's more akin to a dog lapping water from a dish.

The wife asks him where he was, a question he avoids at first. He's only a few feet away from me now, having slipped out onto the veranda for a smoke of his own. Our lighters click in time and smoke drifts above and below the corrugated metal. I taste the Camel on his lips and my own Seven Stars stick. The wife's voice trembles as she tries asking the question again, but then there are words I don't understand tinged with unmistakable drunken rage followed by a clap as he slaps her. I cringe, finish my whiskey, and pour myself another.

The suits the man purchases are thin enough that you can see the outline of his undershirt and any sweat stains that develop over the course of an exhausting day and night working and drinking. They also don't quite fit, bulging around the gut and waist. He tucks them in obsessively trying to hide these facts. Plastic, too-new and similarly-cheap shoes and briefcase complete the ensemble and clash hideously with his tar-stained teeth and liquor-drenched sags under his eyes.

When I'm out on the veranda during the day and her salaryman husband is away at work, the wife sings. Cracking the sliding glass door to her veranda a few inches, she cleans house and belts a tune in words I don't understand. Her voice wobbles at times, untrained but perfect for the tiniest of Tokyo flats with only me as an audience. I know she knows I listen, and I'm glad that she knows and I think that probably makes her happy. The words have an airy tone, rising like the smoke from my cigarette but not dispersing in the breeze, instead carried from the room, down the alley that runs beneath our apartments, and away into the city.

I flick my cigarette over the railing, close my eyes, and lean my head back and let her wash me with water from a well sunk deep into the earth and filled to the brim with sadness.

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