集カフェ (Shuu Cafe)
―もうちょっと。今から、もうちょっと動きたい。 “A little more. Just a little more. I want to move.”
―なんで今になって言うの、 ばあちゃん？ “Why do you only tell me this now?”
―私が乗りたかった車はね、じいちゃんが好きそうなものではなかったんだよ。 “You know, the car that I wanted to ride is not something your grandfather would like.”
―どうしてダメだったの？ “Why not?”
―寒くなるし、雨の日は実用的じゃないだろうし。それに、とにかく自分のことは話さなかったの。だから寂しかったんだ。今になってわかったのは、こういう風に男の人と話をしないといけないこと。若いうちはそうやって心のバランスをとっていくものなんだよ。でもね、これからは自分の好きなようにして生きようと思う。 “It would have gotten cold and it would actually be impractical in the rain. Plus, I never talked about myself anyway. That’s why I was lonely. You have to talk to men like this. This is how one finds their heart’s balance when young. At last, I want to break away and do what I want.”
―なにがあった？ “So, what happened?”
―ある日、じいちゃんは羽田の近くで道に迷ったんだ。あのバス停を覚えているかい？二度と見つからなかったんだよ。だって、もう死んじゃったんだもん。でも、ばあちゃんから去ったときは迷子じゃなかったんだよ。みんなが言うけれど、 記憶を失ってはないと思うよ。 そんなことはない。 “Just one day he got lost near Haneda. Don’t you remember the bus stop? Then, we never found him again. He’s dead now, but when he left he wasn’t lost per se. I don’t think he lost any memories like people say he did. Nothing like that.”
―なるほど。 “I see.”
―今、働きたいんだよ。この話を口に出すのは初めてだよ。最近はね、マッチングアプリを使ってるんだよ。知ってる？でもね、マスクを取ったら、じいちゃんにそっくりだった！ “I want to work now. I never said that out loud. I use a matching application now. Do you know about them? He took his mask off and looked just like your grandpa!”
Listening to conversations that you are not a part of feels more intimate than speaking with someone directly. Japanese may not be a language I know by heart, yet it fueled thousands of explosions that reverberated clearly into me one-by-one; it seemed to amplify the weary sighs of a good listener, the dry gulps of a fast-talker, and all the inflections of a shaken woman’s voice telling her thirty-something granddaughter how to love and live. I have never tried harder to fill in blanks. Are we always listening to each other?
This might be that Beat-inspired lust for life Iggy Pop sang about long before I was born. This grandma who had never spoken about herself was finally rising from her personal flood. As she did, I heard imaginary waters fill my lungs. I felt an apocalyptic and revelatory urge to abandon my pile of library books, storm out of the overpriced coffee shop, and maniacally wander Shinjuku and all its chōmes to splurge on my underdeveloped emotions. I thought I had transcended many forms of violence and indulged in the most luxurious freedom I may ever know, but these streets never stop nipping you in the bud and shooting you as if you were a kid. I fell for the promise of a city beaming with infinite space and orientations.
Who’s afraid of wallowing in commodified gloom! Why, misplaced affections are a shame, grandma. I know that those gifts that crawled back to me, minty, unused, and forgotten, had disfigured me into a materialistic contradiction. Grandma’s confessions about grandpa’s neglect reminded me of the oxymoronic and sweltering months of the 2000s, when my Catholic skirt and girlish benediction encouraged only a slow, grumbling descent into godlessness. Her confessions reeked of the rusty, poorly maintained swings I once joblessly swayed away on while reflecting on age-inappropriate books (i.e., my bootlegged Bible): it is like talking about your childhood memories to someone who has never felt the grains of playground sand you once screamed in. Surely grandma knows better now than to believe in perfect exchanges.
ばあちゃん、I’ll be that modern girl too! New friends communicate with me simply by looking like a film I have seen many times before, speechlessly setting my path into orgastic novelty ablaze. No boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past in Kabukicho. Walk one street and find tens of mysterious Ferraris, hundreds of green lights, thousands of parties, and the buzzing whisper of grandma’s million-yen handheld matching game. In Tokyo, one can forget the dangers of recklessly satisfying desires. Would T.J. Eckleberg ever stand a chance against Godzilla’s cinematic anti-nuclear bust?
It was only January, just before the official start of the Year of the Rabbit. I had my palms read once when I first came here four years ago. The predictions ended in 2022, and I am now a Master’s student facing an unknowable abyss. I blissfully dream of hopping away, forgetting estranged friends, and ridding myself of unread texts. It is a youthful privilege, the desire to experience familiar corners, signs, and words completely anew, but it is expiring. Unlike grandma however, I cannot stay silent about all the things I want to fight for besides myself. Even nameless and without value, I hope I will always know ways to emerge full of love.
Illustrations by Sherrene Chua