“sometimes when I see people eating alone I want to sit down next to them” (part 1) by Michael Koh

Maya looked down at the crowd waiting for the signal to change. She sipped on her canned coffee from a vending machine not too far from her hotel room. The crowd began to move, a shift en masse, from both sides of the avenue. Maya traced the unfamiliar Japanese letters on the can with her index finger. The two swarms crashed in the middle of the road; a temporary obstruction in space; a violent gathering of sentient yet sedated beings all culminating into a giant mass, passing through one another, every single being within the crowd passing through life. Maya thought of two galaxies colliding together, two separate clouds of tear gas joining at the close, hands coming together, and she tried to discern faces within the crowd, but from her position, they were all faceless. She mindlessly gazed at the neon signs blinking on and off, oblivious of the midday sun, until a knock on the door brought her thoughts back, back to the eleventh floor of the Courtyard Hotel, in the heart of Tokyo. Startled, she tiptoed over to the door and peered out the peephole to see a distorted, cartoonlike face enter her view. His eyes and nose were far too wide to be considered normal. His forehead took up half of the portrait and his lips were disproportionately small, finished off by his almost nonexistent chin. Maya wondered what her sister, if she were here, would have done. She imagined Judy laughing out loud at the man as she hid her face from having been embarrassed. Judy would have pretended to speak Japanese to offend him, leaving her to deal with the situation. Maya massaged the side of her head, as if chasing a headache away. The man knocked on the door again. She unlocked the latches, but left the chain on.

“Can I help you?” Maya asked through the door in Japanese. She saw him pick up something from the floor.

“Maya Crisare?”

Curious, Maya opened the door only to see the concierge standing with her bags. He bowed.

“Ohaiyo-gozaimasu,” said the concierge. “Welcome to Japan.” His thick Japanese accent toyed with the American accent Maya had been used to hearing all her life. The way he pronounced “to” sounded like “tzu”.

“Arigato-gozaimasu,” said Maya, bowing slightly. “Put the bags over there,” she said, pointing to the table by the window.

The concierge smiled, nodding, as if he understood and placed her bags beside the bed. “Have a great stay,” he said, bowing as he moved across the room, closing the door, and disappearing silently behind the perfectly cut thick, rectangular wood.

Maya felt overwhelmed at the social etiquette and politeness exercised by the Japanese. She was a bit taken aback to see smiles everywhere when she had disembarked from her plane. Stewardesses bowed, the pilot bowed, and even security guards bowed as she walked to the arrivals gate. The taxi driver had even refused a tip, remarking, “tips are meant for brothels.” She recalled the taxi doors opening and closing on their own, controlled by a remote on the dashboard by the driver. She had made a remark about the efficiency and technological facilitation present in Japanese culture. The driver had raised his eyebrows at her comment and questioned Maya’s background, to which she immediately changed topics.

Maya looked at the closed door, wondering if the concierge, now probably at the elevators, felt the same way about tips the way the taxi driver had expressed before. Maya noticed the pristine white canvas that surrounded her and forgetting about the concierge, moved to the middle of the room where she looked up at the whiteness of the ceiling, raised her arms and fell backwards on the bed. Maya closed her eyes and felt fatigue wash over her body. She half-dreamt of her real parents and what she would do when she met them, but awoke startled, when her legs jerked from sleep. She had always felt angry at her parents for putting her in an orphanage, and especially at her foster parents, who in turn grew tired of Maya’s reluctance of becoming a scholastically astute student and her run ins with the police. Her sister, Judy, asked her one afternoon why she was making life difficult for herself to which Maya shrugged and said, “I just wanted to be like everyone else,” explaining, to be like everyone else, she needed to do more to close the gap between her and her peers. “Go back to where you came from,” Judy said indignant at her response, and hit Maya across the face, leaving a cut just below Maya’s left eye. Judy called Maya an idiot and that she was tired of having to get her from the police station, and that maybe it was time for her to leave. “My mother should have never adopted you,” she yelled at Maya. “It’s your fault she’s dead.”

Maya rolled the blanket over her and instead, immersed herself in the pleasant sensation of staying awake while falling asleep. She felt herself lurch forward as sleep gradually enveloped her conscious brain. Her eyes rolled back, briefly exposing white underside of the sclera. With each breath, her beating heart slowed to preserve her metabolism. Maya fell asleep, arms supporting her head, the blanket rolled around her, the whiteness of the room momentarily forgotten.

Profile: Michael Koh
Read Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

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