“sometimes when I see people eating alone I want to sit down next to them” (part 2) by Michael Koh

The sun colored the sky rosy pink as crowds waited to cross the intersection below the hotel. Maya heard the distant sound of cars honking, eleven floors down from where she was. Still groggy from the plane ride, Maya tried to stretch but felt the blanket wrapped around her. She unfurled herself, sat up, rubbed her eyes and looked around the room to find the sun lighting the room a vivid mixture of orange and red. The light lit up her bed, and it was as if Maya was engulfed in flames. She leaned over the edge of the bed to grab her suitcase and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 5:15. She placed the suitcase in front of her to open it. As she placed her hands on the lock, her vision darkened, replacing the bright colors of the room with a single black entity. Maya pressed her fingers on her temples to attempt to restore her eyesight. She felt her insides tighten as panic rose deep from the recesses of her mind, prompting her to stumble into the bathroom and retch into the toilet. She collapsed on to her knees and began a series of breathing exercises she had seen on an early morning television program a number of years ago. 1, 2, 3, 4… she counted and felt marginally better, enough to the point where she was able to stand up without her vision darkening. She went and sat back on the bed, her extremities feeling numb. Her fingers and toes felt especially cold and her head, heavy. Maya scanned the room for her cardigan, where she had left the all-too familiar orange bottle in its pocket. She reached for her cardigan on the floor, held it in the air to fish for the bottle, and felt the hard plastic weasel its way into her hand. Maya removed it and threw her cardigan back on the floor. She angled the bottle perpendicular to her outstretched palm, on which a green and white pill fell out, landing on the palm without much noise. She brought her hand to her lips, placed the pill on her tongue, and swallowed it without difficulty. Still feeling numb, she decided to lie down, and stared out the window. The calm and beautiful sky vibrant, juxtaposed with the busy, grey, disorienting crowded city landscape saturated her view as she was bathed with a soothing sensation trickling from the nape of her neck, down her spine, and out to her arms and legs. Maya sighed in relief and reached for her cardigan to put the bottle away. She got up from the bed and walked to the bathroom, where she looked at herself in the mirror and ran her hands through her hair, deciding she needed to shower. Maya ran the water, adjusting the faucets until it was just near scalding and took her clothes off, socks first, underwear last, scattering them in the direction of the bathtub.

*          *          *

Bathed by the cold, constant blue light of the television, Maya felt a sharp pain in her stomach followed by a loud growl. She felt her face blush and instinctively looked around although no one was there. Maya, embarrassed because she was embarrassed that her stomach had growled, and particularly because she looked around as if she was in public, realized that she had not eaten since midway across the Pacific, where they gave her wilted salad and a soggy turkey sandwich. She remembered playing around with the food, contemplating whether to eat it or not, but ended up forcing it down with a juice box and a little bit of vodka on the side. After the meal, she felt nauseous and sat motionless for the remainder of the trip, her seat reclined to a pseudo-supine position. Pushing that memory aside, she counted back the hours and realized this was almost a day ago. Maya slowly stood up as she held on to the bedside table for support, feeling hunger eating away at her insides, and looked for her bag, where she put away a map of Tokyo in preparation for occasions such as this. Maya found her bag next to the leather chair by the large window where she sat earlier in the day reciting conversational Japanese. She reached for it, took out the map, and spread it out on the floor where she amused herself wondering about where she should eat as her eyes followed roads around the city.

She followed the Hibiya Line, starting from the nearest subway station from the hotel down over and across Tokyo prefecture. South of Tokyo, her eyes lingered on Meguro station, remembering that someone on the Internet had suggested she try Tonki, rumored to have the best tonkatsu in all of Japan. Maya remembered she had a plateful of it back in Ohio, at a Japanese-Korean restaurant with her friends. She had thought it delicious. Her stomach growled at the thought of tonkatsu, a dish of breaded pork, fried in oil, served crisp, cut into thin slices, topped with usuta sosu – essentially thick Worcestershire sauce – and a side of rice and shredded cabbage. She rummaged through her bag for her wallet and saw to it that she had enough money for her trip to Meguro, a trip that would take about half an hour and another to get back home. Maya wrote down the stations she would need to get on or off the subway and the streets she needed to take to get Tonki’s famous tonkatsu. She glanced at the time. 6:30. She left her place on the floor to get dressed. The sunset carpeted the room a fiery pink, and Maya, inspired by the colors, decided to wear a flowing orange and white sundress and her dark blue cardigan, just in case she got cold. Maya felt lightheaded and decided to drink some water before she left for dinner.

Profile: Michael Koh
Read Part 1 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

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