“sometimes when I see people eating alone I want to sit down next to them” (part 6) by Michael Koh

Hideo said something in Japanese and she could not understand the translation in her head. He kicked the covers off of him.

“What does that mean?” she asked, lying on his bed.

He repeated the phrase again.

“Tell me what that means.”

“It means what it means.”

Maya sighed.

They lay in silence for a moment. Everything looked bleak to Maya for a moment. She sat up, rubbed her eyes and observed her surroundings. Her eyes wandered from cobwebs to cobwebs dangling from the cracked ceiling, and her eyes rested on a white wooden desk, where a picture of three smiling people greeted Maya.

“Is that your family?” Maya asked.

Hideo looked over at the picture. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s my mom, my dad, and me. Back when everything was good.”

Maya raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Back when I was still in middle school.”

“That was a while ago.”

“About ten years back. My dad was, well, still my dad. We used to play baseball together. Not so much anymore. He’s gone run off with another woman and gets drunk every night. My poor mom, she couldn’t take it anymore and divorced him. She’s all alone, and I can’t do anything to help her. Every time I visit, she tells me I remind her of my father, so I can’t stay long.”

Maya buried her face into his chest.

Hideo took a deep breath.

“We’re both pained creatures,” he said.

“Yes, we are.”

Hideo hugged her with one arm, and both fell silent, adding nothing to the immediate conversation, instead sharing their warmth with one another.

Feeling comfortable, Maya slipped into sleep, falling into the dark abyss of her consciousness.

*          *          *

Maya found herself to be in a hallway of an office. Dim lights lit the passageway as doors lined up the walls. At the far end, she saw a flight of stairs, leading up to another floor. Maya walked, holding herself in fright. As she neared the stairwell, she felt someone not far behind her, following her every movement. Maya began running. As she reached the end of the hallway, the scene changed to a roof of an apartment building, and with it, the presence of someone following her disappeared. Maya saw, to her left, a large rustic couch, just like the one from her home, and a small, blond figure, in a white floral dress sitting in the middle. Maya walked over to the young girl and sat down next to her. The young girl looked straight, watching something in the distance. Maya turned to see what the girl was watching. She saw a single, solitary light solidly shining past the darkness. Maya motioned to the little girl and pointed at the light. The girl nodded and kept silent. They watched the light for some time, until Maya decided she had enough. She stood up, but felt something caught on her shirt.

“You can’t go yet.”

Maya looked down to see the girl holding the shirt, watching the light in the distance.

“Let me go,” Maya said.

“You can’t go yet,” the girl repeated. Her lips did not move, but Maya was able to hear her voice.

“Why not?”

“You have to keep watching.”

“The light?”

The girl nodded.

“What for?”

The girl tugged on Maya’s shirt once more and Maya sat down.

“What do you want me to do, just stare at that thing?” She asked.

The girl shook her head and cupped her hands to her eyes, as if to imitate binoculars.

Maya looked at the light once more and mimicked the girl’s movements. She was astonished to find that she was able to see directly into the light, and that there were two figures sitting in a similar couch as the two observers. They seemed to be watching something flickering beyond her field of vision.

“Who are they?” Maya asked the girl.

There was no response.

Maya turned to look at her, but found herself to be alone on the couch. She blinked in dismay and turned her eyes back to the figures in the distance. She observed the figures for a moment until she realized it was a younger Judy and her younger self, together on a couch on top of a building watching something on a screen. Maya rubbed her eyes and momentarily lost sight of the light. She looked for the light again, but could not find it. She removed her hands from her eyes and sighed. A movement to her right caught her off guard and Maya flinched. Momentarily stunned, Maya stared at the figure next to her. It was Judy. Judy had flicked her hair behind her shoulders as she watched a Western on a screen. Maya realized she was transported to where the light had once been.

“I like Clint Eastwood in this movie,” Judy said.

“What?”

“I like him in this movie.”

“Who?”

“Clint Eastwood.”

Maya felt confused.

“Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I love this part,” Judy said. She flicked her hair back again.

“Answer me,” Maya demanded.

“I like Clint Eastwood in this movie.”

“What?”

Judy repeated the sentence and flicked her hair.

Maya remembered she had played this game before. Judy repeats a sentence to answer Maya’s questions. Maya usually stormed off when Judy started it, but she played along this time.

“Are you kidding? He’s nothing without Eli Wallach,” Maya said.

“You’re wrong,” Judy said.

“So what? I know more things than you.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do, I go to school; you don’t.”

“What does that have to do with the movie?”

“Everything.”

“Fuck you,” Judy said, hitting Maya on the shoulder.

Maya hit back and Judy hit Maya even harder. They began to tussle on the couch and on the floor. The movie wasn’t on anymore. The screen moaned static and filled the roof with black and white lines. Judy’s face was fading. Judy stood up. She threw pillows at Maya’s face. Maya could not remember Judy’s face. She pushed Judy, and Judy stumbled backwards, losing her footing at the edge of the roof. For a brief moment, Maya thought she remembered Judy’s face. She slipped off the edge and fell off the building.

Maya woke up before Judy hit the ground.

*          *          *

Tears soaked the pillow Maya had been sleeping on. A single light from the electric lamp outside shone through the window, illuminating her face. She looked to see if Hideo was awake. He wasn’t. She put her hand on her forehead. The sequence of images of Judy replayed themselves in her head. A steady hum of electricity from the lamppost accompanied her thoughts. 5:20. Maya sighed and closed her eyes.

“This fucking sucks,” she said in English.

Peeling the blanket off of her, Maya sat up slowly, to not wake Hideo, who was still sound asleep. The light from the window had not moved; it shone on the empty side, where Maya had lain. She tiptoed her way in the darkness to the bathroom. Once inside, she switched on the lights and felt her eyes adjust to the light. Temporarily blinded, Maya felt around for the faucet. The handle felt cold in contrast to her warm skin. She turned the handle and splashed water on to her face.

“Judy,” she said softly.

She wanted to scream, but bit her lip to quiet herself. She hoped Hideo was deep asleep. Maya sat on the toilet and took deep breaths, enveloped in silence.

“Judy might be still alive,” she said to herself. “She’ll be waiting for me when I get back.”

Maya thought she saw someone in the mirror. Her body tensed up and her pupils dilated. She turned to look at the entrance of the bathroom. No one was there. She turned to the mirror to see a reflection of herself.

“I look tired,” she said, touching the bags under her eyes.

“Maya,” a voice rang through the darkness.

Startled, Maya poked herself in the eye.

“Maya,” the voice said again. “I know you’re there.”

Holding her tearing eye, Maya carefully maneuvered her way back to the bedroom.

“Hideo?” She whispered.

Her question was met with silence. Hideo was sleeping.

“Maya,” the voice, this time, came from out the window.

She climbed on to the bed, and on her knees, looked out, to see a lone figure standing below, waving. The figure, slender and tall, called out for Maya again.

Maya tried to open the window, shaking the bed in the process. She looked down to see if Hideo woke up, and when she was confident that she had not woken him up, she commenced working on opening the window again. The window, stubborn after years of neglect, finally opened on the fourth attempt, opening Maya’s scabbed knees in the process. Blood trickled out from the reopened wound on to the pillow.

“Maya,” the figure called out to her. “Maya, it’s me. It’s your sister.”

“Judy?”

“Where have you been? I miss you so much, come back to me, please.”

“How,” Maya stammered. “How are you here? Why are you here?”

“Don’t worry about me. Come here, come to me; jump. I’ll catch you.”

Maya reached out to Judy. Maya could see the whites of her sister’s teeth. She climbed over the bed and placed her foot on the windowsill. The cold surface reverberated up her leg. Momentarily distraught, Maya let out a whimper. She thought she heard something rustle behind her and stood still. Certain that it was nothing, and excited at the prospect of being suspended in air for a few moments, Maya got ready to leap into Judy’s arms.

“Are you ready?” She cried.

“Maya, what the fuck are you doing?”

Maya looked back to see Hideo’s shocked face. He sprang to his feet, and before she could fling herself out the window, he grabbed Maya’s torso and dragged her away from the window.

She kicked and screamed at Hideo. She slapped him across the face and shouted, “Fuck you,” only to feel her head begin to throb. Her legs wobbled from the blood rushing from her head, and immediately felt light-headed.

“What the hell are you doing, sticking half your body out the window?” He asked.

Maya began to shiver. Hideo moved to the window, peered outside, and closed it. He saw the bloodstained pillow and threw it on the ground. He grabbed the blanket and draped it over Maya’s trembling body.

“Who were you talking to outside?”

Maya remained silent.

“Maya, was someone out there?”

“Judy,” she said, almost inaudible.

“Who?”

“Judy.”

“How could she be here if she is sick in bed?”

“I don’t know, but that was her. I’m sure of it.”

“So what, you were going to jump three stories and have her catch you or something?”

She hung her head.

“You’re crazy. You’re nuts. How could you think that your sister would find you here, or have the strength to get out of bed to look for you?” Hideo said, taking the bloody pillowcase off from the ground.

“No, you’re wrong.”

Hideo stopped what he was doing and stared at Maya.

“You’re wrong.” She stood up, her legs trembling, blood trickling down her calves. “She’s dead.”

Maya could hear Hideo say something and briefly saw him walk over to his kitchen. She sat down and placed her arms on her head to support herself. A cold object pressed against her shoulder. Maya looked up to see Hideo with a glass of water. He turned his gaze from her.

“Drink this,” he said, looking at something to the right.

She took the glass from his hand. “What is it?”

“Water.”

His voice echoed in her head. She shivered. The boy’s skin looked smooth as the day he was born, and she had run her fingers over him back when they were in bed. Smile at him, smile. She bared a toothy grin. He looked down at her, and away, with a look of disgust on his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He turned around and walked into the bathroom. She could hear him turn the faucet on.

“You should go now,” Hideo said, loud enough for Maya to hear in the other room. She imagined him splashing water on his face, the right side; tender from where she had hit him. Maya gathered her things and dressed herself. “What did I tell you,” she heard Judy sing. “Why don’t you believe in me?”

“It’s your fault,” Maya said. “It’s all because of you I’m like this.” She felt tears come down her face and pepper her chest. “Why are you doing this to me?” She saw Judy smile in the reflection of the window. Maya shouted. She saw Hideo, his brows furrowed, looking out from the doorway. He seemed to understand what was going on.

“Get out of my house,” he said. “I don’t want you here. Get out now.”

Maya grabbed her bag and left. Out on the street, life began to emerge one by one out of the shadows. Maya, standing on a corner, rummaged through her bag for her anti-depression medication, tears streaming from her face. She didn’t know why she felt this way even with the prescription in her system. Judy wrapped her arms around her and whispered something into her ear. Within the haze of the morning fog, the sun peeked out just over the horizon, the buildings engulfed in its flames.

*          *          *

For the next few days, Maya spent her time locked away in her hotel room. The only times she spoke was to turn housekeeping away and to receive food that she had ordered over the phone. She observed crowds gathering at opposite ends of the street every morning and afternoon at peak rush hour. She could never see their faces, and they could never see her. She slept for a few hours, four at most, and took less than frequent showers. Her time to leave finally came in the form of a phone call, where the receptionist reminded Maya that she was to checkout in the morning the next day. Maya did not sleep that night. She was too pre-occupied with Judy and had begun to find some of her behavior to resemble that of her sister’s. A distant memory sprang itself on Maya, taking her by surprise. It was a summer afternoon a decade ago.

“You need to shower,” Judy said, her hands over her eyes to block the sun. “You’re smelly.”

Maya, in overalls, feet caked with mud, tossed pebbles in Judy’s direction.

“No, I don’t. Make me,” Maya dared.

“I’m your older sister, you need to listen to what I say.”

“You’re not my real sister, so I don’t need to listen to you.”

Maya remembered Judy shouting.

She threw a piece of stone at Judy and hit her on the leg. Judy crumpled to the ground, holding her leg, crying.

Maya thought Judy was acting, but it had hit her on the shin. Maya did not apologize. She remembered lying to her parents that Judy had tripped on her own accord, that Judy was lying when she told them it was Maya who had caused the wound. Her parents believed Maya. Judy became distant after and was later diagnosed with cancer of the heart.

“I am the reason why she is dead,” Maya said out loud. “I killed my sister.”

Her voice echoed, bouncing off corners of the moldings, the surface of a reproduction of Rothko, the glossy surface of the coffee table, finally absorbed in the cotton sheets of her bed; and her lone self, the center of it all.

*          *          *

Maya was packed. She smoothed her lips and fixed her hair in the mirror.

Ready

She went to the door and looked back at the room. Rain beat on the windows. The bed was neat. She had slept on the floor. There was a nest of blankets where she had slept. Empty take-out containers were stacked on top of one another in a corner. A pile of clothing she decided she didn’t want was in the trash. Her sundress, along with her cardigan and a pill container were among some of the items in the garbage.

A knock on the door How long have I been here

She felt nothing. Judy was part of her. She accepted it.

A knock on the door Ready

A young man said Hi and walked in.

Hideo No He is too short

He took her bags from her and directed her into the hallway.

How was your stay?

Nice thank you

The man said nothing more after that.

Now there is silence Is this awkward Time seems to have run away How could it have been a week already What did I do Think Yes I was in the room Scared I cried There is nothing here for me There is nothing for me anywhere Judy you are all I have Yes

The two entered the elevator. The man looked at the ground.

No one wants to speak to me I am nothing He doesn’t know my name I will be faceless to him I am faceless Only Judy knows who I am She is the exogenesis of my being I am Judy and she is me I am wearing her clothes I feel impertinent I am excited

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. They left the elevator and the man took them to the entrance of the building.

The surface of the sidewalk is planar Why do I feel disoriented

Rain pelted the windows. The percussive sound reminded her of the train. She remembered the night she went out for dinner.

Judy was there Wasn’t she Yes I think she was Were you there Judy It’s not important

Maya stepped outside. There was a song playing over the loudspeaker. It was too faint for her to hear. The fronds had wilted from the constant bombardment of precipitation.

The ground is wet Where do I go from here This man doesn’t want to talk to me No one does I am packed Ready Judy Yes Come let us go Where Home possibly I have no home but Judy

A voice in the distance.

Taxi is here thank you The seats are not comfortable I would like to be home The car accelerates and the city passes me We are going to the airport I see

Maya brushed her hands on the rough exterior of the chair.

Please don’t shout Judy it makes me queasy We can try to stay I know you like the grass but I don’t know I really don’t

Maya pointed to a large domed building not far off from the highway.

Judy look the airport is in the distance It looks massive Oh Judy stop it Stop looking so distraught I am not feeling okay Judy We need to drive faster Judy stop crying Stop it right now

Maya silently heaved. Judy bawled. The car stopped. The terminal stared at the car.

Okay okay okay I am getting out can’t you see me How much is it That can’t be right I know it’s cheaper than that Okay fine here you go please give me my bag Judy where are you Did you go in already

The entrance looked like a mouth. Cars honked behind her. A bell sounded and Maya covered her ears.

It will eat us up and rip me to shreds Judy is shaking I can feel her do it I want to console her There is a large board with letters and numbers on it It is directing the crowd It is telling us what to do The letters are big and bold and green

Maya looked below the board to see a woman standing there. She was leaning on a table. Her hair was long and straight. A blond. She looked like Judy and Maya felt calm. There were rows and rows of chairs by a window. A voice rang though the atrium. It sounded mechanical and hollow. Maya felt cold and abrupt. It reminded her of herself. She saw a gift shop beyond the information desk.

Lets go to the shop I want something sweet Judy come on I want candy I’ll buy you something nice too don’t you worry

Maya walked to the shop, dragging her bag behind her. She entered the store and wandered through the aisles. She stopped in front of a rotating display of postcards.

Look at these Should we send one to mom

She poked a picture of Tokyo at night.

The city looks like something from a movie

A woman standing by Maya furrowed her brows and stared at her. The sight of Maya talking to herself seemed to have disturbed the woman to a great deal.

Judy what do you think of this

Maya held up a postcard of the Edo Castle.

You are right this is not very pretty

Maya placed it back on the display case.

Maya turned to see the woman staring. The woman, startled, gave a quick, forced smile and walked swiftly away and out of the store. Maya smiled at the retreating figure and returned her gaze to the display.

People are so nice here Yes I know you want to stay but we need to go back home

Maya reached for a postcard replica of a famous Japanese painting of Mount Fuji and decided that she wanted it. She walked to the register with the postcard in her hand and placed it gently on the counter. As the cashier rang her up, Maya remembered that she wanted sweets, and she walked away wordlessly to the candy aisle to pick out a couple of candy bars that looked enticing. Maya returned to the counter with three bars of candy. The cashier raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, and ran the candy bars under the price gun. Maya left the store, candy bar in mouth, and stood watching the crowd pass her by.

Please Judy stop begging My legs are hurting too

She sat down and looked around. Not one face was discernable. She did not recognize anybody. The young woman was gone and Maya felt terribly alone.

Maya remembered the day when their mother passed away.

“Where’s mommy?” Maya remembered asking.

Her father drove in silence, as her sister sat next to him, arms folded, fury clouding her face. They were driving past a field.

Maya asked the question again.

Judy turned to look at Maya. “Fucking shut up, you dumb bitch,” she shouted. The sun was high, past the clouds, and filled the car with its vibrant rays.

“Judy,” their father yelled. “That’s no way to talk to your sister.”

“She’s not my sister. Mom never gave birth to her.”

Her father hit Judy behind the head. Judy screamed and cried, flailing her arms and Maya cried because of what Judy said, because her father hit Judy, and because Judy was crying.

“Daddy,” Maya said, in between sobs. “Daddy, why’d you hit her?”

“Judy,” he said, ignoring Maya. “Apologize to your sister.”

“No.”

“Daddy, it’s okay,” Maya said. “I know she doesn’t mean it.”

“Maya, be quiet.” He tapped Judy on the shoulder. “Apologize. Now.”

Judy reluctantly turned to Maya and mouthed an apology.

“I can’t hear you say it.”

“I’m sorry,” Judy said.

“Say it like you mean it.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again.

Her father, pleased with the apology, fell silent. Judy stopped crying, but tears still streamed down her face and she trembled holding in her sobs. Maya too, stopped crying, and remembered feeling incredible sympathy towards her sister. She reached out to Judy and touched her shoulder. Judy swiped her hand away. The brief contact of Judy’s skin on hers took her breath away. The sun, she remembered, looked auburn gold.

I felt so alone that day It still bothers me I am abandoned

Judy did not answer and Maya felt scared.

Judy where are you Where is mother

Maya just go to sleep let me take care of you Close your eyes Let me take care of you my baby sister

Maya smiled.

Yes Judy yes It is about time we finally get to sleep    I trust no one but you

She looked around, absorbing the unfamiliar surroundings.

Everyone else is a liar  You are the truth Thank you It has been a long time since I felt like this Warm and loved You are everything to me dear sister

She could see Judy put her arms around her, and noticed Judy’s hair, blond as ever, shift to a darker shade as the flurry of passengers around them became nothing but blurs. A mechanical voice skirted around their embrace.

You are my sister yes I love you very much so

Judy oh Judy you are cute I missed you too

Judy wiped away Maya’s tears.

Profile: Michael Koh
Read Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

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