once - the world sighed, and my footsteps sounded out like water
the lucky ones passed first.
when exactly they went, i don’t know.
i said what i mean, you know. precisely that. you’ll have to listen carefully, if you wish to understand.
but i'll spare you the grief if you happen not to. i still don’t understand, after all.
nobody knows how big it was, when it began. all i can say is it reached tokyo at 2:46 in the morning.
the morning that would kick off my second week of shifts. it was my first time working a part-time job, just a waiter at a low-key concept café. tourists enjoyed it. even some grandmas stopped by, and i was beginning to get good at slowing down, enjoying their small talk that they had with me, even if i didn’t say a thing.
all i had to do was smile. i liked that. i was beginning to get good at not forcing it.
have you ever seen rivers of light so bright that they made the day seem like night?
i only wish that didn’t rhyme. it makes the beauty of these things feel tacky and worthless.
maybe i don’t need to worry. if you’ve seen anything that even approaches what i'm talking about, not even my unintentional, out-of-place triplets or quadruplets could dissuade you from knowing.
at the very least, try to feel like knowing.
they were beautiful. they shone in a way that couldn’t help but be the only thing you could look at, even if their streams were coursing straight for you.
perhaps the darkness, or at least dimness around them, was a result of what they were doing. it certainly felt like the position of the sun was changing.
it certainly didn’t feel like 7:30 those five hours later, when i hopped off of my bike after a remarkably responsible and well-put-together night of sleep, and bundled up the fairest effort i had been able to make of an ironed uniform and apron.
it didn’t matter how much i struggled to make time for it in-between all the other whimsies and distractions i had to put up with as a grad student, world to whom was an open oyster.
it didn’t matter how, as i put my mind to it, i’d narrowly avoided scalding myself on the jets of steam that intermittently burst from the discounted, durable, but admittedly temperamental little appliance that Mom had offered all-too-keenly as a housewarming gift.
it didn’t matter how satisfied i’d been, by this most simple of tasks.
overnight, the uniform i’d put a great deal of care, almost uncharacteristically so, into maintaining, had grown outdated.
i found out later that the most obvious word was the one the news would end up using.
we called them ‘Rivers’.
one of them, dominating the diminuitive neighbourhood scene in a pleasant park corner of the city, struck straight through the site of the café.
nothing so sinister as a siren’s song came out of those mesmerising lights. like a kaleidoscope, a mandala, a stream, i simply kept my distance and watched.
i wondered if i had arrived just in time, or at the very end of the display. in either case, it was over soon. the stream passed on, this deluge of wondrous shimmering light, and what was left behind became clear in the…
they weren’t ruins, quite. were i the owner, the slim, middle-aged lady with a flirtatious smile and a far less forgiving tongue, a particular eye for detail, my thoughts would be different.
even so, it didn’t take a discerning gaze to see the shutters. the rust. and the kind of tentative graffiti you might expect from an easygoing part of town, sometime in the future.
the dust, slowly eating away at its edges, at its foundations.
even though it was unexpectable, and unexplainable, the aftermath of the Rivers was always the same.
nothing changed, really. really. it was just the truth.
even so, something must’ve happened to my little workplace, full of little blunders and stresses and little hissy-fits punctuated by an ever-present, unstoppable flow of warmth. the little place where foreigners bit their tongues on the ‘za’ of their first words of gratitude, and grandmas chuckled away, waiting for families or friends or simply for another day to breeze them by, gently.
wherever Rivers coursed, the future followed. sometimes they rushed over the city in swathes, sending whole blocks into… nowhere, i supposed. except where they were, in however long it had been. in however long it was going to be.
sometimes, they formed narrow streams like this one had been, only running their course across a sliver of the world.
once that River had run its course, there was nothing left to do. in this case, there was nothing more that could be done.
once the tears had dried, and the slow, ambulating disbelief had drained out of my system, i hopped back on my bike, re-inserted my earphones to mull over the sound of rain on this sunny autumn morning.
i supposed i would need to find a new job, now that the prospect i had picked had finished going out of business.
but it wasn't like there was anything i could do.