Reads: 60

I could tell she hadn’t slept as well as the nights before. She was yawning the entire time during breakfast, opening her mouth like a crocodile catching its prey off guard, ready to devour it whole. By the time I had showered and changed, it was already past noon. The specks of glorious sunshine mingled with the few clouds that were present in the sky. It was the perfect weather for one of the tours I had found in my travel guide for Tokyo. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of the tour, but it covered things like the Hanazono Shrine (considered as one of the most historical shrines in Japan), the Koma Theatre and the Golden Gai. The last one might be worth remembering though, there could be a small chance we might come back for some drinks later tonight. Golden Gai is a small area of Shinjuku, famous for its nightlife as well as an area of architectural interest. It’s basically a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even a narrower pathways that are just wide enough for one person to pass through. It has over two hundred bars, clubs and eateries, so it might be worth coming back when its dark. By the time it was almost dinner time, we headed towards the Meji Shrine, the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo. During the New Year holidays it is the most visited place in japan, with over three millions people worshipping here, buying good-luck charms for the year ahead. There was also a garden, with inside a teahouse overlooking a pond stocked with carp and water lilies. If there is something that could really calm me down, it was looking at fish. For some reason, this always seemed to sooth me. Maybe that was also the reason I liked to paint fish, just sitting near a pond with my canvas, trying to immortalize their peaceful lives. Somewhere in the garden there was also a wishing well. Most of the people visiting the shrine just bought good-luck charms, but for me, I wanted to try the wishing well. Maybe that would do me some good in the future. Normally I would be a bit selfish, and wish for something that would make me feel better, but since I was on this trip with my sister, I wanted to wish for something that would benefit the both of us. 


It was a cloudy day in June 2009, it was as if the clouds already knew what was coming and wanted to set the correct scene. I was a fifteen year old boy and my sister Marissa was already living in her apartment in Brussels. The moment she graduated high school, she moved out, hoping the grip of our mother would loosen. Instead, it completely fell apart and they even stopped talking to each other after that. I was up in my room, painting as always, when my father called me downstairs. My mother was sitting on the couch, looking straight at me while coming down the stairs. The air felt more intense the further I came down the stairs. I don’t think I had even seen both my parents so serious. Of course I wasn’t used to seeing my father there, most of the time he would be overseas for work, leaving my mom alone to raise us. You could imagine it wasn’t always easy to raise two kids on your own, but she managed. At least with me, my sister was a whole different story. I can still remember the words my father said when I finally arrived downstairs.

“Take a seat son, we need to talk to you about something.”

Everyone knows that if someone was saying those words, nothing good could come from it. 

“Your mother and I both came to an agreement it would be for the better if we got a divorce,” he said as if it was the most common thing in the world.

Of course it had something to do with my father being away so much. He missed almost every birthday and holiday, making his work priority number one. Another reason was the fact that the relationship between my mother and Marissa wasn’t going great either. Not soon after our conversation my father left the house to stay with one of his co-workers, leaving me alone with my mother. For some reason she didn’t shed a single tear, as if she already came to terms with the whole situation long before our talk. It wasn’t until a couple years ago she confided in me that she though my father had an affair with someone from work, whether it was true or not, will always remain a mystery. 


Sometimes I picture myself as a kid and my father had a different job, a boring one like a shoe salesman for all I cared. Maybe then he wouldn’t have missed all of my birthdays. Maybe then he could have taught me all the things a father should have taught his son, like riding a bicycle or drive a car. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation or friends driving me to places, I could have had my driver’s license by now. So it wasn’t a surprise I wished that my life had taken another turn.

The sun already started to set when Marissa said she could use something to eat, something local. The temperature was so high it took a while before we got hungry. I remembered we saw a tiny little ramen shop down in Golden Gai that looked perfect. Even though we saw it earlier today, it was nearly impossible to find it again. We were almost about to give up when the small letters ‘Nagi’ appeared right above it. We walked up the narrow stairs into the ramen shop, which was even smaller than I imagined. You could say it had about the size of a cruise ship’s bathroom. Ordering food in Japan is completely different than in Europe. First thing to do is order ramen from a vending ticket machine at the top of the stairs. After ordering the regular ramen bowl with extra noodles and eggs, I had to hand the ticket to the ramen chef. About two minutes later he would hand over the bowl of freshly made ramen over. Easily one of the best ramen I have ever had in my life. 

After our dinner we found a cozy little bar, isolated and left alone among the other huge city buildings. The sweet sound of jazz poured out of the window, like the smell of a freshly baked apple pie left to cool down. Most of the customers glanced up as the door swung open and we stepped inside. With my 6ft tall figure, I was significantly taller than most Japanese people. I only knew a few sentences in Japanese, but I was able to order something to drink for the both of us without being laughed at. I had acquired a taste for whiskey and rum when I was seventeen. Together with Lucas, my best friend, we were eager to try something stronger than beer and it kind of stuck with us. My preference went to rum though, trying to make a connection with my inner pirate. I would imagine sailing the seven seas, conquering my enemies and stealing everything that was of any value to them. Japan has a selection of premium whiskey, so I couldn’t be in here without at least trying a few of them, right? It was then when my eyes fell on the most special bottle I had even seen, Nikka Gold & Gold Samurai. The bottle had its own metal armor and helmet, ordering you to drink him, or he would take his katana and slit your throat just to pour its precious whiskey down there by force. Either way, you had to drink it. For a moment, only a brief moment, I felt like a real samurai in feudal Japan instead of a filthy pirate drunk on rum. Marissa couldn’t hold her liquor like I did, so she ordered a gin & tonic, nothing to fancy. As we were enjoying our drinks, I could still feel the eyes of everyone else gaze upon me. 

“What’s wrong?” Marissa suddenly asked me.

She must have noticed I had something on my mind, I was staring at the wall in front of me. It was as if my brain was suffering a short circuit and was struggling to compute. 

“I don’t know,” I didn’t know the right words to tell her or even knew if it was the right time to tell her, “it’s just that…”

“You can tell me, you know you can trust me right?”

“I’ve never told this to anyone, but I’ve been down for quite some time now. It’s got its ups and downs, but lately the latter is taking over. I know what the cause is, but I have no idea what I can do to fix it. Something needs to be done, it’s eating me up inside. It’s actually getting so dark inside of me that I lose sight of who I am, consuming me day after day.”

She was at a loss of words, and to be honest, I wouldn’t know how to react either.

“You know Brian, I had a feeling you felt like that and so did mom. I guess that’s why she asked me to go with you on this trip. She did ask me to keep an eye on you, because she was worried you might do something stupid.”

“I thought so, I could see it in her eyes when I said goodbye to her at the airport. I’m not going to do something stupid, I don’t think I’m that deep, but the weirdest part is that for some time now I feel like I’m living my life on automatic pilot you know? Like I have no control over my actions anymore, that I’m moving solely on muscle memory.”

It felt like my life had no purpose sometimes. At those times I would escape my dull life by painting the places I wished I could visit, like Japan. This is how it must feel to be mad in your own deranged world. 

At the table behind us was a man listening to every word I was saying, but at that time I didn’t know he was eavesdropping yet. Typically the buildings are just a few feet wide, so it wasn’t hard to overhear other people’s conversations. The man was in his mid forties, wearing only dirty clothes. But for some reason his face looked trustworthy, like he had seen his share of the world’s problems and he wanted to prevent it from happening to others. His facial hair was thick and grey, his beard clung to his face like moss on a rock. My parents always taught me you can’t judge a book by its cover, so I have learned to look passed the physical appearance from people. That didn’t mean I would give everyone the benefit of doubt though. After all, people had let me down before. What I didn’t know was that man was about to change my life.

Submitted: April 25, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Nick Van loy. All rights reserved.


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