An Orison of Colour
Slowly, Tokyo is stripping away my confidence and fragile feeling of self-worth. Each day feels more and more like the first day of bereavement. Each day seems drained of light and subtle shades of colour are now distant memories. Each night I leave the hotel and wander damp streets and each night there seems less of me anchored in the here and now. The lines of my life are now wood-block facsimiles of my true self. I feel that the colours that define me are slowly leaching away into the neon-light of suburban Tokyo and that the sea of neon that I swim in each night, searching for some kind of connection, is draining me of vitality. I am beginning to question my sanity.
So, who is blowing gently on the nape of my neck?
The night street is the colour of a witch’s cat. If I hold my hand a few inches in front of my face I can barely see my fingers move through the velvety air. Heart-pounding, cold sweat trickles down my brow. Adrenaline courses through my body.
A school girl cycles past and the light from her bicycle lamp brings life to the street for a few seconds. As she passes, the pale lamp briefly gives colour and texture to the shadows around me where a whore stands, with pursed lips, grinning prettily at me. I shake my head wistfully and she disappears back into the shadows.
The brief light the school girl bought into my world feels like coming up for air, and when she has gone, the night is once more black. I feel again like a lover has left me – alone, fragile, disconnected and less than the sum of my experiences. I watch the pool of light from her lamp ripple down the street and am overcome with such melancholy as I have ever known. Or ever hope to know.
The next night I stand on a street corner, with my head in my hands, trying to recall the exact shade of blue of my son’s eyes. The memory is tantalisingly close but eludes me. Everything around me is either vivid neon or tomb-grey. Disturbed, by my diminishing sense of perception I wander into a bar. The inside could well be sculpted from smoke and half-remembered dreams and the only pin-prick of colour is the chef’s small cooking fire which glows, like the faint glimmer of my sanity, dimly. Shadowy, grey wraiths move trance-like through the gloom, whilst the distant clink of sake-cups seems to come to me from another time, another life, another Japan. I consider ordering a beer and giving myself unto the dark, but I am already melding into the gloom and I suddenly fear that should I stay here, I will never be able to walk in the world of colour again.
Blue eyes, I remember, my son has blue eyes.
Later I find myself standing in a convenience store. The lights are harsh and bleach the colour from everything. My skin is translucent and papery whilst the girl behind the counter, who has such swan-like grace that she makes me ache for my distant lover, appears spectral and illusory. I wander the aisles; packet noodles, lunch-boxes, cans of beer and bottles of cheap Suntory Scotch. Everything looks one dimensional as if it has been painted by a child.
Time passes and I find myself standing at the counter with a bottle of Scotch in my hand. I have no recollection how it got there. The label is badly printed and monochromatic and I feel afraid to move in case I send the façade of light crashing down. The swan-girl, for surely she can’t be real, stares at me as if I can offer some explanation of my strange behaviour and then returns to her single-dimensional life. I wonder how anyone could ever fall in love in such a place where nothing looks real and shadows are merely story-book tales and vague longings. Even the bottle of Scotch in my hand seems like a splintered-dream.
This time, walking through the gloom feels like floating. I find it hard to keep my thoughts ordered and connected. I have been travelling so long in this half-real world of shadow and rumour that I can no longer imagine the green of fields of home, the russet-glow of a sunset or the golden light of a night with friends. Each nightly walk through Tokyo’s shades of gloom and neon makes it harder and harder and to think in three dimensional terms, and to put experiences into context becomes almost impossible. I have forgotten how to define myself in terms of colour.
But the loss of colour is half-compensated by the rich tapestry of smells that I am becoming sensitive to. There is the smell of money each morning on the subway which oozes from the grey suits packed tightly into their morning rush-hour trains. If I sniff deeply I can smell the corruption, the greed, the moving and shaking, the wheeling and dealing which powers this Asian tiger. There is the subtle smell of roasting-flesh that wafts, almost seductively, from countless hole-in-the-wall bars each night and invites me to come and lose myself in a haze of alcohol. The poignant twang of spilt beer and half-drunk sake seeps into my dreams and reminds me that somewhere I have a home. And the sweetly erotic almond perfume that the hotel receptionist wears reminds me of a long-forgotten, but often dreamt-about, lover. Then there is the metallic, almost blood-like smell of the amusement arcades where Tokyo’s youth live out their fragile adolescence in sickly pools of harsh neon battling alien invaders and overly-cute cartoon characters whilst remaining oblivious of the horrors occurring around them. They seem, dressed in neon, as fragile as spun glass and I can’t help but press my nose to the windows of the arcades and pine for the lost light of Tokyo.
Hours later I walk back to the hotel. The dawn, like my mood, is grey and mottled. The sky looks vaguely bruised and liver-spotted, like it has been out drinking and whoring all night. The light, which slowly trickles into the day, is tallowy and lethargic, like it too has a hangover, or perhaps a bad addiction to sleeping pills. We are brothers under the same skin after all.
By the time I fall into my bed shades of grey are creeping across the wet-concrete outside my window and another day begins.
Philip Blazdell has been traveling for the last fifteen years and would like to stop now, thank you very much. His travels began when he followed a girl in nice purple pajamas to Istanbul and got into all kinds of trouble with her parents. Despite marriage proposals in Las Vegas, arrests in Germany, and lust in the dust in more than one third-world shit hole, he has never looked back. Well, not that much really.
Philip currently divides his time between his home in Middle England, SFO International Airport and some grotty little town in the Netherlands that is best not spoken about in polite company. He constantly worries about using the word ‘awesome’ too much whilst in the USA and dreams of a day when he can go a whole day without resorting to Diet Coke. His greatest ambition is to raise his son to be a much better person than himself and to see Liverpool string a run of wins together. At least one of those, he believes, is possible. He can be contacted, when not bouncing around the world at 32,000 ft: nihon_news at yahoo dot com and his own personal homepage, www.philipblazdell.com, is updated daily.