Closing his eyes, David cast thoughts along the well-worn grooves of a vacation he was at the burnt end of. Snorkeling in the islands of Mindoro, fish darting in and out through a dying coral that still held tenacious patches of life. Thick strums of guitar hovering over a faint lilt of reggae from the bar down the beach. Painful massages in a nipa hut, his limbs kneaded into some kind of ecstatic submission. A sense of reawakened wonder at behemoth sea turtles, grazing on sea grass along a gently shelving bottom. Their sudden flight to the surface, with a grace that rivaled condors mythic excursions to the sun. Head breaking the surface with horselike harumph, an earthy expelling of oxygen that reminded he was in the presence of a living creature. The sea turtle’s turn back into its element, seemingly purposeless, putting quick distance between itself and unacknowledged intruder.
In the evening the moon had come up over the palm as David lazed in a hammock, drinking Pale Pilsen. Three Danish women–– tans bearing evidence of topless adventures on secluded inlets, smiles holding holiday secrets, had studiously ignored him as he lazed in the hammock, plotting hello.
The tapping at his door was soft and insistent, just enough to bring David from his inert position on the floor. “Just a sec,” he groaned, looking around for a serviceable pair of jeans. The house was shared accommodation for foreigners, a few long-term expats and a revolving cast of travelers and castaways––teachers, corporate headhunters, martial arts enthusiasts. It was not unheard of to have a knock on his door the ungodly hour of 10:00 am––could be Julian, the German intern at BMW, looking to take a bike ride through the mean streets of Tokyo. Could be Cynthia the 50-something New Yorker, who took perverse pleasure in regaling him with stories of her main squeeze “Dr. Love”––when not blasting him for hair found in the shower drain, food left in the refrigerator past its expiration date. He really should not open the door.
Sliding on a pair of jeans, David steadied himself and brushed back unkept hair. Inching open the door despite better instincts, he was confronted by a blood-drained face, almost feral in the hallway murk. “Can I help you?” The woman’s eyes flashed against tautly drawn lips, blond shoulder-length hair taunting a face in disarray. Her lips parted and went slack. He tried again. “Is there something I can….”
The woman remained silent, impenetrable. About to shut the door, pretend this apparition didn’t exist, something in her eyes took hold. A message of barely controlled desperation. He waited, giving her time. The woman’s gaze steadied, her voice soft and barely audible. “Maria––she lives here.”
It took David a moment to catch her phrasing, the slight hitch that made it a question as much as a statement. “Maria... I think I’ve heard that name––when did you last see her?”
“I don’t know, it has been months.” The woman tugged at the hem of her dress, trying to pull it lower. It clung stubbornly to her stomach, sculpting belly and thighs as if soaked through––in the murk of the hallway David could not be sure. Avoiding her off-kilter gaze, he shifted eyes past the vulnerability she was trying to hide. He thought back to the several tenants who had moved in and out of the gaijin house over the past months. A couple stray pieces of mail, addressed to his room––Maria, a name like that. “Your friend must have lived here before me––most don’t stay here long.”
“Where she is now––?”
“No idea, never met her.” They stood facing each other, no further conversational path presenting itself. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” David said, attempting a note of finality. “Good luck finding your friend. I’m sure you can contact the management company, Sakura House for the forwarding address––” The woman’s eyes flashed something he didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand. He let the gaze slip past and falter, crashing upon an empty shore.
“Yes, of course––thank you.” Turning down the hall, the woman’s movements were choppy, like a piece had been taken out of an old silent-movie reel.
Closing the door with a little too much force, David sank back onto the futon, casting around for some approximation of his usual self. He picked up his laptop. Immersed in a barrage of gunfire and explosions, still their brief conversation echoed. He set down the computer and reclined his head along the curve of pillow, taking in a ceiling framed by tree branches rooted in blue.
An odd sense of self-incrimination hovered––could he have helped her? He didn’t know any Maria, didn’t know anyone in Tokyo, really, outside of the gaijin house. There were police everywhere if she had taken… if she had been… Still, a part of him remained unconvinced. Something––someone––was trying to bring him from complete apathy. A woman with lost eyes, practically begging for salvation. Leave it to him to drop the ball on that. It was a combination of things, he supposed––a growing ambivalence about being in Japan. The effect of too many days in the sun, his inability to spark conversation with the similarly blond Danish women on the beach. Still, he had let her go without even pretending to try. David didn’t have the energy to finish the thought. His eyes grew heavy and lidded, despite the incessant, mechanical whir of catastrophe emanating from the laptop.