Osaka, 1998 – by KAJ TANAKA

Osaka, 1998

 

The place we stayed was called the Hotel Hanna, which means “flower.” My wife and I sold our hair to get the money, but even selling our bodies didn’t buy much of a vacation. Easy to do though, selling the hair. It only took an hour—but terrible, seeing my wife bald. It was much worse than I had imagined it would be—her, resting on the brown stained tatami mat we shared for ¥1700 per night for two days before our return flight. This hotel, which was supposedly designed for traveling Japanese businessmen, but most of the people we encountered in the hallways look like drifters or drunks. They all seemed not to see us.

That first night, in the communal bathroom, I lit a cigarette and examined my naked skull in the mirror.

On the airplane, the in-flight movie was skipping so badly and for no reason. I kept subconsciously adjusting my hair only, once again, to realize it was gone. And again. And again. And when I caught a glimpse of myself in the airplane bathroom mirror, it was a surprise. And this girl on the Osaka subway, on our way to the hotel, the first day—this fashionable girl wearing a shirt that read: “pity this generation.”

The overpriced subway ride, and the sunset over the elevated tracks, took us to the run down part of town where everything was cheap and no one noticed us. The guy at the soup place mistook my wife for a boy, or maybe it was just a mistake of his English. In any case, he wasn’t wrong. We both looked exhausted and androgynous.

Then, locking the door, I went down to the street alone. My wife now sleeping in our shabby bed, the TV muted above her, standing sentinel. I hear the sound of the strip, still open late, drinking tall cans of beer from vending machines alone in alleyways, counting the coins in my hand, speaking loudly to anyone who comes near me—telling them how I ended up here with my wife who is asleep back at our place.

Hair can buy a lot, I tell some rowdy Australian tourists. They seem disgusted by my desperation—running my mouth, looking for a connection anywhere I can. I go down by the river where the weeds grow dark, like thick fingernails. Proof that everything returns, and nothing is ever lost, not really.

I tell my wife I love her, but she isn’t here. She is somewhere else. I now think that we have become too handsome in our baldness, too made up and beautiful in compensation, so that we look unnatural now, like dolls or insects. Our bulging eyes, accentuated by our baldness. I tell her all of this, but she isn’t around.

Some young guy, talking to me all night, that first night—some European, telling me how travel is like fire. It burns away a person’s impurities. He tells me that he isn’t from anywhere anymore. He only travels now, sleeps where he wants. He considers himself a citizen of the world. He invites me to visit his parents in Tel Aviv next chance I get, and, in the night, I mistake him for my wife, and I also mistake the grass for our wedding bed, back home in the small town where we both grew up, where our hearts still reside, where we hope to die someday together—ideally, while we are still young.

***

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Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Volume 1 Brooklyn, PANK and Joyland, and he has been featured on Wigleaf’s (very) short fictions list. Kaj is the nonfiction editor at BULL. He tweets @othrrealppl.

 

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