Chapter Two: Sky Road

As I opened the front door on the morning of my emigration, something moved on the ground next to me. Even before I saw it properly I had a feeling it was a frog. This was not a normal thing to happen, and I pitied the poor creature as it must have been trapped in the porch overnight. Mum dealt with it while I clumsily dragged my luggage to the car. On reflection some time later the fundamentally human instinct of assigning meaning to random and unrelated events kicked in, making the frog look like an inauspicious omen. What did not help was the realisation that ‘frog’ in Japanese is kaeru, a homophone of the verb ‘to return (home).’

The drive to the station should have taken about ten minutes, given the lack of traffic at six o’clock in the morning, but somehow we were stopped by nearly every light. I began to suspect that Anna, who had spoken often about sabotaging my departure, was behind this operation. As the windscreen wipers pushed aside the raindrops with their rhythmic, idiosyncratic wail of pain, Mum told me: “When you were little, the first day after the holidays was really rainy and you claimed the sky was crying because you had to go back to school. Today the sky is crying because you’re going to Japan.” This was uncharacteristically sentimental of her, but I appreciated it.

Things continued in a more disturbing direction on the train to St Pancras. There was a dirty and obviously drunk man on the carriage as we set off, who sat down next to someone nearby. When a member of staff appeared at the door with a hawk of “Tickets please,” the drunk hastily got up and pushed past him muttering “Excuse me” in a manner which read “Please believe I have suddenly experienced an extremely pressing need to visit the lavatory when in fact I am only vacating the carriage because I have no ticket.” I assume the staff member understood the same subtext, as he vanished after the drunk.

Later on I was mindlessly staring out of the window, although I had intended to read the book that Serge had kindly given me as a leaving present, which was open in my hands. The drunk suddenly appeared and motioned for me to move my rucksack from the seat beside me. Before anyone should cast judgement, I almost never place my belongings so selfishly. I considered this occasion to be mitigating, however, on the grounds that, firstly, my bag was the size and weight of a small child and, secondly, there was more than enough space on this 6:24am train. I was pretty pissed off that he had made me move my things, given the abundance of free seats, and initially thought that he was making a point regarding my egocentric bag placing. Consequently I made a comment about my migration across the globe by way of explanation.

I have no idea why I forgot the golden rule: do not engage with drunks. He clutched a tin of Stella, the ends of his fingers were ink-black, and his odour was nothing short of offensive. I immediately raised my book to my face, but the hint was too subtle. He began to tell me that the day was hard for him because he was going to get a divorce. He also mentioned several times that he was in his mid-forties, though he looked about sixty. I was obviously uncomfortable and uninterested, and when the awkward conversation finally lapsed, he started very slowly and very intentionally sliding his elbow into my side. When I pointed out that he was digging into me, he lied that he had been falling asleep. Having failed that tactic, his hand landed on his knee, unsubtly touching my knee by proxy, and I heavily moved my leg out of his reach. He began another sob story, this time in which he believed himself to be undiagnosed autistic, which was apparently the reason why he was ‘slurry.’ The beer was not to blame, obviously. Had he not been slurring his speech, he told me, “You probably would have been in my lap before I knew it.” It was at this point I told him he was making me uncomfortable and he fairly swiftly left. For the remainder of the journey I didn’t see much of him, but he did pop up a couple of times, causing me to take a sudden and intense interest in the pages before me.

Sadly, misfortune was not yet done with me. Having queued for an inordinately long time at check-in, I was told my bag was about five kilograms too heavy. After deciding to bin all the laminated flashcards required for my training in Tokyo and all my Japanese vocabulary flashcards, the bag was still over weight. Thankfully the lady allowed it through, although she put a bright orange label on it that said something to the effect of ‘really fucking heavy,’ and I had pull it over to a special conveyor belt for people who can’t do as instructed.

Thankfully that was the last of my ill fortune for the journey, and my flights passed without incident. On the second, longer flight, I wrote a verse for everyone back home who I already missed terribly:

Each nerve ending stings,
Each viscera sings,
A separation from things
They once knew

A new dawn might arise
But the stars will survive,
Burning on through the skies
Black and blue

Memories shimmer,
Glowing lights on a mirror,
Ne’er to grow dimmer,
It’s true

Though space may yawn wide,
Deepening the divide,
Still you know that I lied
With “adieu”

It seems I tend to only write poetry, if we are going to be so generous as to call it that, when I’m upset. This left me wondering whether poetry is anything other than a masturbatory exercise, shrouded in prestige to disguise its true function as a base emotional discharge. Without meaning to lay perverse Freudian parallels on literature, composing poems seems a pretty self-gratifying endeavour. Which might be why I felt better afterwards.

Descending over Tokyo, the cityscape put me in mind of my dad’s circuit boards which I used to play with as a kid. Sadly I did not play with them in any way that would have endowed me with a knowledge of electronics, rather I considered them to be inanimate geometric insects fastened to pastures of plastic. Tokyo, from the sky, has that same kind of organised eclecticism, like someone has arranged an exceptionally random selection of blocks with such an acute sense of coordination and precision that they probably don’t enjoy socialising with large groups of people.

It was a long journey, and mayhap you are wondering if I was excited to finally reach the country I had waited so long to return to. During my layover in Munich airport, unsurprisingly, I saw a lot of Japanese people, and my brain did something absurd. I had spent so long anticipating my new life abroad, and there are so few Japanese people in my home town, that the experience became like lion spotting on safari. “Oh! Wow! A Japanese person! Yes – yes, a real one! Look, there’s more! They’re interacting! Is that-? Can I-? Yes! I can hear Japanese! In its natural state! Fascinating…”

Eleven or twelve hours later, after sitting in the same seat for an inhumane length of time, my enthusiasm was quelled. Smelling, looking and feeling disgusting, on top of being exhausted and jetlagged, resulted in a firm sense of apathy toward all things Japanese. Moreover, the fact that I had been to Tokyo a number of times before tainted everything with a shade of familiarity, thus circumnavigating that impact of awe one usually experiences when stepping into a distant world.

Rose picked me up from the airport and at length I arrived at her and Henry’s flat. I could not remember the last time I felt such deep and resonating gratitude to have a shower.