The Lady from Sendai

She was from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture — holidaying in Tokyo visiting friends and he was from Berlin now working in Tokyo as a photojournalist for some small news outlet. I knew them for one whole evening and part of the next morning. Eight months later she would be caught up in the Great Töhoku Earthquake. I would text message her after seeing the news but never get a reply. I didn’t get his contact details and am left now with only a handful of photographs to remember them by.

I had arranged to meet her outside this giant music store on Shinjuku Dori, you couldn’t miss the place, just across the road from the Wald 9 cinema and just a few minutes walk from my Tokyo apartment — we hopped the Chuo Line and arrived in Nakano a few minutes later, navigating shops and stalls, broadway and people, then heading down alleys into other alleys into more alleys and then side streets from alleys and there he was — waiting for us, leaning casually on the side of a street-food stall and already sipping on a freshly flipped bottle of Yebisu. We drank sake and we drank shōchū and Yebisu after Yebisu. We ate whale sashimi which both tasted and looked like venison — then onto big long plates of torisashi — which is chicken sashimi and isn’t completely raw but might as well be raw when only pan seared for something like ten seconds and still pink and carpaccio-like in texture — slithers dealt out by a masters knife. Then delicate slices of fresh bonito slapped into mathematical nigiri, finishing with perfectly wrapped maki overflowing with ocean-tasting sea urchin — and all kinds of pickles. The alleyways of Nakano were hungry, drunk and alive.

He was a handsome man with blond hair, tall and broad and with good teeth. He liked to show off his teeth. He wore a plain white shirt with the top two buttons undone and I could see the beads of sweat clinging to the hairs on his pale chest. He had a big nose and a big chin with a smile that said ‘dumbfounded’. She had waist-length black hair with a cropped fringe. Her smile was wide and illuminated her entire face and when she cracked one she looked almost like the Cheshire Cat, disappearing into the background and leaving nothing but a half moon grin. She had smooth skin, slender arms and the fingers of a hand model and later that evening she would vomit into a Nakano public toilet — she would lock herself into one of the cubicles, passed out and unresponsive and he would have to climb over the door and carry her out like a rug draped over his shoulder. The Cheshire Cat now asleep as we walked the early morning streets of Nakano and how we must have looked to salarymen and council workers passing us by, two white guys carrying an unconscious lady from Sendai, but we made it back to his apartment and put her to bed and then sat in the lounge smoking little cigars and drinking shōchū straight from the bottle as he showed me photographs he had taken during a recent trip to an earthquake hit region in Western China.

We smoked and we drank and we spoke until the rising sun broke through the darkness and he fell asleep shirtless on the tatami floor — empty cigar box and empty shōchū bottle beside him. I lifted myself up and moved toward the front door, struggled with the lock just enough to wake her up and she called me into the bedroom and apologised a thousand times and I said it wasn’t necessary — we hugged each other goodbye and I stepped out the apartment into the commuting tides of Nakano.

And as I look back now on the half dozen photos from that evening, I wonder about him still working as a photojournalist in Tokyo and the lady from Sendai and all those photos of Sendai covered in water, tsunami smashed coastlines, helicopter footage of little cars speeding away from inescapable walls of water and maybe she locked herself in someplace safe and maybe he came to rescue her, but there’s this one photo in particular that stands out, it’s the three of us and I’m in the middle wearing a grey t-shirt, he’s to my right wearing that white half-unbuttoned shirt and she’s to my left, all dressed in black and that long loose wild black hair and in her left hand she holds her mobile phone and she’s about to text message a friend but then looks up just in time to smile for the camera.


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