The sand is the color of burnt light, braided with grains of silver. The sunlight fades, dying behind the clouds, as I slip my feet into the sand. My hair, the color of ink and as soft as silk, brushes the nape of my neck, and it tickles, falling underneath my shirt collar. Though the city behind me shimmers in neon, I am alone on this beach, the sky black speckled with mercury-hued stars. Thoughts slowly evaporate as the waves crash before me. I forget the problems of the day, the insults hurtled like grenades, the glares, the feeling of being misunderstood. In being alone, I am finally free.
My name is Takumi Hideki; I suppose Father was being optimistic when he named me, for I am not clever. My name does not befit me. I brush my hair behind my ear, and my hand grazes my face. I imagine it is another’s, the touch of a lover, stroking my cheek. My skin the color of almond milk; my eyes are a deep brown, almost black, gazing into the undulating sea. I clutch a handful of sand in a closed fist and throw it to the waters. I mumble under my breath incantations to my ancestors, petitions for those whom I love, and curses flung at those who bring me misery. Each handful of sand splashes into the water, drowning out my whispers. After half an hour, I rise, wipe the loose particles of sand from my clothing, and make my way back into the city.
The subway lurches as I press my phone to my ear. A password later, and I enter my voicemail box. The grating whine of steel against steel fills the subway car. It adds to the cacophony of mindless chatter. Beside me, the muffled sound of dance music on the boom box of a tourist pulsates near me. His clothing reeks of pot, and when the subway stops, he slides nearer to me. A monstrous grin carved on his face, piercings mutilate his ear, and garish tattoos glisten on his arms. I smell pastrami on his breath as he grapples with his wallet on a chain. He peels a card out of his wallet, uncaps a pen with his teeth, and scrawls something on the back of the card. The tourist tosses the card in my direction and grins at me again. His bright blue eyes pierce through me; his liberty spikes are ten and a half centimeters, but it’s his eyes that penetrate through me. It’s when he hops off the subway car, I finally glance at the card. “Call JO,” it reads in a messy cursive, followed by a string of numbers.
I shove the business card into my pocket, wondering if I’m being hustled, or if this is just another one of my ex’s tricks. I try my best not to cringe as I listen to the latest batch of voicemails. For the last eight or nine months, several anonymous men have harassed me through voicemail, and occasionally, perhaps like Jo, when they see me on the subway or walking downtown. An ex-lover had placed an advertisement in the back pages of several gossip magazines. Within the glossy advertisements, this particular ex had typed up various slurs and defamation against my character, posting my mobile phone number and a photograph of me. While I am no circus freak, I am not what one would call a norm of the community in which I live. I am a pariah by many standards. Thanks to the power of the press and the infamy of the back pages of gossip rags, I am fortunate enough to receive enough hate-filled voicemail and insults to last a sane person a lifetime.
Allan, a welcome respite from the harshness of strangers, invited me out for dinner and drinks. Allan ate fugu the night before he was to be married, and when his bride left him standing at the altar, he took his honeymoon by himself. He flew down to St. Rita and explored the white shores and turquoise waters on his own. He investigated the ruins of foreign cities and dove under water, taking in the beautiful coral reefs. Allan was a man who went to movie screenings by himself and made friends with the director by the end of the evening. A man who would go to the ballet and somehow, charm a ballerina into going to get a glass of cordial at his favorite bar and perhaps keep a ballet slipper of hers as a token of her affection. Allan took dancing lessons, spoke three different languages, and learned how to create meals that would make Julius Kidd, renowned chef, salivate. Thus, when he invited me for drinks, I knew there would be more on the docket than a simple evening of fine food and elegant cocktails.
I gladly accepted.
After I disembarked from my stop, I stride quickly to my apartment. I throw down my leather satchel and hop into the shower. I quickly slather soap over myself, rinse the sweat of the work day out of my hair, and exit the shower. I wrap myself in a towel and drag a razor across my face. One clean stroke against the cheekbone, and I cut through the coarse field of stubble until it is velvet. I dab my face with aftershave: the scent of sandalwood and vanilla.
I unstop a squat, unlabeled bottle I kept in my medicine cabinet and take a deep inhale. Lavender. Lavender was forbidden to me when I was young, but it is a scent I had for years longed to use. Father found it off-putting for me to smell of lavender. When I was young, he had yanked my hand away from the bottle as though it were a hot stove top coil. He claimed it was Mother who should smell of lavender, not me.
She reaches out to me, her doughy hands cradle my face as she rubs my cheeks. She peers up at me through her eyelashes, calling me pet names under her breath so Father won’t overhear or tease me for being such a Mother’s darling. She tells me she loves me and runs her fingers through my black hair. I gather my thoughts and concentrate on the work I performed during the day. I know I must distract myself from memories such as these for a grown man looks silly with tears shining his eyes.