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The Barcelona Review

Author Bio



Guile’s Stage / Sonic Boom / Tiger Uppercut / Yoga Flame / Yoga Fire /Spinning Bird Kick / Hadoken / Dragon Punch / Round One / Start

‘Don’t you think he looks just like Dhalsim?’ Kyoko leant over towards me as she whispered conspiratorially into my ear.
       I felt her hot breath on my neck and caught a whiff of her perfume over the tobacco and cheap booze filling the karaoke booth. It was the first thing she’d ever said to me. We’d worked in the same office at the PR company for a while now, but hadn’t spoken so much as a word to one another all that time. She’d always just looked straight through me at work, and I’d never given her a second thought either. It was as if we’d been invisible to each other until that moment.
       I turned my head in the direction of the man she was referring to. He was holding a glass of shochu in one skeletal hand and a microphone in the other.
       ‘Excuse me?’ I’d heard her well enough, but couldn’t quite believe she’d said it.
       ‘Oh come on, Makoto-kun! Dhalsim! You know, from Street—’
       ‘Street Fighter II. I thought that’s what you said.’
       ‘Don’t you think?’ she asked, this time giggling.
       I looked at him again. He was lolling his bald head around as he slurred the words of the song, occasionally spilling shochu on the girl sleeping next to him. Now that she’d pointed it out, yes, he did. His facial expression was exactly like one Dhalsim would pull. The spitting image. It was the face he pulls after you uppercut and knock him backwards, before he gets stunned.
       ‘Yoga flame,’ I said.
       She snorted her drink through her nose. ‘Stop!’
       ‘I didn’t know you were a gamer.’ It didn’t come out how I meant it to. I’d hoped to sound surprised, in a convivial way, but what I sounded like was a jerk.
       ‘Oh, I’m not.’ She sipped her drink and looked at the lyrics playing their way out on the karaoke TV screen. ‘Well, except Street Fighter II.’ She turned up the corner of her mouth in a crooked smile. ‘Guilty pleasure.’
       ‘Which one? They made a few.’ I sat up straighter.
       I leant in closer. ‘When did you play that?’
       ‘My older brother had a Super Famicon. We used to play when we were kids.’ Her eyes caught the light from the TV and glistened moistly.
       ‘Hey! You two! What are you nattering about?’ Ryu, the Line Manager, ducked past Dhalsim and came to sit between us. He smelt like he’d been sleeping in his suit for a week, and had a soya sauce stain on his shirt as he often did. He turned to me and slurred, ‘Makoto, are you bothering her?’ before putting his arm around Kyoko. ‘Kyoko-chan! Put a song on. You haven’t sung all night. A good-looking girl like you must have the voice of an angel.’
       ‘Oh, Ryu-kun. You know I don’t like to sing.’ She poured more beer from a big frosty bottle of Kirin into his empty glass. She wiped the condensation carefully from her hands with a small towel she took from her handbag. ‘Your voice is so . . . manly. Why don’t you sing another song for us?’
       I lit a cigarette and looked the other way.
       These work nights out were such a drag. It would’ve been great if I could get out of them like Flo, that American translator girl. She just said she wasn’t feeling well, and everyone let her off. Why couldn’t I do that? Sad fact: because I’m Japanese. And the nail that sticks out will be hammered in.
       But on these work nights out, no one ever got a chance to talk or get to know one another. All we did was get wasted and sing karaoke. Then we had to listen to the bosses drone on about how great they were, and how things were a lot harder in the days when they first joined the company. How we all had it easy, yada yada yada. Last time I checked, they were the ones who had it easy in the bubble. My generation was fucked from the start.
       Big Boss was on the microphone now. He was screaming out a bad version of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ – really murdering it. He looked like an oversized baby, little wisps of hair flapping and flopping on his bald pate. It didn’t even sound like English. I sat there nodding, smiling and laughing when I was supposed to. Drinking myself into a stupor. What I really wanted was to get the hell out of that booth and go home to bed. But now I couldn’t stop thinking about what Kyoko had said. How she played Street Fighter II as a kid.
       Turbo, no less.
       Now I really, really wanted to play a game of Street Fighter II Turbo.
The night slipped on like a convoluted sentence, punctuated with chicken wings, potato fries, onigiri, beer and kimchi. Shochu mixed with ice, shochu mixed with oolong tea, shochu mixed with water, shochu mixed with shochu mixed with shochu. Some annoying fucker took off his trousers, got on a tambourine and battered it so loud next to my ear during ‘Hey Jude’ I could feel my tinnitus crescendoing in time to the music.
       I couldn’t help but sneak looks at Kyoko. She was wearing a pink Polo sweater, cream trousers and wore her long hair down. Did she normally wear it in a ponytail? What was it that had changed? Was I getting drunk? I mean, she was a beautiful girl. Too beautiful for someone like me. I’d always just thought of her as this typical Office Lady, getting together with all the other OLs at lunch times to talk about shopping, or make up, or whatever it is that girls talk about. Don’t get me wrong, guys talk about inane stuff too – like baseball and kyabakura. I can’t stand that shit – people talking about things they think they should talk about, so as not to be socially awkward.
       It must’ve been the Street Fighter II comment, because now all I could think about was playing against her.
       And beating her to a pulp – in the game, of course.
       As I watched her sipping on her drink, quietly bobbing her head to Big Boss singing ‘With or Without You’ by U2, I started to fantasize about playing a game against her.
       Maybe she’d pick Chun Li as her character. I’d pick Ken, of course. We’d go to Guile’s stage in the US because it has the coolest music, the fighter jet in the background, and the spectator guy who looks like he’s wanking himself off. The music would kick in (that tune goes with anything), the commentator would say, ‘Round one. Fight!’ and the timer would start to count down.
       Maybe she’d throw the first move, quick as lightning, a fireball straight at me, and I’d just keep firing the hadoken back at her. I’m a patient player. I’d be happy throwing fireballs, waiting for her to make that fatal mistake that everyone does after a while. She’d grow restless, and decide it was time to make an attack. She’d jump into the air, aiming a hard kick straight for my head. And anyone who was watching would probably think, ‘Right, this is it for Ken. Game over. His head is going flying.’
       And they wouldn’t be too wrong in thinking that. Even a Street Fighter aficionada might worry I’d left it too long, that I should’ve countered, blocked, or avoided the attack. But that’s because I’ve always been really good at one thing (and everyone’s got to have their one thing, right?). I’ve always been able to pull off Ken’s strongest move quicker than anyone I’ve ever played against. Maybe if I’d been born in the old days, I would’ve been famous as some kind of quick-draw samurai (like Toshiro Mifune in the film Yojimbo), or if I’d been born in the States in the old west, I would’ve been like Butch Cassidy (or was the Sundance Kid faster . . . ?).
       So, there she’d be, flying straight for my head, and then my thumbs would move so quickly you’d hear the flicking sound of the keypad (your eyes wouldn’t register any movement) but here’s what would happen:
       →↘↓↘→ + Hard Punch
       Then Ken would launch himself in the air (he travels slightly further sideways than Ryu, and that’s why I pick him), his fist a ball of flame. The punch would connect right in her thigh, and she’d go flying backwards, knocked on her ass. Then I’d jump in with a hard flying kick, knock her to the ground, then throw a hard leg sweep (just as she was getting to her feet), which would knock her to the ground again. She’d stand up stunned, all dizzy with the stars (or birds) circling her head, then I’d do Ken’s rolling throw, launching her into the air. Chun Li would hit the deck skidding along, kicking up dust till she came to rest, and the whole screen would shake as time slowed down. Then Ken would raise his fist in triumph, and my points would ring up on the screen – all 30,000 of them – the commentator’s American accent would chime in, ‘You win! Perfect!’
       I don’t know what it would achieve. She wouldn’t be impressed or anything. That’s not exactly how you make friends, I know that.
       I snuck another look at her again. She’d really got my interest now. What kind of loser would she be? Would she be the kind who gets angry, throws the controller at the floor and gets in a sulk? Would she try to distract me in the next bout to win? Maybe she’d be a good-natured loser. Maybe she’d end up annoying me by staying cool, just taking everything in her stride.
       I was pretty sure of one thing though: she’d never win. Unless I let her.
       Well, however it turned out, I knew I had to play her.
The end of one of these karaoke parties is almost worse than the party itself.
       The night was still young, but we were too old for Shibuya. Standing outside the Manekineko karaoke complex in a ring, we all waited awkwardly to see what would happen. It was that moment when no one is being honest about what they want to do next. Some people want to slip off home, but they don’t want others to know that’s what they want. Other people are trying as hard as they can not to show how much they want to keep drinking, to go on to the second party nijikai; maybe they think if they show how much they want it, and the prevailing winds don’t coincide, it’s a reflection of their popularity in the group. Who knows.
       I had other things on my mind. I’d positioned myself next to Kyoko, and was trying to pick the perfect moment to get her attention, without being noticed. The tejime handclap was drawing near, and I needed to chat to her somehow.
       ‘Thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight,’ Dhalsim had the role of party organizer today, and his bald head was reflecting the neon of Shibuya as he flailed his limbs around enthusiastically, ‘and I’m sure we can all agree that tonight was a great success. Now if you’ll all join me together in bringing a close to the night—’
       ‘Aaaaaaaaaggggghhhhh!’ We all turned to see Big Boss, arms spread wide, screaming a terrible primal yowl into the night sky. ‘Aaaaaaaggggghhhhhh!’ He beat his chest like Donkey Kong.
       ‘Big Boss, are you all right?’ Dhalsim extended an arm, resting a hand on his shoulder.
       Big Boss shrugged it off. ‘Baka yaro!’
       ‘Big Boss!’ voices cried out, and all eyes were cast on the unfolding scene.
       I took my chance. ‘Kyoko!’ I whispered.
       She turned her head slowly away from the action and looked at me dully.
       ‘Kyoko, I was just wondering . . .’ I loosened my collar. ‘If you want to, and I completely understand if you don’t . . .’
       Yes?’ She eyed me suspiciously.
       I had to hurry. Big Boss had grabbed one of the new girls by the shoulders and was kneeing her softly on the bum, pretending to beat her up. Everyone was scrambling around trying to stop him (without usurping his authority). Concerned cries of ‘Big Boss! Please stop!’ rang out intermittently, while the new girl looked aghast as the head of the company kneed her in the backside repeatedly while he screamed out unintelligibly to the heavens.
       ‘Kyoko, would you like to go play Street Fighter II with me?’
       ‘Where?’ She raised an eyebrow.
       ‘At a game centre. I’m sure there’s one nearby.’
       There was a coughing sound, and she looked away from me, and nodded in the direction of Dhalsim, who’d managed to break up the ruckus. Big Boss had miraculously calmed down, and now everyone was standing in a ring again with their hands held out. They were all looking expectantly at me.
       ‘Oh, sorry.’ I held my hands out, and we all did the tejime clap.
       So that was that then.
       No Street Fighter II tonight.
I wanted to go home after the circle broke, but when I saw Kyoko sticking around for the nijikai I decided to stay too. We were on the way to some bar our senpai was raving about. I was walking by myself smoking a cigarette when I felt a tug on my shoulder and was pulled bodily into the alcove of a doorway.
       ‘What the—’ I turned to see Kyoko with her finger to her lips, then she wrapped a hand over my mouth.
       The two of us watched from the alcove as the rest of them filed past, gossiping and chatting excitedly, on their way to the bar. When the last of them had gone, Kyoko took her hand from my mouth.
       ‘Come on.’
       ‘In here.’ She walked towards the double doors behind us, and they slid open automatically.
       As the doors opened I could suddenly hear the loud sounds of zombies exploding, power-ups, mega jumps, hyper-dashes and blaster attacks. I followed Kyoko inside, into the overpowering bright strip lights of the game centre. A rainbow of multicoloured pixels flashed around us, bathing us in greens and reds and blues. Over the loud sound effects was a louder constant soundtrack of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu blasting out over huge speakers high up on the walls. We walked along the aisles of taiko drummers and the guitar strummers who beat out a solid rhythm for all the dancing mayhem and the mad uzi shoot-’em-ups we passed on our way. It looked like Kyoko had been here before. She headed with purpose straight for an old-looking coin op on the farthest wall.
       She stopped in front of it. ‘Here.’
       ‘Wow! Vintage,’ I said. Reaching for my coin purse, I took out two 100-yen coins.
       ‘No.’ She raised her hand. ‘You need to get tokens from over there.’ She pointed to a machine on the wall.
       ‘No problemo.’ I strutted over like a big shot, whacked a 1,000-yen note in, and collected a fistful of tokens. ‘This should be enough, right?’ I handed them to her.
       ‘More than.’ She put the tokens down on the edge of the machine, took two in her hand, crouched down and slipped them one by one into the slot.
       The machine let out that familiar triumphant sound and indicated two credits. I let her go on the left. I took the right-hand side. We were standing so close together, and I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it or not, but I felt like parts of our body were almost touching. I had a strange sense of excitement, almost as if electricity was jumping between the two of us.
       ‘Ready?’ She looked at me, her hand hovering over the player one start button.
       ‘Sure.’ I placed mine over the player two button; it was slightly sticky.
       ‘On three.’ She exhaled deeply. ‘One, two, three!’
       We both pressed down on the buttons at the same time. The screen froze, went white, then displayed two words. GAME OVER
       ‘What the hell!’ I beat the side of the machine with my fist. ‘Come on!’
       ‘It’s okay,’ she said softly. ‘Must be broken.’
       ‘Shit. Is there somebody we can complain to?’
       ‘Not that I know of.’
       ‘Damn. I was looking forward to that.’ ‘Never mind.’
       ‘What are we going to do with all these tokens now?’
       ‘We could play some other games?’ she said sunnily.
       ‘But I wanted to play Street Fighter . . .’ I sounded like a whining brat.
       She lifted her pink jumper sleeve and looked at a small silver wristwatch. ‘It’s getting late.’
       ‘Yeah. Maybe we should call it a night.’ I felt defeated.
       The sound of the game centre and the whoops and shouts of the players filled my ears, and I suddenly felt sick. The bright flashing lights and grating music were too much.
       ‘Can we go outside for a second?’ I started to walk away. ‘What about all these tokens?’ she asked.
       ‘Just leave them.’ I waved my hand and carried on walking. Outside, I leant against the wall and breathed fresh air in gulps. ‘Are you okay?’ The sliding doors shut behind Kyoko. She stood there with her coat folded neatly over her arm.
       ‘Yeah, I’m all right. Just needed to catch my breath.’ I tried to mask my disappointment.
       ‘So . . .’ she said.
       ‘So . . .’ I replied.
       ‘Are you tired?’ she asked. ‘Not exactly.’ I lit a cigarette.
       ‘Because, well, I know it’s crazy, and it might be a little far, but . . .’ She bit her lip.
       ‘Yeah?’ I took a drag on my cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke away from her, towards the bustling neon streets.
       ‘I know this bar. Well, actually it’s my friend’s bar.’
       ‘It’s a Street Fighter-themed bar.’
       ‘No way!’
       ‘Yeah, it’s called Yoga Flame. It’s decorated with all these Street Fighter II figurines and memorabilia. He has a giant TV with a Super Famicon hooked up to it, and the customers can play as much as they like – as long as they pay for their drinks.’
       ‘Awesome. Let’s go!’
       ‘I’m glad you like the sound of it. But the only problem is . . .’ She scratched her head.
       ‘It’s in Chiba.’
       ‘Yeah, too far, right? Let’s forget it. Maybe another time.’
       ‘No. We can go tonight. Chiba’s not that far.’
       ‘Really?’ Her eyes lit up. ‘You don’t mind?’
       ‘Of course not. As long as they have Street Fighter II.’
       ‘Brilliant.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Well, the last train leaves pretty soon. Let’s go to the konbini. We can get some beer and snacks for the journey.’   
We sat on the train with a polythene bag from the convenience store filled with icy cold cans of beer, kimchi pork onigiri (with the limited edition salty nori seaweed) for me, and a packet of soft white sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, filled with smooth peanut butter) for her.
       We’d had to change trains in the city a couple of times, but I just followed Kyoko. Judging by the speed at which she caught the connections, it was obvious she must take this route a lot. In the stations and on the platforms, she cut a path straight through the drunkards reeling around in search of their last trains. When we were finally sitting on the kaisoku train that took us directly to Chiba, we could relax and crack open some beers. I held the bag from the convenience store in my hand. I coughed nervously, and told Kyoko about the part-time job in Lawson I did while I was finishing Law School.
       Her eyes lit up, and she said in English, ‘Don’t you know that’s against the Law . . . son?’ then switched back to Japanese. ‘Get it? Against the Law . . . son!’
       There was an awkward silence, and her face went red. I should’ve been laughing. Why wasn’t I laughing? It was a good joke – but I was more taken aback at how good her English pronunciation was. Her accent was perfect. My English was okay – I’d passed the eiken and TOEIC; I knew lots of tricky grammar and vocabulary – but heavily accented. I’d never been able to lose that katakana pronunciation I’d learnt in school. Still, why was I leaving her hanging? I should’ve been laughing at her joke.
       ‘That’s funny,’ I said, lamely.
       She punched my arm. ‘You don’t have to pretend.’ ‘No, I mean it.’ God, I sounded like an asshole.
       ‘So you worked in a convenience store, too, eh?’ She giggled. ‘I still have nightmares about stocking shelves.’
       ‘I hated opening these.’ I held up the bag I was holding, then tied it into a neat knot and put it in my pocket. I tried to make her laugh with weary stories of my days as a convenience store clerk, stories about all the funny and weird people who came into the shop every day – all those lives: the girl with the strange green eyes and the scary tattoo, the taxi driver who always bought a bento for lunch. Did any of those customers notice when I quit and moved on? Did they notice me, or was I just a worker robot to them? And whatever happened to the nice old guy with the purple bandana? I used to meet him outside the shop and give him the food we were going to throw away. Poor old guy. But he’d just stopped coming, even before I quit the job.
       ‘Kanpai,’ she said, clinking her Asahi tin against mine, bringing me back to the present. She made a point of putting her can lower than mine, which slightly annoyed me. It was almost like she’d beat me to it.
       ‘Kanpai.’ I glugged down on my beer and smacked my lips. ‘So . . .’ she said.
       ‘So . . .’ I said.
       ‘I suppose we never really said it before but yoroshiku onegai shimasu.’ She bowed her head.
       ‘Kochira koso, yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.’ I bowed lower, and spoke more formally. Hopefully that would make up for losing on the kanpai front.
       ‘You’re so formal.’ She took out the hand towel from her handbag and wrapped it around the can.
       ‘So, how come you know so much about trains to Chiba?’ I jumped in with my flying-kick attack.
       ‘Because I live there.’ She blocked.
       ‘Why do you live so far out in the sticks?’ I did a leg sweep with a low kick.
       ‘Rent’s cheaper.’ She jumped over my leg. ‘Where do you live?’ She kicked me in the face.
       ‘Ummm . . .’ I was stunned.
       ‘Sorry, I’m being nosey.’ She jumped nimbly back into her part of the screen with a full health bar. ‘When did you start playing Street Fighter?’
       I felt a little more confident dealing with this kind of question. ‘When I was a kid. I used to play with my brothers.’
       ‘Older or younger?’
       ‘Both. I was the middle.’
       ‘Middle, eh? Me too. And who was the best at Street Fighter?’
       ‘Well . . . That’s a difficult one to answer.’
       ‘How so?’ She sipped on her beer and took little bites from her sandwich.
       ‘When we were kids, it was my older brother. He used to whoop us all the time.’
       ‘Then what happened?’
       ‘I don’t know, but one day, I beat him.’
       ‘Oh wow. Well done.’
       ‘No . . . It wasn’t a good day.’ I thought back to what happened the day I’d beaten him. The way my younger brother had been so happy to see me win, he’d let out a laugh. Older brother had been livid. He was shaking with anger, but instead of attacking me, he grabbed younger brother and started to punch him in the face. I looked on, horrified, unsure what to do. ‘Anyway, what about you and your older brother? You said earlier you played against him. Who was better?’
       ‘I was, of course.’
       ‘So where’s your older brother now?’
       ‘He’s dead.’ She looked out of the window.
       ‘Oh . . . I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.’
       She looked down at her sandwich and screwed up her face. ‘No. I’m sorry.’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       ‘Urgh.’ She shook her head, then beat her hand against her forehead. ‘He’s not really dead. I have no idea why I said that. I’m sorry. That was a really fucked-up thing to say.’
       ‘Oh . . .’ I took a long glug on my beer. Was she mental?
       She put her hand on my arm. ‘Look. I don’t know why I said that.
       Can you just forget I said it?’
       I swallowed my beer. ‘Sure.’
       ‘My older brother isn’t dead. And we haven’t fallen out or anything. We get along fine. He lives in Gunma. He’s married. His wife is lovely. He has two beautiful kids. I go see them regularly. But . . .’ She looked out the window again into the darkness. Somewhere out there, the waves were rolling across the horizon slowly, but we couldn’t see them. Perhaps we could all feel their movement from the rocking train.
       ‘But . . . I don’t know. It’s stupid. Don’t you ever just feel like things change? Like, even if something dramatic or terrible in your life doesn’t happen, just the act of growing older is like a massive trauma anyway. When I think of sitting on the tatami with my older brother when we were kids, there’s just something overwhelmingly painful about the thought of having lost that moment. This wave of nostalgia which constantly reminds us that we can never go home again. That those kids sitting on the floor, so young and so happy, are dead and gone now. They’re never coming back. And don’t get me started on my younger brother, who is so much younger . . . he’s stopped going to elementary school, and he won’t talk to anyone. And there’s nothing I can do to help him. He used to be such a happy kid, but it’s like the very act of growing old is slowly killing him . . .’
       I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept quiet. I couldn’t believe she was being so candid.
       ‘I’m sorry. I’m talking rubbish.’ She sighed.
       ‘No, I don’t think so. I get it. Family is tough.’ Ugh. There I go again, sounding like a douchebag.
       ‘Thanks.’ She turned and smiled at me, reaching into the bag for a kimchi pork onigiri which she handed to me. ‘You’re a good listener, you know.’
       ‘Cheers.’ As I took the onigiri, our fingers brushed slightly, and her eyes flicked up to mine. I blurted out something quickly. ‘So, who’s your favourite Street Fighter character?’
       She didn’t even blink. ‘Ken. You?’
       Why did I assume Chun Li? God I’m sexist. ‘Ken.’
       ‘The true player’s choice.’ She smiled.
       ‘Do you put in the speed cheat when you play?’ I tested her.
       ‘Of course.’
       ‘Do you remember how to do it, because sometimes I forget—’ ‘Down, R, Up, L, Y, B. You have to do it on controller two.’
       Wow. She knew her shit. ‘Hey, did you hear the story about M. Bison—’
       ‘About how Balrog the boxer was originally going to be called M. Bison in America because he was modelled after Mike Tyson, but then Capcom worried Tyson might sue, so they switched the names around?’
       ‘Is there anything you don’t know about Street Fighter?’ I was impressed.
       ‘How would I know whether there was or wasn’t?’ She giggled.
       ‘Can I make a confession?’ I said.
       ‘There were always two moves I could never do in the game.’
       ‘Yeah. I could never do Dhalsim’s Yoga Teleport or Zangief ’s Spinning Piledriver. I’m kind of afraid to ask, but, can you do them?’
       ‘It took me a lot of practice. They’re tough moves.’
       I’d underestimated this girl.
       ‘Do you mind if I take a nap?’ she asked.
       ‘Go for it,’ I said.
       ‘Would it be rude if I rested my head on your shoulder?’
       ‘No, please do.’
       She laid her head on my shoulder, and I felt the softness of her hair as it brushed against my collar.
       ‘Wake me up when we get there.’
The passengers thinned out the further from Tokyo we got. Now the carriage was almost empty. We sat side by side facing the dark windows, the bright light making it impossible to see outside. I sat there thinking. I knew I was never going to beat Kyoko at Street Fighter II. As sure as this train would arrive at Chiba Station, I was going to get my butt kicked.
       As I was thinking about this, we stopped at another station where no passengers got on. The familiar beeping sounded, indicating the doors were about to shut, then a small calico cat jumped through the narrowing gap of the train doors, and sprang up onto the seat opposite.
       ‘Whoa!’ I said, unable to stop myself. Kyoko stirred a bit but didn’t wake up. My left hand immediately crept towards my pocket, as carefully as I could, to get my smartphone and snap a photo of this commuting cat.
       Sitting upright, the cat looked directly at me.
       In its luminous eyes I saw something. Something chaotic. A city reflected in its irises. It was like the cat saw us all moving around, and just as the image of the city bounced off its eyeballs, so too did the cat reject any idea of human form or control. This cat had no master, and I envied it for that.
       Kyoko was leaning her head on my shoulder still, her soft breathing making her chest rise and fall rhythmically. My fingers were still snug inside my pocket, touching my phone, but just as I got it out, the train pulled in at the next station. The doors opened, and just like that, as though it knew exactly where it was going, the cat jumped up and left the train. I looked at the photo I’d taken: blurred and shaky rubbish. The cat was an indistinct ball of colour leaving the train. I tapped the trash can image on my phone and the scene sucked away into nothing. I looked up from my phone, and out of the train window I saw the cat strolling away down the platform, its tail held high. As the train began to rock again, I settled back and closed my eyes.
       Sometimes I feel like this whole city is one vast organism. It’s like a human being that we’re all part of. But we’re restricted by the roads, by the waterways, by the tunnels, the trains. It’s like our paths are all laid out for us, and there’s no way of deviating from them. That’s what makes that cat different from us. It can jump on and off trains randomly. But we humans are bound up in the fate of the city. No one can escape its clutches. I’d love to pack up and leave for the countryside, but I can’t get away. I’m stuck here. Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High, High School, University, Internship, Internship to Job, Job to Retirement, Retirement to Death. That’s my life, already laid out before me. Me, and all those other millions of people I brush up against every day. The city needs us, and we need the city. Symbiotic fuck tonnage.
Let me just press pause for a second.
       So, up until now, you might have noticed I’ve been talking about everything in the past tense. Some of you might have been wondering, ‘What happened in the end?’ Well, the truth is, I’m telling my story now. And now is on this train with Kyoko. The cat has just come onto the train and jumped off, and it’s got me mulling over the events of this evening in my mind.
       I wonder if any of you have ever felt this kind of sinking feeling, like you just know what’s going to happen. It’s like this train I’m on – there’s no deviating from the tracks. As I sit here, I think I know exactly how the evening is going to play out. In fact, I’m sure of it. This is what’s going to happen:
       We’ll get to Chiba. Kyoko and I will be excited to arrive.
       We’ll head to her friend’s bar and we’ll be chattering about how much we want to play.
       We’ll be deciding how many stars we should have each, which stage we should fight at and all that stuff.
       Then we’ll draw closer to the bar, and we’ll see the sign in big letters above the door saying YOGA FLAME. But then our eyes will fall on the white piece of paper stuck to the door, and we’ll both go silent.
       We’ll know before we even read it that it says something like: CLOSED TODAY DUE TO FAMILY EMERGENCY. APOLOGIES.
       And then we’ll kick around trying to think of ideas. Maybe we’ll go to a bar and have a drink while we decide what to do next. And then maybe I’ll say something silly without thinking like:
       ‘Hey! We could go to a love hotel!’
       And she’ll look at me with disgust and say, ‘What kind of girl do you think I am?’
       And I’ll realize I didn’t preface that statement properly, and I’ll say, ‘No, no. I mean sometimes there are love hotels that have game consoles. We could search online for one in Chiba that has a Super Famicon. That way we could still play Street Fighter.’
       She will still be put out by the comment and will say something like, ‘I’m not just some kind of slut, you know.’
       And then I’ll get awkward and sullen, because it wasn’t what I meant.
       We’ll have an argument, where she will realize I didn’t mean it the way it came out. Then I’ll be looking sorry and dejected. She’ll say sorry too. Then she’ll say something like, ‘My place isn’t far from here. You can stay the night if you like.’
       And I’ll say, ‘Do you have Street Fighter II?’ And she’ll say, ‘No, but . . .’
       And I’ll say, ‘It’s okay. I’ll just go home.’
       She’ll say, ‘But the trains aren’t running till the morning.’
       I’ll say, ‘I don’t mind waiting.’
       She’ll say, ‘Well, let me keep you company.’
       I’ll say, ‘No, it’s fine. You just go home.’
       We’ll pause.
       She’ll say, ‘Okay. Goodbye.’
       I’ll say. ‘Goodbye.’
       We’ll turn and walk in different directions.
       And when I see her on Monday morning, she’ll just look through me as if I’m invisible.
None of this has happened yet. I’m still sitting on the train imagining the future. But why is it that it seems like it’s already happened? Like it’s happened thousands of times before, that it always will happen, like a piece of CCTV footage of the city, stuck on a loop. She’s still resting her head on my shoulder, and all I can think about is whether we have any control over our lives. How can I change the future? Because what is fate, but that moment when you’re playing the computer on the hardest difficulty setting, you’ve run out of life force and you make that one mistake. It’s those excruciating moments that pass by like an eternity before that final hit comes. You know you’ve fucked up, and there’s no way of going back. You can press pause as much as you like, but it won’t stop what’s going to happen.
       Time to press start again; to un-pause this game and let it play out to the end.
       She lifts her head and opens her eyes.
       ‘Are we there yet?’


© 2020 Nick Bradley

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