Monday, August 11, 2008

Chaiyya Chaiyya

Interior of a jet airliner.

Flight attendants offer a choice of tea or coffee to those passengers who have awoken, though many have chosen to stay asleep. A few have risen from their seats to stretch their legs as the flight nears its destination. One of them is pushing against the bulkhead at the rear of the cabin like he's trying to move it out of his way. He is also observing his fellow passengers. Right now he's watching a family of Americans in the adjacent center row. 
Mother and son are asleep in the middle, father and daughter are in the aisle seats with books in their hands. The father has the unmistakable bearing of a military man, possibly retired. Possibly not. He is reading a weighty hardback, tattered and frayed at the edges, its cover black and crinkled, its pages brittle and flecked with dark stains. The coarsely typed text is in an unfamiliar script - arabic perhaps? He holds the book in one hand and with the other he traces the lines with his fingertip as he reads them. His eyes scan the pages as if he is searching for a code. Perhaps, after all, that is what he is doing. Occasionally he reaches for the plastic cup of water sitting on his tray table, but nothing distracts him from his reading. The daughter is writing in a slim volume with a smooth, shiny, jet-black cover on which is written a single word in plain white. We can not quite make out what it says - it seems to start with a "D". The pages are crisp and the text is not in typeface but in neat and fluent handwriting. She is wearing a well-worn and faded red hoodie, its hood pulled over her head, so we can not see her face as she bends over her book. After a while she picks up a pen and adds another line of text to the page, then puts down the pen. Perhaps it is her Diary. Perhaps it is not.
On the other side of the aisle a Japanese couple are watching a movie playing on their laptop. They share a headphone set, their heads close together, one ear listening, the other transducing. They bob their heads from side to side in unison, to the rhythm of music. On the screen a large group of men and women, clad in bright and varied colors, dance atop a moving train. The leading dancer, who also seems to singing, though we can not of course hear the soundtrack, leaps forward onto a new carriage, taunting the camera. The observer inclines his head, raises one eyebrow and half smiles. It's a look that suggests he recognizes the leaping actor but can not quite match the face to a name.
In front of the Japanese couple sits a woman wearing a tight powder-blue sweater, generously filled  and topped at the shoulders with bouncing blond hair. She is talking to the passenger by her side, thin and athletic, his skin darkly tanned, his hair closely cropped. From his demeanor and movements it appears that he neither knows his neighbor nor wishes to hear what she has to say. Nonetheless, the woman continues to talk, often gently and creatively gesturing with her hands. It seems she is trying to explain a complex or abstract concept to her neighbor, who, in spite of her efforts, still could not care less.
On the other side of the aisle sits a young man, no doubt hailing from somewhere in the South-Eastern corner of Asia. On his tray table lies a small stack of medical books; anatomy and physiology distilled to their base concepts for medical school preparation. The stack serves as a useful rest for his forearms - radius and ulna bones, radial and ulnar arteries and nerves, flexor and extensor muscles - as he plays his Gameboy. To his left sits a curiously rotund fellow, his ears looking more like......
- It's Shah Rukh Khan. The girl in the red hoodie looks up through jade green eyes at our observer, her expression resolute yet questioning. Shocks of golden hair peek through the sides of the hood.
- Uhmmm, excuse me? replies the writer, somewhat taken aback.
- The guy singing and dancing on top of the train - it's Shah Rukh Khan.
- Yes, yes, so it is. I should have known that. 
- Well, you did know that, it just slipped from your mind for a while there.
- Yes, yes. Indeed, indeed.
- And it's the Quran.
- What is?
- The book my Dad is reading - you were curious to know what he's reading.
- Oh, oh. I suppose my curiosity will land me in deep water sometime! 
- Let's hope it's not today, huh? And to make the point, she glances downward.
- Yes, indeed, let's hope not! So your father can read arabic?
- Yes he can. He reads it all the time these days - the Quran that is.
- I see. Very admirable, I'd say. And he does say.
- Not really, you see its too late. Its really much, much too late. And with that, the girl returns to her slim black book, pen poised above a new, blank page.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


You can tell me anything
But not what the future brings

Surrounded by a forest of ferns that rose high above his head (he was, it should be said, kneeling) Shuya felt like he'd been plunged into a prehistoric world. There was, however, nothing prehistoric about the Smith and Wesson leveled at the back of his head. He slowly closed his eyes and held Noriko's hand tight in his. 
- If you have anything to say to each other, now would be the time to do so. It was the voice of his friend, their friend, who'd saved their lives over and over and who was now going to take them away.
There was nothing to say. They knew and shared each others' thoughts and feelings - no reason to articulate them.
The first gunshot was so deafening that he felt the next one, seconds later, more than heard it.
He slowly opened his eyes and blinked. The ferns were a shade of green he hadn't seen before - bright and bold like he imagined emeralds would be, though he'd never seen one. Flowers now peeked through the emerald leaves, blue like the deepest blue of a summer sky, and ladybugs crawled among them, red like a shiny new corvette. Aggressive shades of orange, soothing yellows and pastel pinks meshed with classic violet and vermillion in a working, ever changing palette of vibrant colors.  Shuya could only imagine he'd entered Hayao Miyazaki's vision of heaven. 
Directly in front of Shuya a large drop of dew hung from the tip of a fern frond. The dew drop bobbed up and down slowly, pendulous. Around its edges the light diffracted into rainbow spectra, prismatic. And in its center it reflected back, prescient. Shuya looked into the mirror and saw Noriko smiling back at him. Next to her, he saw himself, head bowed, eyes tight shut. And behind them stood Shogo, his finger raised to his lips.
- Sshhhh......

Shuya slowly opened his eyes. After all those years the colors were fading.

Silver's just another gold

Monday, May 26, 2008


- Enjoying the book? asked Kit, nodding towards the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in front of his fellow passenger, after the flight attendant had left them their beverages of choice. Tea with milk for his neighbor, black coffee for Kit.
- Yes indeed, exclaimed the neighbor enthusiastically with an english accent that Kit had somehow not noticed before. Have you read it?
- Yes, I have. One of my favorite books actually.
- Indeed! Kit liked the way Brits repeatedly used the word indeed. It spoke to their respect for Truth, meaning, as it did, in truth, in reality, in fact. And Kit believed in truth. Indeed, it was probably the only thing he did believe in. 
- What a storyteller, eh? If I could only write just the tiniest fraction as well as him!, continued the brit, dunking a tea bag in his hot water.
- So you're a writer then? asked Kit
- Well I try, but to be quite honest, I haven't written all that much for quite a while now.
- "Quite a while?" He hasn't written fuck all for eons! It was a deep, yet curiously sing-song voice harboring a transatlantic accent, neither American nor British, or maybe both - it struck Kit as strangely distinctive by its lack of distinction. The source of the voice, a head peering above the headrest of the seat directly in front of Kit, was also distinctive. Reddish-brown fur, pointy ears, white snout with whiskers - in short, a fox. Just like the one at the top of this page. Indeed, exactly like the one at the top of the page.
- Fuck me, a flying fox! Kit thought to himself.
- Fucking eons, I tell you. Repeated the fox, turning his head towards Kit. His dark eyes glinted playfully and it struck Kit that his eyes were the only means to tell the fox's mood. He seemed quite happy and decidedly friendly, but as Kit looked deeper into his eyes, he couldn't help but get a sense of something less than friendly - something sinister even. Of course, as anyone familiar with them could tell you, looks can be quite deceiving when it comes to foxes.
- I think you'll find that's spelt "aeons" actually, replied the writer somewhat defensively. Besides, how would you know just when and what I've been writing?
- Oh you know I know everything you've done, are doing and will be doing next, said the fox, to which the writer had no immediate reply. 
It was clear to Kit that the fox and the writer knew each other quite well. While the two of them traded barbs, Kit noticed two white wires, dangling from the fox's ears - he was apparently listening to an iPod. Indeed, he now saw paws on either side of the fox's snout rested on top of the headrest, the left paw tapping out a rhythm in synchrony with the tip of the fox's bushy tail which waved from side to side between the fox's ears. Kit wondered what a fox might be listening to and whether they made earbuds specially designed for fox ears. If they did, the noise reduction was not very effective, as Kit found he could hear music coming from them. It was a song that Kit knew well, a song he was very fond of in another place and time. 
"Me and my friend saw a platypus, 
Me and my friend made a comic book, 
And guess how long it took, 
I can do anything that I want cos, look, 
I can keep rhythm with no metronome, 
No metronome, No metronome"
- And I can see your face on the telephone, said the fox, head cocked at an angle, eyes locked on Kit.
- Oh, sorry, didn't mean to stare, its just.... said Kit, not for the first time at a loss for words.
- Its okay, I get it all the time, said the fox, waving a paw in the air. I was just encouraging my friend the writer here that he should make use of his current surroundings to fashion his next piece of writing.
- He suggests that I should write a story based on the lives - as I imagine them, that is - of our fellow passengers, explained the writer.
- So your friend should create imaginary histories for some of our companions, give them each a new life? asked Kit, turning from the writer to the fox.
- Not quite. I had more in mind the creation of real futures for our fellow flyers - after all, crossing the Atlantic seems as good a transition as any to do that, explained the fox.
- I see. But, continued Kit, I'm not sure what you mean by real futures.
- Well, said the fox, consider that the past and present are fixed and finite and that anything that deviates from what happened or what is happening is fiction, and always will be. But the future is fluid and infinite. Everything written about it now is fiction, but might one day be reality. It should be possible to weight the odds towards that reality. After all, its been done before. The fox looked down and nodded towards the book lying on the writer's table.
- Yes, I see what you mean, said Kit, remembering the end of the novel. The writer, not having got that far, looked on bewildered. 
- But that's just a novel - it never became reality, continued Kit.
- As far as you know, it didn't. But can you be sure? After all, you remember the day you discovered ice, don't you? The fox cocked his head and raised an eyebrow - it seemed to be his inquisitive look.
Kit was certainly impressed. It seemed the fox knew far more than one might expect a fox to know. (Of course, as anyone who knew anything about them could tell you, foxes always know more than you'd expect from them.) Could it really be that he had some insight into the future?
- Me and my friends understand the future, I see the strings that control the systems, Dr. Thomson, added the fox, as if reading and answering Kit's thoughts. And on saying this the fox slowly dipped down below the top of the head rest, 'til only the tips of his ears were visible above the seat.
- Well, my friend has had some pretty good ideas in the past, said the writer enthusiastically, I'm prepared to give it a go! Besides, he's quite right, I really haven't written fuck all in quite some time.
- Eons, came a muffled voice from in front.
- Yes, indeed, aeons, agreed the writer reluctantly.
- He seems quite a multi-talented fox, observed Kit, what else can he do?
- Quite a bit, actually, replied the writer. He even tells me he can ride his bike with no handlebars.
- Now that I'd like to see! exclaimed Kit.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Like a Hurricane

I am just a dreamer, but you are just a dream......
Noriko looked up, startled.
Two days before she'd asked Shuya what he liked about her. Shuya had discovered that girls did this quite often, so he wasn't surprised by her question. He was a little taken aback by his answer though. You are like a hurricane, he replied, there's calm in your eye. (He almost added, and I'm getting blown away, but thought better of it.) It probably should have come across corny, but it was spontaneous and Noriko knew it and Noriko liked it.
Just for a second the calm was gone. As she looked up at him, Shuya saw turmoil, confusion, even fear. Her eyes were usually like the dark brown pebbles on the beach at Shodoshima, polished by the surf and sand, and Shuya could occasionally catch his own reflection in them. Now they'd seemingly become translucent, as if they were those lenses that changed from dark to light when you stepped out of the sun. Noriko had always been there to support and defend Shuya. Her vulnerability exposed, he realized, in that second, that the time would come he'd have to protect her.
Just for a second and then her composure returned. Shuya felt relief. Until he saw the knife in her hands, its blade smeared with blood, not yet quite dried and glinting in the glare of the hallway's fluorescent lights. Someone had stabbed Kitano earlier that morning. He was badly hurt but not critically. He'd be back to torture Shiroiwa Junior High with denominators and differentials soon enough. He knew instantly it wasn't Noriko who did it. 
- Well, don't just stand there, give me a hand to hide this, said Noriko, standing up and placing the knife between the pages of a copy of Blenda magazine.
- Okay, but who....
Noriko raised a finger to her lips. 
- Let's go, Shu. 

It was, of course, Yoshitoki who'd shanked Kitano. Even though it was so many years ago, a wave of sadness passed through Shuya as he remembered his old friend. The way he'd raise his eyebrows and grin like an idiot whenever Shuya fell for one of his practical jokes, the way he'd bubble with uninhibited enthusiasm whenever he talked to Ms Ryoko and the way his head disintegrated into thousands of bits of bone and brain when the bomb around his neck was detonated. If he was dying, Shuya was not being spared such memories. But he still didn't know where he was. He had no reference point, there were no shapes, nothing defined. Just light and colors. 
Photochromic. That was the name of those lenses.
If he was dying? Now, there's a thought, Shuya thought to himself.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A New Morning, Changing Weather

Dreaming of drinking wasn't unusual. It had featured in every dream since he'd quit two years, five months and twenty three days ago. In fact it usually played the starring role. But dreaming in a language he couldn't speak - now that was a first. He would google translate it later to find that it even made sense. Look Mama, a shooting star.
Kit rubbed his eyes against the bright white of the clouds below and turned to the screen in front of him. The laptop had fallen asleep just after he had, no more than fifteen minutes ago. It woke with a brush of his finger, revealing a single white page.

"Switching addictive behavior in mice by genetic manipulation of the Stand Alone Complex."

Kelvin I. Thomson

The Waystead Institute for Synaptic Engineering

Running title: Tweeker squeekers.

It was a review he'd been commissioned to write for Nature Mindfuck. Not a journal he had much time for, but one with sufficiently high visibility to keep his benefactor happy and generous.
- You must be a scientist. The passenger sitting next to him was gesturing sheepishly towards the laptop screen.
- So I've been told, Kit replied.
Indeed it was something his father had told him on many occasions, usually after a lengthy discourse on the grand tradition of scientific endeavor in the family. The tradition stretched back to William Thomson, Baron of Kelvin, who had given to the world an absolute scale of temperature founded on that most unattainable of certainties, Absolute Zero. Successive generations of Thomsons followed his footsteps, some excelling, most faltering, but all with a determination to put everything in its rightful place in the universe. For the Thomsons there was no room for uncertainty in the physical world; Kit's great grandfather's claim to fame was once having landed a right hook on the jaw of Werner Heissenberg, exclaiming "Observe the position and velocity of this, you scoundrel!" Kit's decision to study the ambiguity of the human brain rather than certainties of the atoms and the forces that held them together broke family ranks and his father's heart. Some in the family saw it as a blessing that his father was in the early stages of Alzheimer's (which was in fact one of Kit's motivations for entering neuroscience) and indeed after some time his father became quite oblivious to Kit's heresy, not long before he became oblivious to Kit himself.
Kit turned to the window while he thought of something friendly to say to his neighbor, who he'd noticed had been reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of Kit's favorite novels. He'd ask him how he was enjoying it. As Kit looked out the window he saw that they had passed over the mountains and that the shiny white clouds had given way to a carpet of grey. Not the rich slate grey of rain clouds, but a dirty, mottled grey that seemed to be sucking in all the light reaching it. He was getting close to home.

Eighteen thousand feet below Johnny opened his eyes and looked up into a vermillion sky. Another weird dream, must be something to do with being alone in the desert. He was still in the desert when suddenly he got the feeling he was surrounded by horses, horses, horses, horses, coming in from all directions, white shining silver studs with their nose in flames. Pretty scary. No horses here though. Cougars, coyotes and collected critters circled him, but no horses. He was sure of that. Sort of. Actually, he encouraged the desert's creatures, leaving out candy and jerky for them. And there was still plenty of water for them. When the fairways turned to fireways and the rich angelitos fled for their gated havens they left the water - took the booze, but left the water. In plastic bottles. And Johnny. They left Johnny. Things sometimes worked out for the best. That was almost six weeks ago. Forty days in a giant sand trap. If only he could do something about getting some wine from those plastic bottles. 
Still, horses. Pretty scary. Not as scary as the fires, but still. Pretty scary. He just couldn't shake the feeling that the horses were a sign. That something bigger was on its way. Something very big.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A New Morning....

- What was that Shuya? I could not hear your answer. And I don't suppose anyone else in the class could either. Am I right class?
- Yes Miss!
Once again Shuya had been isolated. Still, it was no surprise Miss Saeki had not heard his answer - he, after all, had not heard the question. He focused on the scrunched up piece of pale blue paper lying on the classroom floor. Within its folds he could make out a crane, like the ones his sister would create from sheets of shiny colored paper. He saw it take shape and then take wing, headed for the very same window he had been looking out of when Miss saeki had asked her question.
- And I'm quite sure that everyone else in the class knows the answer. Who can answer the question for me?
Shuya could feel the breeze as hands all around him waved frantically in the air.
- You see, do you, Shuya, how alone you are in your ignorance?
Reluctantly Shuya withdrew his gaze from the scrunched up paper and he glanced around himself. Indeed every student in the class had his or her hand raised. Except for Noriko, sitting in the front of the class. Now, surely Noriko would know the answer to any question set by Miss Saeki. Had she also been daydreaming and not heard the question? Inconceivable. But at that moment Noriko turned her head and looked directly at Shuya and he realized why she had not raised her hand.
Shuya blushed.
- Yes Shuya, I can understand why you would be embarassed. You see I am quite certain that you know the answer to my question, for surely noone in class is as familiar with Soseki as you are. So I can only conclude that you had not heard my question, that your incoherent reply was just a stalling tactic. Am I right?
Shuya nodded.
- I thought so. Perhaps you will learn from this, Shuya Nanahara, that having all the answers will not mean anything to anyone, let alone yourself, if you do not listen to the questions. This you may find to be true in many ways and at many times in your life, Shuya.
- Yes Miss saeki.
Miss Saeki was full of crap. Shuya had known this for quite some time. He now wondered if perhaps Noriko did too.

At the end of class Noriko again caught Shuya's gaze. And this time she smiled just so slightly. And Shuya wondered whether maybe a bond had just been formed between them. Or maybe not.
He smiled back. Just slightly.

Shuya was fairly certain this was not a dream. After all, though it had happened many years ago, it was a real event, a real memory, and as far as he could remember, he had never before dreamt of things that had actually happened. Besides, it was so clear, like watching a DVD and being in it at the same time. Yet he had the distinct impression that the the memory had replayed in just a fraction of real time - like turning off the alarm, dreaming an epic saga of a dream, then waking up five minutes later.
More curious was the fact that he couldn't remember much about more recent - much more recent - events. He remembered being with Noriko, though that was inevitable. He vaguely recalled falling from a red sky. And the smell of smoke. And not much else.
In fact, nothing else.
He was a little worried.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A New .....

The walls of the buildings on either side of the narrow street loomed so high and leaned so far in that neither day nor night could be seen. The ground was darkest grey and if there were sidewalks and a pavement there was no indication of where one ended and the other began. The buildings, too, were shades of grey with an almost metallic sheen and here and there a touch of blue. Blue? Windows perhaps? Could there be someone looking down on the street from above? There certainly wasn’t anyone on the street.

Two figures stood at the street corner. One wore a black leather jacket, the other was in police uniform. They were smoking, talking between themselves, their attention now focused on him. His attention now focused on his feet. One foot in front of the other, straight line, watch out for that crack. He walked into a post. Not a standing structure of any kind for blocks upon blocks and he had walked into one. It wasn’t even serving any purpose. No lamp, no sign, no wires. Just a post.

Just a post!

“Good evening,” the man in the leather jacket whispered – he was that close – through a plume of smoke. He looked curiously familiar.

“We couldn’t help notice that you walked into one of our posts.” One of our posts? Strategically placed to catch the careless and the inebriated off guard?

“Have you been drinking?” asked the leather jacket guy with a sneer. Of course!. He was a character from a TV show – Shane from The Shield. Or he was the actor who played Shane. Either way it was a worrying development.

A pointless dialog would follow in which his sobriety, his honesty and his integrity would, one by one, be called into question. Shane struck his Zippo to light another cigarette. A vision of him dropping a grenade into his friend’s lap. And then running.

A screaming came across the sky. The Zippo, now a huge ball of flame arced toward the running man. On the side of the street a little girl, clad in a tiny, shiny blue raincoat, tugged at the hem of her mother’s dress. “Mirada, mama, una estrella fugazi!”

Then. White.

Just white.