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In the streets of Tokyo it is easy to get lost. Rachel had warned me and that’s why she had refused to come. She preferred beaches. She said city breaks with a backpack were for students and not serious couples that were in love like we were. I wanted to prove her wrong. Although I was captivated by the lights, the dizzying language and variety of everything so alien to me, I was tired and hungry and wanted to be back in my egg-sized hotel room. Maybe she had been right and me turning down a nice resort had been a mistake.
The rush hour had long finished and I stood sweating at the roadside clutching the address of my hotel. I had set out this morning and seemed to have forgotten where I had begun. I had walked miles and my legs were aching, my stomach was empty but my camera was full of experiences and sights as proof to Rachel. I couldn’t afford one of the eye-wateringly expensive taxis.
I reached what appeared to be the same Sushi bar for the fourth time that day and I threw my arms up in impolite frustration. As I lowered them my elbow was grabbed weakly by an elderly gentleman dressed in ragged clothing. The bespectacled man was clearly Japanese and clearly the ripe age of one hundred. He frowned and took the paper in my hand, reading the translation through several times before nodding in understanding. He tapped me with his walking stick and began an amble in the opposite direction from which I had come. He walked at such a slow pace my knees began to hurt but I did not complain and nor did I try to speak to him. He was so focused on his journey. He stopped several times to catch his breath and gestured for me to step back once or twice if I began to show concern.
We soon began to wind around unfamiliar back streets and within half an hour I was outside my hotel just half a kilometre from where I had met him. I was so relieved. He reached into the depths of his pocket and pulled out the few coins he had. Then he placed them into a glowing vending machine and handed me the ejected bottle of ice-cold water. I frantically tried to show it wasn’t necessary but the emphasis with which he thrust it towards me made it futile. I swear he was now Yen-less. He bowed me goodbye and started to hobble away. I reached into my own wallet for the banknotes I had changed up at the airport but when I forced them into his hand he let them drop to the floor.
The street was silent as his footsteps were so light. My eyes were welling up in disbelief. I lifted my camera and focused on his bent spine and wobbly gait. I pressed the button a few times. I knew these were good quality. I even took a photo of the bottle of water, focusing on the droplets as they touched my skin. I would show Rachel all of these and then she’d realize what an amazing holiday she had missed out on. There was a beauty to traveling with a language barrier. I glanced down the street again. The old man was almost out of sight but I could just make out his grey hair, his shabby coat, his cane, and his thick stream of urine as he pissed against a wall.
About the Author
Daniel Bird was born in the UK. His stories are usually comical, occasionally dark, and always short. He lives in Hong Kong. His first collection of short stories ‘Sorry Men’ will be released in early 2024 by Signal 8 Press.