He pegged me a tourist taking flicks.
“Wow, that must be really interesting. I always wanted to go there,” the barber said when I told him that I live in Tokyo, Japan.
“What’s it like?”
It’s like crouching under the atmosphere to keep from scorching your head. Earth’s glowing curvature is a celestial levee, a barrier to the darkness. The stars are neon streets and heavenly islands of light. They are as real as phantom pain firing from a severed limb. You stand still, afraid of stepping on the people below. You’re always in the way. Sometimes all you see is the white of clouds.
Up there is an anechoic chamber. The thickness of silence is parallel to the thinning of oxygen at high altitudes. You can hear the blood streams that pulse through your head. The folding of underwater currents are your heart valves, lumping your life away. All you have is time and it’s always leaving you. Your tongue is a loud shoreline. Saliva is the tide vibrating your ears. The sounds that your body makes, alienate you from it. To escape this torturous loop, you seek foreign sounds from familiar places.
“They treat you with a level of decency that we don’t get here. I’ve lived there for almost ten years so I don’t notice it anymore, but soon as I get home, white people sense that I carry myself differently,” I said.
I feel like I’m supposed to cower at the force of their gaze.
The barbershop’s TV was talking about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatening to fire his players for taking a knee during the national anthem. 45 was decertifying the Iran deal. His voice was a hammer tapping my skull.
I told the barber that minus our history, “the Japanese are the white people of Asia.”
“Really? Like what….”
My first thought was the time that I was walking home at night. I made a salary man jump and run backwards into a wall. I described the middle-aged woman that walked in front of me. She thought that I was following her. She kept looking at my reflection in the passing windows of buildings and cars. She stopped and nodded. I passed her. She clipped my heel trying to walk behind me.
Definitively I can’t say if Japan is as dangerous for blacks as it is at home, but judging by their fear, I suspect that it’s about the same, probably more so, I told him. They don’t even like to sit or stand near me.
“We’re taught to be afraid of the unknown,” my wife told me.
“But down here, white people are violent,” I told the barber. Talking and starring is taking steps to fighting. Japanese people will stare the fuck out of you, like you some kind of zoo animal, but most of them aren’t confrontational.
“Japanese Popo will stop-n-frisk you, just in case you got a bomb in your bag. You know, you never know.”
You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?’
Here’s two recent Tokyo subway ads.
“Yeah,” the barber sighed.
He sounded solemn. Either I was delivering bad news or confirming it.
At home, it felt like some white people’s tongues wanted to be whips and chains. Their arrogance smelled like raccoon road kill. The anxiety that floods me in Japan, the minute I leave my apartment, is similar to that of walking around Orlando.
“You get white customers?” I asked.
“Yeah, that was a white lady that I just got off the phone with, making an appointment.”