Outside the love hotel, cars inched like phantom limbs on wet concrete. The tattooed artist from last night had already left. Dora took a shower, careful not to scrub off his stippling flower drawings from her breasts, then snaked between clashing umbrellas on the way home.
Her name was short for Theodora, named after her mom’s best friend, who had regular bouts of paranoid schizophrenia and eventually overdosed on antipsychotic pills in a gas station toilet. She told herself it was fate that she ended up in Japan, for her name translated into just what she was: stray.
Strays rarely experienced the true meaning of hominess. Instead, they inhaled life’s multifaceted feels in transit and discarded old bruises, ready to be picked up by another orphan.
After work, she went to a ramen restaurant in Toshima-Ku. They were showing a baseball game. Her crush Zid, who she speculated cared as much about her as she did about her students’ English skills, had promised to come. A guy tipped her shoulder with his index finger.
“Are you from America?” He was wearing the typical salary-man gear of white shirt under a black suit. Dora shook her head.
“No, I’m from Madagascar.” She moved her eyes onto the screen.
“You want to teach me English?” He asked. She emptied her glass. He insisted. “I need to improve my English. I work with American clients.”
“Is that so?” She stared through the TV. He ordered her a drink, said his name was Satoshi and he worked for the public relations department of an energy giant. Satoshi spoke with confidence.
More importantly, he offered twelve thousand yen. When he placed his hand on her knee she said “OK,” so he led her to the toilet in the back of the restaurant. Against the cold tile wall of the men’s toilet cabin, her blood was pounding beneath the skin.
Later she could make out Zid’s reddish hair in the crowd. Dora elbowed her way to him and noticed his hand around a Japanese woman’s butt so she turned around and ran to the subway station, fixating on the moon. She’d read somewhere that it wasn’t physically possible for a person to cry while looking up.
A week later, she was in Akihabara and someone slipped her a pill, which melted in her mouth like milk chocolate. Her body swung to ear-splitting electro music at the club, a trail of vodka on her lips and eventually danced her way into a Brazilian man’s bed. He kneaded her butt and said she looked like Angelina Jolie. In the morning, she stepped into the bathroom, leaned forward and with a somber clarity that bewildered her, realized she only felt beautiful in the arms of strange men.
She ran out the door, away from the sky that was threatening to crush her. In a marble forest, she found phantoms with yellow flickering eyes. They came out of gnarled roots underneath a dilapidated teahouse. Next thing she remembered was waking up in Yoyogi Park. The phantoms were stones by the pond and the teahouse was entirely in her mind. She pushed herself up on her hands and knees and kicked a pile of newspapers on the way to the train station. On the subway, high school girls were chanting with their shortened skits, invisible wings and gentle singing hearts. In the organized stillness of Tokyo’s belly, Dora felt havoc fighting to escape her, wanting to wreck the city that wrecked her.
The following day, she woke before the sun went up. The Meiji Shrine was one of her favorite places. She bought an ‘Ema’ – a wooden plate and wrote down the word weightless.
With a coffee in her hand, she paced down Takeshita-dori, which at that point was filling up with people, voices rising and falling. A display window showcased surreal tattoos of interconnected animals and buildings. She pushed the heavy door open and nearly dropped to the floor when she recognized the man at the counter from their night at the love hotel.
“I’ll be with you in a second.” He was tending to a woman whose lace thong was sticking out of her low-rise jeans. There were bamboo plants and miniature bonsai and she spotted two flower arrangements in standing vases.
“I’m Jun. How can I help?” She took a sip out of her coffee to soothe the knot in her throat. “Is it possible that we’ve met before?”
“You do seem familiar.”
“I’m Dora. I think I know you from a bar in Tashima. You drew on my breasts.”
“Yes of course.” A blush spread on his cheeks. He opened a folder of designs for her to take a look at, explaining all his tattoos were custom made. Instead of a tattoo, she got his phone number.
Dora swung herself on the saddle and hit the pedals like a shot. She stopped and bought a cupcake at a Swiss bakery, ate it in front of a re-run of a popular high school J-drama and soaked her body in a orange-scented bathwater. It had been one of her best birthdays.
Maybe things weren’t that bad, she thought. Maybe strays won’t stop being perpetually restless, but when they find someone who drew the most startling flowers on their skin, they could finally spread dark and proud, little bubbles of mid-afternoon air.