On the last day Quinn and Daniel spent in Tokyo they jogged through the outlying parks of the Imperial Palace grounds. A large plaza stretched out before an adjoining bridge that spanned a wide moat encircling the grounds of the palace.
Tourists took pictures in front of the famous Nijubashi Bridge from every possible angle, the stone bridge straddling the palace moat with a serene grace. The double arches of the bridge were reflected in the water below, which was so still the entire scene looked as if it were being viewed in a mirror. It was as though the collective history of all that the moat had been built to keep out had settled upon it with such heaviness that even the water had hardened to the texture of glass.
As they jogged a path that travelled along the moat, Quinn spotted a small Japanese boy playing across the plaza. He had a ball constructed of colored paper that he batted up with a plump hand, watching it float on the breezeless air. When he caught it again, it crumpled in his hands. The paper ball had the same markings as a beach ball when inflated, floating on the reverie of a bright summer day, only to crumple like a wad of used tissue paper once it met with the boy's hands again. Smiling, the boy would bring a hole in the small bunch of damaged paper to his lips, and blowing, would watch it inflate once more to the full glory of a brightly colored ball.
An expression in the boy's eyes caught Quinn's attention, and the entire world seemed to slow around the little face that intently followed his paper ball as it floated on the air over the plaza. He looked like Toby, like Toby looked when Quinn first met him. Staring at the little boy as she jogged, it seemed to Quinn as though she had somehow managed to run backwards through time. She saw the same tilt of the face, and expression around the eyes that she had spied on Toby's face when he walked up the street to meet the bus in elementary school.
She remembered then that Toby's mother had been Japanese. He had mentioned during the blood drive that his father and mother met in Japan. An almost dissociative curiosity invaded Quinn's daydreaming, and she found herself wondering whether perhaps Toby's mother had jogged the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, when she herself was Quinn's age. Judging by the number of Japanese who shared the trail with her and Daniel, it was a fairly popular past time in the city. Regardless, it seemed almost impossible that Toby's mother would not have visited the Imperial Palace, considering she had grown up in Japan. Upon this realization, Quinn experienced the haunting sense of knowing someone that only occurs through a direct experience of what is familiar to the other person first. Quinn felt almost guilty, sensing something of Kyoko's presence in her experience of Japan, an experience Toby himself could not claim.
Quinn's chest swelled and burned, and as she pushed harder up the path she lost sight of the little boy playing across the plaza. Daniel slowed ahead of her, to make it easier for her to close the distance between them on the path. She felt something tickle the inside of her ear and realized it was wet. She had not been aware of the few stray tears escaped, streaking over the hard set of her jaw as she ran.
Several hours into the flight from Tokyo to Prague Quinn fell asleep, her head lolling from Daniel's shoulder onto his chest. Her hair was askew where her head rested before it fell. Daniel stroked her hair absentmindedly. Quinn's hair smelled faintly of amber and a citrusy spice, and the memory of her hair damp against his face in the dark of night inspired an ache of longing in Daniel like the one with which a person's body demands the next breath.
He lowered his face, pressing his lips and nose into her ear, and breathed. Quinn stirred, burrowing her head against his chest, though she did not wake. Daniel lifted his head, and painfully shifted back into a seated position. In his experience with girls, he had seldom been denied what he wanted, but he had never asked for much. He could not comprehend the change that had come over him, though it was not something he sought to understand; it was simply a thing he stepped quietly around.
He wondered what Quinn found, when she came to him in those dark pockets of night where sleep evaded her. He knew the hunger she brought with her. He was always aware of his own, whereas hers seemed to dissipate in that stream of morning light that announced a new day's demands. He saw her most clearly in those shadow hours, where they were naked and swollen and sweet. These were the stolen moments he longed for, but they gave way to moments that had to be earned, and left him exhausted. These and other half formed thoughts lulled him into slumber, and faded from his mind in a dreamless fog.
They touched down in Prague early in the evening. Driving from the airport on the outskirts of the city, they were initially greeted by the sight of mundane sprawl. Non-descript buildings jutted out of the landscape like blocks discarded on a child's floor, typifying the unique power of urban sprawl to make its location in any city in the world indistinguishable from any other.
It was not long before they turned a bend and found that hidden just around the hill was a hulking mass of communist era block housing that stretched across the horizon. Windows dotted floors rising up twenty stories high, the lightly colored buildings like white washed honeycombs littering the ground.
Quinn was seated beside Sonia and turning toward her, asked, "How many people live in those buildings?"
"As many as they will hold," Sonia shrugged. "Those housing units are called Panelaks, they are this country's version of the projects."
Quinn was skeptical, "I have never seen so many projects all together in the same space like that before."
"Equality was never a serious experiment in our country," Sonia laughed.
The sky was pale but still light behind the buildings.
"They look like giant Legos lying in the grass." Quinn mused.
Daniel had dozed on and off during the drive, but roused, looking around at the buildings.
Smiling, Ali said, "The boys pay attention when Legos are mentioned."
Jeremy laughed, a gesture that coming from him drew everyone's attention. "Dude, you can seriously build anything with Legos...even a LEGO."
Quinn thought back to the replica of the Tokyo Tower she saw when they were in Tokyo that was constructed of Legos. Considering the Tokyo Tower was a copy of the Eiffel Tower, it occurred to Quinn that this made the Lego tower a replica of a replica.
The conversation lulled. In the moments they drove on in silence the scene changed again, providing a contrast with what had come before as stark as a lingering dream with the waking world. The turrets of the Prague castle, sitting high on the hill that rose over the Vltava River, crowned the glory of an ancient city center. Below, statues of saints held vigil along the immense Charles Bridge. Every cobble stone arch seemed to hold the secrets of a century, whispering to the roiling river as it flowed beneath the bridge, rushing blindly out into the sea of time.
YOU ARE READING
A Singular WitnessScience Fiction
Quinn wants to escape her claustrophobic hometown after her father dies unexpectedly from a rare parasitic infection, and an internship filming feed in cities around the world for a software company developing a virtual running game seems like her t...