fiction 2019 / spring 2019 / volume 49

Looking for Work—George Saitoh

It happened before, when I was in Morocco. I remember the scrambling from one half-hour or even quarter-hour of refuge to the next, in a café or on a public playground swing, until bedtime and, whether I had earned it or not, sleep.

 

All animals have to sleep. It is nature’s first rule.

 

Some time later it happened again, in Spain. I might as well have still been in Morocco for all the difference I could make out in the dry late August sunshine. The ladies of Madrid moved at the same pace, their hair blew back around their necks and their stormy eyes struck you as more native than you were capable of enduring. The afternoon street shadows seemed like giant waiters hovering in black aprons for a wealthy customer.

 

All day I had walked the modern district of Marrakech from the moment the accordion shop shutters parted, smelling the things that were useless to me in my search for work. And work, as for that word, it developed into something I no longer felt I understood, making my search the more elusive.

 

In Madrid I came to know the Plaza de Colon as a human colon—mine—and the Gran Via as a thoroughfare through which the entire population of the Spanish capital, with their dashing charisma and breathless pursuit of pleasure, could enter and escape me in the most efficient way.

 

No work. “But had I tried there yet?” Not yet. Tomorrow. You couldn’t be sure that there was no work until every place was tried. That would take a lifetime. I walked myself light. Like in weight. Light in the head. Light in ego. If I kept walking I knew—if I kept searching—I would eventually cease to exist.

 

The day my wallet was stolen in Retiro Park I stood among a flock of feeding pigeons, under the shade of some plane trees, and convinced myself that it could have happened to anybody. If only it would rain, I thought, drive indoors the students with their suntanned skin and bright clothes and years of good-time credit fuelling their thoughts.

 

At a bullfight a rich old man propositioned my girlfriend as we stood in line for tickets. Instinctively flirtatious she responded with a throaty sound like a purr and a flap of her heavy Andalusian eyelids. I hoped the man might pay for our tickets but he didn’t. As the bulls were being slowly killed I looked for the man around the Plaza de Toros but couldn’t find him. Yet, I felt that he could see me. I got badly burnt before the sun set.

 

After the bullfighting, on the street outside, we found a paper-strewn bodega to stand in and admire the tile work and abundance of tapas under glass that I couldn’t afford, and sip a Mahou that tasted like my last remaining hope. Expensive hams hung from the rafters by the dozen; the glistening fat flowing like glass. But I couldn’t find work.

 

Twenty years later in Tokyo, the summer air has abrupty turned dry and the sudden clarity of the buildings and the people is like a revelation that you have been right all along about something unpleasant.

 

I am aware that there are only a few days remaining of August, and that I am walking through the afternoon penumbral streets, looking for work. The pace of the other people is the same as I remember in Madrid and Marrakech. The sounds too, and the hair. Even the faces.

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