This is the story of a father who is estranged from his daughter.
|“Is … ..eat ….ken?”
Jessica, on her way home from a short day at school, looked up. A middle-aged, almost bald and rather chubby guy was looking right back at her, smiling. Obviously he hadn’t noticed her ear-buds. She took them out. The sound of the subway filled her ears immediately.
“Is this seat taken?”
Jessica was a little bewildered by that question. She was sitting all by herself in a compartment of one of the last cars of the Astoria Line.
“Sure”, she said, immediately realizing that she wasn’t answering his question.
He understood her anyway. He sat down opposite her and smiled again.
Jessica put her ear buds back in and averted her eyes from the man, staring down at the floor. In order to get her message across, she even got out her cell phone and pretended to have some important business to do. In reality, she just checked if there were any messages from Hannah or anyone else. There weren’t. There hadn’t been any for two days now.
“..ou …ive ..oun ..ere?”
Who was this guy? Again, unable to ignore him, Jessica got out her ear-buds. At least, this time, she didn’t care to say anything. She just looked at him.
“You live around here?”
“No, not really”, she said, already on the alert and less polite.
“Where do you live then?”
“Brooklyn”, she lied. She neither had the courage to ignore him, nor did she have the guts to tell him how annoyed, even harassed she felt by him and his behavior.
“Oh, Brooklyn, he said. Where about in Brooklyn?”
Jeez, this guy was inquisitive. High time to pull the plug.
“I’m sorry”, she said and got up. “This is my stop.”
The subway was nowhere near the next stop, but Jessica felt so uncomfortable that she would do anything to get away from this guy.
“Oh, okay”, he said, seemingly disappointed. “Have a nice day!”
Unfortunately, the exit doors were in plain sight and Jessica didn’t want to come on too strong in her rejection of this man and his behavior. So she just got up, turned her back to him and walked over to the exit doors. The subway was rattling on for what seemed an eternity and then finally came to a halt. As the doors opened, Jessica got out, marched on and didn’t look back. It was only when the subway had left again and when she heard no footsteps behind her that she dared to turn around. There was nobody there. Jessica breathed a sigh of relief. For some reason, she felt as if she had just escaped from a possible rape.
Beebe Avenue, it said on the subway sign. Jessica had never got off here before. And although the platform, the adjacent flats, the shops, the high-rise buildings in the background and the people living and working in this area didn’t look very different from the people that were living and working around her apartment, she felt as if she had accidentally stepped on uncharted territory. And this feeling of having discovered something that she had never seen before, reminded her of the artist Hannah had talked about: Vivian Maier. This woman who had been walking the streets of New York in the 50s had created works of art, great and outstanding street photography.
Being in a place that she had never been to before, Jessica hoped to see her city with the eyes of a stranger. She got out her cell phone which was equipped with a top-notch camera and switched it onto the black and white mode. Then she took a few pictures from the platform she was standing on. She took a picture of the railings made of wrought iron, of an empty vintage trashcan and, pretending to do a selfie, she secretly took a picture from an old man leaning against a wall and reading a newspaper. She then walked down the stairs and through the underpass, intent on exploring the neighborhood a little. She wandered into the streets, looking out for interesting subjects that she could then immortalize for future generations. But most of the people she met looked ordinary and boring and like nothing to write home about. On top of that, Jessica was too scared to ask the few halfway interesting people she saw if it was okay to take their picture. So she kept on taking pictures of inanimate objects like house facades, shop windows, fire hydrants, letter boxes and so on and so forth. After a while she sat down on a bench and looked at the twenty or so pictures she had taken. None of them struck her as being extraordinary and the black and white mode hadn’t quite created the effect she had hoped for and which she had seen in Vivian Maier’s pictures.
This isn’t art, she thought. These are just random pictures. Anybody could have taken them.
She sat on that bench a little longer, wondering why some pictures were considered art whereas other pictures were just considered plain pictures. She wondered what it would take for her to become an artist, to have an eye that would see things worth of being captured, to find subjects that would reveal a deeper meaning or offer an understanding of a hidden concept or truth. But she found no answer. She just knew that her pictures were crap and so she deleted them, one by one.
When she got up to get back to the subway station, to continue her journey home, she felt like tossing the cell phone into the trashcan next to her. But of course, she refrained from doing so. A drug addict could tell himself a thousand times that he could stop using any time, but he would never throw away his sachet of marihuana.
Half an hour later, Jessica had reached home. Her dad, as usual, wasn’t in, so she went straight to her room and booted her laptop. She logged straight onto the chat group Sailor Moon Room and wrote a message, although the status of the chat room clearly stated that there was no one there.
(naokohill entered the room)
naokohill: Hey, shoichiyokoi, u there?
There was nothing but a blinking cursor. Digital silence.
Jessica got her sketch block and her drawing utensils from the top shelf and opened her volume of Hikaru Hayashi’s How to draw Manga. In it, on page 324, she found an interesting chapter on how to deal with problems of head-body ratio. She started reading and found some sample drawings on the following page, which she started to copy. One of those samples was a rather large, almost Sumo wrestler type of guy and his face reminded Jessica a little of the man who had talked to her on the subway. As she was drawing the huge belly of the Sumo, Jessica’s thoughts wandered off to that particular scene. She reenacted the whole scene from memory, she rewound, fast forwarded or froze images of the scene as she pleased. She did so in order to find out if this guy had really tried to harass her or if she had blown this scene completely out of proportion. She looked for evidence that this man was just a nice old man looking for small talk and she looked for evidence that this guy was a Hannibal Lecter kind of serial killer, who abducted girls, took them home with him, cut them up and spooned their brains out while they were still alive. The odd thing, she thought, which had raised red flags right away, was the fact that he had chosen to sit next to her in an otherwise empty wagon. The questions he had asked were quite commonplace if you took them out of context, but they had an undercurrent of creepiness to them if you put them back in context. All in all, Jessica was unsure whether she had overreacted or whether she had done the right thing. She ended up blaming the city of New York for her behavior, a city full of stories of girls being harassed, raped or even killed. Why couldn’t I have grown up in Kansas where you can trust everyone, she thought, but then chuckled at the very idea of living in godforsaken Kansas.
(shoichiyokoi entered the room)
shoichiyokoi: Hey, naokohill, i’m over here (lol), u still there?
Jessica virtually fell off her chair when she noticed the message on her laptop screen. She startled and threw herself onto the keyboard. She typed the message as fast as humanly possible.
naokohill: hey, yeah, i’m here, glad you could make it!
shoichiyokoi: yeah, had to spent some time in the real world
shoichiyokoi: you can say that again
naokohill: what u doin?
shoichiyokoi: nothing. u ?
naokohill: hayashi’s H to draw M
shoichiyokoi: good stuff, which volume?
naokohill: bodies & anatomy
shoichiyokoi: illustrating battles is my fave
naokohill: not for beginners though
shoichiyokoi: tru that. what xctly r u drawin?
naokohill: sumo wrestler
naokohill: i know
Jessica and shoichiyokoi (she hadn’t asked for his real name yet) chatted away for some time and it was mostly irrelevant, trite small talk. With each exchange, Jessica grew weary of the redundant messages and wondered if shoichiyokoi felt the same way. She was almost on the verge of leaving when suddenly shoichiyokoi decided to take it up a notch and proposed to meet at a real life event.
shoichiyokoi: there’s a cosplay convention in philly next weekend, u wanna come?
There it was. The step Jessica had been too afraid to take. It had been hanging in the air, she had noticed the connection, the chemistry between them and now he had finally dared to ask the question. Jessica felt thrilled, nervous and scared at the same time. What if he was ugly? What if he was a dick, or older than she expected or some weirdo who was just trying to get into her pants, some sexual predator that seduced girls like her in the world wide web and set a trap for them in real life?
But then again, he wanted to meet her at a convention. It couldn’t be any more public and any safer than that. The train to Philly was an hour and a half, so there was no need for her to sleep over at his place or somewhere else. She wouldn’t even have to tell her dad. But what about the cosplay itself? She had never done it before. Where would she get a dress? It didn’t matter, she had to respond now, he was waiting.
naokohill: sure? why not? but i don’t know how to dress.
shoichiyokoi: you can order a costume on amazon.
naokohill: how much are they?
shoichiyokoi: from 10$ to 1000$, if you wanna be taken seriously you got to sew your own
naokohill: can’t sew
shoichiyokoi: just kiddin for starters it’s okay if you just buy one
naokohill: mmh..not sure, don’t wanna look dumb
shoichiyokoi: come on, if you don’t have the money I can get u a dress
naokohill: that’s not the issue i have money
shoichiyokoi: what is it then?
Naokohill: nothing i’m coming, when and where do you wanna meet up?
While shoichiyokoi was typing the coordinates of where and how they could meet up, Jessica scrolled up to take a look at their preceding conversation. She was satisfied with her questions and remarks and felt that she came across as a cool and casual type of girl, although in reality, she was scared shitless. She had never given in to any approaches made to her over the web, so this was a first. In her imagination, shoichiyokoi had already taken form and looked like a cool Japanese-American boy: thick black hair, white skin, average height, sharp eyes, a nice smile and casual but sporty clothes. A younger version of Daniel Dae Kim (who was of Korean descent, actually). But what if he wasn’t like that at all? What if he was more like a younger version of Matthew Moy (who probably wasn’t Japanese, either). For the time being, she discarded those thoughts and focused on what shoichiyokoi was saying. She wrote down the time and place of their meeting in Philly and continued to apply the casual tone of their conversation.
naokohill: great. guess i gotta check fares to philly now.
shoichiyokoi: i took a train to ny before. It’s probably aroun 40$
shoichiyokoi: so c u then.
naokohill: c u. looking forward.
shoichiyokoi: same over here
Jessica logged out of the web and closed the laptop. Caught in a sensual frenzy, she had to get up and pace up and down her room. It was as if she was about to burst with energy. There was this electricity in the air and a lighthearted nausea within her that reacted with one another. Finally something was happening. She would discover a new world, meet new people and make friends who all shared her passion for Japanese Manga. What should she wear? In her mind, she already acted out her first encounter with schoichiyokoi. Speaking of which, she still didn’t know his real name. It didn’t matter, she had his cell phone number, she could ask him, maybe he even had a profile picture so that she could see beforehand what he looked like.
Anyway, back to the question of what to wear. Jessica made an effort to calm herself down, then she opened her laptop again and went to amazon.com. She entered the key word cosplay costume into to search engine and looked at the results. There were some costumes as cheap as 10$ but they looked cheap, too. The more expensive ones, the ones that Jessica liked were 50$ or more. The other thing that Jessica noticed was that the costumes were all rather sexy if not downright sleazy. Especially the so called Sailor School Uniforms (sometimes specified by the term Lolita) took a lot of courage to wear and looked as if they had sprung from some dirty mind’s fantasy. This is not the way to go, Jessica concluded.
She got up and started to ransack her wardrobes and chests of drawers for clothes she hadn’t been wearing but which might came in handy if she wanted to assemble her own costume. In addition, she got Christopher Hart’s The Manga fashion bible from her bookshelf and leafed through the 144 pages. There were a lot of outfits that used ordinary clothes as basis and soon Jessica had an idea about what to wear. She got her green rain boots from the attic, then she took her father’s old yellow raincoat from the cloakroom. She took off her jeans and put on the red stockings she had gotten for Christmas a few years ago. She put on her short black chino pants and a white T-Shirt. Then she wrapped herself in the yellow raincoat and pranced around a little before the mirror. She was content, but not quite satisfied. To complete the outfit, she got her bubble dome shape rain umbrella from her closet. Now she was happy. All I need to do now, she thought, is to add a little lipstick and rouge and then I’m good to go. Maybe swap the white shirt for a red one, but that’s it.
She spent the rest of the day surfing the Internet and doing her homework. When her father came home, she stayed inside her room and tried to ignore his presence. But as she grew hungry, she had to go to the kitchen and get something to eat. She left her room and made a conscious effort not to avoid her father, since she was tired of this exercise. Besides, she was in a rather good mood and therefore she felt that it couldn’t hurt if she was nice to her father, too, albeit accidentally. But, arriving in the kitchen, she noticed that her father wasn’t there. He was there, alright, but not in the kitchen. She suspected him in his office room and so she felt even more relaxed to do as she pleased.
She got out some Nature’s Own butterbread from the breadbox, took some pickles, tomato slices, ham, cheese and lettuce from the fridge and designed half a dozen sandwiches for herself. She deliberately took her time, proving to herself that she was not avoiding her father but that, when it came to improving her relationship with her dad, her hands were tied because he locked himself inside his office room just as much as she locked herself inside her room.
After twenty minutes she had prepared a plate of five sandwiches and a big glass of orange juice (she had already eaten one). She stuck around the kitchen for a while, listening into the apartment trying to discern the noise coming out of her father’s office, but to no avail. Disheartened and not believing in a friendly, let alone fruitful encounter with her dad, she took the plate and went back into her room.
Just as she closed the door, three walls and two rooms across from Jessica, her father had just finished preparing his things for the next day. Hoping to find his daughter in the kitchen, he left his office instantly and walked to the one room in the house both were using to the same extent (apart from the bathroom, of course). But Jessica wasn’t there. As always, Stephen wasn’t sure whether a new attempt at knocking on her door in a friendly, non-intrusive manner was in order, but since his stomach was empty, he decided to get something to eat first.
He got out some Nature’s Own butterbread from the breadbox, took some pickles, tomato slices, ham, cheese and lettuce from the fridge and designed four sandwiches for himself. He deliberately took his time, proving to himself that he was not avoiding his daughter but that, when it came to improving his relationship with her, his hands were tied because she locked herself inside her room just as much as he locked himself inside his room.
After twenty minutes he had prepared a plate of sandwiches and two Budweiser. He stuck around the kitchen for a while, listening into the apartment trying to discern the noise coming out of his daughter’s room, but to no avail. Disheartened and not believing in a friendly, let alone fruitful encounter with his daughter, he took the plate and went back into his room.