Do I miss myself?
by Holley Ziemba
Runestone, volume 6
Runestone, volume 6
Do I miss myself?
by Holley Ziemba
There’s a little boy to my left. He looks to be around seven, standing behind who I assume to be his parents—a man and a woman. He’s talking to them in a language I don’t understand—Japanese, I presume, since I’m in Japan. It looks like he’s trying to get his parents’ attention, but they’re not giving it to him. They’re not even granting him a glance, eyes glued on each other as they continue to talk.
The little boy is most likely telling them about something that happened at school today. His arms move wildly, fluttering in the air not-so-smoothly and nearly hitting the people standing beside him. He doesn’t seem to notice that, though, doesn’t seem to care either. He only stares up at his parents with wide, curious eyes. The only people that look at him are the other strangers standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change so that they can cross the street—so that we can cross the street. He talks louder.
It takes a couple heartbeats for the little boy to realize that no matter how crazily he waves his arms, no matter how loud he talks, his parents won’t react. He grows quiet, shrinking in on himself. His head turns down, eyes now looking at the pavement. He’s sad, I can tell. He may not know that he’s feeling forgotten, but I know. I know he feels a little dejected by the dismissal of his parents.
Maybe he has no idea why his parents are ignoring him. Maybe this is the first time it’s occurred, his parents normally smothering him in attention. Or maybe, maybe, this little boy has faced this situation for far too long and doesn’t feel like trying anymore.
It seems like a reoccurring event. The way his parents didn’t offer him a side glance while he talked, the way they didn’t flinch when he tugged on their clothes, the way they didn’t even seem to care about him felt a little too normal. Maybe this is what the little boy has to go through every day, only there when his parents decide they have time for him. He’s probably only loud because he isn’t getting the attention he needs.
Maybe he’s lonely, too, invisible to the ones that were always supposed to see him.
Behind me, there’s a group of girls talking—three of them, all dressed in matching school uniforms, high schoolers. The shorter one with short, black hair, dark brown eyes, and round glasses perched on her nose. The tallest one with long, brown hair and light brown eyes. And the one in the middle with long, black hair and blue eyes—her frame looking smaller than her friend’s, who was shorter. She’s the only one I hear laughing.
From where I stand, I only hear the murmurs of their conversation and the middle height girl’s laugh. She laughs at something she says; she laughs at something her friends say; she laughs at everything. Not in a mean way, though. It seems sadder than that. Her friends hold their smiles, but they don’t laugh with her. She must feel so alone being average—in the middle, not too tall, not too small, not too pretty, not too ugly, she’s just there.
She looks happy. But I think she’s pretending. She’s laughing to only make people believe she’s happy, to make other people like her. People tend to like someone better if they’re happy most of the time. Maybe she’s figured that out already, trying her hardest to be what other people want her to be.
She’s probably dealt with people that didn’t listen to her problems, people that weren’t there for her when she was upset. She pushes it away, then, putting on this happy front with everyone in hopes that they’ll like her simply because she’s happy. People most likely find her annoying because of this.
She laughs again, louder than before. She throws her head back and laughs towards the sky. Her friends only smile, glancing at each other as they wait for her laughter to calm down. She notices, but continues on. She probably laughs a little louder every time someone new decides to leave her.
Her and her friends are most likely going shopping, on their way to one of the countless malls in Shibuya, Tokyo. It had to be her idea, with the way she keeps talking, keeps filling in the spaces where words fall quiet between them. She probably invited them along so they’d spend time with her.
She must fear being alone, left already one too many times.
On the one side of the crossing, there is an area where buskers perform. Every time I reach this side, I listen to them. Some sing, some play an instrument; some do this alone, some do it with others. I have two minutes to listen to them, to hear more than just people talking, before the light changes again, sending us all forward to our next destination. Then it’s another fourteen minutes until I make it back to this side, including the time it takes to cross the street and the waiting period for the light to change. Some buskers leave during that time, some join.
When I first started walking around the Shibuya Crossing, almost an hour and a half ago, there was a man who stood by himself, only a microphone with him. He still stands there now, his face aimed down and his voice a soft hum. The more I pass him, the more tired he looks. His shoulders slump forward and his eyes droop, blinking slowly. He sings softly, so only the ones closest to him can hear.
I’m one of the few that stand by to listen to him, other people more entranced by the louder voices and the fancier instruments of the other buskers. But, even though I can’t understand what this guy is singing, he’s calming. His voice washes over me like a wave of warmth, connecting us in one area for just two minutes.
Even though he looks tired, he keeps going, his voice as soft and as sturdy as before. He seems like he’s done this already, like this is a routine for him—coming out to sing softly into his microphone every day. I wonder if he enjoys singing or if he’s just trying to earn some money. He looks like he enjoys it, a small sparkle in his eyes when he starts another song.
When someone drops some money into the small tin sitting in front of him, he bows in a polite thank you and continues on with the song. He doesn’t seem to mind only having a small crowd around him, though, never trying to attract more attention. He just sings softly into his microphone. He must just like music then, sings more for himself then for everyone else, but does it in front of everyone else because that way he’s not alone.
Maybe he likes music because he feels less alone when he sings the words of another.
There’s a traveler, much like myself, walking around the crossing, already having looped it twice. She’s snapping picture after picture, her camera seeming to be glued to her face. I guess she feels safer hiding behind it. She’s pointing it at the sky, at the buildings, at the people, at the ground. She’s trying to capture every inch of this scene, it seems. Is she afraid to forget it?
She takes another picture, pointing her camera at the same building I’ve seen her take two other pictures of. Maybe she’s taking pictures for somebody else, for someone back home, someone who isn’t able to travel or see the world. Maybe this girl travels for them, photographing everything so intently that this person can stitch the photographs together into a movie, make it seem like they’re the ones walking here.
She pulls the camera down from her face for the first time and I watch as her eyes glue themselves to the screen. She clicks a few buttons, the screen changing to a picture I can’t see from where I stand. A sad smile stretches her lips, cracking the serious look she held before.
Maybe she’s here to feel closer to someone she can no longer see. They might have left her photographs of this place, of these same buildings, of memories they made. Perhaps she’s here to recreate them, to include herself into memories she wasn’t a part of to begin with.
Does she feel closer to them when she relives their memories? Does she feel like their presence is with her again, filling this empty hole that appeared when they left? Maybe she’s only trying to feel whole again, looking through each picture like she’s trying to find something. Is she trying to find herself, like me, or to find someone she once knew? Or is she trying to find something else in the pictures of the people she keeps taking? She raises her camera, pointing at the large crowd waiting for the light to change, and snaps another picture.
Maybe she thinks the pictures of people will fill the loneliness that sits in her bones.
To my right, there’s a woman; her hair is tied up in a messy bun and she’s wearing office attire, most likely on her way home from work. She stands in heels, shiny ones that look painful to wear for long periods of time. She’s wearing a facemask, too, one that loops around her ears and hides the bottom half of her face. I can only see her eyes, which droop tiredly. She looks exhausted. Her arms hang at her side with no effort, her back slouching, and her head hanging forward. Her eyes close for longer than a blink once in a while, as if they were begging to sleep.
She had a bad day at work, I can tell. With the way she doesn’t even react as people push past her and the way she seems to sag where she stands, it looks like the weight of the world is pressing itself onto her shoulders.
She probably works in an office that’s made up of mostly men. Men who like to remind her that she’s lower than them just because she’s a woman, especially her boss. Maybe her boss yells at her daily, expecting her to do everything correctly every single time and yelling at her for the slightest of mistakes.
Maybe she only wants to be invisible now, already having far too much attention from her boss. She’d rather not be seen anymore. I wonder if she has someone to talk to about that. Her husband probably doesn’t understand, doesn’t take her side. He most likely takes her boss’ side, saying that he knows what’s best since he’s the boss and she’s not.
She knows better, though. She knows that her boss is only in that position because of his family, the owners of the business. She knows that she is the one with the higher education and the experience and he is not. Yet, it doesn’t matter, because she’s only a woman in a man’s eyes.
She must be lost, stuck in between people who don’t listen to her or see her true value.
There’s an older man sitting on a cement wall, one that sits only a couple feet high and wraps around a raised patch of grass. The old man faces the street, watching as cars go by, watching as people go by. He hasn’t moved since the last time I was on this side, still sitting in the same place.
We make eye contact a few times, his lips offering me a gentle smile and his eyes sparkling with curiosity. I wonder if he’s playing the same game I am, putting stories to the faces of strangers around him. Did he play this game with someone else before, too? Does he play the game now to feel closer to them, too?
What does he see me as? Does he put a story to my face, telling my story within his imagination? Perhaps he’s seen that I’ve been walking around the crossing for a long time. Maybe he thinks I’m lost. Maybe he thinks that I’m lonely, left by myself in a place I don’t belong. He’s lonely, sitting by himself in the busiest place he could find. I guess I’m no better, only walking instead of sitting.
He stands up suddenly, the first time I’ve seen him move, and stretches his limbs. He picks up his cane still leaning against the concrete wall and turns to look at the road again. When his eyes meet mine, he isn’t surprised like I am. He must have done it on purpose.
He smiles at me once more, his smile wide and unreserved. I smile back, confused with his actions. When he bows his head to me, I also return it. But, from there, the old man turns and walks away, heading down the street. I watch him until he disappears into the crowd, swallowed up in all the other strangers I don’t know.
I wonder if this old man is so alone that he comes here every day, perched on the same cement wall, to watch the faces of strangers that pass, guessing their stories until he finds one as lonely as him.
I am here, walking around the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan by myself. I am alone like everyone else, just trying to get from one place to another. I’m far from the place people call my home, but still not any closer to finding myself.
I thought putting stories to the faces of strangers would help me find a piece of myself that was missing, but it hasn’t. It hasn’t helped me find anything except loneliness and I’m not sure that’s what I want or what I need, but it’s what I got. Maybe if I keep walking, I’ll find what I’m looking for—something other than this loneliness or another person who understands my loneliness.
Maybe I’ll keep walking and find nothing.
Maybe I’ll keep walking and find everything.
Bowling Green State University
Holley Ziemba is a writer of fiction from a small town in northern Ohio. She aims to write stories about emotions that are not always talked about but are felt by many. She is currently an undergraduate creative writing major at Bowling Green State University.