The room has white walls and amenities to sustain a human day-to-day (lights; shower; fridge; stovetop; sink). It feels like a monk’s cell; or a jail.
Outside the room is a long corridor. I’ve not seen a person in it.
Down one flight of stairs is another corridor. At the long end of that one are shelves, floor-to-ceiling, filled with books. Not one book is in my language. This doesn’t displease me.
On the sixth day, however, I discover that a small group of books on the top shelf are in my language. Four are guidebooks, and the fifth is a Signet Classic paperback, four hundred and seven pages and very worn, 41 Stories by O. Henry. I’ve borrowed it—taken it from the shelf and kept it in my room.
I read a story or two from my new-old book every night. I read. I read.
One is called “The furnished room,” another is “The last leaf.” They are famous stories, and very short. I’ve read them before, at home. I study them: for their craft, their ingenuity, their voice. (I’ve studied them at home, many times.)
I read. I read.
I conclude a soul mate stayed here, in this building. He or she left this book.
I wonder about this soul mate. Who he or she is. Sometimes I think quite a bit about her. About him. A reader of O. Henry’s short stories; a sleeper in this building. Like me.
I am aware of other sleepers, current sleepers, in this building. I become aware, after several days, how thin the walls are. Like paper. Or perhaps it’s cracks in the walls. I hear: breathing. It must be a man’s breathing, because it’s so heavy: such a leaden, heavy sleep. It comes and goes. It’s when he’s sleeping I hear him; I don’t hear his breathing awake. (You can tell the difference, can’t you?) I hear moving of a chair from another cell, up to my right. Once, at one in the morning, I hear a woman’s voice moaning (having sex?). I do not enjoy this and wonder how I will sleep. I do sleep, though.
During the day, in this cell, light pours in. It’s Tokyo light, that means it’s very bright. It’s a hot, bright light.
A guest to this building pointed out that the ‘books,’ piled floor-to-ceiling downstairs, are manga comics. I hadn’t taken or opened a single one and seen this, because they’re in another language as I said. Which just goes to show: don’t judge a book by its cover. Or: I am far more ignorant and unknowledgable than I even thought. Or: I am a foreigner in a strange…building, which means I understand very little.
I know very little. Here, far more even than at home. It is humbling. I take that to heart. The unknowing. My book begins with it.