At nine in the evening, Li stepped out of the Marunouchi Trust Tower to have her first meal and cigarette of the day. Waiting for her above were flights to be cancelled, papers to be shredded, appointments to be rescheduled, caterings to be rearranged, agendas to be redistributed, chauffeurs to be fired, wives to be informed, and so on. But here, resting between these slender fingers, was her glowing, shrinking cigarette. As Li sipped on her menthol light in a discreet corner cafe, she observed with a placid glaze over her eyes while a weak stream of salarymen – and the occasional office lady – meandered through the Yaesu north exit of Tokyo station. It was the height of summer, so several men had caved in and migrated their business jacket to their lower arm, exposing tired backs under translucent shirts. Shinchoku Capital was on the verge of a grand collapse along with the rest of its East Asian startups, but while the good people of Asia twitched with worry and called it various names, including the enchanting oxymoron ‘cautious optimism’, the stars were barely blinking, and neither were the neon lights of the city. Li stared on as the tiny flame on her cigarette approached its filter, eating at this brief bracket of time that was finally hers, then she snubbed her cigarette, adjusted her pencil skirt and left the corner cafe to head back to work.
As Li re-entered the office, a caustic laugh unwound the silence and spat at her. There, spread across the carpet, lay Ryoei wrapped in the heavy heap of his own clothes and vomit. Li averted her gaze to the amber car lights on the street below, but she knew that her boss had already seen her, so there was no running away now. His lips bubbled with Scotch as he attempted to murmur her name, his arms hugging the Johnny Walker, which had once been a gift from a young entrepreneur in his earnest hunt for funding, now an empty milk bottle. Li wondered if she could cradle him like she would an infant, then slowly shift his weight onto her left shoulder. A vague dampness caught onto her blouse in her first attempt, but soon enough they were lumbering towards the lobby like a crab, at which point she discovered his pockets were completely empty, and so they embarked on a pilgrimage to her apartment instead.
As he regurgitated splendidly onto her bathroom floor, peeling off his clothes while doing so and allowing them to wither at his feet into a crumpled cloud, Li surprised herself as she realised she felt more amused than annoyed. But soon, as Ryoei stumbled out of the bathroom and shuttled aimlessly about her small dwelling, Li felt a worry unfolding inside for her paintings, which were still thick and wet. She watched as he weaved his way around the noxious fumes of paint, dragging his paws across one of her canvases, on which the heaving masses of two blue lovers had been taking shelter by an open window out of the night’s sight, so that they could meld into a knotted embrace in peace, but now that they had been attacked they collided into each other like galaxies, and now pouring over the canvas was an illegible tsunami of cornflowers, teals and midnights. Exhausted at last, he dove into Li’s sofa and lay there, a motionless creature scarcely clothed, save for a coating of blue streaks on its fingertips.