One day he was just there, standing in the foyer. No one noticed him arrive. He had no accompanying baggage that we could see. He stood and looked around. He studied the paintings and moved toward the sculpture at the end of the passage near to the visitors’ door but changed his mind. He returned to the reception desk and asked for a room.
Nikko-san was momentarily taken aback. We are not a businessman’s hotel. He quickly recovered and advised the gentleman. The man nodded curtly, filled out his details and produced his documentation without fuss. He made a dinner booking in the Museum for contemporary-style Japanese menu.
I asked him where his luggage was, but he said there was none. I showed him around the lodge before ushering him to his room. He listened respectfully, but asked no questions and made no comments. He bowed me out of the room before I finished telling him of the features.
Later, still dressed formally in his suit and tie, I saw him leave and follow the road the winds around the island. I wondered whether he knew of what lay or stood secreted in the landscape.
That evening, after I had finished work, I went to my favourite place. Here, when the moon is full, its light catches the metal sculpture, the three rectangles that cast sharp shadows across each other and along the surface on which they stand. I like to sit on the stairs and bathe myself in reflected lights of sky and earth, artefact and nature. As I stepped down the stairs in the half light, I almost stumbled over him. He blended into the concrete and stone.
“Sumi masen. Sorry to disturb you.”
“Sumi masen,” he replied and made no move. I found another spot and sat. He was still
there, another shadow, when I left.
When I returned to work the following afternoon I checked with Mikuni-san whether he had been seen that morning. I felt an uncomfortable responsibility for him that I could not explain.
“He has booked another night.”
“But he has no clothes. He bought nothing with him.”
“He took the bus to the ferry. Perhaps he is going to the mainland to bring back his luggage.”
“What do you think of such strange behaviour?”
Mikuni-san gave me a hard look. “It is not for us to judge,” she said coldly. I understand this. I am just a foyer attendant and must know my place. But I know that people plan to come here because we are special. They do not just drop by or use us an inn.
He was on the stairs again that night: silent and still.
In the morning I walk along the beach. I do this before the art works are officially opened to the tourists. Sometimes I meet my father’s friend, Tanaka Yukio-san and we talk. He is always there in the early morning, keeping the gardens around the art works tidy so that nothing can distract from any piece that has been carefully placed, juxtaposed between earth and sea and sky.
“Meiji-san,” he greeted me. “Good morning. You are still here and have not abandoned
the island to us, the old people.” It is his standing joke.
“Good morning. You know I won’t, Tanaka Yukio-san. Here are the spirits of my parents. Who else will care for their shrine?”
“Indeed. You love them in death as you loved them in life.”
“They were my life. I was not ready to let them go at such short notice.”
“You are not the first here for a change.”
“I am not?”
“No. A man, quiet and stern, came and stood just here. I greeted him and he was polite. I told him that the art works were open to the public at ten o’clock. He smiled, tightly, like a teacher, and said as your father would have said: an artwork is never closed.”
We smiled together as we remembered my father.
That night after work I again went to my special place. This time Kuramchi-san (for that I had found out was his name) nodded and gestured to me to take a seat alongside him. He had not sat in my place as if he now knew where I sat when he was absent.
“You come here every night?” I observed.
I have often reflected that a single, short yes is not an invitation to continue to pursue a conversation. We sat so still that I forgot he was there.
There are special times in the month, when the moon is full and everything in its light is mysterious. The sea still laps but the crests of the waves move slowly, as if they are waves of mercury. The light seeks out hidden reflections, like a prowler looking for secret things. I too am a prowler; my eyes searching for what I know will come. I wait in anticipation until the edges of the picture frames are found beneath the cliff face:
children playing hide and seek who, once found, reflect the slow moving waves. Meanwhile, the hull of the upturned boat, rises from the blond shore and casts its shadow into the water, sucking out the colour.
Kuramchi-san was still there when I left.
On the third day Kuramchi-san went off on the ferry in the early morning. Although it is not for us to judge, we were all curious about him. When he returned, carrying a small suitcase, in the company of a woman, we wondered in secret whispers whether he had brought his wife. They talked together in the foyer and I was pleased for him. He was less stiff; he smiled and looked more casual in his neat trousers and open-necked shirt. But the woman moved away from him and announced herself and her booking to Mikuni-san who beckoned me to take her to her room. Kuramchi-san had disappeared.
I began to know his patterns. In the morning he would walk along the beach to the sculpture that was open but always closed. At night he would sit silently, another shadow on the steps, and I believe he had begun to anticipate my arrival and we would sit together but apart. I always left earlier than him. During the day he would visit the different art projects or museums. Each morning he would rebook his room.
I now knew him as a man who, once a routine was developed, stayed with it. My friend Misaki filled in some of the missing information. Every day he also visited the Chichu Museum. He arrived between eleven and thirteen hours and stayed for up to three hours. In the room of Time/Timeless/No Time he sat or stood in various places on the steps gazing into Walter De Maria’s huge granite sphere. I know that room and that ball and the gold leaf wooden sculptures, squared off arches. I, too, have sat on the steps and gazed into the place beyond here, to that place I see in the ball. I think that it is some desert place. I can see laneways and portals, wide stairs that lead to secret places. In my imagination I step into that place and can wander the streets, whose ends I cannot see.
“Does he go into the courtyard of stones? Does he go to the room of the empty wall?” I asked Misaki.
“No, only to the ball. It is as if he is seeking something out.”
On the steps one night, keeping my voice very low so as not to disturb the silence, I asked what he thought about Walter De Maria’s other spheres located alongside us , housed in the long room that is locked at night.
“They are entrancing,” he responded, to my surprise. “Do you like them?”
“I do.” I told him about the place I see in the museum.
“I, too, see that place. I, too, imagine I can step into that place.”
“If one could,” I asked, “do you think that those who gaze into it would see you?”
“I think not. I would follow the laneways and climb those wide stairs and pass through a doorway.”
I laughed. I saw that he was smiling, his face softened by the moonlight, which was not as bright as on the first night that he came here.
I wanted to say more. I wanted to know more about this man but I dared not ask. I understood his need for quiet because I have the same need. So we sat silently and listened to the gentle movement of the water and observed the shades of the night.
On the Tuesday morning, a week after his sudden appearance, he brought his small bag to the reception and asked if he could leave it there. He did not require a further booking, thank you.
“You are leaving us today?”
He was dressed as he was when he first arrived. He left as he had done every morning. I never saw him again. Misaki saw him that day as usual. She saw him standing, looking into the sphere. He was very still. No one saw him leave.
I still go into that gallery and look into the ball. The street, the steps, the laneways and portals are still there, changing with the light, so they are never the same. But I no longer look for sameness or change but to see if perhaps I can catch a glimpse of him. Sometimes I think I do. I see a shadow, but when I approach, or even stand really still so as not to startle, it is gone, almost as soon as I see it, so I am unsure whether I have just caught a shadow of myself.
But one thing is for sure; his bag still sits in the cupboard behind reception.