Below my downtown hotel window an ocean of umbrellas ebbs and flows. Like German clockwork, masses of humanity cross to the traffic lights. Fascinated, I watch.
My eye is drawn to a lone man dressed in black, unencumbered by the requisite umbrella in the spring rain. He eschews the crosswalk and ambles down a nearly deserted street.
Who is this man? Why is he leaving the city center?
I ask the nail tech in the hotel salon where the street in front of the hotel leads.
In broken English she tells me one direction goes to the park, the other to the business district.
My husband has business meetings all day, so I am free to roam. The concierge sets me up with a park tour. We meet in the lobby at ten thirty. Despite the cool temperatures, the park is filled with dancers, musicians, actors, and athletes. But my mystery man is nowhere to be found. Our guide stops at a yatai, where I satisfy my hunger and warm my hands with sweet potatoes baked over a wood fire. We huddle for warmth and watch a drama troupe rehearse as we eat.
Back at the hotel, I forget about the man in black. I dine with my husband and tell of my adventures in the park. But the next morning, I see the enigmatic man traveling away from the city center once again. Who is he? I wonder.
Today I visit the shopping district with my new friend from the tour. Acres of shops are within our grasp. When we stop to rest our weary feet, I tell her about my mystery man. We try to guess what he’s up to. A spy, perhaps. Or a thief. Why else would he leave the city center each day if not to pursue some nefarious purpose?
At dinner, I tell my husband my dilemma. I describe the man’s mysterious compulsion each day to flee the hustle and bustle of the city. To walk down a deserted street when the whole world is drawn to its center.
He pats my hand and assures me I’m imagining things. But the next day I’m ready. I rise early and wait inside the lobby door. When I spy the man in black, I rush into the street to follow him. I’m carried by the stream of people. Unable to fight the tide, I watch helplessly as he drifts down the deserted street yet again. He is an enigma I can’t fathom.
The next morning, I wake to my ringtone. “Honey, I left a file on the dresser. Can you bring it to me?”
I dress and rush to the building across the street. The vaguely familiar doorman directs me to the meeting room where I deliver the file.
On my way out, a different doorman stands at the door.
“You weren’t here a minute ago.”
He cocks his head to a retreating figure meandering up a deserted street. “Shift change.”