Day 28: Rika

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Rika works in an office by day but in real life, she’s an artist.

I met her when I stumbled into a little square-roomed gallery in a little annex attached to Omotesando Hills, a shopping complex swarming with Louboutin-heeled women in their forties trouncing from store to store in their Burberry trenchcoats and Hermes scarves with labels turned nonchalantly (but conspicuously) outward. I’d just nearly gotten run over by one such fine specimen in a rush to exit the elevator we’d shared; with just a flick of her hand (not even a glance backward) she tossed a “sumimasen” into the air behind her, directed at me, I think.

Welcome back to Tokyo, I thought to myself, and wandered out onto the street when I spotted a little sign for a gallery. I climbed the stairs, where a perfectly-coiffed bright-smiling girl in a navy and white polka-dot dress, white and navy polka-dot shoes, and (she later showed me) navy and white polka-dot earrings popped her head around the corner. Her perfect coif didn’t move one millimetre. Neither did her smile.

Hallo, she said, konnichiwa! I answered. The room was filled with flowers of some form or other, it was her first exhibition in Tokyo, she said.

She’s from Osaka, went to university in Kyoto, did a lot of drawing and painting and had exhibited work down that way before but hadn’t done much art since moving to Tokyo; all her paint had dried up, she said, and when she decided to start painting again she had to go out and buy a new set of paints.

When I had finished looking at the art on the walls – bubblegum-hued, themed of life and death and lies and truth – she sat me down at a little desk and showed me a portfolio of sorts, full of cutesy drawings and paintings of ice cream flavours as feelings. Mint-chocolate as loneliness, for example.

I stopped on one picture, a painting of a head with a map where the brain should be. She must’ve noticed me staring at the map for ages, because she stopped and told me, back when she was in high school, before everyone used Google maps, she used to study maps all the time, try to figure out where things were, commit them to memory. Maps, and train schedules, she said. So etched in her head were roads and train tracks, stations and buildings, colours and lines and directions. What about this map, is it anywhere in particular, I asked. No, nowhere really.

Someone else said, it must take a really extraordinary kind of person to be able to translate what’s in your mind to this kind of picture. But I’m an ordinary person, said Rika. I mean, I get drunk and complain about people just like everyone else!

I liked her, a lot. She asked for my details. I asked for this photo. I wished her luck, we parted ways.

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