Lights - Big City
Joe Sinclair in Japan
White Lights, Big City I was walking aimlessly through the Tokyo streets
at dusk, with the cityscape skewing through my mind. The main thoroughfare
looked like the giant corridor of a cheap hotel. It was as if many years
ago the corridor had been hit by an earthquake and lost all form. The
warped dimensions had been repeatedly patched with neon signs and advertisement
hoardings. The crowds streamed along the carpet-less floor like dirty
water gushing from burst lead piping. At the end of the corridor, through
a hole in the wall, I could see a patch fading sky.
A small point of white light traced across the sky, sparking against my
retina. The flashing light must have been coming from a tiny aeroplane
and I thought little of it. But, looking back towards the sky, the light
seemed to have darted back on itself, re-starting its slow crawl from
Down on the street the crowds were bustling past me on either side and
I let myself get tumbled along in the flush of salary men, shoppers, hustlers
and students. My senses dampened with the creeping smell of cigarette
smoke, fast food and yakitori; and the shops with their high-pitched clerks
and in-store jingles on repeat. But I wanted to keep my head above water,
above the rush of faces with their variously contorted expressions. I
lifted my chin and looked upwards beneath the shadow of my brow.
The giant walls of the corridor pressed in from either side. But they
shone with yellow light, escaping from the windows of shops and restaurants,
offices and hotel rooms. Up to my left, on the other side of the road,
I watched a room window flicker as the lights came on. The light seemed
to fill the glass of the window itself, reflecting forth in a violent
burst of light, searing into my eyes. It took me by surprise a little,
and I stopped walking. My eyeballs began to throb.
Glancing from building to building, from window to window, the effect
repeated itself as the panes of glass lit up like filaments, flashing
white light across my vision. The light tore out of the windows in horizontal
lines, cutting through the concrete walls. And then it slowly receded,
drawing back into a mere glint, sparkling knowingly.
I had come to a dazed halt in the middle of the sidewalk, staring up at
the paparazzi of flashing lights. But now I felt the crowd shouldering
past me and I could feel a sharp pain lancing through the soft tissue
in my head. I forced myself to look away from the windows, trying to concentrate
on the street at eye level, trying to regain my composure. The sparks
of light continued to fizzle around the outskirts of my vision.
I closed my eyes and pixels of colour swarmed comfortingly against my
eyelids. A moment passed and then a white spot appeared, spreading amongst
the pixels like a drop of paint on a sponge. As the spot grew bigger it
faded away, but another spot appeared, and another, spreading into each
other and filling my eyes.
Just then somebody knocked into me from behind. Instinctively my eyes
opened, and I was shocked by the intensity of the lights, which were prickling
ferociously around me. I jostled my way out of the heavy crowd to the
side of the road and stepped down from the curb, breathing heavily. I
raised my fingers to my temples, trying to control my breathing, not wanting
to look and not wanting to close my eyes. I could feel my pulse jerking
through my temples as the blood churned through my head.
It wasnt just the building windows. Light broke from car windscreens,
street lamps and the mass of neon signs which lined the street. It exploded
silently outwards, cutting lines of electric shrapnel through the mix
of concrete metal and glass. Yet it seemed to originate from somewhere
beyond the glass. It was as if the light were a white-hot flame burning
through the back of a canvass, flaring excitedly as it blistered through
It was getting harder and harder to see. The borders of my vision were
filled with the white light. In an attempt to regain my focus, I looked
sideways into the crowd. Having stepped down from the curb my line of
sight was bobbing beneath the surface of faces.
A man in a business suit was walking hurriedly along the outside of the
pavement. I staggered backwards to let him pass, but my eyes were riveted
on his face. As he passed he looked sideways straight at me. His glasses
were large and square and the lenses were glinting under the streetlights.
Suddenly the glint ignited and the frames flared with light, obliterating
the upper half of his face. Then his mouth opened and the light caught
on a shiny gold cap, exploding in shiny white streaks across the crowd.
I spun away from him. But as I looked from face to face the whites of
their eyes were electric filaments. They sparkled threateningly for an
instant before the light broke free, tearing away in violent pulses.
The flashing white lights were spreading into each other, blanking my
vision almost entirely. The world seemed to be getting quieter and quieter,
further and further away. All I could see was a small porthole of colour
in the centre of the whiteness. The hole was sealing up, the rising white
tide about to submerge me. I blinked rapidly but it made no difference.
As the white light seeped into the remaining space, casting my entire
vision white, I lost my balance and started to fall backwards. I threw
my hands behind me to break the fall, expecting the impact of concrete.
But the impact never came and after a few seconds it occurred to me that
I was no longer falling.
There was nothing but whiteness. Yet it did not press against me and it
did not spread into the distance. There was no distance. There was no
perspective at all. There was neither up nor down, no floor on which to
plant my feet. The only thing which had any dimensions at all, the only
thing left in existence, was my body, which strangely enough, I could
still see in its entirety.
I looked down at my dirty trainers, wiggling my unanchored feet, and then
brought a palm up to my face. The skin began to bulge and morph, the lines
slowly rewriting themselves across my hand. Something was glowing beneath
the thin pink membrane. It burned like ice, then punctured the skin. My
hand disappeared in a flash of white light.
Twisting and turning with panic I looked down at my body to see the light
breaking through my shoes and jeans. Impulsively I reached down to touch
myself, but my hands were nowhere - my hands, my arms, my chest - the
whiteness was swallowing me up. When I screamed there was no sound. There
was nothing but white light.
6th February, 2003 A rather strange thing happened today. For some reason
I felt foolish telling anybody, so Im writing it down instead. I
was rushing to meet my wife after work. As usual I was late, and I was
hurrying down the outside of the pavement when I passed a young foreigner.
He was standing in the gutter and looked to be in a veritable daze. Well,
theres nothing too remarkable about that. However, just as I was
passing him, he turned his head in my direction and gave me the most penetrating
of looks. How can I describe it? It was like he was looking right through
me, like he was looking beyond me, beyond my physical being into my very
soul. My mouth fell open in surprise.
I walked on a little further but couldnt help turning back around
to take another look at the man. Just as I did so he collapsed to the
floor. He seemed to be having some kind of fit. In a panic, I fumbled
for my phone and dialled for an ambulance. As I was speaking to the operator
I tried to move closer to the man, but the crowd on the pavement was surging
past and I felt like I was battling against the flow. In the struggle
I worked myself into quite a state. But when I eventually reached the
spot where the man had fallen, he had gone.
© Joseph Sinclair March 2003
Also by Joe
- Vietnam by Bus
< Reply to this Article
all rights reserved