“And what about God? God lingered/Like the scent of a beautiful woman who once/Faced them in passing and they didn’t see her face/”
– Yehuda Amichai
Think for a moment about running through a night dark as the asphalt beneath your feet, dark as the rippled water of the lake you’re circling, dark as the glass buildings that meet the streets so subtly they could be avenues themselves, blocks leading to a third dimension. You’re running and you’re listening to jazz, to the wind that blows static through your headphones, to the voice of a woman whose hands draw troughs through your hair. You close your eyes because the path is marble-smooth and you can. The fragrance is of cherry blossoms, corollas so jewellike, so redolent, that it’s unimaginable that each bud was not individually crafted by some grayed Zen master.
You’re in Tokyo, of course. You know that from the silence. Even with the headphones on, you can tell. The cars seem embarrassed when they belch exhaust. The taxi drivers wear white gloves and sit with unrealistically impeccable posture. A sign in the elevator reads: “Dear Our Guests: If you experience earthquake while in the elevator, please stop at the nearest floor and take the stairs. Thank you for you’re understanding and we apologize for the inconvenience” (sic^n).
It’s past midnight and you’re running — and I’m running — and there’s someone coming towards me in the darkness, only I can’t tell for certain whether he (or she, or it) is coming towards me, or running away, or whether I’m moving towards them, or running away. It’s disorienting, hypnagogic. It’s like waking from a late-afternoon nap and realizing — but only after a minute or two — that the evening has set in and that it’s grown dark outside. Suddenly, it feels absolutely 100% imperative that I know which way this person (it must be a person) is running. Everything depends on.
David Hume once wrote that all humans believe, deep down, that the sun will rise tomorrow. I am no credulous inductivist; the darkness terrifies me. I can’t shake the fear that the night is permanent, that the smell of cherry blossoms is the fragrance of an angelic goodness that once belonged to a body and then lost its way, belonged to a body that I will never touch, never behold, never enter.
I speed up, in pursuit of that fata morgana of a runner. I realize that it’s He who I need to conquer. Or rather, it is the silence that separates the two of us, that separates all of us, that yields to death but not with any sense of relief, not with any sense at all.
I catch up to my mirage. It is a person, after all, wearing Nikes and a water bottle carrier around the waist. It’s like seeing an actor up close: The makeup is petrifying. I avert my eyes as I pass, girded with my recovered self-ness, the music a fence around my ears. It is only the lingering smell of the night that makes me want to turn back, to know for certain that He was not the angel I seek.