It had begun to rain. As he left the post office, he passed a man on his mobile phone asking someone for money: “Just lend me some!”
The voice of the man, coarse and rude, faded and was replaced by the weak and pleading whisper of a young woman, who was now standing in front of him. The woman, tying her long black hair back with a glitter resin barrette, and wearing a well-tailored cashmere coat, was very beautiful. She looked down to keep the raindrops from hitting her face. Her thin ankles, in tiny pin-heeled pumps, shivered. She stepped nervously on the brick pavement. He was puzzled by her sudden offer. She had a healthy complexion. She looked like she had never taken the sandwich scraps given out every evening at the deli on the edge of the town.
Later, he would be ashamed of himself for thinking, even for a moment, that she might have been a whore.
It was still late afternoon. The special delivery mail had just finished at the post office. She must have lost or dropped her wallet, and, with it, the coins to buy stamps. “Go to the police box. They’ll help you”, he told the woman, and took the opportunity when the traffic lights turned green to escape across National Route 20, and down a passage between the buildings.
The rain, which is coming down in earnest, beats the roof of the arcade. An old café at the end of the shopping street is weary from a battering by the elements following a long spell of bad weather. Through the humid air, the aroma of coffee wafts over National Route 20 and is dispersed by the taxis and delivery trucks travelling back and forth. A water tank on the roof of the building has broken, and water is spurting out of a drainpipe mounted along the wall. Cascading rain and drainage trickle down the inset window of the café and drench his feet. He looks into the café through distorted glass. He wonders if the water heater has broken. The sofas, tables, pots and cups all appear hazy with the steam, floating in the dim light of a chandelier whose bulbs are flickering out. A family have taken their seats in a booth near the kitchen. Lights from the dying bulbs flash over the face of a little girl, who is eating a pancake drizzled with syrup. Her mother has a cappuccino, her father is reaching for a hotdog. Through the window, as seen from the pavement that runs along National Route 20, the interior is a peaceful blur. Meanwhile, from inside the café, drowned in vapour, the people only see the eternally cascading rain, and the drainage that trickles down the windowpane.
“Can I have your mustard?”
As he sits at the counter, pouring a San Pellegrino into his glass and ketchup onto a cheese omelette, the little girl from the family in the booth comes to stand beside him and starts talking. At the table, her father seems at a loss, his plate of grilled hotdog in front of him.
“My dad’s run out of mustard. Can he have yours?”
He hands the little girl the honey yellow bottle of squeezy mustard which is sitting on the counter.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Her right hand is sticky with pancake syrup when she pulls a chocolate candy from the pocket of her gilet. She holds it out to him in thanks.
In her other arm, she is holding a teddy bear. Inside its belly is a built-in alarm clock. The muffled tick of the second hand sounds the passage of time.
Rain and drainage continue to cascade down the windows. The lights from passing taxis on National Route 20 unspool through the café, lining the face of the little girl, flashing yellow, red, and orange.
“Placebo Domino in regione vivorum.”
He recalls a psalm read by a priest at the Orthodox Church in Tokyo some years before. Unconsciously, he repeats it.
 I will please the Lord in the land of the living.
hiromi suzuki is a poet, fiction writer and artist living in Tokyo, Japan. She is the author of several poetry collections, including Andante (AngelHousePress, 2019), Found Words from Olivetti (Simulacrum Press, 2020), and Ephemera (Colossive Press, 2021). Her work has been published at 3:AM Magazine, RIC journal, Berfrois, and various online literary journals. Twitter: @HRMsuzuki