Of all the details to remember, her hands were still the clearest in his mind.
Unpolished nails of otherworldly innocence, intoxication by way of ten fingers and smooth skin and a wrist circled with Rolex Sky-Dweller gold, limited edition. Back to her hands. What did he later call them, windows to her soul? They appeared in stark, shimmering contradiction to that glassy skeleton known as the Makuhari Messe, an oversized structure built on the edge of Chuba City, where the 28th Tokyo Motor show was housed.
If such a thing as young love existed, it was born for her from the 1989 air-conditioned air of the Makuhari Messe and there grew to become a nervous child of mumbled ‘hello’s and ‘what is your name’s.
“Duke Raskipper.” (Perhaps.)
She was in town to sing Shirley Bassey songs at a Japanese karaoke lounge then purchase her very first car, he to begin a four-month backpacking expedition from Tokyo to Kagoshima and look at foreign vehicles he might never afford.
“My friend had a free ticket,” Duke shrugged.
They were from the beginning two separate ends temporarily bound beneath lofty ceilings and between shiny automobiles, fuel-injected symbols of a fate just beyond his cunning reach. A small vehicle at the center of the showroom kept them together with the strongest force …
This was a Figaro, boasting enough retro panache to take its lucky driver “back to the future,” at least according to the salesman Hayate, his narrow face overpowered by a smile more syrupy than sincere.
The Figaro was Nissan’s newest, latest and greatest, Hayate explained, a car constructed by brilliant engineers – the Pike Factory group – to be something special. He emphasized this word as if, in the centuries-long history of its use, it had never been spoken with such true meaning before. A pause. A beat.
Hayate was shorter than both Duke and Mirabelle but described features of the Figaro with the enthusiasm to seem a head taller than he stood. Chest puffy from eagerness, Hayate told them how the Figaro would come in one of four colors, each representing a particular season – Topaz Mist (summer), Emerald Green (spring), Pale Aqua (autumn) or Lapis Grey (winter).
“Autumn is always the most pleasant time of year in London,” Mirabelle whispered to no one, her voice slipping into the vastness of a thickening Tokyo Motor Show crowd. “This is my car.”
To Duke, the Figaro was a shell game played by artful illusionist Hayate, a two-doored, convertible trick only a magician could win. For Mirabelle, the Figaro was an automotive prelude to the ever-enticing virtues of adulthood, available in four cleverly significant colors, her favorite among the pick.
“Whenever the Pale Aqua Figaro becomes available, please let me know,” Mirabelle said, her Rolex gleaming in gilded glory below fluorescent lights, her elegant thumb skimming across the model car, a springtime Emerald Green. “You’ll be shipping some to England, won’t you?”
Nodding, Hayate placed his business card into her perfect palm. Hayate Wakahisa, A Salesman for Your Future, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. “You’ll soon be proud owners of a beautiful car for a beautiful couple. Wait for my call!”
It wasn’t mentioned that Duke and Mirabelle had only just met, or that they had been shuffled together moments before and one understood nothing of the other beyond first and last names. But these facts played no role in the mind of the salesman or even in the minds of the falsely labeled pair, who took Hayate’s truth about themselves and made it their own.
Help her feel paradise or something like it, Duke thought at the time, his hand laced in a careful place inside hers as they walked from one neon-lit car display to the next. They were designing plans for him to visit her flat in Maida Vale, though Mirabelle said she would make the hours-long drive to Cornwall in her new Pale Aqua Figaro.
“I’ll come to you,” Duke said with a tenderness too ripe for their hours-long acquaintance. “Trains do run from Lostwithiel to Paddington Underground.”
The day Duke spent with Mirabelle Quick at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show was a mirage drawn by a crafty heart, and in his thump-thumping heart, he knew the deceitful image would end by nightfall, or whenever he thought it should. And so it did.
They left the Makuhari Messe through its grand double doors minutes past six o’clock, the sun dipping toward dusk, the moon readying to rise. Duke curled his fingers around her glorious, Rolex-wrapped wrist. “Go to the right,” he instructed.
“Go to hell.”
Mirabelle escaped from his grasp. “My watch is a fake,” she spit out. “Keep it in your stupid backpack all the way to Kagoshima and run fast so you’ll be far away before I decide to call the police.”
She was calmer than expected, though exactly what happened or what was said has since been weeded over by the forgetful tendrils of time. Now Duke could only recall the feeling of her warm, counterfeit Rolex Sky-Dweller in his hands and nothing more.
Funny he should end up in London after all, the premier pick pocketer of Regent’s Park, a place for real, expensive watches and diamond rings and sophisticated gentlemen strollers who kept wallets in back pockets of custom-tailored suits. Since Japan he had become a thieving ghost in his new city, a pariah in a hustler’s town unwilling to mend his broken ways.
Last week was the first time he’d seen it, its autumn-blue reflection soft but steady against townhouse windows like there was no other choice to be made.
Three days later he decided to find the light turquoise thing again, if only to see where – and to whom – it might lead. The hands that owned it were clean and distinguished and could’ve been hers as they draped themselves around its decade-old steering wheel. Duke watched the tiny car turn the corner and smiled joylessly as the Pale Aqua Figaro faded away.
[The inspiration for “The Figaro” came from a picture taken by Matt Garbutt, creative agency guy and all-around amazing photographer. See more of his incredible images here.]