When I was in high school I wrote a story about a shadow that steps away from its host and forms a life of its own. An entity that created havoc in the lives of all who dared cross its murky, ephemeral path. Much carnage ensued. Perhaps. The details are vague, and, dare I say it, shadowy in my mind. Adolescence itself often becomes a shadow from our past that cloaks itself under the black weight of its own dimness. What matters is that the shadow was evil, as shadows are often assumed to be, much the same way that a snake is a source of slithery dread, no matter how indifferent it may actually be to our nervous human lives.
Yesterday in the dazzling sunshine of a Japanese afternoon I spotted a shadow on the street, silently, blatantly stalking me, reminding me of that tale written long ago. Suddenly things became halfway clear in my memory, the way that a car at night is lit -- but dimly -- when one opens the door and sits near the wheel. I remembered my fourteen year old self walking down the long street that led to my house, the night dark and moon-free, passing under streetlamps,
seeing my shadow brilliantly lit against the night. Such a spooky sight! Thinking of it now, decades later, a country away, in daylight in place of night, only added to the eerie distance that lengthens our lives.
I suddenly felt oddly at peace with that shadow. After all, it had kept me close and held me tight for years on end, when much else had fallen aside in the inevitable refuse of time. Day or night, it slinked by my side. What could be ominous about such a loyal, cordial companion? Had its mere darkness given rise to the bigot lying at the base of my soul? It was but myself, mirrored dim. Faceless, featureless, a sideways-thin cutout that never bled solid. A benign reflection of what I always was.
But I felt my fourteen year old self's thoughts clattering around the container of my skull. Such a shadow was not to be trusted. Darkness visible led to darkness tangible. The black without mirrors the black within. There is a reason why we fear that which we cannot touch. Run!
Picking up my pace, I almost believed it could be left all behind. I could outrun my shadow, leave it gasping and panting on the sizzling grey pavement. Slice it in pieces by my quick narrow strides. What was key was what was impossible: to not check for its presence. By tilting my head and moving my eye, I was affirming its existence, and we all suck on the teat of affirmation, shadows included. As soon as it spotted my eye looking left, its force would increase with confidence and glee. I had to stare straight ahead and hope it would fall. By the time I reached my small place and shut tight the door, took off my shoes and wiped down my brow, the shadow was gone. Artificial illumination left nothing but a bulb's blatant glare, yellow and welcoming. I knew that if I stepped outside even then, the shadow might be waiting, but I was sure I'd left it to die on the street like a dog. I opened the door, a little, a squidge, to quickly glance at what might be left. I shut it before seeing anything. Some things are risks not meant to be broached. Soon night would be here and the shadow would have less places to rise.
A handful of streetlamps line the road near my home, but I would not walk under them that warm summer night. Shadows know where we walk, and prey where we move. If I was inside, and still, the shadow would fail. My high school self was right. Shadows are not to be trusted. Tomorrow I would have to leave the apartment once again, but if it rained through the night the clouds might still serve as the sun's moving buffer. Outwitting the shadows is a game I can play.