“Across Rooftops” by Melina Meletakos


I found the two of them across the rooftops. From my balcony, I first spotted the man. I like how he potters about in his rooftop garden, and how when he gets tired of doing that, he sits on a chair and stares out into the distance. He seems so at peace. I like, too, how in summer he always wears a floppy hat, a white vest, and long pants that are held high over his belly by a belt. It reminds me of my Pappou Taki, except that his belly was much bigger and his long pants were held up over his belly by a tattered belt he refused to get rid of. On Saturdays, he was impatient in waiting for us to arrive for our weekly visits. As soon as he heard my mom’s car in the driveway, Pappou would hurry down and open the gate for us. One by one, we lined up in front of him so that he could kiss us–first on the right cheek, then on the left, and finally on our foreheads. I mastered being able to hold my breath so that I wouldn’t inhale the pungent smell of his Aramis aftershave, but there was no way of avoiding his prickly moustache which, in summer, would be covered with a perennial layer of sweat.

I don’t see the woman as often, but I know that she is there because I see a fresh load of clothing on her washing line every few days. It sometimes waves in the wind, a flag declaring her existence. Here I am, it says. What, then, is her story? Is she married? Does she have children? What did she want to be when she was a little girl? I wonder, if we cobbled together all the clothes on all the washing lines, if we patched together all the individual biographies waving in the wind, what kind of story would it tell?


I also wonder, if the two of them ever feel so terribly alone in Tokyo despite sharing the city with fourteen million people? I certainly do. It feels like my life in this city is continuously mutating, and that I am forced to unceasingly mutate with it. It’s been comforting to have the two of them as a constant in a place where nothing stays the same. But, I must confess that should I walk past either of them in the shōtengai, or should I happen to be behind them in the queue at the supermarket, I would probably not know that it is them. I suspect that what we have can only exist between places–somewhere between my balcony and their rooftops.

Melina Meletakos is a freelance journalist and writer whose work has appeared in the Mail & Guardian,  The Media, The Wits Business School Journal, and The NEPAD Annual. She is currently working remotely while traveling in South America and Asia. 

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