Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Icarus in us all

My day started with a bang. Literally.

I'm lying in bed, half-awake, in the early afternoon, and hear something slamming down between two buildings just west of our ryokan. I thought little of it - stuff is always falling off balconies here.

A minute later, I hear a child whimpering. I got a little worried. Still, maybe that was just some whiney kid out on a balcony, not getting enough maternal attention as his mother hung out laundry to dry.

Another minute, and I hear a girl calling a boy's name. I looked out a small window in our little toilet closet on the third floor, and saw someone's head huddled in the outside stairwell of a half-abandoned office building behind ours.

I throw on some clothes and go out. Police had arrived.

I go out back of our building, and up the stairwell of the office building. The head I'd seen turned out to be that of an adult man, craning to look around the corner into the space between buildings, as rescue workers attended to a small boy - maybe not older than 8 - lying motionless on top of a sheet-metal box, probably the outside fan housing for a big air-conditioner.

I ask the man what happened. He said the boy had fallen while trying to jump from rooftop to rooftop. I waited, watching, until I saw the boy move feebly. Then I went back down the stairwell and out to the street.

TV news reporters had arrived, their cameras out front of our ryokan, trying to peer down the narrow alley and trace the boy's trajectory for viewers of the evening news. It didn't seem like they'd go away soon. They kept prowling the neighborhood, predators, looking for new camera angles. The police just watched, and directed traffic.

I went to Ben's Cafe for the afternoon, passing the primary school that the boy probably attended. They were playing soothing music on the playground PA system. But I couldn't stop thinking about all the close brushes I'd put myself through in childhood, even some harrowing episodes later, as an adult, after I'd taken up rock climbing in a serious way.

I'm hearing now that the boy survived. If so, I'm not too surprised, even though he probably fell five storeys. He hit a box, smack in the middle of its top metal sheet. He fell down a narrow space, perhaps bouncing enough to break his fall somewhat. His body is still small.

Stupid. But ... if the story is right, also brave. Japanese society is, in some ways, less forgiving of the latter than the former.


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