by Satoimo Taro (里芋たろ)
He was a sleek dark man who hunted game and fish and undead things in the wild places where roads would not go. For a while he would leave the city and sleep on board a trade caravan setting out, then slip away as it was passing through the most remote and dangerous parts of its route and work his way homeward, slowly, culling so meticulously as he went that scavenger birds gathered like slow dark smoke in his wake, overhead. He took only the small, precious things and left the carcasses for the birds and jackals to gorge themselves, as offerings for the spirits of the plains and the forests. In these places where he walked alone he was different from when he was in the city with the sounds and smells of other people thick and close as the walls around him, and sometimes something of this difference stayed with him as he came back to the city like a quiet dark sand worked into his skin together with the grime and road-dust and layers of dried sweat. When he came back to the apartments his clan lived in he did not walk in through the door but climbed to the roof and sat just outside a window until he fell asleep and someone opened the window and woke him up. Then he would wake up and come in and when he was back he was agreeble and amiable all over again, as he had been before he left.
When he was back he slept throughout the afternoon, never in his own bed. He did not like to sleep alone and all through lunch he would pluck at his neighbour’s sleeve and ask to be accompanied while he slept. “But you’ve been sleeping alone all summer, out in the open,” you would say to him, without effect; he put his arm around you, and kissed your cheek, and went to sleep on your shoulder so that you had to shake him awake and lead him to a bed or cot or warm patch of sun on a window-seat where he could curl up for the afternoon. And although you left him there only when you were sure he was dead to the world to go about your business, when you were sure you had seen him fall asleep and heard his breathing lengthen and deepen like the swells of waves, further out to sea, he would know that you had gone even if you came back before he had so much as rolled over in his sleep. “You left me to sleep alone,” he would say, from a corner or behind a curtain or from a window you least expected anyone to be hiding in – once, just as your parents had finally deigned to visit, thus ensuring that they probably never would again.
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