Bookshelves – Story by Hengtee Lim


I sometimes think of city streets at night as bookshelves.


On these shelves, down the sometimes crowded, sometimes empty alleyways sit ramen joints, izakaya pubs, and lively bars. These are the city’s storytellers, and each records the ongoing story of a people through their sights, sounds, and experiences.

I often think of opening doors to these places like turning pages to new chapters; they act as permission to forget the world you live in, and for a brief period of time, become the part of another.

Sometimes you’re the protagonist in that story. Sometimes a supporting character, and sometimes an extra.

And sometimes, over the course of an evening, you’re all three. 

The stories behind these doors have been told time and time again. And though the backdrops change and the characters with them, the themes and the roles remain forever unchanged; something like heartbreak, love, friendship, and discovery as explored through the broken, the lost, the lonely, and the ordinary.

Sometimes the stories in these places are ongoing sagas; the students who laugh over beer and yakitori become the salarymen reminiscing over the very same things; The lonely laborer slurping ramen at midnight becomes the husky voice of an old man singing a song of tragedy behind the rickety door of a cramped, gaudy snack bar.

But other times, these stories float through the city and down its midnight streets like the ephemeral, staining neighborhoods and districts with memories and emotion; the little things you feel under the light of the moon with a shiver of shared nostalgia.

I once saw a lonely girl on a dimly lit street corner, shivering under a winter coat and handing out flyers for a hostess bar, her beauty hidden beneath her make-up like the curves of her body were hidden beneath her coat.

She struck me as a soul without a door; a ghost, or a guide, or perhaps an invitation, to the kinds of stories you only read at night. And I wondered: what roles did we play, in that fleeting moment as our eyes met and our stories briefly intertwined?

But I knew it was a story that had been told many times before.

We were just another book on the shelf.


Guest Story by Hengtee Lim

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