The Color of “Brilliance”

The Color of “Brilliance.” The tables here at this chain coffee shop are lined up side by side.  I find a free one, sit down, and tuck into my egg and tuna salad sando. I’m immediately aware of the young man sitting at the table to my left.  Is it the constant clicking of the pen caps as he snaps them off and then seconds later snaps them on again that makes me glance in his direction?  Or is it the array of brightly colored hi-liter pens strewn next to his reading material that catches my eye?

Immediately in front of him is a xeroxed article written in Japanese but printed in horizontal rows as English and other European languages are.  Just above the article is propped an open book, also in Japanese but printed the traditional way in vertical rows which one reads from top to bottom, moving across the page from right to left.

The entire 20 minutes it takes me to finish my sando and drink my coffee he spends ceaselessly looking at the xeroxed article in front of him, looking up from it to consult the book above it, flipping ahead through its pages then flipping back again, then once again returning to the article.  He uses his left hand to flip the pages or pinpoint a passage with his forefinger, while in his right hand he holds one of his assorted hi-liter pens or his one red ballpoint pen.  Each time he changes pens, he snaps off the cap with the fingers of this hand, which then grasp it as he applies the hi-liter to one or two lines or a few words within a line in the article or the book.   The marking is accomplished in one or two rapid strokes, the cap replaced with the fingers of the right hand— “snap!”—another pen picked up, uncapped—“click!”—applied to the page, recapped—“snap!”—replaced in the pile and so on and on and on.

The article begins to look like a rainbow as more and more of the words and lines are marked in various shades of pink, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple.  He uses the red ballpoint pen to make notations in the margins or to draw circles around chunks of words within a line.  Back and forth he moves across the article lying flat in front of him, painting the page with color.  Back and forth he riffles through the pages of the thick book propped above it.  Off and on, off and on click the caps of the pens.

This coffee shop is located across the street from the Mita campus of Keio University, so the young man might be a Keio student, famous, as are students of all the top-tier elite schools here, for being “brilliant.”  Or is he a neurotic wannabe hanging out on the fringes of the campus pretending to study something avidly?  Who’s to say?

I pick up my tray and carry it to the service counter.  On my way out of the cafe I pass the young man still hard at work turning his texts into rainbows.

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