I’m Praising Him Right Now

Translated by: 
Dreux Richard

In Roppongi we have saints. Self-proclaimed street prophets – insanity (pardon me, I mean fervour) was how my people survived the mission-aries. I tolerate all claims of divine sight, lest I dig the moat I drown in. What I see: blinding lights, plainclothes police. People don’t come here for God. People come here to find people. Look, don’t touch. Touch, don’t hold. Hold, but put it back when you’re done, please. Roppongi ni irasshai.

But Kevin – OK guy. Mascot. I saw him once at the airport when I came from Nigeria. Not going anywhere. Just watching the planes leave. Other people, other sightings, over time. His longing made him human to us. A scratch on the surface so that the surface – deluded joy overflowing – could seem beautiful. Beautiful.

The plainclothes who arrested Kevin, we call him Newspepa. Because: ‘Newspepa? Newspepa?’ Says he’s a reporter, will buy you dinner. Some go with him, give bad information, think if he remembers their face, he’ll never arrest them. I’m too wise. The basis of my survival here: a Japanese can never tell it – one black face from another. All of us and none of us is safe.

Newspepa is zealous. Always the first plainclothes to arrive in the evening. Comes on foot from a shrine – prays before work. I begin my evening watching him from behind the shrine’s torii, then shadow him on his way. If I’m fortunate, other plainclothes will be waiting to meet him, and I’ll know who’s working the street.

Last night began inauspicious. The late-summer sky brightened the evening. I enjoyed the beauty of backlight on the east-facing shrine. Newspepa began his prayers. I watched him with the same calm, same joy I feel towards the rising sun when it beckons the end of my worknight.

Then I heard footsteps approaching quickly behind me – Kevin already walking by. If tension arises when I’m watching the police, I go to my phone, instinctive. I withdrew it from my pocket, held it to my ear.

Newspepa began to turn. Kevin wrapped his arms around him. Newspepa struggled. Kevin was bigger. Newspepa’s feet slipped and he landed on his back, Kevin on top. Kevin pushed his chin against Newspepa’s head. I could see Kevin was speaking, but so softly I couldn’t hear. He stayed this way a long time, then began laughing with his whole body, Newspepa struggling again. Kevin released him and ran, still laughing, out through the shrine’s back gate.

Newspepa didn’t follow – stayed on the ground a moment, then rose up, looked at the shrine. Was he thinking to finish his prayers? He left through the torii. I watched from behind its far post – he was agitated, walking fast, didn’t see me.

The phone still against my ear, I dialled.

A familiar voice: ‘Who tonight?’

‘No good,’ I said.


‘When I see you, I explain.’

What I did next you’ll think is strange. Before I took the taxi back to Gaien-Higashi, I approached the shrine – wanted to know what kami lives there. The signs were in Japanese I couldn’t read. I thought maybe I should pray, but maybe that would invite the god Kevin had just affronted. Better not offer praise under unfamiliar signs. It would recall every mistake I’ve made in this country – marriage included – and the losses that followed. Here, faith is a necessity, but shouldn’t blind or numb you.


Kevin had come out of jail the night before. I’d wondered how his fanaticism had adapted to incarceration. Later I learned he’d been a model prisoner: no outbursts, no proselytizing, asked the guards about their kids – so much goodwill they let him lead morning calisthenics. If he’d said as much when I saw him then, I would have thought it fiction.

I was outside the police station, tapping a song with my shoes on the sidewalk.

‘No good touting,’ he said. ‘I could go back to jail.’

‘The police forget your face,’ I said. ‘Already forgotten.’

‘I don’t want to be accepted by these people.’

‘They never accept you.’

‘By these people.’ He waved his hand over the sidewalk.

‘Your people, Kevin.’ But I understood. Rebuffed by a customer, you never feel rejected. It’s a job, and the customers don’t know you. But for example most of these clubs employ security guards – Eastern European guys. Not good people: they assault a customer if he doesn’t pay, try to make it with the girls. When you go to the club you’re working for, they behave as if they’re your friends. This leaves debris in your heart – to be accepted by people beneath the dignity of your spirit.

‘Your job is dealing just with police?’ Kevin said.

‘I’m reporting to Tony.’

‘Never inside the clubs?’

‘Only special operations.’

‘Let me work.’

‘You’re not suited.’


‘You are not calm. Your head is two ways all the time: hot and hotter. I have a cool head. That is my qualification.’

‘In the centre, I’m cold. I have peace.’

‘I’m not talking about peace. Never talking about peace.’

‘Tomorrow teach me.’

‘One favour. Because you’re new from jail.’

‘A silver trumpet sounds for you,’ said Kevin. He made the sign of the cross.

‘Leave God out,’ I said. ‘He got you enough trouble.’ Kevin’s prison sentence was longer because, while running from the police, he had thrown his Bible behind him. It gashed an officer’s brow.

‘Something came out of nowhere,’ said the officer, according to a witness.


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