Jason is a visual artist who we invited to Barcelona in March 2020, to play Art in Motion in La Rubia. This is one story from around that time, when I interviewed him...and only published today. Jason didn't start this story with the words, "This'll sound like the intro to a cyberpunk movie." He may as well have.
They stood out in the alley. He was head and shoulders taller than anyone in sight, and her hair practically glowed in the sea of black-haired locals. The multi-splendored lights slowed on them, casting the night into sharp edges of bright lights and shadows that held promises.
It was Jason's first night in Tokyo, and his tour guide didn't have much more experience than he did. His eagerness glinted.
"Have you heard of these maid cafes?" he said.
"Yes," she said in the tone of a woman resigned, by this point, to nodding along.
"You go in and pay women to talk to you," he said.
"Yes," she said.
"I don't want to go to one of them."
"Have you ever heard of these other ones?"
"Stromboli. Always liked the sound of the word Stromboli."
"They've got these ones with ninja maids in."
"Got a certain ring to it."
"You know, dressed like maids."
"Never tried it, myself--Stromboli."
"But also, dressed like ninjas."
"Probably isn't anything like spumoni, do you think?"
"You know, like maids, but with ninja masks."
"I always get spumoni and Neapolitan mixed up."
"That's sex. Guh."
"Know what? I hate spumoni."
"I want to go see some ninja maids."
"The Swedish word for ice cream is 'glass.' Sort of odd."
"Have you been listening to anything I've been saying?"
She rolled her eyes. "Do you know, I think we can probably find you--"
"Ninja maid!" he shouted, and he pointed over the heads of the few people around.
Down the alley they spotted one: a woman in a maid costume and a ninja mask. The bright, inconsistent lights of the narrow alley flickered on her dark eyes.
It would be too much to say Jason ran after her. He only nearly did.
They pursued the ninja maid up the alley. In a way appropriate to ninjas, she disappeared. In a way appropriate to maids, she did so tidily.
Soon, they saw another. Then a third. They started to suspect they'd found the Famed, If Slightly Hidden, Ninja Maid Cafe District. I imagine a black facade with red accents in the long, sparking-bright alley. This cafe is obvious by its subtlety: lit dimmer, and standing out in the many-splendored LED world of downtown Tokyo.
Between them, Jason and his friend knew five words of Japanese. When they came to the ninja concierge he showed them a menu of services offered by the tidy ninjas within. They gestured at one of the items. It was in Kenji. Of course it was. They didn't know what they picked. They just wanted into the long, low, dim, red and black cafe.
They sat at their table. They got drinks.
Around them the maids moved, sharp shadows in the dim world. In corners, in small groups, talking in rapid Japanese to the few clients there in the middle of the night.
One of them saw the Europeans. She swooped across the room, ready to claim them for herself. Other ninja maids in the cafe had seen them too, but this savvy woman kept waving the others off. She wanted this one for herself.
The words came fast. The mask hid her smiles, if she had any. Jason started to wonder what he'd ordered off the menu of services at the front door.
They kept trying to tell her they didn't understand. But the ninja maid kept talking.
Now for the funny part: Apparently, Jason ordered a conversation with a maid in a maid cafe after all.
The tidy ninja, eventually, got the hint.
She did not, however, have any intention of giving up this client.
Gesturing to Jason and his friend to wait, she hurried away then back. When she came back, she had three pieces of paper. She gave one to Jason, then one to his friend.
She kept one for herself.
She held it up, and she pointed with her eyes. The Europeans held up theirs.
The ninja maid folded her scrap of paper in half. Her dark eyes had a glint in them--she expected something from Jason and his friend. They folded their scraps of paper as well.
After a few minutes, silent except the swishing of paper gaining creases, they discovered the satisfying end of the story.