Somewhere in Japan, Dispatch № 82: Hidden Away

It was either the wind or the cat and, between the two, it seemed more likely to have been the cat. The big spider plant wasn’t sitting on the upturned bucket as it usually was, with its dozens of green tendrils cascading toward the floor. Instead, it was mostly upside down on the balcony. The terracotta pot had broken into several large sections, one of them having fallen away, revealing a network of greenish-white roots packed so densely that no soil was visible.

A year or so earlier, I had re-potted it to give it more room to grow. It responded enthusiastically. And though I knew that its many offshoots were a sign of diminishing space, I had no idea the extent to which it had grown below the surface.

Plants are good at that, at keeping secrets subterranean and contained.

Humans are less adept at hiding things, despite our supposed intellect. We get distracted and careless. We leave clues, sometimes despite our best efforts, but also sometimes half hoping to be discovered. Secrets are unceremoniously revealed sometimes, when circumstances are just different enough from normal daily life to seem separate and safe. And in other times still, evidence of a secret pops up by itself in surprising places, having been separated from the person to which it belonged, now free to drift independently through the world.

There was my well-dressed neighbor who always left his home with practiced, efficient movements at the door meant to minimize the chances of anyone seeing inside his home, lest they glimpse his overflowing hoardings that threatened to spill out into the street with every opening of the door.

There was the man on one train in Tokyo whose white button-down shirt was tucked into his underwear. It would have been easy to attribute to sleepy carelessness alone, had it not been for the presence of black, ruffled satin and a garter belt. It had also happened on more than one occasion.

There was the young father with his two small children at the public bath, who was cheerful and smiled sincerely as he engaged in locker-room banter. And who, upon disrobing, revealed extensive, beautifully detailed tattoos stretching continuously from his elbows to his knees, everything about them indicating an affiliation with organized crime, and everything about them leading to the friendly banter drying up.

And finally, who could forget the forlorn, homemade sex toy that once occupied a corner of a local parking lot for a surprisingly long time?

Clues are everywhere. Everyone leaves them, whether or not a secret is even consciously being kept. Past-due bills on bright paper peeking out of a poorly closed kitchen drawer, a stack of romance novels spilling out of a notably prudish acquaintance’s closet, fresh injection marks on the arm of a friend who claims to be clean.

We’ll never been as good as plants when it comes to keeping things hidden, and that’s OK. Plants only do it by accident, and they have no need for secrecy. We’re apt to mess up, flawed as we are, and are better off with fewer secrets, anyway.

So as I repotted the spider plant in a suitably large new terracotta container, burying those amazing roots and once again hiding them from view, I had to consider what little I had in my life that was secret, and what I might do if something came along and shattered the shroud that kept it hidden.

Better to phase out secrets entirely, I thought. I’m no plant, after all, and no matter what I might try to keep buried, or how much effort I might devote to the task, it’s bound to resurface eventually, anyway.

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Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Compulsive creator, interested in everything because everything is interesting. 🇺🇸 in 🇯🇵

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David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Compulsive creator, interested in everything because everything is interesting. 🇺🇸 in 🇯🇵

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