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The Importance of Elsewhere

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Blue, a bright deep blue with the slightest hint of green at the edges. Magnus opened his eyes to blue water just outside the plane window.

They were probably landing soon; Magnus must have slept through the last drinks service. He rubbed his eyes gently, mindful of smearing his make-up, and watched as the plane cruised low over the water. It almost felt like they were going to land in Osaka Bay before the plane finally hit the tarmac.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kansai International Airport. Local time is 3pm and the temperature is 9 degrees Celsius. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened..." 

The announcement was repeated in Japanese, and Magnus tuned it out. It had been a long flight - over 24 hours from New York, with a 5-hour stopover at Hong Kong, and he was restless to get out of the plane and stretch his legs. This was the second time he was making this trip from New York to Osaka, and he thought he would probably never get used to being forced to sit in one spot for hours on end. Even when he was at the studio recording his songs, he would be moving along to the music. 

He navigated the airport, a gigantic structure of glass and curving steel, on autopilot. Getting past customs took a little longer because of the three specially engraved bottles of Johnny Walker blue label sitting inside his luggage, but everything went smoothly with typical Japanese efficiency. 


He spotted Dot, his personal assistant for his stint in Japan, and wheeled his trolley over to peck her on the cheek.

"How was the flight?" she asked him.

"Same old," Magnus shrugged. "Please don't tell me I have anything on today though."

"Magnus! I sent you the itinerary weeks ago!" Dot scolded. 

"I know, I know, I swear I looked at it but I can't remember any of it. Anyway, that's why I have you, right?" Magnus smiled winningly at her. 

Dot sighed. "Nothing on today, but you have to meet the director for the CM tomorrow morning, and there's the recording for the music show in the afternoon. Please tell me you remembered the whiskey."

"Yes, that I remembered," Magnus assured her, patting his luggage. He knew the drill by now - working with someone new always meant bringing a gift, and he'd probably get a gift, usually a bottle of sake, in return. He had given most of the sake he had received the last time to Dot, finding it too much of a hassle to bring it back to the States. 

"Ano... Sumimasen! Magnus Bane-san desuka?"

Magnus startled to hear his name, and found himself being approached by a gaggle of girls. Gods, fans. He had fans. He hadn't been expecting to be recognised, much less to have people actually waiting at the airport for him after releasing only one single. It was a lucky thing he'd popped by the washroom to touch-up his make-up after he'd landed. 

He spent some time signing autographs and taking selfies with them, and gratifying as it was to finally have people who were interested in him and his music, it still made him feel a little hollow inside. The truth was, Magnus wasn't entirely sure what he was doing here.

It had been hard, being an Asian-American R&B singer - the market was just too saturated as it was, and somehow none of the record companies or marketing departments had known what to make of an Indonesia-born States-bred guy in a genre dominated by black singers. Magnus knew he was talented. He knew he had a gift for creating that unique turn of phrase, for writing melodies that got stuck in your head in a good way. But he'd been told that he didn't "fit the aesthetics", that he was trying too hard to "sound black" and all manner of ridiculous things. But he'd always had a knack for languages, and somehow his agent Ragnor had learned that he had taken a few Japanese classes, and one thing had led to another.

It had been a gamble, but all it had taken was one Japanese single, a collaboration with a Japanese lyricist, and Magnus had hit pay-dirt. His exotic looks, quirky and elegant fashion sense, and ability to speak the language (well, enough to answer questions on talk shows without making a fool of himself) meant that he had quite the following in Japan. That also meant most of the songs on his album were in Japanese, and he would have to keep travelling to Osaka, where his record label's Japanese partner was, to promote his music. He had also landed a couple of product endorsements - for energy drinks, chocolate and mobile phones, of all things. 

But it wasn't exactly what Magnus wanted to do, because words were important to him, and most of his songs were deeply personal - it felt wrong singing the words someone else had written, in a language he didn't understand well enough to write his own music in. But it was hard to say 'no' after the first pay cheque, especially since he had spent most of his music career living from hand-to-mouth and crashing on Ragnor's couch. 

When he had said goodbye to the fans, he gave a small smile to Dot and tried to shake the gloomy feeling off. 

"So. I hope there's a bar near my apartment," he joked. 

"Well - there's been a tiny problem," Dot confessed. 

Magnus raised an eyebrow at her, looking a lot calmer than he felt. "What? They don't want me here after all?" 

"No! No, it's not that," Dot said with a little laugh. "It's just that I know I told you we were going to rent an apartment for you, since you're going to be here for much longer this time, but apparently that didn't work out. So you'll be staying at the hotel for a while."

"They're putting me up at the Swissotel for three months?" he asked in surprise, then shrugged. "Well, I'm not the one paying for it."

"I'll still be trying to get that apartment for you," she assured him.  

"Yes, you'd better. The outrage! Three months at a four-star hotel - how will I survive?" he gasped dramatically, and laughed when she smacked him on the shoulder. 



He spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring the hotel - not that there was very much that made it different from any other hotel in the world, especially since this was a chain hotel. There were the usual facilities - a gym, sauna and steam room, swimming pool, jazz bar, and a couple of restaurants. The view wasn't even half bad, even though his room wasn't on a high floor and the hotel was set smack in the middle of the city, so all there was to see were bright lights and teeming traffic.  

Then he moved all his clothes from his luggage to the hotel wardrobe, although he ran out of hangers and wardrobe space pretty quickly. That was going to be a problem - he was supposed to be here for three months, and even with possibility of using layering to change his look, he didn't have quite enough clothes to come up with three months' worth of unique outfits. He'd been planning to go shopping in his spare time, but that would be pointless if he didn't have the space for the clothes. Hopefully Dot would come through and get him that apartment after all - although that would also mean packing this entire mess back into his luggage, which gave Magnus a headache just thinking about it.

He went to use the surprisingly well-stocked hotel gym, then took a shower and went out to find the nearest hole-in-the-wall ramen place according to the travel app on his phone. And because he smelled like food when he came back to the hotel, he took another shower.

He bundled himself up in one of the hotel's fluffy bathrobes and checked the clock on the bedside table - 9pm. It'd be 7am in New York now. Was it too early to be calling Ragnor in an attempt to FaceTime his cat? It probably was - Ragnor was an early riser by nature, but Magnus knew from experience that it was a bad idea to catch him before his first cup of coffee. 

So he turned on the television to some nature programme for some white noise, took out his notepad and tried to write something new for his next album for about half an hour before he gave it up as a bad job and ended up channel surfing through several vaguely comprehensible programmes until it was a safe hour to call Ragnor.

"Ragnor! Hey, how's the Chairman?"

"Good morning to you too, you ungrateful sod," Ragnor grumbled. 

"Aww, did you run out of jaffa cakes again?" Magnus grinned.

"Yes, and you know bloody well that's because you ate all of them," Ragnor complained. 

"I couldn't help it, Ragnor. It'll be three whole months before I get to eat them again. Where's Chairman Meow?"

"Who knows where your blasted devil of a cat has gone off to? Maybe he ran away and was knocked down by a New York taxi." 

"Don't be mean, you're his godfather." 

"I most certainly did not ask for that dubious honour," Ragnor sniffed.

"Put him on the phone! I miss him."

"I'm not searching the whole apartment for your stupid cat. And he's a cat, he doesn't care about you as long as someone fills his food bowl every evening. Go to sleep!" Ragnor barked, and cut the call.

Magnus pouted and resigned himself to another hour of channel surfing. At around midnight, he turned off the television, and pulled up the covers. 

One in the morning: someone, or a couple of someones, walked past his door, giggling and drunk. Wait, was there a third voice? Gods, he hoped they weren't in the room directly next to his. Fuck, they totally were.

Two in the morning: The drunken party next door had quietened down surprisingly quickly. Magnus got up to adjust the thermostat, then punched the pillows a bit in a futile effort to get comfortable. It was lucky they'd given him a queen-sized bed, really - his legs were always hanging halfway off the single-sized ones.

Three in the morning: maybe if he stacked two pillows together he wouldn't feel like he was sinking in them so much? 

By the time 4am rolled around, Magnus was still completely awake. It wasn't even like he had had a good rest on the plane - he had opted for a window seat, which meant limited leg room but spectacular views of the clouds, especially at sunset and sunrise. His make-up team was going to cluck and fuss and be all concerned about the dark circles around his eyes, and Magnus was going to have to smile and nod and pretend that he felt bad about it. 

He thought a walk might help, so he got dressed and went out. The street outside the hotel lobby was neon-lit - it never was completely dark in the big cities, even if Osaka wasn't quite like the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. He picked a direction at random and started walking. 

But it was cold, easily close to freezing point even though it was no longer snowing, and windy. He had only gone two blocks when he gave up and ducked into the sanctuary offered by the bright lights of a 24-hour convenience store. He wandered the aisles aimlessly, looking at the goods on offer - snacks, instant ramen, sandwiches, enough variety of canned coffee to power a small nation (which was obviously what his hyperactive brain needed right now). The Japanese hot pot oden soup smelled good though, so he chose a few of the unidentifiable items swimming in the container of broth, and settled down at a table facing the dark, lonely streets outside to eat.

After delaying the inevitable for about half an hour, Magnus steeled himself and stepped out into the cold for the short, miserable walk back to the hotel, back to another few hours of restless tossing and turning in stiff cold sheets until the sun finally rose over the horizon and he could give up and get out of bed. 

He had tried. At least his conscience was clear on that.