I was over the moon

During the construction of my family’s new house, many contractors and carpenters came and worked every day. As we lived in barns as a makeshift home at the edge of the construction site, I saw them regularly and had a crush on one of the carpenters. He would come to work by car and pass under a pedestrian bridge at the almost exact time every morning. I used the bridge to the elementary school, and every morning when I was walking on the bridge, his car passed beneath it. I waved at him and he waved back at me every time. One day, while I was hanging around near the construction site, he came up to me and handed me a key chain in which miniature playing cards were contained. He said it was a small gift for me. I was over the moon. But, that was the last time I saw him. Because the construction company executive ran away with all the money my family had paid, the pay for the workers stopped. The construction was abandoned and no one came to work anymore. Only a carpenter with craftsmanship who carved beautiful patterns on the wooden thresholds came to continue his work without pay after his new job. But the carpenter I had a crush on never showed, and his car never passed under the pedestrian bridge. I cherished the miniature playing cards for a long time…

never seen her since

When the construction company executive disappeared with my family’s money, his wife came to our place with his daughter. She wanted us to know that she wouldn’t shelter him, that she didn’t have any idea of his whereabouts either, and how sorry she felt. She begged not to report to the police. While the grave meeting was held, I was sent to play outside with his daughter. I was nine, and she was a year or two younger. I used to be shy and wasn’t good at being friendly with someone so quickly. But with her, I got along so well at once for some reason. Along the narrow way at the back of my house, clovers grew rampantly. I taught her how to play ‘clover wrestling’ and it became uncontrollable fun. I had never laughed so hard so much in one day. That was the most fun I had ever had in my life. We promised to play together again and she left with her mother. I’ve never seen her since. As her father’s body was found in a gutter a couple of years after the day we became friends, I wonder how her life turned out and how she is now. I hope she’s happy somewhere now…

disappeared with the whole money

My preparing for moving recalls the time my family built a new house when I was nine years old. By then, our house got too old to live in, as it had stood for about 100 years. After the old house was destroyed, we had lived in our old barns that stood beside the old house until the new house was completed. That was when I became ill and got nephritis. In the middle of the construction, an executive of the construction company that was building our new house disappeared with the whole money our family paid. The construction stopped and our new house was left only as the wooden frame. Since my mother was extremely vain, reporting it to the police was out of the question. She turned to her relative who ran a construction company in a distant town from us. He kindly came all the way from there, fixed the plan and rearranged everything for us. Although we lost money, our new house was up at last thanks to him. A couple of years later, we read a news article on a local newspaper that the construction company executive had been found dead in a gutter. He must have had much bigger troubles other than his embezzlement of my family’s money while he was on the run…

unspoken rule of the game

The classic card game is usually played during New Year’s in Japan. There used to be a family gathering in New Year’s in my house every year. On one New Year gathering after I won the tournament of the game at school, I suggested to play it because I had become extremely good at it. I played with my relatives and my grandfather. I won dominantly by getting most of the cards. Then, my grandfather began to be angry with me, saying I was unfair. In 100 poems the cards hold, a player often has his or her favorite poem. It’s considered that person’s specialty, called ‘my eighteenth’ in Japan. No player other than that person can take the card on which his or her favorite poem is written, even if the card is right in front of you. Other players concede it by letting the person pick the card on purpose. They say it’s an unspoken rule of the game. I ignored it and just kept taking as many cards as I could whether it was somebody’s eighteenth or not, because to me, the game was a matter of memory and speed. With my grandfather, my relatives also began to complain. Although the game was one of very few things I was good at, nobody had played it with me ever since…

I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp.

Here, I make an embarrassing confession. I hadn’t been able to ride a bicycle without training wheels until the fifth grade. I always believe that riding a bicycle successfully for the first time should be like the one in the movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ where a father played by Dustin Hoffman jumps for joy and takes a picture of his son’s first ride. Sadly, parents in real life are too defective. My parents used to be farmers who worked out on the field from dawn to night. They hardly took a day off and when they did, it was a rainy day. During winter when their work was a little less hectic, they would bring crops from the field to a communal wash place by the small park near our home. They spent the rest of the day washing the crops by hand with their long booted feet soaked in freezing water. My father used a short interval between the field and the wash place to teach me to ride a bicycle. He couldn’t spare more time and I wasn’t a fast learner. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I became the only one among the kids of around the same age in the neighborhood who couldn’t ride a bike.

One day, my mother took me to the park with my sister on her way to work. Because she told us to bring our bicycles, I thought she would teach me this time. But she spotted a couple of older kids in the park, asked them to teach me and rushed into the wash place. With the kids’ help, my younger sister by four years got to ride a bike without training wheels, while I couldn’t. The kids laughed at me. When my mother poked her head around the door of the wash place and asked them how it went, they said, “She’s no good! Her sister rode it first!”

Much later, I was already close to my then-best friend Junko and took courage to ask her to teach me. She helped me in the park earnestly until it went dark. As it was time to go home, I tried one last time under the dim light of a mercury lamp. And I finally made it. Behind me, I heard Junko shouting for joy, “She’s riding! She made it! Hooray!” When I stopped and looked back, I saw her face flush with happiness. I miss her. More than I miss my parents…

without a certificate or a diploma, there’s no way to show people the result, thus winning is pointless

When I was in junior high school, there was a tournament of the Japanese classic card game that I wrote about. One hundred cards were laid out before competitors and each card had an ancient Japanese poem written on it. A teacher read a hundred poems one by one and competitors picked the corresponding card. The one who got the most cards would be a winner. The game isn’t as simple as it sounds. While a poem reader reads the whole poem, only the latter half of the poem is written on a card. To pick a card fast before it’s taken by your rivals, you memorize the whole poem. The instant the top of a poem is read, you recall the poem’s latter half, find the card it’s written among the laid 100 cards, and pick it.

Because my family had the game at home and played it occasionally, the poems were quite familiar to me. I was able to memorize all 100 poems easily before the tournament, that let me beat a competitor one after another, as by the time the teacher read a first verse, the card of the poem’s yet-unread latter half was already in my hand. At the finals, I even beat the smartest girl at school and won the tournament. I came home with great joy and told my mother I had won. Her response was, ‘Where’s a certificate?’ According to her, without a certificate or a diploma, there’s no way to show people the result, thus winning is pointless. She urged me to have a teacher issue the certificate and I asked the teacher. A few days later, I received a makeshift paper for the certificate. The pitiful paper was decorated proudly in a frame by my mother…

The best present from my mother this my birthday was a wrapper of a snack

It was my birthday and my parents sent me presents. The gifts from my mother were exactly the same necklace as the one she had sent me a couple of years ago, a vinyl bag which she apparently had got as a freebie, and some towels she didn’t use anymore. She also enclosed a bag of rice crackers. My hometown is in Kyoto that is a Japanese historic city with a lot of old temples and shrines. Many stores there take advantage of the location and use the historic sites and events as their signature design for wrapping. The store my mother bought rice crackers used a Japanese classic card game. It’s played with 100 cards on each of which an ancient poem is written. For some reason, I was very good at the game when I was a teenager. I haven’t played it for a long time. Some of the 100 poems were printed on the wrapping of the rice crackers and I remembered how good I was. The best present from my mother this year was a wrapper of a snack…