As all the people around me professed Buddhism and Shintoism, I had never been exposed to Christianity until I entered junior high school. The junior high I attended was a private Catholic convent school and most teachers were nuns. Since I had never had any contact with nuns before, they were nothing but mysterious to me. They lived together in a convent next to the school and wore a veil. They were called like Sister Catherine or Sister Patricia although they were Japanese. Until I got used to them, I had always wondered about the small basics. Do they have an ordinary Japanese name? Do they really stay single for life? Are they bold under a veil? Yes, yes, and no, I gradually learned the answers.
I had studied English quite hard to catch up with other students who came from the same convent’s elementary school that gave them a head start in English education. One teacher, called Sister Judith, happened to know that and kindly found a pen pal for me. While students mostly didn’t like sisters, she was an exception. She was popular because she was friendly and beautiful. Students also respected her since she graduated from one of the most renowned universities in Japan and was the smartest sister at school.
The school had the very rigid rules for uniform. If an irregular bag was spotted, it would be confiscated. I carried my personal small bag into school one day in addition to the big uniform bag, and Sister Judith caught me. She said she had to confiscate it and I begged her not to. I promised her I wouldn’t use it for school ever again. She decided to overlook my breach for once out of consideration for my emotional plea. As a stupid teenager, I was defiant to pretty much everything. I believed nothing good existed in this world. So I took my irregular bag out of my uniform bag again as soon as I passed through the school gate after school that day. I was walking toward the bus stop with the bag dangling. Someone called out my name from behind. It was Sister Judith. She didn’t return to the convent as usual and left for an errand on that particular day.
She didn’t confiscate my bag, though. Instead, she was crying. “I trusted you and that was why I let you go. But you betrayed my trust. I’m bitterly disappointed in you,” she said quietly and walked away. I felt it was much better that she yelled at me and took away my bag…
My mother used to take lessons in Japanese dancing. A woman in the neighborhood taught it in the evening to the neighbor housewives at her house. They held an annual public performance and my mother would practice earnestly at home when it came closer. My sister and I used to imitate her and dance alongside her. I liked it and danced quite well. I was in junior high school and my sister was still in elementary school. Since my sister came home from school much earlier than I did, my mother would take her to the lessons and let her wait and watch there. My father gave my mother a ride for every lesson. So, my parents and my sister would go out together once a week while I was left in the house with my strict grandparents. Soon, my sister began to take lessons as well. I felt it extremely unfair because it was I who danced well and should take lessons. I complained to my mother as hard as I could, but she never paid attention. The junior high I attended was so far from my home and I couldn’t come home by the time they left for lessons. My mother made no effort for me to ask for a late lesson to the teacher. It seemed she simply wanted to go out with just three of them once a week. Even in an instance of Japanese dancing, I was again an outcast in my family. I wonder why it kept happening to me all the time…
One day in my early teens, I heard a scream from my younger sister’s room. My mother and I went in and my sister was crying over the open drawer of her desk. She said her money was gone. She had stashed all her money in an envelope there by saving her allowances and money as New Year’s gifts from relatives. She had thought the total amounted to well over $1000 and had decided to count for the first time in a long time. But there was less than $500 and she was devastated. My mother lulled her by explaining that was how money was gone. While spending a small amount of money on candies and snacks at a time, it accumulated a big amount in total. “That’s why we say money has wings,” my mother said to her. But my sister insisted she had never bought candies that much and never wasted her money like that because she loved to save. My mother’s theory wouldn’t change though, and she kept telling her that money disappeared slyly while we were unaware. She said, “You learned an important lesson today. Now you know what is money.” Quietly seeing my sister cry hard and say repeatedly that was impossible, I had a clear idea what had happened to her money really. It was I who had regularly stolen her stashed money. I was in junior high school and my allowance was always short for what I wanted. I was constantly in a battle with my mother for a raise and denied. While there were countless things in the world that I wanted to buy, my sister wasn’t interested in buying at all. So, her money was useless and I did a favor by spending it instead of her. My sister’s money had wings all right, and brought me a lot of records, posters, concert tickets and accessories. Neither my mother nor my sister had the slightest idea what I had been doing. And they still don’t know about this…
When my uncle got married with my mother’s cousin by an arranged
marriage, my grandfather paid for his new house. He was proud of having
his own darkroom in the house. His hobby was photography and he used to
have the latest models of a camera. He planned to enrich his hobby by
developing pictures by himself. After he quit a job at a gas station, he
found a job supplying ice cream to small candy stores. He finished
drifting jobs, had two daughters and finally settled down. I visited his
house with my parents one day, and found that his darkroom had been
converted into a family closet. He explained he no longer spent so much
time taking pictures as before, with a weak smile. Several years passed
and I had become a student at a private Catholic school. The school was a
prestigious girl’s school that included from the elementary school to
the college. I had been there from the junior high and had acted as if I
had been from a rich and noble family to fit in. By the time I advanced
to the high school, I had been quite popular among the snobbish
students. Most of their parents were rich, and they looked down some
students whose parents weren’t so rich. One of those girls we looked
down came to me and said, “I saw your uncle yesterday.” And she started
talking about my uncle to my friends. “Do you know what her uncle is?
He’s an ice cream man!” she giggled. Her parents ran a grocery store and
my uncle went there to refill their ice cream case. He noticed her
school uniform and told her I was his niece. Her point was that I was a
niece of a funny, loud, rude ice cream supplier in spite of my snobbish
attitude. She went on spreading her encounter with my uncle to other
students and they all laughed at me. I was indignant rather than