sublingua

The heart with a mind of its own.

(Be present.)

The mind with a heart of its own.

(It's past.)

The dream that is your waking life.

(Go there now.)

-
Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021


Kiyoshi had written that he would be working the day I arrived, so his sister would be sent in his stead to retrieve me and my luggage. “She speaks a little English,” he explained, “so I think it will be easier for you.” I had asked him years before if his parents spoke any English and he had laughed at the very idea of it.
His sister Tamae was easy to spot at the station, not so much because she resembled Kiyoshi in any way, but because the station was tiny and only myself and two old women laden with shopping bags got off the train. Tamae was the only one waiting. She bowed very deeply and greeted me in English, calling me Christina-san the same way Kiyoshi always had whether he was speaking English or Japanese. My return bow (head down, looking at her shoes) was clumsy but heartfelt, a long unused posture. I had tried to brush up on my Japanese in the months before my trip, but when I spoke to Tamae (“Hajimemashite”), she only replied in English (“Nice to meet you, too”) so I just switched to English.
She took my carry-on bag from me and gestured for me to follow her. As we walked to her car, I was able to get a better look at her. Unlike Kiyoshi, she was not tall (I towered over her by about eight inches) and she was plump and pretty. In Tokyo, the women had always seemed—and were—razor thin by design and deprivation, but we were a long way from Tokyo. Even so, it would have been a mistake to take Tamae for a country bumpkin. Her stylish clothes and trendy haircut suggested big city aspirations if not a big city upbringing. I noticed that she wore contact lenses designed to lighten her eyes. She was trying for blue, but over her dark eyes the blue was dulled to gray. Kiyoshi was unimpressed with my compliments about her appearance later, remarking only that she spent a lot of money shopping online and had her hair done in Okayama, the nearest big city.
Tamae asked politely about my travel, asking me if was it difficult for me to travel in Japan since I spoke little and couldn’t read any Japanese at all. It turned out that she was far more fluent than Kiyoshi had let on and we chatted easily. She nodded and smiled readily at almost anything I said, her smile showing off dimpled cheeks. Though sweet, her smile almost never reached her eyes and it disappeared quickly.
She glanced closely at my face as I bent to lift my bag into the trunk of her car. “You must be tired,” she remarked.
The few hours of sleep I had on the overnight train hadn’t put a dent in my exhaustion and jet lag was quickly overtaking me. I was trying not to show it, but like Kiyoshi, she could easily see past my act.
“A little bit,” I admitted.
Kiyoshi had written that I would be staying in a place that his company kept for visiting clients and I mistakenly believed that we would go there from the station, but Tamae’s next remark put that idea to rest. “My mother is excited to meet you,” she said.
“I am also looking forward to it,” I said.
It was a short ride to the house that Kiyoshi and his sister shared with their parents. The house was larger than I expected, certainly larger than anything I had ever seen in Tokyo, and modern. It was set at the foot of the mountain, angled to face the city, with dense forest behind it. Kiyoshi had mentioned to me, years before, that his father and uncle climbed a mountain every day for exercise. I wondered if this was the mountain.
“Should I leave my suitcase in the car?” I asked, thinking it would simplify things later.
“Please bring,” she replied.
She again took my lighter carry-on and I followed with my suitcase and shopping bag.
I had brought gifts for everyone, of course. For Kiyoshi’s parents, I had brought a gift from a chocolatier in my hometown, a shockingly expensive box of pinon and caramel candy in a cornhusk wrapping made to resemble tiny tamales and a box of dark chocolate squares molded to look like milagros and layered with silver leaf. At the last minute, I had added a small gift set of red chile-raspberry and green chile-apple jam, chosen for their representation of my culture, of course, but also because they had been exquisitely packaged. For Kiyoshi’s children, I brought simple children’s books in English and toys. For his older son there was a set of die-cast American muscle cars that zipped forward when you pulled them back and for his younger son there was a small set of stuffed toys that included animals from my state, a crow and hummingbird, a coyote and fox. I had carefully guarded the shopping bag that held these things the whole way to Bizen, knowing that the pristine packages would count almost as much as the gifts themselves.
Just inside the door to the house, Tamae called out to announce that she was home, her “tadaima!” answered by a woman replying “okaeri.” From the genkan, I could hear a woman shuffling around in the next room. I set my suitcase to one side and prepared to remove my shoes.
Kiyoshi’s mother came into the entryway wiping her hands on her apron and she bowed, welcoming me. I bowed, too, deeply, several times, thanking her and apologizing for intruding in her home, both politenesses which she, equally politely, waved off. When I finally stood up, I could see that she, like Tamae, was short and plump. She had hair like Kiyoshi’s though, dark and wavy, and dark eyes like his, too, that moved quickly between expressions of happiness and seriousness.
Still holding my bag of gifts, I removed my shoes, stepped up into the house and into the too small slippers that she had placed out for me. I immediately turned and put my shoes together with the toes facing toward the door. Then I introduced myself in Japanese and handed her the wrapped candy and jam, of course saying that it was just a small gift and nothing special. She thanked me.
I turned to Tamae, who was just behind me and to my left, and was startled to see that in the dim light of the genkan, her blue-gray eyes appeared black. She smiled at me, with dimples.
Kiyoshi’s mother was saying that she thought my early arrival would mean that I hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast, so she had prepared a meal for me. I thanked her and followed her into the house with Tamae trailing behind. Kiyoshi’s boys were in the room. The youngest had been teetering across the room—just now starting to walk, Kiyoshi had said—but when he caught sight of me, his mouth popped open in surprise and he sat down heavily on his bottom. He twisted around to look for his older brother, now three years old, who was standing a few steps behind him, legs spread wide, arms akimbo. I smiled at them. Neither smiled back.
“I brought gifts for the children,” I said to Tamae and I handed her the bag. I did not think they would take the toys from me.
“Mitte,” she called to the boys, “come look. Your father’s friend has brought you new toys.” They ran over and she parceled out the toys but kept the books back, asking if it was okay if she looked at them first. Of course I agreed. Almost immediately, Kiyoshi’s mother told them to put the toys away and come to the table. She gestured to where I should sit. It was my first time in a long time to sit at a low table and I knew that my legs would not be able to take being folded under me for very long.
She said something to Tamae and Tamae said to me, “Please make yourself comfortable,” so I moved so that I was seated on one hip with my legs folded to one side. It was marginally better. Tamae remarked, “I think Westerners find it difficult to sit like Japanese.”
“Some do, I think,” I replied.
She took her place next to me and the boys sat across the table. I suddenly remembered the day in Shibuya with Kiyoshi, when he and his friend saru had sat across the table from me. The boys eyed me soberly.

retreat or surrender

More lies:
Now - Saturday, May. 21, 2022
- - Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021
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- - Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021
- - Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021

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