Zazu in a ribcage.

Zazu escapes the alligator.

The door opened, and the boy entered without a word.

“Oh, hello. I wasn’t sure if you were coming.”

He just grunted while he pulled out his books. I thought nothing of it — it certainly wasn’t out of the normal.

“So, how are you today?”

“Fine…” This was clearly not a truth.

“Really? You seem… I dunno. People who are fine say, ‘Fine!’ but you said, ‘Fine…’”

He looked around the room. “I mean, uhhh… futsuu?”

“Ah, then I guess ‘fine’ is okay. Maybe ‘so-so’ is better today, though?”

He nodded. “Yes. So-so.”

“Okay, gotcha. Why so-so?”

He shrugged. “Just because?” I asked. He nodded once. Fair enough.

We continued the normal class opening. I asked him the day, and the date. He thought it was yesterday, for one reason or another, but he could say both so no problem. I asked him the weather. I asked him what he had for lunch. While he was answering, I noticed scrapes here and there on his hands and elbows. Looked like he’d taken a fall off a bike or something. My troll brain immediately started seeing him as a zombie.

Zombification would certainly explain his being so-so.

The topic was THINGS VERB OTHER-THINGS. Specifically, we were focusing on the verb ‘eat’. “Can you read this sentence?”

“Um… Lions eat meat.”

“Good work! Do you eat meat?”

“Yes. Meat is yummy.” Zombie, I’m tellin’ ya.

“Good. How about this sentence?”

“Hippos eat plants.”

“Right. Do you like hippos?”

He thought for a moment. “Yeah,” he drawled in his nasal child voice, “they’re cool, I guess.”

“Right. Last one.”

“Alligators eat fish and animals.”

“Good. Do they eat birds?”

“I think so. But look at the picture! Zazu got away.”

“Lucky Zazu!” Wait, an alligator in Africa? Surely this is a crocodile. Dammit, Disney.

We carried on to the next page. Some phonics funtime. Hearing the difference between /ar/ and /or/. Yarn v. corn. Then, it was song time. The book provides lyrics, but as I don’t have the CD, I have to make up the tune on my own.

“Lions eat meat. Yes they do. Woaohaohaoaoh.

Hippos eat plants. Yes they do. Woahaoahaoahoh.

But giraffes and elephants, they eat leaves.

Leaves aren’t plants — they are leaves.

Lions eat meat and hippos eat plants.

Woahoaohaoahaoh.”

Look, take it up with the Disney English people, not me. I’m only the performer.

At the start of the class, the boy had seemed a little sullen, but once we got into the work, he seemed like his usual self. When we reached the end of the chapter in the book, we still had a bit of time. The next chapter is about that movie Disney/Pixar made that’s exactly the same as that movie Dreamworks made the same year. I decided we’d deal with that next week and so I let him choose a game.

He rummaged through the card drawer, and didn’t find anything he was interested in. He looked through the board game pile and was similarly unsuccessful. He went to the secondary board game pile. Nothing. He found the small foam football, but placed it one side. He lifted up the half-deflated mini-soccer ball and retrieved Uno from its hiding place. “Can we play this? Please?” We were nearly out of time anyway, and he’d worked hard, so sure, why not.

“Okay! Sounds good!”

The luck was not with me this day, friends. A cold wind blew from the west, and I couldn’t for the life of me win a hand. Even that one hand where, somehow — probably due to poor shuffling on my part — we both ended up with hands full of +2 and +1 and +4, which are stackable under common Japanese house rules, and he had to draw 19. Even then, he somehow managed to come back and beat me. No, the cards were angry this day.

When time was up, we gathered the cards and put them away. “Thanks for coming! Good work. Remember your homework.”

“Three pages, right?”

“Yup. Have a good week.”

“Bye!”

He left. I watched him descend the outdoor stairs to the office, grasping at his hat as the wind tried to take it from him. Black clouds were moving in, replacing the clear blue sky.

At the end of the day, as I was cleaning up and returning my texts to where they ought to be, the Boss Lady asked me how the boy was. “He was normal. Good kid, bright kid. Works hard. Why do you ask?”

“Well, his mother came here this afternoon.”

Here we go, I thought, what am I not doing in class that she wants me to do. Parents can be so meddlesome sometimes. Trust me, I know what I’m doing, I don’t need pointers from parents. “Oh?” was all I said, though.

“Did he say anything about his father today?”

“No. I don’t think he’s ever mentioned his dad. His mom, but rarely his dad.”

Boss Lady nodded solemnly. I could see her eyes were red. In that split second, I saw it coming but couldn’t react.

“His mom came to tell me that his father died two weeks ago. I couldn’t ask for details, it would be rude, and she didn’t offer them beyond that.”

Yep. “Oh, wow, that’s terrible. No, he didn’t say anything. I guess, in retrospect, he seemed a little down at the start, but if I didn’t know this, I’d just have thought it was normal mood variation.” Yes, I really talk and think like that. This is why I’m alone.

“Ah, I see.” She paused. “The mother, I could tell she’s still quite sad. The tissues had to come out.”

“That’s really too bad.” I am bad at feelings, especially those of others. Besides, nothing I could say would make things better, so why say much at all?

“Well, don’t bring it up with him, but if he brings it up, talk about it as much as he wants to.”

“Yeah. I know kids, and I know trauma. Don’t worry.”

She nodded. Conversation moved to other topics and then I was away home for the evening.

Perhaps I’m cold-hearted. Perhaps I’m just stunted because of my relationship with my own parents. But I find it incredibly difficult to empathize with people having trouble with their parents, or even people who’ve lost their parents. Friends, yes. Parents… I can’t do it. It’s a flaw of mine, to be sure.

As I walked to the bus stop, the cool rain started to fall, and the wind blew stronger.

Ms. Cruiseship

Ms. Cruiseship

The woman comes into the room, her slow movements and her close body position betraying the nervousness she feels. The crows feet around her eyes move animatedly as her glance darts here and there. “Good afternoon!” she says.

It is evening. I don’t correct her.

“Nice to see you! Come on in, have a seat.” She does so and sets about unpacking her things. The textbook we never open, the notebook in which she scribbles in a doctor’s hand, a bottle of tea. “It’s getting cooler these days, isn’t it?”

She looks up, searching her mind for the meaning behind what I said. “Cooler… yes! It’s mid-autumn, you know.” She takes a dainty sip of her tea. “Tea is important when seasons change. It will keep you healthy.”

I smile and nod. “I’ll keep that in mind. I don’t drink much tea though.”

“Don’t you like Japanese o-cha?”

I shake my head. “Not really. I don’t drink any hot drinks, and I find tea too bitter.”

“It’s healthy though.”

“Most healthy things are bitter, I’ve found. But so is the sting of being unhealthy. It’s difficult.”

She nods sagely.

I remember I have to return something. I push a small paper bag from a high-end boutique toward her. The pink rings of roses catch the light. “These are yours, by the way.”

“Oh?” She cocks her head to one side.

“The food you cooked me was delicious. Thank you. I have to return these. Sorry I took so long.”

“Oh, my containers! Thank you. I’m glad you liked the food. I’ll cook for you again sometime!” I can’t tell her that I threw the food out. I never eat homemade food from my students as a matter of policy. For the same reason, though I am an avid baker and cook, I will never try to serve my homemade food to my students. There’s just… it’s too dangerous for both us, I feel. Regardless of the truth of whether I ate or not, the sentiment of gratitude was still legitimate.

“So,” I continue, “You were away last week. Was everything all right? I know you’re worried about your health these days.”

Her eyes light up and the wrinkles around her mouth spread as she smiles, revealing white but uneven teeth. “Oh no, I’m fine. I went to Hawaii though!”

“Hawaii! I’m so jealous!”

She giggles. It reminds me of a girl I knew when were in elementary school. “You should go some day. It’s beautiful.”

“What did you do?”

“I took a cruise. The ship was very nice.”

“You like cruises, don’t you? You’ve been on several right?”

She nods, thrilled that I had remembered. “Yes! I was on the maiden voyage of the Nippon Maru, and the Sakura Maru, too!” I search my mind for those two ships. The only results my inner Google provides are of troop carriers during the war. But she can’t be that old. Can she? And why would she be on them anyway? I let it go for the time being. “I rode a cruise boat when I visited Italy, too. It was a famous one, afterwards… oh what was its name… ko…ka….cosu…” The intense concentration causes her pencilled-on eyebrows to nearly meet.

“… wait, did you ride the Costa Concordia?”

“Yes! That’s the one! Costa Concordia.”

“But it sank!”

“Well yes, but I rode it, hmm, three or four years before it sank.” She nods. “My captain was good.”

“Oh, well that’s okay then.”

“Yes. My captain this time was good too! He was very handsome and very tall. Twice as tall as me!”

“Wow, that is tall!” Though she’s an old Japanese lady, she’s not much shorter than I am, so this man would have had to be over 2m in height. If he had actually been “twice as tall”, as she claimed, closer to 3.2m, and I don’t think anyone is quite that tall.

“My favourite part of the cruise was the disco hall.”

“There was a disco hall! Wow, that’s… very… 70s.” I can’t help my snark sometimes.

“It was so much fun. I danced and danced and danced.” She stops and looks around, then leans in conspiratorially. “But it was full of black people.”

Ah, I see casual racism time has started. I didn’t hear the klaxon. “Oh?” I ask, trying not to sound judgemental.

She nods. “Yes, but they weren’t dark black like your iPhone’s screen,” she said, “no, they were the colour of President Obama.”

“Oh, well,” I fumble for a reply that will keep the conversation going. “That’s… I see!”

“Though,” she continues, “there was one man who was twice as tall as me —” again? Really? “— and he was as black as the night.” I can’t believe I’m listening to this. She’s just old, she’s not actually a real bigot.

“Oh really?”

“Yes. My friends were very scared of him. They all pointed and gasped. But I got up and walked up to him and asked him to dance. My friends were shocked and very afraid for me. Their faces were funny.” See, I told you.

“I can imagine!”

“He was a gentleman and a very good dancer. I hope I changed my friends’ minds about him.”

“I’m sure you did. Good work.”

She smiles.

Our chat continues and meanders here and there. She promises that next time, she’ll tell me the story of how she climbed Mt. Fuji in a typhoon and took shelter at a shrine in the caldera, but she can’t go there anymore because it’s been closed “for the safety of tourists”. I can’t wait.

My brain -- and yours -- is a bastard and a troll.

The Faults of the Brain

The air blows over my body and I feel at peace. It is neither too warm nor too cool. It is the same as me. It is a part of me.

These mid-autumn nights make me feel so peaceful, so perfect. In fact, today is the equinox, Mid-Autumn Day, so it’s appropriate that I should reflect like this. Though the equinox signals the inexorable coming of winter, I feel that, for now, things are still okay.

But now, the incessant pain and stiffness in my neck and shoulders is returning. It is always there. It is never gone, so call this a return is imprecise. But it does ebb and flow throughout the days and weeks, and the past few hours have been pain free, relatively. But this too, for now, is okay.

I can tell that I’m exhausted, that I’m ready to pass out and sleep a peaceful, yet dream-filled sleep in the perfection of an autumn’s evening. My left eye refuses to stay open. I can only close it by itself when I’m exhausted. When energetic, I can wink with my right eye, but my left cannot be closed independently, only as a pair with the right. But when exhausted, the left closes on its own and I know that it will take very little to send me away to that land of impossible things.

And it is a land of impossible things. The experiences I have therein are some of the most bizarre, unbelievable, yet strangely vivid and real that I’ve ever had. A mere dream, upon waking, fades over the first few minutes of consciousness as the brain returns from hibernation, and loads the day’s business into working memory. The dream, deemed unimportant, is overwritten, banished, not even sent to the circular file — it just disappears. But those are normal dreams.

These days, mine are different. They are vivid — more so than so-called real life — and they stay with me. The brain takes them and instead of nuking them like it should, throws them into long-term memory with dodgy timecodes. So while sitting at work, and my mind is wandering, a sharp image from one of these dreams will be flashed upon the screen of thought, and when I request a timecode, the brain always throws back that it’s first of all a memory and secondly that it was formed long ago when I actually experienced the thing.

My brain hasn’t categorized them as memorable dreams either. Only the metadata, which I can grep, can tell me, “nah leave it bruv, it’s a dream, it’s not real,” despite everything else saying that it is real and that it did happen.

I know this sounds weird, and it is. But I don’t know how better to explain it, and so I slip into metaphor and simile. Why, that’s what language is for, after all — to communicate what you want no matter how you have to do it. Lack the words to say directly and precisely what you mean? Speak around it and try to get to your point through a roundabout, if whimsical, route.

And now, sitting here writing this, the brain has thrown up another image on the screen of thought. The secret room in the large house (or miniature mansion), wherein the allegedly missing father is living a comfortable life with white walls and furniture and a big-screen TV. I’m not even sure who alleged him to be missing or why, because his son knew where he was and the room was hardly hidden — perhaps it was more that the house was too big and people forgot parts of it existed.

But it’s so vivid, it’s like it actually happened. Confusing things even more is that the brain, over time and after me throwing a goodly number of cycles at the problem of thinking about it, has linked that house with the house of a friend of a friend that I visited once in high school. I know that they are not strictly-speaking related, but the brain is a goddamned troll.

Yeah, I have a troll brain. You do, too. All brains are troll brains. Some are trollier than others and I will claim that mine is one of those extra-troll versions, but I may just be misunderstanding the everyday brain troubles others have.

Speaking of troll brains, it’s time to take the meds to whip the troll into behaving itself, at least more than it would otherwise. I fumble the packet, my fingers not working quite right. The troll has control of everything and will try to stop me from stopping it. It’s an insidious bastard, my brain.

Which I suppose also makes me sound mad. Most people (and, again, I may be misunderstanding the everyday lives of people-not-me) seem to say that every bit of themselves is, well, themselves. “Here is a picture of you, head to toe. Where are you?”

“Why, I’m here.” (They gesture to the entire picture.)

“Be more specific.”

“This is me, I am here. I don’t understand the question.”

“If you were to lose a leg, would you still be you?”

“… yes?”

“So you use your leg, but you’re not in your leg.”

“I suppose so. I can follow your reasoning.”

“So, given that mindset, where are you?”

The subject pauses and thinks for a moment. Then she points to the head. “I’m here. I’m in here.”

“You’re in your brain.”

“Well, the brain is me. Maybe I’m in it? It’s hard to say.”

But, for me, I very clearly see “me” as separate from “my brain”. Me may reside in My Brain, but My Brain is an asshole landlord and bullies Me and mistreats Me. Me would move out, but Me lacks the means to do that. So for now, Me is stuck inside My Brain, and has to put up with all My Brain’s bullshit.

Does that make any sense? It does to me. But then I may be a bit mental.

But isn’t it more fun that way?

As quickly at the stream of thought comes, it tapers off and is gone. Once again all that is left is the perfectly perfect air blowing over my body as I drift off to whatever adventure awaits me tonight.

I am slowly going crazy, 壹、貳、參、肆、伍、陸、 switch.

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