Tag Archives: work

Ghosts.

“My father died last month.

“It was reasonably sudden. He was always working very hard. Company president, you know. He retired a few years ago, and when I refused the position, it went to my brother. My dad still went to the office every day though. He valued work more than anything.

“He’d had a cold for a few days, but then one evening at the office, he couldn’t breathe and collapsed. Brother and staff called an ambulance and he was taken in to the hospital. Pneumonia, they decided, and quite bad. They thought he was going to die that night.

“But he didn’t, and though he was unconscious for a couple days, when he woke up, he said he was feeling better. The doctors said they might even let him go home by the end of the week. They wanted to do some more tests though.

“That’s when they found the cancer. Lung cancer, quite far along. Metastasized to his liver and colon. They gave him three weeks to live.

“He lasted 10 days. Died on the second of April, too late to save us the cost of paying his residence tax for another year. Oh well.

“This week, as a family, we finally decided to go to Dad’s house and start cleaning it up. We’ve just been so busy with all of the other things related to a death… there’s been no time until now. I took a couple days off work so we could go to it.

“What? No, my parents didn’t live together. They weren’t divorced, no, not even really separated. They just lived in different houses. My mom in one house, my brother in a rented house between them, and my father in the house I grew up in. My parents got along, and loved each other but… Dad was a bit of an odd duck. Work was more important than anything to him, and I guess they just got along better living in separate houses.

“Anyway, my brother, as I said, doesn’t own his house, he’s renting. Mom and I suggested that he could take Dad’s house, and move in, and it would be good. That’s part of why we went this week, to clean up the place so he could start moving in.

“We got to the house in the early morning. No one has been there since Dad left in mid-March. There’s a big tree in the back garden, and the grass has grown tall and wild. Nature is amazing.

“Somehow though, it was all a little spooky. It felt like a ghost mansion. I guess, in some ways, there are ghosts there…

“My brother unlocked the door with a satisfying clunk, and we went in. The house had been closed since March, so it was cool and a little damp inside. The power was off, so it was also very dark. All the blinds and curtains were shut, and even if they weren’t, the grass was so tall it would still be dimly lit. The spooky ghost mansion feeling wasn’t going away. Even my brother commented on how weird it was.

“As we were milling about in the entranceway, trying to decide where to go or what to do first, I noticed an old black and white snapshot pinned to the wall. There was a young man that I recognized as my dad, and a really chubby lady.

“ ‘Mom, who is this with Dad?!’ I asked. I’d never seen this chubby woman before. Oh no, did Dad have a mistress? It would explain the separate living.

“My mom laughed. ‘Silly thing, that’s me! That’s taken on our honeymoon! I didn’t know he still had that picture.’ I didn’t know she’d been chubby when she was younger. I’ve always known her as a skinny wisp of a lady.

“We had brought flashlights, and now turned them on. Shining mine down the hallway, I noticed that the floor had collapsed in two places. The wood flooring had just buckled. How did that happen? And when? Why didn’t Dad get it fixed?

“The first room on the left was the sitting room. The sofas and cushions were the same ones I’d grown up with — nothing had been replaced in all these years. I guess it must have been 25 years since I was last in here. No good reason…

“Hmm? No, I saw my dad often. But as a family, we never came here. My mom, brother, and dad always got together at company headquarters when we wanted to see each other, or we’d go to a restaurant. We never came here. I sometimes visit my mom at her house, but she and my brother didn’t come here, and my dad and my brother don’t go to my mom’s house. Now that I think about it, that’s really weird, isn’t it?

“It’s not that I didn’t love my dad. I did. He was… he was strange though. Work meant everything to him. When I was ready to go to university, he wanted me to take a management course, so I could take over as president of the company one day. But I didn’t really have any interest in that — my first love has always been science. I’m content with being a regular employee instead of a powerful company president.

“My brother, on the other hand, never wanted to be a regular employee. It didn’t appeal to him. So we agreed that I’d go and study science, and he could take management so he could be president when Dad retired. It was a good arrangement, and we all mostly got what we wanted.

“It wouldn’t have worked anyway, you know, me as a manager in Dad’s company. We never saw eye to eye on anything, especially management style. Besides all that, Dad, Mom, and my brother, they’re all workaholics. They wake up, they go to the company, they work until midnight, they go home, they think about work, they sleep a few hours, and then continue. The company is everything to them.

“I much prefer to be able to sleep a little late on weekends, have a leisurely breakfast, go to a class and learn something with an interesting teacher, and then go for a walk on the beach with my husband and our dog. After lunch, I can read books, and just relax. If I had joined the company, I wouldn’t be able to do that.

“The next room along was the traditional tatami room. To get to it, we had to hop over the holes in the wood flooring. Here, too, we had a surprise as the tatami had rotted and collapsed. I don’t know why Dad didn’t take better care of the house. I guess, though, he only ever slept here. He woke up, ate breakfast at the office, stopped at the sento on the way home, ate dinner out, and then slept. But still, think of others! But I guess, since he was at work all day, the downstairs doors and windows were never opened, and the trees kept a breeze from circulating down here. That must be part of the problem.

“In the tatami room, there’s a tokonoma. I remember, as a child, there was always a flower arrangement and some beautiful calligraphy in there. Now, there was just a big photograph of Mom. In the tokonoma! He really did love her. I don’t know why they didn’t live together, but Dad was a bit strange.

“He had a hobby, you know. He could fix watches. Wristwatches, pocket watches, table clocks. He could fix them all. He used to go to sales and buy broken clocks and fix them up, then give them away as presents.

“We carried on to the kitchen. In there, there was a little bit of garbage that had gone a little smelly, but as Dad never ate at home, it wasn’t much.

“We were surprised that, on the kitchen table, there was a photo of our dog, Koro, and a box of doggy treats. I guess Dad loved Koro, too, though I never would have guessed it growing up. Koro died in 1980, as well, so the doggy treats were a bit of a mystery.

“The damage downstairs that would need to be fixed if my brother were to move in was extensive, but we could afford it, so it’s not a huge deal. But then we went upstairs.

“It became clear that, upstairs, the roof was leaking in about 20 places. The contractor we got in later in the week said no significant damage had been done, but to fix the roof was going to much more expensive. Then there’s also the problem with the mold…

“I went into my old bedroom. Like I said, I haven’t been in the house since the early 90s, and I don’t think I’ve been in my room since before that. One corner was a little wet from a roof leak, but only the bed was over there. My bookshelves and desk were still in good condition, though very dusty.

“Nostalgia got the better of me and I went poking through the things that belonged to a me from another time. There were some rolled up, thick papers, tied with ribbon stacked in the bookshelf. I pulled one out, blew off the dust, and unrolled it.

“A certificate that I had passed level four of the English Proficiency Test, dated 1978. Why is this still here? What is even happening? The cold and damp started to make me feel uncomfortable, and so I made my way back downstairs. My mom and brother were ready to go.

“There was one more thing I had to do, though. I went back to the kitchen and took the box of doggy treats. I had a shovel in the cat, just in case we needed it for something, so I went and got that, too. I vaguely remembered where in the yard we’d buried Koro, even though that’s 35 years ago, now. I dug a small hole there, and put in some doggy treats for him, and sealed it up.

“I don’t know why, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I felt better having done it. I think Dad may have been happy I’d done it, too.

“Later in the week, we had the contractor round. To make the place fit to live in again, it would be cheaper to pull it down and build a new house, almost. This house has had a good run, it’s 45 years old. But still, what a waste. If only Dad had taken better care of it. Or himself. Or his relationships.

“But while we could, the three of us, afford minor repairs, we can’t afford to build a new house on the land for my brother to live in. He doesn’t have much money to throw at the project anyway. He’s not really management material, in the end. My mom is still CEO, and though she’s nearly 80 and wants to retire, she doesn’t trust my brother to run the company alone. She often bypasses my brother to run things directly, because he’s just not good at it.

“Of course, all the employees know me, too, and whenever I’m around the company headquarters, they’ll pull me aside and say, ‘Sister, come on back to the company, we need your help, things aren’t going well.’ And I feel for them, but walks on the beach and reading books are more important to me.

“So, we don’t know what we’re going to do about the house we grew up in that our weird Dad let decay like this. I don’t know what my mom will do about the company. I don’t know what my brother will do about a house of his own. I don’t know what I’ll do at all.

“But seeing the house, and the way Dad was living at the end, and the pictures of Mom and Koro, I’ve remembered, after a long time, that even though we never saw eye to eye, I really loved my dad.

“And he really loved us.”

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

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.