1. A Japanese tale
He came from
the paddy field next to our yard, yes, the gray, dull apartment
block I live in is located at the edge of the village in the arms
of the endless rice fields, and in the spring Salim and I found
it difficult to sleep because of quaking of the frogs looking for
partners, which started immediately after darkness had fallen. The
noise was loud and penetrating, we couldn't hide away from it even
under our pillows. There must have been thousands of frogs in that
paddy. In the summer the neighbours' children would collect frogs
in the yard, Look Mummy, look! or rather "Okaa-san, okaa-san!
Mite, kaeru, kaeru!". One of them little terrorists left this
poor bastard in the staircase on the fourth floor, and when he finally
dared come down in the early morning, the newspaper deliverer's
heavy foot hit him and made him a paperthin bookmark on the third
stair. And now the frog keeps staring at me every time I pass him,
as if he wanted revenge. He is a
reminder of the all the things I have failed in, well I don't know
his sex, but I still know he is a he, and he has decided to revenge
to everyone living in our staircase.
Last night when I came home from work, the frog accused me of stepping
down on everybody, just as he had been stepped, of bossing around
trying to have it all my way, not caring about others' wishes. I
quickly passed, telling the frog to piss of, and hoping that Salim,
who had picked me up at the station, now coming 20 meters behind
me, wouldn't hear it. But it turned out we would have a similar
discussion inside our brown painted metallic front door with accusations
flying around, hitting and breaking us down with the precision of
the Lewinsky missiles, keeping us awake for a large part of the
night although the frogs have turned silent. And that frog stayed
in my mind.
The small, wine red frogs attacked me like bats, they managed to
grip my hair when I tried to pull them off me, they were wet and
sleezy, I didn't want to touch them with my fingers, but no more
did I want to be eaten up by them. They were biting me, it felt
like they got small pieces of my skin to chew for every bite, my
face would be spotty if I ever survived this attack, I was yelling,
shouting, stamping my feet in the yard and none of the neighbours
came to my rescue. The frogs started turning into jelly in my hair
a while after landing there, a thick smelly jelly that wouldn't
come of, and there was no end to the frogs that were attacking me.
Finally I woke up in cold sweat, wondering why I was letting a dead
frog into my mind.
But I felt guilty. I felt guilty about all the shit that had poured
out of my mouth. But I also felt guilty of what I'd been accused
of. The accusations that had punched me out only some hours ago
kept ringing in my mind. Am I really that bad? Is it too much to
expect to share a little more time than half an hour in the evening?
Have I not been giving anything? Am I totally useless as a partner?
Why am I here then? No, it can't be. I love him. Of course, I've
even been accused of not knowing what love is. But that was wrong.
It all went wrong from the beginning, ever since my arrival on this
island. He expected something that I could not give because I did
not know what it was. I still don't know what it was. I wanted something
him that he was not able to give me. We had been apart for three
deadly long months, and I wanted to get back that time, all that
was missed in that time. "No, I wanted that, you just wanted
to waste our time" he said when I had let those words out of
my mouth a few hours ago. And then followed the long, bitter argument
on why he was right and I was wrong. But the way we wanted to make
up for that lost time differed severely. And we were both disappointed.
I wanted to hold him, hey, don't be indifferent on me, don't give
up now, I need you. But there I was, four in the morning, holding
my pillow instead not wanting to wake him up. Sleep is holy, one
of our basic needs. Don't ever wake a sleeping person up unless
he told you to. It's like taking away the food from a hungry person.
He was so eager, he wanted it all immediately, he was an impatient
little puppy. A very sweet puppy too. But don't push me, don't press
me, it won't leed to anything good, I told him. He wouldn't believe
me. Now he's had it proved to himself. I can and I want to change,
but it's going to take some time, I told him. Patience, my darling.
But he's not the kind of person who can wait, when he sets his mind
to something he wants it right then.
I'm not giving up. I know I've been an asshole many times, behaving
really bad. I know I'm guilty of most of his accusations. But I'm
going to change. Now we're going to do it my way. He's tired of
pushing me around. I still firmly believe that a relationship can
develop into a happy, deep companionship when it's given time to
develop. Nobody changes overnight. His long arguments would confuse
me, make me forget what the issue was, what my opinion was and why.
I guess I've got a rabbit's head, you know a rabbit's ears are just
long pipes sraight to the brain. Blow into one of them and the air
comes out of the other.
In the morning I woke up to march music from outside, completely
exhausted from the fight and my body still tired from the mountain
hike in the weekend, not wanting to get up. At eight, when the school
bell rang the music stopped. A little later the junior high students
started some sort of practises outdoors chanting parols accompanied
by drums. Finally at the university I found myself in the wrong
lecture hall although I went to the one pointed out in the syllabus.
I was ten minutes late, but students were still getting seated and
a large crowd arrived from somewhere indefinite. But there was a
more interesting course going on in this hall and the program was
in English, so I decided to stay. Sigrid showed up and we were both
quite happy about discovering this course despite the shortcomings
of the syllabus and the unwillingness of univeristy bureaucrats
to provide information about courses.
When finally all the about 200 students were seated the lecturer
went on speaking in Japanese, we knocked the Malaysian guy in front
of us on the shoulder and had our fears confirmed. There remained
nothing to do but to quietly slip out of the hall, though you can't
really say slip out since the exit is near the lecturer's catheder.
We went looking for the course we had intended to take and opened
the door to the right hall half an hour late, immediately greeted
by the professor with a distinct British accent in an irritated
tone: "The two of you who just came in, did you take this class
last week? Would you come up to the catheder?" Shaking our
heads we wandered up wondering what our punishments would be. There
were already two students standing at his desk. "Would you
write your name here, and do it quickly
cause these people have been kept waiting here for half an hour,
it's not fair to them hurry up. No stay here, stay here, I have
to give you these things. Come back here so that I can give you
these things." He was growing more and more irritated. We were
assigned groups for presentations of some political thinkers' views
on international relations, Sigrid for Hegel and I for Marx.
It wasn't Professor Covell's best day. Ten minutes after he had
began his lecture, he looked up from the catheder embarrassed: "I'm
afraid I have to go and wash my hands for this pen has leaked."
The hot, still air in the room made me want to sleep with my head
to the narrow table in front of me, but Sigrid punched my shoulder.
"Don't be so Japanese!" I could hardly wait for the 15
minute break, which Covell kept calling the "interval".
Five minutes before the interval he left the room again, this time
to wash off the chalk of his hands after writing down "jottings"
on the green board. It was just an excuse to get out off the lecture
hall poor of oxygen. In the second period he would keep on going
to wash the chalk off his hands after having written down on the
board what he had just said. In the end he just kept on writing
without saying much. Two minutes before the end of the lecture he'd
wash his hands again and return to say that this is the end of today.
When I asked him to sign that bureaucratic form with which I sign
up for the courses and on which I have to get the professors' signatures
or stamps to show that I'm allowed to take that course, which is
something that only the foreign students have to do, he apologized
for being so harsh in the morning.
Walking up the staircase I noticed the frog had turned. How was
that possible? I thought it was like glued to the concrete, but
the flatted remains of the creature with its legs spread out had
turned 90 degrees to the right.
On the answering machine there was a message from Taeko at the Liberty
English School. Douglas wasn't back from California yet, could I
please step in for him tomorrow too? She had been trying to reach
him, but he had not answered. That idiot, he could have let us know
earlier that he would further extend his already extended stay in
California. By now I had already been teaching his classes for three
weeks. He sent a fax, but can't remember the schools phone number
333999. How can you not remember that number? I was overbooked.
Tomorrow I was supposed to start teaching English at the Self Defence
Force - the army - in the evening and I had already confirmed. Well,
the choice was easy, I would earn more at Liberty. He definitely
is messing up my plans that Douglas.
I decided to surprise the person I love the most with a good dinner.
At least my day might turn out to be better than professor Covell's.