Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Unsuitable friends

The other interesting thing to happen yesterday (well, there were a lot of interesting things, but this was the one I loved the most) was that Okaasan caught up with an old friend.

This was a very old friend. The same age as her, in fact: seventy seven. The two of them used to be very close. They spent all their free time together for about 7 or 8 years, and in those days they had plenty of it. That was until Okaasan's friend's family moved away, and she went too, and they lost touch.

That was 63 years ago. They were 14 when they last saw each other.

And that's what made the reunion so noteworthy. Can you imagine it? They hadn't met in all those years, and hadn't kept track, and it was just chance that the old friend moved back to Otsu and Okaasan's brother happened to meet her. She and Okaasan got in touch by phone and arranged a meeting for after the lunch party yesterday.

On the way to Otsu Okaasan and I sat together on the train, and the first thing she did after sitting down was to start telling me about this coming reunion. I hadn't heard anything about it, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. My Japanese wasn't keeping up. She was talking too fast, interrupting herself, trailing off into happy memories, and stopping abruptly to stare at me with big delighted eyes and say, "Ooh, how will it be?" After a while she remembered something, and dived into her bag and started rooting around. Eventually she came up with a photo clipped to a bit of paper with a clothes peg. On the paper she had written her friend's married name and telephone number, so she wouldn't forget. She took off the peg and showed me the photograph. It was of herself and her friend, taken when they were nine.

I stared at the photo for a long time.

It's a wonderful photo. It was taken at New Year. Two little girls peer out at you from nearly 70 years ago, dressed up in their bulky New Year finery. I looked at the photo, then looked at Okaasan sitting beside me, her face lit up with anticipation, beside herself with pleasure at the idea of meeting her little friend once again. It had finally sunk in. I had put all the pieces together.

"You're going to meet your friend after 63 years?" I asked. I grabbed her hand, and she gripped it tightly, nodding and beaming happily. I looked at the photo again, and the two little girls stared back at me through the years.

"I think she will have changed," I told Okaasan, and she giggled and gripped my hand tighter. I noticed that her eyebrows were on a bit straighter than usual. She had taken special care with her appearance, although her hair hadn't responded to the attention and was flying all over the place. But somehow, in her little brown suit, she had managed to look more eccentric than usual. Perhaps it was the running shoes. Or perhaps it was just that she wasn't in her usual environment, where her eccentricities are just a part of the usual decor.

She went quiet after that, although she didn't let go of my hand for a long time. Now that she knew I understood the momentous event, she could lapse into memories. She stared out the train window, holding my hand, uncharacteristically speechless.

During the lunch, which started at 12 o'clock, I was seated beside her, and she asked me the time so often that finally I put my watch on her table so she could check for herself. The meeting was set for 1.30, but it was too long for her to wait. I think she was having trouble eating. So she excused herself and went off to phone her friend, to ask her to come straight away.

Her friend arrived at one and Okaasan disappeared downstairs to meet her. They stayed down there in the lobby. I was dying of curiosity, but The Man told me to stay and finish lunch. Every now and again one of the cousins went down to check to make sure they were all right. Every time the report came back, "They're laughing."

Eventually a request came back for The Man and I to go down to meet the friend. We finished our dessert (Okaasan missed half the meal, which was served slowly over almost 3 hours) and went downstairs.

The two little old ladies were sitting opposite each other. They were both wearing brown suits, and both wreathed in smiles. Okaasan had lost all her tension and looked as relaxed and happy as I've ever seen her.

She had found her friend.

We introduced ourselves and chatted for a while.

Her friend told us that when she was a little girl, and first met Okaasan at school, she thought they could never be friends. Okaasan came from an old, established family of kimono makers, very high class. "She was such an ojoosama," she told us. "And my family was nothing, very common. I knew she'd never be allowed to be friends with someone like me."

Okaasan laughed as if that was the silliest thing she'd ever heard. Her friend smiled at her fondly, and continued,

"But she didn't care about any of that. I couldn't believe it, but she didn't even seem to notice! We became friends, and she was the best friend I ever had. I was so sad when we had to move away..."

"Oh, yes, it was terrible..." echoed Okaasan. "But look, we've met again! Isn't it wonderful? And look at us! How we've changed!"

Later, upstairs, The Man told Okaasan's brother what she had said. He shrugged and laughed. But his wife, who went to the same school, nodded. "Oh yes, she was common," she said. "I didn't play with her. I knew she was the wrong sort of person for us. But Okaasan never cared about things like that."

I caught a whiff of disapproval.

After all these years, Okaasan is still associating with unsuitable people.


tinyhands said...

Line 10: Can you imagine it? I can now, thanks.

Sorry for the dumb question- 'Okaasan' is your mother-in-law?

Badaunt said...

Sorry, I should have made that clear from the start. Yes, she is my mother-in-law.