Sunday, March 20, 2005

Old friend

This evening I popped down to the supermarket to pick up some asari (short-necked clams), and when I was leaving I bumped into our other mentally challenged friend. (Not the one I wrote about back in February, who works at a different supermarket.)

This guy used to work for the local city government. His job was tidying up bicycles. He took it very seriously, and would patrol the bicycles faithfully, making no distinction between the legally and illegally parked, making sure they were all lined up. I don't think he was paid for all the hours he worked. He'd be there early in the morning and still there late at night, taking care of things. I think he knew all the bicycles personally. If I came home late at night and couldn't remember where I'd parked I just asked him, and he always knew. We often chatted, and he considered The Man and I to be his friends.

When the new building was put up about five years ago - the horrible, ugly, impersonal new building - he lost his job, and I didn't see him again until this week. I saw him a couple of days ago, to wave to, and today he was hanging around outside the supermarket.

I stopped and chatted with him. He asked me how Aniisan (elder brother = The Man) was, and added sadly that he hadn't seen us for a long time. He didn't seem very happy. I asked how he was getting on, and he told me that he'd had to move because of the new building. He now lives at the next station, and he said he missed his old friends. He came back to look for them sometimes, he said, but everybody had disappeared. And he couldn't find the old coffee shop where the people were so friendly.

He pointed in the direction of the next station using his left hand pointing over his right shoulder, then pointed at where the coffee shop used to be by crossing his right hand over his left and pointing to his left. Then he realised he had them the wrong way around, and instead of relabelling his fingers turned his back to me and twisted his head to carry on talking over his shoulder, tangling his arms earnestly in opposite directions. This made me smile. I'd forgotten this endearing habit.

"I know they had to move," he told me, "But I don't know where they went. I can only find one of my friends. The others have gone. There is only this supermarket left."

The supermarket is in the new building, but used to be in one of the old buildings.

"I come here because maybe my friends will be here, shopping. But I can't find them," he told me, still looking at me over his shoulder. "And I had to move. One friend moved to live near me when the old buildings were torn down, but the others have gone."

I sympathised, and he explained it all over again, gradually turning so he was facing me. I sympathised again.

"That's no good," I said. "But I'm very happy to see you. We miss you around here. I haven't seen you for a long time."

He sighed and waved his arms, and looked at them suspiciously.

"Taihen desu," (It's terrible) he said, shaking his head. "Everything has changed."

I asked him about his job. Did he have a new job?

"Yes," he said. "I work at the next station." He pointed in the wrong direction. "That's why I can only come here in the evenings. But it's not as good as here. I miss my friends. So I come to the supermarket."

He pointed in the wrong direction again, noticed, turned, and over his shoulder launched into his story for the third time.

I had a very late dinner tonight.


Megan said...

I was thinking about you when I heard about the latest earthquake in Japan. Hope you're ok.

tinyhands said...

I hadn't read about the quake, but it doesn't appear to have been a problem for your area.

I was just noticing a slight trend towards the increase in Nihongo in your posts. I'm in favor of it, and I think it adds "colour".

Badaunt said...

The jishin was in Fukuoka. We didn't feel it. Shimpai shinai de!

The friend who just arrived from the UK today (and is the reason for no blog entry) is going to Fukuoka tomorrow morning.

librarianguish said...

This is such a great story. It reminds me of the disabled man that comes to the library. We're not exactly sure how he is disabled, but think maybe Tourette's. Anyhow, if you tell him your birthday and year, he'll tell you what day of the week your birthday is on in any given year. It's really amazing!! Your friend's memory of the location of the bicycles made me think of that. It's very sad in a way how he comes back looking for his friends.

Glad you weren't bothered by the quake!!