(I must apologize for the tardiness of this installment, but with Mrs. Doyle in Chicago tracking down Mr. Trombone’s birth record, we have been a little shorthanded here at the Consulate. Mr. Kikuchi is single-handedly taking care of visa requests and passport renewals, restoring Mr. Trombone’s manuscript, and assembling hundreds of pages of documents and personal records in response to a flurry of Patriot Act requests investigating Mr. Kikuchi’s alleged involvement with the Japanese Red Army. Mr. Kikuchi promises to try harder, and then he says something softly to himself while turning away that I cannot really hear that well. –Ofc. Dirkins)
I have some Christian friends who believe Evil walks the earth. Not the everyday kind of evil responsible for things like insider trading and the plastic wrapper on CD cases. Big “E” Evil. The Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub. Really Bad Evil.
I did not share this belief for two reasons. One, I was watching TV when it was first explained to me so I really couldn’t follow the rationale, somehow getting it all mixed up with the plot of the Gilligan’s Island episode I was watching and wondering how any of those lovable characters could be responsible for anything that bad. And two, the one bit of the explanation that did manage to penetrate my TV trance was something about how accepting this belief in big “E” Evil meant not celebrating Halloween, and I simply enjoy carving pumpkins and eating tri-colored candy corn too much to give all that up for everlasting life. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.
So I did not, for the longest time, believe in Evil. That all changed when I met Mr. Inoue, the dapper young executive who shook to its very foundation my already fragile belief system, a system built on looking outward rather than in, a philosophy created quickly during television commercials, a cobbled together clutch of credos and half-truths so tenuous that I could not help but take that quote of Socrates about an unexamined life personally.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” My Christian friend’s non-Socratic counsel came back to me from the middle of that Gilligan’s Island episode just as I was being introduced to Mr. Inoue, who stood behind an enormous smile and a medium-size bag of Fuji apples. Mr. Inoue was from the Tokyo office of Joyfull English. He was brought in to take over the struggling Osaka office. He smelled of hair oil, breath mints, and sulfur. I held out my hand, he bowed, so I withdrew my hand and began to bow just as he held out one of his apples, so I straightened up and reached for the apple, slapping him in the forehead as he began to bow again and causing him to drop the apple with a disheartening thud onto the white-tiled floor.
I watched the large apple begin to roll slowly towards the high windows that looked out onto Midosuji Blvd in this, the oldest building in a row of modern, flawless and featureless office towers, and I thought about what it must have been like to rebuild the city after the devastation of The War. I thought about the desperate breakneck speed of the reconstruction, about how this chewing-gum-gray building striped outside here and there with lighter gray to cover long wandering cracks was one of the last remaining buildings thrown up after the war, thrown up so quickly that it had floors that now allowed Fuji apples to roll across them, and I thought about how there would someday soon be a heavy iron demolition claw smashing through these windows and walls. When the apple came to a rest against the far wall, I looked up and was startled by the wide waxy smile of Mr. Inoue standing there, unnaturally still, waiting patiently.
Mr. Inoue asked about my classes. He asked if there was anything, anything at all, that he or anyone else in the office could do to support me. After all, he said, that is why they were all there, to support me. Although Mr. Inoue did not come right out and say it, it was clearly implied that my happiness was the sole concern of every person in the office. It was the last thing they thought about each night before dropping off to sleep, he seemed to suggest, and the first thing they thought about upon waking in the morning. It was me they each lived for, I had by now begun to hear, and me for whom they’d gladly lay down their lives.
It might be nice to have some air conditioning in the office, I ventured, since it doesn’t normally reach temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit in my home country. Mr. Inoue sucked so hard through his teeth that a pencil rolled off a desk on the other side of the office. He tilted his head, furrowed his brow, and struck a pose of such perplexity that I immediately regretted bringing up the whole ugly matter. I bowed awkwardly and apologized. There were, after all, warmer places, I told myself. Perhaps not draped in concrete quite so thoroughly as Osaka, and certainly not more humid, but warmer in a way.
I asked about Travel Time. According to the rules barely legible in the worn mimeographed pages I was given at orientation in Tokyo, teachers were supposed to be paid 800 yen per hour for transportation if their class was more than one hour from the Joyfull English office. I taught a class on Wednesday evening at a company called Asia Pipe and Gasket that required me to change trains seven times, and finally board a small submarine where I was instructed through rough gesture by the captain, who spoke neither English nor Japanese, to remain absolutely silent as we slipped swiftly through the cold water of what may have been the Sea of Japan, engaging occasionally in what I am fairly certain were evasive maneuvers. The trip usually took about a day.
Mr. Inoue listened patiently and without expression. When I finished, crying a little bit at the end while describing the evasive maneuvers, Mr. Inoue told me a long story about a Japanese poet whose parents died when he was just a baby. The poet was raised by a wolf and a bird. Then there was some problem, but I wasn’t really following the story because it was hot, I was tired, and having grown up watching shows like Gilligan’s Island I was not used to narratives of more than five minutes’ duration. Mr. Inoue finished the story with a flourish that brought me back just in time to hear the ending, which was that the poet changed into a bird and flew from Okinawa to Hokkaido in just 15 minutes. In my commute to Asia Pipe and Gasket I was, Mr. Inoue said, obviously doing something wrong.
Was there anything else, he asked, walking downhill to retrieve the Fuji apple. Anything at all?