“You mean this,” I asked, holding up my damaged hand.
“Of course…what happened?
I told her. She said, “Oh my god! Basketball is dangerous! You must be careful.”
I didn’t say I’d been playing basketball since I was a kid without serious injury. I didn’t say I planned to return to playing the moment I recover, and hopefully with the same level of confidence and disregard for the possibility of injury that I’ve always had. “Thanks, I will,” I said.
“Are you sure you’re ok,” she asked, searching my face.
“Do you know what alchemy is in Japanese?”
“Aa-ru-ke mi? No…” she whipped out her electronic dictionary and handed it to me not even attempting to phonetically spell this one, something she would usually do.
For Alchemist the dictionary read: 錬金術師 I couldn’t read it. I just knew it was something about gold. “How do you say this?”
“Renkinjutsushi, ” she struggled to say. “Maybe…I never see that word.”
I repeated it, trying to memorize it for some reason. “What does it mean?”
“I’m not sure…an artist or scientist maybe. He makes gold…” she said.
“Ok,” I said, wondering if there were alchemist in Asia in ancient times…if there were they’d probably be Chinese. Those
guys go way back like the Egyptians and other African civilizations. They would have tried to unlock the secrets of the universe for sure. J.K. Rowlings touched on it in her first Harry Potter book. It was about the Philosopher’s stone (though she changed it to Sorcerer’s stone for American consumption, probably concerned about our religious crackpots calling her a heretic or something) and the Elixir of life, as was The Alchemist. One of my favorite cult films, Hudson Hawk, hypothesized, for comical purposes, that Da Vinci was not only an artist but was, among other things, an alchemist and had built a machine that could make gold.
“Do you want to make gold?” she asked, half smirking, and probably half wondering if I was off my rocker.
“What is gold, anyway?” I asked. I wanted to explore my thoughts with someone and my student had been a willing companion for going on two years now. Sometimes I even feel guilty taking cash for our lessons, she’s so receptive, and tell her, ‘this one’s on the house.’
“A valuable, shiny metal…you make jewelery with it and stuff…like that….” She pointed at my gold bracelet, dangling over my makeshift splint. I had inherited it from my father when he passed away several years ago, of cancer. “It’s beautiful!”
I looked at it carefully. As carefully as I had the day I first received it. That day it seemed to radiate on my wrist, warm to the touch, like it had a life of its own. I had the lock welded shut. I never remove it…and since I’ve been in Japan I don’t really even think about it. Back in NY I used to be concerned about the undesirable attention it might’ve attracted. I had even been tempted to conceal it on several occasions. It’s 18 carats, heavy and, like she’d said, valuable, but the only threat to its separation from me had been the lousy lock it used to have and I had fixed that permanently. Now, it’s like a family heirloom. Along with my father’s name, I plan to give it to my son one day. When I no longer need it…Need it? I used to wear a two finger ring with my nickname, Unique, written in cursive, a diamond embedded in the “i”. I had planned to give that to my heirs, as well. But, I was strapped for cash one day and needed to escape so I had pawned it and bought a ticket home to NY…and never looked back. It had served a purpose, my purpose.
The idea of making gold from valueless metal- of making something from nothing- of being purposeful- resonated inside of me. And it made a sound, and that sound was as beautiful as gold…and it was my purpose; had been so since I can remember.
“Writing is like making gold,” I just blurted out, watching my bracelet catch the light, sparkling like a brilliant idea…then, catching a glimpse of my fucked up fingers, despair creeping up on me like a ninja in the shadows, I wondered how long will it take before I can…
“How’s your blog?” my student asked, interrupting my thoughts.
She’s a writer, too. She’s an office lady by day but she writes inspired haiku poetry in her free time. I try and help her translate them into English sometimes, but I can never give them the panache they have in Japanese.
“I had some free time yesterday and I read some of it… 10 ways how not to go loco in Japan, something like that…”
” Yeah,” I said, surprised, looking up from my hand. I’m very selective with which students I give my blog address to. I trust my hunches and recently I had had a hunch about her so I’d given it to her. “What did you think?”
“I think maybe number 11 should be: Write!”
I was still smiling when I arrived late to work two days later.
I’m still smiling now though it has taken me twice as long to finish this post as it would have if I hadn’t injured my finger.