Life here in Japan has slowly but surely re-wired my sensibilities as well as my expectations of people; in particular, kids. So that now, what wouldn’t have even been picked up on my radar a few years ago, sets off all kinds of bells and whistles: people dropping trash in the street, talking loud or talking on cellphones on the train, my roommates playing loud music at night, etc, etc… According to my old sensibilities, these were all misdemeanors, but with my re-wired sensibilities, they are definitely punishable felonies.
As was Matsui-kun’s throwing stuff at Takahashi-sensei…
Looking out at the crestfallen faces of my students, I regretted my overreaction and wondered how it could have come to be. Yes, I was in defensive mode- practically on suicide watch- when it came to Takahashi-sensei. I didn’t know if having things thrown at her by students would push her over the edge but it couldn’t have helped that’s for damn sure. Besides, I knew it was important for us to present a united front against the unruly masses, show that we had each other’s backs. Especially now because, to me, the object tossing represented an unacceptable escalation in bad behavior, and needed to be put down and deterred. He had to be made aware that that kind of thing was not going to be tolerated…and Takahashi-sensei certainly wasnt going to do a damn thing. Someone had to do something.
But, aside from the power struggle going on, to be honest, I was a little hurt. I mean, he had really won me over. The bond we had was short-lived, but it lived. It was real. I liked his hugs the way my mother likes my hugs. I really like physical affection and I loved the way he ran and jumped in my arms when he saw me. It made me feel more human, and in a really dehumanizing society like Japan has been for me, I had, without really noticing it, looked forward to it every time. I didn’t care that he was a knucklehead and liked power. I like knuckleheads, and I like power, too. Some of my best friends were knuckleheads at some point but either grew out of it or learned how to put it to good use.
So, I guess you could say I kinda missed him already.
Matsui-kun stared at me for a long time after that, his face frozen in an odd expression somewhere between befuddled and despondent. He was really starting to worry me. Maybe the shock had been too much for him. Or, maybe he was simply thinking, plotting his revenge. After all, he’d lost face big time and he knew that the class was waiting to see how he would handle this situation. Perhaps he’d never been challenged before by a teacher. His henchman, Satou-kun, watched Matsui-kun with an open-mouthed gape. Occasionally he would look over at me with darkness in his eyes. I made a mental note to watch my back around that one.
Takahashi-sensei was walking around the class checking notebooks while I stayed up front trying to look relaxed and pretend like everything was normal, hoping this whole situation would just blow over and be forgotten. Pretending that all the tension I felt and the drama playing out in my head was just that: imagination. I do that sometimes.
However, when Takahashi-sensei reached Matsui-kun, she must’ve realized that he, and in fact the entire class, had been silent for going on 2 minutes or so which was unprecedented. She looked around the room at the various students then at Matsui-kun’s frozen stare at me and asked him what was wrong.
“Loco-sensei pss pss pss pss pss pss…” he whispered, another first.
Takahashi-sensei face dropped. She turned to look at me, then back at Matsui-kun, then down at the floor where the yellow piece of chalk lay, now crushed- no doubt beneath Matsui-kun’s slipper. Then, back at me. Then a light in her face went out…and I knew that whatever ideas I had about a united front were dashed.
When she rejoined me at the head of the class she whispered, “Loco-sensei? Matsui-kun says you threw chalk at him?”
Her tone was incredulous. Not like she didn’t believe him but like she couldn’t believe what I’d done. She was as shocked as the students. Though it was hardly a question I almost denied it. She probably still would have believed him.
“Yeah…” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. Then added, “but only after he threw something at you!” I said this in English and hoped she understood it was done in her defense. But her tone was all, Say it isn’t so, Loco… shock and disgust-laden and guilt-inspiring. It was like she hadn’t even heard what I said.
I peeped over at Matsui-kun as the bell sounded for the end of class. He was still sullen and looked on the brink of tears. I felt pangs of panic-tinged regret coursing through me. What the hell have I done?
I collected my unused teaching materials lost in the contemplation of going and apologizing to him. I had been out of line, after all. Then, I caught a glimpse of movement in front of me and looked up.
It was him.
“Loco-sensei, I’m very sorry I made you angry!” he cried at a barely audible volume.
“Eeee!” I snapped. “What?”
“I made you angry, right?” he said a little louder, his Japanese like a toddler’s Japanese. “And…I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
“Uhhh…” Just then I caught a movement behind me in my peripheral and I wheeled around ready for a surprise attack. Satou-kun was back there, but he also wore a mask of shame. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there with his head downcast.
“Kochira koso,” (I’m the one who should apologize) I said, turning back to face Matsui-kun. ” I’m sorry.”
“No,no,…” He bowed and gave me a hug without looking up, his head against my stomach. Then he turned and marched out of the class into the hallway- Satou-kun in tow- without even a glance back. I stood there trying to figure out if this was some kind of ploy or had his apology been genuine. Had I neutralized him with a piece of chalk? Was a brief flash of my anger enough to make him re-think his position?
As I made my way downstairs to the teacher’s office, I felt like a heavy burden had been lifted off of me. On the steps I whistled Wham’s “Last Christmas” one of the staple Christmas songs here in Japan (for some reason.)
When I got to the office I noticed that Takahashi was already there. And, as was becoming a common sight, she was being chewed out and fazed by Kawaguchi-sensei. I wondered what the matter was but I had learned to keep my distance from my buddy when she’s getting in Takahashi’s ass about something. Like I said, she’s like a different person. It’s kind of spooky. I felt sorry for Takahashi, as usual. She looked like she was being bitch-slapped by a pimp. The other teachers in the office were pretending not to notice this, but it was like not noticing a total solar eclipse. It was the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room.
From what I could gather from hush tones that rose and fell, Takahashi-Sensei had handed in some report late causing blah blah blah to be blah blah blah-ed. More of the same shit. Kawaguchi-sensei ended her harangue with an awful funky, malicious “Ne!?” and walked away from her. Takahashi-sensei took her leave of the office, probably to run to the bathroom and cry. Poor thing.
My desk is next to Kawaguchi -sensei’s. As she passed by I put my head into a text-book and tried to act like I didn’t even know she was there.
“Loco-sensei,” she whispered. “Chotto kite ne.” (Come here for a sec…)
I followed her out of the office and into the conference room across the hall. Kawaguchi-sensei usually does this when she has something important to tell me that she doesn’t want the rest of the staff to know about.
She sat me down. “You know…Takahashi-sensei, she told me about what happened with the student in her class.”
“Yeah, she told me that you threw a piece of chalk, and it hit Matsui-kun…is that what happened?”
“Yeah, basically…he threw something at her and I kinda lost my…”
“He threw something at Takahashi-sensei?”
“She didn’t tell me that part…”
“It’s not important anyway…I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it.”
“Yes, please be more careful…”
“Yoku Wakatta!” (I get it now!) She snapped, and laughed. “Ne, ne…” she whispered in the echoing conference room we were in, looking around like she was about to let me in on a great secret. “She told me about that when I brought up her latest fuck up. I tell you she is a sneak and a liar but I know you never believed me, deshou? (right?)! Hora! (See!) She was trying to get me off her back using you, deshou?”
“You really think so?” I asked, but it made sense.
I’d like to think this kind of shit wouldn’t faze me. I mean, corporate New York (where I worked for 7 years before coming to Japan) can be as cutthroat as it comes. But, I guess because my sensibilities have been re-wired, I have to admit: I was fazed. Syougannai jyan (whatchagonado)
Anyway, I won’t be back at that school until next January after the winter vacation, so I won’t see my little buddy Matsui-kun nor whatshername: the dime-dropping fuck-up with the tits, until next year.