When I was 13 I was enrolled in Jackie Robinson Intermediate School in Crown Heights Brooklyn. It was my first year of school in the real world.
Before then I was attending a school so tight-knitted that it was basically home-schooling. I mean love was in the air; sometimes a little too much love. But I had been nurtured in this environment. It was all black, and it was all I knew. My friends were essentially family. Some of the teachers were parents and some of the parents were teachers, and ALL had license to put their foot in my ass if I got out of line. It was a fairly insulated and sheltered world where cultural awareness and the revolutionary spirit were valued and fostered.
it was not the real world.
Jackie Robinson had security guards with Walkie Talkies at the doors, and a number of “deans” running around the halls chasing students…Deans who would gladly place delinquents into the loving clutches of the NYPD. And the chasees… some of these guys truly needed to be in custody. Vandalization, assault and battery, molestation, and muggings were not rare. It was not strange to see a posse outside the entrance laying on some fool who’d fucked some guys sister or had something of value he shouldn’t have been foolish enough to bring to school, like a new pair of Nikes or a sheepskin coat . They wouldn’t shoot him or stab him usually, but by the time they finished stomping him he’d probably wish they had. This was the type of school life my mother had sought to protect me from. The world of beat-downs in the cafeteria and blood trails in the stairwells.
This was the real world.
But, not in Japan. At least I thought so…but Friday, I gotta tell you, I was back at jackie Robinson…but not as a student. I felt more like as an unpopular teacher. A teacher with the crosshairs on his back.
I’d been anxious about this moment ever since Kawaguchi told me that Mika-chan had brought a knife to school. I mean, if you were caught with a knife back in old Jackie Robinson, you would definitely find yourself at least suspended, and, depending on the length of the blade (A swiss army knife you claim you’ve had since you were a Boy Scout they might let slide,) you could wind up, again, in the warm embrace of those who were notoriously known to serve and protect and break nigger’s necks for a living… In the real world.
But, Mika was simply told not to come to school the following day. Which she promptly ignored and not only came to school but sans uniform. Her mother was called naturally and unnaturally showed up that afternoon with Mika’s uniform. When reminded that her daughter was not even supposed to be there that day due to a pseudo-suspension, I was informed by Kawaguchi, on the down low, the mother replied, “Here’s her uniform. Bye!” And left. The next day she returned and met with the school counselor, Katou-san. Katou-san is a Returnee and speaks better English than Takahashi and Kawaguchi, but doesn’t teach. She comes to the school once a week (one of five schools she rotates through) and handles whatever issues might have arisen since her last visit. The first year students this year have, as you’ve probably guessed, kept her pretty busy this year. Katou and I have grown close. So, she let me in on what went down in this meeting.
Turns out this is the fourth school Mika has landed at in as many years for obvious reasons. her mother, a housewife, and according to Katou, was as nutty as the daughter. Katou recommended that the mother get Mika some professional counseling at a “facility” to which the mother replied something to the effect of “been there done that” and “Any other bright ideas??” Katou kept her cool and said, “A knife is a very serious thing,” to which the mother replied, “She told you she would never do it again just like she told me. I believe her. Don’t you?” Katou looked at me with eyes that said, “That bitch is out of her fucking mind, and so is her daughter!” But she told me that she simply said, “Of course I want to believe her.”
That settled, by Japanese definition of settled, Mika was back at school, and when I arrived at her class she was standing in the doorway blocking my way.
“Good morning, Mika, how are you?”She has a very short attention span and I have yet to hear ever utter a single word in English, so I didn’t expect a response. Just going through the motions.
She wouldn’t move. She looked at me through eyes of cold coal. An actual shiver went through me. She reminded me of that psychopath on “House” a couple of weeks ago. I turned around and a line had formed behind me of students waiting to get into the class..When I turned back Mika looked up at me and rushed toward me. I threw up my arms in defense. I just knew she was gonna slit me open like a pig and go tell the staff she’ll never do it again and be back here tomorrow. But, that wasn’t what she was up to at all.
She was giving me a hug.
This is not the first time she’s hugged me. She’s done it two or three times before; always unexpected, and always very loving. But I never understand why except to think she’s trying to set me up for a bite or a sharp knee in the groin. But, she never uses her hugs that way. They always feel authentic. And this one was no different. She’s a big girl and very strong and squeezed me tightly. I could feel her power. Then she let me go like she’d had enough.
“Loco sensei, kore wo mite…” (look at this) She reached out her hand and in it she had a folded piece of paper. I took it, unfolded and read it. It said, in English, “Happy Valentine’s Day Loco Sensei. I Love You!”
I looked at her, and scratched my head…