I hate to say this…so I’m just gonna say it: The review I received from Silky Tony last week was from feedback given by a teacher at this school- either Kawaguchi or Takahashi. They are the only two teachers who review my performance here. In my heart, I’m 99.99999% sure it was Takahashi, but 7 years in the land of casual evasion and deception has made it impossible for me to trust anyone Japanese 100%, especially in the workplace- and that goes for the men and women. I’ve been burned too many times, and only when I’ve let down my guards, disarmed by the Japanese tendency to put up a good front. They simply come off as incapable of the kind of deceptions they commit. Because I’ve found that to them, in their hearts, it isn’t really treachery at all.
It’s what Japanese call Tatamae, but in the US we’d call two-faced fucking bastardry. Something I used to think was deserving of the treatment the Nazis got from Aldo Raine and his posse of Inglourius Basterds. But, Japanese can’t help it so it’s hard to fault them. Most were raised to believe that this is the way human beings should be, that you should only show your real feelings and intent with family and people well within your circle of trust. If you break that rule you deserve what you get. And, to tell you the truth, I have a tough time disagreeing sometimes. But, I was a fairly trusting soul before I came here, and felt like I had a pretty well honed traitor detector and could tell the difference between a person who I could share confidences and a person who’d likely share my confidences with anyone within ear shot. But, here, that detector is about as useful as a steak knife at a sushi bar. I don’t let it vex me as much as it used to. Now I just roll with it, but I never trust them 100%. If you live here you know what I mean.
Sometimes Kawaguchi would take me into the recording room where we’d have virtually sound proof privacy, yet she’d still speak in hush tones, heavy with breath. All the security precautions used to make me paranoid, like she knew something I didn’t know about the walls in this place; that they have eyes, or ears, or both. Now, I know it’s just her style. She’s sneaky. Japanese say zurui. I say typically Japanese. However, today, with an office full of listening co-workers, she didn’t even bother. She sat down in a chair beside mine and smiled…her eyes twinkled as she read my face.
Me: I’m worried about Takahashi-sensei.
Kawaguchi- Really? Why?
Me: Well, of course you know about Mika assaulting her and Matsui-kun? Forget about it. Not to mention the hazing that goes on right here in…
Kawaguchi: Assaulting her??? What do you mean?
Me: She didn’t tell you?
Kawaguchi: Tell me what?
I started smelling something foul, something political. Secrets. Lies within lies. I paused and looked at Kawaguchi. My old detector turned on all by itself. It warmed up with a squelch like an old CB radio. A distress call was coming in: “Breaker Breaker, Loco, good buddy, back off the hammer! !10-33, I say again, 10-33! Best get in the granny lane!” (Slow down, Loco/ Danger / emergency ahead, take it slow…)
Me: Um…so, what do you know?
Kawaguchi: Know about what?
Me: About Mika and Takahashi…tell me what you know first.
Kawaguchi gave me a benign inquisitive look like she didn’t know what to make of my suddenly awkward behavior, probably intuiting that I didn’t entirely trust her. But, if she were crestfallen or impressed by this intuition it was her secret because her face confessed neither. She simply leaned in like she usually did when she was going to lay some heavy shit on me and in a thick whisper, a little louder than usual, said: “I think it’s her fault!”
And she nodded her head at sweet, prissy, chichi fufu Okawa-sensei.
Okawa sensei is the head teacher of the first year students and the person Takahashi reports to directly. She’s a very nice woman, always smiling; kind, friendly, hard-working. Typical. I never liked her much, though. It’s not her fault, really. It’s just that she always uses super formal Japanese when she speaks, which I can’t understand well. She’s the only one in the office who does it, and it has effectively erected a wall between us, verbally. Plus, her voice. Ugh! She makes me want to rip off my ears. She sounds the way I imagine Minnie Mouse would sound if she were a 50 years old, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, domestically abused singer who thinks she still has it and nobody has the heart to tell her she doesn’t (and never really did…it was always her abusive husband Mickey’s popularity that carried her. She we were forced to endure.) She was smiling when I glanced over there and wiggled her fingers at me in greeting.
She knew we were talking about her. And Kawaguchi knew that she knew that we were talking about her. Was that a salvo of sorts? Had Kawaguchi just used me to embarrass Okawa??? I could still hear the squelching of my old detector, trying to find a signal on a stormy night, picking up the warning: “10-33, Loco, 10-33…” echoing in my head. The last thing I wanted to do was get into the middle of some office politics.
Kawaguchi: The first year students are wild and she cannot control them. None of them can!
She nodded again at the whole first year students teacher section. Four of the six teachers, including Takahashi and Okawa, were seated there shuffling paper around and trying to look busy. The office was very quiet. The only sounds in the universe were the heaters blowing (semi-warm air), the whirl of computer hard drives, the squeak of chairs, and the distinctive sound of Kawaguchi’s whispers…
Kawaguchi: …but she doesn’t say so.
Me: Ee? What do you mean she doesn’t say so? Everybody knows! Matsui came in here the other day and practically…
Kawaguchi: I know I know, everybody knows…but she hasn’t said so. And she hasn’t told the principal nor the vice principal about the situation. If she doesn’t say it ‘s a problem, then it’s not a problem!
Me: What?? What do you mean?
Kawaguchi: She tells the first year teachers not to speak with the principals, nor with us, about the problems in the classroom with the 1st year students. Takahashi told me but I have to pretend she didn’t tell me because if I don’t then Okawa will scold her even more than she does already. Takahashi came to me crying yesterday but I couldn’t help her because of Okawa!
Me: Are you serious??? Everyone has to pretend this problem isn’t a problem because she has decided that it isn’t a problem???
Me: What about the principals? They must see everything. They know, of course…There’s trouble in their school. Why don’t they just jump in and take the initiative? They can see the problem! Hell, students are assaulting teachers!
At this, Kawaguchi went into actual surreptitious mode and became her usual sneaky self when she has secrets to tell. I thought, fuck, I can’t believe I doubted this woman for one second, and I felt bad. She tells me everything and takes risks to do so.
Kawaguchi (whispering so softly I could hardly hear her): The principal and her are…
And she flashes her thumb and her pinky. Great! Sex and politics…Thumb means boyfriend, pinky means girlfriend. I figured both together meant simply fucking. I glanced at the front desk where the vice principal and the principal sat chatting with one another. They were both married so…
Me: Which one?
Me: Which one is she…(I did the pinky/thumb thingy) with?
Kawaguchi: I don’t know…
Kawaguchi: They both pretend, deshou? Maybe she’s (pinky/thumb thingy) both of them…
Me: USO!!! (Bullshit!!!)
I knew from that moment that Kawaguchi didn’t only dislike Okawa. She hated the bitch!
Kawaguchi: They both know about the problem, deshou? And they both do nothing, deshou? And they both listen to her lies about how she can control the situation, deshou? They both help her everyday…
Me: Come on, you don’t really believe she’s doing them both, do you?
She suddenly burst into a raucous laugh. This was for Okawa’s benefit no doubt.
Kawaguchi: No, I guess not. I think she’s (pinky/thumb thingy) the principal and he’s keeping the vice principal in check.
Me: So I guess Takahashi is the one really getting (pinky/thumb thingy) deshou?
It took her a second to get my meaning. Then, she nodded sadly and glanced over at Takahashi, looking all helpless at her desk.
Kawaguchi: (whispers) Kawaisou. (It’s a shame.)