Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Mona Lisa hr618

It was about when I was eight years old and visited my grandparents’ for the first time since their house was rebuilt where their old one in which my mother was born and grew up had stood. I stepped into the living room of their brand-new house and my uncle welcomed me.
The house belonged to my grandparents on my mother’s side. As an old custom of Japan, the first-born child used to live with his or her parents after marriage. That’s why I had lived with my grandparents on my father’s side all the way until I left home. Accordingly, my mother’s elder sister took a husband into the family and had lived with her parents. Her husband was this uncle of mine. He was married to my aunt as an heir-to-be and related to me by marriage not by blood.

woman wearing kimono dress

Photo by Satoshi Hirayama on Pexels.com

He has gotten the best seat in the new living room. It was placed at the top of the table and the closest to the TV. What caught my eyes was the painting hung on the wall behind him. It was a large copy of Mona Lisa.
I don’t think I recognized it as Mona Lisa back then, but I knew it was a Western painting and felt a decisively unsuitable, out-of-place sense. The house was located in a rural area in Kyoto, in typical countryside where Western paintings were hardly spotted. Though it was new, the house was Japanese-style. The living room had no chairs as they sat on the floor around the low table. Yet, above my uncle was a gorgeously framed, dignified Mona Lisa. I’m still not sure if someone gave it as a housewarming gift or he got it himself, but it was certainly the furthest thing from my uncle who was a lean, uncultured, gamble-inclined man. While I gaped at the painting thinking how opposite it was to my uncle, he said to me smiling, cheerfully and proudly, “Isn’t this painting nice? I like this. It’s nice, isn’t it? Nice, hah?”

Until mid-teen, I had often visited the house. Mona Lisa was always there as my uncle’s favorite. In every New Year’s holiday, my uncle acted as a dealer for our annual family gambling card game at the living room. It may sound peaceful, but it was a serious high-stakes battle between my uncle, my cousin, my mother and me. Although my uncle loved gambling and was buried into every bet, he would lose big every year. From above, Mona Lisa watched him losing to his son with tears in his eyes, with her archaic smile.

selective focus photo of group of people taking picture of mona lisa painting

Photo by Jill Evans on Pexels.com

I went abroad for the first time when I finished high school. I visited France and saw the real Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I wasn’t interested in art so much then, and walked through rather than appreciated. But once I entered the big hall where Mona Lisa was displayed, I noticed something fundamentally different. Although there were quite a few visitors, the hall was almost completely silent. The air was strained and tense. It was as if everybody had been holding their breath. At first, I didn’t know what was happening. I walked forward and found Mona Lisa at the back of the hall. Since it was beyond security guards, tasseled ropes and the reinforced glass, there was still some distance from me when I stood in front. Nevertheless, the real one was surprisingly powerful and captivating. I clearly remember I felt like being gravitated to it and couldn’t help fix my eyes on it.
As for my uncle’s favorite copy of Mona Lisa, when my grandparents’ house was burned to the ground in after years by my grandmother’s carelessness in which she lit a candle too close to a sheet of Buddhism talisman paper on the alter one morning, Mona Lisa was burned away with the house. When the fire broke out, my uncle, who had been even thinner because of terminal cancer, carried in his arms my aunt, who had been fat and suffered from dementia and was asleep in the upstairs bedroom, ran down the stairs holding her, and saved her life. I thought I found out who his favorite lady really was, and who he really was…

4 Comments »

Jackpot hr612

That casino was old and forlorn. Inside, it had the outdated concert hall where gaudy revues and magic shows used to be abundant. Since the casino lost its popularity and customers, the hall had been used as a makeshift break area. Those who used up money for gambling and no longer had anything to do sat there sparsely with vacant eyes, producing a wretched atmosphere that perfectly matched the whole casino. My partner, my mother and I was resting there after we lost most money. As it was too gloomy to be sitting in the break area, my partner suggested that we should use up the scarce rest of our money and leave the casino.
Each of us sat in front of our favorite slot machine. On the screen of my slot, I came close to win with two matched pictures but the third one didn’t come up in every turn. My mother and I quickly ran out of money. Further down the floor, I saw my partner still playing. I left him there and went back to our hotel with my mother.
It was the last day of our stay and I started packing for checkout. The hotel looked out on the waterway that connected the hotel and the casino. For a brief break from packing, I went out on the balcony of our room and watched the waterway. Then I noticed something gigantic floating far up the waterway. It was slowly flowing toward the hotel. The closer it got, the more monstrous it became. It approached near enough to tell what it was.
A tall, triangular-shaped white condominium was carried on a massive barge. Tied behind it was a white enormous sailing ship. They were carried carefully from the direction where the casino located. Considering where it came from and how unusual they were to be carried along the waterway, I assumed that they were some prizes of the casino. I called my mother to the balcony and we wondered what kind of person had extremely good fortune like this.
The barge and the ship stopped in front of the hotel, right under our balcony. There was the third boat tied behind the ship. A man was sitting in it almost buried in numerous boxes and bags. It meant he was the winner. I gazed at the man with the biggest possible amount of envy. And I gasped. The man who won all of those was no other than my partner! I couldn’t shout, couldn’t scream but was just speechless. I saw my partner getting off the boat and being welcomed by the hotel staff. He gave them some instructions and they hurriedly moved around. Soon, there was a knock on the door of our room. The bellboys brought countless boxes of shoes and bags of brand clothes into our room. Finally my partner came in. He said calmly, “It’s time for checkout.” I told him that I hadn’t finished packing and he said, “It’s all taken care of. I hired people to do the rest. We can just leave.”
We stepped out of the hotel. In front of my eyes, the white condominium gleamed under the bright sunshine. The white sailing ship gently swayed with its sails furled. I asked myself repeatedly, “Can anything like this actually happen?”. My mother said, “I’ve always wanted a condominium like this!” and got onboard the barge. My partner returned onto the boat. I was excited enough to jump in the water and floated by a swim ring that was connected to the boat. The fleet began to move again and we were heading home.
While we were slowly moving down the waterway, I saw some parade floats in the water ahead of us. The area was a popular resort destination and the waterway threaded through many hotels. The parade seemed one of the events held in the area. Seeing the floats far ahead and the big condominium and the sailing ship before me, I asked my partner, “This is a dream, isn’t it?” He had been expressionless up until this point but smiled for the first time since he won. “Why? Are you that happy?”, he asked me back. I usually dream a lot. Sometimes I dream a very good one and feel ecstatic in it. But in those cases, waking up is excruciatingly painful. Dreadful disappointment crushes me. I’ve had those experiences more than too much and want no more. I would do anything to avoid it. If this is also a dream, I have to wake up now before euphoria gets inside me. Otherwise, I couldn’t bear a disappointment of this magnitude.
I was sad that everything I had gotten would disappear when I woke up. This was undoubtedly the best and the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. But I had to know whether this was reality or not at this point in order to minimize disappointment. I looked at the clear blue surface of the waterway on which I was floating. It was sparkling in the sunlight. I hit the surface and made it splash. Sprays of water showered on my face. It was cold and refreshing. I slapped my wet cheeks with my both hand. It hurt. Still, everything stayed as it was. I slapped my face over and over, hearing the sound of slapping and splashing water and my partner’s laughter. The condominium and the sailboat were still there. I felt gentle breeze and drips of water streaming down my face. I looked up the bright blue sky and got the dazzling sunshine over my face. I didn’t wake up. This was all real!
Now that I was convinced this wasn’t a dream, I was able to take it in. Indescribable happiness seized me. It almost choked me and I panted for breath. I felt my lungs were pressed with happiness and heated like coals. I’ve never been this happy in my entire life. I became a billionaire. My life got redeemed. I was finally getting out of a prison and living in a place where I should be. I was filled with a sense of relief, peace, and freedom. I felt a lump in my throat. It was as if the heated coals in my chest reached the boiling point and were about to explode. Tears appeared in the bottom of my eyes. They began to liquefy my sight. I blinked to shed tears. I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I opened my eyes again. Then – much to my horrible surprise – the sight remained black. I blinked again and fixed my eyes on the darkness. It was the ceiling above the bed of my room.
It was completely beyond belief. Although I made sure so many times, all what happened was a dream. I was simply lying on my bed with tears streaming down my face. The sensation I had felt was so real that I even suspected this awakening was a dream. I sat up on the bed, bewildering. Everything was gone along with happiness. I was dazed for a while without moving. I uttered several times, “Can’t be a dream.” because it was too real to be a dream. I made a mistake again that I’ve tried to avoid all the time. This time, the mistake was huge. The dream was too good, too vivid, and too happy. Accordingly, disappointment was severely grave.
I felt the massive disappointment was trying to squash me. I couldn’t get up. I kept sitting on the bed, and started weeping…

1 Comment »

Gold Dust hr584

“Would you believe it if I said gold dust could fall on you?” I was asked out of nowhere by Kuri-chan who sat behind me in the classroom when I was a senior in high school. I had known her since junior high and we had chatted casually all the time. Although we had never belonged to the same group to hang around, the last year of high school made us closer as we were in the same class sitting next to each other. She abruptly asked this question with strange solemnity, looking set on confiding her big secret. I had never seen her like this. While I had no idea what she was implying with the question, I answered I would. I thought someone who was seeing the meteor shower was so excited that she or he felt that gold dust was showering on her or him. Or, someone having the happiest moment in the snow might feel the snow gold. Or, gold dust was simply an analogy to an inconceivable happening that made someone very happy. Those thoughts led my answer to yes, on which Kuri-chan hesitantly began to explain her question. She had visited frequently a certain shrine where gold dust fell on a person who believed. And she wanted me to come. I promptly asked her if it had ever fallen on her. She said it hadn’t because she hadn’t believed enough. Then I asked if she had ever seen it fall on anyone. Her reply was no and she added, “But there are people who have seen it.” My head got filled with doubt and questions. How often does it happen? How much does gold fall when it happens? By what size? How is it collected when it is sprinkled all over her or him? Are a broom and a dustpan provided near at hand? Don’t other people scramble for the fallen dust to steal it? How do you declare it as yours? And when you collect it safely, where should it be brought? Can it be cashed out? Does it fall at a time with an enough amount to make a living? I couldn’t subdue my curiosity, greed, and weird self-confidence. What if it fell on me today? Actual gold dust, not an analogy, could be possible when it comes to me. I followed Kuri-chan to the shrine after school, feeling as if I was going to a casino, although I sensed it was some sort of cult. The shrine was in the vast, luxurious premises. There were many people in the main hall, mostly middle-aged and elderly. They were intently praying, which seemed waiting for gold dust to me. A large framed portrait of the founder of the religious sect was hung on the front wall of the hall. Kuri-chan told me that gold dust fell on him first. I somehow refrained from asking her if he built this cult with the money from that gold dust. In my mind, though, I was thinking it would fall quite an amount. I sat face to face with Kuri-chan inside the hall and she put her hand above my forehead. She was going to pray for me and gold dust would fall on me if I believed. I was told to keep my eyes closed until the praying was over. It lasted for about five minutes and I believed hard that gold dust was falling on me now. “It’s done,” She said. I opened my eyes and looked for the dust around me. None. I asked her, “Didn’t only a bit fall?” She smiled wanly and said no, looking surprised that I thought it would happen to me on the first try. I was led to a small room for a new comer. A group of ten new comers was greeted by an unnaturally friendly middle-aged woman. She told the story about gold dust falling on the founder but didn’t explain how to cash it out to the end. When we were leaving, a woman who was an acquaintance of Kuri-chan ran toward us and said hello. She offered a ride to the bus stop. She casually asked where I lived. She said she knew the area well and would drive me home. I began to feel uncomfortable. I declined repeatedly, but she insisted strongly. The car finally stopped near my house and I said goodbye. To my surprise, she told me to let her meet my parents. I asked why and she said she wanted to tell the story about the gold dust to my parents. She gave me a ride to recruit. I was too stupid to know earlier. I said my parents were out for work, but she said she would wait. I said they would come home late because they were farmers, but she was adamant about waiting. I asked her to leave, but she wouldn’t let me out of the car. I felt scared as if I was kidnapped. Kuri-chan joined me and asked the woman to let me go home. With repeated angry begging from two of us, she finally gave in and released me. Next day at school, Kuri-chan apologized to me about how it had gone. “It should never be that way. Trust me. I didn’t know that woman was wicked”, she said regretfully. A few days later, she asked me to go to the shrine together again. I rejected. She asked, “Why? You said you believed gold dust would fall.” I still believed it but wasn’t interested in the cult. I thought if gold dust fell on me, it would happen anyway, with or without a cult. I’ve never joined a cult. But the fact remains that I believe in miracles…

Leave a comment »

Casino de Montreal hr559

I visited the casino in Montreal for the first time in seven years. It had been remodeled into an even more gorgeous, glorious place than before. I arrived there before noon and had an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at a fancy restaurant. I enjoyed the splendid buffet at an incredibly low price. Compare to the amount of money I was about to spend for gambling, everything seemed cheap. Every time I lose, I always try to calm my anger by thinking the money I spend here somehow serves to make the city better since it’s a public-managed casino. The city is so beautiful that I regard what I lose in the casino as an entrance fee to a theme park called Montreal. I used to live in Montreal but had to leave as I became short of money for life abroad. When the time to go back to Japan drew near, I seriously thought of gaining money to stay in Montreal, by gambling. I determinedly sat at the slot machine of a high progressive prize for a couple of days. On the last day, it happened. As the slot I had played kept gobbling up my money, I moved over to another slot machine and a middle-aged woman came to the one I just left. She turned it for only five or six times and hit the jackpot unbelievably quickly and easily. If I had continued for five more quarters on that slot, I would have won. She snatched $100,000 away from me right before my eyes. While she screamed for joy, the lights flashed, the sound blared and the casino workers scurried toward her with papers, I was running into the bathroom. I couldn’t help crying in there. I was trembling with chagrin. I cursed my bad luck and my coming life in Japan. A long time ago, my mother asked a fortuneteller about my future. She told me that according to the fortuneteller, I would often come close to big money, but it would slip away each time. “So, you will never be rich,” my mother said to me. I remembered that and I thought I saw proof that she was right. After I returned to my apartment, I wailed out loud like a baby. My former self was that stupid. Now, I play the slot machine just for fun. I sat at the minimum bet slot with a low prize. If I was lucky and won a little, it meant that I could play longer with that money. The band started playing at the stage on the casino floor and I enjoyed soft drinks that I took from the free drink bar listening to it. I won a little, which let me stay and play there longer than I had planned. As fatigue from the long flight began to kick in earnestly, I got back to my hotel room and fell into bed. It was an excitingly fun day at the casino that cleaned me out yet again, as usual…

1 Comment »