Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

My Social Distancing hr629

I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.

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The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.

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A Ribbon with A Bell hr626

One day in my childhood, a family of stray cats appeared in the front yard of our house in Kyoto, Japan where I was born and grew up.
I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather had cherished several hundreds of chrysanthemum pots in the yard in those days. The yard was practically a sea of chrysanthemums. For that reason, the apparent house rule existed, which was not to keep a dog. I had never had a pet.
The cats family stood in the middle of the ragged path between the front door and the gate. There were four cats, one was big and others were very small kittens. I was about six years old and standing probably ten feet away from them when I found them that day. While I had constantly talked with my staffed animals, I was quite foreign to live animals. I walked toward them slowly and carefully with full of curiosity and a twinkle in my eye. As I got closer, a mother cat and two kittens quickly ran away. But one kitten didn’t move. He stayed where he was and just stared at me. I reached right in front of him and crouched before him. He was a tortoiseshell cat with gray and brown marks on his fur. He fixed his gaze upon me and never left. We looked into each others eyes for a while. I tentatively stretched my arm and touched him. He didn’t so much as flinch and kept looking at my eyes. I sensed that I was chosen as a friend by this kitten since I had no human friends back then. I held him with my both hands and felt surprising warmth of his body. I brought him inside the house.
I showed him to my grandmother and she promptly prepared a small dish of dried bonito. As I saw him nibbling it, I asked my grandmother if I could keep him with absolute certainty of no. Her unexpected reply was, “As long as it’s not a dog, your grandfather will allow if it’s kept inside.”

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I got my first pet. I named him ‘Joe’ because he looked nothing else but ‘Joe’. I asked my grandmother for something like a collar now that he’s my pet. She scrambled and got me a bell and a red ribbon. I put them together and proudly presented to Joe’s neck. His quarters were decided at the entrance of the house, right behind the front door. I gave him some milk in the evening that day and talked to him into the night although I had been sometimes regarded as mute by others to whom I rarely spoke.
I thought Joe was as happy as I was. But after I went to bed, he began to cry. He didn’t call me though because he cried toward outside. Soon, I heard a cat meow outside too. It seemed his mother came to him. They meowed to each other with the front door between them. His fragile meows to the door continued till late at night. My grandmother suggested that I should release him because she couldn’t bear to see him miss his mother so much. I agreed that it was cruel to separate them. He wanted to be outside with his mother. I opened the front door and took him out. He swiftly scurried away. The time I had a pet lasted for less than 12 hours. The time I thought was liked by someone was laughably short.
A few days later, I felt I heard a bell ring. I went outside hurriedly and saw the yard. It was Joe. He huddled together with his family in the middle of the path, at the same spot where we first met. I called out, “Joe!” His mother and siblings ran away on my call, but Joe responded and turned to me. I was amazed that he had learned his name was Joe although our time together was so short. He remained there alone and gazed at me. This time, it looked to me as if he was smiling. At that moment I understood. He came back to see me. I felt an undoubtedly sure connection between us. I walked to him and held him in my arms. I took him into the house and told my grandmother that Joe came back. As she fixed a dish of dried bonito again, she told me not to repeat what we had done to him previously. While I was so happy to be reunited with him, I also knew I shouldn’t keep him. My happiness wasn’t the same as his. After I watched him eating his meal and talked with him briefly, I said goodbye to him. He left again.
In the next few weeks, I heard Joe’s bell on and off. I rushed outside every time, but didn’t see him. Since at least I was informed that he was around, I assumed that I could see him again sooner or later. Then, I made a finding one day at the foot of the bush beside the path in the yard. A red ribbon with a bell was laid on the ground. Joe had come to return it to me. The moment I saw it, I realized I would never see him again. And that was to be proved right. That was precisely how it ended.

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The Accidental Tourist hr622

On the second day of a trip to the western region of Japan, time was running short for the train I was going to take while I was preparing to go out at the hotel room. I walked to the closest train station hurriedly and called my parents.
One of the purposes of this trip was visiting my parents. When I do, I never tell them about my visit beforehand. My life experience taught me that they will plan some ways to attack me if I give them time. I let them know right before my actual visit in order not to give them a chance to think of any plots.
The one who answered my call was my younger sister to whom I hadn’t talked for more than a decade. Before the trip, I had received a phone call from my mother who was crying and confessed that her life had been hell since my sister began to live with them about a year ago. My parents had kept it secret from me for a year because my sister didn’t want me to know that she had returned to Japan from abroad and had lived with them. Although I had known that from my mother’s phone call, I pretended not to know when my sister answered my call as I also had known her intention. I said, “You’re back in Japan,” and she admitted in a very faint voice. And an unexpected new fact followed when I asked her to put either of my parents on the phone. She told me that my parents had no longer lived there because they ran away from home.
My mother had mentioned some kind of abuse by my sister on the distraught phone call less than a month ago, but I never thought it was serious enough to run away. My sister explained in a feeble voice that they had felt excessively stressful to live with her. And she didn’t know their whereabouts.

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After I hung up the phone, I called my father’s cell phone. He answered sounding absent-minded. I told him I had come to see him and asked him if we could meet. He answered it was inconvenient for him because he had somewhere to go with my mother and there was no time to spare for me all day long. He apparently avoided me and sounded he didn’t want to see me. When I asked him where they were living now, he said in a vacant voice, “In an apartment near the condo where I lived.” I had a previous engagement to meet with my high school teacher before I was going to see my parents and the train to catch was coming. Although I had tons of questions left, I ran out of time and hung up the phone.
To meet my teacher, I needed to transfer the train at Osaka terminal station. As there was 15-minute space to the next train, I used the bathroom in the station. I was headed for the platform where the next train would depart, walking through the enormous station that has eleven platforms and seven different train lines. The passages were entwined and crawling with passengers. It looked like as much as O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I was waiting for the train on the platform I had made sure on the information board. When the train came in though, I noticed a wrong destination was displayed on the side of the train. I had checked the platform number by the departure time. Unfortunately, Osaka Station is a gigantic station that has numerous trains depart at the exactly same time. I had been waiting for a train diligently at the wrong platform. I saw the right train coming in a few platforms away. I panicked, rushed down the long flight of stairs, ran down the long main passage, ran up the stairs and tried to zap into the train. But on the platform I ended up, the right train didn’t arrive. Instead, an unfamiliar, new special gorgeous train had been parked and the full-dress station attendants were standing in line in front of the train, giving it a salute. There were some camera crews around them. It seemed some sort of ceremony was being held there, and I appeared in the midst of it dashing out of the stairs. I couldn’t grasp what was happening for a moment and was just looking around frantically for my train. A young lady attendant approached me with a kind smile, saying to me, “Why don’t you take one if you like.” and handed me a small plastic flag on which an illustration of this special train was printed. Then I realized I got on the wrong platform again because I didn’t come here to see off this train with the flag. I ran down the stairs yet again, and dashed up the stairs to the right platform this time.
The platform was empty with no train and no passengers. My train seemed to have long gone. I was standing alone in a daze, panting for breath on the oddly quiet platform with a small flag holding in my hand.

people inside train station

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I was late for the arranged time and made my teacher wait, but was able to see her again who is one of only few people that have understood me and supported me for all the years after I graduated from high school. A good time passes quickly. I was immensely encouraged by her even in this short meeting and got on the train to go back to the hotel instead of going to my parents’ home.
Because the plan to meet my parents was cancelled in an unexpected way, I happened to have time to go to the outlet mall that I had given up the other day because of rain. I enjoyed hanging around there with my partner and had dinner at the Hawaiian restaurant with a turkey sandwich and popcorn shrimps that are rare items in Japanese restaurants and give me yearning for the days when I lived in the U.S. In the end of a weird day filled with totally unexpected twists, a wonderful time waited for me. My precise plan for this trip turned to be completely different two days in a row…

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Travel and Luck hr621

I took a trip to the western region of Japan with my partner. To travel there is an about-once-a-year event for me because the region is where my parents live and one of my favorite destinations to spend a short vacation. I had made a precise plan for this trip a few months in advance. The plan was taking a bullet train and then a plane to get there, hanging around the outlet mall, meeting my high school teacher and visiting my parents’ home.
I saw rain falling quite heavily out of my window on the morning of departure although the weather forecast had been for rain only in the afternoon. Thanks to the inaccurate weather forecast, I would have to walk in the rain to the nearest local train station for ten minutes with an umbrella added to my heavy bags. When we left and got down to the entrance of our apartment building though, the rain just stopped. My partner exclaimed excessively, “How lucky we are! It stopped raining just when we’re stepping outside! How about that!”
We were transferring from the local train to the bullet train at the station. We didn’t have our seats reserved on a bullet train as it cost less. Before getting aboard, we were going to drop by a kiosk to get breakfast. But we looked in an information board for coming trains instead of entering into a kiosk directly. A station attendant happened to pass by, and told us the platform number where the next train would come although we didn’t ask. He also added that if we moved now, we would catch it in time. Instead of breakfast, we took an escalator to the platform while hearing the train coming in. Just when we got to the platform, the train door opened before us. Two business men got off, and two of us got on. Although the train had been full, only two seats that those business men had taken side by side were empty. We sat together without a reservation. My partner was enraptured and said, “Got aboard just in time, only two seats together were empty! How lucky we are!”

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After arriving at the airport, we flew to Kansai Airport by a low cost carrier. The flight was completely packed since the fare was incredibly low. I was irritated for the whole flight because a group of a kid, a mother and her friend was sitting right behind me and extremely noisy. The kid was shouting all the way. My patience was about to reach the limit in the end of a mere 90-minute flight. When the plane descended and prepared for landing, it was lapped by dark clouds. Large drops of rain drummed on the windows. The captain announced the weather at the airport would be heavy rain. Probably because it was a low cost carrier plane, it wasn’t connected to a ramp but parked far from the terminal building. After landing, we needed to use the stairs to go down to the ground and walk outside to the building. While I was going down the stairs, I noticed the heavy rain had just stopped. My partner said exultantly, “Look at the sodden tarmac! It must have been raining hard until minutes ago! How lucky we are!”
I finally dared to question him, “If we are that lucky, how come we sat in front of the only noisy child on the plane?” He answered convincingly, “It’s a piece of advice that we shouldn’t take any longer flight than this on a low cost carrier.” He apparently implicated our tentative plan to fly to North America by a low cost carrier and sounded as if we were lucky to find the right indication for the plan.
We took a train to the nearest station from a hotel we had booked. The hotel was a 7-to-8 minute walk from the station. On our way, drops of rain started falling. It rained in earnest a few feet away from the hotel and we rushed forth to the entrance. After we settled in a hotel room, I suggested that we should give up our plan to go to the outlet mall. I thought that it wouldn’t rain again like this if the plan to go there was right. We changed our plan and took the hotel’s spa instead.

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Since the hotel was the economy one, I didn’t expect too much of the hotel bath. But as it turned out, it was the best communal bath I’d ever taken. It was small but clean and stylish, and the total atmosphere was superb with the modern lighting and jazzy background music. And I was the only guest there. I enjoyed it immensely and relaxed totally. It unexpectedly became a true vacation experience. Luck seemed to be on my side on this trip so far. I couldn’t tell any more who or what decides our itinerary…

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A Call from Hell hr620

I’ve got voice mail from my mother. Her dismal voice made me creep all over. Since her calls almost always aim to hurt me, I’m used to receiving bad messages. But her tone was new low this time and I had to brace myself.
I guessed it was either she conceived a new bitter idea to strike a blow at me or she turned the brunt of her daily anger toward me. Nevertheless, there was a slight possibility that the call was about some emergency, such as my father was taken to the hospital or something. I didn’t want to spend any more nervous minutes worrying what was that all about as much as I didn’t want to return a call. I decided to face the fear and called her back with sweaty palms.
She started with trivial social chattering and suddenly burst into wailing. I couldn’t believe my ear that was hearing my mother crying hard on the other side of the line. I had seen her crying only twice before. The first time was when I was too little to understand the matter. A relative of ours was driving us home from my mother’s parents’ home. While she was talking to him in the car, she burst into tears and he consoled her. The second time was when I failed the entrance examination of a renowned junior high school. She suggested that we took a bath together and started crying in a bath tub, saying, “I’m so disappointed!” again and again. Even as a 12-years-old, I realized how hugely I blew it and I was terrified at my failure. And this was the third time. I was astonished as much.

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I asked her what happened, and she confessed that my younger sister had begun to live with my parents. I have no idea why, but she had concealed it from me for about a year. My sister had been my mother’s favorite. Unlike me, she did everything as my mother told her to do. She was the pride of my mother who always bragged about her to me as if it had been a proof that doing as she told was the key to success. That pride of hers had worked abroad in a managing position at one of major hotel chains. But she quit the job and returned to Japan a year ago. Soon after she started living with my parents, the relationship between them got atrocious. My sister blamed my mother harshly for having parted with the land and the house that had been inherited for generations, and for messing up her life by telling her to do the wrong way. That wasn’t surprised me because those things are the norm for a person like my mother whose lifework is to make people around her unhappy by telling a lie on an every possible occasion she gets. I was rather surprised that my sister had gotten along well with her for such a long time until now without noticing her malice. Then, new surprises easily topped it.
My sister’s constant rebukes to my mother didn’t stop just there. According to her, my sister had made her cook, wash, clean, shop, do all chores with authoritative commands. She also had piled up the trash inside my parents’ condo, making it eat up almost all the rooms so that my parents barely had space to sleep. They hadn’t have enough time to sleep either because she demanded that they be up and wait until she came home in the middle of the night. When my sister found anything that wasn’t as she liked, she would throw things or abusive words at my parents. My mother admitted on the phone, crying, “I’m in hell.”

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Her countless evil tactics have only led herself to a horrible life so far. Although she married for my father’s money, she failed the family business and lost everything. She sold the family’s big house and moved into a small condo that she had despised all her life. When I met her two years ago, she said, “This is what means ‘as a man sows, so shall he reap.’” in an unusually regrettable tone. I had never imagined her life would have any room left to get even worse than that like this. I wonder when she is ever forgiven. I know she has done too much evil and has been burned by unquenchable fire, but I feel compassion for her for the first time in my life. It’s so pitiful for her if the day she is forgiven will really never come.
But wait. It’s my mother with whom I’ve been dealing here. Don’t forget she’s a world-class liar. No one can tell which part of her story is true and which part is an act. It’s even possible that everything is bogus and simply her new scheme to bog me down in some way. It took me some time after I hung up the phone to come to myself and remind myself of the facts above. I might have fallen for it at least for a while…

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