“Where’s grandmother?” The little girl, just home from school, flings off her randoseru (ランドセル, school bag).
The Keyes’ home helper is in a panic (panikku ni ochiitta, パニックに陥った。). “I took my eyes off her for just a second . . . and she wandered off! I’ll go …”
The doorbell rings.
The old lady is accompanied by a pimply (nikibi-darake, にきびだらけ) young fellow in a 7-Eleven smock. He and Kimika exchange smiles. It is not the first time; he has brought the child’s grandmother home before. She suffers from dementia (認知症, ninchishō) and evidently considers the neighborhood convenience store a kind of second home.
“I’m sorry.” Though only 10 years old, Kimika is remarkably grown up for her age. She knows how to assume responsibility in the adult manner. “We have caused you trouble. (Gomeiwaku wo kakemashita, ご迷惑をかけました)”
“Iie, iie, not at all,” says the young man, for some reason turning very red. “Your grandmother is very nice, really.”
“Hey, everyone! I have swine flu! I have swine flu!”
It’s Kimika’s older brother, Peter, arriving home. He is 14 — a difficult age (hankōki, 反抗期), made worse in his case by a maddening sense of inferiority (rettōkan, 劣等感) with respect to his sister.
The 7-Eleven clerk utters a faint cry and bolts (nigechau, 逃げちゃう).
“Look.” Peter brandishes a purinto (プリント, school notice for parents). He unfolds it and declaims: “Everyone at Wakaba Junior High School is infected with swine flu! (若葉中学校はみんな新型の豚インフルエンザに感染しました！ The school is closed for life! (issei kyūkō, 一斉休校).”
“It doesn’t say that.” Kimika knows better than to be taken in (damasareru, だまされる) by her brother’s clownish antics? (bakageta kōdō, ばかげた行動).
She snatches it from him.
“県内で初めて新型の豚インフルエンザ患者が確認された (Ken-nai de hajimete shingata no buta infuruenza kanja ga kakunin sareta — The prefecture’s first case of the new form of swine flu has been confirmed.) 休校措置も必要ないと判断した (Kyūkō sotchi mo hitsuyō nai to handan shita, It has been deemed unnecessary to close the school).’ ” She flashes her brother a look of unutterable contempt. “You’re so stupid. (bāka! バーカ！)”
He grabs back the purinto. “Here, listen. ‘現時点では患者が急速に増える可能性が高い (Genjiten de wa kanja ga kyūsoku ni fueru kanōsei ga takai, At present there is a high possibility that the number of patients will increase dramatically).’ “
“Uso da! (嘘だ！ You’re lying!) I already saw that part. It says, 可能性が低い (kanōsei ga hikui, a low possibility), not 高い (takai, high).” Devastatingly, she added, “You’re probably not joking. You just can’t read!”
That seemed to remind her. “Come, grandmother, I’ll read to you.”
Peter’s tone changes. “Seriously, Kimi, I think I have a fever (netsu ga aru to omou, 熱があると思う)”
“I’m not joking (Maji de, マジで). And in school today my throat started hurting (nodo ga itakunatta, 喉が痛くなった) and I was coughing (seki ga deta, 咳が出た).”
Suddenly the grandmother, who has been standing silently as though deep in thought, speaks up. “The child is ill,” she says. “We must call a kyūkyūsha (救急車, ambulance).”
“No, grandmother,” says Kimika with a smile. “He’s not sick, he’s just weird (kimoi, キモい).”
“He’s ill, I tell you. He’s feverish (netsuppoi, 熱っぽい。), I can tell at a glance. Netsu wo hakarinasai (Take his temperature, 熱を測りなさい。). Where’s the thermometer? (Taionkei wa doko? 体温計はどこ？)”
Peter sees his joke has gone too far (Jōdan ga sugita, 冗談が過ぎた。). “No, grandmother, really.”
At that moment, Reiko joins them.
“Mother!” says Kimiko. “You’re early.”
“Yes, the World Health Organization (世界保健機関) has declared swine flu a pandemic (パンデミック). School’s closed? until further notice. Have they closed your schools too? Come, let’s go inside. Mother, what . . . ?”
“Peter is ill,” said the old lady. “I want to take his temperature immediately.”
“I’m not ill!”
“Ill or not,” murmurs Kimika, “he needs to be quarantined (kakuri, 隔離)!”
Fiction series Keyes’ Point appears on the first Bilingual page of every month.