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Shiya wo hirogeru: Time to broaden our horizons

by Michael Hoffman

Your son is a sainō no aru ko (才能のある子, a gifted boy),” Mr. Sawamura says. “His seiseki (成績, marks) are not impressive, and his social skills are perhaps not as developed as . . . “

“He’s uchiki (内気, shy),” I say. “As a small child, he domotta(どもった, stammered); he got over it, but I think it still haunts him in a way. He’s kuchi ga omoi (口が重い, not much of a talker). He keeps his thoughts to himself. As a result, he’s often taken to be donkan (鈍感, dull-witted). I’m pleased you’re not taken in by appearances.”

“Forgive me if I intrude, Mr. Keyes — as a shidō kyōkan (指導教官, guidance counselor), it’s sometimes my job to osekkai wo yaku (お節介を焼く, poke my nose into other people’s business).” He smiles. You can’t help liking the man. He’s one of the few adults I know with a natural, unforced smile. Certainly I don’t have one. “I understand there are . . . well, kinpaku shita kūki (緊迫した空気, tensions ) in your family.”

“There are tensions,” I affirm. “Tension number one: I’m unemployed. Tension number two: my marriage . . . suffice it to say I’ve been married 18 years to the same woman. The details I need not bore you with. Tension number three: my wife’s mother lives with us — a hateful woman even before she ki ga kurutta (気が狂った, lost her marbles). Pardon me, that’s a busahō na (無作法な, crude) way of putting it. Hin ga nai (品がない, my manners are lacking in polish). My own social skills, you might say, are not very well developed.”

“Peter wants to ryūgaku (留学, study abroad) in the United States. Do you and your wife object to that?”

Hatsumimi desu (初耳です, this is the first I’ve heard of it). We haven’t discussed it at all. I’m surprised he thought fit to speak to you before speaking to us.”

“He says he tried to broach the matter with your wife, but she was too uwanosora (上の空, preoccupied) to hear him out.”

“It’s possible. It’s all too possible. Mr. Sawamura,” I say, getting to my feet. “I’m very kansha shimasu (感謝します, grateful)to you for your socchoku na iken (率直な意見, frankness) and your concern. It is genuine, I know. I can tell. We’ll talk this over at home. For my part, on the face of it, I think it’s rather a good idea. We’ll see what my wife says. Shitsurei shimasu(失礼します, I must be going). On the way here I had a call from my wife. As if things aren’t hectic enough, she’s just received a yobidashijō (呼び出し状, summons) from the saiban (裁判, court). They want her to serve as a saibanin (裁判員, lay judge). Thank you again, Mr. Sawamura. I’ll be in touch.”

I get home to find my wife in a panic. “They’ll let me off,” she says. “They’ll have to let me off. I can’t . . . I can’t possibly . . . “

“Reiko, listen to me,” I say — the voice of sweet reason itself! “I don’t know the rules exactly, but shitte iru kagiri (知っている限り, as far as I know), once you’ve been summoned, they’re pretty set on having you show up. Otherwise, everyone would get out of it. Besides, it’ll be a hell of an experience for you. It’ll do you good — shiya wo hirogeru (視野を広げる, broaden your horizons).”

“And my job? And mother?”

“Haven’t you yourself been saying lately that school-administration politics are driving you mad? This’ll help you forget about all that for a while. Your mother? I’ll sewa wo shite ageru (世話をしてあげる, look after her for you). How’s that?”

“You!”

Her surprise is understandable. I haven’t been very yaku ni tatsu (役に立つ, helpful) where her mother is concerned; I’ve done nothing but fuman wo iu (不満を言う, grumble and complain) about being saddled with her presence. I’m not apologizing; she was an obnoxious old lady even before her ninchishō (認知症, dementia) became all but unmanageable. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Does it have something to do with Mr. Sawamura? Maybe his honest sympathy is infectious? I don’t know. All I know is I feel a little different after talking to him — not ashamed of the past, exactly, but ripe to change the present. Yes, I think it’s time for Stuart Keyes to emerge from his sour, frustrated little shell and shed his jiko renbin (自己憐憫, self pity).

“Is Peter home?”

“Yes, he’s in his room.”

“I’ll just go up and have a word with him. What do you think, about this 留学 notion? It seems to me like it’s not a bad idea.”

“It is so sudden.”

“I know, but I’m thinking it’s more of a sudden solution than a sudden problem. A change like that might be just what he needs.”

“You might be right.”

“Suppose we talk to him together.”

Fiction series “Keyes’ Point” appears on the first Wednesday of each month.