Japanese school is FINALLY in session, and Devon is so ready that he’s written a haiku in preparation. He’s also set to hit the ground running the second he steps through the front door of Chuo Elementary School.
The only problem is that his employer is a little less ready for him…
If you were looking for an action-packed account of English teaching in Japan, you’ve come to the wrong place! Find out exactly what kind of dusty desk purgatory Devon is in for during his first day of work in Chapter 12 of Forever Foreign.
Where and When to Listen to Forever Foreign, the Fictional Japan Podcast
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Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design – David Armfield
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Voice of Callum – Josh Leach
Voice of Victor – David Armfield
Coming in a minute!
Chapter 12: Back to School (Transcript)
VICTOR: Yakisoba’s good, but it’s not as good as okonomiyaki.
CALLUM: Ahh I haven’t had okonomiyaki in Japan yet. Ate it once back in Adelaide, but I doubt it was close to the real thing.
VICTOR: Kansai or Hiroshima style?
DEVON: (whispering to the recorder over Victor and Callum) Wednesday, August 28th, 2013. Konbanwa Henrik. That’s Japanese for good evening. Oh, and sorry for not doing an entry yesterday. You didn’t miss much.
CALLUM: Not sure, to be honest.
DEVON: (to everyone) Okay guys, Henrik is listening in now, so let’s talk about tomorrow.
CALLUM: What about tomorrow?
DEVON: ‘What about tomorrow?’ my ass. You know exactly what about tomorrow. It’s our first day of work, ya goof!
CALLUM: Ahhhh right. And you want us to talk about our feelings for the recording device that you’ve given a name to.
DEVON: I never gave the recording device a name. I gave the listener a name.
VICTOR: There’s someone listening to these? Who? You’re not like, feeding tapes to the government or something are you?
DEVON: Why would the government be interested in our conversations? Ooooo you got some spicy stories to tell Henrik?
VICTOR: Sure. But I’m not laying them out. The government’s just looking for a reason to deport foreigners over here.
CALLUM: Name one person you know who’s been deported.
VICTOR: I could name five… But I’m not gonna. Not when Judas Glendenning over here is feeding a list of my known acquaintances to the feds.
DEVON: Ooookay I’m sensing a dead end, so let’s move on to talking about tomorrow. Callum, what are your thoughts?
CALLUM: Well… My thoughts are that I’ll be at a school… and I think I’m probably going to be teaching…
DEVON: Do you have to be a smart ass? I mean, is that like part of your contract or something? Is that part of being an Australian? You guys are all just a bunch of smart asses, running around being–
CALLUM: (laughing) What do you expect when you stick a microphone in my face? Oh, alright. I suppoooose I’m… excited? Is that what you’re looking for?
DEVON: What are you excited for? Just tell me that.
CALLUM: I dunno, really. Teaching? No, I can’t honestly say I’m that excited to be a teacher… Probably just be a bunch of buggers running around annoying me… I guess… I guess I’m excited to see the people I’ll be spending most of the next year with.
DEVON: Now we’re talking. Anything else you’re excited for?
CALLUM: School lunches.
DEVON: Oh man, me too. We never really had school lunches in Edmonton.
What about the classes? You must be nervous for your first classes and all of the eyes that’ll be on you throughout the day.
CALLUM: I hadn’t really thought of that. You think there’ll be eyes on me?
DEVON: Dude. Of course there’ll be eyes on you. People have been doing nothing but staring at us every time we step out of the apartment. Our schools are gonna be twice as bad, right Victor?
VICTOR: Pretty much, yeah.
DEVON: Erika told me I’d have to give a speech.
CALLUM: She never told me I’d have to give a speech. Am I gonna have to give a speech?
VICTOR: It’s your first day. Of course you’ll have to give a speech.
CALLUM: Well now I’m nervous. Wwwhat am I supposed to talk about?
VICTOR: Anything. Tell everyone about your hobbies. Tell them you’re from England or whatever.
DEVON: He’s from Adelaide.
VICTOR: Ooookay, tell them the city AND the country. What do I care?
DEVON: Uhhh, Victor you know—
CALLUM: Just leave it. If he hasn’t remembered where I’m from by now he never will.
DEVON: The point is that you’ll be fine, Callum. Just be yourself.
CALLUM: Did you know that’s just about the worst advice you could give me? If I were to ‘just be myself’ no one would see me at all. I’d lock myself up in a closet or something with my laptop and clock off at the end of the day without saying hello or good-bye to a single person.
DEVON: Okay, in that case… Just don’t be yourself and you’ll be fine. Absolutely don’t be yourself because tomorrow is gonna be a party and you’re gonna be the main attraction.
VICTOR: Rrrright. A party.
DEVON: What would you call it? A parade? A celebration of the life of an incoming English teacher? A never-ending blast of dopamine straight to the cranium?
VICTOR: Who have you been talking to?
DEVON: Nobody. I’m just extrapolating based on all the looks and attention we’ve been getting while walking around town. Living in Hotaru is starting to make me feel like Brad Pitt.
CALLUM: A less handsome, less charming… just overall much, much less version of Brad Pitt.
DEVON: Alright, maybe not Brad Pitt. I’m starting to feel like… Steven Tyler?
CALLUM: No… Not Steven Tyler either. More like Steven Segal.
VICTOR: You kidding? Steven Segal is way too much of a badass. Devon’s closer to… Stephen Morin.
DEVON: Stephen Morin?
VICTOR: The serial killer. He wasted like forty people in the seventies. You kinda look like him actually…
DEVON: Oh god… The point is that our first day of work is gonna be awesome. Non-stop craziness, packed to the rim with action and stories to tell for the ages. And it’s just the start.
VICTOR: Yup! Noooon-stop craziness…
DEVON: I wrote a poem in anticipation of tomorrow. You guys wanna hear it?
CALLUM: A poem?
DEVON: Well, a haiku, really. I’ll read it and then cut the recording. It’ll play great with Henrik.
CALLUM: Go on then.
DEVON: Okay, here goes.
My words ricoch—
VICTOR: (throat clearing sound that was obviously meant to interrupt Devon.)
DEVON: …You okay there, Victor?
VICTOR: Sorry, just my allergies.
DEVON: Didn’t know you had allergies…
My words ricoch—
DEVON: Okay, real mature guys. Can’t you just sit there and enjoy a haiku? I worked really hard on this.
CALLUM: You worked really hard on a total of, what, 17 syllables?
DEVON: Yeah. Just let me read it to the end and then we’ll be done here, okay?
My words ricochet
And settle on open ears;
A mind is molded.
VICTOR: Seriously, what the f—
(tape recorder clicks off, cutting off Victor)
Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Sooo today was my first day at work and it was… How was it..? I guess I’ll just tell you what happened and we’ll figure out how it was along the way.
I was out of bed at 6:30, had my two eggs on toast with cheese for breakfast and chose the mug that says faito for my coffee. That one’s quickly becoming my favorite, by the way.
I made a cup for Callum and Victor as well and knocked on their doors to bring it to them at around quarter after 7. Callum was already in his suit by then and didn’t seem to have time to spare.
“My train leaves the station in 30 minutes,” he huffed.
“Sip what ya can and dump the rest in the sink,” I said. “Best start your day off right.”
He nodded grudgingly and took the mug that said ‘Makeru na’, or don’t lose. Victor was in the hall by that point in track pants and a polo shirt, so I handed him the one that said ‘ganbare’, meaning do your best.
“You really suited up, huh?” he said.
“Don’t want anyone thinking I don’t care,” Callum said.
“Fair. You’ll learn quickly enough to dress down, though. Especially when it’s this hot.”
“Is that actual advice from our senpai?” Callum said between hurried sips of coffee.
“I’ve given you both plenty of help!” Victor said. “Usually I’m more subtle – ya know, zen master Phil-like – so you’re not gonna notice it. But trust, my fingerprints are allll over you two.”
“God help us,” Callum muttered.
The three of us chatted for a few more minutes before wishing each other luck and returning to our own apartments. I gave my teeth a brush, put on a suit of my own, and after a wee bit of dilly-dallying was out the door just before eight o’clock.
As has been the case for most of my time here, there was hardly a cloud in the sky today. However, the morning was a different story. I don’t know if it’s the higher humidity or what – I’m not an expert – but the mountains and hills in this area are surrounded by mist almost every AM. With the sun rising above the peaks in the distance, well past the end of the road I was walking on, the rays poured through that mist like water from a showerhead, a hundred beams splashing across trees and tiled roofs.
There was a steady stream of students as well. They all wore either skirts or slacks to go along with a matching blazer and tie, and most of them were on one-speed bicycles. Shoulders and eyelids sagged. Pedals were spun with monotony. As each one labored their way to school for the first day of classes, the only real signs of consciousness were the few times they did a double take at me walking in the opposite direction in a suit.
At the end of the road I went over a set of train tracks and a bridge that crossed the river. I walked along a path next to the bank for a while, listening to the trickling water before needing to cross through a wide section of houses and then an open road. By about twenty after eight I was standing in front of Chuo Elementary School.
Even before taking the first step in a set of stairs the double doors burst open and Taguchi sensei was calling to me. “Welcome to Chuo!” she said.
The greeting was pretty much exactly what I was thinking of when I talked to Victor and Callum yesterday about my expectations for today. “Good morning!” I said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here.”
“Did you… walk?” she asked. Taguchi sensei’s English is fantastic – something Victor tells me is a rarity for elementary school teachers.
“Yes,” I said. “Only took twenty minutes or so, and it was really beautiful.”
“I’m glad. Please come inside.”
She gestured to the open doors and asked me to take off my outdoor shoes. There was a metal shelving unit with a couple dozen enclosed boxes, each with what I can only assume were name plates since I couldn’t read the kanji. Some were completely brand new, others were slightly dinghy, and then there was mine.
“Please put your shoes there,” she said, pointing to one of the boxes on the bottom row.
My eyes went straight to the nameplate. Rust had long since started to eat away at the tabs holding it in place, and the laminated card was caked with a fine layer of sticky grime. That card bore the letters A-L-T. Assistant Language Teacher.
I traded my outdoors for indoors, eyes lingering on the new job title until the whisking of Taguchi sensei’s track pants made me shoot up to follow. She took me down the hall and told me to wait in the principal’s office.
I was alone in the room after Taguchi sensei left, but I could hear voices coming from the one next to it. It sounded like there was a meeting going on with one person at a time talking about… Well, I have no idea really since it was all in Japanese. Probably had something to do with the first day of school.
Now, if it’s okay, I’d like to take you into my mind for a second. I know you’re already sort of in my mind, but I wanna take you even deeper because I’m not quite sure a simple recounting of this moment will do it justice.
Up until this point in Japan I’ve felt like… Like a… A vacuum cleaner! What I mean by that is… Hmm, what I mean by that is I’ve gone around sucking up tasty food, great experiences, cool Godzilla lamps and motivational coffee mugs… I’ve been sucking it all up with no resistance. And when my bag gets full at the end of the day I just toss it out so that I can be empty again. So that I can keep on sucking.
But I don’t just wanna suck. I wanna be the one getting sucked.
As I sat in that room alone with the voices on the other side of the door I realized that I was at a major checkpoint in my time in Japan. I wanted nothing less than for the people attached to those voices to suck me for all I was worth. I’m sure you get my meaning by now, but just to spell it out… I felt like I was about to stop being a tourist and start living in Japan for real!
After a couple minutes the voices quieted. Then, just as I was starting to wonder if I should be leaving the room on my own, the door to the adjoining room opened and Taguchi sensei was waving me over. I jumped out of my seat and followed her out.
As I stepped out of the principal’s office I was greeted by dozens of teachers, some in slacks and half-sleeved dress shirts, but most, like Taguchi sensei, in track pants and a polo shirt. A few of them gave me enquiring looks, just short of tilting their heads as they stared at the newcomer. Most, though, simply smiled with their whole face.
I smiled back as the principal gave a short introduction speech. I smiled as it came to an end, too. And if it weren’t for Taguchi sensei tapping me on the shoulder I might still be smiling.
“Please give your… self-introduction,” she said.
“Okay,” I said to her. Then, to myself I said, “I got this.”
I basically gave my standard self-intro in the best Japanese I could muster up. In English it translates to something like, “Good morning everyone. My name is Devon Glendenning and I’m from Canada. My hobbies are reading and watching Dragonball Z.”
Reading got oos and ahs and Dragonball Z got laughs, so I guess we came out alright. At the end I gave a ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ which I still struggle to translate. You can use the sentence in about a million different contexts, it seems, but in this case I guess it means ‘nice to meet you’.
All of the staff members said it back to me, and after a few more words from the principal the meeting was over. Everyone in the room fell into a frenzy of paper-gathering, last minute typing on their computers, and consultations with other teachers before rushing out. Two or three introduced themselves to me individually, but even that was done while shuffling toward their classrooms.
Soon the place was empty except for the principal and a couple others, Taguchi sensei among them. She ushered me toward a corner of the room, almost opposite from where the principal and office staff sat.
“I have to go to the classroom, but… please look at your desk,” she said. “There are textbooks and worksheets and… things. Oh and some stickers. Please wait here and have a look. Everyone will be in the gym soon. You’ll meet the students then.”
I hadn’t even opened my mouth before she started backing away from me as though I were a ticking bomb set to explode with questions that would make her late for the first period.
At my desk, I noticed a little sign in the corner. It seemed like it was designed on Microsoft Word 95 with pixelated clipart of flowers. In a cheesy font meant to look like 3D letters, blue shaded with gray, it read, “Welcome to Chuo Elementary School Devon Sensei.”
My face twitched into a smile. Taguchi sensei had gotten the message during our first meeting about not using my full name.
I gave her a silent thank you since she was already out of the room and sat down in the rolling chair, dropping my bag on the floor next to me. It was maybe five minutes later when the principal called to me from his desk.
“Debon sensei?” he said. Then in Japanese, “Shall we go?”
“Hai,” I said, a little uncertain. I still wasn’t sure what was happening next other than the fact that we were going to a gymnasium and that I would have to give a speech.
As we walked, kocho sensei – that’s Japanese for school principal – said “Nihongo jouzu desu ne.” You’re good at Japanese.
“Iie iie. Watashi wa… heta? Heta desu.” No no. I’m not good at Japanese. I stuttered my way through it, proving exactly how bad I was.
But kocho sensei wasn’t having it; he thrusted compliments and I parried all the way down the hall. When we arrived at the gymnasium’s closed doors he halted and turned to me. Looking over the skinny frame that stood before him he gave a single thumbs up to go along with a reassuring smirk, saying, “Berry cooru.”
He then went back to the heavy doors and was about to lean into one of them when he stopped, stood upright, and turned to me again.
“Eeeto ne… Poketo ga…” he trailed off as he inspected my suit. “Chotto matte.”
Abandoning the door momentarily, he stepped toward me and pulled out the little flaps in my suit jacket pockets so that they folded over the openings. Then he said, “Japanese style.”
Stepping into the gym, I saw that it was almost identical to the one we used at Chiron English camp. It had a tall arched ceiling with two mini basketball courts running width-wise and painted lines criss crossing all over for other sports. Sitting on the floor was row after row after row of elementary school students.
Almost all of them sat in the same position, arms wrapped around their knees, hugging them within a foot of their chests as they struggled to keep a straight back. The handful of kids whose posture was poor got a visit from one of the teachers standing off to the side.
As I stepped into the gym I saw it in action. One of the kids stretched his legs out in front and planted his hands firmly on the ground behind. A sigh of relief escaped his lips one moment, and in the next there was a teacher slithering through the maze of students. One tap on the back along with a few whispered words and the student was straight as an arrow once more.
Oh, and I should mention that if I understood more Japanese I could probably tell you what that teacher said, even from half-way across the gym. That’s how quiet it was. Of course, my first thought was that if this were an assembly in Canada there would be anarchy leading up to the opening words. And after there would only be pockets of mayhem.
Just as I was starting to think they were too obedient, the little ones showed signs of life. At first, only a few turned their heads as Kocho sensei and I walked in, but those who dared whispered to their neighbors and soon the number of darting eyes expanded like a rippling wave. Hundreds of hushed conversations grew to a crescendo right before one of the teachers along the wall cupped his hands to his mouth and called out, “Shizukani.”
The volume of voices dipped only slightly, so he called out again, “Shizukani shinasai.”
That killed most of the other voices, leaving no more than a trickle of conversation. At the front of the gym, Kocho sensei gestured to a single folding chair that sat to the side at the end of the line of teachers. I sat down and thought to myself, Now we’re talking. Front and… Not center, but at least stage right.
This was exactly what I’d been expecting when I went to bed last night. All eyes on me. All… hold on, I’ve got it somewhere here… one sec. Three hundred and seventy seven pairs. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my body.
The remaining whispers in the gymnasium weren’t extinguished until one of the teachers actually called out to start the assembly. At that moment the kids snapped back to attention, facing the front of the gym where a teacher was marching forward.
After some bowing back and forth – both to the teachers and to the students – the teacher called out, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” Good morning.
“Ohayo gozaimasu!” the kids said in response.
Apparently their greeting was lacking – exactly what, I can’t say. Volume? Cheerfulness maybe? The teacher gave a small speech, paused, then said once more, a little louder, “Ohayo gozaimasu!”
“Ohayo gozaimasu!” the kids boomed back. I was at my limit for morning greetings before my ears would start bleeding.
Thankfully the screaming back and forth came to an end and the teacher began a speech. I did my best to follow, but it quickly became an ego-check; a barrage of pleasant-sounding syllables that were utterly useless to me.
So I sat with my hands on my knees, entertaining myself by picking out the students who continued to steal looks at me. This went on for probably two or three minutes before the words came to an abrupt halt. The sudden silence had me looking around frantically, expecting to see teachers urging me on to make my speech. I’d even started leaning forward, but the only thing to come was another volley of bows before the teacher re-joined his co-workers.
Next, the principal was called forward, proceeding with the same formality. Of course, his Japanese was no less overwhelming. For a beginner like me it was… It was like sitting in a speeding bullet train and trying to draw a map of the country based on the details that shot by outside the window – a futile task that ended in nothing but a jumbled scribble. But I tried. And the harder I tried the more the words blurred together, becoming a sedative that sent me tumbling head first into a day-dream.
As unintelligible Japanese poured over me, my mind played an image of myself walking through a dense forest, heroically leading the children and teachers that sat in front of me in that gym. The sweet smell of junipers filled my nose. A small glacial stream less than a meter wide crossed our path, rolling over rock and root. But I wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and smells. I was on a determined march to bring these kids to safety after… some unfortunate disaster that forced us to be there… Henrik, feel free to fill in the blanks since my subconscious didn’t take me that far. Maybe we were on an airplane that crashed… I dunno…
As we walked through that forest, a bear appeared directly in our path. A great big Grizzly rampaging not forty feet away, stirred up by our scent and looking for a fight. The burly beast had hardly laid eyes on our massive group when it dug its heels into the ground, kicking off with terrible force.
By the way, I was carrying a long staff in the day dream. Sort of like what the Ninja Turtle Donatello uses. Anyway, I started twirling it around in the most threatening way I could manage, all the while the creature’s thumping steps grew nearer. When he was finally upon us I leapt forward with my weapon, ready to strike. Ready to defend the cutest and most defenseless group of Japanese children you’ve ever seen. Female teachers shrieked in terror. “It’ll be alright!” I said.
(heavily muffled) “Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenningu sensei!”
Just before the moment of impact the indecipherable words in the gymnasium that I’d been blocking out to that point became familiar.
(still a little muffled) “Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenningu sensei!”
I came out of my daydream to see everyone in the gym looking at me; not only the students who’d been sneaking peeks all along, but the teachers, too. Even kocho sensei was looking my way.
Eyebrows raised, I swiveled this way and that in my chair. Then Kocho sensei’s voice rang out with the same sounds that had snapped me out of my daydream initially, only this time I could make out every word.
“Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenningu sensei!”
Some of the kids in the crowd were giggling by this point. Others were trying the name on for size. Tiny voices could be heard saying, “Debon… Maku… Debon Makusu… Gurendondondon…”
That could’ve been the third or fourth time that he’d tried calling me forward, so there was no time to roll my eyes at the fullest possible version of my name. Turning red, I shot up from my seat and jogged to the front where Kocho sensei handed the mic over. After bowing to each other he returned to the line of teachers, bowing yet again.
Raising the mic to my lips, I began in a wavering voice, “Watashi wa—”
I didn’t get any further at first because the same teacher who’d been ordering the students around from the start spoke over me. It was a short, single syllable: “Rei.”
The older kids immediately bowed by reflex, having obviously done this thousands of times. The younger ones weren’t far behind.
My microphone hadn’t left the front of my face during this exchange, and with it still in position I cautiously checked for a sign from the teachers. The man who’d called out was still looking at the kids, but Taguchi sensei was paying enough attention to give a slight nod of her head.
Standing a little straighter than before, I said, “Watashi wa Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenningu desu ga…” – the kids giggled again – “Debon wa daijoubu desu.” My name is Devon Maxwell Thompson Glendenning, but Devon is fine.
It was the same script I’d been planning to give all along, only I added my middle names to my surname since that was how I was announced. And while my intention behind throwing that short sentence in there was to break down the formalities, to be more approachable, the end result was something else.
Pockets of chatter bloomed; small voices just like before, doing their best with my name. My full name.
Whadya think I did then, Henrik? Freak out, screaming, “No, my name is Devon! Call me Devon!” at the top of my lungs? Okay, maybe I did have to fight the urge… But once that urge was gone I laughed at the little ones and the level of fascination with something as simple as a name. It was a moment for them all to learn that some people have more letters than others, so I waited before raising the mic to my lips again.
“I’m from Canada,” I said, chuckling as I continued in my best Japanese. “And I’m really excited to be here and to teach you English. Let’s play together during recess.”
Finally, in English that I hoped they would understand alongside my gestures, I told them, “I like reading books, playing soccer, and watching Dragon Ball Z.”
I’m sure you’re wondering how I gestured ‘watch Dragon Ball Z’ and the answer is that I did the only acceptable thing: the Kamehameha. Several of them pressed tiny wrists together to return the fake laser beam fire before I said good-bye. That was returned, too, paired with tiny waves.
I had already taken the first steps back to my chair when the same teacher as before called out, “Rei,” and all of the kids bowed, forcing me to jog back in order to bow back. Even when I was back at my seat I found myself awkwardly bending at the waist as a sign of respect to the teachers. I’m not exaggerating, Henrik, there really was that much bowing. It felt like it never stopped.
After that, a new teacher went to the front to give a speech that lasted three or four minutes, then one of the female teachers got on the piano and started playing what I later learned was the school song. The kids threw their voices into it and soon everyone in the gym became one with the music. I did my best, tapping my feet to the rhythm, but I’m gonna have to get those lyrics at some point so I can join ‘em for real.
That marked the end of the assembly. When the song was finished the kids filed out after their homeroom teachers, one class at a time, and by the end there was only myself and five or six others left, the principal and vice principal among them. We walked back to the school office together where they plopped down in their seats and got down to work. Actually, the principal didn’t plop down anywhere. He just went into his office and closed the door.
With a big smile on my face I brought my hands together and said, “Okay! When’s the first lesson?”
The receptionist and vice principal looked back and forth at each other, unsure of what to do or say.
I tried again a little slower. “Uhh English lesson? When do I teach?”
Understanding bloomed on the receptionist’s face, but that flash of excitement was pushed down as she turned to the vice principal. Some Japanese went back and forth before they looked at the papers stuck to the whiteboard behind them. Finally the vice principal turned back to me. “Today, no class.”
“No class?” I replied.
“Eeeto… No English class,” he clarified.
The receptionist looked back at me and nodded with a sad look in her eyes.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “No English classes?”
“Yes. Today… Children go home… Fast.”
I was confused, but knew that lingering wouldn’t help. “No problem,” I said, trying to sound as cheerful as I could.
After that I did my best to keep busy but came up with next to nothing. The only thing worthwhile I could think of doing was familiarizing myself with the school’s daily routine that lay on my desk. I looked it over and checked the kanji that I wasn’t familiar with, noticing that in five minutes the kids would be let out for recess. Thinking back to my original meet-and-greet with the kocho sensei I remembered being asked if I would play with the kids. That gave me something to look forward to.
Buuuuuut it turned out that because it was a shortened day the kids would use recess to pack their bags so they could leave school early. Taguchi sensei returned to the staffroom to grab a drink then, and I shot off in her direction like a rocket.
“Can I help with anything?” I asked. “Anything at all. I’m kinda going a little crazy here.”
“Nope!” she said, cheerfully.
“I see,” I said, head sagging. “If there’s anything you need, please tell me.”
“Haai,” she said.
So I watched Taguchi sensei leave with the other teachers and listened as the school grew still for the last class of the day.
Grandpa Glendenning would’ve told me to make the best of the situation, but I was coming up with a big fat nothin’. School was out for the day at 11:30 and the most productive thing I’d done was turn a piece of dust on my desk into a game. The objective was to blow it to the edge in as few tries as possible without pushing it off…
When the last class was finished I watched from the office window as kids happily chatted on the gravel grounds in front of the school. Each one wore a hard leather backpack of the exact same shape and size. Occasionally you’d see a brown or pink one, but most were black.
Again, the teachers ran in and out of the staffroom, finally going outside with the kids. I watched it all until my guardian angel reappeared. Taguchi sensei must’ve gotten tired of me today, but I didn’t know what else to do other than cling to her like skunk spray.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, or rather pleaded.
“Come outside,” she said.
So, I bolted out of the office in a flash, eager to feel the sun on my skin. I wrenched my shoe locker free, trading outdoor for indoor shoes, and shuffled my way outside as I struggled to get them on completely. When I was at the top of the steps to the entrance I looked out and saw those… How many was it..? 377? 377 students looking up at me.
“Debon sensei,” one of the little ones nearest me said.
“Makuseru Toppu…” another further down said.
Half of the kids worked through the tongue twister that my name was to them, the other half giggled. I smiled and waved. Then, I gave them what they were looking for. At the top of my lungs I called out, “Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenninguuuu!”
The kids burst into true laughter at that. Most of them, anyway. Some took it as feedback and continued to practice the Japanese version of my name.
“You can stand back there,” Taguchi sensei said, pointing to the line of teachers watching over the students in the grounds.
So I walked along, making goofy faces at some of the kids and getting more smiles, laughs, and bashful looks in return. It was quickly apparent that the kids weren’t supposed to be talking here, either, because most of them were silent. Some, however, were adventurous enough to talk to me.
I’d caught one little boy in short black shorts and a white polo shirt looking back and forth between myself and the ground enough times that I finally said, “Hello.”
I might as well have pulled a cork, because the words came rushing out. “Do you like pizza?” he asked in English.
“Yes!” I said, eager to be communicating. “Do you?”
“Yes I do,” he replied before smiling, obviously pleased with himself.
“What color do you like?” a girl in pig-tails further on asked, urged by a friend standing next to her.
“Hmmm, purple,” I said. “What color do you like?”
“I like yellow,” she said with a giggle.
This continued as I made my way to the back, and it really filled my tank. I mean, it was exactly what I’d been hoping for all day.
As Taguchi sensei started talking through a megaphone at the school entrance I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Next, an older student said a few words. A chorus of bows followed to go along with a rumbling “Sayonara!” from all of the kids, and finally they broke off in their individual columns, all marching through the school gates, then home.
I ran off to meet them, saying sayonara to each of the columns as they passed. Some threw the Japanese back at me, but many said, “See you!”
After about 377 good-byes there was nothing left but a trail of dust and teachers plodding back toward the office. I took a moment to steal one last look at the leather backpacks as they disappeared around the corner before heading inside myself.
Taguchi sensei was still standing at the entrance to the school, waiting for me. “The children like you already!” she said.
“I really like them too,” I said. “I just wish I could’ve spent more time with them. I was really looking forward to teaching English today.”
“I’m sorry about that,” she said before pausing in thought. “I have an idea. Follow me.”
We stopped off at the staffroom to grab a set of keys from a cabinet full of them before going upstairs and down a long hall.
“There’s an old room that nobody uses,” she said as we walked. “It’s… how would you say it in English… we put old things in there.”
“Storage?” I offered.
“Storage,” she said. “It’s storage now, but… I have to talk to kocho sensei, but I think we can use it for English classes. The children usually learn in their homerooms now.”
“That sounds amazing,” I said.
She stopped in front of a light metal sliding door with frosted glass at the end of the hall, sticking a key inside. “Don’t get excited. It needs to be cleaned.”
The lock clicked and she pulled out the key before sliding the door open. Inside, the smell of… old… crept into my nose. It was the kind of smell that I can only imagine Indiana Jones must be used to after diving into countless cobweb riddled tombs and crypts. Dust with cedar and mold notes. Perhaps a hint of mildew.
“When’s the last time this place was aired out?” I asked.
Instead of responding, Taguchi sensei shrugged her shoulders as she flicked on a light switch. With the fluorescent lamps blinking the room to life I saw wooden chairs piled high at the back of the room alongside desks and tables. There were stacks of books, two broken computers, baskets, a bag full of dirty tennis balls that had been cut open… even several hula-hoops. And the list could go on.
“This is too dirty,” she said trailing off. “Let’s go back to the staffroom and—”
I cut her off. “This is fantastic. I don’t mind cleaning this room up one bit. If you can show me where I can put everything I’ll have it looking like an English teaching paradise before you know it! Buckingham Palace will be a pigsty by comparison.”
She looked at me, lost.
“Uhh, I’m really happy to clean this,” I said. “I could use a mask though. Ya know, for the dust.”
“You really want to?”
“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”
“Okay. Let’s get some cleaning supplies.”
(short knock at Devon’s apartment door, door opening, Victor walking in)
DEVON: Victor! I didn’t know you were home.
(Victor sits down over the next dialogue)
VICTOR: (yawn) I was having a nap. You just get back?
DEVON: More or less, yeah. I’ve been recapping the day for ‘ooool Henrik here. You know how it is. Wait, nap? When did you get back?
VICTOR: Just after lunch.
DEVON: What?? How did you get home so fast?
VICTOR: My base school principal is super chill. Lets me go home early most of the time when there’re no kids and I don’t have anything to do. How was your day? What’d you get up to?
DEVON: It was alright. I was just about to get into the last bit here. My supervisor, Taguchi sensei, told me I could clean up an old room Chuo was using for storage and turn it into an English classroom. That’s what I did for most of the day after the kids left.
VICTOR: You sound happy when you say that. The room must’ve been filthy.
DEVON: Oh, filthy doesn’t begin to describe it, but it’s my little project. I cleaned up most of the chairs today, desks’ll be tomorrow… Oh and Taguchi sensei says I can get my hands on some construction paper!
VICTOR: Why are you excited? Why is construction paper exciting?
DEVON: Think of the possibilities! Different colors of paper, a pair of scissors, blank walls… Or at least blank once I scrub them down…
VICTOR: You’re depressing me, man.
DEVON: Well, what did you get up to today?
VICTOR: Where to start? After that coffee you gave me my morning shit came way earlier than normal. So that was pretty much the first half hour of my day when you count looking at my phone on the can. Then we had the Ceremony for the start of school… Then I did a bunch of reading…
DEVON: Like, textbooks or what?
VICTOR: Nah man! I’m in the middle of this sick autobiography. Life, by Keith Richards. He totally outs Mick Jagger for having a tiny dong.
DEVON: You’re reading the autobiography of a Rolling Stone in the middle of the staffroom? With all of your teachers around?
VICTOR: What’s wrong with that?
DEVON: I dunno… Isn’t that like, unprofessional or something? I feel like Kevin and Timothy talked about that sort of thing at least a hundred times during training.
VICTOR: Bruh, when you’ve got as much down time as we do, professionalism is gonna have to take a hit. Besides, you can think of it as education. I’m making myself more well-rounded, and when it comes to English lessons – you know, the job we’re paid to do – that shit is invaluable.
DEVON: Knowledge of Mick Jagger’s penis size? That’s invaluable?
VICTOR: There’s more to it than that.
(Mario-themed knocking from Callum)
DEVON: Come in, Callum.
(door opens, footsteps follow as Callum delivers the next line)
CALLUM: When did you two get home??
DEVON: I’ve been home for about an hour now I guess.
CALLUM: What? An hour?? How the hell did you get off so early?
VICTOR: I’ve been home since 1:30.
CALLUM: Piss off.
VICTOR: Ate the lunch they ordered for me and bounced.
CALLUM: Lunch they ordered for you? I had to eat office scraps because they forgot about me. Cup ramen and half a banana that was left in the fridge. On top of that I missed my train after walking for ten minutes to the station. Someone had to drive me home.
DEVON: Someone was nice enough to drive you home! That’s nice.
CALLUM: So much for the whole ‘English teacher parade’ or whatever you said today was going to be. Almost went out of my mind.
DEVON: Come on, was it really that bad?
CALLUM: At one point I inhaled some of the water I was drinking on purpose. ON PURPOSE, DEVON. I caused myself to choke on water in front of the whole staff room just to give me an excuse for a social interaction.
DEVON: Yeah… Well, I think it’ll get better from here on out. And you’re back home with your boys, right? We can game a little, grab some dinner… Whadya say? Lemme just shut Henrik off and we’ll go get some ramen… udon… katsudon? I know you like your katsudon, buddy. Let’s go get some katsudon. How does that sound?
CALLUM: Hold up. I uh… I wrote a haiku of my own today.
DEVON: No way! Let’s hear it!
VICTOR: What is wrong with you guys?
CALLUM: You have to shut off the recording right at the end though, okay?
CALLUM: Okay, here goes:
In the staff room now
And it feels like I’m gonna
Start a killing spree
DEVON: Woah Callum… I’m not gonna—
CALLUM: You said you’d turn it off right after!
(shuffling as a struggle for the recorder begins and goes throughout until it cuts out)
VICTOR: Now THAT’S a haiku!
DEVON: Dude, just sto—
(Recorder clicks off, cutting Devon off)