It’s the season finale of Forever Foreign season 1 and Devon has a tale to tell. A tale so harrowing it’ll make your hair curl.
Okay, maybe not quite that intense, but his start to a true teaching schedule got off to a rough start.
The gang is all here to listen in on Devon’s story. Find out why he’s gathered them – and whether or not it’s really worth their time to listen to someone record the story of their first day of teaching at a Japanese school – in Chapter 13 of Forever Foreign.
Where and When to Listen to Forever Foreign, the Fictional Japan Podcast
Looking for episode 1? <- click here!
Want to start with Forever Foreign’s trailer? <- click here!
Episodes from season 1 of Forever Foreign drop every two weeks, and we would LOVE it if you’d subscribe and consider giving us feedback via a review or comment.
You can also find links to your favorite podcast feeds below:
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
Voice of Alyssa – Byanka Philippe
Voice of Mio – Lauren Caldwell
Chapter 13: Ready, Set, Start (Transcript)
(Recording device clicks on, tape rolls and quickly fades)
DEVON: Friday, August 30th, 2013. Greetings Henrik. How good it is to speak to you on this auspicious day, and with such a crowd gathered! If I may, there are a few people I’d like to introduce to today’s entry. Of course, ladies first. Ooooo and this is actually really exciting! We can start with a diary debut! Welcome, Mio!
MIO: Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu… Is… Is that okay?
DEVON: That was lovely. Good evening, Alyssa.
ALYSSA: Hi Devon, when are we getting dinner?
DEVON: In good time, m’lady. In good time.
VICTOR: This better be a good story.
DEVON: Shhhhhh! Wait for me to finish dude!
VICTOR: God knows you’ve told me some shitty ones…
CALLUM: Let’s goooo. I’m hungry too.
DEVON: That was Victor and Callum, both speaking BEFORE I’VE INTRODUCED THEM.
Henrik, I’ve gathered these… friends, for lack of a better word so that I can tell them a tale. And not just any tale, Victor. This is a story of life and death. A story of choices, past and present, and of their consequences… At times harrowing and at times heart—
VICTOR: I’m leaving.
DEVON: Okay okay, I’ll start telling the story. Just relax.
Today started the same way I hope every work day will. I turned on some tunes and danced my way around the kitchen, whipping up eggs, toast, and bit of crispy bacon. At the same time, I was percolating a few cups of motivational coffee for the boys. Tell me you’re not enjoying those cups of joe in the morning, Victor.
VICTOR: Yeah, they’ve been pretty good I guess…
ALYSSA: These guys are getting coffee delivered every morning? All I get from Bree and Mio is a bunch of Japanese I don’t understand.
MIO: Gomen nasai…
DEVON: Yyyeah, well… We get coffee at the Gulag while you get properly sealed windows and walls that don’t shake when cars pass at Sunshine Palace. Henrik, that’s the actual name of their apartment building, by the way.
So anyway, we drank the coffee and I brought the mugs back home before setting out for work with a skip in my step. I dressed down a little bit today so that I wouldn’t have to sweat it out too much at school.
Aside from the same students as yesterday, there were cars on the road and the occasional home or shop owner peeking their head out of doorways while doing chores. I smiled at each and every person who made eye contact and did my best to throw an ‘ohayo’ their way. Almost every time I got a greeting in return, if not always a smile; with how old some of those ladies looked, I wonder if the muscles in that part of their faces even still work.
At school, I popped the ‘ol dress shoes off and got into my indoor sneakers, sliding into the staffroom just before the morning meeting. I greeted my new coworkers with a firm, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” and had the same thing thrown back at me. Actually, many of them accommodated me with the English, “Good morning!” which was nice.
Today’s meeting was my first since technically I wasn’t in the same room yesterday. Being in the same space didn’t help much, in any case. I swear, Japanese 101 has done nothing to prepare me for actually speaking the language here. The number of words I understood probably made up .5% of the ten minute meeting and the number of sentences I could even halfway understand were a big fat zilch.
I tried though. I tried my hardest to pick out words I could understand and make sense of what the teachers were saying, but… I dunno. It’ll be a while before I’m anywhere near that level.
VICTOR: No sense in even trying. Those school meetings are pretty much useless for us even IF you know what they’re saying.
MIO: That’s not true! They talk about what’s coming up on the schedule, problems with students…
VICTOR: Like I said, useless.
DEVON: In any case, I think it’ll be a good daily reminder of where my Japanese ability is at.
When the meeting came to an end I found myself worrying that it was going to be another day like yesterday. A day in which I would be the forgotten misfit toy, set aside in the corner of the room and left to collect dust.
Nobody approached me at first, but then Taguchi sensei brought a couple of teachers over. She also gave me a schedule outlining what classes I would be teaching each day of the week.
“This is Matsushita sensei and this is Kawakami sensei,” she said, introducing a young man and woman. “They’re the fourth grade teachers you’ll work with in… period three and four.”
“Great!” I said. “Nice to meet you both. My name is Devon.”
“Nice to meet you,” they both said before jamming in, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” that lovely phrase that’s used for good will in seemingly every situation.
Matsushita sensei handed a piece of paper to me, saying, “Etoooo, kore wa… lesson plan desu.” I’ll leave that up to you to interpret, Henrik.
We chuckled at the mishmash of English and Japanese before pouring over the piece of paper. It was a plan much like the ones I’d worked on during Chiron training: A greeting followed by vocab practice and games. The only minor difference was my self-introduction at the start.
“The flashcards are here,” Taguchi sensei said, pointing me in the direction of a smaller room full of shelves and a printer off to the side. “You can take what you need and bring it to the lessons after recess.”
I gave two thumbs up and that was pretty much it. A very short meeting as all the other teachers around us rushed to get to their homerooms. I wasn’t about to wait for the empty staffroom to suck the life out of me today, so I tapped Taguchi sensei on the shoulder as she was gathering her things.
“Since I’m not teaching in the first two periods, can I get the key to the storage room?” I asked.
“Of course!” she said, taking it from a cabinet behind the receptionist’s desk. “The things you used yesterday for cleaning are still up there.”
So up I went. The moment the bell rang for the first class I took a bottle of water to the second floor, walked all the way to the end of the hall and cracked that storage room open.
The broom, bucket and cloth were in the same spot as yesterday, as was most of the mess. I’d gotten as far as moving around some chairs and desks and wiping them down, but there were still piles of odds and ends stacked high on either end of the room. Old books, broken gym equipment, school supplies, you name it, and all of it with an unhealthy powdering of dust.
Strapping on my mask, I started moving the chairs around. The ones I’d wiped down yesterday were sitting in the hall outside since there was so little room to work with, and my first task of the day was taking care of the last few. Next were the desks.
I got into a fine rhythm, pulling away the grime of another era and washing it away in the increasingly gray water of my bucket.
CALLUM: That’s disgusting. Aren’t you worried about getting sick?
DEVON: I’m sure I was fine. Anyway, it turned out to be a great time. I don’t know about you all, but cleaning up and organizing a space like that is almost therapeutic.
CALLUM: Nah, definitely not. If anything, I’d need therapy after the trauma of touching that shit.
DEVON: Victor? You know what I’m talking about, right?
VICTOR: There’s a reason I only clean up when girls come over.
DEVON: Alyssa? Come on, you of all people have to understand the joys of taking a bit of chaos in your hands and shaping it to your vision.
ALYSSA: Yeah, I see what you mean. It’s a visual reward that you’re chasing with a lot of small wins along the way.
DEVON: Yes! There we go! Visual rewards! Small wins!
The best part of it all was that I was far away from anyone else. On the wing of the second floor that I was cleaning, the only other space was taken up by a home economics room and the music room, neither of which were in use this morning. Above, was a computer lab. So I was free to make about as much noise as I wanted as long as the door was shut.
I danced and sang while wiping down desk after desk, moving each one into the hallway, closing the door each time. I grabbed my broom and used it as a fake microphone doing my best impression of Jimmy Buffet singing about cheeseburgers. As the little bit of chaos got reined in, more and more floor space was revealed, filling me with summa those… how did you put it Alyssa? Small wins?
By the middle of the school’s second period, all of the desks and chairs were wiped down and in the hallway, leaving me with the real task: sifting through sacks of trash and mounds of broken things. It was around 10 o’clock then and I should’ve been heading back to the staffroom. I should’ve been taking a break before going to play with the kids at recess. Hell, I should’ve been getting those flashcards ready for the third period. But I didn’t.
“Cheeseburger in paradise, paradiiiiiiiiise,” I sang.
EVERYONE: (small chuckle)
I wanted just a few more of those small wins, wanted to keep the gears in motion. Failing that, I wanted to at least get to the end of the song before quitting…
The mountain of trash in the corner adjacent to the closed door seemed the best place to do that, so I stepped forward, eyeing an old bag of arts and crafts materials in the middle of the heap.
“I like mine with lettuce and tomato,” I sang as I grabbed the handle. “Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes.”
ALYSSA: Oh god, staaaahp!
DEVON: You know ‘Spidey Sense,’ right? That feeling Peter Parker gets when something is about to go wrong? I sort of have something similar, but it doesn’t work quite the same way. With… I guess we’ll call it ‘Devon Sense’… my body doesn’t warn me of impending danger. Instead, it starts to freak out when it’s too late to react. And when the bag I was yanking on caught something in the middle of the heap it was definitely too late.
“Big kosher pickle and a cold draft—”
Booooooooooommmm. Everything in the heap came crashing, sliding, and plummeting down in an avalanche. Hula-hoops and old tennis balls scattered across the floor. Books tumbled, stirring up a cloud of dust. An old tube TV even came loose and rolled down, somehow with just enough grace not to break the screen or my leg.
I tripped and fell on my butt, forcing me to scramble to avoid the worst of it. By the time things settled I was sitting in the middle of the room staring at an ocean, rather than a mountain of junk.
My heart was racing – the after effects of my ‘Devon Sense’ – and my breath was struggling to keep pace as I looked to make sure nothing more would fall. Then, during my inspection I saw something that kicked it into overdrive. On the shores of that ocean of debris there was… movement. Ickkk just thinking about it makes me wanna jump out of this window.
ALYSSA: What. The. Fuck.
DEVON: Everything else in the room was still by then, but if you looked closely – hell, even if you didn’t look closely – you could see the junk shifting. Little bits here and there. They would move just an inch or two before settling back in place, forming a curling line about three feet long that stretched toward the door.
DEVON: Yes, Alyssa. I don’t think I need to tell you all what I did next. I shot up in the air and backed my ass up to the least cluttered part of the room I could find next to a window.
VICTOR: What was it?
DEVON: Exactly what you think it was, Victor. A big-ass brownish… blackish… greyish snake with a mean look in its eyes.
CALLUM: Big-ass? You said it was 3-feet long, right? How many meters is that?
DEVON: About one.
CALLUM: Yeah, that’s not big-ass. That’s a lil ankle biter!
DEVON: Sorry Mr. ‘Crykey, I drink cobra venom and wrestle kangaroos and dingos and… wwwhatever.’ I was trapped in a room with this thing, not you, okay?
DEVON: So there I was, on the other side of the room watching this thing slither its way out from underneath the trash. It made its way toward the closed door, and then it just… stopped. Parked itself right in front of the exit and set up camp. I have no idea what was so interesting about that particular spot, but that’s where it chose to hang out. Guess we’ll have to ask the snake expert over here if we wanna solve that mystery.
MIO: What’d you do??
DEVON: The first thing I did was look around the room to make sure there were no other suspicious movements. No other creatures that I had to be on the lookout for. After confirming that I wasn’t about to get jumped by a wild boar next, I waited.
The snake had proven that it could move just fine, so I figured I’d give it some time to go back to its cozy nest. It wasn’t easy to remain calm, though. Mr. Snake made sure of that. His head was turned toward me the whole time and I swear I didn’t see him blink once.
It’s possible that I didn’t blink at first, either. I was so frozen with fear that I doubt I was capable of closing my lids. A thousand questions ran through my head. Did Japan have poisonous snakes? How poisonous might this snake be? If I was bitten by a poisonous snake, what should I do? I guess there was kind of a theme to these questions… And while that lingering dread never fully went away, I did eventually feel secure enough to grab a chair without sh— without pooping my pants.
VICTOR: You really couldn’t say ‘shit’ there?
DEVON: Henrik could be a lady. You never know. A sophisticated lady who doesn’t hold with crude language.
ALYSSA: As if ‘pooping your pants’ is any less crude than ‘shitting them.’
DEVON: Fine! I was close to shitting my pants! Happy? What was I saying??
MIO: The chair.
DEVON: Thank you, Mio. You know, I’m gonna have to invite you into these diary entries more often. You’re a much better audience member than some people…
I managed to sit down on a chair after the staring contest had dragged on for about 5 minutes. In that time my skin had grown sleek with sweat. I was already hot in the musty room while moving things around, but this cranked it up to eleven. And while trapped in that viper-infested sauna, laser-focused on the potential death staring me down, my mind… Well… it was movin’. I’ll leave it at that.
The clock above the blackboard kept ticking away, all the while the snake didn’t even twitch. If it weren’t for the fact that its head was ever so slightly elevated, I would’ve thought that maybe it was dead. Really, that was just wishful thinking. I had no doubt that the thing was alive and I also had no doubt that it wasn’t about to move unless some variable in the current equation changed. And when the clock hit 10:20, things did change.
Over the intercom a recording of a bell rang out, announcing morning recess. The entire school came to life, with chairs scraping back, doors sliding open and eager little tootsies stamping down the hall and into the school grounds for some fun in the sun.
The snake wasn’t bothered by any of that. It was becoming more and more apparent that he wasn’t about to move for anything. So I waited for the kids to clear out before yelling at the top of my lungs, “Heeeeeelp! Somebody, heeeeeelp!”
I cursed myself for not knowing the right Japanese words, and kept calling out, “Heeeeelp!”
Over and over I did this. For three or four minutes, I guess. But because of that beautiful separation from the rest of the second floor getting anyone’s attention was always going to be a tall task. Then, finally, I heard footsteps approaching. Timid footsteps that edged all the way to the frosted glass of the closed door, bringing a short silhouette into view.
A tiny voice prodded, “Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendenningu sensei?”
“Just Devon sensei,” I sighed. Then I froze.
The snake was slowly turning its body toward the little girl. The same snake that may or may not have had deadly poison dripping from its fangs.
“Daijoubu desu ka?” she asked. ‘Are you alright?’
As she said it I watched the shadow of her hand reaching for the door.
“Daijoubu desu!” I gasped. “Stop! Daijoubu daijoubu daijoubu!”
The snake’s head reared in anticipation as the silhouette stretched further.
“STOP!” I screamed.
And finally she did. Ripping her hand back to her side, she muttered something and skipped away.
I don’t know if I took one breath in that entire exchange. When she was finally out of earshot I gasped for air, bringing the snake’s attention back to me. Easing back into my seat, my body hit the backrest and I found myself fighting off tears. I don’t know what came over me. What am I saying? That’s not true. Almost witnessing a live re-enactment of Ginny Weasley versus the Basilisk obviously greased the gears… but there were definitely some deeper things working in the background.
At any rate, there I was. Alone in a cluttered storage room, trying my best to keep from weeping knowing that I might be in that room for a while longer and would need to conserve the fluids. To top it all off, the bell signaling the end of morning recess had rang, meaning that my first English class was starting without me.
“Why can’t you just move?” I choked at the snake. “Go back to your pile of garbage, or better yet, slink away outside. I’m not trying to hurt you, I just want to leave.”
Of course, the snake didn’t understand any of that. In fact there was no indication that he knew I was trying to communicate with him at all. I’m not even sure if snakes have ears now that I think about it. Do they? Actually, don’t answer that, Callum. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that through the course of my ramblings I figured out what was eating at me. I was frustrated and wanted to get out of the room, and the thing in my way was just another in a list of what felt like a million that I had zero control over. Screaming at the snake would get me nowhere, the same way yelling “Daijoubu daijoubu daijoubu” at that girl had hardly kept her from a hospital visit. Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t communicate my own plight or have her send for help.
So I decided to stop floundering. There was enough junk around the room that some solution had to have been possible. Anything was better than waiting for the next student or teacher to come along and risk their lives to protect mine.
I prodded bits of the garbage pile closest to me, flinching each time as I expected more snakes to jump out. I managed to get a back catcher’s vest, some soccer shin pads, gardening gloves, and completed the get-up with several broken kendo sticks taped together.
“Last chance lil buddy,” I called out to the snake from behind some kind of Halloween mask. “You can either hit the road or be road kill.”
The snake didn’t move.
“Oookay, one more chance,” I said. “Move, please?”
Talk hadn’t gotten the job done before, and it certainly wasn’t about to get it done then either. After another minute of hoping the situation would fix itself I realized that the snake wasn’t about to have a change of heart. Uhhh hold on a sec, I have some music I wanna play here. One second…
VICTOR: Really? Music?
DEVON: It’s gonna be awesome.
(Suspenseful music starts playing)
So I took a few slow steps forward, lowering the 10-foot-long makeshift lance. Mr. Snake took it as a threat and lifted his chin.
Another step. The snake’s mid-section rippled slightly as I approached.
Another step. Both of my hands steadied the lance as I touched the tip to the floor, ready to play hockey with Mr. Snake as the puck.
Another step. He slithered to meet the challenge – only an inch or two, but with lethal grace. His dagger-like teeth were about five feet from the stick then. 15 from my flesh. Maybe less.
Slowly I lifted my foot to take one last step. One last step would get me into position. From there I would lunge forward, closing the gap, and it would be a matter of getting off a good wrist shot to send the serpent top cheddar.
CALLUM: Top cheddar?
DEVON: It’s a hockey phrase. I’m going with a hockey theme here, remember? Just forget it…
So there I was, foot poised in mid-air and ready to plant down as a springboard for my assault. But creatures like these haven’t lasted since the beginning of time for nothing.
MIO: Why did you stop?
DEVON: Hang on a sec… Waiiiiit for iiiiiit…
(music ramps up) Bang! The snake shot off like a rocket in my direction, throwing me off balance. Instead of lunging forward and going on the offensive I found myself reeling, doing my best just to stay on my feet as I pedaled back toward the window.
As fast as I was moving, the snake was faster. In seconds it closed the gap from 15 feet to 12. 12 to 9. 9 to—
ALYSSA: Why are you using such weird numbers?
DEVON: They’re all divisible by 3. They’re great numbers!
The thing was less than ten feet from me when I noticed a voice. I don’t know how long it had been calling to me by then.
“Devon sensei?” it said. “Devon sensei, are you in there?”
The door slid open, banging at the end of its track and halting the snake right in the midpoint between myself and the room’s entrance. Standing in the doorframe was Taguchi sensei in her track pants and polo shirt. The snake had its sights set on her now.
“No!” I shouted. “I’ll protect you!”
I heaved my lance, stabbing at the snake on the floor and missing it almost entirely but for the tip of its tail. Just enough to turn it back to me.
Deciding once and for all who the real threat was, it flew in my direction. Swiping the floor, I tried to get a good lick in, but the snake was devilishly fast. It evaded all of my advances and pushed me further into the corner, getting within six feet. I slammed the lance down on the ground as a last ditch attack, tripping and falling in the process. But that, too, was side-stepped. The snake had me dead-to rights.
A far-off thought floated in my head: Better me than Taguchi sensei. Closing my eyes, I flung my hands up in front of my face, bracing myself for the feel of sharp teeth sinking into my skin.
(music comes to a crescendo before abruptly fading out)
You know when someone does the whole ‘not touching you’ thing as they hold their finger over your cheek or your ear? The tingling sensation that accompanies the touch that never comes? I’d heard that snakes usually went for limbs, and my ankles were the closest ones, so that’s where I was expecting the bite. And as I sat with my eyes closed I was overcome with an intense version of that sort of tingling. It became a numbness that, for a moment, I was positive was venom working its way into my blood stream. But there was no pain whatsoever.
A dozen torturous seconds passed before I could open my eyes, and when I did Taguchi sensei was standing over me, offering her left hand to help me to my feet. In a daze, I searched for the snake on the ground, but couldn’t find it anywhere. My eyes went up to see Taguchi sensei’s right arm working furiously. Peeking around her torso, I saw the tail of the snake in her hand. She spun the thing round and round like Thor’s hammer, always keeping it at a distance from her body.
Rising to my feet, I opened a nearby window and led Taguchi sensei deep into the fires of… the mountain forest behind the school… where the snake was born. The one place it could be destroyed.
“Cast it into the fire,” I said. “Destroy it!”
Turning to me with a searing look, she said, “No.”
VICTOR: Wait, what? Fire?
CALLUM: It’s a Lord of the Rings reference.
DEVON: Not a fan, Victor?
VICTOR: How was I supposed to know you were doing a Lord of the Rings reference?
DEVON: I dunno, I thought it was kind of obvious. Ya know, the window is like the crack of doom. The trees outside are like the magma. Taguchi sensei is Isildur, I’m Elrond. Guess it doesn’t make that much sense for the snake to be compared to the ring, but that’s on you for making me spell it out…
VICTOR: Whatever dude. Did your teacher actually say no?
DEVON: Nah. I whipped the window wide open and Taguchi sensei hurled the snake clean outside. Must’ve flow twenty or thirty meters before it landed among the trees.
She turned to me, relatively calm considering the circumstances, and said, “Devon sensei, are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” I said. “You’re the one who just picked up a dangerous snake with your bare hands and threw it out the window. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Dangerous?” she said. “That snake wasn’t dangerous.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “It was about to attack me. It was going to bite me.”
“Maybe. But it couldn’t hurt you. Those snakes don’t have poison.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “It looked preeeetty poisonous. Like a really deadly snake that’s taken its share of lives.”
She shrugged. “But it wasn’t. I promise. Did it bite you anywhere?”
“No,” I admitted. “I don’t think so.”
“So you should be good to teach, right? It’s too late to join the… third period class, but… fourth period should be fine, right?”
I wasn’t going to argue that I’d had enough trauma to keep me from my duties, so I nodded and followed her down to the staffroom. When we got there she sat me down and put a cup of tea in front of me. I watched Taguchi sensei tell the story of the snake to the vice principal, the principal, and the receptionist. At least I think that’s what she was doing. It was all in Japanese, so I could only pick out so much.
The receptionist physically cringed and shivered while Kyoto and Kocho sensei – Henrik, that’s vice principal and principal in case you’ve forgotten – laughed and stopped Taguchi sensei to ask questions. Laughed. Not showed concern or offered comfort. Laughed.
Taguchi sensei translated something for Kocho sensei, “He says he used to catch snakes like that when he was a kid. It probably got in by climbing a pipe or… maybe fell from one of the bigger trees.”
“Snakes fall from trees here?” I asked.
Another shrug from Taguchi sensei. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
Checking the clock on the wall, she said, “It’s almost time for your first class. Are you ready?”
I didn’t wanna say it, but teaching class was the last thing I was prepared for. After spending more than an hour locked in a room with a snake that I at least still think could’ve been deadly, my nerves were frayed. I also just felt a little… a little insecure.
That morning I’d shown that I was capable of exactly nothing. I know that teaching English class has to be a step down in the stakes department from doing battle with a wild animal, but I couldn’t help but feel inept. And it’s kind of been that way throughout a lot of my time over here. I know it’s only been a month, but fumbling through 90% of my interactions, not knowing how to navigate a lot of situations… It can be fun, but every once in a while it gets to me.
ALYSSA: You think it gets to you? At least you can speak some of the language. I practically have to break dance in order to tell the lady at the supermarket that I only need one bag instead of two.
DEVON: Fair. We’re both enjoying that struggle I guess. I didn’t mope about it for long, in any case. Taguchi sensei told me that a student would be coming down to the staffroom to escort me, so I waited for that. Was your guys’ situation the same?
CALLUM and ALYSSA: Yeah.
MIO: It’s the same for everyone. Right senpai?
VICTOR: Yeah. Unless you work at a junior high or high school.
DEVON: I thought it was really cute. A nice touch. The fourth grader that was sent to me was a boy in the school uniform. I dunno if I need to tell you guys, but for Henrik’s sake the kid was in short black shorts and a white cotton polo shirt. There were stains here and there, probably from tumbles in the school grounds at recess.
He opened the door to the staffroom saying, “Shitsuuuu… Shitsuraaaa— Mio, can you say it for me?”
DEVON: Thank you. Henrik, it’s a formal way of saying excuse me.
The receptionist looked expectantly at the little guy who stood in the door way twiddling his thumbs. After a second or two he said, “Devon sensei, let’s. Go. To. My. Classroom.”
Relief flooded over his face once he got all of the words out, and from her chair Taguchi sensei was clapping and saying, “Sugoooi!”
I added my own applause to the heap, though I admit I wasn’t really sure what it was for. It wasn’t until the two of us were out in the hallway and on our way that I realized the kid had probably never spoken that much English in his life.
“How are you?” I said as we walked.
His pace slowed in what I guess was a conservation of mental energy. After thinking for a few seconds he decided on, “I’m hungry.”
“Last period before lunch,” I said. “I’m hungry too.”
The boy smiled and said, “Do you like soccer?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I’m not very good at it.”
This was clearly a bit too much, so I backpedaled. “I like soccer.”
We kept going like that all the way to a room on the opposite wing from where I’d spent an hour locked in mortal combat with the snake. The classroom door was open just a crack. Enough for one of the students to stick his head out and steal a peek before rushing back inside.
“Debon Makusueru Tonpuson Gurendeningu sensei!” he called, not so subtly.
I got a good chuckle and heard the other students in the room laugh, too, before the teacher, Kawakami sensei, called for order. My escort jogged ahead to open the door, gesturing for me to walk in first.
Putting one foot inside the room, I was greeted with a chorus of ‘hellos’. There were row upon row of bright faces looking up at me from desks with wooden tops. Eager minds ready for molding.
All of the misgivings I spoke of? All of my doubts? They melted away, and in their place was this keen sense of purpose. I was surrounded by sails ready to be filled with the wind of knowledge. Wind that would bear them further than they ever thought possible. Finally, I get to do what I came here for, I thought. Finally, I get to change the lives of children.
VICTOR: Bull shit.
DEVON: Huh? Whadyou mean?
VICTOR: Sails filled with knowledge? I refuse to believe that you came to Japan to teach kids. Nobody comes here for that, and anyone who says they did is bullshitting. You trying to impress Alyssa? There something going on between you two?
DEVON: No dude. God… I really did come here to make a difference in kids—
VICTOR: Just stoooop. You’re embarrassing yourself. You came here for the same reason everybody does, whether it’s the retirees with their travel brochures, the fat weebs and their anime pillows that they’ve named Haruna, or the skinny lil bitches who pretend they’re making a difference in the lives of their students. You came here because you wanted to be in Japan. Simple as that.
Don’t look at me like that. There’s no shame in it. Back me up Mio.
VICTOR: Go ahead, nobody’s judging you. Why did you come to Japan?
MIO: I came here because I love Japan! I love cosupurei and anime and ryokans… And I love that people use umbrellas on sunny days!
VICTOR: Ooookay… Maybe a bit much, but it proves my point. Alyssa? Callum?
ALYSSA: If you want an honest answer then yeah… I didn’t come here for anyone but myself. A year working in another country is gonna look great on my resume.
CALLUM: I just wanna work at Nintendo.
VICTOR: And I came here to drink sake and bang hot Japanese chicks. You don’t have to feel ashamed, Devon.
DEVON: I’m not ashamed, though. I really did come here to teach.
VICTOR: Go ahead and keep telling yourself that now, but sooner or later you’ll figure out the real reason. Just like everyone does.
DEVON: Even if my motivations were to change, I don’t think it makes how I feel now any less valid.
VICTOR: Of course your feelings are valid! But they’re also bull shit. I’ll allow you to keep thinking you’re here for the kids, though.
DEVON: They’re not bull—
VICTOR: Iiii’ll allow it.
DEVON: Henrik, I’m sorry you had to listen to that. And I’m totally off track now. What was I even about to say?
I got to the class… Winds of knowledge… Changing lives… Yyyeah, so all of that was going through my head when the lesson began. To be honest it kinda got me nervous because despite whatever Victor would have you believe, I really wanted to have a positive impact on that lesson. But we ran into a road block almost as soon as the lesson began.
Silence fell over the class as the last few kids pulled snug into their desks. Kawakami sensei looked at one kid in particular, the same one that had acted as my chaperon up to the second floor room. As though the boy knew he was forgetting something, his shoulders rolled back and his back straightened.
He said… Ah what was it… “Korekara yon…” Help me out again, Mio.
MIO: Korekara yojikanme no eigo wo hajimemasu.
DEVON: Right. The kid said all of that and a few other things. He had ‘rei’, or ‘bow’ halfway out of his mouth when the teacher interrupted him with a throat clearing.
The kid shriveled and looked up at Kawakami sensei who never bothered with eye contact. A few anxious moments later one of the kids sitting behind tapped him on the shoulder, whispering in his ear.
The boy opened his mouth, silently going, “Ahhhhh,” before looking back to the front. In a loud, faltering voice he said in English, “Let’s start English class.”
CALLUM: Dude, are you really going to make us listen to a recap of your first lesson right now? Let’s go get some drinks!
DEVON: Just for Henrik. It’ll only take a sec.
After the kids all bowed Kawakami sensei faced me.
“Ano… Jikoshoukai wa?” she started, asking about my self-introduction PowerPoint.
I won’t bore you guys with all of the details except to say that it went really well. Once I shook off the nerves things felt natural. Forty-five minutes flew by in the blink of an eye. We practiced fruit words with the grammar being “I like so-and-so,” played a rock-paper-scissors-themed interview game. Right. Sorry, I forgot I said I’d spare you the details.
Things lined up perfectly because I was scheduled to eat lunch with that class right after. My first Japanese school lunch! …Which I guess I’ll also spare the details of. It was miso soup, rice, salad, and grilled fish. 8 out of ten, Henrik.
ALYSSA: Hey, I had the same thing! Had to tell them to take back almost all of my rice though.
VICTOR: All of us closer to the center of Hotaru have the same lunch schedules. Callum might be different since he’s further out.
CALLUM: Spaghetti for me today. And that milk was heaps good.
DEVON: Oh, one last thing for this entry and then we can get going. As I was walking home next to the river after work a voice called to me from behind. “Ooooi! Matte! ALT sensei!”
It was hard to make out who the voice was coming from, but through the glare of the sun I did see a shape slowly approaching. Holding up a hand to my eye I could see an elderly woman shuffling over. When she got a little closer I recognized her as the woman who’d helped me out at Undou Town when I was on the verge of getting arrested as a stalker.
ALYSSA: When you what?
DEVON: Did Erika not mention that bit to you? We’ll leave that for later. Long story short, this lady named Mori san helped me sort things out at the front desk. And there she was, hailing me as I was on my way home from work.
She never asked if I remembered her. Jamming her hand in the pocket of an apron she was wearing she pulled out a phone and said, “Can I have your phone number?”
VICTOR: There we go! The tail is lining up for ya!
DEVON: Eeeeasy Victor. I don’t think that’s what she’s after… I mean, she said she wanted to practice her English, so I’m pretty sure romance wasn’t on her mind.
ALYSSA: What could be more romantic than that? An older Japanese woman in the autumn of her years. A young… Maybe not so strapping but… limber Canadian. Both intending to teach each other but finding a tension growing in the room, both settling on the universal language… of love.
DEVON: I think we need to get your Isaiah over here for an emergency visit, Alyssa. It’s been too long.
ALYSSA: Almost one month to the day…
DEVON: Well you can stop using your loneliness to pervert the beautiful friendship that Mori san and I have! She’s a treasure. And as we stood on that walking path with the sun glowing over the mountains and the river running through the reeds she said to me, “I teach Japanese. You teach English.”
She dialed my number so that we’d both have each other’s contact info. I didn’t have the chance to say anything besides, “Okay,” before she was shuffling on back home.
Can you believe the luck? The first thing I’m gonna ask her is the Japanese for, “Get away from that door! There’s a fierce snake in the room!” No more putting kids in danger for this guy. No more struggling through every step of my time here. Not for long anyway.
Alright, that should wrap things up. Let’s get outta here. Is Bree joining us? Erika?
(sounds of people starting to stand up and move around)
ALYSSA: Erika, yes. Bree, no. I’ve hardly seen her since English camp.
DEVON: I wonder if she’s okay…
ALYSSA: I’m sure she’s fine. Bree always seemed like a bit of a loner.
MIO: We hang out sometimes. She seems fine!
DEVON: That’s good. As long as she’s happy.
CALLUM: Before you shut that thing off I wanted to ask: when you were in the room with the snake and you thought it was about to bite you… Did your life flash before your eyes or anything? I was just wondering if that really happens.
DEVON: Guess I skipped that. It was kinda weird… I mean, you could say that my life flashed before my eyes, but really it was more like a line of people. My mom, my brother and sister, Grandpa Glendenning. You guys… Even my dad popped up for a second there.
I came out of it with more thoughts swirling in my head than you’d believe; the fact that I’d flown halfway across the world to a foreign country where I didn’t know a single person, and what if I was gone before I really got to accomplish anything over here, and what if I’d never see my family again… Mostly I just felt really alone.
CALLUM: Ahhh you’re not alone, mate. You’ve got us!
ALYSSA: You’ve got us. But you really should call your mom.
DEVON: Yeah, I will for sure. Hey, should we bring it in? Group hug? You guys feeling that too?
VICTOR: Gonna need a few drinks before that happens.
(tape recorder ambience fades in)
DEVON: Allllriiiiight. I’ll talk to you later, Henrik.
CALLUM: That music was awesome. How long did it take you to line your story up with it?
DEVON: Not long. Actually took longer to find music that was the right level of awesomenness.
(Tape recorder clicks off)