I walked away from the confrontation with Ishii feeling unsettled. Not only had I lost my cool but he still had the ball in his pocket and a satisfied gleam in his eyes, so I had lost the battle of wills, as well.
I was not thrilled.
I must have been glaring at Ishii cuz Takahashi-sensei kind of pulled me back to the front of the room.
It was about then that something really unexpected happened.
Satou-kun (I bet y’all were wondering how he fit into this story) got up and walked over to Ishii-kun. Ishii, still giving me an overdose of insolence and a smirk I would have sacrificed my job and visa status to wipe off his fucking face, hadn’t noticed Satou’s approach from his rear.
Satou reached in Ishii’s pocket and grabbed the ball pulling it free in one swift motion. Ishii wheeled around, still freshly tense from our confrontation, with his fist clinched and ready to do harm. But, upon seeing Satou-kun, he froze, mid-thought, as if suspended in time. Satou stood there with one eye-cocked as if to say Yeah, was there something you wanted to say?
Then, time un-froze. Ishii, probably realizing that this confrontation with Satou had more significant ramifications than ours had. While he probably figured I wouldn’t have really let him have it, and if I had I’d definitely be worst off in the end than he, and he’d have legendary infamy in the school until he graduated and probably until his death, for having taken on this big black gaijin. Definitely a win-win scenario for him. It was a different story with Satou-kun, though. For, while Ishii was just getting started as a bad-ass, Satou had already built up a reputation as the boy who, even as a first year student, was un-afraid to take on the principal and vice principal in the teacher’s office! Clearly he was not to be taken lightly, for he clearly didn’t give a fuck.
But, now Ishii’s reputation was on the line. If he backed down from Satou without any challenge whatsoever, he’d lose immeasurable face among his peers.
Of course, I don’t know what was going through his mind at that moment. I’m just hypothesizing based on the what I know about these kids and what I had experienced myself when I was their age. How this played out in the minds of kids from a culture so different from my own is something I have a hard time convincing myself I understand.
Ishii reached for the hand Satou held the ball with and Satou threw the arm up above his head. Ishii was taller, though, and went for it, and before I knew it the ball was sailing across the room from Satou’s hand…right into my own.
I’m sure I looked at the ball like it had fallen from space.
Ishii’s eyes had followed it through the air to my clutches. Probably noticed my slack-jawed surprise, and turned back on Satou.
All the students watching this scenario play out seemed to be at Satou’s back. Apparently Ishii had made more than a few enemies…probably due to his bullying ways. Half didn’t even hide their amusement. Even the little guy in the corner who Ishii had thrown the ball at a few minutes earlier wasn’t afraid to show his glee. He actually let out guffaw…
Ishii’s face had turned red as he stared at Satou. The contempt he’d shown me was revealed to be artificial by comparison to this real contempt I was seeing then. Satou looked as nonchalant as a cat bathing himself on a sunlit porch. Then, with the consummate act of contempt, turned his back on Ishii and walked casually back to his seat, leaving Ishii standing there looking mighty impotent. His emotions were running wild screaming “murder” through the halls, but Ishii didn’t budge, nor did he make a sound.
The moment had passed. There was nothing he could do now.
He sat down, and a couple of cronies tried to appease him by echoing his “Fuck You” to me and giggling, and he smiled along with them, resuming the pose of too cool for school. But, the damage was done. Satou had punked him and everyone saw. He’d always be a second-tier bad-boy until he took on Satou-kun. And I won’t be surprised if he does one day. But, all I can see in him at that moment was signifying and posturing. The illusion he’d used me to conjure Satou had broken…effortlessly.
I looked at the ball in my hand…my stress ball. Then, I glanced at Satou-kun, seated in the back of the room.
Our eyes met for a moment…and in that moment we relived a year of memories. Not only were there memories of he and Matsui ambushing me in the hallways and staircases, assaulting my family jewels, but many others that I’d overlooked, espcially in my writing, in favor of focusing on those. Like the way he used to look at me when Matsui would run and jump in my arms, his tiny self, and make me feel all paternal and warm and fuzzy. And I’d look up, all warmed over, and there would be Satou, watching me, like all the kids here do. They watch me with undiluted brains, and uncompromised minds, and he could see the real affection I felt for his wayward partner in chaos. And, that told him as much about me as anything else.
And that look was in his eyes at that moment.
Then that moment passed, too.
Before I knew it the bell rang and Takahashi and I exited the room together. The three teachers that had been posted there had gone already. On the way back to the office, Takahashi turned to me and said, “thank you!”
“Huh?” I said. “For what?”
“For…eeeto ne…” she didn’t know how to put what she wanted to say. And I didn’t have a clue what it was. If anything I thought she was going to tsk-tsk me for letting a student provoke me to assault. “Just, thank you.”
She stopped and bowed kind of formally, dipping her head a couple of times. She’d never done this before…not to this level of formality.
When we got back to the office, the area where the 2nd year teachers sit was a-buzz. They were almost in a tizzy over something. When I arrived at my desk I realized that most of their eyes had wandered over to me. I hate that. the head 2nd year teacher, Okubo sensei, waved me over. She had been one fo the faces plastered to the door’s window when the altercation with Ishii had broken out.
“Thank you, so much!!” she said, when I arrived. Everyone in the area nodded their approval.
“For what?” I said, smiling embarassed at the profusive thanks, realizing this had to have to do with Ishii-kun. I was relieved that I hadn’t fucked up royally as I had suspected.
“For taking on Ishii-kun!” Okubo said, in Japanese, like ‘isn’t it obvious???’
“I did nothing,” I said, feeling the humility I’ve contracted living here. “Nothing anyone of you would have done…”
“Oh no!” said Abe-sensei, his bald hair and rimmed glasses making him the very personification of milquetoast. “We would never do that!”
Everyone nodded agreement with that statement…as if that were necessary. I’d watched students verbally assault teachers, telling them the Japanese equivalent of “Fuck You,” on a regular basis over the course of four years. Even escalating to physically assault a number of times. I knew damn well none of them would ever do anything…
But, I must keep my temper in check.
Back at my desk I tried to think of why I would react to a student that way.
Some of the answers that came to me were disturbing.
to be continued…
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