24 September 2017 ~ 0 Comments

Mi Kasa, Su Kasa (Aoi-san’s Last Stand)

As I laced up my boots preparing to leave my house, I realized that the noise that had awakened me an hour earlier than my alarm (and the sound I’d been trying to ignore all morning) was the tap-dancing of torrential rain on galvanized metal, like the kind on my neighbor’s porch roof.  I turned to my right, in the vestibule, and there on the wall hang 11 傘 (かさ Kasa ) umbrellas.

Hmmmm…

I lived in a 2-story guesthouse, better known as a Gaijin House (though I really hate that name). There were 4 other rooms besides mine and currently 3 of them were occupied: A French girl, an Italian guy and another American. That meant, assuming everyone had one umbrella, at least 8 of the umbrellas hanging before me were excess.

Juon

I didn’t lay claim to any of them. I have a Tote umbrella, but it was still upstairs in my room and I wasn’t about to remove my boots and go get it. I thought about running up the stairs with my boots on. The landlord would never know and my fellow foreigners could care less. In fact, I know I’ve heard them do it on occasion. Either that or they have heavy leather-soled slippers.

But, I never do, the same way I never spit when I’m near a church, temple, shrine, mosque or any other religious building. I’m not a religious person, at all, just a little on the superstitious side. The way I see it, there’s no sense in provoking the next man’s god with a flagrant sacrilegious act.

This gaijin house was by no means holy ground but I felt I ought to respect the customs and sanctity of the house nonetheless. Why risk offense and incur the wrath of some Japanese Kami? That’s all I needed was some crazy Juon haunting my already fairly sleepless nights. And so I treated my home like holy ground.

And, besides that, I hadn’t allotted for the extra time. I had a bus set to arrive 3 minutes from then and I lived roughly 3 minutes from the bus stop.

So, which umbrella shall I take? I thought.

Hmmmm….

Prince

Four of them looked decidedly feminine. One was yellow with white flowers and another was a shade of purple even Prince would have thought was a tad too sexy. That left four possible owner-free umbrellas. Four of the remaining 7 umbrellas were of the clear plastic combini (convenience store) 100 to 500 yen ($1 to $5) variety, and the three others were also cheap but colored.

I hate to go out with the clear ones though. While the rain is no problem for the cheap umbrellas, a good cough or sneeze could turn them inside out. Also, I’ve mentioned before why I love rainy days in Japanthe anonymity that the rain offers, but that anonymity is mitigated if you use a clear umbrella for if Japanese people can see you they’ll start their Iwakan dance for sure. So, to fully enjoy the peace of mind that the rain offers I wrote off the four clear umbrellas, as well.

I grabbed one of the three remaining ones, the cheapest looking of the three, and I was out the door, half sprinting while I opened the umbrella…only to find it was broken. The metal had rusted and broken two of the hinges. One side of the umbrella looked fully functional, the other looked droopy and sickly, like it had had a severe stroke. I ran back to the door, tossed the palsied umbrella inside and, with no time to be choosy, grabbed one of the clear plastic ones. Then, I made like Bolt to the bus stop arriving  just in time…well, according to my watch I was just in time, but the bus was nowhere to be seen and the line was long. So, I stood in the rain with 10 or so other people and waited.

Around then the rain let up a bit, the downpour became drizzle, and calamity became inconvenience. Heads peeked from beneath umbrellas at the road beyond me in the direction the bus was to come from. I held the umbrella lower in order to obscure my features. With raindrops on the plastic, my image was diffused so they did not peg me as a foreigner and so everything remained status quo. I was just another soon-to be late commuter.

Then the rain stopped altogether.

Great

I wanted to keep my umbrella up, but everyone else had put theirs down, so, I put mine down, too. Upon seeing who they were on line with the other commuters began doing the Iwakan two-step. I whipped out my smartphone and played 8-ball pool, a most entertaining distraction. Finally the bus came. It was only a couple of minutes late. Crowded, except for the area around me, thank god.

By the time the bus arrived at the train station, the clouds had parted a bit and the sun had peeked through. I stopped at the 7-11 for a quick caffeine and nicotine fix. These I had allotted time for like any proper addict does. There was an ashtray and an umbrella stand out front. I placed that plastic umbrella in the stand, and satisfied my morning cravings. Sun glinted off my phone as read a text message I’d received from one of my private students canceling that evening’s lesson…due to the weather. Like it was a damn typhoon. A little friggin rain it was, is all. I needed the money so I got a little vexed. This student canceled at least once a month. I was fuming, thinking of how I could tell her politely that her constant cancellations were unacceptable when I realized that I had 2 minutes for my train.

Shit! I took off at a sprint and didn’t realize until I’d boarded the train that I’d forgotten my umbrella at the 7-11.

By the time I’d gotten to my school’s station, as fate would have it, the rain had returned with a vengeance. I dodged the raindrops as best I could, using every overhang between the station and the nearest combini. In front of the AM-PM (combini franchise) there was an umbrella stand. In the stand there were 6 umbrellas. I scanned the store’s interior. There were two staff people but no customers.

Hmmmm.

5 of the umbrellas were the clear plastic variety, and one was blue. It was tragically rusted, and the rust had spread to the cloth and had turned it a reddish-brown around all the areas that touched the umbrella’s rib assembly. It was clearly on life support, and I figured it had one last hurrah in it before the rust metastasized to the stretcher, top springs and other vital organs. It had seen one squall too many.

I had a 6-block walk to my school. 6 long-ass blocks. I placed my hand on a clear plastic one, and was about to, er, borrow it. It looked sturdy enough for the weather but, the blue one! It was like it was calling me, imploring me:

Come on, give an old-timer a shot! Don’t let me go out like this, in a damn combini stand, like one of these plastic punks! I want to scream at the clouds, and go blow-for-blow with the rain…just one more time. I promise I’ll get you where you’re going, high and dry…

I looked back at the clear plastic umbrella. I could see right through him. His position was clear: utter indifference.

Suit yourself, it seemed to say. It’s your call.

Fine. I grabbed Aoi (blue)-san and headed for my school. I pressed the release button but the mechanism didn’t respond. The spring had long since succumbed to rust, so I slid the rider up manually. One of the ribs snapped as I did so, like brittle bone, and the old-timer let out an aching cry. But the other ribs held fast. The rain was falling like pelts of gravel, but Aoi-san was as good as his word!

That is, until I got to the block of my school.

A gust shot down the corridor of the street and sucked the life out of the old-timer right before my eyes. He flipped over and gave up the ghost, instantly, in a blaze of rust and blue.

I ran the final block in the rain carrying the tattered, unhinged corpse of an umbrella in my hand. When I reached the school and as I stood in the vestibule catching my breath, dripping, drenched to the bone, I could almost hear Aoi-san whispering, spatting out his last breath, “Thank you. Thank you, young fella. You made an old…

“Don’t sweat it,” I said as I tossed him in the trash bin with my eyes on the staff umbrella rack to my right.

There were about 25 staff people in the building and…

Hmmmm….

(-;

PS: Mi casa es Su casa means my home is your home in Spanish

For more stories from Japan like these check out my books!

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