The wind pushed Kana so hard that she could barely walk. It took all the strength her thin boney arms had to keep her umbrella above her head. On windy days like today it felt more like she was living on top of a Japanese Alp rather than in a valley between them.
Her umbrella slipped out of her hand for the third time and she jumped back to grab it. Over top of the umbrella she saw a giant shape trudging up the sidewalk with huge slow steps. She froze. She knew that he was a foreigner. Definitely a foreigner. And not the one that taught at her elementary school. This must be the new high school English teacher. There was no other reason for a foreigner to be in a town this small. Foreigners teach English. That’s why they come here.
Kana tried to walk quickly, but the wind kept her movements slow. She could feel her very bones vibrate like wind chimes after each blast.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see the giant approaching. He was completely soaked and his wet shaggy beard made her think that he looked like her schnauzer after a bath. Kana wondered why he didn’t have an umbrella, but he was a foreigner and it was expected that foreigners be a bit weird. It’s not like her umbrella was helping her anyway, since the wind made the rain come as much from the front as from above.
His huge legs brought him beside her and he slowed his plodding steps. She could feel him eyeing her. Blue eyes looking at you feel different. Not always bad, but just so strange. This gaze of his felt calculating. He was going to say something. Kana knew he would say something. Foreigners like to hear their English and he wasn’t going to get the sound of it from anywhere but his own mouth.
He did speak and his voice sounded like arrhythmic gravel falling from a shovel onto cement.
Kana could tell that he had asked her a question. He did that rising intonation thing that her Japanese teacher of English had explained to her. She had aced the test where she had listened to a CD of English sentences and had to mark down which ones were questions and which weren’t. But that didn’t help her much here. The question could be for anything. She would have to fall back to her primary defences. “No. No English,” she squeaked out at him. It was a magical phrase that almost always made foreigners go away.
He quickened his pace for a moment, just enough to walk in front of her, then slowed back down to match her speed. As soon as he was in front of her she felt that strange calm that comes with getting out of the wind. It was much easier to walk now.
He was only just ahead of her, and she could smell him. He smelt like freshly microwaved frozen pizza. Maybe what her friend had told her about foreigners eating pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner was true after all. Still, it was a pleasant and familiar smell. Everyone likes pizza.
Kana had heard a little about this new English teacher before. The grocery clerk had told her mother that even though he was an adult, he still bought lots of milk to drink. He bought four of the one litre cartons every week when he went to the store. There must be very little room in his fridge for anything else.
She stiffened and nearly stepped into a gigantic puddle. He was doing something kind for her, and all she could think of were the rumours about him. She needed to be able to show her appreciation somehow.
With her free hand she reached into her backpack and it made a rustling sound as her hand fell against an old McDonald’s cheeseburger wrapper. There was also an empty bento and a math textbook in there. Nothing else. Nothing small she could give him to show her appreciation.
Her face blushed as she became worried about appearing impolite to the foreigner. Would he think that all Japanese children are so ungrateful? That shame would be too great. She would have to do something.
She closed her useless umbrella and threw it in her backpack. Then, Kana took out the cheeseburger wrapper and began folding it.
She finished just as they arrived at her house. She poked the foreigner to let him know that she would be leaving his company. He turned back to look at her and she offered him the paper crane that she had folded from the wrapper. As he took it from her, she stammered out a “thank-you”, turned bright red and ran into her home.
The wind was strong and the rain was heavy, but the foreigner held up one of his massive hands to protect the small gift safely tucked onto the palm of the other. She had recycled his culture, refined it with her own and then given it to him.
It was just so Japanese.
Warren Klassen used to write stories for teachers and professors. Now he writes stories for fun.