I will be posting the first Arisugawa Park podcast in a couple days. It ran on about 48 minutes and is me reading and rambling out loud, as I do a final edit of the section before posting. I'll post it at just the moment when readers are wanting a little new material, chomping at the bit for AP 1.13 - Unlucky Horse.
Kaori followed the cartoon posters of a boy and his dog promoting GEON through the automatic glass doors, up wide stairs to the second floor. Knocking, she peered through a semi-transparent wall at the small lobby. Yuki Sato came bustling out of the back room. A petite woman in her early twenties, there were hints of stylishness behind her mandated manager’s outfit––discreet blouse and dark blazer juxtaposed with a charcoal skirt that stopped just above the knees.
The manager’s expression as she greeted Kaori jogged something––a shared moment of complicity the last time they had met. At the time, she had taken it as sympathy for putting up with an obvious asshole like Yamahito. Now she was not so sure––the same look, with no asshole in sight.
Holding out a Manila envelope, Kaori let a warmer-than-intended smile slip. “Here’s the key to Jonathan’s apartment and an initial write up…. I know I promised it to you before lunch. Sumimasen.”
Yuki accepted the envelope and gazed at her, distracted, not seeming to realize that an apology was being offered. “Ah… I am just starting lunch break. I’ve been on an extended telephone call with main office. There are a lot of things to work out… our one o’clock cancelled and we don’t have any classes until 3pm.”
Giving her best try at an empathetic smile, Kaori was surprised to find it closely aligned with how she actually felt. Who said that police interviews were impersonal? It was in the forming of connections that one moved toward truer words, revelation. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit down for a few minutes, hear your impressions of Steve Loewe… anything at all that you can remember.”
Yuki nodded with a look of barely contained something. “I’ll make some tea.”
Five minutes later they settled into one of two small classrooms with cups of tea. The room was fairly standard eikaiwa issue––a whiteboard, books on the far wall by the window, a large table in the center, chairs placed evenly around it. Alphabet posters and cartoons lined the walls, illustrating common English mishaps. “It’s a fine day today” the blond surfer said, Sydney Opera House in the background, while a Japanese tourist, bowled over, repeated “A fine day to die?” Glancing back at Yuki, it occurred to Kaori that the GEON manager wanted this conversation as much as she did.
“How long have you been working at GEON?”
“Three months. I graduated from college last year.”
“And Steve Loewe was here for––”
“Just over a month. He came directly from California. He was taking a break from graduate studies to teach here, I think.”
“Since his disappearance, how have you been managing with lessons?”
“We’ve had an area substitute teacher come out for the past couple days and Monday we will welcome a Mr. Bloom from Australia. Even if Steve did come back––he couldn’t really teach here again. He has let us all down.”
“What kind of person was Mr. Loewe? I know it’s hard for us to judge––” Kaori caught herself from saying foreigners, “new teachers, but––”
“He had a good way with kids, they liked learning with him. There weren’t any real complaints, you know, but when we have a new teacher we get all kinds of comments––it’s to be expected. Some of the students found his manner a little too….”
Foreign, forward, rough, careless, human. Kaori filled in the blanks.“Did he have any friends?”
“Yes, here at GEON we make every effort to ensure that new teachers feel at home. We held a welcome party for him and some of his students would join him at the izakaya from time to time––to drink and practice English. We encourage that at GEON, a forming of friendships between teachers and students well beyond the classroom walls. I feel like he had many friends.” Yuki gave her a slightly guilty look, as if worried that Kaori might consider lack of friends a critical aspect in his disappearance.
“What about––did he have a girlfriend, here or back home?”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Yuki, a little flustered. “I mean, he was good looking and you can imagine how some students get attracted to the idea of a foreign teacher. But I don’t really… I don’t think so.”
“Can you think of any reason why he might have left, any problems or personal issues he mentioned?”
“My English is so poor, we never went much beyond simple greetings. I did think he was enjoying life in Japan. He seemed interested in our culture. But... maybe he felt alone. I would, if I came from another country. My superiors at main office seem to think he simply went off traveling––as I mentioned, Steve sent an email to his parents to that effect.”
There was something that had been bothering Kaori. “Surely quitting a job in a foreign location is a major decision…?”
Yuki shook her head. “Running out on the job is more common than you might imagine. A significant number of foreign teachers don’t complete their first year’s contract at GEON. There are a lot of expectations, compared with what they are used to.” She shrugged, “Komokai desu. And then there is the social aspect––if you don’t have the right attitude, Japan can be a cold place.”
Kaori was unconvinced and Yuki, to her credit, recognized it. “In our connected world, teaching jobs are.… not difficult to come by. We arranged a three-year visa for Steve. He can take a break, have a vacation somewhere, come back and find a new position within a matter of days. There are a limited number of long term visas allotted to foreign teachers….” Yuki paused, voice faltering, as if trying to convince herself as much as Kaori. “Anyway, the type of people who take teaching jobs with a shelf life of three years, no chance of promotion, are not the most stable.”
That is what Corporate drummed in this morning, Kaori thought, taking a long sip of tea. Bitter at first, the sencha held a distinctly sweet afternote. She tried to feel out the right approach––there was more she could ask, more that Yuki could tell her, but she wasn’t sure how to tease it out. An official approach would not only be jarring, it might lead to word getting to GEON main office about their talk, and eventually to Yamahito––who had a made it clear that investigations undertaken on her own initiative, without consultation, constituted overreach and a serious waste of police resources. Cause for demerit, even. Setting down delicately glazed cup, Kaori savored the texture of earthy leaves, that last ultra-bitter sip. It was probably from the manager’s personal stash, an omiyagi or gift from rural family members.“This tea is really distinct, where is it from?”
“My parents’ hometown, in Aomori.” No further explanation came, despite Kaori’s carefully extended look of interest.
“Personally speaking, what do you think happened?”
Yuki’s eyes searched Kaori’s for a moment. She looked away, blinking back something. “I don’t know. I only hope Steve is safe. He was so new here, maybe he got into some trouble without knowing it….”
Kaori nodded, encouraging Yuki to continue. No... something in her expression had shifted, she had gone as far as she was willing. “Thanks so much for your time,” said Kaori, a bit impatient despite herself. “Please call me if there is anything else at all you happen to remember.” She stood up and bowed crisply––she would give Yuki space, but they were not finished. Halfway out the door a thought occurred, “Would you happen to have any of Mr. Loewe’s personal materials, lesson plans and the like, that I can borrow?”
Yuki considered for a moment then nodded. She darted into the classroom and came back with a notebook and a stack of loose papers. Kaori glanced at them: attendance forms, handouts of news articles, conversational scenarios. Steve’s handwriting seemed a little messy, matching the image she had formed of him at his apartment. She tidied the papers and brought them to her chest as she and Yuki exchanged parting bows.
Walking out the automatic doors, Kaori thought back to that flare of emotion Yuki had displayed at her last question. There was that feeling, for the second time today––the same as she’d experienced leaving Steve Loewe’s apartment––that she was scratching the surface of something much deeper.
As she waited at the crosswalk facing the shopping district, train gates clanging with clockwork urgency, a tentative hand brushed her forearm. “Sumimasen. Were you thinking of getting lunch? I know a good place around here.”
Picture 2: I didn't get a digital camera until 2005 and all my old Tokyo pics are in deep freeze storage in San Jo. Therefore, a Chiba-esque Tokyo scene.
SEO Alert - EnduranceWriter aka Damon Shulenberger.