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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

A Kick to the Psyche
By Colin Curtis

   Colin Curtis, from Blackville, New Brunswick, although currently living in Tokyo, Japan has been dabbling in writing for quite some time now. This is Colin's second short story recently us with yet another glance at an ancient culture and how it can affect the way one looks at the world.
   At no time were any lobsters in danger during the writing of this story!

   Summer in Japan is so consistently hot, it could make one fully aware of how a lobster must feel being slowly cooked alive. In fact, I could never eat one again, guilt-free! This is how it feels at this intersection, as I wait for the walk-light to change, boiling in a soup of humidity, which inhaled, feels like you sucked in the breath of a dragon. Finally, the light changes and an impossibly cute song, which could easily back up the Tellutubbies on a romp in the English countryside, is heard from a speaker. Perhaps, we could play this song for the lobsters, as we cook them, to lighten their gradual demise.
   Enough! Save the lobsters!
   Despite the heat, it is an exquisite day in Kichijoji, with a clear blue sky, though with a slightly orange haze on the horizon, and a gentle breeze. Patrons of a nearby coffee shop sit and enjoy cold beverages outside. My destination, however, is a well air-conditioned, indoor establishment on Sun Road, a shopping arcade a few minutes away. Colorful, scantily dressed young people fill the streets as far as the eye can see. The song 'Avalon' begins in my head, which is an old song that would be warmly accompanied by the static of an LP record. This song often comes to mind on beautiful days.
   I turn a corner, and walk toward the bustling station area. Some people are on their lunch breaks from work, and many are in long lines for busses at any point around the square, with the various red and white coaches either arriving or departing. Other people appear to be out shopping for the day. The security guards are always visible, in their blue uniforms, with their clip boards clutched to their chests. Likewise, the police are across the square standing by their local outpost, known in Japan as a 'Koban'. They watch over the scene, with their white bicycles ready to roll.
   Then, of course, there are scattered solicitors standing within the crowd, giving away hand-fans, bearing colorful advertisements. It is a brilliant advertising scheme, which in the winter changes to handing out packets of facial tissue. Who doesn't need to dab their nose with tissue, occasionally, in the winter, and who doesn't need to fan themselves in the summer? The latter applies to me much more, and I have happily taken many fans, totaling to quite a collection.
   If I could only provide each and every lobster with one, to fan themselves in the pot! Or, simply use the fans to advertise their cause!
   'Let it go! You are a New Brunswicker! Lobsters are tasty! Don't fight with such deeply programmed thoughts!' my id probably thinks, as he wipes immaterial sweat from his immaterial brow. He will come around, in this heat.
   Even here in Tokyo, I notice a few regulars around my community, and I suppose to them, I am also a regular. One group I often see in passing is a trio of American guys, dressed in the common attire of inner city youth in America, who operate a hip-hop clothing store near the end of Sun Road.
   The LP record in my head scratches rhythmically, and suddenly, 'Avalon' is joined by a slow, thumping beat from a drum machine, and a funky groove on bass - a fitting score.
   They appear to be the real deal, and I often wonder if they feel any frustration toward the young Japanese who have taken hip-hop culture as their own, when they could not possibly relate to even the basic ideals of it. Listening to the music is one thing, but becoming 'Snoop Dog' is quite another. They talk the talk, when they cannot speak regular English, and try hard to walk the walk, when they could not possibly understand the attitude behind the walk. They have the image, complete with LA gang colors, without the environment or elements that truly fuel the overall realm. Even in most places in Canada, this image is a stretch from reality. I suppose, however, if these gentlemen cared or had such thoughts, they would never run their shop here.
   As I near the entrance to the Sun Road Shopping Arcade, I feel a twinge of hunger come upon me, and think for a moment that perhaps I should go to Subway, MacDonald's, or even Nathan's Hotdogs, all a short walk from here.
   Then, not more than five feet in front of me, as I walk at the speed of turtles, shoulder to shoulder in the crowd, a small, young, wiry man spins around. Raising his foot as he turns, his leg cuts through the air, before he strategically places a kick to the face of the beautiful girl directly in front of me!
   PACK!!! The sound is wrenching!
   The record player scratches to a halt!
   Voices stop, yet the people continue on their way.
   She staggers back into me and I catch her before she falls.
   I turn her around and look at her, instinctively brushing back her hair to see if she is OK. The words come to me slowly, however, forgetting where I am for the moment.
   "Ahhh...Daijobu desu ka?!" This means 'are you OK?' She says nothing, but holds her head down, while in a sob.
   Then I turn to the primitive thing that did the violent act. He is primitive, not because of race or by any other association, but for his own personal lack of judgement and self control! I approach him with my own brand of rage, the kind that reminds you that you are an animal, and I face him, my gaze piercing his shallow soul! It is a communication all animals know and fear - the eyes of a predator!
   Time slows...There is only he and I...
   He turns as white as I do red. He is terrified! I can sense it! Sweat runs down my face. My fist is clenched, without me remembering clenching it, with knuckles whitened! His nervous body steps back a little, and I brace myself for any action that could come forth.
   In the next long moment, many thoughts come to me.
   My peripheral vision still picks up the three hip-hop gentlemen, not more than a few steps away. I feel their eyes watching the situation, one even waving his hands motioning me to 'stop'. I swear I can hear his voice in my head!
   "Don't do it, man."
   I also hear the voices of various foreign friends.
   "It is you, who would be arrested," they say.
   The nervous young man glances over my shoulder to the girl, on the other side of the wall which I have become, and then steps away before turning and continuing through the crowd. He does not look back. I turn to the girl, who has remained with her head held down. She slowly begins walking again, bowing sheepishly as she passes me by. She scurries, in fact almost runs, to catch up to her abuser and then follows behind him.
   I watch them for a long moment, puzzled, as they morph into the collective herd of pedestrians, until I eventually loose sight of them. Witnesses to the act have long since gone by, and things have returned to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. I turn to where I remember seeing the security guards, and find them in the same place. There is no possible way they could have missed what had happened. They have already continued with the all important business of keeping the solicitors standing in the right spot. They do not even bother to make notes on their clipboards about the violent event that just happened.
   The police, across the square, are none the wiser.
   The hip-hop guys look relieved that I did not get too involved and that nothing else had transpired. I am equally relieved, actually. I nod to them, appreciating their concern. A few similar situations in the past have famously ended with the foreigner getting arrested.
   Finally, I move on as well, although with a completely different mindset than before. My mood has switched dramatically. 'Avalon' has become the slow, mellow version, played by Sam on the piano, in the movie 'Casablanca'.
   I break through the crowd to get to the entrance of my usual coffee shop, and go inside. The young man behind the counter has served me many times before, and has become a bit accustomed to me. He smiles as I approach.
   "Konichiwa!" he says, meaning 'Good afternoon'.
   Then, after he gets a longer look at me...
   "Atsui desu ka?" he says, which means 'are you hot?' not the usual kind of question he would ask.
   "Hai...Atsui desu," which translates to 'Yes, I'm hot'. I look down at the menu. "Iced-coffee," I say.
   In addition to putting my drink on a tray, he also gives me a wet tissue packet, which is usually only given when food is ordered. In Japan, at a cafe or restaurant, they will always give you a wet hand-towel, or wet tissue to clean yourself up a bit before eating. These things are a blessing in the heat, as a way to help you cool down as well.
   I find myself a table close to the window, and sit, taking a deep breath, with thoughts clumped up and stumbling through my head. It is sometimes impossible to accept some aspects of society here. I have, intentionally, suppressed some thoughts or opinions I have had, in an effort to not constantly trouble my wife with criticisms of her country. We do, however, agree on most issues concerning society, and I know she agrees with me on this one.
   Once, I saw a man brutalize his wife all the way through the station, until they finally got on the train, out of sight. There was little or no reaction from most people there, and absolutely nothing was done about it. Although you do not see these events on a regular basis, the few times that you do are a stark reminder of just some of our differences. From the nonchalant attitude of the station attendants, to the blankness of the other customers, this can be quite a culture shock. Most of the time, Japan really is quiet and peaceful, but I always wonder what is boiling beneath the surface.
   Perhaps, as a result of suppressing this anger I feel, my id will formulate some abstract dream for tonight, through which my frustrations can be released - a hoard of lobsters, escaping from the pot, coming to the girl's rescue, wielding hand-fans as weapons, some forming a jazz ensemble playing an obscure version of 'Avalon', with interludes of rap by 'Snoop Dog' himself! 'Knock it off...Wise-guy!' my id likely says.
   In any case, I will indeed hold my wife closer tonight.
   I have read that the United Nations has been frustrated for years concerning the treatment of women, in many aspects of society in Japan, from the degrading roles they play in the workplace, to the sexist behavior they are met with in daily life, to the issue of domestic violence. What is most frustrating is the slow speed at which Japan undergoes change, in general.
   I once asked a Japanese male friend of mine about the issue, and although he does not like the way women are treated, himself, he was quick to remind me of a few details in regard to the problem.
   "You can't reprogram the psyche of an entire nation quickly," he said. "It must be done slowly to have a strong hold. It is not pop music, fashion, or food. And, this is not Canada, with only three or four hundred years of history. Japan's history is three thousand years old. That's a lot of mental conditioning. Women here do want change, yet ask them if a woman can do a man's job, and they will almost always say 'no'. Many women, themselves, need to reprogram their thinking, and this slows the process. It's hard for the ones who do understand the depth of change needed. First, they need to rally those of their own sex. It will surely be a very long process."
   It is frustrating that, when so many aspects of western culture can catch on so easily - like hip-hop or popular movies - the greater, deeper necessities are so slow to come. If we could only market the more important aspects of western society. This reprogramming was not a fast process in the west, however. In fact, many would argue that we still have a long way to go. But, we must also remember that things like women's equality, freedom of speech, or human rights in general are not shared by many parts of the world. The countries that celebrate such things make up a small fraction of the overall global population.
   Growing up in Canada, we are constantly told not to take our freedom or rights for granted, and to remember the hard work of previous generations in developing these important luxuries. I can honestly say, however, that I never really understood how precious these things were, until I was old enough and lucky enough to travel.
   I finish up my drink and leave the coffee shop, continuing on down Sun Road. An urge grows within me to see my wife, and I begin the long, hot walk home.
   'Be patient', my id probably says, 'mental programming is no lobster picnic.'

Editor's note:
   Well as I said in my last review of Colin's work "he has a nature twist for placing his readers in another place without ever having to leave their seats" however, this is one of those stories that also bring you a strong appreciation for our more "civilized" western attitudes, mind you I think I might of knock the bloke on his arse if I had the misfortune to witness such a display! We hope to read more from Colin and his adventures afar.


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