From the lost pages of The Secret Life of Sensei Shi (a novel in progress). While The Pirate may have been cut from my novel in the interest of preserving a central story, there is no way he could ever be cut from my story.
(Note: This story takes place in Japan. The protagonist is a 27-year-old American woman.)
Instead of taking a new boyfriend to fill my last weeks in Japan, I make fast, hard friends with the boy that works at my local combini.
Son of our college chancellor, bright beyond compare, golden soccer star, most popular boy, favored student all until the ripe age of 15, when he dove into a pool and broke his neck. He was sent home to recover for three months. No more soccer. No more classes. Friends that dwindled.
When three months ended, he found that he could not bring himself to leave his house. He took another three months of rest, laying on the bed in his room. Then another. Then another. He had joined the legions of young Japanese boys, so traumatized by mysterious societal pressures that they lock themselves in their rooms and refuse interaction with anyone. Hikiomori.
My new friend spent two years shut-in. All his shining future faded away. His father, remarkably wise, finally sent him out of the country, to gorgeous islands where he re-awoke to life, learned to surf, gained a happy, powerful personality that pretty much ensured he’d never be able to fit back in to accepted Japanese Salary Man life as long as he lives.
When he returned to Japan, tan, smiling, vibrating with energy, the only work he could get was at the local combini close to the very university his father still runs. Just blocks away from the classrooms he lorded over in his youth, where I now stand and scratch on the blackboards as a teacher. Years later, at 23-years-old, he still works there, checking out purchases of yogurt and beer, stocking shelves, bowing.
His English is excellent. That’s how it all began with us. I stop by the combini daily for milk or snacks or chu-hi. He always ran over to say hello to me, to deftly palm daughter some candy. The first time I caught him doing this, my jaw dropped open.
“Why, you’re a pirate!” I said.
His face flushed with pleasure and pride.
“Yes!” he said.
It was weeks later, when I stumbled into the combini terribly sad and lonely, and barely replied when he flashed his joyful hello at me. I made my purchase of orange juice, bread and onigiri and headed back out into the street. I cut through the side alley with the hoards of commuting students, my head down, pushing past shoulders and backpacks. Above the din of Japanese chatter. I heard a single voice call out.
When I looked back, there he was standing, arms open, people turning to stare. I walked slowly up to him. Still three paces away, he broke into a 100 watt smile and pulled me close with his arms. I could barely breathe he was holding me so tightly.
“Come to my house tonight.” I said. “Do you know which is mine?”
“Everyone knows where bijin sensei lives!” He said and jumped away, his arms raised like a champion.
A month has passed since that first night he came to my house, to sit on my floor and tell me stories about the histories of our school, and his gossip about the men I work with. Now we are inseparable. He spends most of his evenings at my place, the two of us crammed crisscross in my balcony hammock, limbs tangled, watching the bullet train roll by, starring endlessly at the far-off lights of Osaka. We trade life stories and lullabies. He is young enough that once he was SweetTough’s student. He says that he was his favorite teacher.
“He’s my favorite too,” I say and he kicks me in my side.
One night, I climb on to the back of his tiny motorbike and cling to his slight body and he drives me up into the mountain.
He leans the bike far into the turns. I stiffen and yell.
“I’m a mom! I’m a mom! I can’t die.”
“Stop fighting!” He says, and I learn to let the pull take me, to shift my hips in the curves and tuck my head down behind his.
He stops at a field of grass, so tall that I can only see over the tips if I jump. He leads me into this jungle. The stems scratch my bare legs.
“Why are we here?”
He looks up at the fading sky. “Just wait”
We reach a small clearing where a brook breaks into the grass, twisting and gurgling. The sun dips below the horizon and The Pirate squeezes my hand.
Suddenly, from all sides, tiny meandering points of light emerge from the grass, fill the tiny clearing.
I gasp. “Fireflies!”
“You said you’ve never seen them before,” he says.
I laugh. “I half-thought they were just made up for stories. Like unicorns or minotaurs.”
He gives me a crooked smile. “Or Pirates.”