Friday, May 21, 2010
I will be humming this day out of my head for years, and it's not even noon.
I awoke on time, made fried rice with kimchi, and packed a nice lunch for myself, complete with fresh chocolate chip cookies. I ironed my pants, wore a little makeup, and left nothing behind. I walked leisurely to my bus stop. My only concern was that I had no paper money with me, and would have to find a vending machine to change one of my 500 yen coins in order to have the afternoon bus fare. Vending machines are everywhere in this country. My concern was mild.
I relaxed on the long bus ride to Betsuin Junior High. After transferring from a city bus to a furusato bus (which I translate as "boonies bus") it's a good forty minutes into the hills of western Kameoka. The bus comes infrequently and takes even longer to return to civilization than to leave it. Still, I was alert, nicely dressed, and en route to my favorite junior high. When I walked into the staff room I greeted the teachers with enthusiasm and vim. They didn't seem quite so wowed at my presence, but there were only three of them there at the time and one I had never seen before.
I sat down and began to unpack my things. The new teacher, a young lady likely only a couple of years my senior, came and introduced herself. She was the substitute English teacher; the regular teacher was out sick for the month. I indicated my understanding and made a mental note to pray for Mr. Yamashita. Then new teacher shattered my morning.
"I think you come to this school next week," said she.
Twice in a row? Lucky me, but I wasn't sure this was the case. I looked at my schedule and realized what she meant with a sinking heart.
"So we were shocked when you walked in," the teacher continued.
No matter how hard I wished for it, the ground beneath me did not rise up and swallow me whole. I was at the wrong school. How had I missed it? Sure, all I had done was switch two Fridays in my brain, likely because Betsuin's plan had already come and I had only received Takada's the night before. But had I not gotten that email alert from Google calendars, telling me that I was to visit Takada Jr. High on Friday, May 21, 2010? Did my iPod not tell me that it was Takada this week? Did I not look at my school schedule the night before? Had I been so set on going to Betsuin that I completely ignored all signs pointing to the contrary? Answer: yes.
"You don't have a car?" the vice-principal asked.
I nodded. "That's right, it does not exist."
"What's the bus schedule?"
I pulled mine out. "Next's bus eleven hour twelve minutes is," I replied.
"I don't even know," the secretary chimed in. "Will she be able to get back in time?"
The vice-principal of Betsuin asked when I started classes at Takada. I pulled the lesson plan out of my bag. The first class was the first period with the special needs students. Crap. I didn't even get to Betsuin until five minutes after first period started. To prevent complete panic I answered from the next class. "Fifth period, sixth period," I replied.
"Okay," the vice-principal replied. "I'll give Takada a call and let them know that you're here, but you'll be coming."
Sometimes I wish I couldn't understand any Japanese, like when I have to listen to one side of an our-little-ALT-is-stupid-today conversation. The principal of Takada must have responded that my first class would begin at 9:45, because Betsuin's vice-principal gasped and exclaimed "Nijikamen?" (Second period?). The new teacher had class third period and the vice-principal had to (wo)man the school. The secretary would have to drive me over there, as though she had nothing better to do with her time.
Lord Jesus, if you wish to take me now it's fine by me, I thought. I repacked my bags and left with the secretary. "See you next week!" the vice-principal called after me. Yeah.
My boss sent me a text message. It said in English "call me" with a little image of a phone beside it. Her number was underneath. I called her on the way to Takada, and pulled out the mother of all apologies: moshi iwake arimasen. Literally it means "I have no excuses," and when I see it on TV it's usually accompanied by a long, low bow, or even by getting on one's knees and pressing one's forehead to the ground in shame. My boss laughed and was very sweet about it, fitting with her love for Hello Kitty paraphernalia and lace trim. She could hate me and I'd never know. Still, when one cannot fully explain why one would board a bus going in the opposite direction of the day's scheduled school, one cannot help but to appear very, very stupid.
When I finally reached the school I met Takada's vice-principal in the hall. Since there were a class of students passing by I didn't apologize as heavily as I had to my boss, but I injected as much heartfelt abashment into the one I gave. Then I walked into the staff room with my head hung low. You know that nightmare people have, when everyone's laughing at them and pointing and talking about them? Well, it was like that, but real. Oh, hah hah, you made it! You were at Betsuin?! That's so far! How do you even get there? The secretary brought you here? Chortle and guffaw!
One of the English teachers told me that another one of the teachers (whose name I didn't even recognize) was really worried, because I'm usually at the school before the 8:15 morning meeting. Which was the teacher who had been so concerned? Who knows; probably one of the ones laughing at me.
It was all good-natured teasing, and well-deserved at that. Plus it broke own some barriers, I guess, because some teachers who had never spoken to me congratulated me on getting to Takada in one piece.