He announces that I’ll be joining the class. He arranges a chair towards the table. She immediately comes and kneels on the ground right next to my chair. I ask her about the special markers we are using today. They seem complicated for a not-artist like me so I pull out four colored pens from my 筆箱 (ふでばこ, fudebako, pencil case) and give one to Hina. I ask her what the theme is. The teacher says summer. Damn it. That’s what it was last time I was here.
After a minute of deliberation, Hina draws a squiggly line across the middle of the paper. She writes “sea” on the top half and “beach” on the low half. Now we know.
She adds a sun, I add specked sand. She adds a boat, I add a sandcastle. Five minutes later, as our expertise are beginning to run out my eyes focus on the inside of her arm. And it looks just like the outside of mine eight years ago.
I look at second too long but she is busy and I pull my eyes away. The next time I’m able, a few minutes later, I read the layers. I see lighter barely there healings. The inbetween. I read the time passing. I realise I was hoping for something different. Damn. It was not just once.
I start to tear up. Her friend comes and they go to lunch. Cheerful goodbyes on both sides.
Oh, Hiiiiiiiiiiina, I am crying inside. Oh Hina. You are my favorite first year. You always help me. You’re so brave in classes with responding. You are so cheerful.
I want to run to my 先輩 (せんぱい, senpai, elder/guide) and demand she becomes happy at once. I want her to be happy forever. I want the smile she glows to be genuine and unfaltering. But I cannot go to him now. This is not about you, Bala. YOU cannot start crying! The teachers are there for the students! He needs to save his energy, strength, patience, and compassion for THEM.
I must stop the inward crying before it reaches to the outside. I have a class to teach. I realize I am the adult in the situation, and act like it.
A really rough over flirtatious boy, he lowers his pants, smiling. I don’t giggle or act surprised/dismayed. I shake my head and turn away. Another teacher is watching us. He doesn’t seem surprised. A very tall, delicate stem of a girl who I have won over after three visits smiles widely, vulnerable, terrified, as I walk into the third class I will teach. Akari is beautiful, but adds a centimeter of powder to her face. Her nails and hair are perfectly arranged. She is a fawn. And Yuri, my love. The girl who told me her dream is to help others as they have helped her. Jittery Yuri, is all ears and eyes, and I spend the last hour of free time just speaking with her and her friend.
When the day is over, I stall. Say goodbye to students, visit the restroom, tidy up. I want to find my 先輩 (elder) alone. Other teachers are beginning their duties, vacuuming, cleaning up the kitchen, and I confront him. [We speak in Japanese, but to make it easier:]
Kashi! お疲れ様です！ (おつかれさまです！, Otsukaresamadesu!, Thank you for your work today!) We will see you in September.
Oh! Not August?
Ah, I think you are very busy with summer school in August.
Yes, that’s true…
So, until next time.
ちょっと質問があるんですけど。。。（ちょっとしつもんがあるんですけど, chotto shitsumon-ga arundesukedo, but I do have a bit of a question…)
I saw… some of the students have marks on their arms. (Implication: This is a big deal, what is going on?)
He is nodding. Yes, many of our students’ parents are divorced. Almost all of them. When this happens they get made fun of a lot. So they do this.
I was surprised. (Implication: I was scared by this and don’t think it’s too common place. Is something being done? Is one of the teachers noticing this?)
Maybe, for students, coming here helps them. It is surprising, right?
Hina… (Implication: I saw Hina’s arm. What is the problem? I can’t believe she’s not okay…)
Yes, Hina is always smiling isn’t she? I think, students smile here. They smile with others, for others. It’s good. But maybe, when they go home, they get very sad. Then they call their friends and talk about this.
I am nodding with wet eyes. He notices. Oh, I see.
I am acting like I am about to leave, but I cannot without asking the question that has been drilled into me from the past two years of peer support programs: Do they have someone to talk to? A doctor, or a psychiatrist, or a counselour? My voice cracks a bit on counselour.
Yes, they have counselours. For many of them, they are with doctors or counselours and then enroll in school after the bad part. They are not great yet, but, 段々 (だんだん, dandan, little by little) they get better. That’s why this school is important. That they like coming here. That we greet them with big smiles when they show up. That we thank them so much for participating. They get better.
Yes. I understand. I will remember to do all those things. Thank you very much.
I walk toward the door and bellow out the standard お疲れ様です(Thank you for your work today) and bow. They respond back and bow as well. I smile and leave the building. Hina, Yuri, Akari and the too-cool-for-school boys in my mind. I try not to over-identify. I try to think of what I can do. All I can think of is completely upending Japanese society.