From: Anna Lisa S.
To: Susumu and Reiko K.
Location: Scotland (visiting Japan)
“Japanese Mama!” He boomed, thrusting a finger at the petite black-haired lady beaming at me from across the table. He beat a thick fist on his own barrel chest, eyes crinkling behind his spectacles, “Japanese Papa!”
That’s about as much English as I ever heard from Susumu, a retired insurance broker, and his wife Reiko from Saitama, Japan. That, and “sorry!” A word I may have taught them.
I was the last passenger at Johannesburg International Airport to board our tiny plane to the Victoria Falls, Zambia. A couple, probably in their mid-60s, were buckled in between me and my window seat. To save them getting up, I had the cunning plan of throwing my bag and water bottle over them and leaping, Spiderman-like, on top the armrests to my chair. All was going impressively to plan… until I plopped down right on top of my half-closed 1.5 litre bottle of Evian.
The little lady on my left took most of the impact. As I scrambled to scoop the half-emptied bottle it skittered out of my hands and decanted the remainder of its contents all over her husbands’ lap.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry! …Sorry!”
I tried to apologise; they tried to appease. We couldn’t understand a word the other was saying. So we laughed.
I found a seat elsewhere after take off. But when I returned for landing, I noticed the neat handwriting on their arrival cards stated they were from Japan. Somehow – through mime, mouthing and lots more laughing – I communicated that I was planning to visit Japan next month. Many giggles and gesticulations later, I disembarked that plane with their telephone number, email and house addresses written on the back on an airplane vomit bag. “You-stay-my-house.” Susumu not so much asked as ordered.
One month later my brother and I were sitting at the family table of Susumu and Reiko K., as guests of honour for their grandson’s eighth birthday party. For three days straight the family took time off work to be our hosts and our guides. They drove us everywhere, paid for everything and showed us a side to Japan we would never have known about without them. They dressed us up in their marriage kimonos, a great honour, and sang us Japanese songs in exchange for our Scottish skits. The whole time we barely shared a coherent sentence. But we laughed.
In a world that gives us more and more excuses not to trust each other, I want to express my gratitude for a family that owed nothing and offered everything for no other reason than a shared joke and a soggy airplane seat.
Thank you, Japanese Mama and Papa.