10:08 am: I’m sitting in the Illy across the street from my school, because my first student of the day called to cancel his lesson. There’s a beautiful couple sitting across from me drinking frothy coffee topped with whipped cream. The girl faces me. She sits like my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Nosworthy, taught the girls to sit in the week that she taught us etiquette. I never sit like a lady, but this girl, with her ankles crossed, would make Mrs. Nosworthy proud.
In Tokyo, I sometimes feel a bit unpolished, unrefined, coarse, in contrast to many of the Japanese women around me who, for lack of a better word, are so “smooth.” I consider myself a fairly confident person, but here I’m struck by the fact that the women have a femininity that I don’t possess. Never really possessed. (My short skirts and high voice have nothing to do with what I mean).
11:15a.m: There’s an adult contemporary version of “Love is in the Air” playing , which is somewhat ironic, because apart from the couple near me, there are eight tables of singles looking somewhat forlorn.
All large city coffee shops are pretty much the same, aren’t they? Crowded; people sitting alone at tables for two; writing in notebooks; pecking on laptops; reading novels, yet never turning pages (maybe lost in an idea or a sentence); drinking slowly from large mugs; smoking mindlessly, watching; checking cellphone messages; reading magazines; living and simultaneously dying each moment. Most days I forget I’m in Tokyo, then I look around and realize, “Hey, I’m the only non-Asian person in here.”
Sometimes it’s cool to be the different one, sometimes it’s just odd. Japanese people have no qualms about blatantly staring. Sometimes I think, “Why am I here?” Not an existential questioning like, “Why am I here on earth?” but a literal, “Why am I here in Japan?” Since I’ve been here, within my group of my friends there have been joyous occasions (a wedding, a birth, a new pregnancy), and heartrending events (death), and they’re all happening far away. Life goes on elsewhere, and I’m here. Soon our lives become so distant and our only common ground is the past; yet, we hold on. Know that when we see each other, I’ll say to you, “Dis long time gal mi neva see yuh, come mek me hol’ yuh han’; come mek we walk and talk.”
In this moment, I hope my friends, and the ones who might need me, know that I love them and if thoughts count for anything I’m there in spirit…
My coffee’s finished, I must go, but before I do, let me tell you about “Mi Coffee.” “Mi Coffee” is a Jamaican folk song that I sang at my sixth grade graduation and want to remember, have realized and sing fifty years from now; the lyrics include:
I is an ole one now and I’ve traveled very far; I have seen the good days, and I mus’ be satisfied.