by Lyn G Farrell
The huge sign says ‘Japanese Culture Day.’ An arrow points at an ugly building with square windows like blisters. They are greeted at the door by two smiling, bowing Japanese girls in kimonos. Alice bows back and the girls giggle. Her mother hangs back, surly, still upset.
They are taken down a narrow corridor, the girls’ wooden sandals clacking, into a crowded hall decorated with calligraphy-festooned hangings. Another twenty or so kimono-clad girls, slender as reeds, stand at different stalls. Alice and her mother walk to a stall where girls are demonstrating origami. The table is loaded with paper swans, cranes, roses and lilies.
‘Aren’t they beautiful mum?’
‘I suppose so,’ her mother says, glancing up before fussing again with her cardigan buttons.
They browse the raffle gifts; a red lacquered address book, floral notecards, ornate square boxes with chopsticks inside. Alice buys a ticket and then they sit down at the refreshments table. Huge dishes of rice crackers, spicy peanuts and shiny, bean-paste sweets sit next to steaming flasks of green and black tea. An astonishingly beautiful girl with a glossy bob presents them with handle-less, china cups. Eventually her mother speaks.
‘I suppose it’s this sort of thing you’re after?’ she says.
‘I’m going to Beijing mum, not Japan.’
‘I need you – here. I’m a widow in case you’ve forgotten.’
‘Don’t be mean. It’s hard for both of us. And it’s been three years now, you have to be more independent. Anyway, I’m only teaching for a year.’ Alice says nothing of all the possibilities floating like lights in the back of her mind.
Her mother wipes her eyes with a hankie. Alice grabs her hand.
‘Don’t cry mum. Let’s enjoy today.’
Two Japanese girls place two chairs and a large, upside-down cardboard box in the middle of the room. They draw yellow stars at opposite edges of the box and a red circle in the middle. They place two paper Sumo wrestlers – vertical folds down their middles for stability – onto the circle. The beautiful girl points to the box.
‘We will try?’ she says to Alice.
The girl gently smacks the stars with her open palms. The wrestlers softly bounce. Alice copies her and their combined force sets the figures leaping. People gather round, saying “ooh” as the wrestlers advance towards the circle’s edge. Alice slaps harder and her opponent’s figure falls outside the ring and the audience clap and cheer. Grinning, she looks at her mother, expecting a smile. Instead her mother sits motionless, clutching her handbag. Alice walks over to her and hugs her.
‘I’m starving mum. Let’s grab lunch.’ They walk to the exit where girls hand them bags of tiny sugar flowers tied with ribbons.
‘I’ve booked my Christmas flight you know,’ Alice says. It’s only a white lie; she will buy the ticket – soon.
‘What do you fancy mum? Chinese?’ Her mother smiles, at last, and links arms. Alice decides to believe that their fight is over.