I am waiting at the front of the Hiroshima Costco. Although it’s sunny, it’s bone cold. Commotion on the escalator causes me to look up to hear my name. “Anjera!, Anjera!” Chikako is beaming because the words are coming from her three year old son, Hiroyuki. We hug. It’s taken over two years for this to become our natural greeting. Tomoko rushes up, pushing her one-year-old daughter Haruko in a stroller. “Gomen! Gomen!” Tomoko has three children, six and under, so she is always a tad late. In my mind I call them my young mom friends. Looking at them it fits. They are both dressed fabulously. Chikako, now 8 months pregnant with her second child, is wearing Go Go boots with sparkly tights, a fuzzy knit dress and a hip fur coat. Tomoko’s bright red coat reflects her spunky personality and her desire for a little sophistication. Their clothes distract the eye from their tired faces. Both of these women haven’t had good nights sleep for over a year. They are on call to their families 24/7.
When we first met, Chikako was expecting Hiroyuki and Tomoko only had two children. Every week they would pick me up and take me somewhere, followed by going to a Japanese restaurant. We spent way more time in silence than conversation. Then the babies came, and it was easier to meet at my apartment. They had never eaten Mexican food, so I would make nachos or burritos or taco soup. I would hold their babies while they ate in relative peace. We named ourselves The Eating and Speaking English club.
Neither of them have a Costco membership, and the babes are now todds (toddlers), so our new fun outing is Costco. While they meander through the aisles, I play with the kids. The girls loose all track of time. They love looking at the products from other countries. Meanwhile the children’s inner sand clocks slowly run out of sand. Haruko wiggles out of her stroller. She has just learned to walk so the wide aisles, lined with brightly colored items, are a new playground. Hiroyuki is content because he is busy eating the food samples. The tiny spoon and cup are perfect for him.
The blurriness is an indicator that our time is up.
After paying we head to the food court. Although the kids are squirmy, their moms are transfixed by the menu. Too many choices. Pizza or hot dog? I solve the problem by buying a hot dog for them to share so they can have both. They pull out bento boxes filled with cooked yams and daikon, rice, fish for their children to eat. Initially it looks like it will be ok, but then mayhem ensues. The kids want up or down, they want their moms’ food, all the while the girls are eating as fast as they can. Then Tomoko looks at her watch and says “I gotta go! (In Japanese)” And we hurriedly collect the kids and rush to the cars. It’s a sight. Three women struggling through the parking garage with the cart and stroller full of stuff, kids crying, Tomoko is carrying Haruko like a sack of potatoes, ignoring traffic, and obstacles. I help load Tomoko’s van, Haruko is really crying now as her mom straps her in the car seat, and then the best part happens. Tomoko grabs me in a bear hug. “Thank you! thank you! thank you!” I hand her the ice cream sundae she bought through the window and she tears out of the parking space and down the ramp. I then help Chikako into her car. She looks exhausted. Managing life with a ripe pregnant belly takes a lot of energy. I remember those days.
Meanwhile a new crop of Micron expats has arrived. Texting, emailing and organizing fill my days. What was once a heart pounding, anxiety driven day on a bicycle, is now tour guiding with ease. “Here is the post office, here is a good rice ball shop, here is the second hand store, and here is the best out door eating”. Humbly sharing the gems of my daily life- Ikebana (flower arranging) in English, the Hiroshima International Women’s club, Get Hiroshima magazine- fills me with gratification.
There is nothing worse than dropping a stitch when you are knitting. It leaves a vulnerable hole in your slipper. I didn’t want to drop one of the new arrivals. I realized I was repeating information but not keeping track of who I had told what. There is a group of us returning to Idaho in the summer. We have all learned different things (good doctors, how to ride the bus, import stores) because of our unique experiences.
So here we sit, all the Micron spouses in one room. The ones returning home soon, the ones who just arrived, and the ones in the middle, time in Hiroshima wise. Almost immediately the conversation is about sorting the garbage. Meanwhile, I am helping Katie get Line (a free instant messaging application that all the Japanese use) on her phone. The best function about this app is that to add a friend you shake your phones next to each other and it automatically adds. User-error proof. When I look up, the sight fills me with delight. People are talking to each other, face to face. It’s no longer a meeting, but a gathering. Faces are soft, caring, listening.
At the time, I didn’t think much about it. But my son, Jack, sent me a story about the recent discovery and role of menopause in orca whales . It now occurs to me. I am the menopausal orca. Swimming around supporting all whom I encounter. My pod includes young Japanese mothers, new expats and even strangers. Last night, right before our train stopped at our neighborhood station, a twenty something tourist stepped on. How did I know? She had a huge backpack on her back and a small one on her front. She had two long braids. Hmmmm, I wondered if she was headed to the hostel in my neighborhood. I glanced over but she didn’t make eye contact. Sure enough she got off at our stop. I glanced at her again. No response. As we walk down the stairs I fuss at myself. Mind your own business. She will figure it out. She could be offended.
“Rich, what do you think I should do?” Before the final word leaves my tongue, I turn around and walk toward her. She is looking at her phone. “Hello, are you headed to the hostel?” I ask.
“Yes I am!” she says with a surprised look.
“Would you like help getting there?” trying hard not to assert pressure.
Her face softens immediately. “Oh yes that would be a great!”
And so on this beautiful moon lit night, we walk through the neighborhood. Rich is asking questions and giving suggestions almost simultaneously. The vision of a bouncy puppy comes to mind when I listen to him. I can feel her relief as she sees the Roku hostel sign.
Returning to our aparto, swimming in the moonlight, I am so comfortable in my own skin I take notice. Usually a little voice fusses. Tonight there is only the sound of the night breeze. I breathe. Joyful, humble, gratitude fills me. Struggle, worry, fear blow out. Tomorrow another day of being begins.