MAKING PEACE WITH JAPAN
An excerpt from a sea story by Malcolm Torres
This is an excerpt from a new sea story, Making Peace with Japan, about the USS Enterprise’s visit to Sasebo in 1984. In this naval adventure story, which is funny and mostly true, we go ashore with the ship’s crew as they encounter both anti-nuclear protesters and friendly locals. The artwork above is by Quyen Dinh.
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We’re on a slate courtyard next to an old temple.
Through open archways I see Japanese kids seated on the floor inside. Each kid is writing in a pad.
Across the courtyard, we see two boys chasing each other around a swing set. I lead the way toward them.
We meet on a patch of dirt.
They wear blue windbreakers and black pants. They are teenagers, probably 14 or 15. One has chubby cheeks and a belly. The other is skinny and his jacket fits him like it’s hung on a hanger. They speak to each other but we cannot understand them. Their speech is a rapid series of Ka, Say Wa, Ching Chow, Dong Ding. I know this sounds like I’m prejudice but I’m not. I mean really, that’s what it sounds like. English with all our Rs and Bs and Ss is clunky compared to the cool judo-chopping sounds these kids make.
The chubby kid points at O’Don and says something that makes the skinny kid laugh. Not just a giggle, but really laugh like they’re making fun of O’Don. The skinny kid darts over and puts his hand on O’Don’s hair. The kid is not making any hostile gestures, just patting O’Don’s hair, which is curly and bristly.
“Oooooo.” The skinny kid waves the chubby kid over who timidly reaches up and touches O’Don’s hair and giggles. Deuce writes his name in the dirt with the tip of his shoe. Then he points at his chest with his thumb and said, “Deuce.”
The chubby kid makes a funny face like he’s pushing out a turd and opens his mouth wide and bellows, “Doooooossss!”
“Fuckin A,” Deuce says and shakes hands with the chubby kid.
The skinny kid says, “Fuckin A, Doooossss,” and shakes hands with Deuce too.
Me and O’Don lose it.
The chubby kid says it too, “Fuckin A, Doooossss.”
O’Don writes his name in the dirt with the tip of his shoe and says, “O’Don.”
“OoooooooooDon!” they say and we all crack up laughing.
These kids are awesome.
The skinny one steps onto the slate and crouches down and starts writing an elaborate Japanese character with a piece of chalk. Then he bounces up and says his name.
There’s no way I can repeat him. Then he rattles off a bunch of words. He has a straight face and there’s no way for us to tell what he’s saying. Then the chubby kid takes the chalk and draws a character on the slate. He starts talking too.
Deuce takes the chalk and draws a crude ship and the letters USN.
“Naayybeeee,” the chubby kid says.
“That’s right,” O’Don says, “US Navy.”
The skinny kid makes a thumbs-up.
O’Don grabs the chalk and writes “New York” on the ground. “New Yawk,” he says.
“Fuckin A,” the skinny kid says and gives O’Don a high five. The chubby kid makes a thumbs up, then grabs the chalk and draws an apple.
“Big Apple,” O’Don says. “That’s right.”
“Big Apple,” The skinny kid says.
All of a sudden a bell rings and kids start pouring out of the school onto the courtyard. Right away a hundred kids surround us. They’re laughing and pointing and talking a mile a minute. Most ignore us and stand around in groups talking. Some kids are throwing and kicking balls around. Other run for the swings and the monkey bars.
Then another bell starts ringing and everybody freezes like statues.
Our friends, the skinny kid and the chubby kid, their faces serious. A woman with a stern face walks quickly toward us ringing a brass bell. All the kids stare at us. Even the kids on the monkey bars jump down and stand up straight. I notice a ball bouncing and nobody touches it. The lady scowls at us, then says something we don’t understand. She points at us and curls her finger, points again, curls her finger—the universal sign for “Get your ass over here.” She turns around like we’re supposed to follow her and that’s what we do. I wave goodbye to our friends.
The skinny kid, darts over and shakes hands with us, and the chubby kid waves on the sly. The woman’s back is turned. Then to my surprise the chubby kid whispers, “Fuckin A Big Apple!”
Deuce laughs and some kids across the playground snicker.
The woman rings the bell and the laughing stops but as we follow her through the crowd, several kids whisper, “Fuckin A big apple?” like it’s a question. The woman rings the bell again but the whispering continues.
We reach the edge of the slate patio and the woman turns around and extends her arm, pointing toward a sidewalk that leads through a hedge to the street. I glance back and the kids are all skipping around laughing and playing again.
The woman glares at us, and I can tell she does not mean to wish us a “Welcome to Japan.” I just hope she doesn’t know what “Fuckin A” means.
We’re a few steps down toward the street when she rings her bell a couple times. We turn around expecting to see the kids at attention again, but it’s just her ringing the bell at us. “US Navy go home,” she says and turns around on her heels and walks away.
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If you want to read this sea story (about 20 pages), send me your email address on the ‘contact’ link above. I’ll send you an Amazon gift card via email, and you can use the gift card to purchase the eBook for 99c on Amazon. You can read it on an Amazon Kindle or on the free Kindle App. You can also read it on any computer or tablet. All I ask in return is that you post an honest review on Amazon.
Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels available online at all major book and eBook retailers. Read Malcolm Torres’s blog, which is full of free sea stories, nautical fiction, US Navy adventures and Coast Guard Thrillers.