I lifted the bowl closer to my mouth to get the last few grains of rice out of the bottom. So did you. As we lowered them back again, our eyes met. You tipped your head forward and shot me a look of seriousness and rage. There was a moment of silence as we stared at each other. But I couldn’t hold it any longer and neither could you. We laughed. We laughed hard and loud. I nearly fell over. You made the face again. We laughed until your parents asked us what was funny, but neither of us could explain.
If you had been anyone else, it wouldn’t have been funny. But as you sat across from me at that cluttered blue coffee table wearing that pink nonsensical “PERSON’S 76” shirt, you stared at me through eyes filled with wisdom far beyond your years. At that instant, we learned that humor stretches across language barriers.
It wasn’t the only joke that you shared with me. I don’t know how, but at the age of three you understood, that unlike anybody else you ever knew, I didn’t speak your language. But that didn’t stop you from trying to communicate. Through trial and error, you found a select few words that I understood, and you used them whenever you got the chance. As I woke up and stared up from my futon at the sunlight coming in through the window, you came sliding into my room with a huge grin and what soon became your routine message. “???????????????????” (“Ryan Onisaan Ohayo Gozaimasu!”) You laughed as I sleepily replied with the same morning greeting. Your energy was contagious. I couldn’t fall back asleep.
I always thought that the memories of my trip would be mostly of places I saw or things that I did, but as I look back it was moments like those that I shared with you and your family that I remember most vividly; The simple inside jokes that you and I shared as you wished me a good morning in the day, evening and night, or the conversations I had with your parents at midnight or later, each person flipping through their own Japanese to English or English to Japanese dictionary. I felt welcomed. There I was, a complete stranger who couldn’t even communicate, but you acted as if I was a part of the family. For the first time in my life, a group of strangers accepted me unconditionally. You didn’t know what I liked and didn’t like, what my friends and family were like, what I liked to do, and all the other things I had thought made me the person I was. None of that mattered. I just was. That was enough for you.
Even though I only stayed with you and your family for a week, I was attached. I felt like I was leaving my actual family forever. As if you would all disappear as I stepped foot on that train back Sapporo. But I had to leave. So we hugged, and I told you and your family that I would be back soon, but none of us believed it. I boarded and waved through the window. The whistle blew. Your sobbing face disappeared into the grassy fields. I cried pathetically. Thank you.
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