When the Typhoon Came

The night before the typhoon, my flatmates and I gathered around the TV with our translating dictionaries. We were still waiting for our Internet connection to be installed—and waiting to understand more than keitai, arigatou, and sumimasen. That night, we didn’t look up any words as the pictures from Iraq and Afghanistan exploded on the screen. We didn’t need to know the numbers. Normally, when we watched the news, it was only for the weather report, which we would spend giggling at the animated icons: the sweating, puffy-cheeked high-pressure front, the low-pressure warriors on matching blue steeds, and the lady hanging up her laundry. This time, however, we needed more. We needed to know how much rain, how fast the wind, and when it would all begin.

We took our notes in silence and as jellyfish crowded out tuna on the screen, we shared our conclusions:

—All I can tell is that we’d better leave early tomorrow, said Tasha one month before she left us a note telling us how she tried to kill herself with a kitchen knife and how much we would like that since we were evil Amazons in league with Julius Caesar.

—I could have told you that before the newscast, said Ash six weeks before she called me after last train to ask why I wasn’t at the party at the home of our regional trainer, Jeff, at the language school owned by an evil pink bunny with a chicken’s beak. Of course, our Lynn doesn’t have to go to work.

—Hey, it’s not my fault I chose the days off I was randomly assigned wisely, I said six weeks before I replied that I just didn’t feel like going out after work: the heat was already getting to be too much for me.

—Hum, said Ash six weeks before she’d yell “but I want you here!”

—Look, anyway, Tasha’s right.

Tasha stuck out her tongue, five weeks before she apologized to us and then stomped into her bedroom snarling “yes I said sorry I did it right now” into her Vodafone keitai. The foreign personnel office had dealt with her textual outburst by calling her parents in Christchurch.

—I mean, it’s going to hit Nagoya around eleven, so I guess that’s when it’ll hit Anjo too. Isn’t that when you usually leave for Okazaki? I asked Ash two months after she and I walked for an hour under a still and cloudless sky to find a grocery store while Tasha, who had arrived three days before us, stayed in bed complaining of a stomachache.

—Won’t change anything for me then. I’ll already have been on the train for half an hour by then, said Tasha who had still felt a little ill the following, slightly grayer day when we headed to Toyotashi for the three days of training with Jeff that supposedly prepared us to teach but mostly just taught us how to fill out paperwork and tolerate the local energy drinks.

—You can apply for a branch transfer after our probation period ends, but more importantly, you should still leave early. Just because you’re on the train doesn’t mean it can’t be delayed said Ash, two months before she requested a transfer to Toyotashi. But Lynn, when you say hit, do you mean the centre of the storm or the first clouds, or…?

—I mean the typhoon-force winds. It should start raining…wait, listen, I think it’s raining now, so the clouds have been here a while. I smiled ten weeks before Ash started at the Toyotashi branch and came home to lecture me on how terrible it was to cook with frozen vegetables. Then she sat down to eat a slice of cake from the bakery counter at the Ito Yokado we hadn’t known was right behind the train station when we first arrived.

—Hum. Well then, what do you think, Tasha? Let’s both leave at eight? She asked seven weeks before she told me Jeff had laid down on top of her in the tatami room where everyone had passed out and kept going even when she whispered “no” but stopped before…she didn’t use the word rape. We were on our way back from Ito Yokado, sweating more from the humidity than from the weight of our food; I had also bought a yukata since I had finally found one without butterflies or flowers: rainbow-hued dragonflies flit across a navy sky. Ash laughed when I asked if she would file a complaint; I had a black parasol, and she had nothing to protect her from the sun. I guess she couldn’t have been prone to burning. “It’s just a thing that happens between men and women. How many relationships have you been in again?”

—Sure, eight, fine, said Tasha two weeks before Ash would start yelling “come out and join us!” from the front room whenever Tasha closed her door.

—Do you have a better idea? asked Ash one month after the three of us sat out on the balcony drinking shōchū and she told us she had quit her job as a banker and come to Japan after her fiancé dumped her: the only thing she missed, she claimed, was the sex. Tasha said sex was “icky” and I said I wouldn’t know because I had never dated anyone. “What’s that got to do with sex?” asked Ash.

Tasha shook her head and said she had better get to bed, three weeks after Ash asked me how Tasha could think sex was “icky” and wrinkle her nose like that yet love Anita Blake so much. I didn’t have an answer; I wouldn’t read the vampire porn until my next long plane ride, and that was more than a year away. Tasha’s door slammed shut.

—She may be rude, but she has a point. I’d better get some sleep, said Ash two months before Tasha moved to Taiwan to teach for a company that sounded about as bad as ours, minus the pink usagi but plus holding on to your passport until you payed back your start-up loan.

#

The next morning, I woke to the sound of the front door locking, but when I emerged from my room, I could see Ash’s pink wellies still standing by the shoe cupboard. I lumbered into the front room in search of coffee and found Ash sitting at the table with her hand wrapped around her sky-blue-glazed mug.

—Tasha refused to believe that we had time for a cup of tea, said Ash nearly two months after the three of us met up at Okazaki station to walk to the river and see the cherry blossom festival. The booths where you could buy octopus on a stick or try to capture a goldfish in a paper net were all new then, even if they were mostly closing down by the time we arrived. Working until 10 p.m. means you miss a lot.

—Hum. I turned on the coffee-maker Jeff had told me where to buy on the first day of training when he heard me complaining about drinking instant. There was a Starbucks not far from the Toyotashi branch. As it turned out, there was also one close to my tiny two-teacher branch in Chiryu: working in a mall, after all, had its advantages. Ash, do I need coffee even more desperately than I thought or is the rain falling horizontal?

—No, the rain’s sideways, but maybe instead of drinking coffee you should go back to bed, Ash said, four months before I applied for a position teaching in an elementary school north of Tokyo.

—I like coffee. Besides, I already rolled up my futon. I shrugged just over four months before a very quick review and online interview process resulted in my moving to Tochigi Prefecture to replace a teacher who had burned out in the government contracts’ program.

—Well, I’d better get going, said Ash a little more than four months before she didn’t even know that I was moving until the courier showed up to pick up my boxes.

When she left, I sat on the couch with my coffee and a plate of hash browns that I had defrosted in the toaster oven. I watched the rain for a little bit then tried to understand what I could of the daytime talk shows. One had a yukata fashion show with professional kimono-dressers trying to show the hosts how to tie the sashes that held the robes together into absurdly complex knots. One obi knot looked like a bird of paradise, though I didn’t quite catch its official name. The requisite starlet had the hardest time of all. I wondered if she usually had someone to tie her obi for her or if she just bought clip-on knots like the one I would buy before two months had passed.

After an hour I could hear the wind rushing between the apartment blocks. The bars on the balcony where we hung our laundry on days of stiller air had begun to creak. I turned off the TV so I could better hear the storm and lit a few candles, which I hadn’t expected to smell like lavender, in case the power went off. Then I began reading the translation of Norwegian Wood which I had picked up on my last excursion into Nagoya; the only bookshop I had managed to find in Anjo had nothing in English—not even texts for EFL students.

The power never went out. I finished my book about an hour after sunset and realized the wind had gone silent. As I started boiling a pot of water on the stove to make spaghetti, I considered going out to the convenience store to buy some beer, but when I looked outside, I decided against it. Water was rushing across the parking lot, and I had no idea how deep it was. After I finished making dinner, I sat down on the couch with my plate and turned on the TV. Mr. Baseball was on—in English with Japanese subtitles—and I figured it was as good as anything.

Just as Jack Elliott was apologizing and about to begin learning from his teammates to value blahblahblah, my keitai rang. Tasha was going to stay with another teacher who lived closer to her branch. —We’re taking a taxi; I’m not sure the trains are running, two weeks after a shift swap she took as a favor to a co-worker let the three of us take a day to go to an onsen together. Ash kept telling her not to be shy, but Tasha kept her towel wrapped around her body until the very moment before she slipped into a pool and rewrapped herself immediately on getting out. Tasha and I had talked about science fiction while sitting in a sulfurous spring until Ash said that was enough fangirl chat for one day.

When the movie ended, I made another pot of coffee and tried to call Ash. Instead of her, I got a message that I think said all circuits were busy. I stayed up reading Emily Dickinson—this book I had brought in my carry-on—until midnight when I heard the door unlock.

Ash was drenched. I offered to make her a cup of tea, but she said she just wanted to take a hot shower and go to bed. You’re so lucky you didn’t have to go anywhere today, she added, three months before I went to the Anjo Tanabata festival alone after work, without even taking the time to put on my yukata. The stands that sold octopus on a stick and cartoon character masks were already closing, but you could still try to capture goldfish and tiny turtles in paper nets. And most of the green and blue paper lanterns shaped like stars, moons, and orbs were still lit—though even the ones that had dimmed were trailing their streamers in the weak and humid wind.

Elizabeth Kate Switaj is the Chair of Liberal Arts at the College of the Marshall Islands and is the author of James Joyce’s Teaching Life and Methods (Palgrave, 2016). Her short stories have appeared in KROnline, Sundog Lit, and Per Contra. For more information visit https://www.elizabethkateswitaj.net.

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