Several years ago, while I was employed at a language school, my boss arranged for me to teach the children of a few members of a nearby Christian church. The classes themselves weren’t too bad. I just did my usual thing, and although the lessons were held in the church itself and a couple of the kids looked a bit odd, it was much the same as teaching any other Japanese children.
When December rolled around, my boss asked if I would be willing to attend a Christmas party for the kids. It was to be held on a weekend and I would be paid overtime. I was assured that all I had to do was turn up and that there were no other responsibilities. Just turn up and enjoy yourself, she said. It sounded easy enough – well the turning up bit anyway – and as my boss clearly expected me to go, I agreed. She was usually good to me and I saw no reason to be difficult.
The day arrived and I was picked up at our school by a woman of quite worrying ugliness. At a guess, I would say she was still in her twenties, but she had the dress sense of my Gran, teeth that horses would mock, and a hairstyle best described as pubic. We drove to the church in almost complete silence. Well, things had become a bit strained when she asked which church I went to and I had said that I didn’t. I’m not sure what my boss had told her, but it was clear she was a bit upset that I wasn’t a believer.
The party itself was about as good as you could expect an afternoon gathering with non-drinking Christians and their children to be. I made polite small talk, I agreed that I had a big nose and feet and I ate their food and drank their orange juice. Easy money, really. Until, that is, the games started.
Horsey took centre stage and explained the rules of the game. A church busybody explained them to me in English just in case I was going to play the non-comprehension card in order to be excluded. My participation was very obviously expected, and I was too cowardly to say, ‘You must be fucking joking!’ even when I realized what the game was.
What it was, in fact, was something quite ridiculous. Horsey would stand at the front of the room, while we all stood facing her, and she would roll her hands over and over in front of her. All the while she would be saying something in Japanese which was of no importance, but at the end of which she would shout either ‘Papaya’, ‘Banana’ or ‘Pineapple’ and throw her arms above her head, down to her knees or out to the side. No, I don’t really understand why either, but that’s what she did, and we were supposed to roll our hands over and over with her and then when we heard a fruit being shouted had to throw our own hands either up above our heads, off to the side, or down to our knees. Anyone who made the same move as Horsey was out.
‘Fine’, I thought, ‘I’ll embarrass myself for one round and quickly get myself out.’ Except I couldn’t. Bugger me, if I didn’t keep winning! Eventually it was just Horsey, me and three weirdo Christian kids making tits of ourselves. And they were clearly enjoying it! Although a competitive side of me was now beginning to want to beat all those little freaks, I was still mightily relieved when both Horsey and I went for a knee drop to ‘papaya’ and I could stop my mortification at being the big foreign clown with no self-respect. I sat down, consumed with shame, and realized that no amount of money was worth that ignominy. A little mantra was playing on a loop in my head. It was saying, ‘I am a tool, I will do anything. I am a tool. I will do anything.’ I wondered why I couldn’t have just been caught with a rent boy or something. The only saving grace was that there was nobody I really knew there to see me.
I could continue this tale by writing about how the event ended with a man playing a song on the guitar, the chorus of which was, ‘I love Jesus, he loves me!’ and to which everybody sang along while swaying their arms above their heads, but I’m afraid that to do so would have me racing for the cutlery drawer in search of knives.