Sometimes, when I answer my door, I give the visitor a surprise. I don’t mean to, but my foreignness startles them. They try to hide it, of course, but I can see it in the slight flinch and momentary hesitation before they speak. It’s there in the eyes. It happened today.
I was busily planning some lessons when the doorbell rang. I slid the door open and found myself looking down upon an elderly man holding a small clipboard. I greeted him and his eyes widened a tad as he stared at me for a moment before saying, in Japanese, ‘I’m the chemist,’
‘Right,’ I said. ‘Hello.’
He continued looking at me and said a bit more slowly, ‘I’m the chemist.’
‘Yes, I got that,’ I said. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Could I have the medicine box?’
It was a peculiar request. I thought a medicine box was perhaps a first-aid kit but, nevertheless, I felt less than inclined to readily hand mine over to a bald stranger upon my doorstep.
‘Sorry?’ I said. ‘The medicine box?’
‘Medicine box,’ he said making the shape of a box with his hands. And then, super slowly, he reminded me that he was the chemist.
The man was clearly under the impression that I didn’t understand him. He was right, I didn’t. But it wasn’t for the reasons he thought. It was not because of my Japanese ability. Rather, it was simply because he didn’t seem to want to elaborate on why he, the chemist, had come to my house in search of a medicine box.
‘I understand you are the chemist,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know what a medecine box is and I don’t have one for you.’
He now looked as confused as I was.
‘But I’m the chemist,’ he said again.
‘Yes, I know,’ I said. ‘But I don’t have a medicine box. Sorry.’
‘But I have your name here,’ he said, looking at his clipboard. He showed me the name and said, ‘Look, Hasegawa-san!’
‘Two doors down,’ I said with a chuckle. He didn’t laugh though. He looked at me as though it were a cunning ploy I’d hatched to avoid giving him my medicine box. He got back in his car and there spent several moments glancing alternately at a map and back up to my door before finally driving away, straight past Hasegawa-san’s house.