“IS THIS A PENCIL?” I was sitting in a completely white room, with a 60-centimetre square white foldable table like Aunt Tanaka’s picnic table in front of me. To my left was a white board. To my right, a window with a view of only a white concrete wall. Also in front of me, a 25-year-old white man with thinning hair and sticking out teeth was waggling a pencil between his thumb and forefinger. He was also staring at my chest.
“IS THIS A PENCIL!?” he shouted.
“YES, IT IS!! REPEAT AFTER ME, YES IT IS!”
“Yes, it is.”
“IS IT A KANGAROO!?”
“IS IT A KANGAROO!?”
“NO, IT ISN’T A KANGAROO! REPEAT AFTER ME, NO IT ISN’T!”
“No, it isn’t.”
“THAT’S RIGHT! GOOD!! GREAT! WHAT IS IT!?”
“IT IS A PENCIL! REPEAT AFTER ME, IT IS A PENCIL!”
“OK, it’s a pencil.”
“GOOD! NOW, WHAT IS THIS!?”
I know basic English was supposed to be easy, but I was getting very confused.
“It’s a pen?”
“YES! IT’S A PEN!! IS IT A PEN!?”
“IS IT A PEN!!?”
“YES IT IS A PEN! YES IT IS! IT IS A PEN! IT IS A PEN!! IS IT A KOALA!?”
“Is it a koala?”
“NO, IT ISN’T! IT ISN’T A KOALA! WHAT IS IT!?”
“It is a pen, I’m pretty sure. But if you want me to ask you questions, I have another one.”
He caught his upper lip on his lower teeth and leaned forward. I could smell his mint breath freshener, and something else. Fear? Guilt? Tobacco?
“What do you know about Emi Blackmore?” I asked.
He tilted his head to one side and swallowed his words. Was he surprised I was speaking English, or that I’d said Emi’s name? He straightened up. He pointed to a light fixture in the ceiling. He got up from behind our picnic table and scribbled on the whiteboard.
Microphone! Boss is listening.
He said: “Let me write that for you, this…is…a pencil. See?” He’d written: Boss is listening NOW!
I got up and took the marker pen from his hand.
“Oh, I see.” I wrote on the board: Tell me about Emi NOW!
“But the question is like this. Is…this…a pencil?”
Who are YOU?
“I thought it was like this.”
I’m like her big sister.
“No, no, it’s like this.”
Like? Why should I talk to you?
I took a red marker pen from the whiteboard tray. “Oh I see what you mean.”
Tell me everything or I’ll scream.
He paused. He raised his gaze to my eyes for the first time. Did he think I was just a kid? I cleared my throat and spoke like the BBC: “Hey, don’t look at my chest…”
He laughed a not funny laugh and grabbed the marker from my hand. “Let me show you what I mean.”
I can’t help you.
I grabbed the eraser. It was damp from his sweat.
“Let me show you,” I said. I stood close to him and whispered:
“Can’t or don’t want to? They are two different things. That’s what Aunt Tanaka says. I think you were Emi’s boyfriend and I think your breath smells of mints to hide the smell of alcohol. I don’t think that’s very nice for your students, is it, Luc-sensei?”
“I just want an answer in a full sentence to my first question,” I said sweetly and loudly.
He glanced at the ceiling and rubbed his left hand through his hair. Then he erased the board clean and wrote in small handwriting:
Emi cried about missing her dad. I held her hand. I didn’t mean to but she needed a hug. We kissed. Her mom was always following her about. She saw us. That was it. The next I heard Emi was moving far from Tokyo to her grandparents’. I got one email from Emi. Said she was living some place up north—Ishinomaki. I’ve never seen her since.
“And that’s all I know,” he said, and sat down.
“OK. Let me take a picture of that because I get easily confused.”
I snapped a picture of the words but you couldn’t see them so well because Luc-sensei’s head in his hands was blocking half of it. But he didn’t seem like he wanted to smile for the camera so I didn’t retake it.
“Sensei,” I said, “I must dash. But I might put this on Twitter for you.”
I slipped past him as he cleaned the board frantically. As I hurried past the classroom cells on either side of the corridor to the girls’ toilet, I typed Ishinomaki into my phone. Far north, on the coast, three hours by train or five by car, according to my phone.
Mr. Blackmore was pacing up and down the school lobby with his hands on his hips. “Did she have a boyfriend? Was it him?” He looked ready to hit someone, probably anyone.
“Please Mr. Blackmore, he’s not important. We’ve got to get moving and we’ve got a long trip ahead of us to Ishinomaki. We have to leave now, for Emi’s sake.”
That was true. It was also true that I didn’t like being so close to Aunt Tanaka’s noodle shop. What if Ono came back to look for me? What if he was angry about his Mercedes car? What if he saw Mr. Blackmore? But I decided that he probably would be somewhere else.
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.