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Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Another day, another murder
A snap of her wrist . . . and she has yanked back our kitchen curtains. Her eyes dart over the yard. That is, what we call a yard — a few square meters of gravel and grass that our neighbor's house now shadows from the morning sun.
She searches the tight corner by our shed. She leans to see the crawl space under the planking of our "porch." She checks the ground behind our bushes.
And from the window, she sighs.
No crumpled salaryman with a knife tucked in his ribs. No neighborhood housewife strangled with her doggie leash.
Not a single dead body at all. So she slinks back into the kitchen and makes breakfast.
An hour later she clicks her way up the hill toward the station and her train. As she walks, her eyes crawl over the bags of garbage at the trash sites.
Her eyebrows rise and the clicks of her heels slow, slow . . . slow . . . and halt.
There! In that plastic bag! Could it be!?
A severed hand! One sawed at the wrist by a bread knife! With the poor woman's wedding band yet glimmering through the plastic.
She holds her breath and steps to the pile! To discover . . .
The white of a cardboard liner, wrapped in grease paper with a gold twist tie.
Her shoulders sag.
On the train, per usual, she cannot secure a seat and so squares herself away near the door. The crowd presses her and she faces out to the city: the gray militia of buildings, the lifeless windows, the weary rumble of other trains. In one spot the rails of the adjoining line banana out toward hers and the two trains curve together. So that for several rickety moments the drowsy commuters in the other line change from huddled figures into real people.
In that train stands another woman, also at the door. They roll closer and closer until the two eye each other over short meters of rail and rock.
The other woman's mouth stretches in panic. "Help!" she seems to whisper. She gestures with frantic eyes. "That man behind me . . . He's got a gun in my back! Please save me!"
And then the two trains glide apart in the morning gloam.
Her heart stops. "What can I do!? What can I do!?" She tippy-toes to keep her head up and follow the other train.
To see that the woman is only mumbling along with the lyrics to some song from her earphones. And the sleepy man behind her hangs with both hands on his strap.
Still she follows them until they bend fully away. Too bad. That one was close.
The day passes and she enters her classroom early, before her students. To discover an abandoned notebook under one desk.
She flips through the pages. Inside might not there be something heinous! A murder confession perhaps! Or the blueprint for a heist! Or the code to some sinister secret!
In the entire book there are but five words, all on page one. The devious message being . . .
"Next week read chapter three."
Drats. She glances outside.
There! In the office building across the street! A woman at the window! About to leap! About to cast her life of troubles down from the eighth floor to the welcoming concrete below!
Or . . . perhaps she is just dusting plants. Yes . . . that seems to be it.
Later, she takes lunch at her desk — a neat Tupper of goodies and a pet bottle of tea. Finished, she leaves the room to rinse her Tupperware in the kitchen down the hallway, with her drink left behind.
And when she returns . . .
My drink? I didn't leave the cap off . . . did I? She sniffs the tea. How easy for someone — anyone — to catch her away from her desk and then teaspoon in some crystals. Poison that would make her clutch at her throat, topple to floor, and lie with her tongue blue against the tile.
But . . . who? One of her students? A fellow teacher? The 70-year-old janitor?
"Now I'm being silly." Still . . . she empties the tea in the kitchen sink.
At night I find her at our family kotatsu, reading a book with her glasses down her nose. "How was your day? Anything happen?" She looks up. "Oh nothing special. Like always."
I ask what she's reading. It's a mystery novel. It's always a mystery novel. "You better watch out," I tell her. "One of these days all those crimes will go to your head."
Nonsense, she says. She just enjoys a good read. Nothing like a mystery to shake her from the drab routine of everyday life.
"But it's only escapism. It has no other effect whatsoever." I make us both coffee and join her at the kotatsu.
"OK then," I say. "Wanna hear about my day? The continuing misadventures of your foreign husband?"
She smiles and says, "Sure." And sips coffee as I talk.
After first raising her cup and sniffing it very closely.