The man behind anger
There is a restaurant I love in Yotsuya, the quintessential "clean, well-lighted place," where the sun streams in through huge glass windows. I arrived just minutes after the doors opened one day in December and was a little surprised to note, as I made my way to the back of the restaurant, that one customer was already seated. He was alone, motionless as a mannequin, the sun cutting stark angles on his business suit and throwing a shadow behind his cup of coffee.
I was early for my meet-up with a friend and, feeling the peaceful stasis of the warm morning, I left my bags at the table and wandered off to order a few cakes for my coworkers in the office. I passed the man on my way. He was glued to his coffee cup. Ten minutes later, I headed back to my table.
As I walked in front of him, the man suddenly barked out, sharply, and in perfect English, "Don't leave your bags unattended!" I was stunned for a moment, and he continued. "You are stupid if you think because this is Japan, you are safe," he snapped. I gazed around. Without saying anything, I meant to suggest the obvious fact that we were the only people in the restaurant. "You foolishly think there is some guarantee of safety here?There is none," the man spat out. I simply nodded, and went back to my belongings, slightly unnerved. I have to admit I checked to see that everything was there. It was.
I sat for a few minutes, mulling over what the man said. Though he certainly didn't sound kind, I thought he probably meant well. So I went over to thank him. I said I had been robbed in Japan before, and that yes, I was stupid to leave my things on the table. "That's exactly right," he said, waving his hand to dismiss me. Then, for whatever reason, I carried on. I told him that, though I don't wish to get robbed, I suppose that if someone steals something, they probably need it more than I do.
Something happened then. He looked up at me, and his eyes were full of tears. I had no way to understand what prompted them. "That's a kind way to think," he said, staring at his coffee again. I asked him if he was OK. He shook his head, rising from his table with the bill for his coffee in his hand. "Actually, I have cancer," he said, "all through my body. I am going into the hospital today."
My response, a sad "Oh," seemed inadequate, so I gave him a hug, too. He laughed at the shock of contact and then, holding me at arm's length, thanked me. Then he left. I sat in the morning sun, thinking how little we know of what others face, and how easy it is to misjudge situations.
Shukan ST: JANUARY 13, 2012
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