And just as I’m saying this, who other than Urara should come through the front door? She's wearing a simple beige suit with a white blouse. Her long hair falls in soft curls on her shoulders. She looks absolutely gorgeous.
Walking directly towards me, Urara places her hand on my back and, much to my surprise and delight, kisses me on the cheek.
Jesus, when was the last time a woman did that to me?
She turns to the man next to me and asks if he would move over a bit. Naturally, he obliges. I am genuinely flattered. So much attention and kindness from someone as lovely as Urara; I don't feel worthy.
"I thought about calling you today," I say.
It’s the God's truth. Every time I looked at the phone, my heart filled with a gnawing pain. In another lifetime, I wouldn't have wasted a second worrying. I would have picked up the receiver and, assuring myself I'd had nothing to lose, dialed Urara's number and asked her out.
"Why didn't you?"
Yeah, good question: why didn't I? Well, for starters, after almost a-year-and-a-half-long run of disappointments, I am so decorticated of self-confidence that it is becoming difficult to conceal the stark naked weakness of my character. Had I called Urara only to be let down, I might very well have thrown in the towel, retiring from the maddening sport altogether.
"I, uh . . . Well, . . . What with Bon starting tomorrow and all, it just seemed better to wait . . . "
"That's very thoughtful of you, Peador, but, really, you needn't be so careful with me."
Earlier when I was chatting with Shō, it occurred to me that the reason my Japanese seems to have improved, allowing me to finally maintain conversations beyond all the insipid self-introduction I have been chagrined to give, is that I have finally broken through the dialect barrier. In the first several months since moving to Fukuoka, the local dialect had been keeping me shut out, peering in and wondering what the devil everyone was talking about.
I doubt most Anglophones appreciate how dramatically regional dialects can vary. Mind you, it's not just a matter of accents, which betray a speaker's origin like "shibboleth" did in Biblical times, marking my Dad as having hailed from Dublin, my mother from Cork. No, I'm talking about huge variations from region to region in grammar, phrasing, and vocabulary that make the sundry dialects sound as if they are distinct languages in their own right.
It was frustrating enough when I first began studying Japanese to discover that the phrases in my textbook that I had gone to the trouble of memorizing were seldom used in situ.
Listen: A simple question like "What are you doing?" ought to be straight- forward, right? Well, my good-for-nothing textbook taught me to utter the following mouthful: "Anata-wa nani-o shite-imasuka?" Had I ever managed to get that doosie to roll properly off my tongue, my curiosity might have been duly answered. The trouble is, it'd be as natural as jogging on the beach in clunky ski boots. Your average Tarô, after all, usually rattles off a curt "Nani shiteru no?" or something close to it.
When I figured this out, I wasted little time taking my Sensei aside and telling her to please, please, please throw politeness out the window and start teaching me real, living, breathing Nihongo rather than the embalmed and entombed Japanese she had been inflicting on me. I don't care what the old Japan hands say; a little confrontation can go a long way.
With time and encouragement, my very square Sensei mended her stubbornly proper ways, but, even then, she took great pains to warn against using casual Japanese too lightly. You must never cause offence by saying something inappropriate, she'd instruct sternly as if her very reputation were at stake. I'd remind Sensei to let her hair down because this wasn't the Edo Period anymore. A samuraiwasn't going to lop off my head because I'd dis'd him.
No sooner had I got phrases like "Nani shiteru no?" under my belt than I moved to neighboring Fukuoka and slammed up against an unexpected brick wall: the local dialect known as Hakata-ben. Suddenly, it was as if everyone around me were speaking in tongues. If a Fukuokan wanted to know what I was doing, he didn't ask, "Nani shiteru no?" He said, "Nan shiyoh to?" or “Nanba shiyotto?” or even "Nan shon?"
In a matter of six months, I'd gone from "Anata-wa nani-o shite-imasuka?" to "Nan shiyoh to?" Italian and Portuguese couldn't be more different from each other.
Something clicked sometime during the past few months when I wasn't paying attention, and the next thing I knew, I'd got one leg over the wall and was shimmying the other one up. The idle banter between Yumi and Reina, among my students, between bartenders like Shô and the customers started to make sense.
So, when Urara places her hand on my arm and says, "Suki yaken, sonna ki' tsukawan dotte." I didn't have to translate it inside my head from Hakata-ben into the standard Japanese, which would have sounded like, "Suki dakara, sonna ki-o tsukawanai de," I just took it now as having meant that this Urara likes me so I ought to stop tip-toeing so carefully around her.
"Are you here alone tonight?" I ask.
"No, Hiromi-chan will be here soon. And, what about you, Peador?"
There are times the right words just flow from my mouth making me feel as if I had French-kissed the Blarney Stone, and then there are those that make me feel as though it had been dropped on my head. Today I am in that blessed rock's good graces; I tell Urara I was waiting for someone special to show up.
"Oh? And who might that be?"
— excerpt from A Woman's Nails by Aonghas Crowe