Furuyama-san gazed towards the bright morning sun. She slowly shifted her balance from foot to foot, her right hand idly gripping a pair of shears. A shadow moved slowly towards her, framed against the natural angles of the village houses. The shadow became larger. Furuyama-san slowly leaned down and plucked up a weed.
She looked up into a boy’s face. An earnest boy, rosy sunburnt cheeks, darting eyes that seemed unaccustomed to the morning light. “He won’t understand me,” Furuyama-san thought, but she smiled at him anyway.
“Ohaio gozaimasu,” she called out.
The boy stopped awkwardly, and lowered his gaze to the old woman in front of him. He gave an unaccomplished little bow and cupped his hands before him, like a Thai. “Ohaio gozaimasu!” He smiled back at Furuyama-san, his bright eyes staring straight at her.
“It’s a fine morning,” she said, in slow Japanese. “But hot. So hot here! But my cabbages don’t mind, do you see how big they are this year?” She motioned towards her two rows of cabbages.
The boy’s eyes suddenly slipped down, and he shook his head apologetically. “Nihongo o….” he trailed off, standing still, suddenly looking around, as though for something to grasp.
“Well nevermind,” Furuyama-san continued, “if you come back in a couple of months I’ll give you some cabbages anyway. Furuyama-san does so love when I make him fresh vegetable soup in the autumn.”
She smiled again at the boy, then turned back to her cabbages. A large frog was jumping between the rows, heading towards a small pond at the back. “Oh look, such a big frog. Furuyama-san does like frogs. ‘They are masters of adaption,’ he used to tell me. From swimming tadpoles to jumping frogs. Not like us humans, right? Only a kami can change so quickly.” She looked up at the boy, but he had turned his gaze, and was already walking off.
Furuyama-san turned her head, and wandered to the pond at the back of her garden. The frog had disappeared. But she saw two large tadpoles swimming along the edge. Furuyama-san smiled at them. “It’s an easy life being a tadpole,” she said. “It makes no difference to them what the temperature’s like up here.”
The weather stayed hot, and the rain fell only in occasional drips and drabs. Furuyama-san kept her wide-brim hat on while she worked in her vegetable garden, and she frequently sat on a little wooden stool to wipe the sweat from her brow. She lugged a hose to and from her garden shed most days. She was just finishing off watering her cabbages one afternoon when she heard a cough behind her.
She turned, slowly. The boy was back, beaming at her with his bright red cheeks.
“Atsui,” he said. “Hot, very hot. Uh. Here, I bring.” He lifted up his hands. There was a bottle of juice in each one. “Please. For you.”
Furuyama-san frowned at him. He took a few steps towards her, and held out his hand. She took the bottle from him, opened it slowly. She looked up at him, closed her eyes, took a little sip. The juice was ice cold. When she opened her eyes, the boy was already walking off.
“Hai!” she called after him. He stopped. “You can’t give me a present and then walk off so quickly, come now, I have something for you too.”
The boy stared at her, and started shaking his head.
“Stay!” she called, and she gestured with her hands. She walked slowly to the back of the garden, twice checking over her shoulder to make sure the boy was still there. Then she grabbed two stools and started walking back. The boy saw her, came forward, grabbed a stool. “There, there, I bring.”
Furuyama-san shook her head, but the stool was out of her hands already. She set hers down in the ground, made sure the boy sat on his, and then slowly disappeared again to the back of the garden. She returned with two red tomatoes. She gave them to the boy, grabbing his hand so she could place them in his palm.
“These are very ripe, you better eat them quickly. I’ve been serving them to Furuyama-san every evening this week, he likes them with his fried eggs.”
The boy gave an awkward smile, and took a long drink from his juice. Furuyama-san had another sip of hers.
“Where are you from?” she asked the boy. “Your country? A-na-ta-no-ku-ni?”
It took a few seconds, but the boy comprehended. “Yu Ess Ei,” he said, and then he tried again: “Bei Koku.”
“Bei Koku, how lovely! It can’t be so hot there I imagine, you look so uncomfortable in this heat. Oh, the summer in Awaji is tough, especially for an old woman like me.”
The boy was finished his juice already, and he tried to fan himself with the bottle.
Furuyama-san laughed. “That won’t do, that certainly won’t do. Do you want to learn Japanese?”
She repeated her question again, slower. “Yes, yes,” the boy replied. “Every day I study Japanese.”
“Oh very good! What can you say?”
The boy leaned back a little on his stool. He stared off towards the village, and then he turned back to face the woman. He squinted his eyes a little bit.
“My name is John,” he said. “Jo-nu.”
He picked up the woman’s shears from off the ground. She blanched, but he didn’t notice, and he used the handle of the shears to write two characters in the gravel next to where they sat: ジョヌ
Furuyama-san was smiling when he looked up again. She read the kana: “Jo-nu.”