Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kensuke, 2


Kensuke and the other students washed their calligraphy brushes and tidied up the mess of crumpled practice sheets and the splotches of spilled ink, making the classroom and themselves ready for the next lesson of the day.

By the time everything was straightened and in its proper place, the blackboard was filled with math problems, and Mrs Wakita stood with chalk in hand. Kensuke never felt completely comfortable during the math lessons, not because of any particular weakness in the subject, but because his teacher was very demanding in this subject. For that small measure of discomfort though, Kensuke was benefitting from Mrs Wakita’s stern methods. And so, for the next forty-five minutes he set himself to the problems on the blackboard.


Kensuke involuntarily jumped at the sound of his name, spoken in a manner that indicated a question about one of the problems was next. His throat tightened as he rose to his feet.

“Yes, sensei.”

“Please come to the blackboard and explain the solution to this problem.” She tapped the blackboard to indicate the first problem.

Solving the problem should have presented no difficulty to Kensuke. It was a problem in fractions, and to Kensuke was not especially complicated. But under the stern eye of the teacher he stumbled through the problem, erasing his results more than once, and taking twice the time it would have, had no one been watching. Finally, laying down the chalk and eraser, he turned reluctantly to his teacher, both hands now white with chalk dust.

“Perhaps a little extra time on your math tonight, Aoki-kun. Would that be time well spent, do you think?”

“Yes, sensei. I will study tonight and do better tomorrow.”

The remainder of the math study passed in relative ease, with other students going to the blackboard in turn to work out a problem and Mrs Wakita guiding them through the correct steps, or difficult sections. At the end of their study students turned in their notebooks to be looked over by the teacher.

Kensuke was sorry that his class couldn’t visit once more Fujitsu Computer. Last week Mrs Wakita, along with the new science teacher Miss Nakatani, had arranged to take the class to Fujitsu to tour their research and development department. At the sight of the computers, Kensuke’s eyes had been like two great saucers. He could hardly believe the speed at which processed information poured out of these giant “brains.” His favorite part had been the time given students to ask questions and tap keys on the one of the computers. Everyone had laughed when three students input several commands one after another, and after a loud ringing noise a message popped up on the screen saying, ‘Too many questions!’ Later, the students learned that Miss Nakatani had arranged with the Fujitsu engineers to have the computer do that as a joke.

He pushed on with the math problems, his mind moving quickly through the numbers. Kensuke looked at the problems as he would a puzzle, without drudgery, but with eagerness over how the numbers would fit together to make an answer. Near the end, his notebook showed a neat page of numbers and fractions all arranged into what he hoped were correct answers. For the remaining minutes before lunch he sat daydreaming about the day he would be a great baseball star and become good friends with Japan’s king of baseball, Oh Sadaharu.

He imagined himself together with the great man roaring down the highway in a neat little sports car, two beautiful girls laughing in the cramped rear seat. He had smashed two home runs in that day’s game, and now he and his friends were driving down to Misaki for an evening of dinner and dancing. One of the girls was Oh’s girlfriend, and the other was a glamorous movie star Kensuke had met at a party. He went to a party every night, and…

“Ken-chan! Hurry up! We’re going to be last in line for lunch.”

Fumio’s voice startled Kensuke back to the present. Mrs Wakita stood by the door waiting for notebooks to be turned in, and he quickly handed over his own.

Lunch on Thursday was often curry and rice, and a favorite among all the students. When Kensuke and Fumio reached the cafeteria there was a long line up of students at the serving line, but it didn’t take them long to get their lunch of curry with rice, and a small bowl of fruit cocktail.

Kensuke was jabbering away about a recent baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers and not really paying much attention to what Fumio was doing. He didn’t notice that his friend was firing cherries and grapes across the room, using his chopsticks as a sling. Neither did Fumio notice the school Principal, Mr Nagasawa entering the cafeteria. Unfortunately for Fumio he walked right into the line of fire and caught a cherry broadside on the nose. Suddenly the cafeteria became deadly quiet as the Principal stood there with a line of red cherry juice running down his face, his mouth agape.

Almost before Kensuke had time to look up from his curry, Mr Nagasawa crossed the room and grabbed Fumio by the collar, pulling him out of his chair and onto tiptoes.

“Good day, young Mr Hattori. You are caught I’m afraid, and now we shall see what happens to boys who throw their food at other people!” Holding tightly to Fumio’s collar, Mr Nagasawa led him off toward the administration offices, dabbing at his cherry-stained face with a white handkerchief.

Continued tomorrow…

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America