Saturday-Sunday 5/6 August 2006
I got to the library at 0905 on Saturday and found the brain-damaged people were starting to arrive and were lining up outside. A whiteboarded sign very clearly stated that the library would not open until 0930, but there they were, joining a steadily-lengthening queue.
I asked, in Japanese, if I was correct in thinking that the library would not open until 0930, and I was told that my assumption was correct.
So what were the people doing there?
At first I thought that maybe they had all been lobotomized and were showing up at the library in obedience to radio signals being broadcast to them by their controllers in Egypt. That they had been threatened, perhaps, that they would self-destruct if they failed to line up as directed.
Then I came up with an alternative hypothesis, which was that maybe some particularly juicy treat would be distributed to those who were first through the door at 0930. Fresh strawberries, for example, or packets of semtex, or North Korean flags, or second-hand circus tickets.
Whatever the explanation, I was not one of the zombies, so I absconded from the disciplinarium in the company of my two-year-old daughter, and we went to the little park tucked away behind the supermarket which is down the road from the library. The jolly sun was mounting steadily toward its daytime peak of 35 degrees celsius, which is quite a chunk of the way toward Fahrenheit 451, and we had the park to ourselves, so Cornucopia practiced digging dirt in the sandpit.
When we got back to the library the queued mutants had disappeared into the bowels of the library. But there was an old man hanging around in the darkened gloom of the foyer. He heard me talking to Cornucopia so picked up on the fact that I could speak at least some Japanese.
"Do you speak Japanese?" he said, or something like that.
He came quite close and I could smell him, though I was not exactly sure what the smell was. Alcohol? Stale vomit? Old age? Summer nights after midnight? Whatever it was, it was an alarming smell.
"Kodomo ga suki desu," he said.
Meaning "I like children." Or, perhaps, "I like your child."
I scrambled for something that I could say to disengage myself from this situation.
"Yoroshiku onegaishimasu," I said, which literally means something like "Please favor me," and may form part of a stiffly formal hello, something like the English "How do you do?"
Having thus essayed this exercise in politeness I hurried my child into the sanctuary of the library, where we were soon at the place where the Japanese children's books were. Cornucopia signaled that she wanted not these books but other books, and I presumed she meant English picture books.
So I went looking for the English picture books, which, according to my memory, were down a kind of hall to the right, past the computers. But I could find neither the remembered computers nor the hallway, so asked the librarians at the counter. Where were the English children's picture books?
"Eigo no e-hon wa doko desho ka?"
A librarian produced a map and marked "here" and "there" on the map, but I could not make sense out of it. So the librarian kindly led me and Cornucopia to the English picture books. Which were not where I had remembered them but were, instead, just a shelf away from the Japanese children's books.
Not in a different location, as I had confidently remembered, but in the same location.
The place I remembered visiting did not exist and never had. It was a location in my own private brain-damaged planet, inaccessible to anyone else. Inaccessible, in fact, even to me.
"Ah!" said Cornucopia, happily, spying what she wanted, a shelf of Dick Bruna books featuring Miffy, Poppy Pig and others.
My daughter very efficiently chose six books. She has the hang of this book-borrowing business now, and we were out of the library in only a few minutes.
I half-feared that some atrocity would have befallen our unprotected pushchair, but it seemed to have gone unmolested in the foyer. I could not see the old man anywhere about, but I noticed that there seemed to be a group of people clustered in the open area outside the library, and I got the impression that they were older guys, and a big ragged, though I could not make them out clearly as I glanced at them through my dark sunglasses in the brilliant glare of the day outside.
Maybe they were harmless members of the local chapter of retired Yokohama alcoholics or maybe they belonged to the local branch of the Senior Citizens Young Girl Appreciators Club. I couldn't tell. I was happy for us to be on our way home.
On the way home, Cornucopia saw a cat.
Later, when my wife returned home shortly after 11 am, her latest mission accomplished, I mentioned that we had spent the start of the morning in the park because the library did not open until 0930.
My wife assured me that the library did, in fact, open at 0900, always. And that was when I finally understood why the people were lining up passively outside a door which clearly proclaimed that there would be no admission until 0930.
They had been programmed to believe that the library would in fact open at 0900, and, confronted by an alternative reality, they could not adjust to the situation, so did not do something useful with their time, like digging mud in the nearby park.
Sunday was a leisurely day and, shortly before 0900, I took my daughter out for a walk so her mother could watch her regular Sunday art scene show.
We went to the elementary school just up the road where Cornucopia, as usual, said hello to the rabbits and the chicken. We admired the vegetables growing in the school's garden: tomatoes and aubergines, amongst others. I told Cornucopia that a "nasu" was also an aubergine, or, if you like, an eggplant.
The school was deserted, the school holidays being in full swing. A dry place of dusty dirt, the trees noisy with a racket of cicadas, a crow crying harshly amidst the trees. Sweat ran off my back.
Cornucopia faltered and asked to go home, then asked instead for some water. I gave her the baby's drinking bottle from the compartment under the pushchair's seat, but she demanded my bottle, a 500 ml softdrink bottle.
After drinking water, she was ready for more adventuring, and was soon getting noisy about a dandelion which had gone to seed. At first I didn't understand what she wanted, then I clicked. My job was to blow off the seeds of the dandelion. Which I did.
Then Cornucopia plucked a dandelion which was in flower and tried to get me to blow off the petals. Which I couldn't because it was impossible. She tried a number of different flowers and grasses, trying to get me to blow stuff off, but my only successes were with the dandelions.
We got back home after having been away for about 40 minutes, to find that the arts scene show had been canceled in favor of the start of the opening ceremony of the annual high school baseball competition. A brain-damaged decision if ever there was one, if you ask me, but I wasn't asked.
At home, we kept the air conditioning on and hid out from the mounting heat. At one stage I was playing lifeguard while Cornucopia was sitting in the baby bath, which was in the bathroom, full of cool water.
"Kaeru-san!" she started saying. "Kaeru-san!"
Meaning "Mr Frog." I told her there was no front in the bathroom. Then I realized she was pointing to the broad shelf by the window. I leaned over and picked up a big plastic container which was full of bath toys and, sure enough, there was a frog in there.
My daughter shares the same world as I do, but hers is a little mutated.