Quite often when I ask an adult Japanese student how their week has been there’ll answer,
Well I had a couple of ‘happenings this’ week.
One an interesting thought provoking, happy ‘happening’,
( later) and the other, unfortunately probably going to be recorded in my now, thick book of supremely humiliating moments in public.
You could put me anywhere in the world, anywhere at all and I can pretty much make a show of myself. I’m somewhat lacking in the grace and elegance department.
I trip, I fall, I’m clumsy, I’m forgetful, I say the wrong thing and end up choking on my own foot, add to all of that the need many people in this country have, to draw attention to my difference, my foreigness, my gaijinity, I do pretty much anticipate some degree of humiliation anywhere I go, avid readers will know, the post office is a particularly fertile ground for such experiences.
But nothing really could have prepared me for the ‘happening’ of last week, where I did not trip or fall, or break anything or even open my mouth. I simply wandered into it, without warning, unprepared, unarmed, unguarded.
I was shopping. Shopping quietly, minding my own business, lost in my own complex and stunningly interesting thoughts.
I was in the food department of the local department store, a place I rarely shop on account of the exhorbitant prices.
On this occasion though I was planning a spag bol and I wanted to make it with minced lamb, lamb is hard to come by here and this shop is the only place I can buy it.
So I got my lamb and was sashaying along the aisles, resisting 5 quid bottles of Lea and Perrins and as I turned a corner to the pasta aisle, someone called out my name loudly.
I looked over and a woman I sort of know was working on the register. We have kids around the same age but our paths haven’t crossed for a couple of years.
She shouted my name across the shop, waved and said,
“ YOU’VE REALLY PUT ON WEIGHT”.
Everyone loves to hear that right? Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, it’s right up there in my top faves, along with “ Jeez you lool like shit”, “ who the Hell cut your hair?” and “ is that a clingon on the back of your cardy?”
But across a crowded shop? Really made my day.
So, having been here long enough to know the drill, I sort of smiled and sort of half waved back and dodged into the pasta aisle, like a galloping rhino, taking care not to knock all the Paul Newman’s altruistic pasta sauce off the shelves with my enormous hips, I took a deep breath and sucked it up.
I continued lumbering around the shop until I had all my vitals.
Selections made I went to pay, but the universe was not friending me that cold, dark day, and she, her, The Woman was the only line open.
She saw me, she waved me over, and there was no escape.
So I crawled over to her and she started up again.
‘Haven’t seen you for ages, you’ve really gained weight haven’t you, ooh look at the size of your boobs’.
I was mortified, nay petrified, calcified, and standing before her like a solid, massive lump.
A line was forming behind me.
People were listening. Then my arms, which up until this moment in my life I hadn’t had a problem with, suddenly appear to hang down like great sides of beef. She reached out and grabbed them, trying to gain traction with her tiny little hamster paws and said ‘oh you just eat whatever you want don’t you.’
Then I said, actually it may not have been me, by this point I had completely lost touch with myself and my own reality, I may have been channeling by now,
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit rude?’
And she laughed,
And I said, “are you just informing me, do you think I’m unaware of this weight gain, is this a public service?”
And she said, “Ooh you sound angry, and she laughed again.”
The woman on the next register was listening in by now.
Then she started picking items out of my basket telling what I should and shouldn’t eat. There was packet of cheesy snack things which were actually for the chicklets and she pulled it out and said,
“You should put these back, you shouldn’t be eating these”
You know that saying about how you wish the floor would open up and swallow you, I get that now, I really get it.
She was still laughing when she gave me my change.
I managed to slink to the packing area; I was trying to figure out how I could get back up two floors and into the car park invisibly.
By the time I got outside my hands were shaking so much I could barely get the wrapper of my Cadbury’s fruit and nut.