“A Clash of Humanity”

She walked into Big Lots, the one where her mother had thrown a shit-fit and insulted an elderly Japanese lady. Her mother was close to 90, and had done so the day before. She had flown in on her broom and stayed three days. In that time she managed to berate, insult and offend quite a number of people, local people who her daughter would perhaps see weekly. She didn’t spare the daughter either, and though the lumps were invisible, the wounds went deep.

This last assault was the worst. The Japanese lady had grabbed the sleeve of her mother’s sweater and said playfully: “Give me that pretty sweater”. Her mother raised her hackles. She turned on the woman.

“How dare you touch me,” she hissed. The Japanese lady did not back down, but backed up. She seemed to have common sense.

“I’m only playing with you. I don’t mean offense.”

Her mother’s eyebrow arched, the expression she used with ‘inferior folk’ when she, a little woman herself, tried to make others submit.

“Hah! You lost the war!” As if this made sense of everything.

Her mother’s words were ridiculous, some 65 years after the fact, but to her, a fine logic. The Japanese woman turned to her racks of clothes and her mother stormed out of the store.

The next day, her daughter made the rounds, apologizing to the employee in the food store for her mother’s insults, at another thrift shop where the mother became irate when she wasn’t immediately served, and then the scene at Big Lots. The Japanese lady was as gracious as her own mother outrageous, and she tried to laugh it off. But Leah had seen the ‘look’ before; the hurt in eyes of people who were attacked by her mother. She saw the ‘look’ since she was 15 and had been apologizing for her mother ever since. In her home town, people, total strangers to the her, would stop and ask: “What is wrong with your mother!” As if she, at 15, would know. Later, much later she would know, but at that age, her mother was a constant source of shame and embarrassment.

“Your mother. She is German?”
The daughter laughed. “Yes.” (This was a lie)
“She was the Bitch of Buchenwald.”

That was the name her family, except her husband, called her behind her back. She was that bad.

“Oh, I see”, said the Japanese lady, but of course she didn’t.

The daughter had no idea how to deal with her mother’s behavior, and it took four years of therapy to realize it was a particular nasty brand of mental illness. It wasn’t the daughter’s fault, nor did her mother’s behavior spring from what she, the daughter, did. Nor was it the fault of the grocer, the employee at the thrift store, nor the Japanese lady at Big Lots.

Four years later, Leah, now dressed in a new, hand- made kimono, obi sash and a silk parasol, had her husband drop her at Big Lots to pick up a gift. They were going to a costume party and she had picked this kimono to wear. It was peach silk, with a navy blue wide obi, with large goldfish swimming in the background. The final sash was a thin red silk rope, doubled and tied in a samurai knot in front.

She was wearing geta, and the clack- clack of the wood soles sounded like a horse on the flooring of the store. She immediately found a silver plated picture frame, a perfect gift for the queen of the party….and there was the Japanese lady.

“Oh, you look beautiful! But you dead!”

The daughter thought she was nursing the previous insult, but no, the Japanese lady was referring to the way she had ‘closed’ her kimono. Right panel over left was how people were buried….Left over right was for the living.

Maichio was her name, and she was all of 80 lbs and only 4’8”. She picked up the hem and looked at the hand stitching and marveled at the patience the daughter of the Nazi had in stitching the kimono. Tiny little stitches and a lot of them. She opened her wallet and took out two small pictures, stuck together probably from age and handling. One was of her at 21 and the other at 32. Both were taken when she was made up as Geisha.

She was so beautiful, as ethereal as an ageha, a butterfly. This wrinkled, little crone was once as classically endowed with beauty as any famous Geisha. The passage of time had taken that outward beauty but her gracious and generous heart was untouched.

Something had to be done! This stupid girl couldn’t be allowed to remain ‘dead’.

So Maichio did what any sensible Japanese woman would do. There, in Big Lots, in a store almost devoid of customers on an early Saturday evening, she undressed the girl. Off came the first belt, then the obi sash, then the inner belt and quickly she opened, and properly closed the kimono. She was wearing a lace bra and panties and they both giggled at the ‘inappropriate’ underwear.

Inappropriate for wearing a kimono.

Maichio slapped the woman’s belly good naturedly. “You get too fat to close kimono!”
She redressed her, correctly bloused the kimono so the vertebra in the neck showed (the height of sexuality in Japan) and rewrapped the obi sash.

Success! She wasn’t ‘dead’ anymore! She got a quick lesson in important Japanese words and how to bow correctly. Maichio got two kisses and the eternal gratitude from this now ‘alive’ woman. She was given quick instruction how to walk with dignity in her high geta, like a geisha perhaps, or a poor imitation of one.

Maichio demonstrated for her the ‘sexy’ figure- eight walk in high geta, the trademark of a professional Geisha. The feet are dragged at a pointed angle forward, in a looping curve, wide out from the body, but with the knees together. One slowly placed in front of the other. To do this and still stand, a Geisha would need the support of a maid, so tiny Maichio was her walking support. Back and forth, up and down the aisle they walked, throwing her feet out at Maichio’s direction. The hips roll in a very strange, sexy way and perhaps is why an experienced Geisha will use the figure-eight: It advertises what is under the kimono.

She left Maichio that evening with an overflowing heart. Maichio’s kind gestures had given her much room for thought.

Sometimes the borders between humans disappear, even when great wars are fought and there is bitterness lasting generations. There will always be victors and vanquished. The human heart is capable of great evil and greater compassion.

Maichio had come from Hiroshima, had lost her family and had been burned in the fires of 1945. From this land of death there was always life to be honored, and she would find a way, even in repairing a badly closed kimono.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009, 2012

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One Response to ““A Clash of Humanity””

  1. Marguerite Says:

    You are my inspiration , I own few web logs and rarely run out from to post .


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