Sunday, 20 March 2011

Her name is Junko.

She is seventeen. She came here as an exchange student in February. Since then her world has fallen apart. She desperately wants to go home but there is no home to go to.
Her older brother, Hiro, was in Tokyo when the disaster happened. He is safe. They have not heard from their parents. They will almost certainly not hear from their parents. Hiro's messages from Tokyo leave no doubt. Junko is still hoping.
I know her brother. He was here several years ago. I read his thesis for him. He had impeccable manners and, unusually, was willing to take advice. When he left he also left an invitation that I would, one day, visit Japan on my way to London. His family would like to meet me. They all spoke some English he assured me. Now it is just the two of them. He has asked me to talk to her.
Junko is waiting for me on the seat outside the library. I am early but she is earlier still. She is also sitting quite still. When she sees me her expression changes just a little from almost nothing to something like faint relief.
I sit next to her. I do not sit too close. She needs support but she also needs space. I am a stranger but I am also not a stranger. Right now I am her one link with home. I know her brother.
I wait and, at last, she starts to talk. She tells me little things. She is thinking Japanese and talking English. Her English is slow and not particularly good. In other circumstances it is probably much better but she looks utterly exhausted.
Then comes the big thing. Hiro has asked her to stay here. He has told her there is nothing to go back to. If she returns she will add just one more person to all the displaced people. She will be one more person to feed in a country that is struggling to feed everyone right now.
Her exchange family have told her the same thing. Stay. They will have her as long as she needs to be here, longer than originally planned if necessary.
She knows it is sensible but sensible is not what she wants right then. She wants home. She wants her family. Each word is a struggle by now. There is a damp patch on my shoulder where she has started to cry. I wish I was her mother.
Then her "Australian mother" here comes out of the library.
"Junko?" she asks quietly.
Junko leaves me and buries her face in her "mother's chest" sobbing. Over the top of her head her "mother" looks at me and mouths,
"It is the first time she has cried."


Anonymous said...

Oh heck Cat! I am going to have to stop reading your blog if you keep cracking me up like this! That poor child. I am so glad she has a decent exchange family. Chris

jeanfromcornwall said...

It's the detail - one person's story brings home the misery of what has happen to Japan more than any amount of large numbers and pictures of wreckage in the press.

It is the first time I have cried about it too.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Bless her - I hope she is OK. What a lovely family she is with -

Sheep Rustler said...

I rather wish I hadn't read this at work (it's quiet here and I am filling in for s sick colleague on the front desk) because I am having trouble not crying. Poor girl. One human touch to a tragedy on an inhuman tale. And there are many thousands of human touches out there.

widdershins said...

I agree with Anon... you're two for two Cat... thank you for bringing us this story.

Anonymous said...

Very, very moving. Lump in throat and tears spilling over. We've been fund raising here in the UK but giving money doesn't feel enough.

Love your writing :-)