A World in a Wall
An English and Japanese Language Adventureby Joel Matthew Rees, Copyright 2017
adapted from, and extending
this Eikaiwa session
recorded fancifully in 1995.
Names, details, and events changed
... to protect the people to whom this didn't really happen.
Ch. 1 -- The Door in the Wall
-- Ano kakemono no ura, nani ga aru kana? [I wonder what's behind that wall hanging.]
His friend Yasufusa replied, 「壁ぇあろう。」
-- Kabe 'earō. [The wall, of course.]
-- Chau yarō. Yappari, nanika sono ura ni aru. [I don't believe it. There's gotta be something there.]
Their other friend, Takeru, asked, 「なんでそう思わなアカン？」
-- Nande sō omowanaakan? [Why? What makes you think so?]
The three friends were sitting cross-legged around a low table on a raised tatami-dai in the second-story juku classroom where they were taking Eikaiwa lessons. Iwakazu was a third-year junior high (9th grader, or freshman) student and the other two were first-year high school (10th grader, or sophomore) students.
Iwakazu was insistent. 「怪しいや。絶対あやしい。怪しぉ思わへん？」
-- Ayashii ya. Zettai ayashii. Ayasho omowahen? [It looks suspicious. Definitely suspicious, don'cha think?]
「どうして？」 Takeru didn't think he was buying any fantasies today.
-- Dōshite? [How so?]
-- Kage no tokoro, na, sen aru yarō? Soreni, na, katte-guchi gurai no ōkisa ya. [Well, see how there's a line right at the shadow? And the size is about right for a small utility door.]
Yasufusa shook his head. 「あれ、外の壁。ドアの向こうになにがある？」
-- Are, soto no kabe. Doa no mukō ni nani ga aru? [That's the outside wall. What would be on the other side of the door?]"
Takeru asked, 「でな、なにに使うぇあろう。」
-- Dena, nani ni tsukau earō. [And what would it be used for?]
-- Iya, meccha ayashii. Doa aru yarō. Aru, omowahen? [Nah, I think it's very suspicious. There must be a door behind it. Don't you think there's a door there?]
「さぁっ…」Yasufusa was beginning to look carefully at the pattern of shadows on the wall.
-- Saa ... [Well, ...]
Takeru was shining him on. 「考えすぎ。な、ジェームズ先生、あの壁掛けの裏、なにかある？」
-- Kangae-sugi. Na, Jēmuzu Sensei, ano kabe gake no ura, nanika aru? [You're imagining too much. Hey, James Sensei, Is there something behind that wall hanging?]
I was waiting for this. "Ask me in English."
The three boys put on their best dumbfounded expressions. Iwakazu started to joke around. 「発音良すぎ、わからへん。」
-- Hatsuon yosugi, wakarahen. [Your pronunciation is too good. Can't understand it.]
I repeated myself, slowly. "Ask. Me. In. English." The boys were still giving me expressions of incredulity. Raising my hands and pretending to be a hypnotist, I dropped into an exaggerated Japanese accent. "Asuku mii iin Iingurisshu."
The boys responded in chorus. 「イヤ、無理むりむりむりむり。勘弁してくれ！」
-- Iya, muri-muri-muri-muri-muri. Kanben shite kure! [Wait! No way! Huh uh! Give us a break!]
After a bit of negotiating and practice writing and asking what was behind, over, under, etc. several things in the room, the boys returned to the subject of the wall hanging.
This time, they asked me in English. Takeru led, "One, two, three," then all three chorused on cue, "What's behind the wall hanging?" It was pretty nice pronunciation, too.
[I can only wish I had had the teaching skills and Japanese to have pulled it off like James Sensei demonstrates here, back in 1995. It would have saved me a painful ten years' trip back through the computer industry that was always going someplace I didn't want to go.]
We all laughed, and I said, "I think it's just the outside wall, but I've never looked. Let's take a look."
I stood up and lifted the hanging to look behind it. It was an inexpensive printed scroll of the year's calendar on a background of plum blossoms and snow capped peaks and other Japanese seasonal symbols.
"Hmm." I showed them the bare wall underneath where the scroll hung. "Looks like just the wall to me." I tapped the wall around where the scroll had hung, the taps echo hollowly -- tap, tap, tap, tap. "It does sound hollow, but most walls in Japan sound hollow."
I had to explain what hollow meant at that point: 「中が開いている、という感じ。うつろに響く。」
-- Naka ga aite-iru to iu kanji. Utsuro ni hibiku. [Like it's empty inside. echoes hollowly.]
To emphasize the point, I tapped again where I had found a beam, then between beams, just under where the hanging scroll had rested.
Yasufusa exclaimed, 「エェッ！まっさか！なーなーなにヤ？」
-- Eh eh eh! Massaka! Naa naa nani ya? [Huh? Wha wha what?]
Takeru echoed his friend's concern. 「嫌だよ！先生どこに行ったん？」
-- Iyada yo! Sensei doko ni ittan? [Oh, no! Where's Sensei?]
Iwakazu didn't say anything, just stared.
[That is, James Sensei could have imagined it this way, if he hadn't been suddenly busy elsewhere. Since he can't tell you what happened next at the Eikaiwa juku, I'll have to take over.]
Iwakazu came out of his shock first, but he was in denial. 「先生、今日、来てた？居らへんかったん、ちゃう？」
-- Sensei, kyō, kiteta? Orahenkattan, chau? [Sensei, today, was here? He never showed up, right?]
Yasufusa slapped his friend back-of-the-head a little harder than he intended. 「お前悪い。あの馬鹿な掛物のことを気にするもんか？」
-- Omae warui. Ano baka na kakemono no koto wo ki ni suru mon ka? [It's your fault. Who'd pay attention that stupid hanging scroll?]
Takeru stood up and went to the wall, tracing around the scroll, which now hung as if nothing untoward had happened. None of the shadows that had raised Iwakazu's curiosity were in evidence, but he tried to trace around where they had seen the door open for a brief moment. Then he started tapping -- tap, tap, tap, ...
「オイオイ、気をつけろ！」 Yasufusa jumped up and held Takeru's hand away from the wall.
-- Oi oi, ki wo tsukero! [Hey! Watch what you're doing!]
Iwakazu stood up and joined his friends around the hanging scroll, examining the wall and the scroll, looking for seams or cracks. He even dared tap the wall once or twice.
「手持って。」 Takeru extended his hand to Iwakazu.
-- Te motte. [Grab my hand.]
Iwakazu looked at the hand quizzically.
-- Motte 'tteba. Shikkari motte. Yassun, Iwachan no te wo motte. Achi no kabe 'e itte. [Didn't I tell you to grab it? Yasu, grab Iwa's other hand and go to the other wall over there.]
Yasufusa understood and did as he was told.
Then Iwakazu picked up on the plan and grabbed Takeru's arm in a death grip. But he expressed his disagreement. 「イヤよ！」
-- Iya yo! [I don't like this!]
Takeru proceeded to tap around the wall randomly.
「あち。おち。それ。それ。」 Iwakazu gave his opinion of where he should tap, trying to recall where they had seen James Sensei tapping.
-- Achi. Achi. Sore. Sore. [There. There. That. That.]
But nothing happened.
Yasufusa suggested, 「比嘉さんに言ってたほうがええ？」
-- Higa-san ni yutteta hō ga ē? [Shouldn't we tell Mrs. Higa?]
「なにを？あの、あんたらは何をしてはる？」 Mrs. Higa had just come to the door and had heard him. 「先生は？」
-- Nani wo? Ano, antara wa nani wo shite haru? [Tell me what? Wait. What are you boys up to?]
-- Sansei wa? [Where's your teacher?]
All three looked at her in surprise. Iwakazu blurted out, 「消えた、よ。」
-- Kieta, yo. [He disappeared!]
Yasufusa and Takeru looked at him with expressions that might have been intended to warn him off.
But Mrs. Higa misinterpreted him. 「おトイレですか？」 She left them and went down the stairs to the middle landing, where the toilet was.
-- O-toire desu ka? [Has he gone to the toilet?]
「何を言ってる？」 Yasufusa chided Isakazu.
-- Nani wo yutteru? [What are you saying?]
Takeru was thinking out loud. 「でも、本当に消えている。どっかに行くつもりだったはずもない、し。」
-- Demo, hontō ni kiete-iru. Dokka ni iku tsumori datta hazu mo nai, shi. [But he really did disappear. It's not like he went somewhere on purpose.]
They could hear Mrs. Higa knocking on the toilet door. -- Knock, knock. --「先生？大丈夫ですか？」
-- Sensei, daijōbu desu ka? [Sensei, are you all right?]
They listened hopefully, but heard no response. They did hear a faint click, like a light switch being turned on below them.
「見てたよ、このカレンダーの壁掛けを。」 Takeru was still thinking out loud.
-- Miteta yo, kono karendā no kabekake wo. [She was looking at this calendar wall hanging.]
Mrs. Higa's voice drifted up from the stairwell. 「突然に胃が悪くなりましたのですか？」
-- Totsuzen ni i ga waruku narimashita no desu ka? [Oh? Your stomach suddenly started acting up?]
「居る？」 Yasufusa clearly wanted a simple explanation.
-- Oru? [You think he's there?]
「そんなわけあらへん。」 Takeru was definitely not convinced.
-- Sonna wake arahen. [No way.]
From the stairwell, 「授業できなさそうですか。」
-- Jugyō deki nasasō desu ka. [So you won't be able to finish the lesson?]
「都合の良さすぎる。」 Iwakazu was also doubtful.
-- Tsugō no yosa sugiru. [Too convenient.]
-- Maa, Iwakazu-kunra wa gakkari suru to omoimasu kedo, shikata ga arimasen, ne. [Iwakazu and his friends will be disappointed, but what else can we do?]
「どうする？」 Iwakazu was the one who asked.
-- Dō suru? [What should we do?]
-- Ressun go no tochū desu ne. Yarimasu, yo. San-nin kara kikeba ii desu ne. [In the middle of lesson five? I'll finish it. I can ask the boys where, right?]
-- Sensei ga sonnan iwahen. [Sensei would not be saying that.]
Yasufusa wasn't willing to consider the possibility that Mrs. Higa was trying to fool them into thinking that James Sensei was there. 「だけど、先生は確かに不基準的なやり方。」
-- Dakedo, Sensei wa tashika ni fu-kijunteki na yarikata. [Well, James Sensei does use irregular methods.]
The other two looked at him.
-- Notta hō ga ii to omou. [We should play along.]
「誰の演技に乗る？」 Takeru was not really asking, though.
-- Dare no engi ni noru? [Play along with whom?]
-- Datte, Sensei kawaisō. Yamesaserareru ka mo shirahen. [Think of poor James Sensei. He could get fired.]
「先生、本当に大丈夫かな？」 Iwakazu voiced there concern.
-- Sensei, hontō ni daijōbu kana? [Will Sensei be okay?]
-- Higa-san ni makaseta hō ga ii to omou. [I think we should let Mrs. Higa take care of it.]
Mrs. Higa came back in the room at this point. She clapped her hands primly. "Okay boys, back to work."
Yasufusa translated. 「勉強に戻るって。」
-- Benkyō ni modoru 'tte. [She's telling us to get back to studying.]
"It's too early to close your textbooks. Let's open them back up to page fifty-three. That's where you are, isn't it?"
Caught off-guard by Mrs. Higa's speaking English, they boys opened their books and pretended to be picking things back up in the lesson they had never started.
"Repeat after me: 'Where are you going?'"
Three boys chorused: 「ホォエアー アール ユー ゴーイング。」
-- Howeā āru yū gōingu.
"No, no, not 'ho-weh-ah', not 'fu-eh-ah', either. It's 'where'."
When she was satisfied with their pronunciation, she worked with them on the grammar of replies. Shortly, it was time to end the lesson. She asked the boys, "Where are you going after class?"
「授業の後、どこに行くのさ。」 Takeru translated this one.
-- Jugyō no ato, doko ni iku no sa. [She's asking where we are going after the lesson.]
"I'm going to study math at Mr. Kuwahara's juku." Yasufusa volunteered.
"I'm going to Mr. Kuwahara's juku, too, but I will be studying chemistry." Takeru replied next.
"I will go to Ms. Horiuchi's juku to study Japanese." Iwakazu took his turn. Then, without thinking, he added, "but I'd rather go through the wall to find James Sensei."
Mrs. Higa was taken by surprise.
「イエイ。やるやん。」 Takeru approved of his friend's sudden attack.
-- Yei. Yaru yan. [Hey, there you go, guy!]
"Whatever are you talking about?" Mrs. Higa recovered quickly.
「解かってるでしょう。」 Takeru joined the attack.
-- Wakatteru deshō. [You know what we are talking about.]
"James Sensei is in the toilet trying to recover from a bit of stomach distress. Do you want to break through the toilet wall?"
-- Muri ka. Toire ni haitteiru 'tte. [No use. She insists he's in the toilet.]
Yasufusa jumped to Mrs. Higa's defense. 「当たり前。あっ。幸代。」
-- Atari mae. Ah. Sachiyo. [Of course. Oh, hello, Sachiyo.]
「や、…」Mrs. Higa's daughter, Sachiyo came in the room. Her mother warned her with a look. "Oh, hi, guys. How was the lesson?"
-- Ya, ... [Hey! ...]
Taking advantage of the distraction of Sachiyo's arrival, Mrs. Higa managed to send the boys home.
-- Kite kureta, Sachi. [Sachi, you came.]
-- Konain ka? [Would I not come?]
Mrs. Higa immediately went to the wall and tapped in four specific places, then stepped away from the wall. 「開くかしら？」
-- Hiraku kashira? [Will it open?]
A hand appeared near the floor, grasping the edge of the doorway that opened. Then another, grasping the opposite edge.
Table of Contents
- The Door in the Wall
In which a sensei disappears, mid class.