These are the things he knows: The more languages you speak the fewer people you can talk to, and foreignness, like alcoholism, is permanent. If he didn’t know these things, Mr. and Mrs. Akaboshi would teach him.
Why don’t you go back home, they say, and find a girl of your own kind?
My home is in Nishijin, Frank wants to say, where there are very few of the kind you mean. Instead he says, I don’t take this decision lightly.
Maybe, says Mrs. Akaboshi, you should consider it some more?
Your daughter and I have considered it long enough, says Frank.
He wants to point out that they’ve already exchanged engagement rings but he can’t remember the Japanese for engagement. The silence is long and it makes him feel foolish, but he grips his knees in his hands and he bears it as impassively as he can.
Maybe we should consult your parents, says Mr. Akaboshi. Do they speak Japanese?
Frank’s parents speak exactly two words of Japanese. These are the obligatory arigato and itadakimasu, which his father remembers as eat-a-ducky-mouse. The first time Frank met Shoko he was trying to explain the joke when she said I know what that means and proved it with a short, easy laugh. Frank knew he loved her even before the laugh was over.
You speak English! he gushed.
I went to boarding school for nine months, she said in a perfect British accent. Frank smiled like an idiot while his other students waited for him to snap out of it.
You’re in this class? he said finally, and then he went through the signup sheet trying to find her name.
Actually, I’m not, she said. I stopped by hoping maybe I could practice my English on you sometimes.
Frank remembers that at that moment it was very difficult to breathe. It’s hard to believe how lonely it can be to have a language no one around you can speak.
What’s her name again? says his mother.
Shoko, says Frank, and her parents want to meet you.
Shock-Oh, says his father.
Where are they going to meet us? says his mother.
I was thinking you might come visit, says Frank.
You mean in Japan? says his father.
Yeah, says Frank. You know you’ve never been yet.
We’ve been meaning to, says his mother. It’s very far away.
Well, says Frank. You’re going to have to come for the wedding at least.
Is it going to be a Japanese wedding? says his father.
I don’t know, says Frank. I suppose so.
You haven’t decided? says his mother.
I wouldn’t know what to wear for a Japanese wedding, says his father.
It’ll be a kokusai wedding, Frank wants to say, but he can’t remember the English word for it so he stays quiet. It’s not important anyway, he thinks.
He has to stop himself from pulling off his shoes in the foyer of his parent’s apartment. That’s not so bad. He can’t fall asleep if he doesn’t take a shower before bed. That’s not so bad either. What’s bad is that he sits in his parent’s kitchen the morning after leaving Japan, after the breakup and divorce, after coming to this place where he has nothing left, not even one friend willing to let him crash on a couch his first night back, and when the phone rings and he picks up the receiver there’s a little boy on the other end who says I can’t talk long Daddy, it’s a kokusai call.
International, he thinks. That’s the word.
— Gen Del Raye grew up in Kyoto, Japan and lived there until he was eighteen. Currently he is writing and studying marine biology in Honolulu, Hawaii.