I tried to avoid stereotyping as much as I could but I apologize in advance if I offend anyone. I am not Japanese and don't actually know what it's like, but I tried to be as realistic as possible based on what I have learned in my course this quarter. Let me know what you think!
*Also, I know people have wanted me to post stuff I have written for NaNoWriMo, but as I have plans to maybe publish some day, I have been reluctant to do that. I hope this is an okay alternative. :)
I Really Like Highlighters.
I’ve been working at Toshiba for seven months now. It’s a respectable Japanese company here in America. At least thats what my parents say.
I’m in marketing. My parents were really proud of me when I got this internship right out of college. A lot of my friends had to get jobs as waitresses and baristas, but after the amount of money we spent on our education, my parents think that a job like that is shameful. But here I am at my desk. In my cubicle. There is a box of paperclips next to my computer, and a cup full of pens. I really like highlighters, and try to find any excuse to use them any time that I can. I like to draw little borders around my memos. It brings a little color into this dreary cubicle.
It’s really not that bad. I help figure out new ways to market televisions. Radios. Stereo systems. Well, right now I actually do a lot of data entry for other people who figure out new ways to market that stuff. But I have perfected the ideal cup of coffee. Two sugars, one cream. Stir.
But all of that is about to end. One week ago, I got a letter in my company mailbox. The letter was informing me that at the end of my internship (which is in precisely three weeks) they’d like to invite me to work for Toshiba full time. As a real employee. With benefits!
I haven’t told anyone yet. This is the type of news that is going to change my life. It’s going to change everything. I’ll be working forty hours a week, making money to help support the family, and my parents will be so, so proud of me. Not to mention my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and probably even the family cat.
But it also means I’ll have to quit my art lessons. That’s another thing I’ve kept to myself. My family thinks I work late on Fridays. Really, I catch the bus and go to the community center where I take intermediate level classes in drawing and painting. I wanted to take art classes in college, but the business program I got accepted into was much too rigid to allow for any sort of extracurriculars. I spent the better part of my four years there studying in the library and volunteering with the Japanese student union. And staring at the art wing longingly.
But with this internship, those community art classes happened to fit perfectly into my schedule, and were easy enough to keep secret. My parents likely would have thought I was wasting my time; not focusing on the goal. But I really like it. It would be a shame, once I got this job, to have to give it up. I’d even started making friends there.
I looked at the clock on the wall. Three. It was time to clock out and catch my bus. The bus that delivered me right in front of the community center left in fifteen minutes. I logged out of my computer, straightened my highlighters, and rolled back across the carpet in my chair. Toshiba was a nice company, really. This was a great opportunity for me.
A sandy-haired boy with a slightly upturned nose waved at me from across the classroom. I blushed slightly as a few other people turned to look at me before I slid down onto the stool beside him. I set my purse down on the floor beside our art table.
“Hi Brady,” I said back. Now that no one else was looking at me, I smiled warmly at him. We’d met on the very first day of class. He’d been going around the room trying to trick people into shaking his hand when it was covered in clay; I’d been the only one foolish enough to fall for it. We’d been friends ever since. “Working on a new sculpture?” I asked him, gesturing toward his lump of clay as I pulled my sketchpad out of my bag.
He grinned at me. He’d been working hard on a sculpture of his mother for the last month, but somehow she always ended up looking a bit like an alien. The new lump of clay signified that he’d clearly decided to give up.
“You know,” he said, shifting in his chair. “The sculpture was for her birthday, and I think she’d appreciate a nice vise just as much as the bust I was working on. And vases are much easier, let me tell you.”
“I would like to learn to sculpt sometime,” I said softly, digging in my bag for my charcoal.
“I’ll teach you!” Brady offered.
I just smiled, not having the heart to tell him I wasn’t going to have enough time left with this course to be learning any new skills.
“Happy Friday, class!” An eclectic woman with paintbrushes in her hair and a long skirt stood at the front of the room. She never spoke too much, because she wanted to give us plenty of time to work on our projects. Generally she gave a few announcements and then made her way around the classroom to check on people individually and give inspiration and advice.
“I just wanted to congratulate you all on how hard you’ve been working, and let you know about our end of term art show. Everyone will get something of theirs hung at the show, but we’ll be selecting the very best pieces to be featured in the main exhibit. You can invite all your family and friends to show them what a great job you’ve been doing here. And we’ll have refreshments! Because no one ever comes to anything unless there’s free food. We know what we’re doing.”
There was a soft round of applause spreading through the classroom, but I just felt subdued. There was no way I could invite anyone to an art show. No one I knew was even aware I was going to these classes, let alone in support of it. As far as my family was concerned, I was at Toshiba right now. Stapling things. Bringing pride to the family.
“Man, I’d better get going on this vase if I want to get anything in that main exhibit,” Brady said, slapping his hands on the sides of the clay. “Unlike you. You crank out those charcoal drawings like some sort of one-woman assembly line.”
“I just have images in my head,” I mumbled. “I find it easy to let them seep out onto the paper.”
I whipped my head up. I hadn’t even started my drawing today, and our teacher was already hovering over our table. “Yes, Ma’am?”
She held up a large manilla envelope and waved it gently in front of me. “I just wanted to make sure you were going to be able to attend the art show. I have selected a number of your pieces to be displayed. It would be a shame for you to miss that. You’re very talented, Sachiko.”
I felt myself blushing as I took the envelope from her and slid three different charcoal drawings out onto the table. There was the very first piece I’d ever done; it was actually two drawings side by side, a self portrait of sorts. One had me sitting in an office, at my desk, working on a computer. Juxtaposed to that was another drawing of me sitting on a park bench, with flowers blooming around me and the sun shining down on everything.
The second drawing was a perspective piece. It was the front of the office building I worked at, from an upwards angle, making the place seem dark and looming.
The third piece she’d selected made me feel a little embarrassed, and I tried to hide it from view but I was too late; Brady had already seen.
“Hey, is that.. is that me?” He asked, raising his eyebrows at me. “I sit next to you every day, how did I not see you drawing a picture of me?”
“You were absent one day,” I said sheepishly.
He nodded thoughtfully. “Right. Swine flu. Hey it’s pretty good,” he said, his eyes lighting up as he smiled. He matched the drawing perfectly at that moment. I’d tried to capture his laugh lines but my memory was only so good. Apparently I’d been dead on, this time.
I turned my attention back to our teacher. “When is the art show?” I asked her.
She smiled, taking the drawings back from me and slipping them carefully into the envelope. “In exactly two months when the class is over. We’ll still be picking more works to feature in that time, but I want to let you know ahead of time because I am certain about these. You’re a fantastic artist.”
I blushed, for what felt like the hundredth time that day. Then I realized what she’d said. In two months time, I would be a full time employee of Toshiba. I wouldn’t even be attending class anymore. There’s no way I could make it to that art show.
It surprised me how badly that realization made me feel.
I didn’t say any of this to my teacher; I would tell her later in private. I just said “thank you”. I didn’t want to shame myself here in public, in front of Brady. Instead I leaned over and began drawing a television. Flatscreen, high definition. Thirty-two inch LCD screen. This was my life now.
Class went by quickly, or maybe it went by slowly, I couldn’t tell you because I wasn’t really paying attention. Brady told me about the funny characters he met at the club he worked at. He was a bartender. It sounded fun. I nodded along and said “wow, really?” at all the right times.
After class, I shoved my supplies in my bag and tried to duck out as unobtrusively as I could, but Brady followed me out. “Where are you headed in such a hurry?” he asked me. We usually walked to the bus together. I wasn’t feeling like being accompanied today.
“I have to get home,” I apologized, digging around in my bag for my bus pass.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked. I could see the hurt outlined in his eyes. No. This was not the reaction I wanted. I was avoiding him to keep him from getting hurt. I knew he wouldn’t take my leaving the art class well.
“No, Brady. I just have a thing. Tonight. I need to get to it.”
He shuffled his feet against the pavement. “I was going to invite you out to dinner, tonight. I’ve been working my courage up all month.”
I paused. “Dinner? Like on a date?”
A flush stained his cheeks. “Maybe you could call it that.”
“But you’re just my art buddy!” I shoved him off, finding the bus pass and raising it triumphantly in the air. I realized how hurtful my words were the second they left my mouth. “Brady, I just - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”
“No, it’s fine,” he said. “I was kidding myself.” He turned to leave.
“I have to quit the class,” I blurted out.
He stopped in his tracks. “You what?”
“That’s why I’ve been acting strangely. I got a job offer today, and it means I can’t stay in the class. Or go to the art show.”
“What kind of job offer?”
“Toshiba. They want to hire me full time.”
“That stuffy place you’re working now? Sachiko, you’re worth so much more than an office job.”
“It’s a great job,” I huffed.
“Says who?” he asked me, taking a step closer. “You deserve to be getting your art published. Not sitting behind a desk.”
“Well that’s not up for debate. I’m taking the job. I have no choice.”
“Have you accepted the job yet?” he asked me.
“I - no. I haven’t.”
“Then you absolutely have a choice. You can turn it down. You can apply for an art internship. You can go to the art show! Who knows, maybe someone will see your work there. You can do whatever you want. You just need to figure out what that is.”
Nobody had ever seemed to care much about what I want. It had always been “what was best”, or “what was good for the family”. I didn’t even know how to think in terms of what I wanted.
“It’s not that easy, Brady. You don’t know my family.”
“Maybe not, but I do know you,” he said, trailing off. And then he kissed me.
Why I decided to invite Brady over to meet my family that night, I can’t explain. Why this would be a good idea in any lifetime is beyond me. But when he kissed me, I knew that everything had changed. He was not just my art buddy. For the last few months, when we’d talked and laughed in class, admired each other’s work, something had been happening between us that I had been so blatantly ignoring.
And now I was bringing a white boy home to meet my incredibly, incredibly Japanese family. This was probably not going to go over well. But I thought, if I could conquer this fear, maybe I could face my difficult decision with my job as well. Baby steps.
We took the bus, and he held my hand as we sat next to each other on the hard orange seats. I liked how our hands looked together. His strong sculptors grip clasped around my dainty yellow mitten. As we got closer to my stop, I felt butterflies in my stomach. This was the worst idea. A horrible idea. Surely my family had already eaten, so it’s not like I was inviting him to dinner. We were going to stand awkwardly in the foyer while my family gawked at him. And even though I was nearing twenty-three years old, I’m sure I would not be allowed to take him up to my room. I almost wished I could take back my offer for him to come over, but it was too late now. We were two stops away.
“This is me,” I said, getting to my feet. Brady followed suite, still holding my hand. We got off the bus together, giving the driver a little wave of thanks, and a moment later, we were standing in front of my house. The lights were off. That was weird.
“You look nervous,” Brady said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, lying. “I’m fine. Let’s go inside.”
We walked up the front path, and at the door, I fumbled through my keys to find the right one. I unearthed it from my massive keychain, and heard the click as I turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. Everything was completely dark inside, which was unlike my family. Someone was always home at this time. My grandparents tended not to even leave the house, usually.
“Hello?” I called out, taking a step inside. Brady reached for my hand but I pretended to not notice, crossing my arms over my chest. Best not to shock them with hand holding, yet.
All at once, the lights flew on and it seemed like people were jumping out at me from every direction. “Surprise!” they yelled, and I could see streamers and hear little noise makers and there were a lot of happy smiling faces scattered around the foyer.
“What?” I asked unintelligently, taking a step back and accidentally stepping on Brady’s toes. He caught me with both his hands, which I was thankful for, because I almost lost my footing entirely. I realized a few awkward moments had gone by without me saying anything at all, and the sheer joy I had seen on the faces of my friends and family (and were those some of the neighbors in the back? The local grocer?) had changed to confusion as they stared at Brady behind me.
“What’s going on?” I asked, completely dumbfounded. It wasn’t my birthday.
My mother scooted forward through the crowd and waved a familiar looking envelope at me. “I saw this on your desk. I’m sorry for snooping, Sachiko-chan, but how could you keep this news from us! We are all so thrilled for you!”
My letter. Everyone knew, now, about the job offer. There was no way I could turn it down now, being it was out in the open like this. I realized how closely I was still standing to Brady and jumped away from him.
“I wasn’t ready to tell everyone yet, Mom,” I said under my breath.
She stared at me, confusion in her eyes. “But why? What honorable news! This is so great!”
“Maybe I wasn’t sure yet!” I cried. I didn’t want to make a scene. This wasn’t polite. Everyone had come over in my honor and I was being ungrateful. “Can we talk in the kitchen, Mom?”
My mother was glowering, but nodded.
I grabbed my little brother Ren and said, “Hey kiddo, meet my friend Brady. Show him the punch table, would you?”
Ren shrugged and motioned for Brady to follow him. I mouthed the words “I’m sorry” in Brady’s direction before following my mother into the other room.
“Sachiko, who is that?” my mother asked immediately.
“That’s not what we came in here to discuss, mother.”
“I would still like to know.”
“A friend,” I said simply.
“He doesn’t look at you like he’s just a friend.”
“Mom, I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want to talk about this party you threw behind my back.”
She threw her hands up in defense. “That’s how surprise parties work!”
“What if I didn’t want a surprise party? What if I’m not sure I’m taking the job yet?”
Her gaze was stern. “What else would you be doing with your life to make you not take this job? This job is a wonderful opportunity.”
“I don’t know if it’s the best opportunity for me, though.”
“Oh? And what would be better?”
I didn’t want to say it. Not here. Not like this.
“Art,” I said. Oops. There it was.
She stared blankly. “Art?”
“I like art, Mom. Not business. Not marketing. I like to draw.”
“You realize how foolish you sound right now?”
That stung. This was why I kept things to myself. “Brady believes in me,” I said. That was a mistake, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“Is Brady that white boy out there? He doesn’t believe in you. White boys only want one thing from girls like you.”
I felt a fire growing inside me. “That’s not true, Mom. Brady is kind, and nice, and wants me to do what I want to do. Not what you think is best for me.”
“I want that boy out of my house right now, if he’s planting these silly ideas in your head. Who is going to pay you for being an artist? Who is going to care about what you draw?”
“Lots of people care! My art teacher chose my pieces to be featured at the art show!” Another mistake. I couldn’t stop myself tonight.
“What art teacher? Sachiko, what are you talking about? What has gotten into you? Come back out here and enjoy your party, and let’s forget about this nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense!” I screamed. I was going to seriously regret every decision I was making tonight, but I didn’t care. It was done now. “I’ve been taking art lessons behind your back, and I’m good, Mom. I’m really good. And it makes me way happier than working at Toshiba ever has.”
“Life is not about silly hobbies. It is about working hard and doing the best you can do. Which you will be doing, if you take this job,” my mom said slowly.
“No, Mom. I would be selling myself short if I ignored my gifts. I can work hard at my drawing too. And I know it would be hard. But it’s what I want to do.”
Apparently I was making my tough decision right now. I barely even recognized my own voice as I was talking to her.
“I don’t want you to see that boy anymore,” my mother said in retaliation. Her calmness was almost more scary than if she were yelling at me.
“It’s not his fault,” I spat. “He’s the one who opened my eyes, but I have come to this conclusion all on my own.”
With that, I spun on my heel and re-entered the room with the party. Brady was eating cookies with Ren and my sister Mariko, and everyone else was standing around awkwardly. I grabbed Brady by the elbow and then turned to face the room.
“I appreciate all of you coming here to celebrate my job offer, I really do. Due to circumstances in my life, I am not going to be taking the job. I’m sorry for wasting your time. Feel free to stay and eat refreshments. I think Ren just got a hundred percent on an algebra test, so you can celebrate that.”
I turned to Brady. “Want to get out of here?” I said to him.
He didn’t ask questions, just nodded. “Whatever you want.”
We were walking toward the door when I thought of something. I turned around again to face the group. “By the way, I have an art show in about two months at the community center in town, if anyone is interested. A few of my pieces are being featured. I would love it if anyone wanted to come.”
I saw my mothers face as she stood at the doorway to the kitchen, looking disappointed and upset. Not to mention embarrassed, in front of all her guests.
She would forgive me. I knew she would, with time. But for once in my life, I needed to do something for myself. I slipped my hand in Brady’s, in front of everyone, before leaving the house.
“Maybe we could go get that dinner, after all?” I asked him once the door had shut behind us.
“I’m proud of you, Sachiko,” he said. Then he didn’t bring up the disaster that had been my party again for the rest of the night. “How about the Olive Garden?”
Thanks for reading! :)