CH 14 STRESS-INDUCING KINDNESS (Hanako)
The fluorescent lights, the pulsing music, the bright yellow bags: all of it for the benefit of the forever twenty-one and under set whose skin miraculously looks brighter under the punishingly harsh lights, whose feet have danced club floors to the music piping through the store’s speakers, and for whom the plastic shopping bags will swing with freedom about their slim legs as they leave the incubator of youth in an hour’s time.
Not for me, Hanako thinks, breezing through the too bright! And I’m too old for this! Garments hanging loosely from the racks. She catches sight of her image in one of the many floor-to-ceiling mirrors placed throughout the store and looks away discouraged. Had she bothered to give herself a once-over before she left the apartment?-She could use more blush. A time machine, she thinks, might serve her better.
The pulsing music tells her she’s in a rush. You’ve got to get through all the racks! If you don’t find anything now, you won’t find anything at all. If you step away from that dress, the girl watching your progress over there is going to snatch it up, so you’d better hang on.
Did finding a couple new items to add to her wardrobe always feel this pressing?
Hanako knows that as soon as she leaves the store she will feel silly with her plastic declaration of eternal youth; judged by the women carrying their muted, paper bags stamped with more responsible labels.
At the register, she places the bills on a tray and passes it to the sales clerk. The clerk smiles and nods her head slightly, counting the money so Hanako can observe the process. She watches dutifully. The register is one of those places she never feels compelled to say anything more than “konnichiwa” and “arigato.” Entire transactions are often completed before anyone gets wise to the fact that Hanako doesn’t speak conversational Japanese. From what Hanako has observed, no one else seems to talk during the process either. It’s as though the necessary exchange of money is too painfully embarrassing for anyone to acknowledge.
Hanako is surprised when the count begins all over again, but she thinks nothing of it. A cute cosmetic bag near the register glitters. She examines it. Rather than the sound of a receipt signaling the end of the transaction, Hanako is chagrined when she looks up to see the clerk once again resuming her count. She smiles faintly at Hanako, bows slightly, bills still fanned out in front of her.
Hanako nods at her and tries to not look too fervent. Yes, I see you. I acknowledge that you’re counting the money. I know you’re not trying to do anything shady with the money.
The girl’s eyes flit to the series of green numbers glowing on the register. She bows more deeply this time, then counts the cash again.
Hanako looks at the screen, looks at the girl, counting, counting, counting…starting to sweat. A small line of other customers has formed behind her. The girl’s face is placid, her demeanor calm and she doesn’t say a word to indicate that anything is wrong. Even if Hanako knew what Japanese words to use, what could she say that didn’t sound rude? “Why are you still counting the bills?” and in a quiet aside, “are you OCD?”
So Hanako keeps her eyes glued to the girl, increasingly aware of the eyes boring into her back as the bills once again go slick, slick, slick.
Hanako gasps. She has shorted the clerk by one-thousand yen (ten-dollars USD). “Sumi masen!” she nearly yelps, and whips out the missing bill. The girl nods graciously and says, “arigato goziamas!” There is no tone in her voice, no slight raise of the eyebrow to indicate judgment or displeasure. Relief maybe, that she didn’t have to say the words, “excuse me, you’re short…” aloud.
Slightly dazed, and slightly sweaty now beneath her jacket, Hanako turns toward the doors and walks outside, wondering how such a high level of courtesy could cause such a huge amount of stress.