12:  Anne’s memento

Anne’s mother showed us into her living room. In her letter, she said she was living in a retirement apartment, but it was actually a simple yet elegant independent house with a lawn all around it. The kitchen and bathroom were more than adequate and many niceties, typical of a welfare state, had been seen so that an elderly person could live comfortably alone. A scroll picture that I had sent her was on the wall, together with the same photo of Anne I had received. There were two cats in the bedroom. For a moment, I was worried that Anne’s mother might be lonely, but hearing that a helper came every week to take care of the lawn and that Anne’s younger sister and her family was living nearby, I felt relieved.

We enjoyed a delicious English-style milk tea that Anne’s mother prepared for us. I spoke in my broken English with a dictionary in one hand, and Anne’s mother kindly talked slowly for me. Pointing at the photos on the wall, she showed me her husband, who had already passed away, and her relatives. She then told us to wait where we were, and went into another room. She came back with a double-decker bus toy, like one we saw in London, a glass ball with coral sealed inside, and a wooden box. She handed them one by one to my son, wife, and myself, and said they were gifts for each of us.

Inside the wooden box, I found a “netsuke” (a small, carved, Japanese accessory) of two rabbits cuddling close together. The composition was similar to a Japanese wildlife caricature, so I asked about it. Anne’s mother told me that it was a gift that Anne had bought in Japan for her. I was surprised that Anne’s mother was now giving it to me, so I told her that I could not possibly receive it. I certainly did not wish to receive such a precious item, which might have been Anne’s only memento. Though I kept on telling her so, Anne’s mother said to me, “It is better off with you.” When Anne first saw the netsuke, she probably thought it expressed how much the Japanese cared about animals. She must have been shocked and saddened on seeing the actual situation in Japan. I imagine she felt and hoped that deep down in Japanese people, there must be caring feelings hiding somewhere, so she gave this netsuke to her mother. I decided to accept the gift gratefully.

We gave Anne’s mother a Japanese fan and “origami” (paper used to fold and create small figures) as gifts in return and she seemed very impressed with them.

My wife taught her how to fold a crane using the origami paper. Anne’s mother folded one herself, and put it on the cupboard in the living room. Though our conversation was mainly one-sided, I felt we did not need words in order to reach each other’s hearts. I was very happy that we were able to understand each other well enough.