Some of you may have heard this story before. But it impacted me in ways I feel to this day so. I guess that’s okay.
Happy World Water Day
In November of 2009, as I neared the end of Mizu Nomihodai (All you can drink Water, my first charity: water campaign), I got this phone call at my base school.
“[Unintelligible Japanese] water [unintelligible Japanese] newspaper story [unintelligible Japanese].”
I assumed this someone–a very old, grumpy man, judging by the crackling voice and potent use of Iki’s dialect–wanted to donate, but my Japanese was not that good. So I handed the phone to one of my English teachers, Michiko, with an embarrassed, “Can you please help?”
Once she’d hung up, Michiko said, “That was a Mr. Wakamura. He’d like to donate to the campaign, but he can’t drive. Shall we go to his house together tomorrow during lunch break?”
I nodded. “Of course!”
Iki roads can be narrow, barely enough for one car, and twist up and around with no apparent logic. When Michiko and I went to Mr. Wakamura’s, it was raining like the dickens. The windshield of my clunker of a car kept fogging, so I drove at about 20 kilometers an hour–plenty slow enough to crane my neck with interest upon seeing an old karate dojo, plants growing up its side.
“Ah!” Michiko stabbed the map. “That’s the dojo. We’re very close. Take the next right.”
I drove us down a long driveway, past autumn-blooming flowers, to a traditional Japanese house. Michiko rang the doorbell, and after a couple minutes, the door slid open.
“We apologize for intruding,” she said in Japanese, and we both bowed at the stooped old woman in the entryway as her husband hefted himself out of the tatami room nearby. He wore a brown jacket with professor-patches on the elbow, had wide shoulders, and a long yet abrupt face.
“Are you the Wakamuras?” Michiko continued. “This is Kat Brauer. We’re from the junior high school.”
“Yes,” the man said, shoving a white envelope at me. “Here’s the donation.”
“Thank you very much!” I bowed again. “You are a very kind man! Uhm. Thank you for your hard work!” I didn’t know how to say much more.
“It wasn’t kindness.”
My brow crunched together, and I eyed Michiko. Did he want us to leave?
But Michiko said, “Of course you are very kind. What do you mean?”
What followed was a blur of Japanese I’ll never forget, even though–at the time–it took a few minutes for it to process. I caught words like “Nagasaki,” “World War 2,” and “child.” Then I heard “hot” and “water.” He finished with, “I don’t want anyone else to feel that.”
At the end of his short speech, he snapped, “Thank you for coming, goodbye.” We bowed again, and Michiko and I left.
Once we were back in the car, his words lightbulbed. My jaw dropped. That couldn’t've just happened…could it? I gripped the steering wheel, stared with wonder at the plain white envelope.
I turned to Michiko. “Did he…did he say…”
“Yes. He said,
‘I came to this island after the war. I’m originally from Nagasaki, and I lived there as a child during the war. I survived the atomic bombing. I remember the heat from the bomb. I remember walking for hours each day to get water afterward. When I heard about the charity, I decided to donate. It was terrible after the atomic bomb. I don’t want anyone else to feel that.’”
Michiko and I were quiet. I grabbed a nearby towel and wiped at my fogging windshield. Then, “Wow,” I murmured.
Michiko made this quintessential Japanese noise that says, Yes, that was amazing. I can’t believe it, and I’m so touched right now, too. But all that came out of her mouth was, “It was a good story.”
I swallowed. “Yeah. It was.”
I still get teary-eyed, thinking about that.