150,000 Yen

RNZ Story

28 September 2023

“You should be in prison!” I told him straight, no regrets for the ill-will which he totally deserved. I knew I could condemn with impunity, as I was the President. He deserved incarceration for negligence! At the very least dismissal from the union. Gordon Gooding, the Treasurer of our English language school union … my Treasurer wasn’t complying with my demands for access to the financial records. Seized by the conviction he was botching the books, I deftly concluded that he was fleecing our teachers’ union fund.

As President of the school’s union I was above reproach. I liked the lofty position. The day I was elected, I was so happy I danced along the hall past classrooms of wide-eyed Japanese students. I used to do a bit of ballet, so it was an agile performance; I danced back again and the cheering of the students was music to my ears. My ascendancy to this position was ordained by some Buddha smiling on me. Tormented souls said I was possessed – I’d say obsessed, devoted to exposing the shady shenanigans of “Goody Gordy”.

I am a family man with four children who love me dearly. I go every Sunday to the United Church on Omotesando-dori ­– Tokyo’s Champs Elysées – where hippy-type street sellers peddle all manner of “objets d’art” and kitsch. I was once asked to help with the church accounts, having worked as an accountant before moving to Tokyo. Under my cautious stewardship the church coffers swelled.  I was a martial artist, and in my aikido “dojo” I was in charge, top dog, Karate King, a winner respected by all. I took care of my family, I ran things well. I often wondered how some of my colleagues managed but I try not to get involved. Except in the case of “Gordy Goody”, of course. I’m no saint but no sinner either – I see myself as a justified sinner, my god allowing well no matter what I do. I wish Gordon would get back on the straight and narrow, find a higher path.

My rock-solid contract at the school had begun to creak. There were only five of us now, all from the USA on the Foundation Contract, a generous agreement forged in happier times when the school was inaugurated. After Japan’s “Bubble” economy burst in the late 1980s and competition grew with chains of schools such as Bilingual and Nova which even employed teachers from Down Under, Canada and the UK, everything had deteriorated and it was tough for businesses. I was a saviour riding to the rescue, to negotiate with management in my fluent Japanese, with the blessing of the union membership and my considerable “chutzpah”.

One afternoon I confronted Goody, ordering him to open all the accounts to my professional scrutiny. I demanded the bank account number, all recent paperwork, receipts and records, as well as everything for the four years before him. My own personal accountant and I would check carefully. Strangely, however, I was the only one getting into a lather over Goody’s scandalous behaviour. No-one seemed to care,  Gordon appearing bemused, scarcely bothered by my demands. It was almost as if he wanted to lead me into darkest night, down his path of sin. However, Gordon and his ilk didn’t know that I had celestial protection for my soul.

It was water off my proverbial that the amount of money in our union account was seldom more than ¥150,000 with under twenty members paying ¥8,000 a year each. In Tokyo in the 1990s, ¥150,000 was a month’s rent or a personal computer or a semester of mornings at our school. You could also get trimmings for two over a long weekend at an “onsen” a hotspring resort in the mountains, just a couple of hours on the “Shinkansen” or bullet train, then a taxi to a “ryokan”, a Japanese-style inn that served up delicious traditional food and ancient ambience. Someone pointedly said that ¥150,000 was what most “office ladies” spent on clothes in a few months! For me it was a no-brainer, simply the principle of the thing. I would notice if my treasurer boasted about a new computer, a special trip or appeared in new clothes.

Sometimes, mercifully not often, during sauna-like summer nights in Tokyo, I wake up sweating … and I know it’s not only the heat. My thoughts turn to shouting at Gordon that he should be in prison, an outburst occasioned by his irritating non-compliance with my requests. Resentment wells up; I am nettled by his thwarting me. I cannot bear the thought that nothing may be amiss with the accounts. I remind myself quickly that I have never been wrong and cannot be wrong! In psychological terms I am The Right Man, always able to argue my way out of the shadiest corner. It was enough for me to think Goody was doing devil’s work. In spite of the self-righteousness, my thoughts turned to events in classroom number 5.

I had asked Goody for a few minutes because I wanted to clear up what had happened in a school executive meeting the day before. I had felt information was withheld from me by my executive. I hated betrayal. I needed to know everything. I told Goody I felt something was wrong, that people were keeping things from me. He explained patiently that this was far from the case and gave a lucid description of the situation.

I had not expected my doubts to be so fully allayed. I started to feel odd, sweating around my heaving middle. The left side of my face started to twitch. Maybe it was Gordy’s smug smile looking as if he hadn’t done anything wrong… this possibility in my disrespect for him caused me to lose my legendary self-control. Something snapped. I swayed from side to side. I began to moan deeply. Arms raised, breathing in slowly, arms out and down, breathing out sharply, feet solidly placed. “Eeeeyah!” I had been practising Seido karate for 30 years, strong on self-control in the “dojo”!

A well-placed kick caused a chair and its attached tiny desk to come apart. Another kick embedded the curved prongs of the coat-stand into the wall. Like a matador turning, in a sweeping sideways movement, my right leg swished to hit the bas-relief map of Japan on the wall, up in the north at the tip of the island of Hokkaido. It was a good high kick. In the middle of this virtuoso performance, Gordon said quietly, “I can see that you’re upset. I don’t think there can be any fruitful discussion right now.” Did I detect a smirk? I agreed with him, and later recalled ruefully that my voice resembled the shrill twittering of a bird. I started to move like a pigeon, my head poking forwards and backwards uncontrollably, but my peripheral vision caught the whiteboard. With a powerful right-foot jab I caused the board to judder on its moorings and buckle forward. I jack-hammered both board and wall, which crumpled beneath my blows.

The bonsai on the windowsill was next, receiving a powerful punch. Its fifty years of miniature growth in a porcelain pot were laid to waste as I swept it aside with a powerful “mawashi geri”, a long-practiced roundhouse kick, executed perfectly here, the instep delivering the killer blow. Both plant and pot flew into the grill of the central heater just above Gordy’s head. Suddenly, he was off out the door, muttering that his class was waiting for him and he needed all his body parts in working order for teaching.

I stood still for a few minutes clenching and unclenching my fists as I regained composure. I took out a gold-monogrammed handkerchief and mopped my brow, dabbing the thick damp folds of my muscular bull-like neck. A wondrous calm descended upon me. I noticed a couple of huge black crows land on the air-conditioning plant on the flat asphalt rooftop of one of the hundreds of buildings around. The birds were eye-catching because they were the only movement out the window across the tops of the higgledy-piggledy buildings. I wondered if they were close friends. They hopped in ungainly fashion crying, “Caw! Caw!” at each other. “Caw, caw, caw!” I could still hear them as I left the room. “Caaaaw, caaaw!”

I stumbled out of classroom 5, all disshevelled, my gold chain with the Maori “tiki” to ward off evil spirits tangled about my neck. Worse though, I was making sounds resembling a crow. To try to gain some normality, I pirouetted down the hall, twirling dervish-like, my eyes closed as if transported. I returned to reality when Nakamura-san, the head of school, came out right in front of me from the staffroom. I skidded to a halt, bowed deeply, wondering if he appreciated my dance performance.

A few days later, I was summoned to Nakamura-san’s office. He had heard about my impromptu demonstration of martial arts in the classroom. To say he showed self-restraint would be an understatement. He was deeply sorry to lose his precious bonsai, a good-luck gift at the school’s inauguration in 1953. It had been a source of strength for him over the decades when delivering his long and complex addresses at the start of each academic year, and especially during the stress of the contract negotiations. I did not ask why his cherished tree of good fortune wasn’t with him in the safety of his office. He was very polite, mercifully using few words, and true to culture, he apologised for presenting me with a bill for the damage. He said the bonsai was not included in these costs, being irreplaceable. I tried to explain my actions but Nakamura-san pointed to his hearing aid, suddenly going quite deaf. I was waved away as he mentioned again his beloved bonsai. Rather strangely, he added: “As you reap, so shall you sow”. Wisely, I refrained from correcting his quotation, knowing his hobby was Bible study – he would been embarrassed at such an error. I reflected it was possible that his biblical interest perhaps helped him to deal benignly with me … except that he added, “May your Buddha continue to watch over you.”

I looked at the bill. “Shinjirarenai!” Unbelievable! I thought my eyes were deceiving me on seeing the amount: 150,000 yen. I told myself this was a paltry sum, considering Nakamura-san could have pressed charges for property damage. Prison doors could have been opening to me, instead of heaven’s! I must ask Gordon for help with payment since he was the cause of my violence. I’m sure he could take a look at the union funds. There are also expenses for treatment of the knuckle injury when I punched the bonsai pot. I’ll try to fork out of my own pocket for a new bonsai, irreplaceable or not.

Strangely, at this pensive moment, an old Scots song lilted into my head and I started to sing: “A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me …”, quietly at first, increasing in volume as my annoyance grew, fuelled by the realisation that I had been wrong.

“A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me,
If ye’re no a Gordon ye’re no use to me!”

And I felt I could find it in my heart and soul to forgive my esteemed Treasurer Gordon Gooding for his past actions … especially if he fiddled some of the 150,000 yen damages from the union coffers.