Growing up in Pittsburgh, one had to look sharp at the local Giant Eagle supermarket or risk having ones ankles crushed by the shopping carts of possessed older ladies intent on snagging the very box of Corn Flakes that one was foolish enough to show an interest in.
It’s no better here. I’ve written about the Japanese New Year’s shopping frenzy before. Intent on getting the perfect package of steamed fish paste or sweetened beans, it doesn’t matter that they’re tiny and Asian; their shopping carts and purses still pack a wallop.
One of the first idioms I learned in Japanese was Obattalion. An Oba-san is an older lady; Battalion is the Japanese title of Night of the Living Dead. You get the picture.
But that isn’t always the case. There’s a woman with straight, white, bowl-cut hair who hangs around on the street outside her building doing nothing as far as I can tell. When I pass her, I always nod and say Konnichiwa. She always covers her mouth with her hand and breaks into giggles. It’s great fun to walk home with someone who has not seen this happen—my little party trick.
There’s another old lady who is outside nearly every morning sweeping up the leaves that fall onto the street from the trees in her garden. She’s always wearing a cotton house dress and uses a stump of a broom that looks to be nearly as old as she is.
After passing her many times, I realized that I had never seen her face; her body is completely bent in half. I imagined her face wrinkled and dry, her eyes watery, perhaps a wart.
One is conditioned to expect such things.
Then one day she was sweeping and looked up to pull down a vine hanging from the wall. Her face was surprisingly smooth and youthful, her eyes clear, nary a wart in sight.
She smiled. I smiled back. It was a nice day.