In April and May of last year, I asked my hair cutter to cut my hair shorter and shorter as a way to prepare myself for the inevitable.
One day not long after my final haircut, I was at Smile, a neighborhood drugstore. (There’s already an astonishing number of drugstores in Tokyo and they keep opening new ones. At least 99.9% of the junk they sell is stuff I would never buy, and the list of what I do buy keeps getting shorter, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. A funny thing, though, is that they only sell OTC drugs. Pharmaceuticals are only sold at pharmacies.)
The Smile “pharmacist” is an older woman who has been very helpful when I ask for weird things like mosquito spray in February (She found some!) and cold medicine without caffeine (doesn’t exist). That day, she commented on the shortness of my hair and I made a lame joke about Takarazuka, which is a women only theater troupe, many of whom have very short hair because they play male characters.
Well, she exploded in Smiles (see what I did there?) saying she was a major fan and offering to copy some of her DVDs for me. It was a kind offer and I accepted even though I knew I would probably never watch them. I only know about the group because there were always posters advertising their performances outside the sento public bath I had to use my first year in Japan because my apartment had a squat toilet and no bath.
Last week, we went to Smile to consult with her about my itchy eyes. She looked me over and said that I looked hale and healthy and we told her, gently, that I had had cancer last year but was feeling much better. More explosive Smiles (I did it again!) and she gave me a bear hug, something Japanese people do so rarely I can barely remember how it’s done. Then she plucked a cat hair off my sweater and called over two other women who work there to exclaim over the almost absurd adorableness of our cats.
But there was something much, much more to all of the oohing and aahing than cats. I was so deeply moved I had to fight off tears, which I could at least blame on itchy eyes.