I noticed a bit of graffiti on the back, and just as I was about to take a closer look (as I said, I was bored), I heard the excited squeals of three junior high school girls approaching.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a middle aged woman waiting at the bus stop look up from her book and cast a suspicious glance my way as the girls approached and greeted me, no doubt trying to discern what business a foreign 20-something year old man might have being on familiar terms with a trio of 11 year old Japanese girls. The fact that I might be their teacher – especially given that we’re standing directly across from a school – apparently never crossed her mind, judging from the intensity of her glare.
After making small talk for a little bit, I politely excusedmyself and resume my idle waiting (didn’t you hate it when you were a kid and you’d meet your teacher out there in “the real world” and then it was all awkward because they’d keep trying to talk to you and pretend to be cool? And all you wanted was for them to leave you the hell alone so you could go back to playing with your friends? I made up my mind to accept my grownup-ness and accompanying non-coolness and not be one of “those” teachers). I turn my attention back to the graffit on the back of the bench:
The graffiti reads “男をいめてやりたい人・男をいじめてみたい人”, followed by a phone number. A translation would run something along the lines of “If you want to abuse a man, or if you want to watch a man be abused, call this number”. While the verb “いじめる” (ijimeru) can also mean “to bully”, in this case the meaning is clearly sexual – this is a run of the mill “bathroom wall” type of sexual soliciation (“for a good time, call….“) only with a Japanese-y S&M twist. At any rate, it’s probably not something that should be written on the back of a bus stop bench in front of a school.
As if on cue, just as this thought enters my head, one of the three girls pipes up
“Otoko wo ijimeteyaritai hito…? Heeehhh? Nani sore?”
(If you want to abuse a man…? Huhh? What’s that!?)
The second girl, her interest piqued, looks around for a second until her eyes alight on the back of the bench. At this point, I begin to shift uneasily from my vantage point a few feet away. While on the one hand, it certainly isn’t my business what’s written on the back of a bus stop bench nor who reads it, on the other hand, I am technically a teacher and these kids are technically my students. While not having a concrete justification for saying so, I have the distinct feeling that an invitation for this is probably not all that suitable for 11 year old kids to be reading. Nonetheless, hoping that if I don’t make a big deal out of it they’ll just drop it, I bite my tongue
Unfortunately, the third girl doesn’t have the best sight in the world, and so upon hearing the other two, she starts looking around to see what they’re going on about. She doesn’t spot it (even as the other two keep repeating the phrase trying to discern its meaning) and finally they point towards the bench, and she walks over and leans over for a closer look. At this point, I finally can’t take it anymore.
“Hey Saori*, don’t read that, okay?” I tell her, in my most authoritative voice. Saori, who happens to be a good student, instantly nods, and wanders back towards the group. Of course, the other two, being slightly more mischevious, immediately perk up the second they realize that mystery scrawl is taboo.
*obviously not her real name
“Naze dame da…!??” pipes up one.
(Why’s that bad….!!?)
“Ummm.. Just because, okay?” I reply, certain I don’t want to get into it, but a bit unsure of how best to excuse myself from any tricky explaining. On th periphery of my vision, I see the middle aged woman drop all pretense of reading her book and start listening in on the conversation intently.
The other girl speaks up.
“Ne, maikeru, “otoko wo ijemeru” tte douiu imi…!??”
(Hey Michael, what does it mean to “abuse a man”?)
Three pairs of 11 year old eyes fix expectantly on me while I become suddenly flustered trying to figure out how to avoid explaining the intricacies of sadomasochistic sexual practices to three junior high school kids, even as the middle aged woman in the background begins to inch in closer, perhaps having only caught the exchange “what does it mean to “abuse a man”" between a 20-something year old foreign male and three 11 year old Japanese schoolgirls.
Finally, I stammer out the only thing I could think of:
“Go ask your parents!!!”
The bus stop bench in question…
*sigh* Mercifully the bus came soon afterwards and I boarded (steadfastly avoiding the disproving glare from the woman), imagining what sorts of interesting dinner time conversations would be simultaneously taking place tonight in three separate household in town.
It’s funny though – even as recently as one or two years ago, I wouldn’t have though twice about not saying anything to those kids. I mean, it’s not my business after all, right? But the other day I really did feel a sense of disapproval and concern – a mixture that I guess can be best summed up as “protective”, or perhaps “teacher-ly”. It feels odd, but perhaps in some ways I really am starting to regard these kids as “my students” – consequently feeling personally responsible in some part for their well being and development. Does this mean I’m growing up?
Or maybe becoming part of “the establishment”. Who knows? Since when did I start admonishing children about what they should and should not read? Since when did I start dropping lines like “go ask your parents”? Since when did I start caring what kids unrelated to me do in their spare time? At what point did I start getting irritated at people who write crude sexual innuendo on bus stop benches where school kids can see it?
In some ways, I think moments like these are like individual grains of sand dropping through a hourglass, each grain metering our transition into “adulthood”. Maybe 20 years in the future when I sit up one day wondering “wow, when did I stop being a child and start being a grown up?” I can look back and realize that it was a gradual process, of which things like this are but one example.