I. March 2019 -2

March 2019-1 < >April 2019

15th March 2019

The RA group, the company with which I’d had a job interview last Monday, offered me a contractor’s position. What a surprise! Those scary-looking interrogators had chosen a stutterer. I sent a positive reply to them despite my negative impression of the interviewers, because my antsy chimp feared being called “unemployed” next month. I could still keep looking for a job for two more weeks.

Because it was Friday, I went to the gym for the evening ballet class. I had repeatedly imagined the scene with me saying, “I’ve got a job offer!” to Kumiko there. But wait a moment. Should I loudly announce that I’ve changed my job in this sophisticated place? Would people think that I’m a frivolous job hopper, in the same way that they see me dancing here like it was a joke? Perhaps, I shouldn’t tell anyone except for Kumiko about my job change.

Kumiko came to ask me if I could join the dinner party for the class members next month.

“I’m not sure. I even don’t know if I can keep attending this class from next month.” Saying this, I was soaked in misery. Finding a job which allows me to go to the class at 7 p.m. has been a real challenge. If I’m going to work for RA, they might ask me to do overtime.

“I hope you can find a job near Ogikubo,” Kumiko said. For the first time in my life, I envied housewives like her and those who had a stable job.

Our instructor turned on the music, and everybody stood at the bar in the first position for stretching. I’m not ready to leave this class so soon. Here is the place where I can forget everything.

***

16th March 2019

Miyo’s email this morning was desperate. She said she couldn’t issue the invoices to the clients through the Ariba system.

“You said Cynthia knows about the system, but she said the way they do it is different from ours!” Miyo was blaming this on me. I felt dizzy. How long will this continue?

After telling her what I knew about the system again, I wrote, “I’m sorry, but please ask the Ariba customer service if you still can’t issue the invoices.” I don’t care even if Miyo, Heather and Fred are denouncing me in the office right now. Fred is probably saying, “Megu motivated Cynthia’s unhelpful response.” Miyo is replying, “You could be right. She was chatting with Cynthia on Skype on her last day here.”

Is this what they were afraid of, perhaps? They suddenly kicked me out because they thought my co-workers would get angry at them for their unfair treatment toward me?

When I saw my Brazilian colleague Luca’s watery eyes just before he left the ITCM office in January, 2017, I did get angry at the ITCM managers.

“It must have been a great shock for him, being told not to come to the office from tomorrow!” I said to Miyo resentfully. “Why can’t we inform the workers earlier?”

“Relax Megu-chan. Luca knew about the terms of his contract from the beginning.” Miyo was always relaxed.

“But when I talked with him a week ago, he sounded as if he had been promised his next workplace by Karen.” He wouldn’t have looked so shattered on his final day otherwise.

“Of course, our sales team was looking for his next workplace. But they couldn’t find one,” my boss explained, emitting her smelly cigarette breath.

“If so, shouldn’t they have told him that they might not find him a new position, instead of making him expect—” I noticed then that ITCM didn’t want him to look for a job himself. They wanted him to stay free for their use in case they found a position for him. Had I not seen Luca’s tears on his final day, I wouldn’t have realized this.

“You know, Luca was hated by his IT teammates because he behaved so arrogantly,” Miyo justified herself. “He is also too old. So, forget about him, OK?”

Workers show how they have been treated by the company on their final day there. Like I saw Luca’s shattered face, someone might have seen my invisible bleeding on 18th February and worked out the whole story. What would Miyo have said to the person about me then?

“You know, Megu was too critical towards her managers including me!” The office manager’s cunning voice is so familiar in my mind. “She actually wanted to leave ITCM. So, forget about her, OK?”

***

17th March 2019

My kitchen cupboard was delivered from the Rakuten store in the morning. After assembling the small piece of furniture, I took a picture of it and sent it to Rica.

“—so, you’ve started living without a fridge. How’s it going so far?” was my sister’s response. She wasn’t so surprised by my kitchen project. After all, she has known me for 37 years.

“It’s been great. I can keep anything in a jar for three days this season, and three days are enough for me to use up fresh food.” I replied, eating stir-fried vegetables I had just cooked for myself. Indeed, prawns tasted better after a three-day marination. Thanks to my kitchen project, my appetite has come back recently.

“Also, you don’t need to season when you cook. You just take the already seasoned chicken from the jar and put it in the pot with an egg, seaweed and leeks, and then you get a perfect chicken soup!”

“That sounds fab!” Rica sounded impressed.

But I know my sister would never do the same thing. None of my friends would, either.

***

18th March 2019

I hope today’s job interview will be the last one. The social insurance consulting office which I was visiting was in an apartment building in Ueno. My interviewer was this private firm’s owner, seemingly in his early 40s. Submitting the paper test to him, I saw his satisfied countenance.

“Thank you. I’ve never seen this sheet filled so perfectly.”

The test about the social insurance that I’d been given wasn’t difficult for me, since I had worked for the HR department in ITCM.

“I liked my job. I especially liked learning about labour laws,” I said, without fidgeting on the hard chair.

“So, why are you resigning from your current company?” he asked quite casually.

Because I had disagreed with the company managers about their staff management—, the prepared answer came up in my head, but my voice didn’t come forth. Momentarily, I feared my stutter.

“I didn’t want to resign. The company decided not to extend my employment contract.”

The interviewer stared at me.

“They didn’t give me any reason other than that my contract had been completed. But this was an unfair dismissal, as my contract had been extended three times in the past and I had never broken a company rule or been accused of any wrongdoing.”

This small firm is targeting global companies as their clients. So he might be asked daily for advice by foreign clients who want to get rid of their employees.

“I was a hardworking, capable worker. I’d been promoted and got a raise twice for my contribution to the company. The director clearly abused his power in dismissing me.”

“I see,” the interviewer nodded. “Yet your director wanted such a good worker to leave for some reason. What was the reason, do you think?”

“It’s because I had continually warned the company to follow labour laws. That was a part of my job, translating and passing messages from our social insurance consultant to my managers.”

His face slightly changed when he heard the word, “social insurance consultant”.

“My company had also terminated their outsourcing contract with the social insurance consulting firm two months ago,” I added.

Miyo had explained to me that AFTUS was expensive compared to other firms. It was partly true, but I knew Fred was annoyed by AFTUS whenever they gave us advice which our previous firm had never pointed out. In fact, the contract termination was quite unfair to AFTUS too, as they were simply doing their jobs. Especially, during the recent “Somway nightmare”, their workload had surged.

Somway JAPAN had become a new client of ITCM in October 2017, and Karen had got a big bonus for winning the bid for the project. However, shortly after the project had started, we in HR had begun receiving complaints from the workers.

The first worker who was sent to the Somway site from ITCM, already warned that the project wouldn’t be successful due to lack of preparation. He ended up suffering from Ménière’s disease caused by stress, and resigning. Five more workers resigned within a few months because they couldn’t keep up with their tasks on-site. One worker said he had been told that his beginner’s level of Japanese would be no problem at the job interview, but in fact, he had to deal with Japanese customers all the time. Another worker had been promised proper training in basic IT and English, but in reality, no training was provided. An experienced IT customer service worker, who had been asked to train the non-experienced colleagues, said that his team didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom during their work. He started to have panic attacks on-site and was sent to hospital by an ambulance twice.

The exhausted Somway workers often complained that their overtime payment hadn’t been provided. Instead of paying the overtime in full, ITCM changed the time-sheet recording rule and told the workers to claim the payment only when their overtime work exceeded two hours a day. Workers kept leaving the company. It’s quite natural that our payment to AFTUS was swelling, as their job was to register our staff members’ insurance then cancel it when they left.

The ITCM recruiters had a meeting with the Hong Kong CEOs to express their dissatisfaction with Karen’s management of the Somway project. Their view was that even before giving proper training to the workers and hiring enough staff members, Karen had told the client that ITCM had a team to handle the project, just to win the offer. As a result, they had been forced to hire workers even though some were not suitable for the positions. Three out of the four recruiters at the meeting had left ITCM before my dismissal.

The last I had heard about Somway was Karen’s plan to dismiss Momoko from her Somway team. Momoko was the most capable person who had been on the Somway site from the start of the project.

“She complains about the other workers too much. So Karen has been getting annoyed,” Miyo nonchalantly explained.

Karen and Fred get annoyed and dismiss the workers! Am I in a kindergarten now? Is this happening in a Tokyo office in 2019?

When I looked at the interviewer, he probably saw my cynical laughter in my eyes. My anger towards ITCM had been replaced by strong embarrassment. Talking about my childish managers just made me embarrassed in front of this social consultant.

I left the firm and got on the Yamanote Line without browsing the Ueno Ameyoko shopping street. I felt that I’d had an authentic job interview for the first time. The interviewer had said that his company would never let their clients abuse their employees. He reminded me of Atticus Finch, who was now on duty for Tom Robinson’s case in the book.

19th March 2019

I woke up early in the morning to see a mental health counsellor in Toranomon. I had contacted Mr Yamada, the head of the mental health department in Tokyo IT Kempo (TIK), last month and made today’s appointment. I knew about this service provided by TIK, because I had helped ITCM change its workers’ health insurance to TIK last year. It had started with Sam’s complaint.

“The health insurance fee in my previous company was lower,” Sam muttered. “—My salary was higher there, though.” His professional title is an expert financial data fluctuation analyst.

I started to search for some private health insurance companies, though Miyo said, “Don’t worry about Sam. He is always unhappy because he was promised a permanent position in the client office three years ago, but he is still sent from us today.” It took about half a year for me to introduce TIK to the Hong Kong management for their approval and to do the paperwork on changing the insurance. Eventually, I was promoted by ITCM because the company saved money with TIK.

“We, the insurance holders, can have mental health counselling through TIK free of charge.” When I wrote that to the on-site worker Lorcan, I never imagined myself being in TIK’s mental health counselling room and waiting for the counsellor to finish with the previous patient, as I was doing now.

Mr Yamada appeared in his business suit. His square face looked as ordinary as any other 60 year old, but his eyes were red like those of some white rabbits’.

“Did you not sleep well last night?” I almost asked the counsellor but held myself back. I’m the one who should be asked this question here.

“Well, I’ve heard stories about dismissals, especially in foreign companies, but they are mostly in the sales teams,” Mr Yamada calmly said. “Being dismissed after three years of work as an office administrator is something I’ve never heard of. So I wanted to meet and talk with you.”

“I think my director was afraid of something,” I said. “He takes any suggestion opposing his idea very negatively.”

Last October, Yumi was worried about me because the recruiters had been told to look for a new office assistant.

“Karen didn’t give us the name of the client. It may be your replacement, Megu-san!”

That gave me sleepless nights. One day, I couldn’t bear the uncertainty and asked Miyo.

“Who told you such nonsense?” replied Miyo angrily. “The Hong Kong managers understand that you work very hard. We need you. You’ll never be replaced by anyone.”

I lost my dog the month after and completely forgot about the worry. But looking back, I had been standing between the Somway workers and the ITCM managers and kept consulting with AFTUS at that time.

 “When I read your story, I decided to tell mine to you too. I have also been dismissed by a company before.” Mr Yamada’s red eyes looked in the distance.

He said he had worked for a global pharmaceutical company as an HR manager. Because of the time difference, workers in Tokyo had to stay in the office until midnight to attend the daily meeting with the other branches. They had no night-shift system and the workers left the company one by one, complaining about their health. Mr Yamada asked the main office in Europe to consider having the meeting during the day in Japan just once a week or giving workers some daytime rest. Their response was, “Why are you saying such a negative thing?”

“After several suggestions, I was told that they didn’t want a negative manager like me,” smiled Mr Yamada sadly.

He acknowledged that I wasn’t seeking the reason for my dismissal anymore.

“What I’m still suffering from is the way I was kicked out like a criminal. It’s been a month, but I remember 18th February like it was yesterday,” I said.

“That’s quite shocking for me to hear too,” sighed the veteran counsellor. “It’s nothing but an abuse of power. Your company might be keeping their foreign style, but at least we have laws to protect workers’ rights here in Japan.”

“ITCM might be aware of the laws, so they didn’t give me any written instruction asking me to work from home after the sudden dismissal notice.” I have already given up on asking Miyo for this.

The 45-minute session wasn’t long, but having someone who listened to you was like enveloping yourself in a blanket on a cold night. It alleviated your fever, which might otherwise burn your body against the freezing air. We talked about my next job in the end.

“Good luck on your next journey. You’ll be alright soon.” Mr Yamada saw me off at the entrance like an old friend.

***

20th March 2019

GB Holdings has cancelled their Tokyo visit next week. “Don’t worry. We’ll set up our office in Tokyo soon,” Hon said easily, just like Miyo.

Feeling restless, I sent a message to Kim. I could never write to Mr Yamada at TIK to make his bloody eyes redder. Chatting with Kim somehow distracted me from my anxiety. Today, she introduced me to a website about star signs. Finding my birth certificate, I input my birth data to see my natal chart.

“Libra ascendant Pisces—. Others are not always sure who they’ll meet from one day to the next with a Pisces rising person. Although often quiet and shy, another day may find them talkative and passionate…”

Oh my God. It’s me! A chameleon-like persona!

“What we are born under is what we are given. It is what we do with these things and how we react to our experiences that change us.” Kim explained.

“This is interesting.” I kept reading my report.

“Pisces rising people gravitate to partners who keep them on their toes…”

Hmm, my ballet instructor keeps us on our toes during the relevé exercise. What a fool I am!

“Librans are always looking for the ‘best’ way to live. But their idealism can mean plenty of discontent. Since life presents us with an extraordinary amount of choices, if a Libran doesn’t learn to live in the moment, they’ll be in a constant state of unrest—”

Living in the moment is impossibly difficult for me. My mind always time travels to somewhere else. Who has given me this time machine, I don’t know. Time exists in my brain and as long as there is “time”, it somehow allows me to travel through it.

I kept analysing my natal chart until the evening and developed a slight headache. To refresh my mind, I went to the local 100 yen shop and bought some glass jars. When I put a bag of salt into the jar at home, the salts changed into some beautiful white sands. I shouldn’t have waited for the jars to come from Keiji or Rica while imagining the future. Instead, I should make it happen at this moment.

21st March 2019

It’s a sunny public holiday. I feel like washing my blanket, but I need to wait until the summer, when the temperature rises.

“Why do you need to wash your blanket in summer?” Kumiko asked me on our LINE chat, and I immediately regretted my stupid remark. We had exchanged each other’s LINE address last week. I didn’t reply, “Even after I stamp on the thick blanket with my clean rain boots in the bathtub, it needs eight hours of strong summer sunlight to completely dry on the balcony,” as though everyone lived without a washing machine. Instead, I answered, “Well, because I’m not sure that we won’t have any cold days until midsummer.”

Before noon, I went out to meet my friends in Kinshicho. A cherry tree beside the café where we had vegan lunch was fully in bloom. I had met these three women at a mental health support group about a year ago and we had sort of struck up an odd friendship. Two of them have not had a regular job for many years. One is working in an office, but she is suicidal and relying on medication. My problem is my stutter, but I haven’t stuttered in front of them yet.

During lunch, we laughed at our depressing mental conditions. I don’t know why the seriousness suddenly becomes something hilarious when we talk about our own problems. I noticed that I hadn’t laughed in ages. One of my worst habits is that I forbid myself from doing something fun before achieving my goals. It probably started when I was eight, when dad rewarded me and Rica with two bottles of fresh orange juice after we passed a swimming test. The juice tasted fabulous along with the sense of achievement. Since then, whenever I set a goal, I tend to be hard on myself until I complete it. Not now, I will buy these sandals after the term exam finishes. I’ll visit this café after I win the badminton match. I’ll watch this movie in the theatre after I pass the entrance exam…and so on. Gradually, I had become a person who couldn’t enjoy her life until achieving her goals.

Before 5 p.m., we separated at the Kinshicho train station.

“See you next time!” “Let us know about your therapy!”

We shouted at each other on the platform. No one would be able to guess that those happy girls had met in a mental health group. We all looked “normal” on the outside.

Though I had been able to manage my stutter most of the time in ITCM, I had once hung up on my Hong Kong colleague Janny in the middle of our phone conversation. Getting panicked, I hurriedly wrote to her.

“I’m so sorry. It’s my stutter. I have this annoying condition that my throat suddenly gets blocked by sudden fear.”

Janny’s reply was beyond my expectations. “Don’t worry. I understand. You can write well. As long as you can communicate with me by writing, there’s no issue.”

I felt like weeping.

“I hate my stutter! I’m ashamed of myself for not being able to do something that everyone else can easily do!” I wrote, becoming emotional. I hate to receive those kind words from an open-minded person like her.

“Don’t worry too much. Everyone has something they can’t do well.”

Janny just knocked me out. I wondered if there’s anything she couldn’t do well or that she feared. Maybe yes. Like my depressed friends here, she might also wear a “normal” mask outside. That probably gave her such a warm heart.

Saki, one of the three women, was on the same train going home from Kinshicho. I wanted to talk to her about Janny, but my throat wasn’t in the mood for so many words. So I just said, “Oh, I wanted to say thanks to Janny before I left ITCM.”

“Who is Janny?” asked Saki.

“She is my former co-worker in Hong Kong.”

I’ve been feeling as if I’m a ghost with so many regrets in ITCM. But now I realize that I still have good friends. “She’s a kind person like you girls.”

***

22nd March 2019

Seriously, I can’t bear this anxiety any longer. GB hasn’t written to me and I feel I’m being rubbished again.

“I’m really taking the offer from the RA group,” I wrote to Rica to calm myself.

Rica started to check the website of RA and said that the company had a rather short history. But I had been thinking about working for a start-up company. Why should I care about their history? The only thing I was worried about was only the stern-faced interviewer who was going to become my boss in RA.

Still, I automatically clicked on the Indeed icon for new opportunities. There was an office administration vacancy in a start-up hotel in Tokyo. Without a second thought, I sent my C.V. to the company’s email address. They called me shortly to set up a job interview next Monday. Without intending to, I’ve ended up becoming an expert on searching for jobs.

I went to the gym in the evening. Some ballerinas there might be thinking that classic ballet shouldn’t be learned so casually. I see their disciplined souls, which I will never possess. But please let me stay here, I asked them in my mind. You don’t know how much this time on Fridays means to me.

Kumiko came and began stretching her legs beside me. She is one of those people who are enjoying dance as their old age hobby. Seeing her inflexible body, I let myself sigh so heavily.

“Seems your job search isn’t so easy, I guess?” Kumiko asked. She had no idea that I had been suddenly expelled from my office.

“Day by day, I feel my confidence is shrinking,” the words spilled out.

She looked at me as if she had never seen me before. Since I was always just a casual comedy here, she had probably never thought that I actually took things “seriously”.

“Do you have time tomorrow? Maybe we can have lunch together,” Kumiko offered.

“I have too much time to kill all alone!” I exclaimed.

***

23rd March 2019

Kumiko took me to an organic restaurant near Ogikubo station. She had this easy aura about her that suggested my words wouldn’t dwell in her mind, so I talked about my speech problem and it was received so casually as she swallowed mushroom soup. One of the reasons why I fit in with elderly people is that they are comfortably numb.

As we talked, I learned that Kumiko was living on the top floor of the huge building which she owned, just in front of Ogikubo station. She and her husband had lived there for over forty years, so it wasn’t strange that she knows every shop in this city. Imagine if you were retired and rich in your 60s like Kumiko. Your children have already left home and sometimes visit you with your grand-children. I remember my natal chart report saying, “You will have a happy life after retirement…”. I can’t wait to reach my 60s.

“—He is the most gentle, handsome instructor I’ve ever known.” Kumiko was talking about our ballet instructor in the gym. “Did you know that he is called prince among his students?” she confided in me as if we were both teenage girls.

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Mr Kawai. He is like a prince in a fairy tale, isn’t he?” Kumiko’s big eyes were twinkling while she munched delicious bread.

I truly wish I could also have such a prince instructor when I learn ballet in my 60s!

***

24th March 2019

Another lonely day. Days with someone make the definition of a “lonely day”. I might have someone to call, but I don’t want to tell anyone that I’ve been fired.

“How come you were dismissed?” they would ask. “Unbelievable! Why did your boss let such a nice person like you go?”

The reason might not have only been political. For a long time, I had suspected that my director didn’t see me as a “nice person”.

It was January 2017. Fred was upset and was showing me his laptop in the meeting room.

“Can you imagine how I felt, seeing this email on my birthday?”

My email, which he was pointing to, had been addressed to an on-site worker who had received his contract termination notice and written that he wanted us to have told him earlier.

“I agree. I think that giving you your termination notice such a short time before your final working day was unkind,” was my reply, which had seemingly ruined Fred’s happy birthday.

Fred angrily told Miyo to supervise my emails more strictly. I apologised to him, though I believed that showing my understanding to the shocked employee would ease his pain instead of saying, “Why is it unkind? Contract end is contract end,” like Fred barked at me.

Also, my values were so different from my director’s. I never envied the night view from his mansion room on the 40th floor in Shinagawa because I was afraid of heights. Fred hailed a taxi even for a five-minute trip, but I avoided taking a taxi because of my awful motion sickness. I liked fruit juice a hundred times more than expensive champagnes, which Fred loved, because alcohol smelled like a disinfectant to me. My director might have been displeased that I didn’t admire his expensive wrist watch.

Fred often took his sales staff to a café nearby our office to talk. The café owner remembered him as the English gentleman who ordered a cup of Irish coffee even in the morning. Only once, I also had a short talk with Fred in the café. It was August 2016; we talked about the US presidential election, as it was a hot topic those days. When Fred criticised Mr Trump, I thought for the first time our opinions matched.

“I agree with you, Fred-san. Building a wall won’t solve the problem. People find a way. They make dangerous journeys over the ocean or they’re abused by traffickers.”

I felt happy when I saw him nodding, “Exactly.” That time, I wanted to be liked by my director because I thought he was really a cool boss as Hanna often said, “Cool! Fred and Ronald Perry in those long coats look like the CSI agents in American movies!”. But when I said, “Mr Trump seems to be just a businessman, thinking about only luxury and fame,” Fred’s face slightly changed. I didn’t know why. I never meant him!

Another reason why Fred disliked me was possibly my stutter.

“I am asking where the normal tea is! Where is the fu*king normal tea?”

When the director shouted at me, throwing a herbal teabag at the table, my throat was completely shut. I knew I couldn’t speak a single word, so I silently went back to my desk to resume my task. Everyone in the office became silent as if suddenly hit by lightning. Emma hurriedly brought her English teabags to my desk.

Later in the day, I told Miyo that I wouldn’t be able to work under Fred anymore if he shouted at me like that. My throat would be closed and I would be useless.

“It’s my speech problem. I’m sorry,” I said. I meant that, because I hated my stutter more than anybody. I said the same words to Fred when he apologised to me a week after that.

“I was so tense last Monday, because we hadn’t had that very important guest in the past three years. I had asked Miyo to prepare tea and coffee for the big day, but they weren’t there, so I lost my temper,” Fred explained. “I shouldn’t have shouted at you like that. It was a very unprofessional attitude and I regret it.”

I had seen him yelling at the recruiters many times in the office. Also, I knew that he had apologised just because he had been told to by his boss in Hong Kong. I didn’t know what to say.

“No need to say sorry. It’s my problem,” I said. “Other people seem to be OK with your attitude. But I’m not OK because I’m weak. I’m sorry.”

I was tempted to ask him if he would like to replace me with someone who had thicker skin. I would totally understand if he said he would. It was October 2017. For some reason, he extended my contract next March for another year and never shouted at me again.

I still wish Fred had given me this reason for my dismissal. I would have wanted to get rid of a shouting person if the tables were turned and I had been the director.

***

25th March 2019

Getting off the train at Kanda station, I dashed toward the east exit so as not to see the west side mall through which I had walked to the ITCM office every day until a month ago. While working for ITCM, I had got lost in the maze of Kanda several times and called Miyo in the office for help. “My former assistant also got lost easily, but I’ve never heard of anyone who couldn’t come back here from the post office just five minutes away,” she said, amused. I hate Kanda. These streets remind me of several good memories with Miyo.

I got lost today too and called the start-up hotel to tell them that I couldn’t find their office. An honest-looking young man soon appeared to fetch me.

After the job interview, I wrote to Rica, who was going to visit me tomorrow. “It went well. They want an experienced office administration worker as soon as possible.” Now I feel I can forget about Golden Box Holdings. Hon hasn’t contacted me. He might have forgotten about me already. Remember Nelson N. I’m probably having karma from that.

It happened about a year ago. Nelson had been recruited by Elle and he was supposed to start working at the ITCM office on 1st March 2018. However, that morning, I received a call from Miyo in the office.

“If Nelson comes to the office, do not let him in,” was her first instruction.

“Why? He is starting today, right? I’ve been preparing his social insurance application—”
“Listen. His employment contract has been cancelled. Hong Kong told me to inform him that last night.” Miyo’s impatient voice rushed in with some background noise.

“Last night?” I was alarmed. Did he actually have a criminal record or something?

“I’m on my way. Look. Don’t do anything and…. ah, okay, probably you can let him in, but just don’t talk with him, all right?”

During the phone call, I had already sensed the perplexed stares of the recruiters. Seemingly, they had also received a similar message from Karen about the new engineer.

“Was that Miyo-san? What did she say?” Emma asked me as soon as I hung up the phone. The other recruiters, Elle, Jim and Yumi, were also awaiting my answer.

“She said Nelson’s contract has been cancelled…”

For a moment, the four recruiters were silenced in their consternation.

“I don’t believe this!” Emma exclaimed. “Over-hiring again?” She was an experienced recruiter from France.

“How could I possibly apologise to him? Nelson has already quit his job because I recruited him…” Elle was in tears.

“Over-hiring or a client cancelling a project, whatever the reason is, it’s just so irresponsible!” Jim showed his frustration.

“But it’s not allowed, is it? His contract has been signed. Nelson didn’t fabricate his C.V. or anything. Can they really just turn him away?” Yumi’s question was the same as mine. I felt dizzy.

The doorbell rang and even the IT engineers were peeking at the door over their computers. I was the one who had to answer the bell. Nelson Nakata was standing with his back rigid. When a new worker came to the office on his first day, I was supposed to say, “Welcome to ITCM!”, and I always feared I would stutter. But today I didn’t have to say this, of course.

Nelson didn’t smile and I didn’t either after we entered the meeting room. He showed his smartphone to me, saying, “I received this weird message from your manager last night.”

Miyo’s email was just one sentence; “Nelson, your employment contract has been cancelled, so you do not need to come to the office tomorrow morning.”

“This must be some kind of joke, I guess?” asked Nelson. “Do you know about this email?”

I wished I hadn’t taken the phone call from Miyo this morning.

“I…actually got an instruction from my manager to ask you to wait here until she comes to talk with you,” I said without stammering.

Nelson’s composed face changed. He must have partly expected me to dismiss his worry.

“Tell me this is just a very funny joke. Here are my onboarding documents. I’ve bought a commuter train pass as Elle instructed.” He took out a file from his bag and neatly spread the documents on the table. His pension book, current health insurance card, residence card, bank book and a brand new Suica card…

“Is Elle at her desk? Could I talk with her? I’ve already signed the contract. This shouldn’t be happening!”

“No, this shouldn’t be happening,” I couldn’t help saying this. No. Miyo must be coming in a minute to laugh our worries away!

However, the ITCM office door was shut in Nelson’s face. He received zero compensation for becoming jobless. He wasn’t even paid for his train fee for 1st March. I imagined him buying his Suica card just two days ago and now cancelling it at his nearest train station. I pictured him telling his former boss that he would be going to another company, and saying goodbye to his workmates. It depressed me.

Looking back, I regret that I had appealed to our big boss in ITCM headquarters in Hong Kong. “This is a matter of trust,” I wrote. “Our recruiters are now afraid that this might be happening again to their future candidates. Please reconsider Nelson’s employment.” It was like trying to fill a bucket which had a big hole in the bottom. The Hong Kong CEOs never replied to me. Instead, Miyo warned me, “Hong Kong dislikes receiving an email from just an employee, not through Fred or the other managers.” She also denounced Nelson for his criticism against ITCM online.

How did I end up trusting these managers? Why didn’t I talk with the labour office straight away? Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I belonged to such a nasty company. I had tried to see good side of the company until the end. And eventually, I got punished for my naivety.

***

26th March 2019

Rica visited me this morning. Talking with her, my throat shut off hundreds of clear words as if the words were too heavy. Maybe my brain works unnecessarily quickly so it gets spare time to worry about something trivial before my throat is ready.

“You must have known that you would be fired. You’d seen those unfair dismissals for two years there. You should have found your next job before being fired, and you didn’t need to suffer from this degradation and anxiety!”

It was the first time that I had met my sister since 18th February. Rica’s accusing tone hurt my wounds. I knew she just hated the fact that I had been treated so badly by my employer. Still, I couldn’t supress my anger.

“None of my friends have used the word ‘fired’ to me,” I finally said with my shaky cicada voice. “be—because they know how much the incident hurt me.”

Rica was silently eating pasta which I had cooked for her lunch.

“If you’re not imaginative enough, you’ll never know my feelings until you have the same experience.”

“Oh, I’d never be fired by my company. I’m a permanent employee there, and I’m very good at my job,” said my twin sister.

Seriously, I sometimes doubt the fact that Rica and I have shared the same DNA. How dare she say that I wasn’t good at my job?

“If you came to harm me, go home now!” The cicada in my throat cried with the heat. “I’m trying to recover from the past. You are only a hindering my recovery!”

My mobile phone rang and interrupted our quarrel. It was from the start-up hotel which I had visited yesterday and they offered me the office administrator position. Instantly, Rica and I, two Librans, started to compare the working conditions of the RA Group and the start-up hotel.

“The hotel didn’t test my English ability, while I had an interview in English at RA,” I analysed. “There is probably more opportunity to learn English at RA.”

“There are only 100 days of annual holiday, including weekends, at the hotel, which means you have to work six days a week sometimes,” Rica tapped a calculator. “The type of employment is the only concern, though. The hotel is offering you a permanent position, while RA is offering a contract position.”

My sister always insists on a permanent employment position. Not only her but the whole of Japanese society ranks people by their type of employment. “Of course, he is hired as a permanent worker. He graduated from such a good university.” People really do talk like this. In reality, there are many capable, loyal contractors who have to worry about their future annually. I don’t judge people by their type of employment, so why should I care about that?

“I will stop my job hunt and work for RA.” I had made the decision. I need to draw a line under this long March. I feel my stutter has been getting worse while I’ve stayed silent at home.

27th March 2019

I received a message from the social insurance consulting firm where I had had a job interview last week.

“Though there’ll be regular overtime, which will be a concern for you, our door is open to you.”

I was so grateful that I momentarily thought I would forget ballet and take the offer. Regular overtime in Ueno means I could never make it to Friday’s ballet class. So what? What is ballet for me?

“I haven’t had severe period pain since I started ballet last summer,” was the answer I usually told everyone. “My body has become a little more flexible too. It’s very good for my health.”

“But your job is more important, isn’t it?” Rica would say. “You can find another ballet class at the weekends or after 8 p.m.”

“No!” I shouted internally. It has to be the Friday class in Onami sports club in Ogikubo, because I wouldn’t see the same instructor in other classes. Remembering what Dr Peters suggested in his book, I made a list of the most important things in my current life.

1. Ballet class on Fridays. 2. Singing group on Saturdays. 3. Having time to read…

Look at the list! All are about my hobbies. Ami’s list would have “taking care of her parents” at the top. Obviously, I don’t deserve to work at the respectable social consulting firm.

I wrote a polite reply to the firm, telling them that I was going to work for another company since I had received their offer earlier.

“Let’s keep in touch,” the consultant responded soon. “I see you are an honest, hard worker with a very unique personality. I’m sure you’ll learn the laws quickly.”

Reflexively, I wept. Despite my dismissal from my previous company, he saw me as an honest hard worker!

I’m not going to tell this to Rica, because she would dryly say, “That firm must be desperate for workers.”

***

28th March 2019

I went to the RA office in Yotsuya to sign my employment contract. The stern-looking department manager looked scarier than the time I had met him at the job interview. While we talked about social insurance documents, I tentatively smiled at him and received his perturbed glare. Never mind. He might have a migraine. Or probably, he is a bachelor and afraid of being mistaken as a possible romance seeker by an unmarried female employee. I liked the latter idea.

Cherry trees were blooming near Yotsuya station. I bought two rice balls and had them on the bench under the flowers while reading. Atticus was fighting in court in the book. He lost the first trial, but he would finally win and free the innocent Robinson.

I came home and thought about how I could be closer to wise people. In ITCM, perhaps no one had respected me. Elle and Ben hadn’t even replied to my email. On-site workers must be thinking that I had abruptly left the company without saying farewell to them.

The final day of my previous workplace came back to mind. The true reason for my resignation from the software company was my stutter. Every time I heard the Japanese director scolding his workers, though not me, my throat got tight until it hurt.

“I don’t think I’m capable of taking care of my tasks here,” was the reason I gave the director for my resignation. He tried to dissuade me from leaving, so I had to give him another lie. “I would also like to work for a foreign company to learn English.” Hearing this, he became sore at me, but when we said goodbye to each other, I saw a slight tear in his eyes.

“You got so many business cards for us at the exhibition events. You say you’re shy, but be confident about yourself. Not everyone can get so many business cards,” said the director.

Though I could have never survived in his company for long, I kind of missed him just because of his final words to me.

What were Fred’s last words to me at ITCM? They were “What are you doing?” His agitated frown in the meeting room will be kept in my memory album forever. I hope Fred is now laughing at his own frown when he looks back.

“I was afraid that this worker would shred the company’s important documents before she leaves,” Fred would say to his friend. “Why? It’s because I fired her. She was a nosy worker. She had jumped up to intervene in the management and was fired for that. It’d be plausible if she wanted to retaliate.”

His friend would say that it’s good that she didn’t do any harm to the company.

“Yeah, it was good,” Fred would nod. “I’ve seen many workers who tried to retaliate in the past. The director’s job is tough. But you know, that’s what I’m being paid for. Hahaha!”

Shoot. His friend might wonder how many workers he had axed before to earn his big salary.

I opened my laptop and saw several messages from my friends.

“Congratulations, Megu. You got a job!” “I’m so relieved to hear the news!”

As always, when the thing which had been preoccupying my mind had nearly gone, I had this cynical feeling that no one had actually cared about me. After all, I hadn’t had a life-threatening medical operation or been fighting in a war. My February salary had been fully paid so I probably wouldn’t have to fight against my company. Kim suggested some cakes to celebrate my new position in RA. I wish she were here and we had a huge cake together. If I were a wise person, would I enjoy the cake by myself?

***

29th March 2019

I received an apology email from Hon. The GB management had decided to put off their Tokyo office launch, he explained. “I’m so sorry. My plan wasn’t approved by my boss.”

“Please don’t worry. I understand,” I promptly wrote back. Now I can really move on.

Though March, as long as it was, was almost over, my mind is still in a bit of turmoil. I’m dying to talk with someone who has also been dismissed unfairly. I think of Ike, who had been fired a month before my dismissal.

Ike was an American IT engineer who lived in Hachioji with his family. Though his commute was the longest in ITCM, he was always the first one to arrive and unlock the office door. I was the second, so I knew this. At first, Fred liked Ike and occasionally praised his hard work. However, Ike didn’t attend the ITCM Christmas party in 2017. He had been sent to Somway a month before.

“Ike is now disliked by Fred, because he criticised him,” Miyo whispered to me. “He said Fred is unprofessional by telling him and his co-worker to go back to their country if the project is not completed by the due date.”

“Aha, I see,” I laughed. I didn’t take this seriously that time.

In late 2018, Ike was told to do night-shift work by ITCM. He declined, saying that he had compromised enough already by working on the Somway site for a year, even though he had originally been promised a position in the ITCM office. In January 2019, he was dismissed for not meeting the company’s targets.

“It was a one-sided decision. ITCM managers might say that they have discussed it with me, but I wanted to continue working here,” Ike replied to my formal “resignation process” email. “Please tell labour bureau that it is an unfair dismissal.”

Because Ike was banned from the office after he had been informed of his contract termination, his blue UNIQLO cardigan was still on his chair. When I called him about his stuff in the office and health insurance card, he was never resentful. He sounded rather happy to hear my voice.

“Listen, I never agree with my managers. I know you are a good worker who shouldn’t be dismissed.” I wanted to tell him. “Do not lose your confidence.”

“AFTUS is asking about your health insurance card,” I said, glancing at Karen at her desk. She would tell Fred every single word I said to Ike. “When do you think you can return it?”

Ike apologised and said that he would post it soon. His easy-going voice successfully hid his pain. Why must he be going? Why can’t I do anything? My frustration burst out.

“Megu-chan, you can’t help everyone. Look. No one cares about anyone except for themselves.”

Miyo’s voice came back. I had used these words as an excuse to lighten my guilty feelings. There must have been something I could do, if I really wanted to act. I’m not talking about sacrificing my life. If a fire occurred, I would desert everyone and run faster than Usain Bolt. But there must have been a small thing I could have easily done, if I hadn’t been afraid of losing my job.

Ultimately, I was one of many who were manipulated by misplaced virtue. Being loyal to the company for a long time was looked on positively in my country, no matter what the company did.

After thinking about Ike’s dismissal and my words, which I hadn’t been able to tell him not because of my stutter, I decided to try and get in touch with him. I sent a quick message to Hanna asking her if she had Ike’s email address. Wise people never give up, even though it seems to be too late, don’t they?

30th March 2019

Tom Robinson died in the book, before the trial at the high court. I felt as if I had been killed too. Where on earth is justice? Suddenly, I got sick of calmly seeing reality and reasoning about matters like wise people do. After all, I’m not wise!

I made a call to Mr Ikuta at Tokyo Labour Union.

“—Miss Ishikawa? Let me check the record…Oh, now I remember. You called me last month.” Ikuta sounded busy. “How are things going? Has your February salary been fully paid?”

“Yes, I received it,” I said quickly. I don’t know why the word salary sounded like a dirty word.

“Today, I’m calling to ask you whether I should do anything about my company’s wrongdoings.” I sensed his weary sigh, but decided to ignore it and continue. “Because I was so anxious about my future, I couldn’t see things as they were last month. But now I’ve got a job offer, so—”

“Congratulations! You’ve got a job,” interrupted Ikuta. “That’s fantastic news.” 

“Thanks,” I said, not feeling grateful. A job suddenly sounded like a nasty word too. “So, now I’m calmly looking back at what happened to me, and thinking that I shouldn’t just let it go.”

Ikuta sounded unenthusiastic about my idea. He kept saying that since I’d got a job, things would be changing for the better from next month.

“I know I’ll be all right soon. What I’m seeking is the right approach to take. ITCM will still be doing the same things even though I’ve left. Someone can probably do something about it,” I said.

“Tokyo Labour Union can’t do anything,” was his answer. “We receive so many complaints from workers every day. Of course, you can fight the company in court as well, but the lawyer would cost a lot and your time would be taken up.”

“So, you’re saying that I should just let it go?” Anger slightly shook my voice.

“That was your initial plan, wasn’t it? You said you didn’t want to make this into a big thing.”

I remembered how agitated I had been after receiving Miyo’s message. All I could think of was how to avoid conflict with the company.

“Okay, I admit I was so weak that I chose to give in last month. I still don’t want to fight. But do you think weak people can be abused just because they are weak?”

I think I lost my temper.

“Why is everyone so indifferent? If you are weak, strong people can do anything to you because they know you won’t fight back? Are you OK with that? This is wh…wh…why harassment never stops in workplaces and many people jump on the train rail!”

I was barking up the wrong tree but I couldn’t manage my chimp. Since I knew that he wouldn’t help me and was rather annoyed by my call, my disappointment had ignited my rage.

“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do anything,” Ikuta said soothingly. “You can report the company to the Tokyo Labour Bureau. They will listen.”

“That’s what I’ll do, thanks,” I snapped at him and finished the talk. I was angrier at myself and everything. I hoped a huge comet would destroy the entire earth right away.

My mobile phone rang and I pressed the button with all my strength.

“I haven’t told mum and dad about your job change.” Rica always calls me when I’m in a thunderstorm. “How are you going to explain it to them?”

To be honest, I don’t ever want to tell my parents about my dismissal. They have never understood me in the past and would never do so in the future.

“I’m not going to tell them for a while,” I answered.

“I understand. It’s going to be a tough explanation. They know you were so keen to learn in that foreign company,” Rica said, and her mood changed. “And it was really an awful one, huh? I’m sure they’ll be mad when they hear your story.”

“Become mad at whom, the company? Mad at Fred and Miyo for firing their daughter harshly? No, they won’t,” I cynically laughed. “Remember their generation. A company’s director is someone to be respected just because of their title. They would believe whatever the company say over their own daughter.”

“So, you’re not going to do anything about your disgusting company after all?”  My sister sounded irritated by my submissive voice. “You’re just giving up like the other yellow guys?”

I truly hate her provocative tone.

“I’m not doing nothing. I’ve been prioritizing my job hunt,” I said angrily. “Removing my anxiety about the future was the first thing to do.”

“Now, you’ve got a job, but you’re still doing nothing, huh?”

But I had talked with Tokyo Labour Union just before you called! The sentence merely stayed in my mind. What’s the use of telling that to her? The phone call has only given me this deserted feeling that the entire world is my enemy. I hung up on my sister and wrote a text message to her.

“You were the one who stopped me fighting against ITCM, weren’t you? It’s OK. You actually want me to be killed.”

Soon after sending it, I turned off my mobile phone and lay on my bed. Why am I such a stupid chameleon? Yesterday I had a bit of wisdom. Today, I’m back to being an unstable 15 year old.

***

31st March 2019

I picked up my jacket from the sofa and saw Ana there, curling up in a ball.

“Ana! You are here!” As I exclaimed, the spaniel dog jumped up and barked, overjoyed. “Ana, I missed you so much!”

Dad came in and gave me a funny look. “Megu, why are you crying? Ana is always here.”

Mum and Rica were at the dining table.

“You’re going to Daiichi park with Ana, right?” Mum glanced up from their rapid conversation. “The local baseball team should be ending their practice shortly.”

“Yes, I am,” I smiled tearfully. “Let’s go, Ana. Let’s go to the park and run!”

Ana understood my words. She happily clung to my legs, so I couldn’t walk straight.

“Ana, don’t walk so closely, I can’t walk well.”

I can’t walk well…

I woke up from the happy dream and sobbed for a while. Ana is still living in my heart like this.

Tomorrow will be my first day in the RA group.

“From tomorrow, I’m going to cook rice every morning for lunch. Side dishes are going to be the leftovers from last night’s dinner,” I wrote to Rica, as if we had been talking about my lunch box since yesterday. I had actually received an email from Rica last night, but already deleted it without reading. It had looked like a very long message. “In the summer, it’s going to be a sort of experiment. I’ll need to see if last night’s dinner is still edible.”

Next, I deleted the emotional message which I had sent to Rica yesterday. My immature words looked laughable now. Unlike in the movie my sister had watched, I won’t be killed by Fred and Miyo, because ITCM have done nothing illegal and they have no reason to be afraid of me. What I know is known by everyone in the office. My name has probably been recently added to the office gossip and will be remembered only until the next dismissal.

“Just be careful with food poisoning. Let me know how it goes.” Rica replied to my email. “The new fiscal year starts tomorrow! Let’s make it a fruitful one.”

She sometimes sounds like a school principal. I put my phone on the table and changed to go out to Seiyu. It was sunny, but I smelled spring rain in the air.

Whether my new fiscal year will be fruitful or not, I’m sort of indifferent. Things happen regardless of our iron-hard willpower. ITCM eventually didn’t give me the reason for my contract termination. Now I just want to float on the river until the stream carries me somewhere that hooks me. I would stay there, live with new people and leave for another stream when the time comes.

Important things come from the least expected places, just like Ana came into my world. One day, I might be able to find happiness again on my river journey.

March 2019-1 < >April 2019

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