Konnichiwa

"Konnichiwa" the old woman says to me every day I pass by the market on my way to get a coffee. Most days it's grey outside and a little damp, but it doesn't stop her from getting her produce. She looks frail but I believe she isn't, not really. I think she has seen a lot and been through a lot and there is nothing that would surprise her now. Every day, rain or shine, she wears a little plastic hat, almost like a shower cap or the cap they put on your head at the salon when you get highlights done. Hers has a green rim which really accentuates the colour of her eyes. I noticed on the first day that she ever said hello to me that she had green eyes. It is her defining feature.

 Today it is raining as is the flavour of the winter months here on the coast. I like the eclectic mix of people on this street just one block from my apartment. On any given day, I see the Italian ladies at the pasta shop measuring out the fresh pasta for $5.99 / lb. It's the best you'll ever taste. Other days, and especially during the Fifa World Cup, getting a coffee at one of the Italian coffee shops can be a challenge, but always entertaining. Sometimes, I just go and sit and breathe in the atmosphere of the coffee shop. The bakeries are to die for and so are the Cuban restaurants. If I don't feel like cooking it isn't a problem at all. I have a plethora of choices and every now and again the pizzeria wins out--$2.99 for a giant slice of pizza with a can of coke.

During the summer, festival after festival converge on this street. Often from my apartment I can hear the music of parades and smell the hookah pipes and incense burning. There are some constants that I can count on living in this area: the eateries, shops and the life that never stops being eventful.  That old woman is a constant too.

For two years, I have seen her every day, but only in the mornings. I imagine that at the market she meets with friends and they talk about their lives and their families. I imagine her laughing and throwing her head back when she does. I imagine her as a beautiful young woman that was strong and forthright. After she picks up her produce from the market I believe that she goes home and makes a cup of tea for her and her husband. They sit in silence thinking about the past. Maybe her husband says something funny that makes her laugh and then he laughs and then they remember what it was like when they were first dating. He thinks to himself how beautiful she still is.

Every morning when I see her and we make eye contact and she says Konnichiwa, I always respond "Oh-haa-yo" which means "good morning" or "it's early." She and I have been doing this for over 700 days. I know that I don't really know her, but I feel like I do know her somehow. Near her left eye is a scar, but it looks like an old burn. The skin is taught and discoloured. I always wonder what caused this burn. Did she burn herself with an iron when she was ironing her hair? Was she in a fire? The scar is quite pronounced. I always wonder about her life and the things she has seen and done. Did she move to Canada as a child; was she in the Japanese internment camps; did she experience the bombing of Hiroshima? But there's something about her eyes...maybe she was born here. Maybe her dad is Canadian or American.

Maybe when I see her tomorrow I will say something more to her. As I make my way to the coffee shop to grab a coffee before I jump on the train, I walk slowly up to the market so I can make eye contact with my friend. I peer inside the store and gaze toward the back of the store and over the mangoes, but I don't see her. I scan quickly, but nothing. So I check out the apples to make it look like I am interested in the fruit and not just stalking this poor old lady. But she is nowhere to be found. For one week I look for her and she is not at the market. I imagine she's taking a trip, a journey, maybe...

Weeks pass and she finally returns to the market, but she does not see me nor does she make eye contact with me. So I walk up to her and say, “Konnichiwa” and she smiles and looks at me with more frailty now and says, “Oh-haa-yo.” The scar is more prevalent now, somehow deeper than before and I cannot bring myself to ask her any questions. She remains a mystery.

 

~Jennifer Ward

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