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But Mom, I don’t Want Watermelon, I Want Cucumber

October 7, 2014

August 16th. It was a typical Japanese summer vacation. For elementary school student in a suburban Tokyo,  summer vacation used to be spent at home since the father of the family is so busy that they cannot take the leave from the office, you have to be a high ranking employee to do so. And if you are, you wouldn’t live in the suburban Tokyo. Typically, the children are going out at the noon, playing together either baseball, or bug catching, or swimming in the public pool. Although, swimming is not a good option. The pool always full on the summer. Of course, when it is hot, the best thing to do to get colder is by putting yourself in a water. When your body got burned, it is always a bucket of water that you need to put the fire off and that is what happened  in the summer, being inside cold water is a gift. But not everyone can enjoy it truly, as in the crowded public pool, the water would still get hot due to the human temperature inside. So, it is not always a good option to go swimming to the public pool.

At night, they’re typically working on their homeworks. A 40 days vacation means 40 days without school. And that takes an approximate 264 hours off the school, that means 264 hours without any knowledge adding material (or so it seems by the school). So, the school thinks that a bunch of homeworks would ‘help’ the student make up for the 264 robbed hours. For (some) elementary school children, the most interesting homework for the summer vacation is the the diary, in which the student have to keep records of things that they’ve done the entire summer (some of which the entire August, which is pretty generous, taking 10-days of the works). They have to put the date, the weather that day (which of course mostly hot, very hot, I’m burning in hell, or raining), and the activity they’ve done. Mostly, they only write like “today was ‘I’m burning in hell hot’. I do nothing but sleeping in front of the air conditioner, eating kakigoori (shaved ice with syrups).” It ends just like that for a day. Not even a half page. Half paragraph might be the best. But some of them write it like a very nice story. They build it seriously, which ended up in one page full or even more per-day.

The cicadas are singing the main anthem of the summer. The vibrating sounds of their wings are actually creating a melody one love to hear. Well, not everyone, but the 12 years old Toshio Suzuki seems to really enjoying it. Toshio is an elementary school student, 6th grade, and about to enter the Jr. Highschool. This is his last summer vacation as an elementary school student. Toshio is not a bright student. He’s a so-so student, ranked 17th in class out of his 32 classmates. Not bad, but not good either. His special ability is in Kendo, A traditional form of Japanese martial arts. He is so into Kendo. His father, Kimura Suzuki taught him the art of the sword. Kimura was a captain of the Kendo club from his Jr. High time up to the university time. He is indeed a legend in his small town, but he never gone big enough for the national as he (his team, actually) is always losing in the preliminary. That is why he wants Toshio to be his more successful succesor. Toshio promised his father, mother, his older brother who is 3 years older, that he will join a Kendo club as soon as he enter a Jr. Highschool.  Toshio’s father always put a big hope on him, as his brother prefers robotic over Kendo.

Toshio’s summer vacation days are filled by the typical stuffs, but his most favorite one is catching bugs. Since he always saying that it is one of the activity that can improve his Kendo skill. Swinging the net like a Kendo fighter as fast as possible is the key on catching those bugs. Toshio also loves to swim in the small river near his home. It is only 5 minutes walk from his neighborhood. He always go there every 3-4 times a week with his two best friends, Hiro and Kenji. They go to the same school, and the same class. Their parents know each other well, so they never have problem with them going out together, also, they always do their homeworks together at one of them’s house, so they will finish their homework on time. It has been like this since they’re in the 3rd grade.

Aside from Kendo, Toshio is also a keen writer. In writing his diary, he’s not the half paragraph type. He’s more like a half page type but with pretty well chosen words. He writes his diary as if a great painter paint his painting on a canvas. At 12 years old, he can already tell that the cicadas are singing the summer theme song, while the other 12 years old tells how noisy the cicadas are. He is very gifted in writing. Toshio’s mother was a highschool teacher before she got married, she teaches English. When Toshio was a child, she used to read books just before he went to bed. It is short stories about daily life in Japan. So, Toshio’s vocabulary is way better than most of kids on his own age. But other than that, he’s just almost below average in other subjects.

In the August 16th entry of his diary, he wrote:

August 16th

Sunny, 32 degrees of celcius. Dear summer, are you going so soon ? Only two more weeks until I start picking the bag and going back to school. Why is that ? I still wanted to hear the cicadas singing, I still want to catch bugs with Hiro and Kenji just like today. Still a lot of things I wanted to do. So, please summer, don’t go, and come faster ? Please ?

Anyway, today I went to catch bugs with Hiro and Kenji. I caught a big rhinoceros beetle, while Hiro and Kenji got nothing but cicadas. We finally release them, because I love the song of the cicadas. And Hiro and Kenji only wants to release those cicadas if I want to release the rhinoceros beetle. So I did, I just like the cicadas so much.

Oh, and the we went to swim in the small river near our neighbor. In the river, I met an uncle who swim very fast. He’s wearing green full body swimsuit. It was pretty cool, like a frog’s skin ! If I meet him next time, I want him to teach me how to swim, so that I can finally beat Hiro ! (Hiro is the fastest swimmer among them).

Toshio Suzuki.

August 17th.  Another hot day. Same as yesterday, 32 degrees of celcius. Toshio woke up at 6.30 am, 30 minutes before his father goes to his office. They usually have breakfast together –the whole family, father, mother, two sons-.  Toshio’s mother, Tomoko Suzuki (her maiden name was Onda) is a also a great cook. She always cooks everyday, and today for breakfast, she cooks pan fried Saba (Mackerel), accompanied by the never absent miso soup, horenso (Japanese spinach) braised in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), home made pickles, and nori (dried seaweeds) heated by direct fire specially for Toshio (he likes nori so much), all are served before a piping hot white rice. This family never got bored by the mother’s cook. It is always simply but perfectly seasoned, never been under or overcooked, perfect, just perfect. Even at some times, Toshio bragged to his schoolmate that his mom can even defeat the Legendary Hiroyuki Sakai in the kitchen stadium (although he never onve tried Sakai’s dishes, but he’s just a kid, that is how a kid brags).

After the breakfast, Toshio’s father left to catch the train at 7.15 am. It is only 10 minutes walk to the station from their house, so he never late. Except for once, when he suddenly have hungover from an after office party, he wakes up late, and by the time he reaches the station, he realized that it was a Sunday. It’s the panic that caused the unfortunate but funny even. It is almost serendipitious. His father doesn’t like drinking and got drunk easy, that’s why his father used to come early. But that might be the reason why his father hardly got promoted, his superior doesn’t really like him since he is rarely go into the after office party.

Toshio’s older brother, Keichi also left the house regularly at 8 am. In summer, he joined a robot club program it his school. Keichi is one of the ace of the club. Under supervisor of his teacher, he can build a mini fire fighting robot lately. It is a big thing for a 15 years old. He’s aiming to study robotic engineering later on in the university. He and Toshio is very close. They always plays video games together, read mostly same genre of manga (Japanese comic books), and always share their daily life with each other. It is their mother that always taught them to be together.

It is then 10 am when Toshio’s mother ask Toshio if he wants to eat the watermelon watermelon. Of course Toshio wants it. It is his favorite fruit in the whole universe. If someday he goes to heaven, he wanted to be posted in a watermelon field. Yes, he likes watermelon THAT much. He even imagine if someday, his brother can build a robot that can plant watermelon automatically. Highly unlikely but, come on, it is a children’s imagination. Toshio’s mother said that she can let Toshio get his watermelon early (before his dad and brother come home), and have it again later on when his father and brother at home. Two slices of watermelon ? Why not. He said in his mind. But, in order to get that, he have to cut the grass outside his house that getting wilder and wilder everyday. It is no problem of course, his house only have a small yard. He would do it twice for those watermelons.

As soon as he cuts the grasses, he sits down in the family room waiting for his first slice of watermelon of the day. As soon as his mom brought it, he eats it violently. It is cold, he’s sweaty after a physical work outside which was pretty hot considering it was summer, the watermelon tasted like an oasis in the middle of a raging desert. After finished it, his mother have another surprise, she doesn’t cook, but instead, she’s ordering Toshio’s favorite food: Sushi. Ater having sushi for lunch, he ask his mom permission to go outside and plays with his best friends, Hiro and Kenji. His mom let him go an hour after lunch, after he explained that they’re going to swim again in the small river. It is healthy, so why not ?.

After that, Toshio went home at around 5 pm, by the time, his brother is already at home playing video games, and his dad arrived no more than 30 minutes later. They then have dinner, his mom cooks Curry rice for the night, finished up by a sweet, cold watermelon. It was a nice day for Toshio, as he wrote on his diary:

August 17th

Sunny, but not too hot. Maybe it is hot, the weathercast said that it is 32 degrees, same as yesterday. But maybe, because today was so fun, the heat didn’t feel so bad. My mom is being pretty nice today, she let me eat two slices of watermelon today, in addition of sushi for the lunch, and her best curry rice for the night. I wish it’d be like this everyday until the end of summer. I don’t mind if everyday becomes summer if it is like this. I’d do the homeworks on time !

Oh, and together with Hiro and Kenji, I went swimming again. In the same small river. And there, we met the green suit uncle for the second time. This time, I bravely ask him to teach me swim. He said okay. But he had a very strange face and voice. His face looks like a bird, and it is all green. But then Hiro said that it is a new model for a swimming goggle. In other words, he only wears mask. How bout the voice ? Maybe he got a flu, that’s why his voice is husky. But, if he got flu, why bother swimming ?

Ah I don’t know, the most important thing is, he agreed to teach us swim ! as long as we give him cucumbers, 3 cucumbers for each lesson. That means, each one of us have to bring one. Well, I can ask mom for that. The lesson will start tomorrow ! So excited.

Toshio Suzuki.

August 18th. Toshio woke up earlier than usual. Only 5 minutes earlier though, but still, earlier than his alarm clock. He always wake up with alarm clock. His mom taught that since he was in the 3rd grade.  It will be good for his future she said. Toshio is so happy waking up, remembering that he will learn how to swim properly  for a pretty cheap price, a cucumber. He is sure that his friends Hiro and Kenji will also bring the cucumber. He knows that Hiro doesn’t want to be outswimmed by him. How to get cucumber from his mother ? Easy, just say it is for lunch, stating that they will have lunch together at Hiro’s or Kenji’s.They’re making cucumber filled sushi together. In the end it is at Kenji’s, since his mother is out, and if somehow his mother crosscheck (which is highly unlikely) she won’t be there. Toshio rarely lies to his mother, this is one of the first few times. But he can’t be honest this time. An unknown uncle who will teaches swimming for cucumber sounds really wrong. His mother can hardly trust him to a stranger. (And Toshio wasn’t aware the concept of sexual abuse, so he doesn’t really know how weird an unknown adult, a kid, and a cucumber would be).

Toshio then goes out to meet Hiro and Kenji at 11 am. They have made a promise that they will meet at 11 am in a family mart near the neighborhood. They have to feel their stomach at least an hour before swimming, or they’d have a cramp which is dangerous and unpleasant. They want to have fun after all. Toshio and Kenji are having an onigiri (rice ball) filled with umeboshi (fermented plum), while Hiro is having a bento set. Sometimes they save their monthly allowance so that they can buy something without their mother knowledge. Sometimes to buy ice cream, or little toys, or snacks, or even onigiri in times like this. After having lunch they went into the little woods near the river. They talk and talk and talk as their stomach diggest their foods, while waiting for the uncle to come and teach them swimming lesson. Their cucumbers are neatly readied inside a grocery bag Kenji brought from his house.

Later, the uncle with the green swimsuit come. He is not alone. He come along with two other uncles. They’re wearing an identically same suit, and diving masks. It is weird for Toshio to see them. But it might be just that they are from a same swimming team he thought. They gave the uncles the cucumbers, and they put it on their backpack. It is something that Toshio haven’t realized, these uncle are also bringing a unique backpack. It looks exactly like a turtle shell. Toshio wanted to ask, but finally decided not to. They’re unique after all. And the the lesson starts.

The uncles movements are so elegant their movement is like an olympic level swimmer. No hesistation, the flow of their body are flowing eloquently through the water. They’re seems to wear a special flipper shoes that integrated with their unique swimming suit. They really are professional, said Toshio to his other two friends. They also wear a flipper shoes like gloves on their hands. With a little bit of claw in the end of it. It is kinda creepy, but again, Toshio doesn’t want to know why, he just simply want to learn to swim. He just want to get better. The uncles skins also smells fishy. And by fishy, he really meant it. It smells like fish. The smell you would’ve expected if you go to a fish market. Smells like that. And again, none of his concern. And with all the maybes, it is going to be okay. The lesson was fun, the uncle taught them nicely, although they all have a creeking voice, they’re speaking in a really polite way.Toshio and his friends are really enjoying this, except for Hiro. He doesn’t seem to enjoy the lesson.

The lesson is pretty simple though. How to move the arms and legs while swimming. When to take a breath, how hard should you kick to gain power and reserving stamina, etc. In no time, Toshio feels that he is getting better. And he will be better even than the great Michael Phelps. After the lesson, they promised the uncle that they will meet them again two days later. And still, they are asking for the cucumbers. The kids finally went home after having a nice chilly Kakigoori (shaved ice with syrups) on the nearby stall. Toshio is having the watermelon, while Hiro and Kenji are having the sweet melon.

This was Toshio’s entry that day, sounds as exciting as ever:

August 18th

Sunny. It was a great. I don’t really care about the weather anymore. As usual, I went swimming with Hiro and Kenji. But this time it was special. There are uncles who taught us how to swim. They looks funny, green swimsuit, weird flippers, big backpack than they even wear while swimming. Maybe, a kind of training method. Like the weight you wear when you’re running to gain more power. They are nice people. Their voices are weird, but they speaks nicely. I like them. And they’re promise to teach us swim again in two days !

How fun, I wish the next day ends quickly.

Toshio Suzuki

August 19th. Toshio went out with his family. It was Sunday anyway. Toshio used to be very happy when his parents take him and his brother to go out somewhere. But this time, he wasn’t really happy. His mind is nailed into the swimming lesson two days later. He only wrote this very short phrases on his diary, shorter than a paragraph.

August 19th

Very hot. Went out with family to Bic Camera. Dad bought a new phone, then we have lunch together at Yoshinoya. I just want to go to swim for tomorrow.

Toshio Suzuki

It was very short. The teacher will be surprised to see this page.

August 20th. This time, Yoshio even woked up earlier than before. It is 10 minutes earlier than the alarm clock. After having breakfast with his family, his father left and his brother too. And then Toshio helps his mom for chores, before going out again with his friend. Today, his mother promised him that she will make a bento to be eaten together with Hiro and Kenji before they go to swim. Toshio directly ask his mom again for a cucumber.   He said that he wants it as a desert. His mom think of course that it is weird. She was going to give him a diced watermelon, way more refreshing than cucumber with mayonnaise, which also taste pretty nice, but still, watermelon is his son’s favorite. She finally gave in when Toshio forced her “But mom, I don’t want watermelon, I want cucumber.” He then going out again to swim, to learn from the weird uncles, together with his best friends. But this time, only he and Kenji brings the cucumbers. Hiro said that he doesn’t want to take anymore lesson from the uncles, they smells fishy. He doesn’t want to lie to his mother for the second time of the week, And he’s been a good swimmer afterall. So he’s going to just stay there and swim alone.

When they arrived, the uncles are already there. Three of them. After explaining the situation with Hiro, one of them left. The tallest one. Then the other two starts teaching Toshio and Kenji. Meanwhile, Hiro swim alonein the other part of the river. Nobody else there beside them. Toshio doesn’t know why, but again, he doesn’t want to question such luxury he gave. It is way better than swimming in the public pool, almost like owning a private pool free of charge and maintenance services. After the fun lesson, they promised to meet again the next day, and again, cucumber for the ‘payment’. And the uncles said that they can have the lesson until the summer over. When they’re about to go home, they cannot find Hiro. Toshio and Kenji think that he must have gone home early. Sometimes, Hiro like to be a loner. So it is not a strange thing to notice something like this.

This is on Toshio’s entry on August 20th

August 20th

I don’t remember the exact weather. It is not raining for sure, but I don’t know how hot it was. The day was too fun to be concerned with the weather issue. Another day, another lesson from the uncle. Today, the uncle taught me how to backstroke. It was really fun, and cheap, for a cucumber, a private swimming lesson in a river that mimics a  private pool is just amazing. Although Hiro is being unpleasent, we can still have fun with the uncle !

Toshio Suzuki

August 21st.  The things happened yesterday happened again today. Toshio wakes up early. But this time it was different, as soon as Toshio woke up, his mom asked him about Hiro. She said that Hiro didn’t come home yesterday and is still going missing. Normally, he will feel worry or something, but this time, it feel just like Hiro ‘deserved’ it for neglecting the swimming lesson and being different with him and Kenji. He told his mom that Hiro went home earlier than him and Kenji. Same thing that he told her last night.

Toshio only have one thing in his mind now: swimming. He even forgot Kendo. It was something magical that drawn him into swimming. The uncle’s words and movement moved his heart. He really is into swimming now. And the thought of going out swimming again today just made his mood. The only problem is, how to get another piece of cucumber ? This time, he decided that he will buy it on the market. He still have some money to do so. Before going out, his mom reminded him to be more careful. She is concerned about the disappearence of Hiro.

After having lunch at home, Toshio went out and meeting with Kenji on the market. They both bought the cucumber and went to the river. This time, the two uncles have waited for them, taking the cucumber and starts teaching them lesson. For an unknown reason, they felt less friendly, but they’re still teaching them right. After the lesson, they promised to meet again in the next day. Again, with a cucumber. Toshio was so drained out that day. Of course, a full course swimming lesson for two days in a row is exhausting. He only wrote this on his diary:

August 21st

Sunny. Swim. Tired. Tomorrow. Swimming. Again. Fun.

Toshio

August 22nd.  This time, Toshio woke up really late. 2 hours after the alarm ring. He was so exhausted last day. He sleep more than he should. Or maybe, that is just amount time he needs to be fully fit. He feels fit, but something has been dragging out from him. He doesn’t know why. Is it because I was so tired ? No, it is not something like that. It is something mental. Hiro ? Ah, yes, where is he ? Have they found him ?. But no, it might not be him. He left us anyway. Remembering that today is another swimming lesson by the uncle, Toshio get his spirit back. His mom reheated the dish she made for breakfast, and let him eat alone. She doesn’t talk about Hiro until Toshio asked her. And still, Hiro is nowhere to be found.

Toshio’s allowance has been used for the onigiri, kakigoori, and the cucumber these past few days. He doesn’t have anymore money, and asking her mom would just  rise another suspicion. She have been suspicious that he asks for cucumber rather than watermelon. “but mom, I don’t want watermelon. I want cucumber” he said. So, he decided to go without the cucumber. He met Kenji at the river and the uncle are already there. Two of them. When Toshio beg the uncle to teach him without the cucumber, they reluctantly accepted it. So they start the lesson. Or, in the Kappa’s point of view, they start ‘cooking’.

Meanwhile, at the Suzuki’s residence, Tomoko Suzuki starts to read his son, Toshio’s, diary. She felt that Toshio has been weird lately. So she thought that she found something in Toshio’s diary. As soon as she read it, she realized that his son have been in touch with Kappa. Kappa are magical creature that live in the river in Japan. They loves cucumber. They look like a giant bipedal turtle that mixed with frogs. They can be vicious when they got angried by a human. They love to eat cucumber, it is their number one food. But, they also love to eat human. Human are the second best food to cucumber according to the Kappas. While fresh cucumber is the tastiest cucumber, children are thetastiest of human. Their meats are soft, their bones are crunchy, they’re simply delicious. It is a common knowledge to a Japanese parents that time. It is a mythology that have been told from ear to ear. But for the Suzuki family, keeping the kids believing in such things are make believe. So they never taught their children about Japanese spiritual creature. Why ? Because they believe that they doesn’t exist. Until Tomoko Suzuki found out that his son has been in contact with one of them.

In the river, the Kappas started to ‘cook’ their food. At first, they drowned their victims head –Toshio and Kenji- to the river. Down the river, Toshio and Kenji saw Hiro’s head laying in there. In the bottom of the river. Head and few bones from their body. He have been devoured by the Kappas before. It is their turn to be devoured now, as Toshio and Kenji is starting to lose their grasps to reality, the Kappas start eating them. Toshio and Kenji can feel the sharpness of the Kappa’s teeth. And at that time they realized that it was not a swimming suit, it was not a flipper shoes and gloves, it was not a mask, it was not a backpack, it is all the Kappa’s body feature. As they scream in pain, blood are everywhere. The Kappas claw are gouging their eyes, their teeth keep on gashing onto their bodies, they keep on eating. And eating. And eating. It tastes almost better than cucumber. Almost. And it is in large amount. They don’t have to eat for a few days after devouring a human.

Toshio’s mom finally come to the scene, only to see his second son is being devoured by the beast. If, if only. She taught Toshio about the Kappa. If, if only she believed that there are another creature other than human and beast in this world. If only she is more curious with the cucumbers. If only she read his son’s diary a little bit earlier. And many other ifs. She wouldn’t have to see this grotesque view. The ifs can’t save anything. The damage has been done, it is over. One of the Kappa, the one holding her son, stare at her and grin, bunch of blood in its teeth. Her son’s.

kappa_-Matthew_Meyer

Illustration of Kappas by Matthew Mayer.

The original file can be found here.

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One comment

  1. […] in my own style. The first one would be about the water demon Kappa, and the story can be found here. Enjoy […]



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