Gerald had spent most of his life in Japan. He was a white European Japanese and his culture was Japanese. He was totally Japanese. The early years of his life in this country were very happy years as he became more and more accepted as a Japanese. By the age of seven, he spoke the language fluently and behaved naturally as a Japanese. Although his earliest memories are only of Japan, he wasn't born there. Gerald's parents, totally disillusioned with the European way of life, had emigrated to Japan when he was three. Basic standards, general behaviour, but mostly politics, had ruined everything for them. It was a sad fact of the times that many Japanese had slowly been seduced by European values. These days there seemed to be little chance of escape from those very things that Gerald's parents had tried so desperately hard to leave behind them when they had left their home country all those years ago and the stories that had been told to him in his childhood seemed to be true.
In later life, Gerald had become a successful executive in a large company through his hard work and he lived with his wife and children in a smart area of Tokyo. Gerald would be regarded as very comfortably off by European standards, but recently his life had been turned upside down when he had lost his job through absolutely no fault of his own. The economic climate had wreaked havoc on the financial industry and had had a major effect on his business. He may have worked his way up to the top of the organisation, but no position it seemed could be safe. Gerald now had no job and no means of providing for his family and he felt great personal shame that he had no means of support for his family. To Gerald this was the worst possible stigma imaginable though, Keiko, Gerald's native Japanese wife had the advantage of understanding both East and West philosophies and could, therefore, reconcile their situation. Keiko had found it impossible to reason with or console Gerald as he had become single-mindedly Japanese and could not see any other way forward. He was totally consumed by the shame of his situation for, as Gerald saw it, his loss of face in society was complete. There was no escape and few options.
This is how Gerald found himself spending his days on a busy street in Tokyo behaving like a vagrant. His sense of self worth so low that he felt he deserved to behave like a down-and-out and to accept the scorn and contempt of the passersby. Once every day, the heartbroken Keiko would bring him some food and drink to nourish him. Gerald would not look her in the eye or even acknowledge her and she was totally devastated by this rejection and overcome with sadness, even though she understood Gerald's reasons for the way he behaved towards her. He loved her dearly, but his shame would not allow him to reveal his true inner feelings. Gerald's shame was so absolute.
Meanwhile, a drama was playing itself out in the middle of the street in front of Gerald. A minor car collision had occurred between two drivers. The bruised egos were in danger of inflating a minor incident into something very nasty as the two drivers blamed each other for the accident. The argument about the apparent high value of the cars became more heated and if a gun had been handy then surely one or the other would be lying dead in the street by now. No one will ever know the reason, but according to witnesses, Gerald stood up and started walking out towards the affray in the street. Whether he had an intention of intervening cannot be ascertained with any certainty, but Gerald collapsed with a fatal heart attack.
Taka was a young girl of about 17 years of age and was walking along the street on her way home from the small advertising company where she worked as a secretary, when she became aware of the drama unfolding in the street. Attempting to avoid any trouble, she crossed the road and found herself standing in front of Gerald at the moment he collapsed, clutching his chest. Taka didn't know what was happening, but without any hesitation she dropped the bag she was holding and ran towards Gerald and tried to stop him from falling. Gerald fell to the pavement, though his fall was lessened slightly by Taka's helping gesture. She had no medical training and didn't know what to do. She had fallen heavily onto her knees though didn't seem to notice the pain as she held the very scruffily dressed Gerald, a perfect stranger in need. Even though she realised that Gerald was in a very serious way, she did not run or even try to get away. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics found Taka crying and holding tightly onto Gerald. They thought it was father and daughter, no idea that these two people were unknown to each other.
At the funeral, Taka stood alone not being family and had come to the ceremony as a simple mark of respect. Gerald's wife came over to Taka and spoke gently to her :
"You are the one who stopped to offer comfort to my husband?"
"Yes," replied Taka. "I didn't know what to do. I felt so helpless. I was so frightened and I had nothing."
"You had so much more than you realised. What you did was the most selfless act anyone can do. You offered yourself as comfort to a perfect stranger in need. You could have had no idea who Gerald was and he looked like just a vagrant. But for you that didn't matter. You saw simply a human soul in need. You are a wonderful example to us all of how to live and behave. I feel like Gerald lives on through you in the way you have shown such courage and honour. That was Gerald. I am deeply indebted to you and I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to meet you. I know that you went to the hospital with Gerald, but you had gone by the time I had got there."
Times and attitudes have changed. For some.
© Louis Brothnias (2005)