Bad Fortune or a slip out of line

I had planned to go to the stationers in the afternoon to drop off my manuscript for printing and binding on what seemed an ordinary enough Saturday towards the end of spring.

The skies were heavy with the threat of rain but it wasn’t cold, only no signs of summer yet.

We’d missed the two hot days earlier that month when the mercury climbed above thirty while were away in Japan and it still felt as if we were in the middle of the year rather than hurtling towards the year’s conclusion.

I was travelling with my husband in a car bound home after our visit to the Telstra shop to sort out a new service line for him, when I mentioned my afternoon plans.

‘Why not go together now?’ my husband asked and I thought, why not indeed?

Let’s get this job over and done. There can be queues. You can wait for ages. Maybe this way I could drop off the manuscript and return later for collection.

In the store, the queue at printing department was short and my husband wandered off to look around. This store was like the lolly shop of stationary. A huge barn of shelving dedicated to the sale of all things business, and schoolwork, writing and typing and beyond. They also sold chair mats, one of which I’d been thinking about buying for under my new office chair.

I stood for only a few minutes before the woman at the desk took my USB, identified my document for printing, established the type of job I wanted and suggested it’d take about ten minutes. No point in going home with only a ten-minute wait.

I found my husband midway through the store. The shelves were pitched at a height that made it possible for someone of my height, 168 centimeters, or taller, to see over the tops of them and locate the grey haired, red capped head of my husband and together we strolled through to the chair mat section to take a look.

There were special shelves built to house the chair mats, which were several centimetres wide and long, with two varieties available, one that was smooth for hard surfaces and the other with a series of spikes worked into the surface to help grip onto carpeted floors.

One of the mats designed for carpeted floors had been left out on the floor below the shelving, smooth side up, and given its location I had no choice but to stand on it to get into the shelves and with my husband who stood at one side we dragged out a sheet to take a look.

‘I think maybe we should go for the smooth one, ‘ I said, picturing the floor in my office as part carpet only. The rest hard flooring. My husband was not so sure about this but happy to oblige.

As we tried to push the mat back onto the space allocated along the shelves where several mats lay piled one on top of the other, mats that were heavy to shift and gave resistance as you pushed them in or out, I found myself lose traction on the floor below my feet.

It happened in slow motion. I saw my husband reach out to grab me but it was too late. The mat beneath gave way. The spikes on this mat were designed to rest against carpeted not flat floors and so I lost my footing and hurtled backwards onto my bum.

I put out both my hands, palms flat on the floor to brace my fall, but the bulk of my weight went straight onto my left wrist, which must have snapped with the impact.

I knew as soon as I struggled back onto my feet, unhurt except for the sudden ache in my left hand and although I could wriggle my fingers and imagined therefore my wrist could not be broken, something felt very wrong.

‘We have to go to hospital,’ I said to my husband and sensed his annoyance, as if I had been clumsy.

‘Two hands for beginners,’ he likes to say, whenever he reckons I’m not thoughtful enough in trying to shift something. But any annoyance soon softened.

We went straight to the woman printing my manuscript.

‘I’ve hurt my hand,’ I said. ‘I slipped over back there and need to get to hospital.’

Alarmed, she ran off to get someone more senior from the store, a young man who asked what had happened and offered to call an ambulance.

‘It’s easier if I take her in the car,’ my husband said and within minutes we were onto Bridge Road on our way to the Epworth Hospital, but not before my husband had needed to open my door and strap on my seat belt.

I could not bear to stop holding up my hurt hand with my free hand and so avoid further pain.

It looked as though a bulge was rising along the ridge of my thumb and I could only think of my mother who in her late sixties, maybe seventies, when she was married for the second time, this time happily, collided with a trolley in the Safeway store car park and fell.

Although they set her arm in a cast, it never healed properly and her hand was deformed for the last twenty years of her life.

She hated the look of that hand, the bone jutting out along the end of her thumb, as if her wrist bone had travelled down and refused to sit in place.

I could go into all the details of what happened over the next three days, my time in hospital, the experience of having the bone in my arm ‘pushed and pulled’ back into place by the emergency doctor and his assistant doctor.

They put me out for it with the type of anaesthetic they use for colonoscopies, the sort of anaesthetic that leaves you with no memory of the event. But I can imagine the two men each pulling back my arm, one at the fingers, the other at my elbow yanking onto it so hard they’d given me a short shot of morphine, so that unlike in the movies, I didn’t need to clamp my teeth down hard on a clump of whiskey soaked cloth.

A second x-ray after this procedure established that further surgery to put in a plate and screws was necessary and scheduled for the next day.

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They wheeled me down for surgery on the Sunday around ten in the morning and by one in the afternoon I was still waiting.

This is another long story and one that might need telling another day, the horror of it all, the loud and sudden breaking and all the time telling myself, this is what it is, an accident, misadventure, a chance fall.

To comfort me, my daughter in Japan who has an imagination as wild and free ranging as my own, when she first heard of the accident, predicted I’d fear the worst: that Bad Fortune had befallen me, as foretold.

So she took herself off to a shrine somewhere in Tokyo – I suspect the shrine close to the Imperial Palace, nearby to where she works – and ‘undid the curse’, with a written request for its reversal.

It all helps, these strange attempts to get a sense of control over something that was completely out of my control, which in my weakest moments I imagine was pre-determined by fate, some proof of my Bad Fortune, even as my rational mind tells me it was nothing other than an accident, one perhaps waiting to happen given the location of that chair mat on the flat floor, but an accident nevertheless.

It was not a sign of my inevitable Bad Fortune.

Four days in Japan

On our first morning in Japan the sun rose outside our window in a fierce orange glow. It looked to me as though the day would be hot, only we were well past summer and the nights had turned chilly, or so my daughter told me, and she should know. She lives in Tokyo with her partner, both now able to make themselves understood in Japanese after eighteen months of life here.

 

On that first day we visited the Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa and made a small offering to which ever gods require such tokens, a few yen in return for the opportunity to shake a wooden cylinder with a hole at the top.

 

After a good shake, I slid out a wooden rod around which someone had scrolled a small sheet of paper on which my fortune was printed.

I copped No 54. Bad Fortune.

Your body is one but with 2 different kind mind, so everything goes out of order. Just like lunar eclipse make the sky dark all will be dark. Though fortune approaches to you, but you can’t get it.

Just like a fish can’t meet water, there may be so many possibility to be a bad case for you.

 *The request will not be granted. *The patient will be unhappy. *The last article will not be found. * The person you wait for will not come. *Let’s stop build a house and removal. *Any kind of marriage, to start a trip, new employment are all bad.

My husband, on the other hand, drew out a rod whose message No. 21 included Good Fortune.

Washing off all bad things in the past, now everything is clear and clean.

The brilliant light and glorious flower came out clean again being washed so well.

What you desire will finally gets profit, which means everything around you comes out quite well.

Time passing by, everything turns out to be better, just like the sun shines all day long. *Your hopes will turn out to be real. *Recover from sickness, but if careless might be serious. *The lost thing will be found and the person you wait shows around. *There are no problem of building and moving house. *There are no worry about marriage, travel and employment.

I am not given to superstition and yet this dose of bad fortune stayed with me. I feared I’d have evidence of it soon enough. Our plane might crash during our return flight. Our health might fail. Something dreadful would happen to confirm the worst of my situation.

One afternoon as we marched along the platform after getting off a train and headed for the exit stairs, I knocked a young woman’s mobile phone out of her hand as I brushed past. I stopped momentarily to apologise guilt stricken that I might have damaged her phone but she picked it up and said nothing.

‘Don’t worry’, my daughter said. ‘These things happen. The woman’s okay. She’s not cross.’ It was not a case of bad fortune, just circumstance but still a jolt.

On day two, in quiet moments in my daughter’s apartment on the tenth floor of her luxurious apartment that overlooks Tokyo proper and on clear days gives a view of Mount Fuji, and with a toilet that flushes itself by sensor, I took to reading books from their small library.

I feasted on Murakami and found myself immersed in the Japanese world on the page. Somehow the writing helped make sense of the culture shock I had experienced during those fast few days in this other part of the world.

Several times over on our third day in Tokyo we walked through one of the busiest intersections in the world in Shibuya. All those bodies at cross purposes, half walking in one direction, the other half in the opposite and of those halves some walk on the perpendicular to get across through the middle of the intersection that runs in something like five directions.

Worse still there are folks who stop mid centre to take selfies that set them forevermore in photo form bang smack in the middle of the world’s busiest intersection. It seems they intend to say: I was here in this over populated place, my life in my hands, like hanging over the lip of the Grand Canyon or putting down your flag on the top of Mount Everest.

I found myself hating the crowds, but relishing the strange sense of pleasure I felt every time I remembered my daughter’s words: the Japanese are so polite and Japan is one of the safest places in the world.

That third night reading Murakami’s words before we went out for dinner I found myself in rivers of tears, unstoppable tears, all the way through the subway.

The people on the train are too polite or tuned out or singular within themselves to notice this western woman in tears, whereas here in Australia I suspect people would cast furtive glances in my direction. There in the Tokyo metro no one looked my way. No one noticed that I was distressed, or if they did, they ignored it.

This distance offered a strange sort of protection against embarrassment, but also left me feeling isolated. As if I was surrounded by people, and yet entirely alone.

Now I find myself caught between two ideas. The one which Alain de Bouton describes in his book, The Art of Travel, where he writes about the pleasures of expectation as distinct from the fact of arrival.

In our imaginations we anticipate a place of immense pleasure riddled with expected signposts – the Eiffel tower, for instance, fields of tulips in Holland or the eyeblue seas of the Greek islands – but once we get to our destination, we find our signposts might well be there but there are also other unwanted aspects, including the fact of our own troublesome bodies, our tiredness, our headaches, our conflicts with loved ones.

De Bouton describes the experience of one Duc des Esseintes, the hero of a J-K Huysman novel written in 1884.

Des Esseintes had for years wanted to see Amsterdam and Haarlem in Holland, based on his appreciation of the paintings of Rembrandt and other great masters, for their ‘nice brick courtyards’ and their ‘pale faced maids pouring milk’. But when he arrived in Amsterdam he found ‘these gems were blended with the ordinary images (restaurants, offices, uniform houses and featureless fields), which these Dutch artists had never painted.’ These other unwanted aspects diluted the pleasure of his travel.

‘Des Esseintes ended up in the paradoxical position of feeling more “in” Holland – that is more intensely in contact with the elements he loved in Dutch culture – when looking at selected images of Holland in a museum than when travelling with sixteen pieces of luggage and two servants through the country itself.’

And then there’s the other notion that travel broadens the mind.

Des Esseintes found himself longing for the loveliness of Paris from pictures he’d seen but after his venture to Holland, he decided to stay at home and enjoy his imaginings untarnished by the ordinary and unwanted aspects of real life.

On the other hand, these tarnished realities create the learning experience, and broaden the mind more than the stereotyped grandeur we see in photos and in films.

By day four, I was ready to go home. And filled with fear that I might be like the character Satsuki in Marumaki’s short story: Thailand.

‘That night lying in her pristine bed, Satsuki wept. She recognized that she was heading towards death. She recognized that she had a hard, white stone inside herself. She recognized that a scaly, green snake was lurking somewhere in the dark. She thought about the child to which she never gave birth. She had destroyed that child, flung it down a bottomless well. And then she had spent thirty years hating one man. She had hoped that he would die in agony. In order to bring that about, she had gone so far as to wish in the depths of her heart for an earthquake. In a sense, she told herself, I am the one who caused that earthquake. He turned my heart into a stone; he turned my body to stone. In the distant mountains, the grey monkeys were silently staring at her. Living and dying are in a sense of equal value.’

And the ripples of the earthquake that hit Fukushima on day four rumbled below but I was asleep and felt nothing, with no inkling of the bad fortune that was to follow.

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