Chapter One: Learning the ABC's
"You know that you don't have to do this, sweetheart. We could leave this airport right now and they wouldn't be able to stop us." Delores Oakes tried to usher her daughter out of the airport. Carrie Oakes, Delores' daughter resisted her mothers constant tugging.
"Ma, I already signed the contract. I can't back out for a whole year. Besides this is something that I always wanted to do, so don't try to stop me." Carrie said with determination. Delores regrettably released the hold that she had on her daughter before letting go of a long sigh. She wasn't happy about the thought of her daughter traveling across the world to Japan. Anything could happen to her baby girl while she was away. She took solace in the fact that she had one daughter that wasn't ready to leave home, Lisa. "Mama, don't worry. Everything will be fine. I'll call you and Lisa every week and e-mail you everyday."
Carrie hugged her mother while rubbing the top of her head lovingly. Her mother was a few inches shorter than her. It's been that way since Carrie turned thirteen. She bent down to kiss her mother on the forehead before heading off to the gate. She would be late if she waited a second longer.
"Be careful sweetie and try to stay out of trouble!"
"I will!" Carrie shouted back. She waved goodbye enthusiastically before boarding the plane to a new adventure.
That was almost a year ago, now Carrie was well acquainted with life in Japan and she wanted to go back home with all her heart. Actually, Japan itself wasn't that bad it was just the little things that got to her. For instance, the constant staring was endearing when she first arrived but now it was decidedly creepy. Then the "mistake" the salon attendants make when they offer Carrie skin lightener…on a regular basis. Even buying shampoo was ridiculous, they had no intensive moisturizers. She had to import everything through her mom. The sun was severe, her job sucked and she really missed her mom back home.
'What the hell was I thinking when I decided to come here?' Carrie thought to herself and she hated the answer that followed. The main reason why she decided to come to Japan wasn't for something as noble as cultural enlightenment but because she was trying to run away from her problems.
Life in the states had been abysmal. She was only 22 years old and managed to have her quarter-life crisis. Everything seemed so bleak and Japan seemed like the perfect cure to pull her out of her routine. It worked, for all of two weeks before she realized that she made a huge mistake and would have to wait a year before she could go back home. Now she had three months left and she could not wait until they were through. If she would have to be around her boss one day longer, Carrie didn't know what she would do.
Carrie sat inside of the small apartment that Westwick Language Center provided. She shared it with her roommate Gabrielle Wilson, a recent college graduate from London who was now also working for WLC as a conversationalist. That's what everyone at WLC did. They thought they would be teaching English not holding conversations with people for about $50.00 an hour. The rates at WLC were ridiculous and sadly the cheapest in town, Japan was an expensive country to live in.
The only way Carrie was able to survive the past eight months was with the help of Gabrielle and her boyfriend Hiroshi, who she met a month after living in Japan. Hiroshi was everything she wanted in a man. He was kind, smart, and sensitive. The only thing that Carrie would get rid of was his need to look at every attractive woman that walked by. She didn't mind his wandering eyes at first but he seemed to get distracted too easily by a girl wearing a miniskirt.
She vaguely heard the sound of the door opening and knew that Gabrielle had come back home. It was confirmed when Carrie heard the familiar London accent.
"Carrie, what are you doing home? I thought that you were going out with Hiroshi tonight." Gabrielle asked as she stepped into the living room. Carrie was sitting in the dark on the couch with her arms wrapped around her legs. "Is everything all right?" She questioned when she saw a lone tear fall from her friends face. Carrie wiped the stray tear from her eye quickly.
"I did go out with him."
"And what happened?" Gabrielle took a seat next to Carrie before rubbing her friend's back soothingly. She could tell that something bad happened during Carrie's date and she had a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with Hiroshi's no good ways. She had caught Hiroshi with another girl earlier that day and threatened to tell Carrie if he didn't. She suspected that he would tell her but not so soon.
"Hiroshi told me that he cheated on me with a co-worker."
"Oh, Carrie." Gabrielle hugged her.
"He said—" Carrie took a deep breath to keep from crying. "He said that he felt neglected the past few months and the other woman was there for him."
"You must know that nothing is wrong with you." Gabrielle said seriously while looking into her friend's eyes. Carrie pushed her away and stood from the couch. She wiped all traces of tears from her face. She hated when people fed her cliché break-up lines.
"Of course I know that it wasn't my fault. That bastard should have had the decency to tell me that he wanted to see other people before he did it. I just thought he was more of a man than that. I thought he was one of the only few good men out there. I mean, I thought Japanese guys had better values."
"That is a common misconception sweetie and I should know of all people." Gabrielle said as she thought back to her own childhood. Her father was a Japanese immigrant that fell in love with her mother as soon as they laid eyes on each other. Her mother told her that they had whirl wind romance that lasted all but two months. Her father had found another woman that met his fancy and left her mother alone and pregnant. To this day, Gabrielle still hasn't met her father. "All men are the same. There isn't one culture that doesn't have a whole bunch of men cheating on their spouses."
"I guess you're right." Carrie said. "He asked me for his forgiveness and to take him back but I'm swearing off men all together."
"Now I didn't tell you to do that. Men still have their uses. I'm just saying that if you are looking for a quality like faithfulness in a man, you won't but if you need a good lay then…" Gabrielle said with a comical expression that caused Carrie to laugh. After catching her breath she sat down on the couch and thought about her experiences with men.
"Men definitely do not have the monogamy gene."
"Maybe you should get a boy." Gabrielle joked.
"Ha, ha, ha. Yes, a hormonal teenage boy is exactly what I need," Carrie said sarcastically. She could just imagine how that type of relationship would go. "Where have you been anyway? Did you have a date?"
"I haven't been doing much, just getting into another fight with Alex." Gabrielle said with a roll of her eyes. She slouched down into the couch, becoming angry all over again.
"What? You two are the perfect couple. I mean I've never even heard of you guys arguing before." Carrie said with shock. She joined Gabrielle on the couch and rubbed her friend's back soothingly while thinking how they both had man problems.
"He's a wanker! I mean really. Every time I see him, he's wanking off." Gabrielle expelled passionately. She turned her body around to look at Carrie. "We have sex often enough. I do plenty of—things that many women wouldn't. I mean I always lick his…"
Carrie winced at the mental picture that entered her mind. Her friend was dabbling in the area of too much information. She patted Gabrielle's back as a signal.
"Oh, sorry." Gabrielle apologized. "I just don't understand why he has the need to wank off so often. Am I not more attractive than his right hand? I mean, really."
"Well at least he's not having sex with other woman." Carrie's tone was sobering and Gabrielle immediately felt guilty when she realized what she was doing. Her best friend just found out that the man that she had been dating for the past few months has been cheating on her and here she was complaining about her boyfriend masturbating, excessively.
"I'm really sorry, Carrie. I don't know where my head has been. I should be the one that's consoling you."
"It's not a problem. Listening to you allows me to get away from what happened earlier today. I don't want to think about Hiroshi." Carrie said with a sad smile.
Carrie and Gabrielle walked up the steps of WLC and headed to their classrooms to prepare for the day. Carrie didn't know why they were given classrooms because they were forbidden to stray from the curriculum which consisted of holding long conversations with the students. The clients will know how to speak English for sure but they won't be able to do much else. Reading or writing anything in English can be forgotten. Thirty minutes after Carrie stepped into her classroom an unwelcomed guest followed.
"Carrie, are you ready? Your classroom doesn't seem ready for the students and the school doors will open soon." Natsumi Akiyama, Carries immediate boss. A frown was already plastered on her face as she surveyed Carrie's classroom. Akiyama was a petite Japanese woman with short hair black hair that framed her face. Her eyes were large and covered by square framed glasses that she often pushed up her nose.
"I'm just finishing up now, Ms Akiyama." Carrie lied. She had finished setting up her room a while ago, Akiyama always came into her room in the morning to complain about something and then come back a few hours later saying that she was glad that it was done. Akiyama just liked to hear the sound of her own voice barking orders at others. It didn't matter if they were completed or not because she never remembered what she asked for, only that she asked for something.
"Make sure it's done before the students arrive. I don't want to receive any complaints about the state of the room." Akiyama left the room in a hurry, probably to bother Gabrielle.
The bell began ringing, signaling the students' arrival. She quickly ran into the hall and stood beside her door, wearing the brightest smile in existence. Since the WLC teachers were paid on commission it was imperative to attract as many students as possible on a daily basis.
A large mass of students walked down the hall, ranging in age and gender. All of them stepped into classrooms other than Carrie's, except for one that looked confused. He looked at Carrie's smiling face before making his way over. Carrie offered her hand and began speaking when the guy came within distance.
"Hello. My name is Carrie Oakes and you are?" Carrie said politely as the guy shook her hand. He looked young close up, a lot younger than most of her clients. She rarely got the teenagers or anyone for that matter. They usually ran to someone with more euro features for an "authentic" session. Carrie didn't mind though. It just meant that she had a lot less bigoted people to work with.
The boy shook her hand so roughly that his backpack began falling off his shoulders. "I'm Akira Nakamura. It's a pleasure to meet you." His accent was thick but not excessively. She could still understand what he was saying. He seemed proficient in the English language but there was no way to tell just from a simple greeting. The walked into the room and took a seat at medium size round table.
"What would you like to discuss today, Mr. Nakamura?" Nakamura placed his book bag on the chair beside him. He looked back up to Carrie, a blank expression on his face. "Mr. Nakamura?" She tried again but still didn't receive an answer. Her expression became sullen as it dawned on her that he didn't speak English at all except for the introductory phrase. She released a sigh and said in Japanese. "Mr. Nakamura. Beginner's English is not taught here. This school is for people who are already familiar with the language and require a partner for practice. We do not—"
"I understood what you were saying before. I was trying to think of something to talk about."
"And have you decided?"
"No," He said expression still blank.
"Would you like me to start?"
"Please." Nakamura motioned for her to start and she did.
"Why are you here?" Carrie asked. She was genuinely curious about his reasoning for attending Westwick Language Center. He didn't seem like he needed to be here or wanted to for that matter.
"My parents sent me here. I'm failing English in school."
"You seem to be doing fine," Carrie pointed out.
"I'm fluent in English; I can't read or write though." Nakamura explained before turning his attention back to his book bag. He pulled out a small binder and pencil before placing them on the round table neatly. He then stared at Carrie, waiting expectantly for something.
"I don't teach the literary aspect of the English language, no one in this center does."
"I know but you do know how to read and write in English?"
"Please. I need to pass this class if I expect to get a respectable job. This is the only place that my parents can afford. I can't disappoint them again." The sincerity in his voice was heartbreaking. It was said really, that the cheapest place to practice a language was so expensive. Carrie wanted to tell him yes, right there on the spot but then she remembered that it was prohibited to teach students anything that was not on the curriculum. If Mr. Hayashi, the head of WLC, were to find out there would undoubtedly be trouble. "I can pay you extra." He offered and Carrie hated that for a minute she was thinking of accepting his money. It was obvious that he couldn't afford it. It was no point dragging him down with her.
"There's no need. Just pay the normal package price."
"Thank you." He said. A large smile came across his face that went from ear to ear. Carrie was already feeling secure in her decision to help him. His smile was very nice.
"So, what have you learned so far? Do you at least know the alphabet?" Carrie asked as she went to close her door and pull the shades down in front of the windows before returning to her seat. She didn't want anyone to catch her breaking the rules, namely Akiyama.
"Alphabet?" He questioned, eyes drawn together in confusion.
"Wow, this could take some time." Carrie mumbled under her breath. She slid her chair closer to Nakamura. She smiled again when she noticed that he was nervous. That happened often. It seemed like everyone thought she was about to rob them whenever she invaded their personal space which was funny because they invaded hers quite often. "Can I borrow this?" She asked while pointing to his notebook and pen. Nakamura quickly handed them over. "Let's get started, shall we?"