A satsuma-coloured tram screeched into the stop in front of us. We boarded the back of the tram. My group of 6 sat on benches while I opted to stand. It was too dark to see much outside. Inside a poster displayed haiku by local poets. I read the first one.
螽焼き 爺の話や 嘘だらけ
A few of the group were interested in haiku so I decided to try to translate it, a bold move considering I couldn`t read the first word 螽 . There was a clue. It used the characters for winter, 冬 , and insect, 虫 . After careful consideration, I translated it as winter insect. So here we have the haiku.
Cooked winter insects / An old man`s tales / Full of lies
My group gave the recital a kind reception of sympathetic smiles.
Now I had the whole group`s attention, but nothing to say to them. I was standing on stage without a script.
I looked around for inspiration. Down the carriage, a wrinkly salaryman was smiling at me. Wrinkles bring wisdom don`t they? Perhaps he understood the haiku better, knew a deeper meaning that I was missing? Maybe he could solve the riddle of the winter insect?
I wandered down the carriage to ask him. He couldn`t help. Possibly the clink, clunk, whirrr of the tram drowned the clarity of his explanation. But somehow I doubt it. His breath was so steeped in sake I doubt even he understood what he was saying.
It did not matter. I stopped and persevered with him. This was a joyful connection with the locals, everybody was smiling, it felt like the tram was smiling, we were forging an unshakeable bond across the oceans using the ancient foolproof formula: he was drunk and I was desperate.
Clinging to the straps above him, I swayed to the tram`s vibrations, straining to hear his ramblings. Glazed eyes gazing up at me, he blabbered relentlessly, basking in his moment in the spotlight. His moment continued for five stops. FIVE WHOLE STOPS.
Clink, clunk, whirrr / A salaryman`s tale / Drenches me in sake
PS: The internet tells me the winter insect is the locust. Or possibly an elephant. Minor details.