Uta was sitting in the open veranda, gazing at the brilliance of her dew-drenched garden, growing brighter in the morning sun, when the calisthenics music from the radio in the community center nearby began to play. She sneered humph and sipped her tea through a chunk of raw sugar in her mouth. For generations the elderly had started the day with a cup of tea before getting to work. But in early April the Senior Citizens’ and the Children’s Associations had begun encouraging morning calisthenics in front of the community center. They claimed the sessions were good for such things as bringing together children and seniors, and for an “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” campaign. A month after the sessions began, members of the Senior Citizens’ Association had begun wearing exercise outfits totally innapropriate for their age, and merrily making their way to calisthenics. Naturally, they urged Uta to join them. No matter how hard they tried, however, she curtly responded, “I won’t go,” and continued with her morning tea.
At the beginning, the music for calisthenics was blasted through a large loudspeaker on the roof of the community center. Uta had stormed into the center’s office to complain about the excessive noise. Kawakami, the chub-by, middle-aged president of the Children’s Association, had just smiled at her from under his baseball cap and paid no attention to her complaint. So Uta had gone home, retrieved a reaping sickle from under the eaves of her house, and returned to the community center. She then barged through the children exercising in the public square, and started climbing the telephone pole to cut the wire to the loudspeaker. In a panic, Kawakami jumped up quickly and turned the speaker off. Thereafter, the music played from a radio, not through a loudspeaker. Although the noise continued to disrupt Uta’s peace in the morning, she compromised out of regard for the children and left the matter at that.
Only children had showed up in the beginning. About a week later, however, five or six older folks started coming. By the end of the second week, children and seniors alike filled the public square. One of the former teachers who had personally encouraged the elderly to participate was Ōshiro, a retired principal on the board of education. On the way home from calisthenics one day, he collapsed in front of his house and passed on to gusō, the [End Page 112] Okinawan afterlife. That’s what happens when you don’t listen to people, Uta thought to herself as she stood at the edge of her garden watching the line of cars crawl down the narrow hamlet road toward the crematorium.
She expected Ōshiro’s death to bring an end to the calisthenics, and for a while there was a decline in attendance. It wasn’t long, however, before even more people were coming, and the sessions were thriving. She could understand why her fellow seniors would want to be around young children, who reminded them of their grandchildren. Like her, half of the elderly participants lived alone and therefore enjoyed the company. Nevertheless, she continued her boycott.
The music for the calisthenics radio program was just changing to the second set when Uta’s neighbor, Fumi, came rushing through the entrance in the stone fence surrounding Uta’s home. Going around an old pile of stones that was the hinpun—a barrier to keep out bad spirits—Fumi cried out, “Big Sister!” and grabbed Uta.
Surprised to see Fumi on the verge of tears, Uta asked her, “What in the world’s the matter, this early in the morning?!”
“Big Sister, please, I need you to come to my house.”
“Okay, okay. Wait until I at least have another cup of tea,” Uta replied, and began pouring.
Fumi grabbed Uta’s hand and began dragging her off the veranda. “What are you doing? I haven’t even put on my slippers yet,” Uta protested.
As Uta scrambled to put on her yellow rubber sandals, Fumi held her harder by the wrist and started off down the street...