I woke up surrounded by strangers. We boarded the boat at 10pm the night before, in Tokyo Harbor. My son and I were visiting my brother for 10 days, and my sister-in-law, Hiromi, thought it was a good idea for me to visit her friend on a remote island. Her friend, Raymond, was teaching English as a second language to the native children of Nijima Island. So, my son and I, alone, boarded the ship not knowing where we were going or who we were going to see.
In the bowels of the boat, we carved out some space on the floor amongst hundreds of Japanese travelers. These were the economy lodgings; a few square feet of carpet. Shoes were removed and left in the small aisleway. Adam and I took our spot, sitting indian-style, and tore open a bag of cheese doodles. While we crunched on our snack, I could hear muffled conversations that had the word “Americano.” They were talking about us. Adam was 5 years old, and gave little notice to his surroundings as he chomped on his food. But, I became worried with the chatter, as well as the captain rattling off life-saving instructions in Japanese over the loud-speaker. People listened intently, as they moved their heads from one point of reference to the other. Obviously, I did not understand where the life jackets were, or where to go in the event of an emergency. I was screwed. After realizing this, I nervously glanced over at my sweet child with his face covered in cheese dust. I couldn’t help but smile.
The 10 hour journey was uncomfortable, but we managed with what we had, rolling up our sweatshirts to make pillows. I opened my eyes in the morning to see palm trees through the portholes. What an amazing sight. People were snoring all around me, when in my half-conscience mind, I noticed that Adam was not there. I momentarily panicked, but realized he couldn’t have gone far. He was always independent, so his absence was not really a surprise. I jumped up, put my shoes on in the aisle, and headed to the upper decks.
As I emerged from below, I was in awe of the sight of Japanese fisherman coming from around an island cove. I squinted in the sun, while watching their tiny boats bobbing up and down in the rough waves. It looked like at any time one of these waves was going to break the boat into pieces. Each boat would emerge from around a shoreline and speed past our ship every two minutes or so. The wind was gentle and kind, keeping the air crisp but not cold. I had one eye on the fisherman and the other looking out for Adam. He finally appeared chasing a boy a few years older than him. I turned to embrace him, as he smashed into my legs.
After calming Adam down, we walked along the pristine deck, stopping every few minutes to soak in the sight of the chain of islands we were passing. The boy and Adam decided to continue their game of chase, as I stood at the railing of the boat. A Japanese woman walked up to me and started a conversation. She told me that she was on the boat with her boyfriend, and that they were very happy together. As the conversation continued, she mentioned that she has a little boy, who she sent away to live with friends in Georgia, USA. This was important to her because she now had a boyfriend and there was no room in her life for her son.
I listened feeling a bit odd, as I am a single mother and would never send my child away for a boyfriend, but OK. She then asked me if I was a Christian. I said yes, and she requested that I pray with her.
I figured it is a duty to pray with a fellow Christian if asked, so I accepted.
She began, “Dear God”
I followed with, “Dear God”
She said, “Have Mercy on Me”
“Have Mercy on me” I continued.
She stopped me right there and corrected me, saying, “No, No, Have Mercy on ME!”
My mind came to a complete halt. I thought, this woman just deliberately dumped her kid to take on a lover, and she is looking not only for mercy from God, but wanted me to have mercy for her too. That was too much to take.
“Lady” I said. “You just got rid of your kid for a guy, and think that you need all of God’s mercy for yourself. It sounds to me like you have everything figured out to suit your needs.” She implied that I wasn’t worthy to receive mercy, it was all about her. I was disgusted.
She looked at me with feigned shock, as her boyfriend stepped closer to her. Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut I thought. I had a grave vision of this tall, strong guy throwing me overboard, to defend his love. And me, not knowing where the life rings were or how to scream help in Japanese. I slowly backed away and said, “have-a-nice-day”, as I tensely shuffled away to collect Adam at the other end of the deck.
We had a wonderful visit with Raymond on Nijima Island, going to the public baths, singing Karaoke and drinking sake. Adam and I toured the small island, meeting craftsmen in the village. We enjoyed local treats and traditions. We even watched the world surfing championships on the beach one day. So when it was time to go home, I silently asked God for mercy as we boarded the ship to take us back to Tokyo. I said a few prayers for our safe return, and for the safe return of all on board.
We didn’t have cheese doodles for the return trip.