ボブ (Bob)

Jonathan Callahan

This is Part Two of a three-part novella, serialized between July and September 2011, in Issues 24-26.





And now this same triune of office warriors comes at a wamble in unsteady correspondence from the Snack Gold Value’s moschate gloom. Arms actually linked. No bills left in Bob’s plastic fold save for the one sen yen. Some kind of cryptic incantation that’s not quite thought because he cannot either shut it down or train its course, that isn’t speech because his tongue roves insubordinate—as it will sometimes on the amphetamine arc’s earthward plunge—but that’s mostly English, plaited with an ornamental thread of the Tagalog he’s been trying to pick up, and therefore seems to be his own, evokes obscure dark portents for the evening yet to come. Nonstandard English on the decayed marquee indicates Snack Gold Value’s operative hours and Manila theme. A Family Mart konbini’s green-and-white effulgent beacon casts imbrex-and-tegula of single-story quarters in brackish luminescence; a single sen would stretch to several cans of low-malt hopposhu. But then there goes the cab-ride home.


Rudimentary Tagalog in the augural weave perhaps denoting Bob’s tarrying urge here ex post facto to exchange notes with plump cymotrichous Concepción, whose professional ministrations he’d apparently misread—really misread—though she’s still in the “snack bar” and he’s alone out in the darkness draped like some discarded sacerdotal robe over the stucco parapet’s terminal post, his woozy vigil shared with unseen feline life whose ceaseless mewls’ intensity bespeaks some kind of mass communal heat, a scant few dozen meters from the SGV from which he’s as of just this evening been debarred until the end of time.


The salarymen have paused a ways down the pedestrian arcade, arrayed before the low protective wall, and soon three healthful spurting jets of micturition belie the pricks from which they issue’s unimpressive girths, the three currents of liquid waste converging to be subsumed as one into the weak flow of the creek below. Decision trees sprout and spread tangling limbs more quickly than do actual floral specimens pass from seedy infancy through stripling youth to responsible adult citizenship in the botanical community in many of the natural-world themed cable-television broadcasts Bob once favored as a younger man. And the catenary lines are surged to life as asterisks of sparks foretell the coming of what must be the evening’s final Fukuoka-bound Express.


The little fucks continue with their lasting pee. Bob unsteady, rising aid-less in his wamble, mere months into his Japanese campaign, the rumble of these tons of steel’s approach obtruding into brief dread-freighted impressionistic brooding on the coming day’s Augean face-off with some five hundred ichinensei writing journals waiting for him in forbidding stacks—a thriving realty of paper development that has expanded sprawling onto the adjacent properties of Yogi and Kubota Senseis’ desks, these accommodating neighbors to his own desk’s north and west not directly asking Bob to either find some other site for his high-rises or just finally fucking grade the things, but gently emphasizing the vexation of having to relocate to some other workspace for certain tasks demanding a whole desktop’s worth of space with histrionic groans anent the weight of whatsoever matériel  his lack of consideration has forced them to transport, or accidentally dropping outsize reams of papers as they founder under the burden that his ungraded compositions have imposed on them, profusely sorry with a slew of Shitsurei shimasu! Gomen!s when Bob gets down on hand-and-knee to help collect the scattered sheets—which inexpert compositions he must correct every last one of by the end of work tomorrow, in light of some poor time-administration that was itself probably a consequence of some decision trees assessed without the scrupulous attention that in hindsight they each patently deserved, beginning two-and-a-half-weeks back, when his students had begun handing in work according to the strict rolling submissions policy he’d devised and implemented expressly so as to avoid a very bad workday and possibly late-evening-and-beyond spent scouring the devastation wrought upon his native tongue page after brutal page when these edifices had first started to go up, but now he’s kind of got to grade them, can’t be helped—or as the Japanese say, Shoganai—except just now his own grasp of English mechanics, to say nothing of the finer flourishes of usage, idiomatic verve, &c., is not what any fair observer would describe as sound and isn’t showing signs of rallying within the next four hours or so, and the concentration-aiding diet pills he snorted the very last ground-up three tablets of some eight-odd hours back in the so-called “Language Lab” during his open 6th have now been taken off the table cognitive-performance-enhancement-wise, and he’s trying—though it’s hard—to give wide berth indeed to the decision tree pertaining to advisability of secreting an augmented liter-bottle of Coca-Cola into the mountaineer’s pack he hauls his teaching gear and supplementary equipment in to work each day in as he’d done last Friday to calamitous results he’s still not sure he’s seen the final repercussions of, or else maybe the last six packets of the codeine that he’ll need to find some further way to swindle more of from the increasingly skeptical-seeming Nihonjin doc who already last time seemed right at the cusp of being unable to accept as plausible the sequence of ineptitude whereby this young man bright or at least organized enough to put himself through whatever bureaucratic fun-house was involved in applying for and actually obtaining teaching work in a country not his own could nonetheless misplace his prescribed painkillers on the Nishitetsu train, then presumably drop them from a coat pocket while trucking down the station escalator to catch a different occasion’s train (a vignette Bob’s enthusiastic ex temporis improvisations on the spectacle of aerially dispatched Japanese might’ve undermined the vérité of), then sans explanation in the subway, and then while blundering from a bus on three separate respective occasions—but these powdered narcotic treats he’d meant to save for some more festive date.


—The fuck’s so funny, wonders Bob, in English, quiet at the footbridge.

The urineworks all but dried up. Pecks still unsheathed in open air.


Bob once had a pal pull diagnosis for ergophobia: nothing current pharmacology could do, prognosis bleak. But Bob is not averse to work qua work. More like he’s put off by the ever-present specter of Bob struggling to do work that haunts him when he tries to get things done. He sits down, for example, to a stack of student papers that by all rights should be no more than a mild discommoding, ready to just bang this fucker out . . . and then forthwith he’s floating somewhere in some near but other region like an eidolonic echo of himself witnessing his own piteous ineptitude and paltry seeking for some Bob-enjoined emancipation to not only act but Be, and though he tries to stay engaged as possible with whatever task’s at hand it’s thus far into his no-longer-quite-so-young-adulthood proved very difficult to withstand this self-but-other-seeming perpetual witnessing of the Bob approach to taking care of life. The reason that he knows his problem’s something vaster, more character-encompassing than his pal the ergophobe’s is that there aren’t really any circumstances in which this unflattering dissociation isn’t more or less predestined to take place.


Three Shochu-woozy Nihonjin sharing a smirk. One Bob.

「I’m fine sank you」 says one.

—Brah, we can do this anytime.


Concepción! Sacred name! Our Lady of the Intercession between God the Father’s spotless wrath and fallen man, whose gross transgression Righteousness must not abide—the Incarnation, Word made flesh, I bring to you good tidings of great news, through Grace eternal liberation from the binds of Law far too immaculately obdurate for infirm humankind, and if not Grace what is it that Bob seeks this early Thursday morning in the ill-lit warrens of Futsukaichi’s less well-trodden streets?


For whosoever stumbles down his archaic jutaku’s spiderweb-encrusted stairs clutching two cans of lemon Chu Hi seeking evanescent succor in the night, deliverance, who seeks to pay in darkness of the shoddy exurbs of Japan’s southernmost major island’s largest urban hub (though Fukuoka’s not exactly Tokyo or Osaka) some enigmatic penance for crimes against the celestial seat, crimes he cannot name yet must be perpetrating still—else whence this retribution handed down, this sense of obscure reparations to be made, punitive measures justly meted out to him, due recompense for unknown breaches of the Law, the incorrect behaviors, habits, patterns of thought and feeling, this unpardonable trespass of just being Bob . . . the night is long, and whosoever lives alone among the cunning Japanese with whom even the most earnestly undertaken effort to establish some cross-cultural rapport is bound to be rebuffed, witness Bob’s students’ energetic reproductions of his imprecise Nihongo, special attention devoted to idiosyncrasies of tone (the language of the Japanese takes as its phonetic bedrock just the five vowel sounds—, i, ɯ͡β̞, , —fronted by a small sampling of consonants, creating phonemes such as “Bo” or “bu,” and foreigners may think they pass these speech components through their lips as musically as do the Japanese but usually they sound as if they’ve got some kind of vocal-fold deformity, which naturally the detail-oriented Nihonjin will note), as for instance when Bob, rising to resume his station at the musty classroom’s head, disengages from a private consultation with this first-year student—a baseball player, as betokened by his number two buzz and battered duffel bag of gear—via gentle shoulder-squeeze, an educator’s gesture of support, his spirited Ganbatte yo! (Hang in there! Do your best!) played back for him an instant later in aural pantomime of Western twang and drool, the excess volume humorously emphasized, each vowel-based phoneme distended to a nasal high noon drawl and he is given then to know just what a monster he must loom before his youthful charges as, sopping up clavicle-concentrated sweat with the three-towel set he cycles through per fifty-minute class, white button-down a sodden linen wrapping for the XL package of his gut, these young citizens of Japan he’d like to inculcate with just a glint of interest in his native tongue, let’s face it: he’s an obese harlequin to kids in his Oral Communications class and a humorous diversion for the faculty and staff, and there are no other foreign residents of Futsukaichi, and it’s not all that hyperbolic to say this genial hostess Concepción was his only friend before the business with these outdoor urinators back inside the bar, and whosoever, in witnessing himself squander an undeserved or -looked-for one last chance to start anew at twenty-eight, quit fucking up, finally get right, in this new country a chance to make a new Bob, who sees he can’t, who sees he never will, and thus perceives the shadow of death, rears out enshrouded in this black penumbra clutching Chu Hi in each fist to head downhill in seek of shelter in the arms of Concepción, blessed woman from the open fore of whose leather-strapped wedges protrude two sets of perfect chestnutcolored toes, pristine unpainted toenails compelling argument for existence of a loving God, walking with minor discomfort one of a small number of career paths available to diaspora Filipinas of her station there at the SGV, this man has sinned against Heaven or Earth, probably both, and the amercement is beyond his means and will no man come forth to aid him in his settling of accounts?


The anuran one says something else amusing to his friends in Japanese, but Bob’s not not even bothering now to hear or try to comprehend.

—That’s funny, he asks, hauling back his sleeves.






Don't forget to come back in September for Part Three of "ボブ (Bob)."