I See Dead People
I finished a sannensei class with Ms. Forehead in the Ghetto School. Most of the kids filed out pretty quickly, as we stayed behind to collect our things. One girl lingered on however. I remember her well from back when she was an ichinensei – she has very few friends, or none at all, is pretty quiet and keeps to herself most of the time. During class, when she thinks we’re not looking, instead of taking notes she scribbles drawings of anime characters (which she is actually quite skilled at). After all the students were long gone, she walked straight over to one of the walls and squatted down in front of it. This, by itself, wasn’t too weird. A little off, sure, but this girl had never quite been all together there to begin with. But there wasn’t anything to be concerned about … yet.
“What’s he saying today?” Ms. Forehead calls over to her casually. The girl raises a hand to silence her.
Um … what?
The girl remained her in squat position directly in front of the wall for a few moments before standing up. Ms. Forehead repeats her question – “What’d he say today?” “I dunno” the girl says. “He was mumbling, so I couldn’t really tell.” There was nobody there.
After the girl left, I asked somewhat nervously what that was all about. Ms. Forehead took a moment to think about how to phrase her answer, then said, “Ah, that girl, well, maybe she can see…” Here, Ms. Forehead took one of her trademark pauses to think of what she wanted to say next in English. As usual, my mind filled in the blank space for her but this time I actually verbalized my inner monologue. “Dead people?” I said, doing a mild riff on The Sixth Sense. Ms. Forehead snaps her fingers, her eyes go wide, and she excitedly exclaims “Yes, dead people!”
Ms. Forehead continues. “Maybe she can see ghosts, or phantoms, something like that. She always talks to this little boy. But only she can see or hear him.” She leans in closer to me, as if this is some big secret. “But, there are no little boys that age in this school. So, we don’t know where he comes from. She’s been doing this, talking to the boy, since way back when.” Come to think of it, I can remember having seen her squat down every now and then over the past 2 and a half years, but it never was anything as pronounced as walking straight to a wall and squatting down in front of it, so I didn’t think anything of it. You mean, all that time, she’s been having conversations with dead people?
My immediate reaction was “why aren’t they helping this girl?” But of course, this is Japan, so a fifteen-year-old girl who, at best, entertains imaginary people and, at worst, sees dead people, is just “Oh, she’s a bit strange, isn’t she? It’s cute!” Where the hell is Bruce Willis when you really need him?! Stop pumping Eneos gas and get over here and help little Ms. Haley Joel Osment!
And yes, that is her new nickname now.
Special education classes do exist. I have 4 special education students in two of the schools (two in each). The funny thing is, except for one girl, I honestly don’t know why the other three are in special education classes. For the two kids at the Ghetto School, the one girl is, to me at least, smarter than some of the kids going through the regular classes. The boy is a bit weird, sure, but c’mon, kids are weird sometimes.
Okay, well, he’s a little more than just weird. He went through a particular period. I went to special education class with a female English teacher who is a bit older. The boy came bounding up to me – “Hey, ask me what my favorite type of video game is!” Ok sure, what’s your favorite type of video game? He goes behind the English teacher, and makes a motion as if he were strangling her by wire. He does this with a huge smile plastered across his face. “Oh!” the English teacher says laughing, “now he likes the very violent video game … maybe like murder.” The boy continues to fake strangle her. The teacher thinks absolutely nothing of this.
(10 years later) “He was always such a well behaved and quiet boy, we never imagined he’d strangle a young woman to death … much less do it 17 times in succession.
In Japan, you can’t really ask what is wrong with a student, nor can they just tell you. This boy had been attending the regular classes, so I was surprised to find him in the special class that day. I asked the strangulation teacher about it in a very roundabout and general way. “Oh, well, you see, he’s half Korean.” It turns out she was just going to dodge my question by explaining his personal history, but it’s still weird to have your “What ails this student?” question answered with “Well, he’s half Korean.”
Another time, I went to one of the regular classes with Ms. Forehead. The boy jumped up and wasted no time in making strangulation gestures behind her. Ms. Forehead laughs this off just as the other teacher did. I personally would be a bit bothered if one of my students was happily imitating killing me behind me, but I guess in Japan this is no big whoop.
Mom: Welcome home! How was work today?
Ms. Forehead: Well, Ms. Haley Joel talked to three new ghosts today, and Jakku Za Riipaa imitated killing me four times. All in all, a slow day.
Welcome to the Ghetto School. We produce more jiggers, clairvoyants, and would-be serial killers than any other junior high school in Kyoto Prefecture. Why am I not getting hazard pay again?