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Romeo, Romeo ...


The other day I heard from Sadako that she would be spending a day this coming weekend acting as one of the judges for a speech contest being held somewhere in Tokyo. When I suggested to her that it might be a long boring day, listening to a lot of amateur speakers, she replied that actually it might turn out to be interesting, because this was a speech contest with a bit of a difference - it was to be a 'humourous speech' contest.

I asked her what she would do if, rather than being a judge for the contest, she was to be a participant instead. She didn't have to think for long before replying. "That's easy. I'd just tell them about the coffee beans. I'd be sure to win!"

Just tell them about the coffee beans ...

* * *

The Japanese Post Office is truly a wonderfully efficient organization, and I would be the last person to ever complain about their service, but they have been letting us down a bit recently in an important area - the delivery of love letters! Those of you who write love letters frequently, (and that's most of you, right?) know that love letters are different from ordinary letters. When we finish writing a letter to a casual friend or acquaintance, we usually address the envelope and then drop it into a mailbox without much concern as to when delivery might be made. If the friend lives nearby, it may arrive soon; if they live around the world, it will of course take longer, but in any case, we know that it will arrive sooner or later. Exactly when, is not critical. Love letters though, are different, aren't they! No sooner is that last line written ("I want only to be with you!") and our name appended, than the desire to have the letter safely delivered to her waiting hands starts to mount. (For she is waiting, of course!)

Drop it in a mailbox? Impossible! If we do that, it might be days and days before she receives it. The warm endearments will have cooled, the spark will have faded ... Perhaps her attentions will have wandered in another direction ... I have discovered that a letter posted in my own town in the evening for example, (and lonely evenings are the best time for writing love letters!) will not arrive in the neighbouring town until the second day following, or even longer if a weekend intervenes. Completely unacceptable!

So, what is a man to do? There sits the letter in his hand, written in the glow of his love ... but with the warmth fading, fading away, moment by moment. Well, if the Post Office is going to let him down, there's only one thing left to do - deliver it himself!

This was the situation recently facing a person I know rather well. (In order to protect him from embarrassment let's call him say ... 'D') 'D' had written a veritable masterpiece of a love letter - one in which the words were actually burning holes in the paper. It had to be delivered immediately. But look at the problems he faced! It was nearly midnight, and on a Friday, so to mail it was out of the question. It wouldn't arrive until Monday, and by that time would be stone cold. But if he were to cycle over to her house, what could he do then? (Perhaps we should be protecting her too. Let's call her ... say ... 'S'.) He couldn't simply ring S's doorbell. One of her daughters might wake up and answer the door, and then what would he do? "Er ... excuse me, would you please pass this to your mother ..." No, no, that wouldn't work. He could simply drop it into her mailbox, as he had done on previous occasions, but the thought of this 'so-special' letter sitting in that cold metal box through the long night ... No, he must see her now!

He sat at his desk, letter in his hands, thinking and thinking. And then a solution came to him. He knew that S's room and her daughters' room were at opposite ends of their house. What if he were to take the letter over there and toss a few pebbles up at her window to get her attention? She would look out, see who it was, and the mission could be accomplished satisfactorily! But the window was very small, quite high up on the second story, well inside the tall garden wall, and surrounded by shrubbery. It would be a very difficult target indeed ...

I sat and sat, excuse me, I mean he sat and sat, thinking about the best way to get her attention, and finally an idea came. A pea-shooter! If he could make a good pea-shooter it would be no problem to hit the window. He looked around his house to see what he could use ... A few minutes later it was ready: a long thin white tube that normally did duty as a towel rail ... and for ammunition - a handful of coffee beans! He took it out onto his balcony for a test, shooting at a nearby street light. Success! Although the tube was a bit bent, and the beans thus tended to fly off at an angle, he found it was possible after a bit of practice to hit the target with a fairly high percentage of his shots. And the resulting sound was perfect - a short sharp little 'plink', just right for catching her attention! In a few minutes he was off, letter in hand, tube tied to his bicycle frame, and a handful of coffee beans in his pocket!

25 minutes later, there he was, parking his bike in some underbrush near her home. What luck - the entire house was dark, all except for one window, hers! 'S' must be still awake, probably working on a speech she was due to deliver soon. In the evening quiet, he could even hear sounds from her room, a small cough, the turn of a leaf of paper. This was going to be a piece of cake!

There was one small snag though. Even at this late hour there were still plenty of people around. He had just started to get the tube ready when somebody came around the corner walking a dog. A moment later a car came by, and then another walker. How was he going to do this with all these people nearby? He couldn't just stand openly in the middle of the street shooting at the house ... A few moments of investigation confirmed that there was a line of sight to the target window from the shrubbery in that adjoining lot where he had parked his bicycle. It was a difficult angle, but it was well hidden, so he could take his time. In he went.

Only to discover another small snag. No sooner had he pushed his way into the bushes than he heard that awful sound rising up all around him ... bzzz bzzz bzzz Mosquitoes! Clouds of them, awakened from their evening doze by the arrival of this man, sweaty from his cycle ride, wearing ... shorts. A feast! For a moment he considered retreat, but then steeled himself. You can't give up that easily! What kind of a Romeo would call it a day and go home just because of a few little bugs ...? He gritted his teeth and commenced firing!

This was difficult! The sharp angle of view, the bent tube, the mosquitoes, the need to keep ducking down quickly every few moments as yet another neighbour strolled by ... And those deep brown beans were so difficult to see in the dark! Weren't any of them hitting the window? He could hear nothing! He fired again and again, sometimes with a whole mouthful of beans. No response. No 'plink' sounds, and no sign of S's friendly face at the window. His legs started to itch violently. A couple minutes more and he retreated from the bushes for a respite. What now? To come all this way and then slink home ignominiously? No way!

The neighbourhood 'traffic' seemed to have tapered off a bit, and nobody was in sight. Perhaps with a direct shot from out in the middle of the street, it would be possible to hit the window clearly, catch her attention, and get this mission done quickly ... He decided to give it a try. A handful of beans, the pipe raised to his mouth, there he stood in the middle of the street, shooting away. Plink. Plink. Plink. Success! But just then, out walking her cat (her cat! Normal people don't walk cats!) came one of the neighbouring housewives. She stopped and stared at this phenomenon, then turned suddenly and strode quickly back to her home, obviously with some clear purpose in mind. He could well imagine what that purpose was ... It was time to get out of here!

A last pause, to see if there had been any response at the window ... no, still nothing ... and then he was on his bicycle flying down the street away from the 'scene of the crime'. At the end of the block he paused. Perhaps if he waited a bit ... Perhaps that woman with the cat had simply decided to go home and go to bed ... Perhaps he could try again in a few minutes ... He bought a can of juice from the machine on the corner, and casually, ever so casually, stood there sipping it. And then he saw it, arriving sooner than he would have thought possible - the police patrol unit. Stopping just exactly at the place where he had stood shooting, and then with flashlight in hand, starting to explore the dark nooks and crannies around S's house. No question about it, it was time to get out of here!

During the ride home, one thought obsessed him - had that woman with the cat given his description to the police? A tall bearded foreigner on a mountain bike ... There couldn't be too many people in this area who answered to that description. Perhaps he was going to have some explaining to do ... And then, just then, he realized what an absolute idiot he was, because in his haste to get home quickly and directly, he had taken the main road ... the main road running right in front of Fussa Police Station, outside of which day and night there usually stands a constable on duty. A constable who even at this very moment was probably listening to the report on his portable radio receiver ... "All points bulletin! Foreigner ... Beard ... Mountain bike ... Strange long tubular weapon ... Assumed to be armed and dangerous ... Shoot on sight! ..."

And yes, there the patrolman stood, hands behind his back, standing just outside the station in his usual place. It was too late to turn away. So tucking his head down low, trying to exude an aura of total innocence, our hero zoomed by, half expecting to hear, if not the boom, boom of pistol shots, at least a "Hey you! Stop!" But the only booming sounds heard were loud heartbeats ... Mine ... Er, I mean, his!

There's not much more to the story. When he next spoke to 'S' he had to ask if she had heard any noises the other evening ... Perhaps a little 'plink' 'plink' on the window? No ... she had heard nothing. But of course, after hearing his tale of misguided adventure, and laughing at his idiocy, she went into her garden to see what she could find ...

And now, in the corner of one drawer of her desk there rests, not the cold, forgotten love letter, but instead a small envelope containing ... yes, a handful of cracked and broken ... coffee beans. What do you think she feels when she looks at them?