“You must be so proud of your daughter, it can’t be easy coming from such a far away place.” Mrs Newhaven said to me. Our other three guests had gone and it was just her and her husband, Jim, who were left. Masahiro had taken Jim through to the spare room to show him his photographs and the piano.
“Oh yes, we are,” I said. “Haru’s doing really well.” For some reason I laughed. “She’s enjoying the social side of things too. From the titbits I hear anyway.”
Mrs Newhaven chuckled. “Aye, as long as they have fun, eh. Enjoy it while it lasts. That’s what I tell our Doug. Because when you graduate these days it’s no picnic. Not with globalisation.”
“Globalisation,“ I repeated the word, as if I was just hearing it for the first time. This was clearly what Mrs Newhaven thought, because she proceeded to deliver a lecture worthy of Newsnight. I half-tuned out, until she concluded: “it’s the Chinese who are at the bottom of it now. Not the Japanese any more.” She winked and nodded her head in the direction of the hallway, from where I could hear the opening bars of Cesar Franck’s sonata being just a little too jauntily played.
I wasn’t sure, at first, if I had heard correctly. Maybe she had said something else, something which didn’t imply that she and I, though we hardly knew each other, were in some sense closer than I was to my husband, who was part of an alien race. But then I realised that she had indeed said those words, and I stood up.
“Yes, well. I said. It’s getting late.” The silence hung for a second, then I turned towards the kitchen. “I’m going to make coffee.”
“There’s a Japanese proverb,” I said when I had composed myself and returned with a pot and two cups on a tray. “Ii no naka no kawazu. Taikai o shirazu.’ I set the tray down between us. “Roughly translated it means: ‘The frog in in the well doesn’t know the sea.’”
“That’s pretty,” Mrs Newhaven ventured. I think she had an idea she had offended me, but was struggling to join the dots. More silence as I watched the granules dissolving their blackness into the water.
“There are lots of wise proverbs in Japanese,” I remarked, depressing the plunger.
Mrs Newhaven, who in fact only wanted to be called Alice, looked so comically worried by this point that something inside me melted, even as I thought to myself:
‘You daft, daft woman’. I laughed and nodded towards the hall as I filled our cups:
“If only the men would follow them.”
She whinnied then, a sound like a nervous horse, filling our front room with its view over the firth and the twinkling lights of the bridge. That, I suppose, was the moment when Alice Newhaven became my new best friend, or at least the person I did things with when Masahiro was out playing golf, or taking photos, or emailing photos to all the friends back home who he’d vowed not to lose touch with, in all those terribly formal yet emotional farewells we’d had to make, for my sake.