by Gaelle Chatenet
“Boys! It is 6 O’clock!” called Natsuko. “You know what you are supposed to do!”
“Bath time !!!” answered Ken-chan with a huge grin on his face. He ran into the bathroom followed by his little brother, still wobbly on his chubby legs but no less happy. They undressed in seconds and waited for their Mom. The bathroom was divided in two parts. The first one with a tap and small stools on which they would sit and scrub themselves clean. Next to it the deep tub of hot water where they would soak afterwards. Like most Japanese mothers Natsuko was in the habit of bathing with her children.
They went inside. Ken-chan sat on his little stool and started dutifully scrubbing his legs. Natsuko helped her younger child who was having trouble climbing onto his own low stool and led his hand with the damp cloth. He was trying his best to copy his brother and do things by himself but he was not two yet and his movements where still hesitant.
“Mommy will you wash my back?” asked Ken-chan. Natsuko gently took the cloth from him and started wiping. Little Brother reached for the cloth and his Mom laughed.
“Do you want to help your brother?” she asked and handed him the cloth. She couldn’t help smiling at the mixture of pride and effort on the little boy’s face.
Once both boys were covered in soap Natsuko used the big wooden ladle to rinse them with some bath water. They giggled under the hot spray. She told them to get into the bath and not wait, worried they might get cold.
“No,” said Ken-chan, “we will wait for you Mommy”
She smiled again at the two stubborn little faces looking up from their stools and started cleaning herself. And so the game began. A game they had played many times before. The boys called it ‘the scar game’. They always started at her feet.
“What is this Mommy?” asked Ken-chan pointing at her left foot.
“That’s a scar,” she answered
“And how did you get it?”
“It was on New Year’s Eve many years ago. Before you were born. The last day of the Year of the Sheep. I was frying some rice crackers for Daddy and myself. I thought the oil had cooled down already and so I started emptying it. But it was still hot and some water got into it. It just started bubbling and splashing and a big drop fell on my foot and burned some skin right off. It left a big hole and it was so scary. Daddy had to take me to the emergency room and we never had rice crackers for New Year’s ever again!”
“Did it hurt?”
“It sure did…”
“Do you like this scar?”
“Yes I do. I like that it taught me to be more patient and more careful. When I want to rush things and feel impatient I look at it and remember I should let myself cool down and think instead of acting in haste and making things worse.”
“I understand,” replied Ken-chan looking very serious for a six-year-old. His little forehead creased and his jaw set in concentration.
Then he pointed to his Mom’s thigh.
“What about this one?”
Natsuko couldn’t help but smile gently.
“This one was made by my neighbors’ dog, when I was a teenager. It had always been a friendly dog but on this one occasion it bit me. It was not a deep bite but I was only wearing a light cotton kimono and so it still left the mark that you can see.”
“Why did the dog bite you if it was a good dog?”
“Well, she had just had her puppies and they were lying in the grass a few steps away. I didn’t know that and walked towards her. She became scared for her babies and so she snapped but she didn’t mean to harm me, just to warn me. If she had wanted to hurt she could have taken a full bite and it would have left a much bigger mark.”
“Do you like this scar Mommy?”
“Yes I do.”
“Because when I look at it I remember that even the people I think I know well have their secrets. And that there are days when we all feel more vulnerable than others. On those days we might react in ways that will startle others. We might snap at people we like or seem cold or angry. If someone reacts this way with me, I try to keep in mind that they may just be scared or hurting and that this will pass. That I should not let this disrupt our relationship.”
“So we should be nice to our friends?”
“Yes we should.”
“Even when they are not nice to us?”
“Well, to a certain extent. If you find out that a friend is acting distant or cold because they are actually hurting inside then you should try to help and not hold it against them. The same way you wouldn’t want it to be held against you.”
“I see…” answered Ken-chan his brow even more creased than before.
Then a light smile brightened up his little face again.
“What about this one?” he asked, pointing at his mother’s belly.
“Which one?” Natsuko smiled back pretending not to see.
“This one! This really big one! On your tummy!”
“I don’t see a scar,” replied Natsuko, “I only see a smile!”
“That’s not a smile!” cried the little boy, “bellies can’t smile! It’s a scar!”
“Ok,” answered his Mom. “It is a scar, but a happy one.”
“How can a scar be happy?”
“It is a happy scar because what made it made me happy.”
“Did it hurt?”
“A little bit.”
“Did you cry?”
“Only with joy.”
“Tell me what happened!”
“Not again …” she smiled.
“yes again!!!” he almost shouted. Clapping his hands together.
“Ok then… But come close to me you two!”
She kneeled down closing the space between them so she could hold one of her little boys in each arm, pressed against her, naked like they had been on that very first day.
“This scar,” she said, “is where Doctor Sakamoto opened my belly to take its treasure out.”
“What was the treasure?” Though he knew the answer the little boy could barely contain his excitement.
“Well, at first it was you my love,” she said brushing the top of his head with her lips, “and then it was your little brother,” she continued, kissing him too.
“Why did he have to open your tummy Mommy?”
“So you could come out and I could finally see your beautiful faces,” she answered.
“And do you like this scar?”
“More than all the others. I cherish it.”
“Because it reminds me that sometimes we need to go through some pain to get to happiness. Sometimes what lays ahead can seem so scary and dark that you cannot see beyond the shadows. But you should keep in mind that if you stay brave and face your pain and fear, once on the other side you’ll realize what you mistook for the night was just a cloud and everything beyond is bright.’
Ken-chan smiled and hugged his Mother.
“One more time!” He cried
“Maybe tomorrow,” answered Natsuko. “Now hurry up and climb in the bath.”