Monday, November 3, 2008

Vanishing Tūtū

We commute to work every day by bicycle, along a route which is mostly downhill going in, and mostly uphill coming back, and which passes along residential streets in our valley. The streets on the valley floor are mostly straight and meet at right angles, but as the ground rises the streets grow more winding. We live on the side of the valley, so the first few blocks of the commute are along twisting roads. Rapid development of this area has meant that the houses are crowded very close to the road, especially since there are no sidewalks (another artifact of the recent and rapid development of land here).

One house we pass has a chain-link fence separating its short driveway from the street. It used to be that every morning, on our way in to work, we would see a spectacularly wizened and tanned old lady with a shock of white hair, sitting in a molded plastic chair and watching the world go by. If you waved, she would wave, and we would call out "Hello, tūtū!" as we whizzed past. She was often still there at the end of the day (or had returned to her post, perhaps), and would shout encouraging if incomprehensible things as I slogged up the hill ("Going to the high school dance?" or "There's a sale at the market!"). We didn't know her, in any real sense, but then we did know her, in the sense that you know somebody you see and greet every day.

Since we came back from Europe, we haven't seen her at all. The orange plastic chair is tilted up against the fence, to cast the rain off, and nobody sits in the driveway day after day. We see other people in the yard occasionally, members of a local-Japanese family, but it would seem weirdly prying to ask them what might have happened, especially since we know what might have happened, and since we don't know them at all. But we wonder, every time we see that orange chair. She's gone, but her place in the world isn't.

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