Drink Lady

Every day at lunch, the tiniest woman comes around hawking her wares. A strange thing about Japan is that soliciting is allowed in the workplace.
This means there are often crowds of people gathered around behind me, whispering, sucking their teeth, wondering if they should try to explain a Japanese travel package to the white girl. Or try to sell me a tie. The answer is always that, yes, they should, which inevitably leaves all parties embarrassed. Actually, I’m surprised I haven’t just bought a trip to Okinawa and a matching spring tie simply out of guilt and obligation.
But I like the drink lady. She is employed by Yakult, a yogurt company, and she always saves a pineapple juice just for me. I often have an opposite problem with her than I usually have in all my interactions.
See, I can get by. A little. I can survive without ending up naked, starving in the rain.
Most days, at least.
I know how to ask how much things are. I can hear numbers and prices, and I understand statements that they’re out of something. I’ve gotten myself out of hairier situations than ordering a juice.
But this poor woman always takes a deep breath before rounding the corner to my desk. It is her duty to serve juice to all the teachers who want it, and she takes it very seriously. Deathly seriously.
The first time we met, I had already gathered what her job was from her stopping at the other 50 people in my office. So I felt horrible when she saw my face, gasped, almost dropped her bag of juice, and started frantically searching for someone who spoke English.
Not rudely or offensively. She was truly terrified she wouldn’t give me good service. I felt terrible. I tried nodding and taking huge bills out of my wallet. I bowed and thanked her. I had no idea what kinds of juice there were to choose from, but god forbid her boss asks her later how her day went, and she breaks out in tears over an inability to protect and serve (juice). Hoping to save her from such shame, I pointed cheerfully at a random juice and paid for it. That lunch, I dined on the delicious and refreshing blend of grapes…and lettuce. Mmm, that lettuce juice is delish! Someone call up Tropicana.
She came in the next day with a little sheet of paper, and pronounced a message written in katakana. “Too-day? Pleazu? Some-singu?” I clapped and gushed over her good English, and I was truly touched that she cared so much to try and communicate with me.
Since then, we have grown together. One day I got brave enough to quit the lettuce juice (which actually is…kinda good), and I started my pineapple juice regiment. Her English has gotten better, and now she can say, “Would you like anything today?” There was one day she was out of pineapple juice. We had a few laughs then. After Christmas, I brought her back a light-up pen from the states. I seriously thought she was going to have a heart attack and die on the floor.
She’s gotten more bold, too. Sometimes she talks without having rehearsed it (audibly) for a few rows behind me. She also has started approaching me and simply striking a pose, smiling and holding up my pineapple juice by her face, like she’s in a brochure.
Today, I apologized because I only had a 1,000 yen note for the 100 yen juice. She puffed her chest up, looking very proud, and said, “Ah, thank you very much. And your change? Ninety-thousand yen!”
Of course she gave me the correct change, but I still had to stifle a giggle.
I love the drink lady.

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