Tokyo South

Kunitachi District

Treading Water

Chaddy finally blew Peterson up. He didn’t have Peterson in mind as a specific target, but was hardly disappointed that Pete was the first one to turn on the stove the night before March transfers came out.

Chadwick had a stash of firecrackers left over from the summer festivals. He and McGowan spent a good amount of time dreaming up creative ways to get rid of them. Thackeray uncovered the latest conspiracy when he’d turned on the gas that morning to boil the mugi and caught the brief sparkle of a firecracker fuze out of the corner of his eye. The fuze, tied to the burner arm, burned through, dropping the firecracker into the grease pan, where it snuffed out.

“You know,” Thackeray said to McGowan. “It’d work better if you tied the firecracker to the burner arm with some black thread or something and stuck the fuze into the gas jet.”

So it was Thackeray’s fault, though he wasn’t about to claim credit. Peterson didn’t think such things were very funny when they happened to him. Chadwick was safe because Peterson wasn’t about to lift a finger against McGowan.

The only injury Peterson suffered was to his dignity. The firecracker went off with a BANG! Peterson did a four foot standing jump and fell right on his ass.

When the transfers came the next morning, Peterson was happy to go. He and Longstreet got transferred to Sagamihara. Chadwick insisted on going down to the train station to see them off.

“Good luck, eh?” he said. He shook Peterson’s hand. “Hope you make A.P. Remember me when you get to the top, will you?”

Peterson didn’t know what to say. The departure bell rang. Chadwick handed him his suitcases and waved goodbye as the train pulled away. Thackeray was puzzled as well. Chadwick said with a wink, “Always be kind to your enemies when they leave you forever. Drives them batty.”

Bennett’s new junior was Elder Hunsaker. He was eager and competent and ready to go senior. Thackeray’s new companion was Elder Cantwell, a soft-spoken, rather homely missionary who never looked like he had much to say, and pretty much lived up to his looks.

“A glimmer of hope says he’s the strong, silent type.” It was the district’s first meeting together and Chadwick was engaging in some wishful thinking. Cantwell had stepped out for the second or third time to go to the bathroom.

“If he’s the mission president’s idea of making up for Peterson,” said Thackeray, “I think he overdid it.”

“He ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.” Chadwick stretched his cheeks down with his fingertips and drooped his eyelids. But then he said, “You never know. Maybe he’s got geri.

It wasn’t geri, though the malfunctioning of his digestive tract didn’t brighten his disposition.


At any rate, life improved in Senzoku, if nothing happening was an improvement. Thackeray sometimes wondered if getting beat up every now and then might have some small advantage over being totally bored.

Every day followed the same routine: “Hey, Cantwell Choro, what are we going to do today?”

A nod, a shrug, a vague gesture.

“We have a lesson at two and English class at seven-thirty tonight.”

“I guess so.”

Oh, joy, Thackeray sighed to himself. He did not want to become senior any faster than necessary. He had only half of the discussions memorized. The rest he’d committed to three-by-five cards. He’d gotten adept at palming them during the discussions.

But at least streeting was a diminishing horror.

Bennett did practically nothing the whole month. “He’s trunked out to the max,” complained Hunsaker.

The first week in April, the week the cherry blossoms bloomed, Bennett finally died. On the first Thursday in April, he’d officially been a missionary for two years. He flew home to Bountiful, Utah, the next day. The still mortal Senzoku elders—including a dazed and confused greenie by the name of Elder Farley (Hunsaker’s new companion)—held a party for him the night he croaked. They ate senbei and toasted him with mugi-cha and envy. Good elders went to heaven when they died, they told him. They did not doubt what they said was true.

His position as district leader now unfettered, Chadwick was an even happier man. Their numbers never matched the heyday of Peterson and Bennett’s tireless baptizing competitions, but were sufficient to keep certain people higher up the food chain off his back.

Chadwick and McGowan, in fact, had a baptism the Sunday after April transfers. Elder Matthews, the new senior zone leader, came to do the interview. He was as tall as McGowan and the same age as Chadwick. But he somehow looked older.

“Going to be the number one district in the zone again this month?” he asked as he filled out the recommend form.

“I could promise you the moon, but one can’t be number one forever, can one?” Chadwick held out his arms and sighed.

Matthews cracked a thin smile. “Do the best job you can,” he said. “I don’t think breaking records is that important.”

“Music to my ears.”

Matthews signed the recommend and tucked his pen back in his suit coat pocket.

“Tell me something,” said Chadwick, in a curious tone. “Do you always take that long with baptism interviews?”

“I like to be thorough.” He paused. “Anyone can pass a recommend if you ask the right questions.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Keep up the good work, Choros.”

Ganbarimasu.

“Definitely the strong silent type,” said Chadwick, after he left, “I like that model.”


The days went by in easy pieces.


On the eve of the May transfer call-outs, Thackeray lay on his bunk and mused over an uneasy feeling of trepidation and expectation. It all seemed like a roll of the dice from his point of view, and the odds ran out in the long run. He had been there six months, almost seven. A transfer was inevitable. It wouldn’t be hard leaving Senzoku. It would be the natural thing to do. Like going on a mission.

Where did you want to go on your mission? That was the question they all asked each other in the MTC. Longstreet wanted to go stateside. He didn’t think he’d end up in Japan.

“But it’s not so bad,” he liked to say.

President Matsuoka, Thackeray’s branch president in the MTC, once told them how he’d gotten down on his knees and said, “Lord, it was your idea to send me to Japan. So get me out of this mess—”

That wouldn’t work for me, Thackeray reminded himself. He’d wanted to go to Japan. That’s what he’d prayed for. And now he didn’t know why.

Anyway, by now he was pretty much enjoying his mission. Bennett was gone, and Peterson had become almost tolerable in the end. Almost. But it didn’t matter anymore. His companion was merely someone who happened to be in his general vicinity twenty-four hours a day. And “the work” was, well, work. Apathy worried him. Missionaries didn’t leave memories behind, only temporary voids that were soon filled. Except for Chadwick and McGowan, he didn’t care if anybody remembered him or not.


The phone rang early the next morning. Chadwick draped a futon around his shoulders and crawled across the floor to answer it.

Moshi-moshi?” He yawned. “Oh, g’morning, Matthews.” He plucked a district report out of the trash and jotted down the transfers. He curled up on the floor and pretended to go back to sleep.

“Well?” said Thackeray.

“What?” teased Chadwick. “Oh, of course—” He squinted at his writing. “Well, me and the redhead are still together.”

McGowan ran his hand through his matted, rusty hair and grinned.

“And Cantwell has a new co-senior. One Jeffrey Naylor Choro.”

Cantwell seemed unperturbed. He picked up his towel and went into the bathroom.

“And?”

“Let’s see—know where Kunitachi is?”

“Kunitachi?”

“Co-senior with Lundquist Choro.”

“You mean Ol’ Luddy?” said McGowan, with a puckered expression.

“What does that mean?”

“He was my companion in the MTC.”

“So?”

“Actually we were in this threesome: Larson, Lundquist and me. Me and Larson got along pretty well, but Luddy—he was, uh, something else.”

“Like how?”

McGowan paused to reflect. “You had Morgan Sensei in the MTC, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, one day, me and Larson were out in the hall mirfin’ around and Morgan comes by and starts talking to us. He says how he’s taught a lot of missionaries in his time and he’s been able to figure ’em all out—except Lundquist.” McGowan shrugged. “He’s been out the same as me, eight months. But you never know—”

Thackeray grimaced. Be patient and it’ll turn out all right. He’d heard that before. “I don’t think I want to.”

“At least you’re going senior. That’s something.”

“Yeah? That’s not what I’ve heard.”

“What have you heard?”

“They make you co-senior when they have two mediocre elders they don’t know what to do with. Peterson said it’s a fate worse than death.”

“That sounds like something Peterson would say.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you what. We’ll change places. You go to Kunitachi and be co-senior with Lundquist. I’ll stay here.”

“No, thanks. I’d rather die.”


Thackeray spent the rest of the day packing his suitcases and shipping off his tea box. He called every investigator on his lists—active or not—that had a phone. If nothing else, a transfer was always a good excuse to wring one more discussion out of even the most recalcitrant investigator.

Longstreet called that night: “Hey, I hear you’re coming to Kunitachi.”

“You’re going there, too?”

“Transferred here when Holahan Choro died.”

“Oh.”

“By the way, I’m zone leader.”

“Zone leader? You’re a zone leader?”

“He’s a zone leader?” said McGowan.

“Congratulations,” said Chadwick.

“Chadwick says congratulations.”


He left the next morning. The district came down to the train station to see him off. “Sayonara,” they called out as train rolled away from the platform. Thackeray waved back through the streaked glass.

He caught a connecting train at Medamae, picked up the ten-thirty Chuo commuter express at Kichijoji and was in Kunitachi within the hour. It was easier the second time around.

No one met him at the station. Finding the apartment wasn’t difficult. He set his overstuffed suitcases down in the genkan with a clunk! and rubbed his hands. The suitcase handles left red creases into his palms.

Longstreet came out of the bathroom at the end of the hall, zipping up his fly. “Hi, Thackeray,” he said. “There are two rooms upstairs. Pick one.”

“Two rooms?”

“And some leftover spaghetti in the kitchen. Help yourself.”

“Thanks.”

Thackeray climbed up the stairs and opened the door on the left. The room was a full-sized six jo (about eight feet by ten), with two closets and a chest of drawers by the door. He opened the drawers and began unpacking.

“This is one big place,” he said out loud. “I wonder how much it costs the mission—”

“Not as much as you think.” Longstreet was standing in the doorway.

“At least fifteen-hundred a month.”

Longstreet shook his head. “Used to live in this piece of crap about a klick north of the station. The other side of the tracks, you know. Somebody decided to tear the place down. It turns out there’s this city ordinance that says evicted tenants get relocated for the same rent for something like eighteen months. So Jensen comes up from the mission home and picks out this condo at a heavy discount. Not bad, eh?”

“I guess so.”

Longstreet shrugged. “The plaza’s a good place to street, though. No shop owners to worry about.”

“What about food?”

“Your basic American-type store is two blocks past the plaza. But there’s this sharp little market down the street behind the station. Yamazaki—the guy who runs the place—he’s a good man. But leave him alone about the church. Every missionary coming through for about the last ten years has tried to dunk him.”

“No problem.”

“Watch out for the old ’baasan, though. She’ll talk your ear off. Likes missionaries for some strange reason. You don’t have to listen. Nobody takes her serious.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

Longstreet shrugged again. “By the way, you’re district leader?”

“I am? I’ve only been here four months.”

“Five. Seven months, counting the MTC.”

“Lundquist is two months older than I am.”

“I know. Jensen told me it was you or nobody. Guess this guy Lundquist is some kind of scuz, huh? I’m already zone leader and the group/district rep and I don’t feel like doing everything. So you’re district leader. Don’t worry. It’s all good.”

“What do I do?”

“Your only concern is the kitty and the Book of Mormons. Give the D.L. report to me. It’s the easiest job in the mission.” Longstreet turned to leave. “I’m calling in transfer confirmations. Any idea when your companion is arriving?”

“No.”

Longstreet thought for a moment and then dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. “As long as he shows up—”

Elder Lundquist arrived four hours later.

“You get lost?” Thackeray asked.

“No,” was all Luddy said.


The next morning he ate breakfast alone and then went up to Lundquist’s room and knocked on the door. There was no response. He opened the door and glanced into the room. Lundquist was asleep on his futon.

“Hey! It’s eight o’clock! What’s the matter? Still got jetlag?” Lundquist opened his mouth, seemed to reconsider, and said nothing.

He was actually going to say he had jetlag, Thackeray thought to himself.

Lundquist came down the kitchen forty minutes later. Longstreet was doing the dishes. He scowled at Lundquist and said, “We eat breakfast at eight.” That was all he said. So two months with Peterson had not turned Longstreet into a disciplinarian.

“Punctuality,” was his only motto. “I like punctuality.” He was punctual. He was always back from the arcades in time to make his zone stat reports.

A week later, Thackeray cornered him and said, “When are you going to get after Luddy?”

“Get after him for what?”

“I don’t know. For anything. For being a lethargic bum. Jeez, I’m not asking a lot. A little intimidation, maybe.”

“Hey, you’re the D.L. That’s your job.” Longstreet grinned. “Besides, you know what they say about people in glass houses.” He gave Thackeray a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

Longstreet wasn’t a hypocrite. Only a paper tiger.

Thackeray stomped up to his companion’s room. “Listen, Lundquist. I don’t care that you’re no good at streeting. I never liked it either. But I think life around here would run smoother if we tried to follow some kind of schedule. Okay?”

“Sure thing.”

When Lundquist came down to breakfast, Longstreet, who was perhaps feeling guilty about the effects of his laissez-faire leadership, put on an animated face and tried to strike up a bit of conversation.

“Say, Luddy, leave any broken hearts behind?”

Luddy perked up. “Uh huh.”

There was a long pause. Longstreet waited for details. None were forthcoming.

Luddy spent the rest of the day in a daze. He didn’t even make a pretense of streeting. He wandered through the crowds bumping into people.

Thackeray phoned Chadwick in Senzoku.

“They only thing I can tell you,” advised Chadwick, “is to bear with it. He won’t be your companion forever.”

“I was hoping for something a bit more optimistic.”

“Just wait till you get your first baptism. Things will pick up after that.”


Thackeray’s first and only baptism in Kunitachi came on a referral from the Tokyo North Mission. Her name was Nobuko Watabe. She was twenty-three years old college student, a slight, plain girl. She lived in West Tokyo but attended school in Chiba prefecture. Thackeray met her the second Sunday in July in the lobby of the Kunitachi ward building. She was, in fact, waiting for him.

“My name is Nobuko Watabe. I want to join the Mormon Church.”

Thackeray later decided that Nobuko showed up on his doorstep because she would have gotten baptized no matter who taught her. Maybe neophyte missionaries were sent into the mission field on purpose—certainly, no one could argue that his rhetorical brilliance had anything to do with her conversion. Maybe the dumber the missionary, the better. In a just world, Longstreet would be too smart for his own good. Except that he knew exactly how to play the fool when a fool was called for. As far as the mission was concerned, that made him nothing short of brilliant.

Thackeray baptized Nobuko two weeks later at the Kichijoji stake center.

But despite Chadwick’s promise, things didn’t pick up.

He hadn’t expected them to.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.