The Long Walk Home

After a hard day’s work, rest is easy to find. Your muscles tire, your body is exhausted and your mind wants nothing more than to forget the stresses it has churned since you got out of bed. That final rest after a proud struggle is what we desire and deserve when we step out of work. That sofa you want to collapse onto, that tv you want to vegetate in front of, that stupor of wine and endless chocolate, that descent into that deep sleep is all waiting for you back home. But first you need to get home.

 

For those of you who’ve read or seen ‘Judge Dredd’, you’ll know about the ‘long walk’. According to the story, after years of dredd_resignsdedicated service a judge may enter the wasteland to never return, to live out his or her days bringing law to the lawless, to find peace and they are granted one final request in honour of their service. But after a lifetime of hard work, that peace is still just out of reach; the journey to find it can take much longer than expected. My way home after work was much the same. If dealing with uncooperative children and policing them long enough to study (I am the law…) all day wasn’t enough, I also had a gauntlet to run as soon as I left the school one Friday evening.

 

Poncho vs the Christians
I believe in good religious education; whether you believe or not in anything, it’s still relevant to our lives through history and within society, and deserves some attention in school. Emphasis on “in” school. So when I took one step outside and was immediately presented with a bible (new testament only. The boring one about love and kindness), I paused to consider the correct preposition once again. In school, with supervision from teachers and a curriculum, it’s called education. Outside of school, confronted by a complete stranger offering you a religious text and telling you how you’ll be saved so long as you do as he says, is called recruitment (or it’s called just being creepy. Situation depending). Their good intentions were paved across their faces (road to hell and all that), but I wasn’t entirely certain they should have been there. When they followed up with “are you a Christian? Oh, you’re a foreigner! You must be a Christian”, my patience suddenly nose dived into smite, vengeance and all the juicer old testament sentiment. Let the school handle this; I wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs the Femme Fatale
Japan is a pretty conservative place, and its patriarchy wouldn’t quite be complete without an oppressive judgmental view on how women should dress (aren’t they so lucky to have such concerned gentlemen around them). Any amount of cleavage is considered to be far too risqué. In fact any skin exposed on the chest is frowned upon. And the shoulders. And the arms. But somehow mini skirts are readily acceptable so please imagine a modest woman by Japanese standards to be wearing that along with half a bee keepers outfit on top. This tends to be the case even with people going nightclubbing. So it was with great surprise that, as I came round the corner, I walked straight into and knocked down a poor young lady with slightly less clothing than normally recommended. Until colliding into me, she’d been impressively running in three inch heels and I felt obliged to help her up (I can’t bear to watch tortoises struggle onto their feet after being rolled over). Between the make up, very short skirt and very low cut top she looked like she was six hours early for a party, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the other teachers would react if they saw her run past a horde of adolescent boys right outside of school. One of those fabled femme fatales that would steal your heart before crushing it in some devious plot of betrayal to achieve some sinful ambition. Or she was just an ordinary woman who dressed as she pleased, refusing to adhere to social expectations. Who’s to say. As soon as I checked she was ok, I was back on my way. Ignore curiosity; I wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs Winter
I sincerely hoped that that lady got indoors or a car, because I was delighted to witness one of Sapporo’s freak snow storms shortly after leaving her. I was just in a light jacket over the top of my suit; like wearing tissue paper to keep off the rain. The sky bellowed down and hit me in full force with a cocktail of chilling wind and hardened snowflakes. Five innocent minutes before it had been sunny and hardly cold at all. No hat, no gloves, no scarf and it was another 25 minute walk to the subway station. Before half way my knuckles had turned blue and I could no longer feel my head, let alone my ears (which meant they were either freezing or no longer attached to the rest of me. People in cold climates can misplace body parts). There was only one salvation from the onslaught and that was convenience stores; beautiful little pit stops with central heating. Every time I came across one I’d enter to defrost my head and pretend I was looking to buy something. I kept the stops as brief as possible; I wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs the A-team
There isn’t a local supermarket near to my apartment so I usually pick things up on my way home from work. The supermarket was right beside the subway entrance and all I needed was one or two things; it wouldn’t take a minute to flash in and grab it. Unless the flash hits a mob on its way in. The A-team were down a man; two carrying the crate and one with the keys but no fourth guy. They waddled together hefting the metal lockbox while the third chatted idly with the shopkeeper. They were there to restock the ATM machine with cash (hence the A-team, if you still didn’t get that), and along with all their metal crates and gear, they had managed to block off half of the local supermarket. So like a mouse in a maze, I scurried around the aisles picking up what I needed, occasionally running into the A-team in fright before scarpering back the way I came to find a new route. With the weather worsening I didn’t want to linger but my haste seemed to be worrying them.  They tightened their grip on their crates and eyed me suspiciously as I zoomed around them. When I finally got to the cashier with my food (that they were still blocking yet again), they very cautiously closed the lid of the crate, shifted it out of the way and nervously gestured to me to come forward. After all, I could easily overpower three men and steal a metal crate of cash in front of cameras and the general public. All three of them waited until I had paid and was at the door before they continued, getting the cash inside the machine in absolute safety. As much as I love when a plan comes together, I wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs the Pokemon guy
I couldn’t reach my subway stop so I got off two stops away and decide to walk the rest of the way. I would have gotten away too if it hadn’t been for that pesky maintenance (it’s a Scooby reference everyone. Keep up). There’s an underground passage leading from Sapporo station across the city centre, full of shops, displays and crazy people. He may or may not have ben crazy but the man who called me over was certainly persistent. Pokemon cards, he needs Pokemon cards (not the most bizarre request I’ve had here in Sapporo. I’ve already been propositioned for sex by an ageing bald man and spontaneously asked by another local to name as many Japanese tourist sites as I knew of the top of my head. The answers were simple by the way. I’m afraid I like a full head of hair you weird creepy guy and I’m not doing any surveys thanks). I directed him as best I could to the Pokemon centre where they’d have all manner of cards for him to buy his children (I got the full backstory from this encounter) and it only took four repetitions and rephrases before I convinced him that I didn’t have to take him there personally. When he asked me what type of cards I should get I politely informed that I didn’t know his children and more importantly, I was an adult man who hadn’t collected Pokemon cards since I was 10. As nostalgic as it all was, I wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs the Police
Almost home and just a few traffic lights to cross. Except at each and every one, it switches red just as I get there. The weather is still biting and I was tired from carrying bags of food shopping across the city. Why wouldn’t they turn green again. There wasn’t a single car on the road and all of us were just standing there waiting for an irrelevant light to assure us that we wouldn’t get struck down by the invisible rush hour. I had enough patience to wait out the first and second lights. By the third, it was enough. A short dash and I’d be a moment away from my apartment. I focussed my attention on the road, looking left and right (just as I’d been taught when I was a child. I’m not irresponsible!) and made sure I was completely safe before I crossed. Completely is a bad way of describing it because I wasn’t completely safe. I focussed left and right but not right ahead of me at the other side. Where two Japanese police officers watched me walk into the road during a red light. By the time I realised they were there I was already half way across the road. I had no choice buy to hunch my shoulders, stare at my feet and sheepishly shuffle past them praying all the while that they wouldn’t break from their conversation to apprehend me. Please God, I just wanted to get home.

 

Poncho vs the World
When I finally reached my apartment, after a brief sprint of fear from the police as soon as I turned a corner, I believed that the journey would finally be over. Four flights of stairs to climb and I’d find peace (if you want to get to heaven, you need to climb up). Just as I reached the building a Japanese man ran past and called out to me “お疲れ様!” (roughly translated as, good job. The go-to phrase you say to anyone in Japan if they finish anything). I promise I am not making that up. To this day I haver no inkling to who he was or why a complete stranger would yell this at me during their jog. But I can recognise it for what it is; a divine sign that there is something testing my every step. That the very world itself is judging and tormenting me with hardships, whether its through religion, society, the elements, finances, vice or even good old fashioned temptation. Perhaps there is never an end to the ‘long walk’, and there is no fabled peace at the top of those four flights of stairs, nor a guarantee of some final request. Just a series of obstacles to overcome that we can try to confront with as much kindness and sense as we can in our judgements, and hope our pride remains intact throughout it all (this is deep stuff, man…). There’s nothing so awful in all the little delays in the journey; it’s just that the walk home is so very very long.
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