I didn’t care when my dad was transferred overseas to Japan; it’s not like there was anything for me to miss when we moved. Jessie was my only friend but we hadn’t spoken since first grade, my cat had never liked me, and I only saw my mom once a month when we visited her at the hospital. She’d sit huddled in the corner, and I’d play my Gameboy and ask my dad every few minutes when we could leave. My Gameboy was about all I brought with me when we moved; it was the only thing I would’ve been sad about leaving behind.
When we got to Japan, a new kind of loneliness smacked me in the face. I didn’t speak Japanese, but I still had to go to a Japanese elementary school. They put me in a class with the other special kids, and we drew pictures and played weird games all day like musical chairs that the crying boy in the wheelchair always won. All the food tasted the same too: either like fish or packing peanuts. I would’ve killed for a pizza without mayonnaise or squid on it. And my dad came home even later than he used to. I’d hear women giggling outside our apartment door each night before he came wafting in, reeking of cigarettes. I’d just pretend to be asleep, having tucked myself in and read myself a bedtime story hours ago. And by bedtime story I mean looking at a Japanese video game magazine and making up a story with the pictures because I couldn’t read a thing.
I could feel the loneliness building up inside of me brick by brick, until I finally snapped. One morning when I was walking to school eating a fish-flavored rice ball, a giant crow swooped down and snatched it out of my hand. I stood there, shocked, hand outstretched as if it was still holding the rice ball, and started crying. I don’t remember ever crying before in my life, but here I was, in the middle of the street, bawling my eyes out, with some old Japanese man watching me as he swept his driveway.
That’s when she appeared.
I didn’t know if she’d been there the whole time, or if she’d walked up when I started crying, but there she was, standing in front of me. A Japanese girl, about my age, with blue eyes and dressed in a black school uniform. It wasn’t the same uniform as my school, and she didn’t have a backpack on either, but she did have a smile, and I nearly fell over when I heard the words out of her mouth.
“Are you okay?” she asked in flawless English.
“What? Oh… y-yeah, I’m fine,” I struggled to say, not having heard a word of English since I’d arrived. My dad’s slurred speech didn’t count.
“Why are you crying?” she asked.
“I’m not crying!”
“Yes you are. Your eyes are all red.”
“No they’re not,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “I have to go to school now. Bye.”
“My name’s Keiko, what’s yours?” she asked as I walked past her.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” I said, remembering the only useful advice my dad ever gave me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Keiko apologized. “I thought we were friends.”
I stopped in my tracks. Friends? I hadn’t heard anyone say that word to me since Jessie’s seventh birthday at Chuck E Cheese, when I was told we weren’t friends. I turned around to face Keiko.
“Why are you speaking English?” I asked her.
“Same reason you are. I don’t belong here.”
“You mean you came from America too?”
“Kind of, but that was a while ago.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“Too long, I think,” she giggled. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Do you go to my school?” I asked. “I don’t remember seeing you.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“That’s too bad,” I sighed. “It’d be nice to have a friend who spoke English.”
“You don’t have any friends at school?”
“You know, when I first got here, I didn’t have any friends either. But now I have a bunch. Do you want to know how I found them?”
“Sure!” I said. Keiko grinned and reached into the pocket on her uniform. She slowly pulled out three gold-colored eggs.
“I used these,” she said, holding them in front of me with both hands.
“What are they?” I asked.
“Golden eggs, of course. Whenever I gave one of them to somebody, they became my friend. I have these three left over, so maybe they’ll work for you too.”
“But why will giving someone an egg make them my friend?”
“Because they’re golden eggs! Everybody likes gold. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s an egg.”
“I guess. But, then why are you giving them to me?”
“Because I want you to be my friend,” Keiko said with a smile. “So please take them so you can make some new friends too.”
I wanted to tell Keiko that she didn’t need to give me golden eggs to be my friend, but I didn’t want to be rude. I took all three from her and held them in my hands. They were light and freezing cold like ice cubes. I quickly stuffed them into my backpack.
“Thanks!” I said. “Do you think they’ll really work?”
“Are you my friend now?” she asked.
“Yeah, of course.”
“Well then the same thing will happen to whoever you give them to.”
“Thanks Keiko! I have to go now, but do you live nearby? Maybe we can see each other tomorrow?”
“I hope so. Good luck.”
I waved goodbye to Keiko and ran to school, getting there just as the bell rang. I was so excited about having met Keiko and getting the golden eggs that I didn’t even care about my teacher speaking to me in slow, broken English, or that the boy in the wheelchair started crying before our first class was even over. By lunchtime, he was still sniffling and hunched over his wheelchair tray. I decided to try out my first golden egg on him.
While everyone was eating at their desks, I went over to my backpack and took out one of the eggs. As the teacher opened the boy’s milk carton for him, I walked up and placed the egg on his tray. Instantly he stopped crying and stared down at it.
“This is for you,” I said, knowing he didn’t understand a word I was saying. But he didn’t need to understand my words. He slowly looked up at me. His eyes were glistening, not with tears, but something else.
“Sank yu,” he said in his Japanese accent. I’d never heard him say a word in any language before, and apparently neither had the teacher. She jumped and nearly spilled his milk.
For the rest of the day, wheelchair boy and I were inseparable. We spoke in a mixture of broken Japanese and English, and I learned that his name was Haruki, he liked video games, and the reason he cried all the time was because no one paid attention to him if he didn’t. He even let me win when we played musical chairs; he insisted to the teacher that his wheelchair didn’t count anymore. At the end of the day when everyone went home, Haruki waved goodbye to me before being wheeled away by the teacher, still clutching the golden egg.
When I got home, I knew who I wanted to give the second egg to. It had worked for Haruki, so maybe it would work on someone I wanted to be my friend even more: my dad. Instead of going to bed like I usually did, I waited up for him at the kitchen table, playing my Gameboy and spinning the golden egg around. At ten o’ clock, he finally showed up, alone, but still smelling like cigarettes.
“What are you doing up so late?” he asked as soon as he stepped in.
“I have something for you,” I said. Without wasting a second, I hopped off the chair, walked up to him, and handed him the golden egg.
“What’s going on here?”
“It’s a golden egg. It’s a present. From me. So that maybe you’ll be my friend.”
Dad just stood there, staring at me, eyes growing wider by the second. I wasn’t sure if he was going to take my egg, so I put it in his hand and wrapped his fingers around it. As soon as I did, he swooped down and threw his arms around me, burying his smoky head into my shoulder and leaking warm, wet tears into my shirt.
“I’m so, so sorry,” he said in a muffled voice. He raised his head up to face me and quickly wiped his eyes. “After your mother… left, I- I didn’t know what to do. I thought it’d be good for us to get away from all that. I thought that- oh who cares what I thought. I screwed up! I have you. And I don’t ever want to lose you like I lost your mom.”
I just stood there as dad smiled at me. He put the egg in his pocket, walked me to my bedroom, and tucked me in. I wasn’t sure if the egg had worked, but before dad shut off the light, he said that he was going to call out of work tomorrow and tell my school that I was sick, so we could hang out all day, just the two of us. He’d cook us a real pizza for breakfast, we’d go to the arcade together, and even rent a movie to watch over dinner too. I told him that sounded like fun, and after he turned out the light and walked out of my room, I saw the golden egg glimmer in his pocket.
The next morning, I told dad that I’d dropped something on my way home from school yesterday and wanted to go see if it was still there. I really just wanted to see Keiko again. Dad told me to be quick because he needed me to help make the pizza. I stuffed the last egg in my pocket, dashed out the apartment door, ran down the steps, and walked down the street I’d met Keiko on yesterday. She was there, standing in the same spot, with the same black uniform, smile, and blue eyes.
“Did you give away all the eggs?” she asked.
“I gave away two of them, and they really worked!”
“I’m glad to hear. But what about the last one?”
“Well, actually, I was kind of thinking about giving the last one to you, Keiko. If you still want to be my friend.”
“That’s very nice of you,” Keiko said, but then her smile vanished. “But, I’m sorry. I can’t take it right now.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because… I have a bit of a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“It’s a secret.”
“Please tell me,” I begged. “I want to help you.”
“Only if you’re sure.”
“I’m very sure. Just tell me what it is.”
Keiko took a deep breath before speaking. “Well, my problem is that… I’m in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I’ll show you.” She grabbed me by the arm and lead me down a street I’d never been on before. I glanced at my apartment before we turned the corner, hoping that dad wasn’t going to be mad if I was late for pizza.
Keiko and I walked and walked and walked. She turned down streets with fewer and fewer houses, and before long I was hopelessly lost. I hoped that she knew the way back. Eventually there were no more cars or people, just giant abandoned buildings. I felt like they were glaring at me with dark empty window eyes, and grinning with broken glass teeth.
“Keiko, where are we?”
“Don’t worry, we’re almost there. I promise.”
She lead me into an old factory. Our steps echoed through the giant, empty room. I coughed on the thick dust and spiderwebs that we walked through like a jungle. Finally, we reached a wall on the other side. Keiko stopped and looked at a locked metal panel. The light from one of the few windows was shining right on it. It looked like the door to a safe.
“Open it up,” Keiko whispered. I didn’t want to touch it, but I’d come this far with Keiko, and I wanted to help her. I reached to the handle, brushed off the cobwebs, squeezed the latch down, and opened it with a squeak.
The light from the window let me see what was inside, but I had no idea what I was looking at. It was just a small opening in the wall with a pile of blankets inside. Maybe I was supposed to see what was underneath them. I leaned in and pulled back the blanket on top.
I screamed when I saw it. There, lying underneath the blanket, was a tiny old Japanese woman. She was so wrinkled I didn’t know whether or not she was alive. As soon as I screamed, she took a giant gasp of a breath, pulled the blanket back up to her chin, and coughed.
“Keiko! What is this?” I yelled. I turned to face Keiko, but she wasn’t there. She was gone. She’d left me alone with this thing!
“Do you still… want to give me… the last egg?” came a crackly voice. I looked back inside and saw that the old woman had opened her eyes. They were blue.
“Keiko?” I asked, coming in closer. The old woman smiled and nodded her head. “What happened? What are you doing here?”
“I’ll tell you my story…. if you tell me…. yours,” she said with another cough. “Why don’t you hand me that egg… and tell me all about the…. friends you made with the other two.”
“What happened to you, Keiko? I don’t understand. You said you were in trouble but-”
“Please, just…. give me…. the egg.”
I didn’t know what else to do. I reached into my pocket and handed Keiko the egg. Her tiny fingers couldn’t even wrap all the way around it.
“Now, tell me all about…. the friends you made.”
“O-okay,” I stuttered. “Well, I gave the first egg to Haruki. He’s a boy in my class, and he’s in a wheelchair. He likes video games and he’s trying to learn English, I think. He’s really nice.”
“Very good,” Keiko said, without coughing this time. She sat up and pushed one of the blankets away. “What about the other egg?”
“I gave it to dad. We haven’t talked much since my mom left, but after I gave him the egg, he took today off from work and said we were going to have pizza for breakfast and go to an arcade.”
“Excellent,” Keiko said, sounding exactly like young Keiko. She kicked away the rest of the blankets and rubbed her face. When she was done, all of her wrinkles were gone. If it wasn’t for her being smaller and having gray hair, she would’ve looked exactly like she used to. “And what about the last egg?”
“I… I gave it to-” I had to stop to cough, “to you, Keiko. You were the first friend I made here and… and I wanted to… I just wanted to….” I couldn’t go on. I was short of breath. I felt like I’d just run a mile. My heart was beating wildly and I clutched my hand over my chest. I looked down and saw that my arm was horribly wrinkled. The veins were popping out and there were dark gray spots everywhere.
“Keiko… what’s… going on…” I gasped. Keiko smiled and stepped out of the opening. She was the same Keiko as before, only taller.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “The same thing happens to all of us.”
“What do you… mean… ‘us?'”
A cracking sound came from inside the opening. I looked over and saw that the golden egg had split open, revealing a yellow baby chick. It started chirping, but then quickly grew into a fat, clucking chicken. Seconds later the chicken fell over on its side, dead, and decayed into nothing but bones and feathers. It hadn’t even been alive for a minute.
“All the other eggs should be hatching about now,” Keiko explained. “The people you gave them to won’t want to be your friend anymore after seeing what was inside them. No friendship made with golden eggs lasts for very long. But don’t worry; you can try again later. The chicken bones will grow into three new golden eggs for you to give away.”
“Keiko… I don’t… understand,” I panted. Keiko, now towering over me, lowered her eyes and grinned.
“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to think about it.” She pushed me into the opening in the wall. I was too weak to fight back. Before I could catch my breath to yell, she’d already closed the metal door and locked me in.
“Now it’s your turn,” I heard her say through the door. “I hope you can find someone to take your place like I did. I really do. It took me a long time to find you though.”
I tried to scream for help or bang against the door, but I could barely even move my wrinkled hands. I could only listen to Keiko’s footsteps grow fainter and fainter, until they were gone. I tried to cry, but nothing came out. I didn’t even have my Gameboy.
(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)