SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig
"Your people skills are getting better."
The boarding house I can now refer to as home has five bedroom units inside and a shared kitchen and dining room. Some wrinkled looking lady with purplish gray hair gives us the tour in English, which I guess is all fine and dandy for an American and Irishman, but does jack for me. I just look where she points and stare back at her when she looks my way for my approval, and let Crawford do the smiling and talking. She doesn't seem to understand just what a creep he is, because she keeps tittering at what he says and touching his arm. It's kind of disturbing, really.
She hobbles up the stairs to the second floor and pushes a key into the first door we come across. I hear the lock clack and she turns the key over to Crawford before opening the door. There's a small step right inside, which I think is the stupidest thing ever invented. I can just see the future-me tripping on that step coming in or out and dying a very lame death right there in the doorway. I tell Crawford this and he sends me a surprised look.
"It's a genkan," he tells me, like that means anything. "You take your shoes off here."
I look at where the lady is already toeing out of her slippers. "Why?"
"Because you do," he answers. "Most houses have a main entrance downstairs, but this place is more of an apartment complex than a house, so the genkans are at individual suites. You're supposed to leave outside dirt outside of the apartment."
"Are you calling me dirty?"
"Farfarello," Crawford says imperiously, motioning for him to explain. He's already stepping out of his shoes to climb up into the apartment, but he leans down to turn them around before moving out of the way for Farfarello.
"Farfarello?" I ask, turning expectantly on him.
"When this starts making sense, I'll let you know," is the redhead's muttered response, but he follows suit and leaves me behind alone by the door. I look up at the three- rather, up at the two weirdoes and across at the landlady, who's too short for the extra inches to do much more than put her on eye level with me.
The lady is watching us with a curious look on her face and I realize she can't understand. I feel utterly superior and offer her a snide smirk. Now she knows how it feels to be left out of conversations. She starts rattling at Crawford in Japanese and he answers back, and I wonder if he's translating. "Can she understand German?" I want to know, cutting right into their conversation.
"No," Crawford answers.
I paste a wide smile on my face and look back at the landlady. "You're a fat cow," I tell her. She titters and touches Crawford's arm. "I like her," I decide. "We can keep her."
"I knew you would approve."
"Your 'I know everything' attitude gets old really fast," I warn him, stepping up.
Crawford pushes me back down. "Shoes, Schuldig." He considers that a moment and smiles at me, amused. "Shoes, Schuldig."
"Not funny," I send back, and kick off my shoes. Everyone else has left theirs here but I tuck mine under my arm and bring them with me. Farfarello eyes me at the move but the other two don't say anything, and the squat tie-dye haired lady shows off the place. The first thing I notice is the distinct lack of beds and I file that complaint with Crawford to pass on. Instead of him demanding to know what the big idea is from our failure of a landlady, he just looks back at me.
"The beds are put away."
"Put away," I echo. He says something to the lady and she wanders over to a chest, opening it up to show me wads of blankets. "And I suppose we pry the bed frames from the table legs," I say, but she's already laying out the blankets on the floor in a demonstration. I just stare at her pancake-flat excuse of a bed and I can already feel my back knotting up. "Oh, hell no. Even in Germany I always had a bench. I'm not sleeping on the floor."
"It's comfortable," Crawford tells me.
"Suck my nuts. I'm not sleeping on the floor."
"You're rather spoiled for a hobo," Farfarello remarks.
The landlady is the perfect picture of concern and dismay; she doesn't need to speak German to know that I Do Not Approve. "I want a bed," I insist, holding my hands out and moving them in what I believe to be a very respectable mime of a bed frame. "A bed. Four legged thing. Like this. Why don't you speak German?"
"We're in Japan," Crawford reminds me mildly. "You should speak Japanese."
"I don't speak Japanese!" I stomp my foot at him and the lady makes a grabbing motion at the floor, looking upset that I'm stomping on her crunchy straw-wannabe stuff. Worried about the floor, not me. Worried about the precious floor and why won't you ever just look at me—
Crawford's hand is on my wrist before I even realize I'm moving to strike her, and the lady cowers back away from me with wide eyes. I taste cobwebs and bite down on my tongue. Farfarello doesn't seem to notice that anything's wrong; he's gone over to inspect the bed. Crawford's expression is perfectly blank as he stares at me and somehow, somehow it's almost more frightening than his smile. I drag my eyes away from the woman to meet his stare but my toes curl in my socks at the sheer weight of such a blank stare.
"Not her," Crawford informs me, expression relaxing back into something familiar. "Other people. Not her. She's our landlady. Say you're sorry."
"I'm not sorry. I want a bed," I say petulantly, cobwebs forgotten.
Crawford's fingers relax a little around my wrist, not enough for me to pull away but enough to let some blood back into my fingers, and they throb at the sudden rush of warmth. It sends needle pains down my arm like the prickling of ant legs and my arm gives an involuntary shudder, trying to shake them off. I slap a hand against my arm and check but there's nothing there, and I look back at Crawford. "Tell her to give me a bed or I'm going home."
It's a rather empty threat considering that I don't know how I'd get back off this island back to Germany, but he seems stupid enough that such a thing will work. Indeed, his expression tightens in worry. "A bed isn't part of rent," he tells me. "I will buy you a bed instead."
The landlady offers up a cautious query. Crawford answers and she's all smiles again, easily recovering from the near-miss. She shuffles forward to pat my arm a couple times, rattling something up at me, and offers a conspiratorial wink. Crawford looks pleased and looks back at me. "She likes you," he tells me. "Your people skills are getting better."
I'm starting to think I'm the only sane one around here. It makes me feel claustrophobic and I hope it's not contagious. Crawford lets go of my hand and I take advantage of the freedom to move to a clear spot of the room, mentally marking off a boundary line around me to keep their madness cooties out. They don't mourn my absence and go back to talking, but the words sound more like English now and they must be, since Farfarello has a few things to add here and there. At last the lady goes away, leaving the three of us alone, and Crawford rubs his hands together.
"This is going to be grand," he declares. "Let's sleep."
"Sleep?" I echo. "I slept the whole way here."
"Most of the way," he corrects me.
"It's the afternoon."
"It's morning here, actually."
I frown at him. "We left in the morning."
He counts off on his fingers. "And sixteen hours of flight time plus a change in time zones…"
"It's not morning."
"It's morning," Farfarello reassures me.
"Even more reason not to sleep," I send back.
"Not everyone slept on the way here," he tells me.
"I'm wide awake. I'm hungry. I want to eat." Crawford holds his hand out to Farfarello, who passes over a wallet. I immediately abandon my safety zone in favor of heading over to his side, and he hands me a stack of bills. I scowl at them, turning them this way and that. "Is this a joke? This isn't money."
"It's yen," Crawford says patiently. "It's Japanese money. We exchanged money at a bank in Ireland."
I hold the money out at Farfarello, waiting for him to call Crawford's bullshit, but he just nods. I look back at the money. "This is mine now," I inform him. He nods and I eye him suspiciously. "I'm not giving any of it back, not a single pfennig."
"It's yen," he says, still patient.
"Whatever." I stuff the money in my shoe.
"You can buy food with it," Crawford tells me with a nod. "Moriyama can recommend a place. Farfarello and I are going to sleep."
"I don't speak Japanese," I remind him. "Tell her to speak German to me."
He just beams and goes to lay out a second bed. I look over at Farfarello, who's tugging on his short hair and eyeing the American. He says something in English and Crawford answers back cheerfully, and I scowl at them as I start for the door. Rude bastards, speaking something they know I can't understand. It sounds like an interesting argument: Crawford, quite pleased, and Farfarello, vaguely annoyed. I put my shoes on before I reach the stupid gen-whatsit and grind my heels into the floor before stepping out into the hall.
I find the landlady in the kitchen and stare her down from the doorway. She says something cheerful in Japanese, then tries again in English. I think of the argument upstairs that my so-called teammates cut me out of and point at her. "Teach me English," I say.
"English?" she asks, pointing at me.
I'm offended. "German."
"Doitsujin," is her ready response.
"Teach me English. Don't you speak any German at all?"
"Japanese?" she offers.
"Fuck it." I point at my mouth. "I want food. Food. Hungry. Get it?"
She pats her stomach. "Hungry," she announces, but the pronunciation is a little off.
"No. Hungry." I just stare at her and she smiles, looking delighted. I wonder if she's related to Crawford or something; she has that same idiotic glee on her face. "English!" she tells me proudly. "Hungry."
I realize then why there was a different pronunciation coming out of her mouth and I scowl at her. "No, don't teach me English right now. Teach me it later. I want food now. Food. I'm hungry, dammit."
"Hungry dammit," she echoes in perfect German.
"Old ladies shouldn't curse," I tell her.
"Hungry dammit," she says again, beaming.
There must be shared genes somewhere. "Whatever," I say, pushing away from the doorway. "I'll go get lost by myself, you useless old bat."
She seems to get the hint, because I'm almost at the front door when she catches up with me. She tugs on my sleeve and points at her stomach. "Hungry?" she asks.
"Duh," I tell her.
She jabbers away, patting my arm, and precedes me out the door. I just blink after her before following, and she waits for me at the curb for me to catch up. She keeps up a running monologue as we walk, pointing out houses to either side of us. It means absolutely nothing to me and I tell her so, but she just nods in response to my aggravated protests and keeps going. I'm pretty sure we've walked across Japan by the time she stops in front of a place smelling of food and my stomach eats its way up into my throat at the delicious smells.
I pry off my shoe and shake the money out, turning the bills this way and that as I try to figure out how much Crawford gave me. In the end I decide it doesn't matter, because he said it would be enough. It's ridiculous to trust a madman but I came this far with him, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this. I wriggle my foot back into my shoe and turn to the landlady, but she's already gone. It takes me a moment to spot her a good distance down the sidewalk, shuffling her way back to the boarding house, and I realize then that I have no clue how I'm supposed to get back. It's almost enough that I chase after her because I've had practice dealing with hunger but I don't fancy the idea of getting lost in a place like this.
"Hey!" I yell after her, and she lifts one arm in a wave without looking back. "You're a rotten landlady! Your apartments stink! You don't even have beds! Japan sucks!"
She just keeps going, oblivious, and I look back at the restaurant longingly. I've started to turn away when the door opens and the girl from earlier comes bouncing out onto the sidewalk. She's still got her backpack on but Nagi's nowhere in sight. I think I hear him jingle, though. She looks surprised to see me but surprise gives way to delight.
"Hello! You are Crawford's friend!" she declares in overenthusiastic- if stilted- German.
I point at her. "You speak German."
"I learn!" she answers cheerfully. "I am good, yes?"
"I want food." I show her my money.
"Oh!" I can hear the exclamation point in almost everything she says. "Okay! Let's eat! Go!" With that she turns around and goes right back through the sliding glass doors. I follow after her and she takes a stool, patting the one beside her eagerly. "This is Yoshinoya. Can you say Yoshinoya?"
"Can you say I'm too hungry to care what this place is called?"
"No!" She waves a finger at me. "You say Yoshinoya. I teach you Japanese. Crawford said so. You say Yoshinoya."
"Yoshinoya feed me," I send back.
"Good! Very good!" She calls out to the waiter and he starts our way, and she turns to point out a sign on the while. "Which do you want? To eat?"
"Your German sucks."
"My German is good!" she retorts. "Your Japanese is bad. Very bad." She turns to say something to the waiter and points at the sign again, looking expectantly at me. I finally point, not bothering to name any of the pictures because I can't tell what any of it is. I let her decide what I'm pointing at and she tells the waiter, who vanishes. We turn back to the counter and she pats the countertop between us. "You are new to Japan," she says. "Never been to Japan before. Yes?"
"No you've been to Japan?"
"No I've never been here."
"Yes you've never been here."
"Does that make any sense to you in your scrambled pretence of a brain?"
She looks lost. "I don't understand."
"I said you're stupid."
"I am not," she tells me, offering out her hand. I give in and shake it and she smiles. "We will be friends."
"That was a useless word to learn."
"I am Tot," she says, and for a moment, I can just blink at her, stumbling over the wording. She can't be serious that it's her name, but she's not exactly saying that she's dead, either. "You are?"
She giggles at that. "You are funny."
"Do you even know what 'Tot' means?" I ask her, sending her a sidelong look.
"That is why you are funny, Schuldig," she answers sweetly.
My food shows up and I opt to ignore her in favor of stuffing my face. 'Tot' gets herself a drink and sits there sipping on it and I decide not to ask what it is, since it's this lukewarm green color, kind of like pee that's molded or something. She leaves me alone while I eat and I end up ordering a second bowl. She proves to be a little useful when she helps me sort through the bills to pay and she shows me each of the ones Crawford gave me while I'm waiting on my change. I listen as she tells me their names and amounts and she brushes away my demand to have the amounts converted to something I can understand.
"Everything in Japan is yen," she tells me. "Think in yen."
"Don't tell me what to do."
She swings her legs this way and that and the waiter gives me a handful of coins. Tot immediately tries to go over those but I stuff them in my pocket. She shrugs and smiles. "Now what should we do?" she wants to know. "We should shop! I will buy new shoes." She lifts a foot up to show me her glittering sandals and then looks at my clothes. "You will buy new clothes. Those are bad. Very bad."
"Your attitude sucks."
"We go!" she tells me, hopping off her stool. I consider kicking her over, but seeing as how I don't know how to get back to the boarding house and the other two are just sleeping anyway, I guess I don't have much of a choice. She thrusts her fists into the air when I get to my feet. "Yaaaaaaay! Let's go!"
She skips off to the door, backpack jingling the whole way, and I have to hurry to keep up with her. A plane ticket back to Germany is looking more attractive by the minute.
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