When I first did the English Cafe during lunch time, a small girl came up to try out her English with her friend. Small and excited as she was to speak to a foreigner, she kept her composure as she spoke to me in broken English and body language. She tried to get her friend, a little taller, a little absent-minded looking, a really funny character, to talk to me, too, and would scold her friend for not recognizing a simple “How are you?”
I asked her one day what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A scientist!” she said. What kind of scientist? “A scientist that studies genomes.” I taught her the phrase “cell biology.” She was in the Super Science High School club.
Throughout the school year, I would often see her with a mask. She was allergic to pollen. At one point, I didn’t see her for a week. Her homeroom teacher said she got a stomach bug. When she came back, you could see that she had significantly lost weight. But she was happy to be at school and around her friends. Only, as time went by, she would miss more days of school, so she had to catch up on her own time, and I saw her alone more often. She had to leave SSH club because she couldn’t commit to all the extra time needed for activities. But she kept up a smile, and would always be happy to see me.
I found out that she loves to read, but when I asked if she wrote, she said no, so I encouraged her to write her own stories. She settled for home economics club, but when I asked if she enjoyed it, she was tepid in her response. During the summer, I found her working on a yukata, made from scratch. The fabric and pattern was beautiful, white with blue flowers. Simple, but impressive. She’s making it for the school festival.
In the middle of a pause in our conversation, she asked me the difference between “cute” and “pretty”. I told her, “cute” is 可愛い, and “pretty” is きれい. I added that “beautiful” is another level higher, and that it’s 美しい。To help her remember via association, I asked her what she thought was 可愛い、cute.
She told me that snakes are cute.
I knew I liked this kid! I love getting unexpected answers! She told me that their eyes are cute, that they’re completely black, with no whites around them. I thought, “Huh, I grew up thinking that beady eyes aren’t cute,” which was probably why I was was surprised.
So what’s pretty? “Snow is pretty. Flowers…” What’s beautiful? “Hmmm… trees… mountains…” She takes a moment to really think about it.
And then she gestures to me and says, “Beautiful!”