I knew a girl once, at primary school, who told me one afternoon while we were having lunch that if I visited her one day, we could go to Japan for a day and visit her father.
She was insistent that you could do that, so easily.
‘Easy,’ she said. She was half Japanese, and her name was Jasmine.
‘I don’t think you can do that,’ I said, cautiously. ‘Don’t you think you would have to fly there on a plane? And it’s terribly far away.’
At that time, at the age of nine, Japan was far off and oriental to me. A land of mystery and romance. It was not mentioned in any of the books I devoured, which, at the time, were all 1940s-50s classics about Western children who dressed well and had adventures, and a charming Canadian girl with Titian red hair. Japan, to me, was unknown, therefore un-interesting.
‘Oh, but you can!’ she was nodding wildly, her mane of thick black glossy hair falling over her smooth caramel skin.
‘My father is from there. He always says I should go and see him for a day, and we can have so many adventures. And they put up red dragon flags everywhere and we can eat dumplings. And I can give you a red silk gown so you won’t feel out of place. Tell your mom, she will drop you off at my place and we will be back in no time.’
I half believed her, because she was so earnest. After all, why shouldn’t it be true? There was nothing to suggest its implausibility. And Jasmine was so adamant that she had done this several times. The idea appealed to me; I stared up at the copy of leaves above the school playground and dreamed I could go with her. How exciting. And her father sounded so child friendly and accommodating.
When I told my mother about it later, I heard my voice sound just as adamant as Jasmine’s; it was my dream just as much as hers now, and I would not let my mother dampen it for me by telling me it wasn’t real.
‘But you can go and visit her, of course. I shall certainly want to see her mother again.’
We never did go. I don’t know why. I heard on the grapevine, and by grapevine I mean the chatter of adults unaware of childish ears eavesdropping, that her parents were divorced and her father had deserted his children.
As an adult, that explained Jasmine’s sad eagerness to visit him in Japan for an afternoon.
But you know, I will never forget that magic in her black eyes, dancing and alive, truly believing in what she was saying. So strong I believed it too, and hoped so hard for her. We all need coping mechanisms.