Ever since my father heard the song ‘A Boy Named Sue,” he greets me with “Hello, is this my boy named Tsu?” He never gets tired of the joke. At first, I got annoyed with him about it, but now I barely notice him saying it. In Japanese, the T is silent when it comes before the S. My name is therefore pronounced Suneo.

Ever since my father heard the song ‘A Boy Named Sue,” he greets me with “Hello, is this my boy named Tsu?” He never gets tired of the joke. At first, I got annoyed with him about it, but now I barely notice him saying it. In Japanese, the T is silent when it comes before the S. My name is therefore pronounced Suneo.

I have not seen my father face-to-face for over a year. I came to England to study English and to teach Japanese. My father bought me the apartment. The arrival of the pandemic meant he could not visit. The pandemic did me a favour. I love my father, but he is overbearing and tries to control me. My mother died just after my ninth birthday. My relatives say he spoils me; this is true. He does give me everything I ask for, but he has his own demands. He expects to speak to me three times a day. He wants to know what I ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. He asks what I have bought. Things he approves of me buying are technology, fitness equipment, and Japanese food. He hates it if I buy books that aren’t factual; he thinks fiction is a waste of time. This is too bad; I love science fiction and fantasy. If I say I’ve eaten pasta or sausage and mash (two of my favourites), he tells me I will get fat, which is ridiculous. I tell him everything because I don’t see why I shouldn’t. He needs to know I am my own person; I don’t have to please him all the time.

“Who did you meet today?” This is one of his favourite questions. He goes to a coffee shop every morning, where he drinks a bowl of mushroom soup for breakfast. He would love it if I did that too. He meets with his friends there, Iwao and Rokuro; they are both a few years younger than him, which is a good thing, I think. I have developed a liking for Coco Pops, marmalade on toast, and pain au chocolat. There is so much to choose from. As a child, my breakfast consisted of steamed rice and fish every day. It was ok, but once you are let loose in the world, I personally believe it is important to have as many experiences as possible. At weekends, I go to a greasy spoon café, where I eat a different kind of cooked breakfast every time. Last Saturday I ate sausages, eggs, baked beans, and hash browns; on Sunday I had a bacon roll with grease dripping down the sides and lots of ketchup. I love ketchup.

“I went to the library; I met a lady who likes the same kind of books I do.”

“So, there is more than one of you who likes to read nonsense?” He teases me. “What does she do? Does she come from a good family? Did she look strong and fit?”
“Chichi, we talked about Isaac Asimov and Terry Pratchett. I didn’t ask her such personal questions!” He would love it if I found a girlfriend. I’ve never had anyone special, and it worries him. The truth is, I’m not that interested. A girl would not enhance my life right now; I don’t want to have to worry about someone else. The truth is, I am afraid she would nag me like my father does.
“You will need someone to look after you one day, you’ll see.”

My father dated a few ladies while I was growing up. I didn’t like any of them. Haia, like her name suggests, did everything quickly and expected me to keep up. Her impatience made me nervous. Chuya had a thing about pinching my cheeks and hugging me. I know she meant to be kind, but it made me feel like a baby. Emica went through old photos of my mother and started styling her hair in the same way and wearing similar types of clothing and shoes. Her own original style included drab grey colours and training shoes, but while she dated my father, she started to wear bright colours, grew her hair to shoulder length, and curled it up at the ends. Chichi told her it was creeping him out, and she took offence and cut off the relationship. He did have a habit of picking odd kinds of women. Well, in my opinion, but what does the opinion of a young boy count? He never asked me what I thought; I just had to put up with whoever came through the door.

In my teens, I escaped to my friends’ houses, and sometimes I wouldn’t go home for days. Their home lives seemed much more normal to me. Poor Chichi. I understand him a little better now that I am a man myself, but I think his dating experiences have put me off the idea of having a girlfriend.

“I did see a lady peeping out of the post room door when I went to put the rubbish out.” There are big communal bins in the car park in the basement of the apartment block. “There was a man in his car who had the speaker phone on. I think she was trying to listen to his conversation.”

“Oh, did you listen to it too?”
“No, I’m not interested in listening to other people’s conversations.”
“You never have any interesting gossip to tell me!”
“You have Iwao and Rokuro to give you gossip, I am too busy with my studies to worry about what other people are up to.”
“Their gossip is always the same; I am tired of it. Nothing ever happens here. I want to get a flight and come and see you.”
“OK, Chichi, let me know when. I have to go; I have some emails to answer.”

I terminate the call. He would chat with me all day if he could. The truth is, I did watch the lady from the post room follow the man who’d been sitting in the car talking. She peered around a corner, watching him go to apartment no. I wondered if she might be his wife at first, but when he went inside, she scurried off towards the stairs. If I’d told my father this, he’d go on and on about it, so it’s better not to. It did make me wonder about them both, but the truth is, all sorts of things go on around this apartment block. I did wonder about writing a book about some of the things I see, but I am so busy with my studies and learning about this fascinating city that I don’t want to commit to it. Perhaps a diary would be easier to keep up with. I’ll think about it.

For now, I need to call a man who contacted me online. He wants me to teach him some basic Japanese phrases as he is going to Tokyo on holiday in a few weeks. My father will be pleased that I am going to earn some money; he has been telling me for a while that it’s time I found more clients. I taught a few people via Zoom during the pandemic, but they lost interest because they couldn’t see how they’d ever get to Japan to try out what they were learning. Happily, things are beginning to change for the better, so with a bit of luck, they will come back to me.

I open the blinds, and to my astonishment, there is a parrot sitting on the balcony, staring back at me. Slowly I slide open the doors, and suddenly he shrieks, “Roll your eyes, dumbo; you might spot a brain in that thick skull of yours, if you are lucky.”

More stories from the Apartment Block series below.





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Author: Petra Kidd

Norfolk UK is my home, I live in Norwich by the River Wensum where everyday there is something different to see and learn. I feel a big affinity with the river as I grew up in Cambridge, another great river city. My childhood and teens involved many walks along the Cam where we would watch 'The Bumps,' raft races and as we grew older we enjoyed adventures on our punting pub crawls. Growing up in a multi cultural university city definitely influenced my reading choices, I am a big fan of Japanese fiction, love French literature and enjoy Shakespeare. As a young teen I entertained myself with Jilly Cooper and Dick Francis and then became quite obsessed with Henri Charriere's Papillon. At school all I cared about was English, Art and French, in that exact order. When I finished with school I went to live and work in Greece for a wonderful year before returning to study English Literature and Sociology. At this point I read more classics like the Wyf of Bath, Wuthering Heights and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man plus poets such as Wilfred Owen. My first UK full time job was with Heffer's Paperbacks where I devoured several books at a time, excited by the fact I could borrow what I liked. Bizarrely for me I remember reading The Zurich Axioms, I have no interest in the stock markets but it had me gripped. I can't remember why I picked it up but I have never forgotten it. Heffers introduced me to so many authors, via their books and sometimes in person. It was here I learned about all the genres, it fascinated me that science fiction and horror were so popular, I tried reading it all. Aside from writing letters, it didn't really ever occur to me to write anything myself for many years as I worked my way through a variety of interesting and varied jobs. Then on a visit to the London Aquarium I became struck by an idea so powerful I sat down and wrote my first novel. It went nowhere as really I wrote it because I wanted to. I wrote another novel and again, didn't have the persistance or determination to take it further, I simply enjoyed the process of writing and my characters. Then years later another idea struck me and during a severe bout of Pleurisy where I couldn't do anything physical for months, I wrote the Eight of Swords and The Putsi. This time I published them as ebooks and they became pretty popular. When I fully recovered, I had to concentrate on my business and looking after my mother who has various health issues and the writing went adrift again for many years until 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world. March 2020 I moved to my apartment alongside the Wensum to live alone for the first time ever. During the first lockdown I began to write a diary and then the idea for a new set of short stories came to me and in February 2021 they will be published. The Covid-19 Pandemic is not simply a scary virus, it is a historical time and here we are trying to live through it. To many it will feel like a punishment but to me as a writer, in some ways, it came as a gift. Please stay as safe and as well as you can. I hope to entertain you with my stories as we all try to get through this together, even though we are apart. Petra

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