Dear Neighbor, Please Don’t Die

Yesterday I thought my neighbor died.

Not to spoil the ending, but she is OK. Still kickin’ it with her TV at full volume. But she scared the sushi out of me and for some reason my reaction was intense enough that I feel like writing about it here.

Our neighbor is The Oldest Woman Alive. She is very tiny and when she speaks you can hear the wrinkles in her voice. Her name is Tanaka-san, and we introduced ourselves to her a few weeks ago when we moved in and brought her a box of mini cakes. Because old ladies should be allowed to eat all the cake they want.

Otherwise I rarely see Tanaka-san, though I’m constantly aware of her existence across the garden. Her house is 5 feet from ours and when the windows are open it is as if we are in the same building. I take solace in the fact that she is hard-of-hearing, so I don’t have to tip-toe or be too mindful of waking her from a nap. Good thing I like her enka music.

I have become accustomed to her schedule. Every morning she gets a call via intercom, someone from an Oldest Lady care facility checking in to say hello. Then in the afternoon she has a visitor from said care facility or gets picked up to take a walk wheelchair roll to the nearby Oldest Lady daycare center where she undoubtedly plays ring toss. At 5:28 every evening a bento is delivered to her door by a man too old to be riding a scooter. Evening means TV and enka.

Yesterday she didn’t answer her morning call. The intercom vibrated, “Tanaka-san? おはようございます! Tanaka-san? Good morning! Then a neighbor with a stern knock knock knock at the front door, and … nothing. No shrill response. No peeking through the straw shade. I began to worry.

About 5 minutes later I heard sirens. I thought, “Those sound close. No, they couldn’t possibly be for…” and with Tanaka-san’s phone on a constant ring-ring-riiiing the crew of rescure workers arrived. Like, 20 of them, running in-sync through our side street too small for their ambulance. The police swiftly followed, as did a staff person from the Oldest Lady care facility. I stood inside my house and chewed on my fingernails. No one could see me behind the screen which is behind the bushes, but I was waiting and straining to understand what they relayed into their walkie-talkies. I cursed my recent laziness from studying Japanese. Everyone stood outside my door which is outside her door and we waited.

Then suddenly the rescure workers left and only the police remained, which I thought was either a good sign or a very, very bad one.

And at last, the care worker breathes a よかった!It’s good!

From inside the house I hear a paramedic simply say, with a bit of a laugh, Good morning!

My heart was pounding during the entire ordeal. There was no need for an alarm clock — I was wide awake.

Though Tanaka-san has lived a long and hopefully fullfilling life, I’m not willing for her to go just yet. I’m rooting for her to make it another day, another year. She’s made it so far. Just a little further. She deserves more cake.

Life across the garden is quiet today, which makes me wonder, is tiny Tanaka-san embarrassed by the hubbub she caused? Certainly everyone in a 3-5 block radius heard it. Or did she have a minor stroke? Is she OK? I’m not sure, and I can’t ask. I can only wait, and wish her the best. Dear Tanaka-san, please don’t die.