Monday, 27 August 2007

A Few Minutes of My Time

"Mary, come over here and interpret for me, would you?" my friend Linda called anxiously. I looked over my shoulder and saw that she was being interviewed by several youths with a video camera. She was obviously struggling to explain herself in Japanese.

We had taken our toddlers to play in the park earlier. As the camera-carrying lads were casually dressed in jeans and tee shirts, I figured they must be students who were interviewing people as some sort of classroom assignment. I waddled over to see what was going on, though I was more than a little leery of the cameras: I had good reason to be.

Five months pregnant, I looked awful. My hair was a bushy mess, I hadn't managed to wash my face that morning, and I was wearing my husband's old denim jacket from which my sumo-esque pregnant belly protruded like a watermelon. Some pregnant women manage to look all glowing and fashionable when they are growing their babies. I just looked sloppy and tired.

"What do you want to know?" I wheezed, and they slowly trained the camera on me. "We'd just like a few minutes of your time," one of the men said, holding up a microphone. "We're interested in people's painful experiences," he explained. "Tell us about your most painful experience." I turned to Linda and duly translated this for her benefit.

"Physical pain?" she wanted to know, and when I asked them they nodded. "Yes, physical pain. We're not interested in heartbreak."

"That's easy," Linda exclaimed fervently. "Having a baby!" I provided the Japanese for this, and the man with the camera followed our every move. "How about you?" one of the men asked me, and the camera and microphone swiveled my way.

"Yep -- childbirth would be my answer too," I burbled, eyeing them curiously. They looked impossibly young with their jeans, tee shirts and fashionable haircuts, and I had half a mind to ask what year they were in at university. But instead, I waxed lyrical on the subject of childbirth. It's not every day people ask you about this, after all. I didn't get into the real nitty-gritty; I will always be grateful for that. But I said enough. The main interviewer asked me point-blank if I hadn't learned my lesson, given my obvious pregnancy, and I burst out laughing. "Obviously I haven't!" I crowed, and the camera dipped down to cover my enormous pregnant belly. Not that there was any way you could miss it.

They spent about five minutes filming and recording us. Once I got past my initial embarrassment, I really enjoyed that camera, the thrill of being the center of attention. Why not go along with it, I reasoned. Only a handful of people were ever going to see me in all my pregnant glory, after all, and being asked my opinion and given a chance to express myself ad nauseam was like a dream come true. Linda rather enjoyed it too. She and I never managed to ask the boys what college they attended or what class they were making the film for. Then we forgot all about it.

Some six weeks later, I got on the train to go to work one morning in June and noticed that people were staring at me. I discretely checked my face for traces of jam or butter, but no, it was perfectly clean. When I got off at my stop in Tokyo, more people stared at me. I put it down to being hugely pregnant, but it still felt strange.

At the YWCA, where I went for my pre-work swim, one of the ladies approached me in the pool. "You were on television last night, weren't you?" she asked. "No," I said, smiling. "But you were!" she said. "It looked just like you!" In Japan, I was often confused with other Caucasian women who were younger, older, shorter, darker, fatter, thinner. So the penny didn't drop until one of the women said, "But you were talking about pain. You and your friend. You were talking about heartburn and childbirth and how awful they were." Suddenly I stopped smiling. Oh God. Oh please, no.

"I had heartburn when I was pregnant too," one of the women told me. "So did I," said another woman. "And my feet were swollen. Plus, I screamed my head off and I didn't care who heard me, so you shouldn't feel ashamed about that!" I turned to look at her. "Did I say that?" I asked faintly. "Yes," she said, "and it was all so funny! My husband and I laughed and laughed. I'm going to tell him that I met you today! I told him I thought you were a YWCA member, and he was very impressed!"

The boys with the camera equipment, it turned out, had worked for NHK, the Japanese national broadcasting corporation.

The people at work had seen it too. So had half of the people on the train coming home. Months later, Japanese friends in Wales and the U.S. were calling us: they'd seen me on satellite. "We were sure surprised to see you on national television!" they all said. "Were you really only five months along? You looked huge!"

My brief moment of fame and I hadn't even brushed my hair.


Brian said...

Wild hair ( what there was of it ! ) the bushiest of beards, and eyes popping out from under huge eyebrows as part of a frenetic scene -- pictures that stayed up in the theatre bar from a good many months . Falstaff was incarnated if only in looks . Oh yes , and a full length photo appeared as part of a special theatre exhibition at the Sydney Opera House .
A giant tub of guts, but fortunately not all mine own !
Not sure I wanted people to have a permanent record of me like that !
Then , would you believe one of our art students painted a portrait of me in the role !

Ah , fame ! slightly mre than fifteen minutes .


Kim Ayres said...

Love it :)

Carole said...

You probably looked wonderful and more importantly you probably didn't sound stupid. Had you known it was going to go over the entire world, you might have been practiced, pedicured, and polished instead of real.

I never gained weight until my 6th month of pregnancy and then about 20 pounds a month. One baby I gained 70 pounds with and not an ounce before the 6th month. Then I looked a bit like a shooting star trying to find the earth.

Carolie said...

THANK you! I've had a rough couple of days, and though I am an avid fan of your blog, I also was a little afraid to check for a new post, as the smallest poignant story might trigger more waterworks than I want to deal with right now.

But you, oh lovely writer, provided me with a much-needed laugh instead. Thank you!

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- How wonderful to be immortalized, even for a short time, in an exhibition at the Sydney Opera House!

And lucky you that the gut wasn't all your own. Arguably, mine wasn't really all mine either, but it felt like it. During both of my pregnancies, I could have won an award for biggest belly. After my second daughter was born, one of my colleagues told me several times that he was amazed to see I had a waist. So was I, really.

Kim -- I am glad you liked this story. At the time, I told myself there would be a silver lining: some day I could bore others with the tale.

Carole -- Oh, I was as real as it got! I wasn't even sure that what was visible of my shirt didn't have oatmeal on it. I never had the courage (or the television) to see myself on the screen, but others assured me that it wasn't too bad. But they were laughing at the time, so I didn't entirely trust them.

I love your description of your pregnant self! They say that the duckbill platypus is proof that God has a sense of humor; personally, I think that pregnant women make this argument compelling.

Carolie -- I am sorry to hear about your difficult time, but glad to know that my story cheered you up. I'm also glad that I decided not to write about my cat and the neighbor's hamster...

I really hope that things improve for you, though I know from personal experience how long and painful grieving can be.

But if you ever need more cheering up, I have a real wealth of stories like this to draw from -- just let me know!

Kady said...

That's friggin' hilarious :D

Carolie said...

Yes, yes, yes! I'm a pig...I want more stories, and if telling you I'm down gets me more stories, then I'm down! I'm down!

Hee hee hee!

Mary Witzl said...

Kady -- Thank you for stopping by my blog! I visited yours earlier and hope to go back again. I have nothing but respect for working mothers of small children, having been there and done that, so to speak.

Carolie -- You really shouldn't encourage me, but the truth is, nothing pleases me more! Though of course, if my eldest were to go and do the dishes, then clean up the dead mouse in the conservatory and wheel in the garbage bin, that would come close...