Painting and Story by Lehan Winifred Ramsay
There wasn’t any way that I could find out why the grandmother decided to take her grandsons out of my school. Actually when I think about it it may well have been this scenario; that they stole money from her again, that she got tired of being nice to them and decided they needed a little more discipline; she was probably right. They had been given a “punishment” that was extraordinarily kind: they came to us and we talked to them about stuff that was interesting to them; I didn’t waste their time giving them stuff that was “good for them”, but rather an intelligent young man told them exciting stuff about history.
They stole from me and then found themselves paying guests in my home, treated respectfully. It must have been some shock to find themselves there. And then they lost that, not in a huge cruel transition of punishment, but rather a small slide into a business-like arrangement: we are now going to prepare you for your future, you will do better at school, our resources will now go into this.
I didn’t do what I did because I have some excess of charity. When I found my money missing I felt so dismayed; here I was about to open a school and there I was with a scandal. But I was thinking a lot about what I wanted my school to be. They used to have these “temple schools” in Japan, before state education was introduced. They were schools of and for the community. And what was the community if it wasn’t the experience of dealing with a problem with children?
I knew that things had just got a lot harder for me. But it wasn’t a challenge I was averse to taking on. I had my own problems with the community. So I tried, firstly by doing what I thought television and media and books and Japanese people had told me, going to the correct institutions and asking for their help; the police, the city hall. And when that didn’t work it wasn’t so serious because the kids themselves had come to me with the problem, and the grandmother too, and I could rely on their family to take ownership of the problem and just do what they wanted.
And it wasn’t just the kids that I liked; they say that kids resemble their grandparents more than their parents, and their grandmother too was very trustworthy. It was just that love of a mother that they didn’t have.
But back to my cat, now long dead. I had believed that he would die in my care, and I had believed that he would be buried in my garden, under a rock, and that when I did the gardening I would look at that rock and I would think of him.