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Sport 17: Spring 1996

Ingrid Horrocks — The Missionary Position

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Ingrid Horrocks

The Missionary Position

That afternoon the weather had just become warm enough to sit on the balcony. I sat on the kitchen floor with my legs out the door. Reading. Lizzie was singing, ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ She often did when she wore Rapunzel plaits. She saw the fair head first.

—Cath, Cath, look!

He was disappearing into the apartment building opposite.

We jumped down our stairs, high on the thought of speaking English and ran across the road. I knocked on a door on the first floor. First came the apologies of my Japanese voice, an octave higher than my English one.

—Do any gaijin live here? I asked.

The woman in a flour whitened apron, said,

Hai, hai. Nodding.—Four handsome gaijin men live upstairs.

Four men? Four handsome gaijin?We bounced up the stairs and it was Lizzie's turn. One, two, three, four men appeared at the door. We babbled in the genkanwhere they kept their shoes. We suggested going out for a drink or lunch or dinner. We could swap music and books.

They spread, blocking the doorway. Behind them we could see a pile of blue books leaning against the wall. Arms crossed in midair for handshakes. They looked twenty, our age, but they wore suits.

—Are you from the States? we asked though their accents made it obvious.

—Yeah, we're Americans.

—We're from New Zealand.

—New Zealand?

—You know, just below Australia.

You get used to explaining.

—Oh, so you're Pacific Islanders.

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—Well, you could say that.

Our ‘come over for coffee sometime’ hints flew over them.

—Ummmm, they said. —Ah … we can't really do that. We're … mm … Mormon missionaries.

From our apartment we looked across the road and straight into their window. The danchi which they lived in was the grey twin of ours, both part of a huge family lined up with skinny streets squeezed in between. The Mormons' box in the air was one level higher than ours. Above our heads and under our feet lived families of three and four and five.

Our balcony was our garden. We put our stereo in the doorway and danced. Lizzie wrote out the words of songs so I could sing with her.

Many evenings saw us Mormon-watching. We sat on the balcony and waited for them to come home on their bicycles in pairs, as they did late each evening. Sometimes they even took their ties off.

—Look Lizzie, look look look. It's the tall one.

—He's not, no, he can't be … he's not talking his tie off is he?

She danced around as though at a strip show. Up came her jersey, slowly, slowly. The shirt. One button at a time …

—And the question everyone would like to know is … I intoned in a racecourse voice. —Do missionaries ever really take their clothes off?

—What's he doing now? Lizzie came to the door beside me.

—Look another one's come in. He's going to see us.

I jumped behind the curtain but he looked across and saw Lizzie. She held her shirt closed with one hand and waved with the other. I came out and waved too. The tieless one laughed but the other one just pulled the curtains.

They never forgot to close the curtains.

Then one day the two Mormons who lived in the room that faced us knocked on our door, shook our hands, and said that we could call them Elder Lancrose and Elder Bingham. Safely encased in suits they sat down at our kotatsu. the knee-high table in the middle of the living-room, and refused our offer of tea.

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The rules had been relaxed and they could now visit female ‘investigators’ in their homes. ‘Investigators of Mormonism’, apparently, that was us. Of course we must never enter their apartment, Elder Lancrose explained, and they never left their apartment except in pairs.

A picnic? They said that should be all right.

—Shall we meet you on Sunday afternoon? we asked.

—No, Elder Lancrose replied. —You come to church with us. After that we can go on the picnic.

At church Elder Lancrose translated the sermon. Elder Bingham told me I reminded him of his little sister and showed me photos of his family. Then we cycled along a raised road which picked its way through rice paddies. People bent over in wide-brimmed hats in the wet. We ate in a field framed by persimmon trees, two young women and two men in suits and sunglasses. We smiled for a photo of our double date and sang them the Mormon song:

There's a Mormon in there,
and a bible as well,
with prayers to pray,
and stories to tell.
Come over here,
we'll look and peer.
It's Mormon time.
It's Mormon time.

Elder Lancrose's laugh was awkward and short. He suggested that the best thing to do would be to start at the very beginning with formalised lessons. But we wanted to know how they believed, not what.

One evening Elder Bingham, David, cooked us a Japanese meal. He said he liked R.E.M. We rewound the tape to ‘Losing my religion’. In their two years as missionaries there must be no music, no news-papers, no books, no women … those things are unnecessary and distracting.

They thought our accents were ‘cute’. We asked them about the page 81 missionary position on sex. Then we told them about Friday nights dancing in Tokyo. We rolled the words ‘wanton’, ‘brazen’, ‘strumpet’ around our tongues and wound them round ourselves, knowing they meant nothing and watching David and Lancrose's faces. ‘Mormon-shocking’, we called this.

On their day off the Mormons wore what they called ‘civvies’ and brought us ‘cookies’. David's thin collarbones stuck out above a red shirt. He twisted his shoulders forward accentuating the bones when we asked him about home. Once a singing truck went by and serenaded us to buy sweet potatoes. Lovely kumara with butter for afternoon tea.

On Saturdays we brought home chocolate bread from the bakery at school and shared it with them. We lay in the park with books and music and lunch. We were glad to relax and speak English after the boredom of work. David told us about cold calls and the doors that hit their faces. Though, of course, as Lancrose said, it was not converts they were interested in—only spreading the word.

It was the Mormons who suggested we go on a gomi hunt. The four of us went out in the night on our bikes. There was still enough of a chill on the air to keep most people indoors so we wrapped ourselves in scarfs and jackets. I had a torch but the Mormons said it was better not to let anyone see. Soon we found a gomi heap—one of the piles of discarded consumer goods that can be found somewhere in most Japanese neighbourhoods.

I jumped off my bike and picked up a TV.—Do you think it'd work?

—We've already got a TV, Cath. We've just never bothered to plug it in.

—Mmmm. What is it we watch instead? I said, feigning vagueness and looking over at David who was testing out a chair.

Lizzie laughed.—I wonder.

We scavenged through the high-piled rubbish castles. There was no need of the torch; the gomi heap was lit by the lights from many windows.

—Hey, look at this. Lizzie held up a round cake tin.—It just needs a good clean.

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—And look at this chair, I said sitting down.—It's great, Lizzie. Let's take it too.

David laughed. —Are you sure you want it? It smells as though it's had one too many glasses of milk spilt on it.

He was right but we decided to take it anyway.

Lancrose kept looking at his watch.—David, we're going to have to go soon.

—It's only quarter to, Lancrose.

—Yeah, but soon …

—Okay okay, we'll go now.

There was a rule. They had to be back home by ten each night.

Lizzie and I carried home a mixer, a toaster, and even an old radio. We left our bikes behind and heaved the chair along the road and up our stairs. We put it on the balcony for Mormon-watching purposes.

Then we made a cake in the new cake tin, Shearers' Cake with brown sugar melting into it. Still in our gomi-hunting scarfs we crept down our stairs, across the road, and climbed up the Mormons' danchi. Lizzie rang the doorbell and I held the cake. I put my face over it to smell its moist warmth. David answered the door.

—We brought you something.

I held out the steaming plate.

He looked sleepy. He had a coat over a pair of blue pyjamas. Then Lancrose appeared from one room and the two other Mormons whom we had met on the first day from another room. They were all wearing pyjamas—not a suit or tie in sight. We couldn't come in so they brought two chairs and put them in the genkan for us. There was just enough room. The four of them sat on the floor in the hall-way. We cut thick triangles of cake and the six of us talked and ate.

In the weeks that followed we often went with David and Lancrose on Seven-Eleven runs for bread or ice-cream or soba. Or we walked to the Seventeen-Ice machine. It hummed in the dark to keep the seventeen different flavours of ice-cream cold. We ate in the park.

Religion became a topic less and less discussed but Lancrose always talked of home. He told us about Salt Lake City and how it was built by the Mormons in the mountains.

—It's kind of like a Promised Land, you know? The Mormons page 83 dragged hand-drawn carts with a few possessions in them from one end of the country to the other. There's something magnificent about doing that for your faith.

We looked sceptical and he became embarrassed, angry.

—But I don't know why I'm telling you this. You don't understand faith, do you?

One night Lancrose was sick so David came on a Seventeen-Ice mission with one of the other Elders. That night they were late home because David kept talking.

—Sorry, I'm sorry about Lancrose. I know. I know. We don't have to be missionaries all the time. But Lancrose …

—We see you squirming when he speaks. Lizzie laughed, enjoying watching him squirm as she said this.—What's he like to live with?

—He eats my food. He always, always goes over budget and then he eats mine. He always steals my rice. He never really wants to talk to you two. He only knows work, religion, study. And I have to live with him.

—Bitter, bitter David. Very unbrotherly.

—Yeah, I know. I know. But … how do you live? What do you do? I mean, you too must believe in something or how can you live?

I paused, hesitant.—But we can't believe in what we think isn't true can we? You may be part of God's plan; I'm not.

—But don't you ever wonder what you're doing here?

—What don't mean by here? asked Lizzie

—I don't know. In Japan. Here, in the world. I don't know. Don't you ever wonder though?

—But we're eighteen, I said.—Yeah, we wonder but we're here, we're here …

Lizzie saved me as I stumbled.—For ourselves, I guess. To grow up. No that's corny. I don't know. Fun? Someone said, ‘Do you want to go to Japan?’ We said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ Big deal we're here. Want to learn the culture, I guess. Have a good time before life.

—Before life? Before Life? David sounded desperate.—But why? Why life? What for? What are you doing?

And I could only say,

—I don't know.

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The next time they came to dinner David talked to me as I cooked. He told me he had got a letter from his girlfriend at home saying she wasn't going to wait. He explained that that meant she was going to marry someone else. Then he said he sometimes had dreams about women.

Lancrose sat in the corner reading his bible. When they left he boycotted the handshake altogether but David held my hand longer than usual.

The next week, on a hot wet day, we ate banana fritters in our flat and David said that one of his friends had told him that I had a crush on him. David laughed but I couldn't quite let go of my cheeks. And he looked at me.

Then one day at school we were called in for a meeting with the headmaster. He asked about our boyfriends. We said we didn't have any. He spoke in hard, fast Japanese. It was known that men had stayed in our flat all night. Last week a neighbour had seen two men go into our apartment and not come out. (If only.) We discovered that our crimes were numerous. Dancing on the balcony. Consorting with men in the park and visiting their apartment. And bare feet? It had been said that we walked on the grass in bare feet! This was not only culturally insensitive but unnatural. ‘It's not what you do,’ the headmaster explained, ‘but what people think that counts.’

The Mormons said it was too hot for picnics and they were busy. Maybe in the heat people were finding that they needed the help of God. The Mormon supervisor had called and said that they were to be moved. Their ‘conduct’ had made it useless to work that area any more.

David told us this with a twisting smile and called us the wanton women. But at a church function he told me to keep away. There was a rule, missionaries had to keep further than arm's-length from women.

Full summer came on after the cherry blossoms. We ate chocolate and custard bread and toast and stir-fry and chocolate and we swore, though we never had at home. Our phone sat silently in the corner. They didn't visit us any more. They kept their curtains drawn even during the day. When they moved they didn't give us their address. A Japanese Family lives in the Mormons' window now.

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Today, in midsummer, lonely in our sweat, we wait outside the Mormon Church. Among the people shaking hands and leaving on their bicycles I see no blond heads. Then there they are, the four of them, getting their bikes and wheeling them towards us.

Elder Lancrose comes up and shakes Lizzie's hand, then mine. He stretches out his arm as if to avoid coming too close.

—This is Elder Lee, my new partner. Lancrose brings forward a man we have not seen before.—Lizzie. Cath.

—Ah. Yes. Nice to meet you.

The new brother speaks as though he already knows more about us than he wants to.

—But where's David? I ask.

Lancrose shrugs.—You knew he was due to be transferred. He asked me to give you these.

He pulls two blue books from his bag. They are like the ones we saw in their apartment on the first day. I take one and turn to the first page.

—The Book of Mormon? says Lizzie doubtfully.

But the Mormons are already saying goodbye and hopping on their bikes. We stand and watch them pedal away down the narrow street. Then we carefully place our copies of ‘The Book of Mormon’ in the baskets on the front of our bicycles. We cycle off in our own direction.

It will be a perfect day for a picnic. We'll buy Seventeen-Ice ice-creams and eat them in the park.