Photo: The abandoned house in Taura.

It’s 4:30 p.m. and the light is fading fast. I descend from my hilltop neighborhood—full of blinking Christmas lights and overly clean cars—via the bamboo grove pathway to the older neighborhood down the hill. My mono no aware reminder, the abandoned house, sits on its perch and waits either to be destroyed or to be loved anew. In Old Taura, the cars are also clean, but they look a bit more run down, a bit less conspicuously expensive. Rust appears on old metal railings. In front of slumped, two-story apartment buildings, flowers are planted in old styrofoam fish crates. I gaze at the abandoned house with affection as I take an evening walk. Suddenly, two young Japanese women scamper up to me, excited.

They ask me if I speak Spanish, which stops my brain for a moment. What? They ask me again in Spanish if I speak Spanish and I reply, “Un poco.” I ask them in Japanese why they want to speak Spanish. Are they students? They shake their heads. I tell them my husband speaks Spanish if they urgently need to speak with someone. What’s going on here? I’m noticing their clothes, all black, strangely black, like either just come from a funeral black or…I can’t think straight.

We talk about how there are many Spanish speakers both in Taura and Oppama (the town up the road) because of the many Peruvian immigrants/returnees here. My fishmonger in Taura knows exactly which local fish are best for ceviche because he has so many Peruvian customers. In Oppama, there is a Peruvian restaurant called Donde Hiro with a menu in Spanish and Japanese. It’s a hangout for the local Peruvian-Japanese returnees and for some Hispanic sailors from the U.S. Navy base 15 minutes away. The house ceviche is outstanding.

I pause and look at the Japanese women: I have run out of trivia about Spanish speakers in Taura. I ask them: “Why do you want to speak Spanish?” No, no, they don’t want to speak Spanish; they want to give people who speak Spanish this—and they hand me a Jehovah’s Witnesses tract. Ah! So! Now they are so clear to me, wearing conservative black, acting a bit nervous, too forward for normal Japanese people.

The pamphlet is in Spanish: ¿Le gustaría saber más de la Biblia? I find this hilarious because I have already told them that although I speak Spanish, my first language is English. Why didn’t they give me an English pamphlet? Why am I being so indulgent with them, whereas in the States I would have walked away long ago? They ask about my husband, and I feel my face get hard: “He’s Roman Catholic.” They murmur, “Oh.” And shut right up. Really? You give up so easily? Back off sucker Christians, my man’s an original RC. So, why didn’t they ask me what I am? Not very good sales people; they had a real live one right in front of them—a sort of Buddhist, baptized Methodist, agnostic/humanist. Now I find myself amused that they are chasing after foreigners (don’t they realize we’ve been covered?), and I ask them if they bother Japanese people with this. My tone has changed. Everything’s not so friendly now.

“Oh, yes, yes, Japanese people, too.” And I am given the Japanese version of the tract: Seisho ni tsuite motto shiritaito omowaremasenka? (Do you want to learn more about the Bible?)

I bring the conversation to an end and they get into a sparkling blue car and drive off.

In a few minutes, I reach the street of my fishmonger and I call out to him as he is closing up shop. He says, “Hey, taking a walk?” He is always relaxed and happy to talk about what he is selling. I think he agrees with me that fish purveyors should wait for customers to come to them.