The Blossoming of Steven Dawson - part 3

It is almost axiomatic that, if even a good friend speaks critically of a matter concerning family, one will defend the matter and the family member, and it makes no difference that one privately has previously held the same critical view as the good friend. Thus it was that Edna Dawson, in the company of her very good friends, Nora Hopkins, Doris Fellows, Wally Herbert and Charlie Fetcher, all members of the choir, found herself defending her son, Steven, in his choice of partner, notwithstanding that she had herself, as recently as last night and in the privacy of her own home, been extremely critical of the relationship.

"I saw them looking at the Village Hall," said Nora. "So where does she come from? Looks very oriental if you ask me."

"She's Japanese," answered Edna Dawson.

"I'd never trust a Jap. My Alf's dad was taken by the Japs somewhere over there. Had a terrible time, he did, so he said."

"Well, if it was your Alf's dad, then it was probably Misaki's great granddad on the other side, so we can hardly hold her responsible for what he did to your Alf's dad." said Wally.

Edna nodded in agreement.

"Nothing wrong with the Japs, not since the second world war," she said. "She's very talented, it seems."

"Talented how?" asked Charlie. "Good at karate is she?"

"I dunno about karate," said Edna. "But she paints worth a treat. Sells her stuff, too. She gave me one as a present. Real nice it is, all flowers and birds. And she plays music, too."

"What does she play?" asked Wally.

"Well, I haven't heard her play myself yet. She's bringing her instruments next weekend. We're going to Richard's concert, and we're going to listen to her play as well."

"At the concert?"

"No, just private. Richard wants to hear her play."

"So what does she play?" asked Wally again.

"I can't remember the names. They all Japanese. But Richard says they're like the guitar and the cello."

"Two instruments?" Charlie went on. "Can you play two instruments?"

"Course you can. Richard plays the piano, but he can strum a guitar as well," said Wally.

"Why has she come to England?" inquired Doris.

"She looks after her mother - sort of personal assistant. Does the housekeeping, organises her trips abroad and so on."

"What does her mother do, then, that she needs a personal assistant?"

"Well, it was a bit above my head, but she's apparently a high-ranking scientist. Does research at the university. Very esoteric stuff apparently."

"And that's all she does; look after her mother?"

"And she paints and plays music. She's very good at languages, too."

"What languages does she speak?"

"Speaks very good English, and Japanese, of course."

"Yes, well, she would, wouldn't she," said Charlie.

"That's how my Steven met her."

"Is Steven learning Japanese?"

"No. He's her English teacher at the school where he works."

Doris happened to look up and saw the two under discussion standing close by, Steven holding a loaded tray.

"Here they are," she said and indicated the young couple who were looking down at the table where Edna and her friends were sitting.

"Oh, here you are at last," said Edna. "Come and have a cup of coffee and meet my friends."

Steven and his companion, the pretty, young Japanese woman, Misaki, fetched chairs and seated themselves at the table. Misaki looked appreciatively at Edna.

"Ladies and gentlemen, meet my friend, Misaki," said Steven, and introduced the four people to her.

"Edna was just telling us all about you," said Doris.

"I hope she said nice things."

"She told us you paint and play music."

"Yes. I make what I call my living from painting. Music is more a private relaxation."

"And you look after your mother."

"Yes, but that's not very taxing. I do the cooking if she is eating at home, which she doesn't often do. I make the beds and so on. There's not much to that. I have a lot of time for my private pursuits."

"You speak very good English," said Charlie. "And Japanese, I suppose."

"Yes, well I would, wouldn't I," Misaki smiled, echoing Charlie's own words a few moments earlier, and causing him to look suspiciously at her. "And Steven is beginning to learn Japanese, too."

"He is?" Edna was unable to hide what sounded like panic.

"Yes. My mother was teaching him the difference between 'good morning' and 'good evening' only the other day."

Steven laughed.

"I like to use a phrase in their own language for my students in the morning, before we start speaking English," he explained. "When I greet Misaki I say 'konichi wa, Misaki san',which I thought meant 'good day, Miss Misaki'. When I greeted her mother one evening, she told me that 'konichi wa' means 'good morning' and that I should say 'konban wa' in the evening."

"We have a saying," said Misaki. "'Saichō no tabide sae ippo de hajimarimasu'. It means 'even the longest journey begins with one step'. Perhaps that is the first step along your road to speaking Japanese, Steven."

"Perhaps it is."

"Well I never!" said Doris. "Japanese sounds like quite a mouthful."

"You should hear him speak Arabic to his Arab students, Thai to his Thai students, and even Aramaic to his Syrian students," said Misaki.

"You forgot Farsi to my Iranian students," said Steven.

"I didn't know you spoke all those languages," said Doris.

"I don't. Misaki is teasing. I just know a few courtesy phrases which I ask my students to teach me. It seems to put new students at ease if they start off by teaching the teacher."


In the end Mrs Dawson went with Misaki and Steven on their picnic, and it seemed to both of them that she was a little less negative towards Misaki. Late in the afternoon Steven took Misaki to the station for her train back to Winstable, and he held both her hands whilst they waited for the train to come in.

"I don't know why we opted for Friday to Saturday when we could have chosen Saturday to Sunday, and had much more time together," said Steven.

"I think it was the convenience of travelling here together after school," she suggested. "How shall we do it next weekend?"

"Do you think your mother can stand coming on the Friday and staying until Sunday? You'll have to stay over from Saturday to Sunday since the concert finishes so late."

"We can do the same thing on Saturday that we did today - show her round the village and perhaps a light lunch at home, and a rest in the afternoon before the concert."

"And on the Sunday you can give us a little concert on the shamisen and the kokyu.  Richard will insist on that!"

"My, you are getting good at using Japanese words, Steven!"

"It has to be done."

"Why, are you expecting to need Japanese in your daily life?"

"Who knows!"

"Yes, my concert as you call it. I wonder why."

"Well, I know he's very interested in all kinds of music, but it wouldn't surprise me if he has an ulterior motive if he thinks you're any good."

"What sort of ulterior motive?"

"Like including you in one of their future concerts."

"So if he doesn't ask me, can I assume he doesn't think I'm any good?"

"Don't put words in my mouth, you minx! Now give me several kisses. Your train will be here soon."

"Why several kisses?"

"'Cause they have to last me until Monday."

"Are you going to kiss me again on Monday? Maybe instead of saying "konichi wa, Misaki san"? The students would love that, especially Samir!"

"I'll find a way. Maybe call you into my office."

"Alright, you can have several kisses. How many is several, by the way?"

"As many as we have time for."

Misaki looked as though she was going to ask for a more clearly defined number, but Steven pulled her to him for the first kiss, and when they stopped that one, from lack of breath, they immediately began another one. Suddenly Steven drew his head back and looked at her.

"Aishite imasu, Misaki san," he said. "I especially like your teasing."

It was now Misaki's turn to pull back her head and look hard at him.

"What did you say?"

"I said I especially like your teasing."

"No, the bit before that."

"I said "aishite imasu, Misaki san"," he repeated. "I love you, Miss Misaki."

"And which one of your students taught you to say that?"

"You did - with a little help from Google Translate."

"Hm! Don't trust Google Translate with anything much more complicated," she said. "But for short sentences like that one it will do tolerably well."

"Is that all you have to say? A criticism of my sources of information?"

Sh kissed him again.

"I love you, too, Steven san," she replied. "I'll take those words home with me and repeat them to myself tonight."

"Don't say them out loud or your mother might hear you!"

"I won't."

They were disturbed by the hoot of the train coming in, and had time for only one more long kiss before Misaki climbed aboard, and Steven shut the door after her. He moved to the side so that he could see her when she entered the coach saloon, and waved as the train began to pull out. I'll have to find a way to get through Sunday, he thought.


On Monday Steven stayed in Winstable till the late train and ate dinner with Misaki, this time at her home. His telephone call to his mother, cancelling dinner at home, caused her much distress, which was apparent to some of her friends in the choir and they asked her about it when they met up at Patty's Pans the following morning.

"My life's all at sixes and sevens," she complained. "Nothing's the same. She was here on Saturday, and then Monday arrives and my Steven spends the evening in Winstable with her. Where's it going to end?"

"That's what being a parent is all about," said Nora. "It's a lesson in pain. First you give birth to them, and that's certainly pain. Then you bring them up, trying not to let them get hurt. Then they're teenagers and that's more pain. And finally they leave home, and that's the worst pain of all."

"But all these changes in my life," wailed Edna.  "First Robert dying and now Steven staying in Winstable till all hours..."

"Steady on, lass," said Wally. "Robert's been dead, what, fifteen years or more? And Steven still lives at home."

"He sleeps at home," Edna corrected him. "He eats breakfast at home. Then off he goes to work and I don't know when I'm going to see him again."

She sniffed loudly and Wally took out a neatly folded handkerchief which he offered her. She took it, wiped both eyes and blew her nose noisily before offering it back.

"Keep it for now," said Wally.

"Look on the bright side," said Charlie. "If they get married and have kids you'll have grandchildren at long last. He's getting on is your Steven. Over thirty and no family. I was away and out of the house before I was twenty two and a father of two three years later."

"And how often will I see my grandchildren if they live in Winstable? And slant-eyes the lot of them, no doubt!"

"Steady on, lass," said Wally again. "They're not married yet. Not even engaged. And don't forget the train goes both ways, and it's only half an hour to Winstable. Even if they do get married and live there, you can always visit them there, and who knows what you might find to occupy you here in Stoke."

"Like what?" she asked, dabbing her eyes.

"Well, I don't know just offhand."

He thought for a moment.

"Yes, You're always so nicely dressed, and they say you make your own clothes. Maybe you could do that for other people and make a few bob on the side. You'd do the world a big favour if you improved Mildred's wardrobe, for instance."

Edna laughed in spite of herself. Mildred Hawkins had moved to the village a few years earlier, was one of the driving forces behind the choir, but renowned for looking as though her clothes were Oxfam's rejects which she had slept in.

"That's better," encouraged Wally. "Laugh at life. Who knows what will happen."

"You're a treasure, Wally," she said, still laughing, and Charlie stood up.

"Well. I must be going," he said. "Come on, Nora. I'll walk you home and we can leave Wally to find things for Edna to do in her spare time."

"I've a mind to have a bit of lunch here - save a bit of cooking," said Wally as Charlie and Nora stood up. "How about I treat you, Edna."

"That's not necessary," she replied. "I can pay my own way, but it would be lovely as you say not to do my own cooking, and I've nothing else to take me home."

That evening over dinner Steven suggested that his mother might like to take the train into Winstable on the following day.

"The Jolly Miller has a fish and shellfish evening on Wednesdays," he explained. "Misaki's mother likes them, and I thought I'd take the two of them. It'd be fun if you came to join us."

"I'll be meeting Misaki's mother soon enough when she comes here on Friday. I have to prepare for that so I think I'll stay, if you don't mind. You go and enjoy yourself."

She had had been growing more and more nervous as the week progressed, had given both guest rooms and the guest bathroom a thorough spring cleaning, and sought Steven's advice on what to serve for dinner.

"You don't want to take them to the pub?" he had asked.

"Oh, we can't do that both days," was her reply. "And I assume you'll want to take us there before the concert."

He had suggested that she had a word with Patty Trevor, the owner of Patty's Pans, and explain the problem, which she had done, but he had no idea what they had decided upon.

So on Wednesday he had taken Misaki and her mother to the Jolly Miller for the shellfish dinner her mother liked so well. If she had known the phrase, Misaki would have said that he was winning Brownie points, he thought, and next time he met her, he taught her that idiomatic phrase.

But now it was Friday, and Steven carried two weekend bags, and Misaki and her mother one each of Misaki's instruments and Misaki also had Steven's laptop. Just as the previous week, there were many of Steven's friends and acquaintances who stopped them for a few brief words of greeting, pleased to see that Steven was still "walking out" with the pretty foreigner, and no doubt drawing all sorts of conclusions from the fact that another foreigner, presumably her mother, was coming to meet Mrs Dawson.

As they turned in at the gate Steven turned to his two guests.

"Yōkoso, Isamu sama," he said to Dr Kagamura.

"Aren't I welcome, too?" asked Misaki, feigning offence. "And what's this "sama" business? Are you fishing for more - what did you call them? - Brownie points?"

"Of course you are welcome, too, Misaki chan," he said. "I was just showing your mother the politeness which is her due."

"Chan? Chan? Don't you "Sweetie" me," she said, arms as much akimbo as her load of one musical instrument and one laptop would allow. "And where are you getting all these new words from? Have you got Google Translate permanently open on your computer?"

"Well, that and other sources," he smiled.

"Whatever my daughter thinks, Steven san, you may know that I approve," laughed Dr Kagamura. "Although I'm happy to be Isamu san with someone as close as it looks as though you are going to be."

"Thank you, Isamu san," he replied, and bowed deeply, and they continued up the path towards the house.

He saw one of the curtains twitch, and realised that his mother had been keeping a watchful eye out for her guests, and his conclusion was confirmed when she opened the door just as they came up the steps.

"Welcome," she said, echoing in English Steven's simple Japanese courtesies.

"Good evening again, Mrs Dawson," said Misaki. "May I introduce my mother, Dr Isamu Kagamura. Mother, this is Mrs Dawson."

"I realise that my full name, as Misaki just said it might be a bit of a mouthful," said Dr Kagamura. "Please call me Isamu."

"Isamu," Mrs Dawson tested the word on her tongue as though trying a toffee she was not sure she would like. "Well, that's not too hard to say. And please call me Edna."

Dr Kagamura held out her hand, and Mrs Dawson took it.

"Please come in," she said, and led the way into the lounge. "Can I offer you something to drink? A glass of sherry before the meal, or perhaps a martini?"

"A glass of sherry would be very nice," said Dr Kagamura.

"And for you, Misaki?"

"I'll take sherry, too, thank you."

"How long have you been in England, Isamu?" asked Mrs Dawson when they had taken a first sip of sherry.

"A little over four months," said Dr Kagamura. She explained briefly the nature of her work, and though she was brief, Mrs Dawson felt that she had received more information than she had required. But she had heard them on television talking about some of the concepts Dr Kagamura had mentioned, and was able to relate to her field of expertise, even if she did not fully understand it.

Sherry over, Mrs Dawson stood up to make the final preparations for dinner.

"If you do that, Mother, I'll show the ladies to their rooms and take up the luggage."

"Fine. And we'll meet in the dining room in a few minutes."

Mrs Dawson retired to the kitchen, and Steven accompanied the two ladies upstairs, carrying their weekend bags.

"You're in the same room as last week, Misaki chan," he said.

"I've warned you about this chan business," she said.

"But I like it."


"And you, Isamu san, are in here," he said to Misaki's mother.

"Thank you, Steven. I think we can even drop the 'san' between us, at least in private, although I suppose you will want to continue your 'chan' with Misaki."

And her mouth twitched in a smile and Misaki heaved a theatrical sigh.

Steven showed her the location of their bathroom, and left them to unpack whilst he went downstairs again to bring up Misaki's two instruments.

The guests came down into the dining room a few minutes later, and Steven wondered what his mother might have prepared for their guests. He was asked to take a bottle of white wine from the fridge, and guessed that this meant that the meal contained fish. A wise choice, he thought.

During the meal Dr Kagamura addressed herself to Mrs Dawson.

"Misaki tells me you sing in a choir," she said, and Mrs Dawson smiled.

"Yes," she said. "I've sung in the choir for many years now."

"I used to sing, when I was a girl," went on Dr Kagamura. "But I haven't done any singing now since I was about twenty."

"I'm sure it would come back to you quickly," said Mrs Dawson. "Misaki herself was encouraging me to start playing the piano again. She said it would help me to practise our more difficult numbers."

Dr Kagamura smiled.

"I'd love to come to one of your concerts," she said. "Perhaps you would send word via Steven next time you have one."

"I will."

Over dinner Steven and his mother talked about their life in Stoke Fercroft, and Dr Kagamura and Misaki described their life in Japan, showing where they came from on a map which Steven found in an old school atlas. Before they realised it, it was late and time for bed, and Dr Kagamura and Mrs Dawson both left Steven and Misaki to say goodnight in their own way, which, as usual, took rather more time than their good nights to everyone else.


Saturday was a success beyond Steven's wildest dreams. After breakfast, whilst he once more did the washing up, his mother repeated her actions of last week, and showed Dr Kagamura over her garden. Misaki accompanied them. Then Steven and Misaki went for a walk, this time not in the village, but following a track which ran round the village, and was used by many residents as their exercise round, some jogging, others walking.

Meanwhile his mother got out two deck chairs, and she and Dr Kagamura sat themselves down together for a chat. What they chatted about Steven and Misaki never found out, but they both had the distinct feeling that Mrs Dawson was much comforted by whatever they had discussed.

Once again, they met up at Patty's Pans, this time not for coffee but for lunch before returning to the Dawson home where they each pursued their own interests.

Then in the evening they dressed for dinner. Mrs Dawson put on one of her creations, which drew admiring comments from both Misaki and her mother, and caused Steven to whisper the words 'Brownie points' to Misaki for which he received a kick on the shin.

After a glass of sherry they went to the Stonemason's for dinner before moving to the village hall for the concert. Dr Kagamura was clearly impressed by the quality of the music presented by Richard Mason and his family and Sandra, and went over to them afterwards to ask whether they had a diary of future concerts. She was given one, and encouraged to visit the village Internet site, where she would be able to find not only their concerts, but all the events of the village, including Mrs Dawson's choir.

On Sunday Misaki was a little surprised when Richard telephoned to the Dawson's to suggest that they use the village hall for her private concert in the afternoon. He explained that the acoustics were very good there, and he would like to hear her music in the best possible conditions.

The four of them went down to the village hall at two o'clock, as arranged, where they were met by Richard and Sandra, and Misaki unpacked her instruments and began to play, and the music transported Steven away to some of the programs he had seen on television about China and Japan, and the Far East generally. That she played well was immediately apparent to all, even if she could not be considered to be of concert-hall standard. After a couple of pieces on each instrument, Richard made a quick telephone call, and, to Misaki's consternation, asked her if she would wait until his family could come as he would like them to hear her play as well.

"Don't worry," he said. "Just think of us all as family. Why don't you play again those you have played for us now? They were very beautiful."

When the Mason family was assembled, Misaki again sat down to play, and after a false start for which she apologised profusely, she tried to shut them out of her mind, and began again on the first number. When the last notes died away, she was startled by the applause from the assembled audience. She tried to calm her consternation, and began the second piece, which was slightly longer. She was expecting applause this time, and so was not surprised, but she was shocked to see that a half dozen more people had gathered in the room, sitting at the back of the hall. Because of the spotlights, she had not been aware that passers-by had heard the music and come in to see what was going on.

She played her final two pieces on the kokyu, the second piece being the theme music from the film "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon", and when this piece was over, she was moved to see her entire audience of the Dawsons, the Masons and a dozen or so random villagers give her a standing ovation. She could see her mother over to one side, also standing and clapping, and smiling proudly at her daughter's success.

"I think you'll have to give them an encore," said Richard, and Misaki sat down again to play another of her favourites before Richard stood up to let the uninvited audience know that the concert was over.

"Right," he said. "Off to the old vicarage for a talk about this."

The entire group remaining, comprising the Dawsons, the Masons and the Kagamuras, now set off to Richard's house, where he and Sandra, assisted by his sister, Carol, served drinks before themselves sitting down, and before the company raised itself to depart, Misaki had been provisionally booked for a future concert with an oriental theme. Later that day Steven followed Misaki and Dr Kagamura to the station, where Dr Kagamura tactfully looked the other way whilst he and Misaki 'said goodbye'.

Thus began the process by which Misaki Kagamura established herself as a personality in the little village of Stoke Fercroft, some six thousand miles from the place of her birth in Japan. That she was beautiful and foreign gave the village extra charm all were agreed on. Another significant factor seen by all as being in her favour was that she was the chosen partner of shy Steven Dawson, who was well liked throughout the village. It was not long before everyone knew her name, and greeted her when they passed, or stopped for a chat, even when she was not with Steven.

Sandra and her art-dealer friend spread the word about her talent as an artist, and arranged for an interview with the local newspaper, which established her reputation with those interested in the graphic arts. In the course of time she held an exhibition of her work, assisted by Sandra. Her work sold well, especially the miniatures which gave even moderately artistic residents the possibility to have an original Kagamura on display in their homes at a moderate price.

By the time Richard Mason's first concert with an Asian theme was announced, she was accepted in the village. Those who had stolen into her 'private concert' which had proved to be an audition for the Masons, had spread the word about her talent, and anyway, the Masons' concerts were always well attended. The concert was a sell-out, and many encouraged her to prepare for another.

Misaki had been in a bit of a quandary as the date of her first concert approached, for she was not in the habit of attending formal events, and had no evening dress. She consulted her mother, who reminded her of their admiration of Mrs Dawson's elegant evening clothes, and suggested she ask her. When Misaki, whose many talents had caused Mrs Dawson such unnecessary feelings of inferiority, came to ask for her help, it was a watershed in their relationship. Mrs Dawson gladly designed and sewed a dress for Misaki's concert, which many of those present thought enhanced her performance, and she made no secret of the identity of her dressmaker.

When even Dr Kagamura later came to ask that Mrs Dawson sew one of her creations for a formal event at the university, she realised that she had a talent she could profit from, and word gradually spread until she had her hands full of commissions.

"What was it I said?" asked Wally Herbert at every opportunity he could find, and she had to admit that it was he who had first suggested her talent for dress-making as an interest and possible source of income. Mrs Dawson had taken Misaki's advice and spoken to Richard Mason about piano lessons. He had recommended a young woman in the village who had been happy to accept the challenge, and Mrs Dawson now spent an hour a day, when she had time, which was nearly every day, in improving her technique and practising the music they sang in the choir.

Quite often, after meeting her friends in Patty's Pans, she would take Wally home with her, and they would practice their music together. Since Wally sang bass and she was a contralto, they often had very similar music, which made things easier.

The summer after Misaki's first appearance in the village Steven began to talk of marriage. At first it seemed best that Steven move into the Kagamura house in Winstable, which would leave Mrs Dawson alone, but by this time Wally had found such favour that they also began talking of union. When Steven and Misaki were finally married, his move to Winstable was not the success they had hoped for. Steven was too much a member of the village life of Stoke Fercroft to be able to accustom himself to a life in a town, and the two young ones began to plan their joint move, fortunately before either Wally or Mrs Dawson had done anything about the sale of their houses.

The upshot was that Mrs Dawson, or Mrs Herbert as she became, moved in with Wally, whose house, though marginally smaller than her own, had the advantage of a special dress-maker's studio which he built for her. Steven and Misaki moved into the Dawson house and were settled in good time to prepare one of the rooms as a nursery for their first child.

And Dr Kagamura? Was she now to be alone? No, she recruited one of her brother's daughters, who came to live with her and keep house for her as Misaki had done. This young lady began taking lessons to improve her English, and who should be her teacher but Steven Dawson, her cousin's husband.

© James Wilde 2015