She is smiling at the fifth guest of this winter. She works in a hostel hidden in a small town beside the Oder, a silent river between Germany and Poland. She got this job because she speaks five different languages.
She speaks Japanese. She doesn’t like to speak Japanese, her native language. She remembers those endless arguments and non-sense conflicts around the dining table whenever people pass her, guess she is from Japan, and greet her with “Konichiwa.” She always hears shouting and screaming when she spits Japanese out. She ran away from Japan a long time ago. She sometimes goes back to her hometown and doesn’t say a word during her stay. “She was too shocked by accident,” “she can’t speak anymore,” her neighbors gossip behind her, “poor Shin.” She never minds the gossipers. She doesn’t even cry over it. She and her soul are no longer there since the accident happened.
She speaks Chinese. She learned Chinese from her Lau-lau, her grandmother, who came from China. She knows Lau-Lau’s secret, how a Chinese woman was brought to Japan. She still remembers everything about that day she found out. She held Lau-lau’s hand and walked along a country road, and an old lady from their village pointed at Lau-lau’s face and scolded so loudly, “shameful woman!” She felt Lau-lau let go of her hand and then disappear into the grove. She tried to catch up to Lau-lau and use her Chinese to comfort her. She couldn’t find the words. She was only ten years old on that day, and she lost her way home.
She speaks English. She didn’t speak English before she left Japan. She had her first English conversation in an eight-bed dorm room in Sikkim. She could only speak some words: “Japan, Shiga, paint, twenty-five, go Kathmandu, yes, no”. She then could speak a sentence, two sentences, more and more sentences. She was so drunk and wet walking back from the water fight to the youth hotel in Bangkok. She looked up at the full moon and talked endlessly to strangers in English until she believed she had been speaking the language since she was born.
She speaks Spanish. She speaks Spanish very well. She decided to go to a village in the center of El Salvador after she tired of those meaningless “I love you” she received on the trip. She believed once this language would give her a new life different from that she left behind. She was happy when she used the R sound. She liked whispering “Te amo” and kissing him again and again. She enjoyed his voice with its’ perfect Spanish accent, like the light from the sun, until she heard the same voice addressing another girl. She listened to her favorite word and the broken sound from deep inside her.
She speaks German. She came to this small town for her “happy ending.” She was forced to learn German when she arrived here; unlike other languages, she can’t pronounce it correctly. She doesn’t recognize from which time point she wanted to cry when other people laughed at her pronunciation. She could never understand why people treat each other in such a cruel way. She has been here for more days than she can count. She doesn’t admit that the reason she is unwilling to leave this town is her ex-husband. She doesn’t like to talk about him too much.
“She has been through heaven and hell,” someone once told me.