Nakagawa-san was one of the “bent people.” When she stood the upper part of her body was parallel to the floor. And when she walked you generally could not see her face. To navigate her small world, Nakagawa-san had to periodically stop, lean on her staff, and tilt her neck backwards. She was a perfect right angle. Only when she sat did she appear normal. A severe calcium deficiency and long hours in the farm fields had likely caused her condition. More often than not, bent people were women who had worked all of their lives in the rice paddies. On Sado there were a few bent women in every town.
Despite her deformity Nakagawa was very genki; the picture of health for a woman in her mid-seventies. She had come to the old folks’ home by ko-onki; a tractor-like contraption that resembled a big garden tiller. She had never ridden in an automobile.
Her comrade, Fujiwara-san, had an adorable round face and a set of nice dentures that provided her with a lovely full-on smile. Over time I learned that she had a “son” that was not exactly her child. He was her mother’s. Evidently Fujiwara-san had been unable to conceive and to ease the situation with Fujiwara’s in-laws the bride’s parents gave up one of their younger sons to become Fujiwara’s child of legal record. This brother-son was barely able to take care of himself and never married. He was of little help to his sister-mother in her old age and winters in their mountainside home had become too much. Unlike Nakagawa who was probably in the home for good, Fujiwara sought seasonal respite at the ryojin (nursing) home. In the summer she could manage.
My relationship with these two women, Nakagawa and Fujiwara was forged over purin– a custard topped with a brown mapley syrup . . . and Yakuruto, a milky sweet drink in a container that amounted to three or four swallows that they insisted I have for both had grown tired of the regimented fare served at the home. Together watching public TV shows like the weekly singing contest Nodo Jiman (throat bragging) and the elaborate costume challenge Kasou Taisho, my conversations with Nakagawa-san and Fujiwara-san strengthened my ability to understand Sado dialect. They were my sanity from 11am until 7pm while my husband fed and entertained his grandmother down the hall.