Friday, June 24, 2011

Small Adventures #20

It's kind of hard knowing when to contact the authorities for an emergency. It's especially difficult when you don't speak the language well, and you can't ask the people involved in the emergency for the details.

The other day, I was sitting in the apartment working on the computer when I heard screaming coming through the wall. Initially, it sounded like a wailing baby, so I figured that someone just didn't like being put to bed for a nap. But the crying didn't stop, and eventually got louder. Looking out my window, I saw a small girl, about age 5, wandering the balcony on the next building over, crying "mama" and looking really miserable. Occasionally she'd really bawl out, but no one on the street below seemed to notice. After close to 15 minutes of this, I debated calling the police. I didn't know if there was something the matter with the child, or maybe with her mother. If there was a problem, then the faster the authorities got involved the better. The problem was that I didn't know who to call, or how to guarantee I'd get an English-speaker on the line. Finally, I opted for someone who had given me their business card recently, and I ended up talking to their boss. The boss promised to come out in 10-15 minutes and if there was something wrong, he'd call the authorities for me.

Meanwhile, the crying was getting softer and I couldn't see the child on the balcony anymore. I headed downstairs to meet the guy on the phone, and discovered the girl standing in the parking lot in front of the building, still sobbing. Nearby were some maintenance workers, and some old people walking past on the streets. Everyone ignored the child, and now I had to figure out what was appropriate to say in this situation, in Japanese. The child calmed down pretty quickly, but wasn't speaking clearly. I approached the maintenance workers and asked them to ask her for me. This got them all involved, but they couldn't get a clear answer from her, either. After about 15-20 minutes, the girl's mother returned home, carrying laundry. Apparently, the girl came back to the apartment early from school and panicked at not finding anyone home. The maintenance workers went on their way, and the guy I'd talked to on the phone drove up. As I'm trying to tell him that everything seems to have to turned out ok, the mother and daughter come out to go walking somewhere. The two apologized to us and continued on, leaving me to apologize to the boss for making him make the drive all the way out to the building for nothing.

At least now, though, I realize I have a gap in my communications skills that I have to fix. Plus, I've earned the neighborhood reputation as a busybody.

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