Escape your life for a little while — come play in mine.

A Japo story

Posted by Lissa on May 27, 2009

It just so happens that my grandmother is The Coolest Lady On Earth.

She’s 94 years old now, so her hearing and her vision are fading.  Her English is and has always been broken.  That being said, the woman misses NOTHING; I wish I had half her memory or a quarter of her smarts.

Japo has been around the block a few times, too.  She lived through the Japanese invasion of the 1930s, hiding in the caves of Kweilin and living off scraps of food.  She moved to Jamaica, raised a family and helped run a small grocery store despite ethnic tensions in the area.

It was during these days as a shopkeeper that she told one of the only two lies of her life.

We sat around the food court of a large mall in Toronto while she told us the story.

You see, there had been a robbery of the shoe store across the street, and the police knew that Japo was a witness.  They told her she had to come testify and identify the robber in court.

Only problem was, the robber’s buddies had already come to the store and explained to Japo in no uncertain terms that if she identified the man, they would burn down her shop. 

“So,” she related in her loud voice, “I prayed to God to know what to do.  And then I prayed to God to forgive what I do.” 

She went to court, and she got up on the witness stand.  And when the judge pointed to the man on trial and asked if Japo could identify him, she waved her hands and shrugged.

“I tell him, ‘I don’t know!  All you black people look the same to me!’ ” she told us triumphantly.*  And very loudly.

Eyes widening in horror, open-mouthed, my sister, my brothers and I looked over to the next table where several pigmentally-gifted young men were sitting.

And lord bless ’em, they looked over, saw that the speaker was a tiny ancient Asian woman, laughed, and minded it not a bit.

Love you, Japo.

*My mom explained later — black folks in that area of Jamaica sometimes complained that all Asians looked the same.  Japo was smart enough to lie in such a way that the audience would believe it — just as all Asian people looked the same to blacks, all black folks looked the same to Asians.  Really, judge.  In the process, she saved her shop and her family.  That is one tough, wise lady.

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