I had a strange encounter with a 9 year-old boy today.
I had just came out of the turnstiles at Suehirocho station en route to the Akihabara district when I noticed a little boy staring at me. He was in his school uniform and had on an oversized yellow raincoat that almost swallowed him.
He looked to be struggling with a boxed file, a huge hard-covered Science book, an umbrella and a hat that was slipping down his head. I smiled at him and greeted him hello.
He walked closer, as if to examine me, but then shyly stepped back again.
I didn't make much of it and was going to walk off, but then he came to me again and followed me as I walked towards the exit.
"Are you going home?" I asked in Japanese.
He didn't dare to reply, so I asked him again, while looking for a parent or chaperon to turn up.
Just as suddenly, he answered me in rapid Japanese which I didn't understand.
"Help," I called out to my friends walking in front of me, "I have no idea what he is saying!"
"Can't you speak Japanese?" he asked me, half-curious and half-demanding.
"Only a little. I am not Japanese."
"What nationality are you!"
"I am from Singapore."
"Singapore!" he echoed and nodded knowingly. We kept walking, this time up the stairs. He didn't seem like he knew where he was going and looked quite willing to follow me wherever I was going.
"Do you speak English?" I asked him.
"Yes! I can speak some!"
I proceeded to have a simple conversation that went "How are you?", "What's your name?" and "Nice to meet you!" He replied immediately, not at all conscious of his English ability unlike most of the kids I've taught.
We got to the top of the stairs and stood at a huge intersection. I said goodbye and waved him off, watching him about to cross the road.
Two seconds later, he came back to me again.
"Where IS Singapore? Is it far? Is it near Thailand?" he continued in Japanese in a freakishly adult tone. He was one persistent kid, I'll give you that.
I knelt down so that my eye met his. Up close, his face looked like he was 25 instead of 9. I shuddered inside, but answered him patiently. "Yes it is a little far, and it is near Thailand. About 3 hours by plane from Singapore to Thailand."
"How about Taiwan? Oh wait, that's totally different, isn't it?"
I laughed. "It's kinda near Taiwan too, but yes they are different places."
The green man started flashing. I glanced at the traffic light, trying to hint that he should get going. He must have understood me and walked off, but I was almost worried he would lose his way.
My friends didn't seem to be bothered by it, but I couldn't help wondering why the little boy was so interested in me and if he was used to approaching strangers on his way home.