Gisela Boothroyd-Smythe was becoming desperate. It was only the first week
of the holidays and she had been unable to persuade her pre-pubescent son,
John, to get up in the morning. She had called through the door of his
bedroom: Don’t be so monosyllabic! She had just about heard the reply:
Today she had heard nothing and was becoming concerned.
She had come across an article which stated that a million young people-
and some not so young- remained holed up in their bedrooms, sometimes
for decades at a time. They slept by day and stayed up all night, in a
withdrawn state known as HIKIKOMORI.
Gisela was afraid that John might be lapsing into such a condition. She
checked the article again. It commented that the youngsters often
exhibited infantile behaviour and could have violent outbursts. But, as
the French would say, for teenagers: C’est normal!
Was she worrying inordinately?
The Japanese feared loss of face, she’d read. Maybe if the children didn’t
do well in their exams, they and their parents, would experience SEKENTEI.
This might lead to AMAE, a kind of extreme dependence. In bad cases,
sufferers would have to be re-introduced to society through a halfway house,
or IBASHO. But when she had tried to discuss her worries with her soon-to-
be ex-husband, he had only scoffed: I’m already sekentei of you and the
children. Why do you think I left?
She hadn’t known that he took an interest in global culture.
It would be all too easy to become an over-pushy parent, like so many others
who sent their offspring to St Birinus’. It was just that she didn’t want John to
end up a NEET-(Not in Education, Training or Employment.)
It was so difficult as a virtually single parent and she was trying to be both
mother and father to her children, during the divorce period. They, of course,
were running rings round them both.
She returned to the article. Goodness, in Japan some parents approached an
agency which sent round hired, not assassins exactly, but strong persuaders,
who basically broke down the doors and hauled the hermits out, gave them a
severe dressing down and then took them away to a dormitory.
Well, she had already done something similar by sending him to boarding
school. But what was she to do in the holidays?
Maybe she should phone the mother of those twin boys who were in John’s
class- the ones with the ridiculously over-pretentious names. They seemed
quite nice and couldn’t help their parents’ labelling choices. A rose by any
other name would smell as sweet.
But they might not want to come round as John often teased his peers. This
verb was a euphemism and she knew it.
Just at that moment, with Gisela’s hand hovering over her mobile, her daughter,
Juniper sauntered into the kitchen, opened the fridge door and proceeded to
drink pure orange juice straight from the carton.
Gisela refrained from expressing her outrage and casually asked: When did
you last see John? She felt a role reversal, as if she was a blue satin-suited,
ringleted child being asked by a committee of Roundheads for information as
to the whereabouts of his Cavalier father. Wasn’t there a famous painting
of this subject? Her mind began to wander through Art History. Wasn’t it in
The Walker Art Gallery?
Ha! I was wondering when you would notice that little darling was missing,
sneered the evil Juniper. I yarn-bombed his door handle and connected it to
his window catch, so he can’t get out of his room. I’m writing it up for my
Street Art Project and it can go into my portfolio for A2. I’m calling it
‘Prisoners For Art.’
Mum! groaned a shaky voice from behind the door. Let me out! I’m hungry!
Clearly he had finished all the food stashes under his bed.
Juniper! You’re grounded!
But Juniper was already halfway down the street, having performed a Djokovic
slide on the kitchen tiles which continued down the laminated hallway, until she
laughed and ran out of the front door.