Ninja Pig

The early morning commuters coming out of the subway did not give the pig a second look, but Japanese urbanites are a notoriously hard group to shock.

The first time I saw the pig, it was just a glimpse from the corner of my eye as I sped through the GOKISO intersection on my bike, but the second time, I was walking and got a good look at it. I guessed it was a Great Northern gelding. In high school, I had worked on a pig farm and of all the bad jobs I have had in my life, the pig farm was the worst. Still I could recognize a pig when I saw one which just goes to show that nothing you learn is ever wasted. He was big, a big white pig living in the city. I guessed close to 300 pounds.

The woman walking the pig past the video store had dressed him in one of those jackets that dogs wear. She had him on a leash and he was snuffling around the gutters. The early morning commuters coming out of the subway did not give the pig a second look, but Japanese urbanites are a notoriously hard group to shock. The second time I saw the pig, I was reminded of Neville, the ninja and the chicken.

Neville called Adelaide, Australia home but as Adrian, a fellow Aussie, commented, “I don’t think Neville is from the city.” Neville was funny, clever and laid back in the classic Australian way. He had worked every job under the sun – railroad construction, fishing boats, DJ – so naturally he ended up in Asia teaching ESL.

I had known Neville for a couple of months. We had shared a couple of those bonding, expat experiences, but were not great friends. One night at a party Neville pulled me aside and put an arm around my shoulder. “I like you Kelly. I really like you.” Neville had been drinking. “You are a great guy. Kelly, I am going to tell you something, but you have to promise to never mention it to anyone.” I expected the usual beery confessions of attraction. The standard coming out of the closet speech, but I was disappointed.

Neville reached into his pocket and took out his wallet. He shuffled through the ID and credit cards before finally pulling out a wrinkled, battered piece of heavy bond paper.

“Before I show you this card, Kelly, you have to promise that you will never tell anyone about this.”

I was curious, but feigned indifference. “If you don’t think you should show me, don’t.”

“No, I want you to know this about me. But you can’t tell anyone.”

“OK. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Swear it, Kelly. Look me in the eyes and swear that you will never reveal what you learned tonight. Swear it!”

Neville’s eyes were bloodshot from the alcohol and his voice had taken on a hard edge. I did not want any trouble. The easiest way out of this ridiculous situation seemed to be to play along. I looked into his red-rimmed eyes and swore that I would never reveal the secrets learned tonight.

Neville handed the card over. It was a simple piece of heavy bond paper, heavily worn and wrinkled from much handling. This was a little before the PC boom took off and it looked as though the card had been typed on a typewriter and where the member’s name would go, there was a line and the name written in ink by hand with a ballpoint pen.

I looked more closely and read the typed letter. “This is to certify that Neville Thomson has been accepted into the eternal order of the ninja.” I looked up and Neville leaned in close, “I am a ninja, Kelly. I am a fucking ninja. These hands can kill.” I thought he was taking the piss. Neville’s sense of humor could be pretty dry, but I decided to play it straight. “Neville, that is so cool. I won’t tell anyone.” I looked solidly into his eyes and reverently handed the card back to him.

We all worked nights. Classes finished at 9:00 or 10:00 and then with the requisite beers after work, we usually did not get home until 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00. For teachers on the night shift, classes usually began at 1:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon which is plenty of time to recover, but Neville started showing up looking a little rough. When questioned, all he would say was, “That fucking chicken.” It turned out that the landlord of Neville’s apartment lived on the third floor of the same building and recently, the owner’s elderly father had moved into the city from his farm and brought with him a rooster as a reminder of his previous life and a pet.

The rooster lived on the balcony, two stories above Neville’s apartment. The rooster crowed, just as roosters are supposed to. He started crowing at dawn, 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, but crowed pretty much all day. For someone who worked nights and especially someone of Neville’s nocturnal habits, a rooster crowing would be more than a simple distraction.

The rooster crowed one Saturday when I was visiting. It was loud. We had had chickens on our farm when I was growing up, but a rooster crowing on a farm and a rooster crowing on the balcony of an apartment two stories above your head, sound very different. When the rooster started crowing, Neville rushed onto his small balcony and started shouting into the air, “Shut that bloody bird up!”

I followed and looking up saw the rooster walking along the railing of the balcony two stories up. It was a handsome bird, a dark Rhode Island Red I guessed with striking red and black coloring. The rooster paused and crowed again. Neville’s face was red, “Shut the bloody fuck up!” Suddenly, the face of an elderly man popped over the balcony. It must have been the landlord’s father. He was old and bald. He was laughing and standing below him we stared straight into his toothless mouth.

The old man smiled and laughed. He petted the rooster, saying, “pretty, pretty.” In a minute, both the old man and the rooster disappeared from sight. Neville was livid. He was spitting mad. “Fucking bird. I am going to kill the damn thing.”

“The old guy is senile. The bird’s his pet.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn if it is his pet. It is illegal to keep farm animals in a domestic situation.”

That sounded good. But I didn’t know what he meant. “What are you talking about?”

“You can’t keep farm animals in an apartment building. It is a health hazard and a public nuisance.”

“Ah. Maybe in Australia it is illegal, but this is Asia. Regulations are much looser. There is a motorcycle shop by my house. I see the guy poring oil down the storm sewer everyday. There ought to be a regulation about that.”

“Kelly, I don’t give a damn about your motorcycle repair guy. I am talking to the police.”

“Well, good luck with that.”

I don’t know if Neville ever called the police, but they did come by the school a couple of days later looking for Neville. I learned from the secretary later that the rooster had turned up dead. The old man had found it the previous morning lying on the floor of the balcony with it’s neck broken. The landlord suspected Neville and the police had come to ask him some questions.

Neville denied everything. The whole thing might have blown over, but the old man was upset and screamed whenever he saw Neville and in the end it was decided that it would be in everyone’s interest if he moved to another apartment.

I went over to help him move. While bringing in some stuff from the balcony, I looked at the wall of the building. It was brick and as part of an ornamental pattern some of the bricks were recessed into the wall while others stuck out. They could be used as hand holds to climb to the third floor. It would not be easy, but it could be done.

I went into the apartment. Neville was packing. “Neville,” I asked, “Did you kill that guy’s rooster?”

Neville paused. He stood up and gave me a serious look. “Kelly, I like you, but a Ninja can never discuss his work. It’s part of the code, Kelly. You should understand that.”

I hoped the woman with the pig didn’t live near any Ninja. But pigs are quieter and harder to kill than chickens, so they are probably OK.

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