St. Catherine’s was quite an old monastery, built many centuries ago. It had fallen into disrepair several times over the many years but a recent revival of the faith in the area poured new monies into the coffers. This allowed for some major renovations, including the addition of a much-needed school. Yet, there were large sections of the old monastery that were closed due to safety issues. They couldn’t be repaired without tremendous expense so were only fit to be demolished, also being a substantial cost, which meant nothing was ever done about it.
—History of St. Catherine’s Monastery by Lu Xiao Zu.
There was a knock at the door. That familiar feeling of dread welled back up inside Kato as he looked to the door. A second knock. Kato mustered his courage and rose to open the door. He was surprised to see before him a young boy, perhaps 12 years old. The boy looked up and said, “Follow me to the clothing room, please.” He then turned and started walking away. Kato wondered why the boy was in such a hurry, but he closed the door and followed.
Kato really did not want to see any more of this accursed school today but, again, what choice did he have? He obediently followed the boy out the door. At the hallway entrance, there was an open door he hadn’t noticed at first. With a quick glance, he noticed a large room with tables laden with games, books, and other items; perhaps a common area for students to gather? After leaving the dorm, they walked across a courtyard. Even though Kato’s first impression of this school and everything was all doom and gloom, it was actually a warm, sunny day, though none of that penetrated the cold in Kato’s heart.
They entered another large building and walked through many stupidly long hallways and corridors. Kato had a good sense of direction, but he wasn’t entirely confident he would be able to find his way back, so he made mental notes of milestones, certain paintings on the wall, one horrid looking statue, and so on. Kato also wondered about the boy. During his orientation, and during the lunch from hell, he only remembered seeing boys his own age. Before he thought to ask, one last left turn and the boy said, “Wait here.”
Kato stood before a long counter full of clothing. The boy went into the door behind the counter and left Kato standing there. After a minute, a different boy, who was maybe a little older than Kato, came out with a measuring tape. He was remarkably tall. He stood a whole head above Kato. “Let me measure you for your clothes,” was all he said. He started measuring Kato’s arm, neck, chest, waist—which were all embarrassing enough to have another boy’s hands all over him. Kato felt bashful when the boy began measuring Kato’s inseam. He was thankful that his embarrassment seemed to have gone unnoticed.
The tall boy said, “Just a minute,” before going back through the door. Kato turned to see two more 12-year-old boys followed by two other boys Kato’s age, who were also wearing street clothes. Kato wondered if they were as frightened as he was of this place but neither boy showed any expression on their face.
The boy in charge of Kato returned with a large duffel bag and handed it to Kato. “Here’s your school uniform and underclothes. You must wear this while attending class or any time you leave the dorm. You’re free to wear your street clothes inside the dorm. Goodbye.” With that, he turned and ran off, no doubt to fetch another student. Kato slung the bag over his shoulder, quickly glanced at the two other boys, and then made the long trek back to his dorm.
He entered his room, unpacked his duffel bag and filled the wall cubicles with the clothing, hanging his suit on the hook underneath, and putting his new shoes and a new pair of slippers on the floor. To his surprise, a large package full of personal hygiene items and soap was in the bottom of the bag. He also put these away.
Looking at his new shoes and slippers, he noticed that the floor was concrete. He hadn’t even considered taking off his shoes before entering the room, not that he had seen shoe cupboard anywhere in this foreign environment, or even an entryway where he could remove his shoes to don the slippers.
Then it hit him, hard. He had to pee, badly. On his way back, he had noticed a door marked for such a purpose, so he swiftly walked out of the room and down to the end of the hallway and through the door. He saw a large room with lots of sinks and mirrors, another large room with urinals with no partitions in between, and a few toilets with partitions around them. He was thankful that at least he could do his business in privacy. He went to the stall and shut the door. After relieving himself, he exited and washed his hands. He looked around and noticed another large room with 10 shower heads in it, five on the left wall, five on the right. Kato froze. I’m expected to shower with other boys? he wondered nervously. As he was contemplating the barbarity of this place, two other boys entered the bathroom while horse playing and went to the urinals. Kato saw this as his chance to escape.
Back in that familiar solitude of his room, he sat in his chair and wondered why this was happening to him. He didn’t feel the need to cry but he was depressed.
He awoke to the sound of the door opening as Tachibana walked through it and put his books on the table. He smiled at Kato, “Hi there. Feeling any better?”
“No,” Kato replied. It was a half-truth. The nap helped him, and he was glad to have had a few moments of peace.
“Well, you look like a tame rabbit now, not the frightened one I saw after lunch.”
Kato didn’t think the rabbit joke, being a play on words with his last name, was all that amusing but he simply smiled to hide his emotions.
“At any rate,” Tachibana continued, “dinner will be in another hour. I’m going to take a quick nap.” Tachibana threw off his shoes and laid down.
Kato sat there in his chair with a mortified look on his face. He forgot that he would have to return to the chow hall. Lunch at St. Catherine’s had been a nightmare. He could only imagine how bad dinner at St. Catherine’s would be.