Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scintilla 6: Testing character . . .

Scintilla 6: Describe a time when your character was tested.

Tsunematsu-san was always composed. He was very short, even for a Japanese, yet his air of confident calm meant regardless of the crises that surrounded us, his few words put us at ease. Did I say we were international bankers in a west coast start up? Assigned to our office from Japan, he moved through the day as if he were at home. Occasionally he would talk to me about Hiroshima, where his family lived for generations. I didn't have the courage to ask him why he came to the states or how he felt about America.

Everyone liked Tsunematsu-san. For his 60th birthday, we planned a surprise birthday. Because I worked most closely with him, I was delegated to bring him to the break room. The hour came. I picked up my phone, dialed his number, and said with some urgency, "Tsunematsu-san, please come to the back office. I need you."

He was dutifully surprised by cake and the gathering of office workers and expressed pleasure. "We do not celebrate birthdays in this way in Japan," he said. But after the party was over, he took me aside. "Beth," he said, "you did not tell me the truth when you called me. The words cannot be taken back, even if for this good cause. Now I know I cannot trust you."

I was shocked. I was hurt. But his words forever changed me.

NOTE: I'm joining Scintilla Project (daily prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written here or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and write on!


  1. Though I've never experienced this, I can only imagine how bad you felt. Traditions are celebrated different and you were only doing the American was of things. You meant well and were only trying to celebrate his birthday. It's sad to see he doesn't trust you, even when you weren't trying to hurt him.

  2. Thanks, Steven, for your comments which are very true, but the lesson I learned from Tsunematsu-san is that integrity is to be guarded, even in small things. I barely remember Byron's quote, something like "The road to hell is paved by 'I meant well'." I believe he did understand the situation and we did remain friends; I consider him a valued teacher as this incident happened when he was in his sixties, and I was in my twenties.