When I was about five and lived in a community of tiny half-dilapidated apartments, there was a street just outside of the community’s premise which was a full of tiny local shops and restaurants serving the neighbourhood. Almost everything we needed in our everyday life could be found there: fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, other small grocery items, alcohols.
Among these tiny shops was a tofu shop run by an old lady. Since her shop was directly in front of our apartment, I often saw her from my window. When my mother and I went to her shop to buy some tofu, she was always delighted to see me and greeted me with a big smile.
One afternoon, I went to the tofu shop with my mother as usual. While we chatted, a little girl appeared from the back of the store.
“My granddaughter is visiting me,” the store lady smiled at us as she called the little girl to come and greet us. “She is of the same age as you, I think.”
The girl and I looked at each other curiously, like two puppies meeting for the first time. From her expression, I could tell that she was thinking the same thing as I was: wouldn’t it be nice if we could play together?
As if reading our minds, the store lady said to my mother,
“Perhaps the two girls can play together at my house?”
“Your house?” I was surprised since I had never imagined that there was a house behind this tiny tofu shop. But indeed, there seemed to be a secret corridor behind the door from which the girl had emerged a moment ago.
Thanks to the store lady’s keen request, my mother agreed to leave me with them and come back to pick me up before supper time.
The girl and I jumped with delight, and I was led to the secret entrance to the store lady’s house.
I could not believe my eyes when I came out of the other end of the secret corridor. What lay in front of my eyes was a proper traditional Japanese style house, like the one I would see in a historical TV drama. There was a little garden surrounded by the wooden corridor, which even had a well. I could not believe that behind that tiny tofu shop was this beautiful paradise.
The girl took me to different rooms in the house and we played – I do not recall what exactly we did, but we got along really well. Once, the store lady served us tea and snack. It was as if I were in another world.
When my mother finally came to pick me up, it was already dark outside. The girl and I were sad to be parted, but we promised to meet again someday.
The promise was never fulfilled since that was the only time I saw the girl. But ever since, whenever I went to the store with my mother to buy some tofu, I would always watch the backdoor, fantasizing about the secret passage to the paradise I once saw.