Sensei tucks his feet underneath his body. Now he is less than me. No legs. Looking at me, he smiles. Then he tucks both arms behind his back and closes his eyes. He is one of us.
‘Ever since the beginning, the cockroach has been mightier than the dragon. If a dragon stands between a boy and his honey pudding, the boy will challenge the dragon. He will fight and sometimes the boy will win. Sometimes the boy will die. He doesn’t care. A samurai boy will take great risks and fight hard for pudding.’
We all nod. It’s true. There’s no finer food in the whole of Japan.
‘The cockroach is mightier than the dragon.’ Sensei raises his arms dramatically and shakes his long sleeves towards us. Cockroaches pour into our plates.
‘Yuk,’ screams Kyoko.
Looking at my pudding in dismay, I see one cockroach swimming laps and another waving its bottom in my face.
‘Eat up,’ says Sensei, lifting his bowl.
Taji shakes his head.
‘See.’ Ki-Yaga laughs. ‘The cockroach is mightier than the dragon. A boy will throw out his pudding if a cockroach has stepped in it. He will not even try to fight.’
Sensei stands up and walks back to the table. There is nothing wrong with his dessert. Slurping honey pudding, he studies our faces to see if we understand. Then he folds his long white beard under his kimono sash and closes his eyes to sleep.
My friends and I take our bowls outside. We’ve learnt the lesson all right. Next time Sensei tells a story, cover up your food.
(Chapter One: Little Cockroaches)