Chapter 10: The Senior Member Exam
Fan Fiction inspired by Pokemon
Rating: Young Adult
I stood patiently as Mei helped me dress in my kimono. Yuki stood by to supervise.
“Don’t move, Shu-chan,” said my classmate. “The knot needs to be perfect this time.”
“I’m not moving, Mei,” I said. “You know you didn’t have to help me out.”
“That’s not my name! It’s Mei Jia!”
“Well, you call me Shu-chan. It’s only fair.”
“But that’s what Lady Erika calls you.”
“Yeah, and I don’t like it.”
Mei tightened my obi in anger. I gave a little squeal. Yuki grinned.
“This must be the first time you’ve made Mei Jia angry,” she said.
“Is there some unspoken rule around here that says I have to be punished all the time?” I asked.
“Not really; it’s more like an inside joke among the tea ceremony girls,” said Yuki. “You know we do it to pass the time, right? Don’t worry about it so much. You’re one of us now.”
“Thank you, Yuki. I wish the other girls were as honest and reasonable as you.”
“Not really. I enjoy pounding that thick skull of yours just as much as everyone else around here. Now, let’s see how Mei Jia did on tying your obi.”
Mei stood back as Yuki inspected my dress.
“Impressive, Mei Jia,” said Yuki. “Except that this is how you would tie it if he were a girl!”
“I knew it! Mei, you were trying to make a fool of me, weren’t you?”
Yuki pounded my head. I wanted to hold my head in pain, but I had to endure because I needed to have this kimono tied properly.
“Idiot, she only knows how to tie it a girl’s way. She’s a girl, after all! Here, Mei Jia, let me show you how it’s really done.”
As Yuki instructed Mei Jia how to tie an obi in the men’s fashion, she tightened the knots so that it would be harder for me to breathe.
“Aren’t you hurting him that way, Yuki?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, Mei Jia. Shuichi can handle this kind of pain. And he will lose some of that excess fat when he grows taller during his pokémon journey.”
“You mean Shu-chan is going to grow bigger when he leaves?” said Mei.
“Every boy does when they’re that age.”
“But I want him to stay the same!”
“Oh, he’ll always be that lecherous pervert we know and love in our tea ceremony class.”
“Hey, that’s not very nice!” I said. “Anyway, I’m glad you two helped me out today. I’m pretty anxious about meeting Erika’s family. You took the senior member exam at one point, didn’t you? What are they like anyway, Yuki?”
“Unlike our gym, Erika’s family is made up of mostly men who are relatives and family friends of hers. She addresses all of them as her uncles.”
“You mean, there aren’t any women that come to these evaluations?”
“Of course there are her aunts, too. But they aren’t nearly as critical of the junior members as her uncles.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Men know exactly what they’re looking for in a woman. And women are more likely to be competitive with each other anyway because they are afraid the girls will somehow take their prestigious status away somehow. It’s quite illogical, if you ask me. But regardless, expecting Erika’s aunts to evaluate objectively is almost out of the question.
Yuki rested her arm on one of her hands and stood in a pondering position, as if there was some detail she had missed.
“Then again, you are the only boy who has gone through this senior member exam since Erika had become the gym leader. It’s quite possible the opposite might be true. On the other hand, it could also work in your favor.”
“What makes you say that?”
“We’ve never had a boy go through the senior member exam, so there’s no recurring data we can say about them.”
Mei stood in front of me on her tiptoes and put her small arms around my neck from behind and nearly choked me.
“What are you doing, Mei?” I asked trying to catch my breath.
“It’s a good luck pendant,” she said. “It’s also your birthday present.”
She fastened the chain for the pendant from the back of my neck.
“How did you know today was my birthday?” I asked.
“You mentioned it in class, silly!”
Mei giggled as I stared at the pendant. It was a small glass charm in the shape of a fan. As I held it up to the light, a yellowish green color reflected from its design. I thought perhaps it was in the shape of a gym badge, but I did not recall one looking like this.
“Do you like it?” said Mei. “It’s a ginkgo leaf pendant. The girls and I helped make it from hand-blown glass.”
“So how is this good luck?” I asked.
“It’s a secret,” Mei giggled.
I didn’t bother to ask the details because the examination was about to start.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I entered the battleground hall in the Celadon City Gym, where the examination was taking place. Pokémon battles from challengers to Erika usually take place in this hall, but is occasionally used for events such as this. This was the largest room in the gym and there were many candidates for the senior member exam from the four junior member classes. I counted about fifty guests at the event. At least thirty of them must have been men.
“Exactly how many uncles and aunts does Erika have anyway?” I asked Amy, who had also entered the hall with me.
“Never mind that, we better get to the ceremonial tables,” she said.
We walked passed the dancing stage, a small theater used for poetry recitals, and a few areas laid with tatami for the flower arrangement demonstrations. Our tables were at the far end of the hall. Irene was already there to prepare us, along with about ten guests anticipating our performance.
“Amy, Shuichi, please get started right away,” said Irene. “Of all the demonstrations, yours are the longest to prepare because you must serve tea for all the guests who want it.”
“No way!” I shouted. “There must be at least fifty of them here. I have to serve all of them?”
“Because of the nature of this demonstration, only a few guests will observe you. Even so, you do not want to keep your guests waiting.”
“But Irene, we’ve only served about four cups at a time before,” said Amy. “How will we manage to serve all of them?”
“Just think of this as a repetition of your practice ten-fold. Now, get ready you two. You are representing the tea ceremony class for this examination.”
Amy and I bowed to Irene in acknowledgment and proceeded to the tables. The tables themselves were much larger, with a bigger tea pot and bowl for mixing the powder. I only remembered how to measure enough for three to four tea cups. Luckily I knew enough math from school to figure out how to effectively double my recipe.
The hall was very noisy. The conversations of all the guests. The folk music piping in for the dancers. The poems and songs recited by the girls from the poetry class. The whisk for the tea ceremony that I violently agitated into the bowl for a larger portion. Tea ceremony class was more of a silent activity, as many ceremonies for tea houses are. Experiencing such a noisy crowd was very intimidating.
“Oh my, we have tea ceremony candidates this time around for once,” said a guest approaching. “It’s been awhile since one of them took the exam.”
“Hey look, there’s a boy among them,” said a female guest.
A group of Erika’s “aunts” crowded the tea ceremony area to get a better look at me. My face felt hotter and I’m sure my cheeks turned red. I forced a smile, feeling very embarrassed. Yuki and Irene passed out sugar candies to our guests.
I sensed Amy giving me a challenging glare, silently saying “I won’t be outdone by you!” The atmosphere of the examination felt very uneasy.
I served my first tea cups to the first group of ladies. They gladly took a cup and an evaluation survey. When my tray was empty again, I prepared my next batch of tea.
I was still in the middle of cleansing the cups when some of the recipients expressed their first impressions.
“Wow this tea is amazing!” shouted a woman.
“I agree,” said another one. “Who would’ve thought a boy could serve tea so well?”
The compliments amplified throughout the hall like the sound of a dinner bell for hungry patrons. Suddenly more people flooded the tea ceremony section. Amy and I gasped in surprise with all of our guests demanding a cup of tea. Yuki and Irene calmly let everyone take a sugar candy and wait patiently for their tea from the servers.
“Don’t worry, Shuichi,” said Yuki. “If there’s too many guests for you to handle, Amy will serve the others.”
“Wow, forget the boy, this girl makes even better tea!” shouted one of my previous guests.
Even more people rushed to the tables to try both Amy’s tea and mine. I looked at Amy, worried about the crowd; but Amy gave a sinister grin, as if challenging me to make a better tea. You’re on, I thought. I will please more guests with my tea!
When the performances were over, Amy and I received over forty surveys apiece. Irene and Yuki collected our evaluations and moved to another room to evaluate them. The results would not be announced until later that evening.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The remaining guests and the junior member candidates gathered for the closing ceremony: the announcement of the new senior members. Lady Erika had made the announcements for each qualifier by class. Since the tea ceremony class was at the end of the week, we would be announced last. Once a member’s name was announced, that member received a pokéball. Unlike other gyms or labs that allowed new trainers to choose their own pokémon, a matching system evaluated by this committee chose ours individually, whether we liked them or not.
“And now I am pleased to announce our newest senior members from the tea ceremony class,” said Erika.
Amy and I tensed up to hear the results.
“Congratulations! Both of our candidates have passed successfully! Amy, Shu-chan, please step up to receive your pokémon.”
The guests and the other girls from the tea ceremony class applauded around us as we got up to receive our pokémon. Amy went first and received her pokéball from Lady Erika. Unlike the other candidates who released their pokémon the moment afterward, she held on to hers.
Then I approached Lady Erika and bowed respectfully.
“Here’s your pokémon, Shu-chan,” she said while giving me my pokéball. “Go ahead, you two. Release your pokémon and meet your new partners.”
Amy and I threw our pokéballs on the ground to release the partners the gym had chosen for us.
With the exception of a few candidates, most new senior members receive a grass pokémon, as was tradition for a grass pokémon gym. All the new trainers today received a grass pokémon. Maybe I would be the exception.
But then, all my hopes were up when my pokémon revealed itself. It was a round creature with leafy green blades on its head and walked around with no hands. That’s right. I received an Oddish. I frowned and held my head down dejectedly as my pokémon ran around in circles around its new trainer.
“Well, so much for wishful thinking,” I said out loud. “What’d you get, Amy?”
“Oh my, it’s a Bellsprout!” said Amy. “It’s so cute!”
Amy patted the Bellsprout on its head. It made me slightly more cheerful.
“I never thought you’d be such a softie for cute things,” I said to her without thinking.
“You’re really asking me to pound your head again, aren’t you?”
I turned away and looked at my quirky Oddish. Erika patted me on the shoulder to comfort me.
“It’s alright, Shu-chan,” she said. “My first pokémon was an Oddish too, you know. She’s now a Vileplume and my most powerful pokémon.”
“The fact that it’s an Oddish isn’t what I’m worried about,” I said. “He acts so, uncontrollably.”
“Come to think of it, she was difficult to raise here at the gym. We decided to give her to you because you two are so much alike.”
“So in other words, you gave him to me because you didn’t want to bother to raise him yourself.”
“It’s not like that at all, Shu-chan. You really are perfect for each other. And like I said, she’s a girl!”
“What? How can you tell?”
The Oddish leaped onto my back and wrapped her leaves around my chest, as if hugging me. The leaves constricted more tighter than my obi as I began to flail violently.
“Just do some research on the anatomy of an Oddish,” she said. “And besides, she really likes you.”
Oddish never got into her pokéball after that moment. I can see why the senior members in charge of raising pokémon had trouble with her. She didn’t like being confined to a container and she had a very aggressive temperament, as I would discover when I got home that night.
It was then that Oddish smashed my birthday/graduation cake because there was a pokémon figurine on top of it. Maybe she thought it was an enemy. Who knows? Naturally I was disappointed because I didn’t get to eat cake, but for some reason, my parents thought it was funny. My twelfth birthday must have been the most exciting one yet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day, Nathan and I decided to meet up at the border of Celadon City. We had both received our pokémon and planned to leave the city together to start our journey.
“Hey, you’re late!” said Nathan. “And why do you have your pokémon in your arms like that?”
I panted to catch my breath from running. “She’s my Oddish, and apparently, she doesn’t like pokéballs,” I said.
“That’s too bad. You should’ve joined my gym in Saffron City instead. I got a Tyrogue from there. He may not be very strong, but he’s definitely stronger than yours.”
“How dare you plan on leaving here and not let me know!” shouted a familiar voice.
Amy had dressed in her traveling gear and ran toward us. Mei followed her.
“And don’t think you’re hot stuff just because you have a Tyrogue, Nathan,” said Amy. “A true trainer’s worth is measured when you get to the Pokémon League!”
“Very well, little girl,” said Nathan. “I’ll be the champion far before you get your eight badges!”
“I keep telling you, my name is Amy! And I think I’ll be the champion before you get six badges! I’m a genius, after all.”
Nathan and Amy continued to argue as they walked out of the city borders. I started taking my first steps out of the city when Mei tugged on the back of my shirt.
“Shu-chan,” she said, “you will come back, won’t you?”
I paused to turn back to Mei. I grabbed the pendant around my neck that she gave me and smiled.
“Of course I will,” I said. “I’ll be stronger than ever, and I will challenge Lady Erika for the Rainbow Badge! And of course, I’ll see all of you girls again, someday. And if things go wrong, Amy will be there to take care of me.”
Mei looked at me puzzled.
“I mean, I’ll be fine, trust me. She won’t be bothering me as much as I won’t be bothering her. But don’t worry, Mei. You’ll catch up with us soon enough.”
Mei started to tear again, but gave a smile.
“Okay then. Do your best, Shu-chan!”
And with that we waved good-bye as I ran to catch up with Nathan and Amy.
I will, Mei. I promise.