Through the panes of the car, my eyes peer through the screens illuminated by ancient bulbs of warm, familiar light. Grandma hobbles to and from the kitchen in her thin frail frame. Grandpa sits with his back to the street, mesmerised by the television. Beside the house, cherry blossom flowers with heads hanging low sway listlessly in the dusk of day. They float like miniature parachutes to the ground. The cherry blossom tree leans to the side, much frailer than I recall.
Aika’s large luminous eyes look out from the framed car window and point to the soft glow of white-pink tree delightfully.
I remember a long time ago when we had dug up the moist soil of our front garden. Grandpa and grandma had left their daily rituals in front of the midday television to plant the cherry blossom tree with me. The “Sakura”, grandpa had said- would be the locus of his wandering compass- a point he would always come home to. I remember swatting beside them, giving up and deciding to play instead. The soft texture of the soil fell through the gaps of my fingers, the rich loam had smelt pungently of fecundity. The sapling stood surrounded by the “kaizoku” – the family, our shadows joined as one.
“We’ll feed it with our love,” Grandpa had said. “It’ll grow well. Just like you, Hinata, I promise.” His eyes twinkled with certainty.
But then came the night that Grandpa had smashed the Japanese tea table in a fit of shame and disappointment. The kotatsu table shattered, its side bookmarked with the cherished memories of family. It had smashed like kindling, its history shattering with the soups and sauces onto the floor.
“I will never give permission!” He had snarled vehemently, his face a mask of impassivity. “You are much too good for the likes of a Burakumin!” (A class of Japanese tied to low class criminality)
My padded feet thumped across the tatami. Paper doors slammed shut. Grandma stood in the door way of the main corridor, shouting for me to return. Grandpa sat motionless after his outburst, like a stoic samurai determined to see his decision to the end.
I had stepped into the drive way, feet muddy from the hastily donned geta. I had slammed the pedal. My car had clipped the cherry blossom tree in the driveway, shattering one of its limbs. I could still recall the sound of metal indenting and cracking branches as I drove off. I left amidst a swirl of crimson petals scattering like a scarlet storm.
In hindsight, I had wondered what really had gone through our heads that night. Perhaps I was too much like Grandfather, and therein lied the irony. Two beings, both too proud to admit their own faults, too stubborn to see their own doubts, and too absorbed to see the wounded, animal anguish of leaving one another.
My arm reaches over to the passenger seat. My fingers brush and take hold of a small gift box in polished lacquered wood, there is an inlay of a small pink Sakura petal in warm mother of pearl.
Despite Grandfather’s command of exodus, a deeply rooted locus draws me back year after year to the old family manor. In the box I kept a collection of Aika’s photos as she grew, a little montage of the past five years in snapshots of happy memories.
I feel the demon of guilt rising from my chest again, tugging with it the memory of that night. Again, I feel the urge to flee, to put one easy tap on the pedal and be free from the painful conflict within my heart.
Then, almost gingerly, a small moist hand stirs me from my onset of melancholy.
“I can take it for you mummy.”
I look into the face whose features echoes mine, and saw courage that I cannot muster.
“Thank you, Aika-chin.”
Stepping out of the car with Aika’s soft warm fingers wrapped tightly around my thumb, I walk towards the cherry blossom tree that Grandpa and I once read books under. I lean down to grab a handful of fallen flowers and slide them gently into the right pocket of my tattered coat. I’ll make Aika a cherry blossom wreath when we get home. When she is older, she will learn that her great-grandmother once did the same thing for me.
I stop before the gate however, and watch as Aika makes the rest of the journey. In the house, two figures now sit watching TV. The announcer masks the sound of Aika’s footsteps as she approaches the door. Colours play across the curtain, disguising the small silhouette crossing the front lawn and towards the ancient door. She puts down the gift box with its hand-made card, and then points with one small finger towards the ground, where a similar wooden box lay on the porch. I wave my hands calling her back desperately.
She returns with the second box in her arms.
Aika holds up the box, there was a note attached with hand painted caligraphy. An odd feeling overcomes me as I stare, my lips quivering, my heart racing. Unsteady hands grab the box as I kneel down. There is a small note attached: “To Hinata”. Gazing into Aika’s eyes, I somehow find the sporadic courage in me and open the box. Inside, a beautiful cherry blossom wreath lies. It’s deep carmine crimson touches me as tears cloud my eyes.
I cup Aika’s hands into mine, and looking at the cheery blossom tree, take a step toward the door I had shut so long ago.
Marker’s Notes: I loved this one. It also went through numerous iterations. The first problems were structural, then tenses were misplaced, then there was issues with colloquialism. However, it eventually became well crafted when innocuous elements of Japanese culture were slipped in without ham-fistedly destroying the atmosphere. It tells a strong clash between culture and personal desire, family and forgiveness.