he mid-morning sun looms in the crystal sky. Its warmth urges the
open-air café patrons to shed their jackets and ties, and to seek
relief at small tables under the shade of blooming cherry trees.
The concrete is bright with pink petals. Occasionally, depending on
the breeze, more float down from the trees and race across the cement.
The small café is on a street corner just outside the Hibiya Station.
It is where my wife and I had lunch every day. It is where I saw her
last. Six years ago, if I had delayed her for a few minutes, she would
have missed the subway and the sarin attack, and our kiss good-bye
would not have been our last. I can still see her raven hair shining
and bouncing as she walked away. Afterward, I continued to come here
for lunch, sitting at our table whenever possible. Then it became a
meeting place for me and my kids. Anytime they couldn't find me, this
was the first place they'd looked. But today they're not looking for
me, their looking for each other.
Tommy, now sits at a table out of the sun's
warmth, next to the curb. Apparently, so he'll be able to see Naoko
no matter which direction she comes from. My kids. I sit at an empty
table next to Tommy where I know he can't see me.
He's grown about a foot taller since I saw
him last. His towering frame barely fits into the seemingly
miniaturized lawn chair, and though his long muscular legs slouch to
each side and cross at the ankles, the tops of his knees still scrape
the underside of the round metal table. A pair of leather sandals clad
his sockless feet, and he is wearing a pair of faded blue jean cut offs
and a light-gray T-shirt with the words "Bad Boys" scripted in black
letters on a single chest pocket. On the bridge of his long straight
nose sits a pair of Ray-Bans that hide his hazel eyes. Twenty-four,
but still seven to me.
Shirtless, in his farmer overhauls, he helps
dig a ditch with his grandfather. Both his toothpick arms wrap round
the lower half of a long handled shovel as he attempts to lift a heavy
load from the two-foot ditch. His little body bends back like a
half-penny nail under the pulling stress of a claw hammer. The strained
expression on his face, eyes clamped shut, lips stretched to one side,
teeth clinched tight, and cheeks pitched feverishly red, told me that
few things in this world would place limits on him.
In Tommy's right hand is a white letter-size
envelope. Thick. Scribed in blue on the front "Tom and Naoko." As he
looks up and down the crowded sidewalk, he taps the envelope long ways
on the metal table and slides his grasp down the envelope. He flips it
by pulling his hand several inches off the table. He again slides his
thumb and fingers down the envelope. This he does for awhile until a
slim waitress walks up to him.
She can't be more than five-foot tall. Her outfit
seems to dangle flat over her tiny body as if her bony shoulders were a
human hanger. A poor attempt at becoming blonde had left her hair wirey
and more orange than the desired golden tone. A few strands twist in
front of her jutting ears and around her untanned neck, but most of her
hair is flipped up in the back and held loosely in place by a large
purple hair-clip shaped like a seashell. Her thick lenses, wrapped in
silver wire-frames, make her big almond eyes look even bigger. Her
sunken cheeks push her pink painted lips into a permanent half-pucker,
which barely part when she speaks.
"Gochumon wa?" she asks as she bows
slightly. Voice soft as the morning air.
"Aisukoohii, please," Tommy replies.
"Kashikomarimashita," she says writing
his order on a small notepad. She turns and walks away.
At the age of three, Tommy had first come to
Japan and was just beginning to talk. At first, the neighborhood kids
picked on him, but by the time he was six, he was speaking both English
and Japanese and won their respect. But thats also when he
returned to the States and forgot most of what he had learned.
The waitress returns with his ice coffee
saying, "Omataseshimashita." Sorry to have kept you waiting.
Tommy moves his big arms from the table as she
sets a small bowl with two small plastic containers onto the table.
Avoiding eye contact with Tommy, she lays a white paper laced coaster
directly in front of him, and, to its right, a paper napkin. She puts a
long spoon and a white straw on the napkin. Then she places his tall
dark drink onto the coaster. She finishes by ripping a small slip of
paper from her notepad. She rolls it and puts it into a clear yellow
plastic cylinder on the table. She smiles at Tommy and bows once and
Out of the corner of my eye, I see my little
girl walking from the station, waving her hand in the air.
Naoko just turned twenty-one a few weeks
earlier, and she has truly grown into a beautiful woman. Her long
straight raven hair touches the small of her back and shines in the
sunlight and bounces, like her mother's, in time with her long
confident steps. Her bangs curl partly over her perfectly tapered
eyebrows. A sharp contrast from ten years before when she cropped her
bangs, but she was still cute to me. And as she grew older her round
face smoothed and narrowed defining her high cheek bones and jaw line,
and slimming her slightly turned up nose. Now, her clean face requires
little or no makeup at all, and her natural rosy lips only call for a
small amount of clear gloss to keep them moist.
Naoko isn't dressed as casually as Tommy,
she's wearing a dark blue pleated skirt that curves down to her knees
and a loose fitting white short-sleeved shirt with a red ribbon bowed
in the collar. In her left hand is a small white strapless handbag. As
she approaches the table she flashes him a big white smile, and when
she takes off her sunglasses she shows us her sparkling ebony eyes.
Both Tommy and I stand to greet her; and as they embrace, her
five-foot-seven figure is enfolded in his airy build. I can see only
her slender hands sticking out at his sides holding her bag and
"Matasete gomenasai. Sorry to be
late," she says as she stands on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
"No, no, daijyobu. It's okay. I wasn't
waiting long," he says pulling out a chair for her. "Are you hungry?"
He pushes the chair in as she sits down. He walks back to his chair,
and we both take our seats.
"Onaka wa suiteinanai. Not hungry,
thirty," she says waving down the waitress ordering a lemonade.
"Suimasen, remonedo onegaishimasu."
"Hai, kashikomarimashita," the
waitress replies confirming her order.
"Tommy genki desu ka?" Naoko asks as
she puts her handbag and sunglasses on the table.
"Yeah, I'm okay, I guess. How about you?" He
puts his sunglasses on the table too.
"Well, the service is tomorrow, are you gonna
be okay?" Tommy asks as he losses his boyish smile and picks up the
liquid sugar from the small bowl.
"Um, ashita wa tabun daijyobu. Tommy
"I guess, maybe I'll be okay too, but I don't
know. I just thought, well . . . I'm just gonna miss him that's all.
I just wish he'd let us know he was sick." Tommy opens the sugar and
pours it into his drink. The clear liquid sugar sinks slowly through
the blackness twisting its way round the ice cubes.
"Watashi mo. Demo ne, Papa wa itsumo
watashitachi no kokoro no nakani iru yo," Naoko says looking at
him with her make believe smile and holding her hands to her chest.
"I know he'll always be in our hearts and all,
but I woulda liked to been able to say good-bye."
"Um, wakata, that's understandable.
At hospital, the night before he passed, Papa said we need be strong
and not be afraid. He told me he love us very much and he will always
be with us. I can't stop crying that night."
"Were you there when it happened?"
"Um, ita, I was there. That day the
doctors gave Papa a lotta medicine to stop the pain. He sleep a lot and
wake up sometime. Sometime he talk to people not there. I was a little
afraid, but when he held my hand, I feel a lot better. Once, I remember,
he hold my hand and his eyes open and he smiled and said, 'Care for
them.' He weren't looking at me, he was looking up. I don't know who he
was talking to."
"Wonder what he meant?"
"Wakaranai. I don't know. Ne,
oni-chan, remember that time you and Papa bungee jumped."
"Yeah, I was so scared, but he wasn't.
Seventy-five meters up, but it seemed like a lot more. They strapped
us in those barbecue apron looking things and tied us to a fat cable."
"Yeah, looked funny."
"Did you know he hit me in the mouth"
"Shiranakata! I didn't know that."
"Yeah, when they flipped us off our feet,
Dad accidentally hit me."
"It hurt a little, but he didn't mean to do
it. But anyway, he told me not to be afraid when they pulled us back.
I couldn't help but be afraid, I was only fourteen, and we was hanging
face down high above the ground. If we fell, we'd be dead." Tommy
stops talking, waiting for that word to clear the air. "Well, when it
came time to pull the cord, I was too scared. So, he pulled it
screaming 'Yahoo!' and we fell for what seemed like an hour, but only
a few seconds. And when the slack caught, I thought my back broke.
But the whole time he was yelling and having fun, he loved it. I don't
think he was afraid of anything."
"If he only knew. I was scared too, but I didn't
want to let him know."
"You know he went to a back doctor after
"No, I didn't. He never told me."
"Um, for six month. I find out because he
need me to take him there once."
"I guess there's a lot he didn't tell us.
What's your favorite memory?"
"Favorite? I guess, last year, wedding. That
was my happiest day of my life. He stood tall and proud next to me as
we walked down the aisle. I remember when I first introduced Taka-san
to Papa, I thought he gonna go through the roof. But after few months,
Papa approved and made me happy. That day he danced and made jokes
all through the reception. I just wish Mama was there. I think she
would've enjoyed it."
"I know she would have."
The waitress returns with Naoko's lemonade
breaking their conversion. And just as she did earlier for Tommy, the
waitress did the same for Naoko: a coaster in front, a paper napkin
to the right with straw, and the cold drink on the coaster. The
waitress looks at Naoko and asks if the bill would be together.
"Go isho desu ka?"
"Hai," Naoko replies.
The waitress takes the slip of paper from the
yellow cylinder and adds the change. Then she puts it back, bows,
turns and leaves.
"Ne, oni-chan, futo no naka wa nani?"
Naoko asks pointing at the envelope.
"Oh, this, I don't know," Tommy says picking
up the envelope. "Dad's lawyer gave it to me this morning and told me
we should read it together. I knew we were gonna meet, so I waited."
Tommy taps the envelope on the table once and rips the right side open.
He blows into it and pours out its contents. A silver key slides out
and clangs onto the table. Tommy shakes the envelope once sending the
folded pages on to the table as well. He picks them up and motions
them towards Naoko.
"No, yomitakunai. Please, you read,"
she says as she picks up the key.
While Tommy read the pages, Naoko looks down
at the key in the palm of her hand. Her bottom lip pushes out and rolls
up over her top lip, just like her mother use to do when she lost
interest in something. Naoko closes the key in her hand and sips her
drink. She watches quietly as Tommy reads the papers. She and I notice
a small smile curl at the ends of his thin lips as he flips through
the last few pages.
He looks up at Naoko and says, "Well, pretty
much these documents say we have complete ownership of all Dad's
paintings, drawings, and writings. Theres a list of over three
hundred things here. Dad musta dedicated his last few years to his
artwork and writing. I guess, maybe he knew he didn't have much time
and wanted to leave us with something. That key is for a storage room
that holds all his stuff."
"He wants us to have 'em?" she asks as she
opens her hand and looks down at the key again, but this time her
bottom lip stays perfectly in place.
"Yep. Why not? We're his kids. Who else
should have them? You know this means a lotta money. In January Dad
sold a painting in New York for five grand. Now, there's no telling
what this new stuff will go for."
"Aren't you gettin' little carried away!"
"Well, I guess a little, but Dad loved us and
wanted us to be happy. Right? And, well, this was probably the only
way he knew how. After your mom died, he was never the same. I just
think he wanted us to be together."
"But I don't want money. Papa o kaeshite
hoshii," she says as tears well up in her big beautiful eyes.
Tommy reaches across the table and takes her
hands in his and does what a big brother should, comfort his little
sister. "I know, I want him back too."
As I watch the tears roll down my little
girl's cheeks, my heart shatters into a thousand pieces and falls
lifeless to the ground among the cherry blossoms. I want to rush to
her and hold her and tell her everything is going to be all right,
but I can't. I'm no longer alive, and I wouldn't be with her no more.
And now my own fears grow strong making me fall to my knees with head
in hand. Crying. Wanting.
But then a warmth fills my soul and a bright
light shines from within me. I rise to my feet and the light consumes
me. I am the light.
Looking up, with arms stretched out, I shout,
"I don't want to leave my children! I want stay! Please let me go
My response is silence. The light speaks
words with no language; words that have no sound, but words I hear and
understand clearly. The silence calms my fears and puts me at ease. I
know now that it's okay to leave. My children will be all right. I
lean over a kiss their cheeks. "Farewell my little ones. Remember me,
and I'll be with you always."
And with a gentle breeze the cherry blosooms
run circles on the ground, and I drift upwards toward the blue heavens.
I watch my children as I drift higher and higher, until I see them no