by Carmen Tassone

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 that’s 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 leaves.
     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 glasses.
     "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.
     "Um, mama."
     "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 wa?"
     "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 that?"
     "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. There’s 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 back!"
     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 more.