Fate and Sakura
The Flute of Fate
We reached Los Angeles camp around midday and it was all in a mess up. Everyone were busy trying to get ready to leave. We didn’t have much time and were scheduled to leave the camp in the eve. It was tight schedule and Sgt. Hayden was tighter. Lucky we came on time and very lucky not to be involved in setting up for the departure. I helped other folks in uploading supplies. Though the war was over but we were commanded to go fully equipped. Some of the faces were familiar and I wasn’t surprised to see Simon again. He was sitting on a heap of cargo and I went straight to him carrying some supplies.
He saw me and gave a usual cheeky smile and said, “Well, well, well, someone has reasons to be here! Why home got too much for you?”
I smiled back and shook his hand and said, “I have a reason to go atleast but it seems like home was too much for ya!”
He burst into laughter and said, “You know man, world is not for a military man! Ever since am here I can’t stop thinking about the ordeal we went through! When back there I always wished to return home but at home I just got more confused! I tried to seek peace but it wasn’t there! I got more horrors and all those memories came down at once! Soldiers dying, unstoppable blasts and being cautious always had driven me nuts! I suppose most these men also felt the same!”
I added, “Yeah that’s pretty sure!”
We chatted for some time before Sgt. Hayden gave us orders to leave soon. Simon turned around and said,
“What you doing tonight?”
I answered curiously, “Nothing, Why?”
“Well journey to Okinawa would be quite long so meet me up tonight at the common bar!” he said.
I could not say no to him and agreed that we would meet up at the bar. Afterall we had to pass our time some how and to overcome the loneliness. We left the camp at 5.30 pm and arrived at San Fransisco port late at night. The ship would be leaving in the morning and we were supposed to spend the night on the vessel itself. After unloading the supplies I barely had energy to move myself another inch but Simon was already there. I looked at him with unappealing eyes but couldn’t resist so I joined him straightaway. We spent about an hour at the bar and then after that retired to our cabins.
I couldn’t recall when actually I went to sleep but when I woke up we were already on our way to Okinawa. I went outside and saw the waves splashing behind us with a faint silhouette of mainland showing at the background. I looked up in the sky and smiled to myself.
Now am really going back to ‘The Sakura Land’. I don’t know what it is like there and when I would finally get the opportunity to return to Hokkaido. All I could do was to wait and wish to see Aiko very soon. It had been almost six months I had been away from her. These six months had been a torture for me and I suppose it had been the same for her. I wished for the wind to take my message across to her and tell her that very soon I will be in her arms. This time back again and never to leave.
We spent three weeks on the ship traveling and everyday I accompanied Simon at the bar. The same routine repeated, he gets drunk and rowdy and I have to escort him to his cabin. Maybe that was the reason why none of his friends stuck with him longer.
Despite that fact I grew much used to him and it wasn’t bad to hang out with him. He was funny and comes up with some very weird life facts. Though irritating at times but a good man by heart. He doesn’t count himself as a religious man for used to say always ,
“If God is with us then who is on the other side with our foes? They also believe in God but why the same god does not listen to their prayers?”
He was right on that part as men on both side die. If god was with the righteous ones then none should be dying. I always wished if he would have met my grandma and gave his bit of preaching stuff. For sure he would invoke a congregation of his kind. By the end of month we arrived in Okinawa.
Upon reaching Okinawa I recalled the lie I made to grandpa regarding this place. It was really a lie because there wasn’t anything and the whole place was in a big mess. The locals managed to set up a bit like getting rid of dead bodies but still a lot of work required to be done. First we had to clear the debris and spoils of war. The problem was that wreckage were everywhere and we didn’t know where to begin.
So first few days we spent installing our temporary base. In the meantime the senior officers designed the working schedule and we waited for more resources. Soon the supplies and more hands arrived from mainland Australia. We desperately needed heavy machineries to move big wreckages. The senior officers divided us into four teams and gave routine based tasks. Fortunately Simon was in my team and he made his presence known. Crazy guy kept everyone busy, but more with laughter.But I believe that was good for us otherwise our job wouldn’t seem like ending.
In next couple of weeks we managed to clear the mess and set up the military base. There was already an airbase used by the Japs and now it was official property of the United States of America. The first aircraft landed on the 23rd February, 1947. And soon more arrived. By early march we had fifteen B-51 and one large carrier. The Port had one battleship anchored and three others were afloat in the open sea. We were supposed to spend another seven months on the island but it seemed too long for me. I was trying seek out as soon as possible.
The work had been done and nothing was happening so what’s the use of staying I asked myself. Maybe this time I have to make my way out again. I tried to approach Sgt. Hayden about it but he seemed more busier than before. As time went by I grew more and more impatient. Again it seemed like a torture to me as I was already close to her but this invisible barrier kept a tight grip on my heels.
As I had been waiting for a chance to get out of Okinawa, I discovered that grandma and aunt Shirley had secretly slipped some cash in my luggage. I was bit disappointed with them for I didn’t need money but maybe they thought otherwise. Altogether they had given me $2637 and I brought $1500 for myself. Now I have $4137 and it was not safe to keep with me over here. Though these men are fellow comrades but when it comes about money they can change their views instantly.
Now I really had to get out from this place. So I decided to talk to Sgt. Hayden straight. On the eve of April 4th I went to Sgt. Haydens cabin. He was busy going through some paper work. I knocked on his door and looked at me with a surprise look. He called me inside later and said,
“Mr. Ryan Ashton! Getting along with Okinawa son! How’s it? I know pretty tougher than expected but somehow we managed to finish our task much earlier than we expected! So how’s it like in the camps! Boy I miss those moments when I was about your age and had a real great time hanging out with fellas after any given task! Anyway am sure you have something in your mind or else you wouldn’t come here! Tell me what is it?”
he said it in a casual manner and I almost forgot where to start from. I told him,
“Sir! Now the job had been done I wish to return!”
He gave me a disagreeing look and said, “Yes now the task had been done and all of us want to return! But who goes when and where is not in my hands boy! Actually we should be here till July atleast!”
I didn’t like his answer and spoke, “But sir, I can’t wait any longer! I wish to go to Hokkaido as soon as possible!”
Sgt. Hayden got bit infuriated by my request and said in a strong and firm tone, “Well I can’t do much for you here! You should know better that you are a soldier first and don’t forget your position when making such worthless requests! You should be thankful that you are atleast here! Or else you would be still working at your grandpa’s fields!”
I was desponded by his answer but felt bit unsatisfied by my way of approach. Infact I was wrong and I shouldn’t have talked to him like that.
I apologized to him, “Sorry Sir, for a moment I forgot all about that! It won’t happen again!”
Sgt. Hayden got bit calmed down by my apologetic tone and said, “It’s ok son! I understand your feelings! I know you love that village girl! But right now I can’t do much! I have to follow orders! But tell you what I will personally look for a way out for you! Right now am just asking for is a bit of time! Ok! Just trust me and I will do it for you! Don’t worry you are at the back of my head always because I have to answer to your father as well!”
Hearing about my father I grew more interested in him. I wanted to ask him about my father but he spoke before I could ask him,
“Yes Ryan! Your father and I are still in contact! He often asks about you and all this while I had been his eyes to inform about you! You don’t know what happened to him or else you wouldn’t hate him that much!! He was…..!”
Sgt Hayden was about to say something when I added, “I know everything now sir! Grandma told me!”
Sgt. Hayden was astonished to hear that. I bowed and gave him dismissing salute and came out. I know that I have to wait a bit longer but the problem is how to keep my burning heart calm. I didn’t ask Sgt. Hayden again about it. I had waited for this long so why not a bit longer. Days were back to usual task at the base. Everyday we get up early in the morning and start with drill exercises. Then we refresh ourselves and have our morning meal with short briefing following afterwards.
Days activity is highlighted in the briefing. Each day the same routine and the waiting continues for me. We were approaching the end of April then one evening while I was having a chat with friends I was called by Sgt. Hayden. It was unusual since never before he had called any one of us. I went to his cabin without hesitation. He was leaning on the chair with his hands over his head. I didn’t have to knock as he got my attention before I reached the door.
He signaled me to come in and said, “Ryan my boy! How you feeling today?”
I replied in the usual manner, “Not bad Sir! Am feeling great!”
He seemed to be in a good mood and replied joyfully, “Good then it’s ok! Well I have something of your interest I suppose! Tomorrow a batch of men from here are moving to Hokkaido and I had put in your name as well!”
I was lost for words as it I didn’t expect that to be coming my way. I replied,
“Really! Oh thank you very much Sir!”
but then I realized what if I have to report to the base there so I asked him, “But what if I don’t turn out at the base?”
Sgt. Hayden looked at me with an impish gaze and said, “Well my job is to get you there…it is your job to seek your destination!”
He gave me a smile and I got what he meant to say. I was suppose to ditch the batch in Hokkaido. He added,
“I give you a hint son, none of the men knows your sweethearts village!”
I was moved by this generous offer and couldn’t help myself thanking him. He smiled and said,
“Now your father would be satisfied! Don’t forget to give my regards to your darling! Go and get your life back son!”
I wanted to jump and give him a hug but that was against the protocol since we were still in uniform so I just shook his hand instead vigorously. I didn’t want to make it obvious about my leaving so I just pretended that it was just a short briefing about joining another team. Late in the night I packed my luggage without getting noticed.
Early next morning I was the first one to get up. Normal routine continued and by the time we finished our meal I was told to join the team by the airbase. While the rest of my friends and acquaintances were getting briefed I followed instructions of our new team leader at the base. Sgt. Hayden joined us and after the meeting he handed over an envelop. I guessed it must be money by judging it’s thickness. I didn’t have time look at it since we were boarding.
Before getting onto the vessel Sgt. Hayden gave me a hug which was unusual but I guessed he wanted to do that for a long time. Simon joined us soon after which caught us by surprise and Sgt. Hayden gave him a raised eyebrow look. Simon said,
“Going my friend! Well you don’t need to keep it away from me! I knew this day will come soon! Others would believe you joining another team but I think otherwise! Anyway just wanna wish you luck and hopefully we will meet up again!”
I was bit embarrassed but couldn’t do much as my plans would create much unwanted concern in the camp. However I gave him a hug and said,
“You got me this time mate! Anyway I had a great time with you! You take care and hopefully we will meet up someday!”
I shook his hand and went inside. He passed me a note in which his address back in the states was. He told me to write to him first and I promised to do so. We left Okinawa afterwards I just wanted to set foot on the ground even though we weren’t hundred feet high. I was excited but at the same time worried. What if this flight crashes and I don’t get a second chance? I only wished for just one chance to see Aiko once more. So during the flight I was praying and it took us three and half hours to reach Sapporo Air Base.
We arrived at around 2pm on April 28th, 1947. It was still cold up here even though now it’s spring season in Japan. I felt sorry for my colleagues who accompanied me since they weren’t informed about chilly conditions of Hokkaido. Actually they didn’t realize it since there was a vast difference between climatic conditions in Okinawa and Hokkaido. But the blame still goes to them, for atleast they should have used a little bit of common sense when traveling north.
According to plans we were supposed to stay at the base camp till next day for further instruction. I figured out that I will only have time tonight to make a move. If I miss this then I won’t be able to get another one. As darkness grew stronger I waited for the perfect moment. Soon the hour arrived. It was around 10 pm when the lights went out in the hall where we were camping.
I managed to sneak out of the sleeping room but had to wait by the gate since night patrol were on alert and they could have mistaken me for an intruder. I walked to the security area without hesitation. I assumed that it would be the best place to escape from. There were three guards on patrol and each one from different state. I introduced myself and found myself in a lengthy chat with them.
They looked at me bit strangely when they first saw me with my luggage. I told them that I don’t trust new guys who are traveling with me.
“I have some good cash which I didn’t touch for a long time and don’t wanna get into unwanted hands!” I said.
Though I knew that it was risky to let them know about it but I had no other option. It was in chatting I found out that at 1 am a truck will head out to the west of the island with supplies. I knew that it would be passing AIko’s village. Seeking the opportunity I tried to convince them to let me go by that truck. I wished to see Hokkaido by road though it was dark. This idea did not strike them well enough.
I told them that my team would be joining me tomorrow at the western camp and I wanted to have some fun. Still they weren’t moved by my reasoning so I had to dig inside my bag. I couldn’t find my wallet but got the envelop which Sgt. Hayden gave me. I opened it and counted $600 from it and hand it over to those guys. I told them that they are not earning that much for whole week and am giving them for just few hours.
I promised them whatever the consequence I would take the whole blame on myself if there is an enquiry about my disappearance. Finally they agreed but told me to be quick and I may have to give some cash to the driver as well. I gladly agreed to that. While I was waiting for the truck to come I had a chance to look at the note which was with the letter. It was a letter from my father.
I counted the money and I had $1400 with me not counting the $600 I gave those guards. So altogether I had more than $7000 with me. Sgt. Hayden also gave me my pay before I came here. I was a rich man but it didn’t matter much to me since am going to the greatest wealth of mine. It was almost 1am when we could see shadow of light approaching from the distance.
The vehicle was on time but loading supplies made a delay of 20 minutes. It didn’t matter much to me but for the driver it was quite stressful. He was complaining about number times the vehicle engine stops and when he doesn’t make it on time he has to hear from his superiors. Well this man had some issues but nothing could be done since he is driving an old vehicle and it’s bound for such things to happen. The guards took him in a corner to calm him down and then signaled me to come forward.
They explained to him that I will give him $200 if he takes me to the other side. The man looked bit unwilling but the scent of money sealed the deal. We left the base around 1.30 am. He didn’t talk to me much then after half an hour he broke the silence,
“So why you wanna go to the other side? You could have waited and come along with your group! I mean could have saved your money, I suppose!”
I smiled and thought whether to tell him the truth or not. Then I replied,
“Well I was getting bored all this while! We came to Okinawa couple of months to set up the base! And I needed a desperate break since we had to work, work and work full time! I just need a short refresher to start up something new! I mean am that sort of person!”
he looked at me with curious eyes but didn’t comment on my statement. Later he took out a half smoked cigarette and lit it up. “You don’t mind me smokin’?”
He said as if he was going to stop if I say no.
“Nah! Go ahead! Actually I also smoke sometimes!” I said.
“Oh! Ok! Do you want to?” he tried to offer his cigarette.
“No thanks! You can finish that one for now!” I said.
He nailed it after I refused. Later I offered him my cigars which he delighted him. I guess free ones always bring smile upon anyones face. Throughout the journey we talked about each others home state and previous profession. He was from Dakota and used to be a mechanic.
Nathan was his name and he seemed to be around late thirties or early forties. He got stuck in japan after the war. He had not returned home and dares not to. According to him home makes him lazy and more stressful. He sends money home regularly but it’s not enough according to him. Why the guy has six children and four dependents in his family. I felt sorry for him but thought he could make it beautiful by being there with them.
Large number doesn’t matter, it’s love which matters the most. If he loves his family then any problem could be overcome easily. But he seems to be man of his own opinion so I didn’t wish to comment or suggest something yet. It was getting brighter as we approached dawn. Surely this country is land of the rising sun since it becomes bright much early in the summer season which is around the corner now.
We drove on for another two hours and it started becoming familiar that I was here. The environment started reminding me of my personal experiences and memories. Now I knew that we are very close to the village site. We climbed a small hill and the sight of the sea confirmed that am already here. I asked Nathan to stop the vehicle. He stopped few yards in front. I got off and said,
“Well my friend my journey ends here!”
He gave me a confused look and said, “The port is another two hours drive from here and what do you mean by ending your journey? You not going to the port?” he asked in a typical curious tone.
I smiled and said “Well my friend I do not wish to go any further! This is the place where I belong! It’s a long story and maybe someday I will tell you! But right now there is someone who is expecting me!”
He was still unclear. I took out $400 and handed it over to him. He looked at the healthy amount and smiled, “So you are doubling the amount for cover-up!”
I smiled and said, “Yup! 200 for you and 200 for your family! It won’t matter if the US army knows about me ditching them! I don’t want any dealings with them! Actually it’s not them but these people for what I am today! What will they do? Remove me from military and strip my honours! Well I don’t care now! I already left my badges and weapon at the air-base!”
Nathan looked at me in disbelief and shook his head. Then smiled and said, “Well my friend maybe you have some reasons behind this and I do not wish to know! All the best with your future and decisions! And don’t worry I won’t tell them where you are! You did not come with me and that’s what I will tell them! Those guards can’t question me since they will get I trouble as well! But I don’t think they will consider about this since it quite hectic over here now! Just keep safe and maybe we will meet someday!”
He said those words and cranked the gear. And then gave me a farewell salute and drove by. I kept on watching him go till the vehicle was engulfed in the thick forests. I picked up my luggage and took a deep breathe. I had an unusual shiver down my spine of nervousness and joy at the same time. Every step I made forward my heart pounded harder and harder.
I crossed the forests where I went for first camping with Hiroto. Then crossed the river where I held Aiko in my arms for the first time when we were lost during that stormy night. I kept walking and soon I could trace out my feet that I had walked on these path before. My pace grew faster and faster till I reached the stream by the village. I dropped my pace and walked through the Sakura trees by the bank.
I could see myself and Aiko in the reflection of my memory. The sakura trees had shed it’s flowers but some trees still had few left. I came by the village entrance and still the village seemed to be sleeping. The paths were same as before and the fields plowed giving out fresh scent of earth and charcoal. I walked passed Jako’s field and it was half ploughed. There was a scarecrow in the middle of the field. It had some unique features and I wished to ask the children later.
I was about to approach the house when I heard a voice from the path side, “I told you that you will come!”
I knew who it was. I stopped and turned to around. Sato was standing couple of yards behind me.
“Yeah you did and here I am! I left something here I think?” I looked at him and tried to hold myself.
And then both of us couldn’t help it and burst out into laughter. I ran across to him and gave a big hug knocking him over. We got up and kept laughing with tears of joy in our eyes. We tried to talk but words just couldn’t come out for some time. Our noise had got attention of other members by this time. Hiroto was the first one to come out of the house. Upon seeing me he gave a loud cry and came running towards me and joined us in our small group hug.
He was crying and complaining at the same time about why I had gone last time. I tried to explain but it seemed like no one were listening. So I just hugged him tightly and just said,
“It’s Ok! It’s Ok! Am here…….am here!”
later Jako and the children joined the reunion with Jako lifting me up while hugging. He welcomed me with open arms. Hana and Shila came later. It was not custom for women to hug males but these two ladies barred that belief. They gave me a hug and kiss and couldn’t believe themselves that I was actually here. Hana was very sentimental as she thought that I had gone for good last time and had some negative opinion regarding me.
Now all doubts and misunderstanding were clear and washed out cleaned by tears of joy and past regression. We soon gained attention of other villagers as well and after some time I could hear,
“Story-teller is here! story-teller is here!”
People started coming one by one and familiar faces welcomed me. Jako noticed people kept on coming and asking thousands of questions. He signaled Hiroto to take my luggage and escort me into the house. I joined Hiroto followed by the children and their mothers. My eyes searched for Aiko but she was no where to be seen. Maybe she did not hear about my arrival. I didn’t ask anyone and went inside the house.