Fate and Sakura
The fields were now much emptier and Jako didn’t have to go to the market again. I suppose he had earned enough from his last trip. The remaining crops would substantiate the family throughout the autumn and perhaps winter. We occasionally visited the fields but spent most of the time in meeting other demands of the household like helping out in cleaning fishing nets, repairing fence, looking after the stables and going to the mountains to gather food and firewood. I preferred going to the mountains better than others. Usually mountain trips were for gathering wild fruits and vegetables but one of them was an interesting one for me.
One morning in the late summer Hiroto asked me to join him to the mountains. I thought that it must be one of the regular visits but looking at the equipment he was gathering I knew it maybe a hunting trip. I have heard stories of game and bear hunt back in states from my friends. Now I am having a chance of experiencing what they had boasting a lot about. Ofcourse a different environment but the feeling should be the same I hope. We loaded the equipments such as a machete, shovel, hunting spear, a dagger each and necessities for possible camping. Usually Hiroto does not camp out more than a day but once he did camped for three nights because he couldn’t get a game.
Jako was instructing him about which parts we should avoid loitering at since there was a rumour that Japanese soldiers must be patrolling. I don’t know what type of animal we were going to hunt that instant but maybe wild pigs or a deer because I was pretty sure that they were the common ones. But whatever it is I hope that we never come across a bear. Hana brought us our food which should be adequate for atleast three nights. We did not waste anytime and left for the mountains as soon as we were ready. We followed the common track which other members of the village do.
The valley was very silent unless we came across any villager with whom Hiroto shared some chat with. Maybe he was asking about any patrol sights. We moved slowly through the forests till we came to the foot of a small hill. This was the furthest I had been so far from the village. Hiroto knew what I was thinking I guess and smiled at me before signaling me to follow him behind. We did not stop till we reached the top of the hill. The outrageous scene of the valley and the forests was breathtaking. I could see the village from there and tried to locate Jako’s house. At first I couldn’t find it but soon I was able to. I could barely see if anyone was there. Maybe at the fields I could see some figures moving. Maybe it must be the children or even Aiko running after them. The thought of Aiko made me wonder if she is thinking about me at the moment.
We stayed there for a while and then proceeded with our journey. We climbed down to the other side of the mountain and came by the side of a stream. The water was shallow and crystal clear. The smooth river pebbles were so appealing that I wanted to ask Hiroto to stop over for a bath perhaps but I didn’t or else we will never make up to our site on time. But as we crossed over to the other side Hiroto halted and asked me that we should eat before we continue with our journey. To my delight now I can make some good use of my eating time. I took my food and sat on a boulder where I can dip my feet in the water. Oh how lovely the feeling of cool water flowing over my feet felt. Hiroto was making the best use of resting time by giving the horses a good drink of the stream water.
After sometime resting and smoking we left the streams and headed again into the thick forests. The forest looked very mysterious for me since it was denser than the ones we came through till now. At some places we had to walk through the bush since the branches were very low and the forest floor uneven. We were now climbing the big mountain which I had always seen from the fields. We walked for a long time and I was feeling exhaustion creeping up to my lungs. Same was with Hiroto but he looked fresher than me.
It was getting dark and we were suppose to find a spot to camp before it becomes pitch black. Hiroto was looking for an opening in the forest but it was getting quite difficult by now. At last we came to a big cedar tree and I asked Hiroto that we should camp here tonight. He also agreed with me because in the darkness we won’t know where are we wandering about. First we cleared the forest floor. I got busy with setting up our sleeping areas while Hiroto gathered firewood and prepared the fire. We had some cooked food remaining with us so we kept it aside for our dinner while Hiroto made hot tea and soup. We smoked and looked at the stars whole night. How beautiful they looked from here. I wondered if someone is out there looking at us this very moment. Maybe all eyes are shut because of the war.
We finished our dinner and Hiroto went to bring the horses closer to us. It wasn’t that we were worried about losing them but it was for our safety and provided warmth in the night. Horses would shield our bodies from any attacking wild animal I suppose. We fell asleep soon because we were tired.
Next morning we woke up with the sound of someone talking nearby. I looked at Hiroto and he signaled to me to remain quiet with a finger on his lips. He told me that he is going to check out and I should be hiding. My breath got caught within my ribs and I knew that it must be the Japanese soldiers doing their patrol. Hiroto had gone to checkout and I suppose I should hide. How ironical it was that am standing in a dense forest thinking where to hide when there are numerous choices for me. In the end I decided to stand still where I was because if I panic then I will have to face unforeseen circumstances.
It was quite long since Hiroto had been away and my curiosity was sinking deeper into my heart. I waited and waited till I could hear someone approaching behind the bush. I stood up and was taking my chances to either run or defend and the through the bushes Hiroto’s head appeared. How relieved I felt that moment. Hiroto approached me with a smile and I knew that it wasn’t the soldiers. He told me that they were from neighbouring village also out for hunting. He also gathered the information that there won’t be any patrol for now. The very warmth of my breathe which was taken away found it’s way back again to me.
I smiled at Hiroto and said “This must be our lucky day.”
We quickly had our breakfast and set out again for the next part of our hunting trip. On the mountain tops it is much easier to notice that now summer is leaving us. It was quite cool and I wondered if we have to camp there for the night then it would be a disaster since we did not bring much covering blankets. We did not go up to the summits but stopped at a certain height and Hiroto tried to locate his grounds. Still I didn’t know what exactly are we hunting and preferred to remain it like that for being more adventurous. We moved slowly down the mountain after Hiroto had made his marks. Down the mountain we found a patch opening where we unloaded our belongings. We tied the horses to the cedar trees and went into the forest.
Hiroto was a very skillful farmer and a handyman as I had personally seen him. Now I wanted to see how skillful he is in hunting. Ofcourse I didn’t have any doubts but there was a burning curiosity. He looked for signs of the games presence and after finding fresh footprints he increased his speed. I also had to do the same because I didn’t want to get lost in this forest. We kept running till we came to a point where we stopped. I was panting my lungs out and then Hiroto signaled to me to quieten down. I knelt down with my head facing my knees trying to regain my breath. When I was alright he showed me a group of Japanese deer gathered up ahead in the plains. Now this time we have to be really quiet since deers are very swift and very cautious about dangers approaching.
I wish that we had a gun this moment so that I could shoot one down. We stalked near them like a wildcat approaches it’s prey. We had to be very careful since any mistake would not give us another chance. Now I wondered why it is called a game because it is like a hide and seek in reality. We moved very slowly trying not to be seen or heard. At twenty yards away from the animals I saw Hiroto now trying to go around. He told me to wait there and wait for his signal. He moved very quietly towards far northwest direction from the place I was standing if I am taken as north. I could not see him through the thick bush and then suddenly his hand appeared. He looked at me and gestured to chase the animals from the opposite side I didn’t whether it was right or wrong because I had no one to ask about what I should do and Hiroto’s continuous signaling was really confusing me.
I stalked a few meters to my right and then ran towards the herd. The animals sprang for safety in whatever directions they could but away from me. I could see one heading towards Hiroto’s direction and just about couple of yards away it met the most unwanted surprise. Hiroto speared the animal just as it was leaping in front of him. However it did not stop at the same instance so Hiroto had to run afterwards. I followed them and not very far away from where Hiroto was hiding the animal was on the ground. It wasn’t dead but soon would be so he had to hurry back to the camp site.
At the camp site we skinned the animal after killing it took out it’s innards. I wasn’t used to such tasks and it times it really looked disgusting. I thought how are we going to eat it up. Hiroto did most of the cleaning and slicing the meat out while I just helped when he needed it like holding the legs or bringing the bag. It would be dark soon and the scent of the fresh meat may draw some unwanted guests so we decided to return home. I knew that once we cross the forest between this mountain and our hill we are home but as it appeared it would be a very difficult task. We kept on moving but the rugged terraces and the thick forest really made it difficult.
Now it was getting darker and it was becoming very gloomy. We couldn’t see each others face properly. I told Hiroto that if we could follow the stream then it would be easier. He agreed because this stream has a branch which leads very close to the village and we knew where that branch was. Somehow we managed to get to the stream. The sound of moving water guided us in which direction it was flowing. Now it was dark but fortunately it was a bright moonlight. Though it wasn’t a full moon, but light enough to see the white splashes of moving water and the banks. We moved slowly since it was night now. We chatted all the way down to the place where the stream branch was. Now home was near and we felt comfortable.
It wasn’t long before we could see the village lights. Slowly and slowly the lights became brighter and brighter till we could hear voices and see moving shadows. The barking of dogs made the villagers aware that someone is coming. We kept going till a voice could be heard saying “Hiroto” I know that voice and it was Sato. He welcomed us feeling quite happy because now his smoking partner was here. He helped us to take the horses to the stable and then later brought our belongings. Jako was away fishing so the gate was closed. Sato opened it for us and then closed it when we got inside.
We could hear the door being opened up for us. I didn’t see who was there but as we got nearer I so Aiko staring down at me. With a soft voice she welcomed us and then smiled at me. The children were awake and so were their mothers. Soon we were greeted by a loud noise. Hana welcomed us both and Hiroto handed out the meat to her. She looked pleased with it and invited us to have our meal first before bath. Tonight we can take bath in the house since it was cold outside and pretty late for the bath. Escape Time went so fast that it was hard to remember when I came here. For now I can admit that I had been in this village for more than two years. My day begins with outdoor activities mostly helping either Hiroto or Jako around.
At times I attend to kitchen chores brought about by Aiko or Hiromi otherwise am always with the men. Though I feel that am a foreigner over here but Jako’s family do not see me from that perspective. I am treated equally as other members of the family and sometimes given better privilege. However for my part I make sure that I do all I can for this family who had done so much for me. I enjoy my time out with Hiroto a lot and we had grown quite fond of each other. I regularly joined Hiroto in fishing or trip to the mountains.
By now Hiroto had learnt my tongue as well and life hadn’t been so easier for me than before. But I always wished if Aiko had also learnt like Hiroto. For more than two years I had watched her by my side and everyday her beauty seems like multiplying. Hana spends most of her time with her nowdays for I suppose she is preparing her how to manage a family of her own. But as far as I see there is no doubt that she won’t be able to do it. She is just like a young bird ready for her first flight. Since war was still going on Jako spent most of the time away. Perhaps he wanted to gather any information regarding the Japanese army’s whereabouts. I suppose it wasn’t only me he was concerned about.
Actually the whole village was under a great risk of harbouring an enemy soldier. Sometimes we could hear loud booms in the distance and everytime it felt like that it is growing closer. I don’t fear death but since I have feeling towards this family I do not wish any harm to happen to them because of me. Sometimes I could hear Jako speaking to Hana about the patrols and their latest locations. I could see fear growing in their eyes but still they do not wish to admit it to me. As days went by there was a rumour in the village that the patrols are moving in soon.
Now I could see the same fear but in a form of anger or perhaps disownment in the eyes of other villagers. People who greeted me before are now cursing my shadow. Hospitality had grown cold and I even don’t know what I should do next. A strange country and even stranger people and being a foe it feels like locked in a box ready to be opened soon. While everyone grew cold towards me Hiroto and Aiko came much closer to me. Hiroto was there as always but now Aiko is spending much time with me. Sometimes three of us spent whole night in our room chatting and sharing few moments of laughter to ease the stress away. The parents did not stop Aiko from spending long hours with us for I suppose they understood the situation. But I felt sorry for Aiko for she always looked tired the next day.
It was winter now and we had to stay indoors most of the time. Even Jako stayed home most of the time. We only went out if there was a need. The children were usually bored but had to be docile since all the elder members were always present. Even poor Sato couldn’t do much but to remain silent in the corners, maybe cursing everyone since he couldn’t smoke and drink much in front of them. But he always looked forward to visit our room when the lights went out. Meanwhile Hiroto and I had a great opportunity to improve our language skills. Even Aiko joined us and by the end of winter I knew that we all be able to master each others language.
One night while doing our usual chatting Hitomi came to our room complaining about the other children. Aiko tried to comfort her but she was very stubborn to listen. I watched her for a while and then intervened to help Aiko. At first Hitomi did not want to listen to me but later she started giving attention to me. I talked about my country and the countryside over there. I had to make up a story about how once a bear and a wolf fought each other but in the end became good friends. Maybe the alternate version of ant and bird story but with some additions and changes it went out really well. I didn’t realize apart from Sato’s wide opened eyes gazing at me the room was filled with the whole family.
Even Shila came to our room first time ever since I was here. I was surprised but Jako’s family, were more surprised then me since now I can speak their tongue. Though I have western accent but it didn’t matter much to them. After then everynight became story telling for the children and even the parents. I had to dig in my mind to search for stories I had stored up there since my childhood. Sometimes I told them stories from the bible. Even though I didn’t paid attention to the clergies at the Sunday Mass at home but I believe they became really handy. Maybe this was something new to these people, or perhaps an ideal way to entertain the children but whatever it was I felt really privileged to be their storyteller. The mothers used this as means to control the children. It looked really unkind for me but can’t help it.
Children need some sort of discipline to keep them on the track. And they really did well about it. The usual complains and cries were now smothered and the atmosphere felt very smooth in the house. I didn’t like it because it always felt that something is missing so one day I told Jako about it. Jako usually does not want to be told what to do and what not, and in matters regarding the children he often leaves in the hands of his wives. Despite my requests he did not wish to listen to me but he told me one thing.
He said “ My friend discipline is one thing and self discipline is the other! But self discipline is far superior then discipline since it brings out strength of the character which in turn makes a person”
He did not say much and went outside. I stayed there gazing at the door thinking about what he had just said. I walked outside and saw Aiko busy with the chores and Hiroto repairing the fence. They were so busy that they didn’t notice what is happening around them. So focused and committed in their task. Nobody tells them what to do. They know what must be done and what must be met on due time. We learnt the value of time and money in schools and everything back home is a huge rush. If you don’t do this you will not get that! And if you don’t get that then you won’t become someone! And if you don’t become someone then nobody knows you! Why we always want to become someone or something? Why are we always competing with time and yet time never competes with us? Greed, power, desire and recognition are true victory for men in this world, or is it? Look at these people who don’t know anything about what world wants. They do not compete with time but yes they meet their demands on time without any rush or oppression. They do not wish to become someone or something but they already know who they are from inside. Maybe that’s what the strength of the character is all about.
I understood what Jako meant and ever since I did not question him again how his wives are controlling the children. You become what you want to become from inside and don’t let the world decide what you want to become. Whole winter went past and every night was interesting for the family for I told something new everyday. Sometimes I forgot that I had told the same story before but they never complained about it. Afterwards Aiko used to tell me that I had said it before. Perhaps it is the custom of the family that they should question their elders or perhaps the children are very tired and they don’t bother much about it.
One thing I didn’t notice was that there was someone who was always paying attention to all my stories. Aiko always seemed to be busy while am telling the stories like comforting the little ones and attending to household duties but I never realized that she had been listening. Surprised by that I asked Hiroto about it.
“How come she listens to all my stories and be busy at the same time! Not only she listens but she knows when I said it”
I was puzzled but Hiroto only smiled at me and said, “ It is normal for women over here to pay attention to their husbands and do the household duties at the same time!”
“Aiko is now turning into a woman”
after that he came closer to me and whispered into my ears, “ She had already chosen whom she should listen to!
‘Oyasumi’! he said and went to sleep while I lay there staring at the ceiling wall. My heart pounced between my lungs and fires of delight streamed into my veins at once. She likes me!! Wow!! All these while I had only kept her in my imagination and didn’t even notice that the same flame had been burning on the other side as well. What shall I do now? How will I see her from now onwards? Had other members of the family noticed this? What will they say when they find out about this? I wanted to wake Hiroto up and ask all this recent questions popping in my head but I held my curiosity to myself. Atleast Hiroto knows and am confident he will stay by my side no matter what happens. I drew my blanket over my face and fell asleep though it took me some time.