Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.
Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3 (Conclusion)
Whether it had been divine providence, coincidence or random luck, I’ll never know; but my faith in Buddha and the precepts were instantly restored. I attended the temple weekly and diligently started reciting my sutras. I even entertained the idea of becoming a nun, until a wonderfully romantic dream convinced me I’d never make it as a recluse.
Reverend Tsukiyama brought the application later that week, as well as some phone numbers of other families who had daughters in the program. Haha knew one or two and called them that evening. I walked into the kitchen as she was finishing her last call.
She hung up solemnly and said we’d talk about it in the morning.
“OK,” I replied, acting as if it didn’t concern me in the least. “I think I’ll call it a day. Goodnight Haha.”
I figured the sooner I went to bed, the earlier the sun would rise. I brushed my teeth, put on my nightclothes and snuggled in for the hopefully brief darkness, but the night crawled by like a sleepwalking sloth.
Sleep deprived and blurry eyed, I was waiting anxiously at the breakfast table when Haha, Chichi and Soba (grandmother) straggled into the kitchen.
“Well?” I exclaimed, almost lifting off my seat.
“Well what?” Haha replied.
“You know what!”
“Oh, that,” she said.
They sat and stared down at the table. Haha was the first to break. She glanced my way with a brilliant grin.
“I can! I can!” I jumped up and down and kissed them all. “You won’t be sorry! I’ll make you proud! Thank you. Thank you. I love you all!” I bowed so many times I thought I’d surely broken my back!
Chichi turned away and went outside without saying a word.
Haha and Soba were crying. “I’ll be all right. Don’t cry,” I said.
Chichi left for work without speaking to me.
That night Haha followed me to bed and sat on the side as I got under the covers.
“I’m sorry Hon, I didn’t mean to bring a cloud on your head.”
“What do you mean?”
“We weren’t crying because we were sad. Well, we are sad to see you go, but it’s more than that.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” I cautioned, feeling a bit uneasy.
She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “Soba and I are happier for you than you’ll ever know. We’re so proud of you.” She smiled and started crying again.
“Haha.” I put my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”
She wiped her wet cheek on the sleeve of her silk kimono; the one Soba had given her back in the fifties. “Nothing’s wrong,” she sighed. “Everything’s right. You’re doing something Soba and I never had the chance to do.” Her eyes watered again. “I think we’re feeling a little sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I did want to write and play music.” She paused, gently caressing the blanket with her callused fingers. “Who knows, I might have been pretty good at it too.”
“What stopped you?”
“It just wasn’t something women were ‘supposed to do’. Our duty was to home and family, but I can’t blame it all on that.” She looked away. “I was scared. I’d never lived apart from my family. I knew what to do at home. I’d seen it done all my life. It was safe. I did what was expected.”
I started feeling guilty. “If only we hadn’t come along,” I thought.
Seeming to have read my mind she quickly added, “It’s not your fault! I couldn’t imagine life without you. When you’re a mother you’ll know how much I love you. No, I don’t regret having children.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s hard sometimes and tiring as hell . . .”
“Haha!” I exclaimed. I’d never heard her swear before.
“There’s something special about each and every one of you.” She stopped, as if she’d just realized something profound. “I wish I wasn’t such a scared-y-cat.”
“Well?” I asked.
“Why don’t you do something about it?”
She blushed. “It’s too late for that.”
“Too late?!” I exclaimed. “Remember that poem you wrote a couple years ago about the farm?” She nodded bashfully. “It was great! Everyone said so. Why don’t you start writing again?”
“I wish there was time, between chores and kids I barely get any sleep as is,” she said justifiably.
“Make time,” I insisted. “Basho and Yutaka are old enough to help out. You could practice your music too.”
“You’re so sweet.” She gave me a big hug. “I’ll think about it.”
“I love you Haha.”
“And I you.” Our necks were damp with tears. “I miss you already,” she cried.
I sat back smiling. “I’m only going to be two hours away.”
“I know.” She laughed.
“Chichi acts like I stuck a knife in his back,” I said sadly, looking at the floor. “It’s not like I’m going to Europe or something.”
Haha brushed the hair from my forehead. “He’ll come around. You are like the rising sun to him. He can’t imagine not having you here.”
“You don’t understand,” I said, feeling my cheeks getting wet once again. “He had me promise . . . I promised that I’d never leave Hamatombetsu.” I hid my shame behind my hands.
“Yuki,” Haha whispered. “Yuki. Look at me.”
I looked through blurry eyes.
“He never told me about that and you know why?” Haha asked. I shook my head. “Because he knows it was a foolish thing to ask a little girl to promise. How old were you . . . nine, ten?”
I stopped crying. “I was nine. It was on our way back from visiting Shogi in Sapporo.”
Haha shook her head. “He had no right to have you make such a promise.” Haha looked out the window. “He knows you can’t hold on to joy or try to put it in a chicken pen. You have to find your own way Musume, with your own heart.” She held my hand. “I’ll speak with him. He only wants your happiness.”
In less than a month I was informed of my acceptance, but it wasn’t until my crying Chichi and I got in his old beat up truck, waved goodbye and drove down the familiar, pot-marked dirt road, that it seemed real.
Haha had been right. Chichi came back to me the morning after they’d given me their blessing to go. He told me they would visit as often as they could. He helped me pack, gave me what little money they had and said he’d always be my “Number one fan.”
I wondered if my prayers had helped push my wish to the top of the karmic pile or the Bodhisattva’s had just taken a nap and knocked it off by accident. Then again, perhaps Sapporo wasn’t the land of honey and happiness after all. I looked back at my shrinking family and sobbing friend Kiri, who were waving in the distance. Through my bittersweet tears I realized that my ashita had become imadoki (today).