Ryu Kenji had been away from home for many years. The last time he remembered gazing upon the Kwakari river, was when he was a young boy. Many parts of his memory were hazy, but he remembered the river very clearly in his mind. It was vast, always running and lined with hundreds of sakura trees.
Ryu was now an old man, but he felt like a child again, when he looked up at the trees. Particularly when the blossom petals fell around him. He circled around, childishly, and felt like he was ten years old again.
“Grandpa,” The young boy who was with him, looked up at the now old man, laughing and the giddy expression that he wore on his face.
“Hiro, I feel like a child again.” Ryu said smiling down at his grandson. Hiro giggled, trying to imagine his grandfather as a young child. He had a bald, head too many wrinkles to count and too few teeth that it was easy to count; he couldn’t imagine a mane of hair, or more teeth!
“Where did you live?” Hiro asked excitedly. He felt a rush of energy in him, as though the youthfulness of his grandfather was being absorbed by every pore.
“Do you see that big tree, over there.” His grandfather pointed. Hiro nodded excitedly, as they walked over to the tree.
“I used to live in a house next to it.”
Hiro squinted his eyes looking confused. There were no houses around to be seen. He looked up at the old man with a puzzled expression on his face. His grandfather laughed at his scrunched up face, and began to explain.
“A long time ago this was town was abundant with people, houses and life.” His grandfather paused, and they made their way towards a bench where he sat. Hiro heard his boned creak as he bent down. He shivered at the sound, it always made him so nauseous.
“I lived in a small house with my mother, father and 2 brothers. My father was a cycle repairman. He would travel from town to town repairing cycles, while we went to school.” He smiled, as he looked at the river. He seemed lost in thought. His eyes glazed over the lapping water, as though he was watching his memories replay in the movement of the water.
“My mother would make the most amazing food.” He diverted, and spoke about the bean curd puffs that he enjoyed eating. He told Hiro how he and his brothers would fight over who got to eat the last one.
At this Hiro got a little annoyed, and scolded his grandfather for then constantly telling him off for fighting with his younger sister, Kyoko. His grandfather laughed, but did not reply to it. Instead he went on to talk about how he would spend his evenings walking down by the river, in between the sakura trees.
“It was the most beautiful in the moonlight.” He explained. “The moon’s reflection was caught in the river, and all around the little blossoms would fly by.” He smiled. Hiro listened closely to his grandpa’s words. He had never seen him so filled with life. Hiro loved to listen to his grandfather’s stories, but he had never once spoke about his childhood.
“It was by the river one night that I met, her.” Ryu was not smiling now, but his eyes were oddly crinkled, like he wanted to.
“Who is her?” Hiro asked curiously.
“Sakura Mibachi.” His grandfather replied. He had the look of a smitten school boy, which made Hiro laugh.
“Was she your girlfriend!” He asked, going a little red himself.
“She was incredible.” Ryu admitted. “I saw her dancing among the Sakura trees the first time we met.”
“How old was she?”
“Oh she was my age. Maybe a year younger.” Ryu massaged his knee caps. They ached terribly especially in the cold. “We would spend hours talking under the sakura trees.”
“Isn’t it funny that her name was Sakura too!” Hiro laughed.
“Yes, I teased her about it often.” Ryu said.
“What happened to her?”
“Like my mother and brothers she was caught in the explosion and killed.” He said solemnly. Silent tears were rolling down his cheeks.
“Why weren’t you killed?” Hiro asked in a whisper.
“My father had taken me to a hospital the night before, after an injury I had received. I don’t know if God wanted to save me from the hell that engulfed them, or keep me in one without them.”
He continued to cry silently.
Hiro nuzzled close to his grandfather. He too had tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry.” He said in a small quiet voice.
“You have nothing to feel sorry for.” His grandfather said perkily, wiping the tears from the boys’ eyes. “I also remember promising you ice cream.”
The boy stood up suddenly, all the sadness forgotten. Ryu laughed to himself, admiring how easy it was for Hiro to forget pain. He looked one last time at the river, and made a silent prayer for his fallen family. The wind around him stirred the trees, and blossom fell all over them. Ryu was happy, that even if the town could not be rebuilt, at least the trees found a way to grow back again. His last thought before he left, was of Sakura.