Cherry Blossoms

The snows of winter bow to the trees of spring and the cherry blooms with pink petals that sing I know the world is at peace and the happiness that love brings.  It is late February and spring coaxes from the cherry blossoms in the second year of my stay in Japan.  I walk out into the orchard at dawn, the snow still clings to the ground providing a background for the sun.  As each minute passes the pink blossoms shine against the snowy background while the rays of the sun have traveled such a long distance through the night to burst against the colors as rain drops.  Beauty has quiet and its reflection is here, in this country where one can stop and concentrate attention so that natural beauty can quietly descend upon one’s senses.

Once upon a time when cherry blossoms bloomed I saw you in a dream beneath a shining moon.  Ah, were life that romantic.  Michiko was her name, we were young as one might suppose and the world not so fraught with the dangers of today.  Her family was poor, isn’t that always the way of life?  So she sold herself into bondage as a hostess in a bar.  It is an honorable profession for she was only called upon to coax soldiers and sailors to buy more drinks.  I was but the poor GI, lowly enlisted man whose wants and needs stretched thinly from paycheck to paycheck.  Hanging around in bars was something the NCOs would, married or not.  I could only afford a few beers a month at the enlisted man’s club.  But dreaming was free.  Normally the locals kept away from us unless it was business and I can’t say that I blamed them.  Soldiers are an unruly bunch and young soldiers the worst of the lot in general being that most of them are draftees.  A chance meeting that changed our destinies from the routine.  She didn’t see the truck, I did.  I pull her back roughly and she slapped me, quite hard.  One of the women behind me spoke some words to her, I couldn’t understand what either said.  Then she stood before me and began to bow deeply several times.  “Forgive me, forgive me.”

I bowed back, as is the custom, that much I had picked up in the few months I was stations here.  “Think nothing of it, anyone would have done the same.”

My experience so far in this country is that the women rarely look me in the eye.  Fear, culture, curtsy, whatever, I didn’t know much about Japan.  But she stood there and looked into my eyes, “My English no good.  You understand arigato?  Arigato gozaimasu, domo, domo.”  Then she looked at my name tag.  “You Clark-san, no?”

It took a few moments and then I remembered that she was adding an honorific to my name.  “Yes, I am Clark-san.”  She studied me for another minute and then bowed deeply again.

“Sayonora Clark-san.”  Then she quickly ran across the street, taking care to avoid the traffic.

That was my first interaction with a Japanese woman outside of the one in the barracks quad who did a bit of sewing, tailoring and such for the two companies.  I went on my way to one of secluded parks.  Just getting away from the service kept my sanity and since I had the afternoon off I found the woodland there serene.  The park surrounded a large lake and had several piers that stretched out a hundred feet into the lake.  I could watch the Koi in the lake shallows and toss a few bread crumbs.  Smart fish, they seemed to recognize me every time I came.  Mostly I would sit and read or write in a notebook.  These activities didn’t cost anything and it got me away from anything Army.  One Tuesday when I came off guard duty I stopped by the orderly’s office to check my weapon.  John was a corporal and an acquaintance.  “Dave, you better find a place to hide, first sergeant is scrounging up a work detail.  Mostly pick and shovel work.  Don’t even go to chow this morning.”  I said my thanks and trotted over to my barracks to change into my class A.  Then out the gate I went, slick as a whistle.

It’s a long walk to that particular park and I stopped at a noodle joint for a quick meal.  I really wanted eggs and bacon and decent coffee but the noodles were cheap.  It takes about an hour and a half walk to reach the park gates and then I saw that there were a lot of people in the spot I normally call my own so I drifted along the shore until I found more seclusion.  Thought I might take a nap for a couple of hours.  I hadn’t been asleep long when I felt a hand trying to wake me.  She was saying, “Clark-san, you ok?” several times.  Her face was familiar but I was a little stunned.  Then It came back to me.  She was the one who almost stepped into the path of that truck.

“Ohayo gozaimasu.”  She smiled at my pronunciation.  I sat up for a minute and then rose to my feet.  “O genki desu ka?”  I’d tried to learn some phrases and hoped that might break the ice with the locals.

“I am very well, thank you.” She started bowing a little and then we were both bowing a little and, well, it seemed a little silly but we each had smiles on our respective faces.  “You alright, Clark-san?”

“Yes, just taking a nap.”  I folded my hands together to indicate sleep and she smiled at that bit of pantomime.  We tried to converse as best as we could.  Seems she came to the park every Tuesday morning.  I told her I came when I could.  So as the months past if I could wrangle a couple of hours off on a Tuesday morning I would go and meet her at the park.  Meanwhile I started taking more Japanese language lessons at night.  I think I improved marginally but I improved.  She told me her first name was Michiko but I didn’t know anymore than that.  Of course her English was improving faster than mine although I didn’t know why.  Michiko was always very prim and proper, the Japanese as a rule aren’t given to much show of emotion or things like that.  If this was a courtship then it was a very strange one.  After a few months I was convinced I was in love.  Of course the rest of the barracks knew about this mysterious woman in my life.  World gets around and rumors get twisted and pranksters get bold.

Unbeknown to me Corporal Johnston followed me one morning to the park.  Oh, he was crafty about the affair and made sure I didn’t spot him.  I went to our usual spot and found Michiko there as usual.  The morning had promise of being a beautiful day.  As we sat exchanging pleasantries and news of the day corporal Johnston crept up on us until he was about ten feet away.  I noticed him first.  “What are you doing here?”

“Following you, you fool.  Never saw me, did you.  And hey, whose that with you?”  Michiko had turned her head away as if ashamed.  “Why it’s Michiko.  Well I’ll be, son, how’d you ever arrange this?  Me and a couple of the boys been trying to get her out on a date and no doing.  How’d you do it boy?”

“What are you talking about?  we met here one Tuesday morning a few months back.  what are you talking about?”

“You sly dog, you’ve been over to Paradise Club when we weren’t looking, weren’t you?

“Whoa, Corporal, you know I can’t afford that place.  I’m still a private, not even first class yet.  What are you talking about?”

At this point Michiko had gotten up and was running from where we stood.  “Now look at what you’ve done.  Nice girl like that and you frightened her.”

“Nice girl my foot, Private.  Don’t you know who she is?  She’s a bar girl at the Paradise Club.  Man, she’s the biggest tease in that place.  Don’t tell me you haven’t slept with her.”

I stood there, silent for a long time.  Finally Corporal Johnston left, I suppose he was going to spread it all over camp about my affair.  Well, let me tell you, I got rode pretty hard for the next month.  Then my orders came early.  I was being sent as a temporary replacement to Vietnam.  I complained to the Captain that it wasn’t right.  “Sorry son, orders are cut and nothing can be done.  Besides, a few months there will cure your puppy love.  Dismissed!”

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