Reading the Air: coming home alone

shrine 1

They had been together 36 years. He found you in late August, the 20th you always remembered, in a university in the mid-west, then came home to Japan. He busily packed his few possessions, withdrew his savings, and bowed at the family grave offering incense and water to be sure the ancestors approved.  He dressed more smartly than usual in his best suit, and people were curious about where he was going and what he was planning. They plucked up courage to ask him eventually, and he told them tersely he was going to a wedding. He didn’t tell anyone whose wedding it was.shrine

He had set his mind on having you once the ancestors agreed and the rice wine was offered at the shrine of the Fox.  The long flights and jet lag were of no consequence to him. The Christian ceremony was over quickly, your family adoring and thankful, the pastor smiling and clean-shaven, his hands joining yours together smooth and warm, and you both came back to Japan together bound for life. It was your first visit.

You settled in slowly to the miniature world, losing your way on immaculate and identical train stations, your breath taken away by the precision, the order, the incredible control.  You became talented at using public telephones to be guided back home. He encouraged you with your memorisation of the magical symbols of Kanji until you have memorised all the station names on all the local routes. You read them slowly with determination in your deep affirming voice as you travelled around to learn your way.

Japanese trainsYou worked together, shared the same driving passion in academic accuracy, travelling to conferences in foreign countries whenever you could. He was happiest working on his theses and papers, preparing to give presentations, and you wanted his happiness above all. So, you worked alongside him, always supporting,

It was August 20th in Holland, in the city of Groningen, one of the most northern. You arrived for a summer conference. You planned to attend the reception and then go out to celebrate the day of your meeting 3 or so decades before. But you were both weary from the long journey so lay down in the hotel room to snooze. The pains in the chest were thought to be indigestion, but then his pulse disappeared and his breathing stopped. It was sudden but somehow not unexpected in perspective.

You stayed with him until all the formalities were completed. You must leave first and he would follow when clearance was granted. Now you return home sakuraalone, walking towards the secluded apartment beside the small river edged with resting cherry trees. You say, ‘I’m not the same person as the last time I walked home.’ You cannot find him or the blossom in late August in Japan.

The Buddhist wake and funeral is a long affair. You and family and friends will spend the night with him, lifting him to replace the ice packs, cleaning his skin, sharing sushi and sashimi. You are the chief mourner and must speak to him, addressing his smiling photograph among the serried rows of white lilies, speaking in his native tongue. You have asked your God for strength and it has been granted.

The announcements of his death and progress back to the family grave on a mountain side flow fast and thick over the internet and via international mail.

The monk will chant steadily to him, his voice dark and accented, the rite a secret initiation. His striking of the drum will be determined, and there will be no chanting monksmiles, no warmth, only three pinches of grained incense placed on to the smouldering pile of ash, and deep lingering bows.   Hands will be used to make gassho, their palms touching, their fingers long, to honour his life and that of the Buddha.

The nails that you finally hammer into the coffin lid after shouting out to implore him to return to life, signal another world for you to settle into.





2 thoughts on “Reading the Air: coming home alone

  1. Kathi says:

    Thank you, Linden. This brought me to tears.

    • linden thorp says:

      I had no idea you would read it! But I just had to write something about it although fictionalised. This is a series of abaya see moments which I’ve been writing for a while almost every day now. Xx

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