“Sadder than blossoms swept off by the wind, a life torn away in the fullness of spring.”
– Asano Naganori
Saki stared up into the sky, her almond-shaped honey-brown eyes wide with awe, watching as the blossoms shook in the soft breeze of a cloudless pastel colored day one fine summer when she was eight. She laid flat on the fresh cut grass in her backyard, arms and legs sprawled outwards, directly under the branches of the cherry blossom tree, the solitary tree, that somehow or other grew smack in the middle of her rectangular shaped back yard. She inhaled deeply its subtle fragrance and closed her eyes as the sun shone warmly on her face. It was mid-morning, when the heat was still bearable and she could feel the dewy moisture in certain spots on the grass soaking through her white dress.
A rustle in the tree caused her to open her eyes and scan for signs of life amid the thick petals and haphazardly sprouting branches of the tree, which she had long ago decided to address by the nomenclature, Okasaan. Her own mother told her that she was named Sakura after the tree because when she was born it was spring, on a day that the cherry blossoms all over Japan bloomed in seeming celebration of her birth. Her mother recalled her magnetic gaze, remarkable even as a child, and the sweetness of her smile when she finally seemed to recognize the creature that bore her for those nine months when she, Saki’s mother, carried her in her belly. She, Saki’s mother, had said that Saki must know that though they are now two beings, their blood and their breaths were commingled and that their souls would always be connected as only a mother can connect with her child.
Okasaan seemed always a part of Saki’s life. As a baby her mother would sit on the wooden bench to the right of the tree and sing melodious lullabies in a faraway voice that sounded as if it called from a dream:
“As the moonlight shines upon the field,
And daisies dance beneath the sun,
Run my child on flightless wings,
For your time on earth has just begun.
We each are given a span of time,
That we may call our own,
Until Mother Nature recalls her child,
To a place at once familiar, yet still unknown.”
Saki’s mother would take her under the cherry blossom tree mornings and evenings, when they would greet the day with beaming smiles and hail the moon as she ascended the sky. Her mother told Saki that we were all travelers on earth. Time is the vehicle that will take us to our destination when we are ready. Saki listened in silence to the teachings of her mother and thought about them when alone. She would commune, again in silence, with her other mother Okasaan, and touch her bark to hear her voiceless answers.
As Saki lay in the grass dreaming, Mai, her mischievous feline friend, leapt from the lowest branch of the tree onto the ground strewn with pink petals and settled down beside her. They often mused together, Saki and Mai, inseparable since the day Saki was brought home to the frolicsome kitten. Mai would follow Saki as she crawled about their home seeking new adventures in every corner, and as she hobbled here and there in her first steps as a toddler causing mischief, and finally as she ran gleefully indoors and out engaged in the secret games of her childish imagination.
As she lay upon the grass and the petals rained softly on her face and Mai purred affection into her ears, Saki sank into a deep sleep wherein she dreamed the dream of the cherry blossom tree. In the dream she sat cross-legged in front of Okasaan, as she was wont to do on occasion. But this time Okasaan had a human face. It was not the face of her, Saki’s, own mother nor did it resemble any other human face she had ever encountered before. Saki did not fear the tree for she had a gentle face and a kindly smile. Saki noticed Mai resting on one of Okasaan’s branches, as carefree as the wind, her face nuzzling the branch lovingly.
Suddenly the branches all shook at once and Okasaan’s blossoms fell helter-skelter all around Saki. A voice, at once thunderous and soft, fluid and harsh, rumbled uproariously in laughter. It was the voice of Okasaan Saki realized, as she gazed into the eyes of nature itself.
“Do not be afraid my Sakura,” spoke the voice.
“You know me?” Saki exclaimed in wonder.
“Of course, I know all of my children. I know Mai too. Her paws tickle when she climbs me,” she continued, shaking with laughter as Mai scurried hither and thither on the branches, attacking the falling blossoms in felinic glee and then stopping to lick her paw every so often
“You have played under my protection in this yard for eight long years now. I have watched you grow in innocence and in wisdom. Your mother has taught you well. She has the gift of intuition, as do you Sakura. Do you know why you dream of me?”
Saki wrinkled her nose in thought intently for a few seconds. “Perhaps I have not the gifts of my mother after all.”
Okasaan smiled. “Why do you name me mother?”
“Because you have protected me from the rain, and sheltered me from the sun. You listened to my thoughts, and gave me branches to climb. Because you have been here all my life.”
“I am mother to all living things. You all belong to me. You are my child Sakura, as you are your mother’s.”
Saki felt the truth in this.
“Do not be afraid. Your mother will always be waiting to shelter you.”
Saki heard a voice calling to her in the distance. It was her, Saki’s, own mother. She awoke at peace and turned to gently nudge a still dozing Mai. “Let us go Mai. Our mother is calling.”
The evening of that summer day sees Saki’s mother seated on the wooden bench beside the cherry tree. She sits motionless and gazes rigidly at the moon. She is alone. That same evening Mai slowly treads towards the tree. She sits in front and stares at Okasaan expectantly.
Many days have passed with Mai still sitting, still waiting. She no longer eats or heeds the call of Saki’s mother. After a week, Saki’s mother finds Mai nestled by the roots of the tree, motionless.