When I was in Japan earlier this year, I had the pleasure of watching the cherry blossom trees bloom. It was the tail end of the wonderful season, but I witnessed it nonetheless.
This short story is about seasons and the inevitability of change, but also about how the inevitability of change isn't as inevitable as we perceive it to be.
When the sakura trees are teased by the Spring wind, they tend to cry buckets of tears despite the pleasant season they find themselves in. At this time of year, the weather is caught between the sweltering summer and the frigid winter: a glimpse of nature’s youth, ushering the pink-sea-week in.
As per tradition, Kaoru emerged from his hovel to gaze at the park’s pink riverbank littered with couples and foreigners posing before plastic cameras. His dark hair fluttered in the Spring breeze the way over grown grass would. He ran his long fingers through his hair. It was getting too long, but he didn’t have the time to chop it off. Instead, he pulled a rubber band from his pocket and bundled his hair into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. This will have to do for now, he thought. His watch, as usual, told time five minutes too soon. He was, therefore, fulfilling tradition five minutes too soon—as he had done for the past five years or so.
But things had not changed—Kiri’s watch was still ten minutes too late, and had thus kept him waiting for fifteen minutes, as was tradition.
Kaoru didn’t mind. He turned his angular face to the sky, and allowed the pink petal snow to catch on his long lashes. It was only once a year, after all. After today, it would all be over again. Whether or not he was pleased with this idea was still up for discussion. He couldn’t seem to decide.
Instead, he allowed the memory of last year to push through the flurry of other thoughts in his mind. His hair was short again, cropped close to his scalp, and Kiri was her usual cheery self. A light drizzle had dispersed the crowd ever so slightly, but just enough for Kaoru to exhibit a rare act of spontaneity as he ran past the riverbank and into the park’s grassy field covered with cherry blossom petals. There he collapsed upon it, eagle spread as if it were his own bed. Kimi laughed, and Kaoru hid his smirk behind his hand. Her melodic laughter cleared his mind of all relevant thoughts. It was enough to stop his heart, perhaps, but it had not happened just yet.
“Are you going to keep chasing sakura petals every year, Kaoru?” Kiri teased, pushing her long hair behind her as she gathered her white cotton skirt up to run behind Kaoru.
Kaoru bit his lip, glancing at her tentatively. “Would that be a bad thing?”
“Not particularly,” Kiri shrugged. “Why do you do it anyway? Chase petals with me every year?”
Kaoru gazed at the clear blue sky obscured by the cherry blossom trees. If he himself could only admit the answer… But now was not the time. “It’s tradition,” he said instead—not very convincingly either.
“Sure,” Kiri scoffed. “As if an eighteen year old nerd would be so sentimental about some petal chasing ritual we came up with ten years ago.”
Kaoru tried not to fidget under Kiri’s intense gaze, and somehow found his eyes tracing the soft curve of her chin and the slight pinches around her eyes.
When she frowned at him with her coral tinted lips, Kaoru shut his eyes firmly, and said, “it’s tradition,” through his tight wind pipe.
But this year, Kaoru knew, would be different. Though Kiri’s lips were still tinted coral like last year, and she still dressed in cotton skirts, and though she still refused to tie up her long hair—though everything was absolutely picturesque, everything had so obviously changed. Perhaps because it was the sort of year that was meant to change everything.
“There’s no space to run,” Kiri said, frowning, but Kaoru had no intention of running.
He shrugged. “Let’s walk by the riverbank instead, then.”
“Finally tired of chasing petals, then?” Kiri smirked.
Kaoru gave her a tight smile, looking her straight in the eye. “Would that be a bad thing?”
She sighed, shaking her head gently. “Giving up on your yearly tradition just because you’re going to Tokyo for university. It’s not like you, Kaoru.”
Kaoru simply shrugged, and stared at his feet. “Chasing petals is not like me. It’s time I grew out of it.”
Kiri frowned, not understanding.
But Kaoru knew what this implied.
“You’ll be staying here for university, then, Kiri?” he asked nonchalantly.
Kiri beamed, though the conversation’s direction confused her. “Of course.”
Kaoru merely nodded. “Ganbatte.”
The sakura petals fell heavily around them, as if the sky were mourning the end of an era. In fact, the trees were shedding the tears Kaoru never could. He tried to memorise the moment, implant it behind his eyelids. He tried to memorise Kiri’s cotton skirt peppered with pink, tried to memorise the river caked with pink frosting, tried to memorise the faint rustle of the blooming flowers above him, tried to memorise how his heart beat heavily next to Kiri’s before time passed by too quickly.
Tokyo was a long way off.
His revelation came five minutes too early, and Kiri would realise it ten minutes too late, when chasing petals would no longer be an option, when the one word that would have saved it all could no longer be uttered—“stay.”