Each spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom I think of my friend, now long lost.
His name was Kuni. I knew him as a foreign student here in San Francisco, had helped him with his homework, gone camping with him up Russian River, eaten countless bowls of pho with him. I was the older brother, someone he ran to when troubles came his way. For a while we were as close as siblings.
But after he graduated, he couldn’t keep a job during the dot.com bust and, despite his wishes, had to go back to Japan. He hated the idea, was near panic as the date drew near but there was nothing he could do. He was running out of money.
But years in America had kindled his free spirit and going back to Japan was going back to a place where he felt he no longer fit. But what could he do? He didnt’ want to be an illegal immigrant, not after 9-11.
Kuni was wild, young, reckless, temperamental, generous, and a whole lot of neuroses balled up in one small guy, and he was, well, a lot of fun. Home was a some small town in the south, where everyone knew each other. Back home, he was expected to take up the family business.
So off he went back to Japan when his visa expired and the money ran dry.
We simply fell out of touch.
Three years ago, I was invited to visit Tokyo and Kyoto by the Japanese government. By sheer coincidence, Kuni wrote an email to say hello a few months before my departure. Kyoto was not so far for him. We could meet there, he suggested. There’s this great temple near the philosopher’s path. It’ll be in spring. Maybe the cherry blossoms would be out, blooming. Most beautiful time of year.
Of course, I wrote back. Absolutely. I can’t wait. It’ll be great fun to see you again.
I even sent him my itinerary, the hotel’s name, flight schedules.
But then I never got a reply. When I got to Kyoto I still checked email, but no, there was nothing from him. The cherry blossoms were just blooming, and Kyoto has got to be the most breathtakingly romantic place in the world in Spring time. The fame Philosopher’s path wound its way around hills and creeks, and the hills were dotted with temples, and many a couple held hands as they admired the views. School girls giggled and gossiped. Old ladies sat and drank tea. Children laughed as they chased cherry blossom petals that fell.
I walked alone. I stood at the temple’s gate though since he didn’t contact me, I didn’t expect him to show. We never agreed upon a time, in any case. But I wanted to see the place. Was hoping against hope that, as in the movies, we’d meet again.
He never showed. I walked alone, admiring the views. I visited temples. Drank tea. Took photos.
It was only months later, back in the US, that a mutual friend told me that he’d died earlier that year, that he’d slipped on some icy steps and fell and cracked his head.
I still think of him. On my laptop, the screen saver randomly picks photos from my various trips and whenever the images of Kyoto show up, I think of him with sadness and regrets. In my mind’s eye, I still see me under the cherry blossom tree, holding my map of Kyoto. The wind is blowing. The leaves rustle and the cherry blossom petals flutter down like snow, blurring my view of the world. I’m still waiting for Kuni.