A Storm Over Blossoms
Tsuki ni muragumo, hana ni arashi ~ Japanese proverb
(Clouds over the moon, a storm over blossoms)
"You do know you're my hero?"
"It was nothing."
"Nothing? I don't think so. Jyou was just about to make me write out all the kanji I had learnt last year. Twice."
"Yeah, I am your hero. You can repay me by buying me a pizza later, Hikari."
". . . With everything on it, except anchovies. I know, Takeru."
The two friends laughed, before continuing down the tree-edged avenue in companionable silence. Spring had come early to Odaiba that year, and its presence was nowhere more in evidence than the national park. Even though it was only February, the sakura trees were already in blossom. They arched over all the pathways, forming canopies of pink, fragrant flowers. Whenever a wind blew, sweet-scented petals would shake loose and fly across the park, like butterflies. That afternoon, however, the air was still and heavy with the scent of sakura. Their fragrance made Hikari feel strangely light-headed.
Over her shoulders, she carried a bagful of her books, while her best friend had another load in his backpack. She had spent the entire afternoon at Jyou's house, working through advanced equations and diagramming sentences. Her mother had gone to a private school and, having given up on Taichi, she expected her daughter to carry on the family tradition. So, while her friends had been having fun, Hikari had spent most of her holidays in the National Library in front of a book. Tutorial sessions with Jyou had taken up the rest of them. Privately, Hikari thought it was all a waste of time. She had more chance of catching the moon than passing the entrance exam with a high enough grade to make it into private school. And had said as much to Takeru when he had come to walk her home.
Giving her friend a sideways glance, Hikari sighed. She envied him. He had no ambitious mother to appease, so he was going to the same junior high as Yamato, Taichi, Sora and Koushirou. She had gone with him the other day to buy his uniform. It had been an odd experience. When he had emerged from the changing room, white hat in his hands and grin on his face, he had been strange in a way that only familiar things and people could be. He had looked so much older in his uniform. For the first time, she had realised that Takeru was a teenager and that he was almost as handsome as his brother. She had also realised that she could quite easily fall in love with him . . . .
Looking at the boy slouching beside her, face shadowed by his hat, that seemed impossible now. He might have grown taller and skinnier, he might have bought a new hat and traded toys for basketball, but she could still see in him the boy he had been. In many ways, he had not changed at all since their first meeting after Vandemon had been destroyed. He had walked up to her with a disarming smile on his face and a satisfied note in his voice when he had said: "I just knew you'd be my age! You're Taichi's little sister, aren't you? I'm Yamato's little brother! Our brothers are friends now. Do you want to be my friend too?" She smiled at the memory. Yes, Takeru would always just be Takeru to her. His name might have filled up pages in other girl's diaries, but he was simply her best friend.
Evidently aware of how she was watching him, if not why, Takeru grinned at her and raised his eyes to indicate the trees above them.
"And what is 'sakura' in English, Ms Yagami?" he demanded in his best imitation of their former teacher's precise, pedantic tones.
"Wild cherry . . . bl-blossoms," Hikari replied, making a face. Of all her subjects, English was her worst and he knew it.
"Very good, Ms Yagami," he scooped up a handful of petals from the ground and tossed them at her. They drifted down around her, like fat flakes of snow. They settled on her hair, landed on her schoolbooks, found their way down the front of her dress. Disgustedly, she blew off the one that was balanced on her nose and glared at Takeru. The blond boy was laughing at her, a mischievous gleam in his blue eyes.
Grinning, she grabbed her own handful of the blossoms and lunged at him, trying to shove them down his shirt. He laughed and dodged out of the way, pulling a hideous face. She stamped her foot impatiently. Trust my luck. He has to be the captain and star of the basketball team. Stupid Takeru.
"Try all the fancy footwork you like, Takaishi Takeru. I'm going to get you."
"You'll have to do better than that if you want to catch me, Yagami Hikari," he called over his shoulder as he began to run down the pathway. Trailing sakura blossoms in her wake, Hikari charged after him.
"Too slow, Hikari," Takeru yelled as he vaulted over a low fence and landed lightly on the other side. In front of him, the park sloped down towards the lake. He could see it in the distance, glittering in the sun. It was fringed by reeds, and the brown shapes of ducks drifted lazily on it. A bridge spanned its middle, providing a convenient shortcut, and it was towards that that he ran. He put down his head, stretched out his legs, and let the hill do the remainder of the work. He approached the bridge at a sprint, dodging and weaving around the people who were scattered across the grass. The ducks rose into the air, honking their protest, as he drew near.
A grin on his face, he paused to check how far behind him Hikari was. He could afford the second or two it would take. Now that he had reached the bridge, there was no chance of her catching up with him. Besides, it was no fun if he were too far ahead. . . .
His smile faded when he saw her.
She was bent double on the lawn, clutching her chest and gasping for breath. Her hair was black with sweat and there were spots of pink on her cheeks. He remembered Taichi saying that she had been very sick as a child, and that she had never fully recovered from it. She had often sat out games' classes for that reason. Another memory flashed into his mind: standing guard over a small, pale Hikari while Sora reassured him over and over again that she would be fine as soon as Taichi returned, that they had to protect her until he did.
Idiot. Stupid, stupid idiot,he berated himself as he ran back towards her.
"Hikari?" he asked, crouching down beside her, "Are you all right? Should I take you to the hospital?"
Shaking her head, she raised her flushed face to him, and he saw that there was a triumphant expression on it. Oh no. She wouldn't . . . I didn't . . . Before he could react, a handful of squashed flowers was shoved firmly down the back of his shirt.
* Japanese children have to take exams to enter private schools. Mind you, I'm South African and had to take an exam to get into my private school, so this might not be as much of a cultural note as you'd think. J
* A few words on cherry blossoms from Japanese.about.com (http://japanese.about.com/library/weekly/aa031900.htm?terms=sakura) "The cherry blossom is Japan's national flower and synonymous with the word flower. Japanese love the cherry tree not for its juicy red fruit but for its fluffy pink blossoms.
The cherry blossom is a felicitous symbol. Children start school and graduates start new jobs (Japanese school year starts in April.) April's cherry blossoms suggest a bright future. Sakura-yu, a tea-like drink of salted cherry petals, is served at wedding and other auspicious times.
Yet there is also a dark side. To old-time samurai, there was no greater glory than to die on the battlefield like scattered cherry blossoms. In Kabuki dramas, cherry blossoms often portend a villain's rampage or imminent disaster. Resplendent in full bloom, cherry blossoms seldom last more than a week, and they are easily swept away with one strong wind, a fleeting beauty that suggests purity and transience."
* As to the proverb with which I began this chapter, it means that life often brings great evil or misfortune at a time of great happiness.