Under the Cherry Trees

- Kitsune no yomeiri

"Why are we here, Kino?" Hermes' voice, her mount and best friend.

"I felt like coming back." The voice of Kino the Traveler, who had molted away an old identity and claimed the name "Kino" as her new one, and taken for herself the words "the traveler" as both a title and a surname.

Kino had dismounted and sat on the ground next to the precipice, peering down. She hadn't moved for a long time, Hermes had been watching. He didn't like that, felt uneasy when they weren't moving. His purpose was to take her where she needed to go.

Hermes ruminated upon her name. "Kino." In her native tongue, which still made him sound like a simpleton when he spoke it, the name meant "yesterday," a singularly inappropriate name for the girl. Kino lived now fully, and only rarely thought of yesterday. Those few yesterdays she ever contemplated were carefully culled. Kino was painfully young by Hermes' standards and had so few to remember. He had so many yesterdays they were a burden for him.

Hermes knew the name came from his own native tongue: kinetikos, which meant motion. In another language he vaguely knew, the word "kino" had come to mean theater, specifically moving theater or cinema. This was also appropriate for the thin, thoughtful girl. Hermes also knew that her claiming that name was not a coincidence. Indeed, he knew there were no coincidences.

Lethargy and sadness had fallen over his rider, and Hermes had obediently taken her to this place, where Kino had sat without motion for a long time. This worried Hermes, because Kino was usually such a sturdy person, always presenting a stoic and mature face to the world and capable of ruthless pragmatism when needed. She wasn't given to sentimentality or self-indulgence.

"Why did you feel like coming back?" Hermes persisted.

"I don't know. I felt sad. Perhaps... I'm facing my own mortality."

Kino had only weeks ago suffered a frighteningly close brush with death, and a meaningless, stupid death at that. She was young, but not so young inside as to be reckless. Kino was a survivor... but nothing human survived in the long run. Perhaps this had roused her empathy and her melancholy?

Hermes, not human, had his own understanding of such mysteries. He had even shared some with her, more than once, and the force of the revelations had altered his rider forever. But now, when she felt so fragile, was most certainly not the time! Everything in its time. Hermes, even restless Hermes, had at last learned patience.

"Perhaps I'm thinking about people dying. People suffering without need. Trying to make sense of it." Kino's voice turned a little husky. She had grown much more comfortable with expressing her feelings, especially with him, a change Hermes approved of and did his best to quietly cultivate.

"It's so rare we come back to a place we've left behind," Hermes commented. "The world is too big. And there's nothing left here for us to come back to."

"There are the cherry trees," Kino answered. She kept some of the seeds given to her as a gift, carefully packed in a dinky waterproof plastic bag, one of the few mere things that she held precious. Cherry-tree seeds, given to her by a girl who bore the name of the cherry-blossom. Sakura.

Little Sakura, with her henna-gilded curls, had died in the valley below, in a sudden and violent catastrophe that had erased an entire town. The nearby volcano appeared quiescent now, but had lost its symmetry. The land below grew green again, and seemed only a hospitable valley, beautiful and peaceful. Few people, Kino among them, knew what had once occupied it.

Kino had immediately planted some of her precious seeds, and on their uncharacteristic and inexplicable return had been very pleased to find they had sprouted into tiny saplings. She hoped they would one day blossom, and that cherry trees would grace this cliff overlooking little Sakura's unmarked grave for an age of man.

A faint tremor nearly knocked Hermes over. The aftershocks here had grown gentler, but they persisted even now.

Abruptly Kino's breathing hitched. Two fat tears rolled down her cheeks, a rare occurrence indeed! Hermes waited. She would confide her cares to him soon. Yes, even Hermes had learned patience.

In due time Kino asked, "why must such things happen? Whole towns gone! People dying without warning, without cause, without... even time to say goodbye to those they love."

Hermes waited. Kino, her hands now covering her face so he wouldn't see, didn't want or expect an answer. She needed to gather her sufferings into her throat and howl them at the moon, as all the higher creatures must, each in their own way.

"I thought I was at peace with our world, Hermes. 'It is not beautiful, therefore it is.' But sometimes that's such scant comfort. Why must such things happen?"

Hermes remained silent.

"There's a saying I remember," Kino sniffled. "Over the dead, the cherry blossoms bloom."

"That's a wise saying." Hermes affirmed.

Now she turned her face to him, turned eyes full of entreaty to him. Now she wanted his answer, so Hermes would say what he could.

"If there are answers to that, Kino, it is for them to know. It is for you to move on, to keep moving. The quick and the dead."

Kino sagged. "Not exactly profound." She was disappointed, and Hermes knew he'd need to find something better.

"Sometimes it rains, but the sun is shining. Have you ever seen that, Kino?"

Kino grunted. "Sunshowers. My parents told me some old legend about... foxes getting married? I can't remember."

"Anyway, that's what you remind me of sometimes. Today is a pretty day, with nice fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky, wind blowing the grass. The birds are singing like someone told them it's their job to keep you happy. A day those people will never see, yet here you are squandering it, sitting under your own personal raincloud."

Kino smiled and nodded. He was right, of course. He usually was.

"C'mon. You hafta keep moving. You're alive."

So Kino wiped her eyes, honked her nose into a tissue, and swung her leg over Hermes. There is no graceful, feminine way for a young woman to mount a motorcycle. Kino's well-practiced move came as near as might ever be.

She stared again at the place where the world had killed so many good, hard working, brave, noble, kind and admirable people, without warning or explanation or mercy. But there was no sense in getting mad at the world. The world is what it must be. All she could do was plant trees over the dead, and appreciate the beauty of cherry blossoms, even as the petals fell.

And keep moving.

Sangatsu, Heisei 23

March, 2011