Chapter 2: Kannon's Gift
By Ivy Rangee
Wrapped in solitude, Soichiro Arima stared out the window of the afternoon train as it wended its way along the Yamanote line toward the suburbs. Mellow light from the late-autumn sun drew dark shadows on the landscape as a bracing wind tore the vibrant multicolor leaves from the trees, scattering them across the pale blue sky. A bank of clouds closed in from the north, bringing with them the first snow of the season. He loved this time of year; it felt cozy. He tried not to think, but, whenever his vigilance faltered, childhood memories stalked him. He knew he should face them, but, instead, he sought refuge in Kendo's words of purpose.
To mold the mind and body.
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor.
To associate with others with sincerity.
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
Thus will one be able:
To love one's country and society;
To contribute to the development of culture;
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.
Soichiro still practiced the sword art, and, as an adult, he'd delved into its historical roots in Bushido. The samurai had various schools of swordsmanship from which kendo developed. But all of them emphasized compassion; samurai practiced Buddhism, after all. It had surprised him when he learned how these sentimental warriors would weep over an honorable enemy's death, a child's smile or a beautiful field of flowers. Yet they could be hard as nails in the face of death. His curiosity piqued; he studied. On what was this powerful compassion based? As he read the sutras, he discovered the model for this venerated virtue called loving kindness: the mutual love shared by a mother and her child. And it was said that we have all been each others' mother through over myriad rebirths.
When Soichiro learned this he knew he would never reach the upper levels of Kendo. He would always be a poser, for, at least in this lifetime, he had never experienced this kind of love. For years he had thought all love conditional; as long as he was a good boy, his adopted parents would let him stay. Even after things had changed, and he'd opened up to them, in some deep place he still doubted the truth of it. This was unknown territory for him – a black hole in his heart. Yet he saw Yukino and his children acting this love out before him every day, and, though he coveted it, he understood he would never experience that deep confidence that comes from knowing you are loved just because you are who you are.
Soichiro's thoughts turned to Doctor Kawai. A week before his first visit with the psychoanalyst, the doctor had conducted a telephone consult in which he asked Soichiro about his childhood and then outlined treatment, ordering his patient to keep a dream diary. Soichiro had initially scoffed at this, but, at Yukino's insistence, he followed through with the task. For several nights he dreamed of walking through a house, which, from the outside seemed to be a small cottage, but inside had an endless number of rooms. Some rooms were neat, clean, spacious and well lit, but as he progressed deeper in his exploration, he found dark, windowless, messy rooms, with dusty, strange, cobbled together furniture, peeling wallpaper, and cobwebbed corners. One room had an attractive front, but as he went deeper he came upon chairs and tables from several different eras, as if haphazard accommodations had been made hastily to keep the room balanced. One night he dreamt of a dark, gloomy cellar covered with broken shards of glass and pottery. The sharp, dangerous pieces were embedded in the cement floor and walls so that everywhere he turned the jagged edges cut him; as he gazed at the scene a wall crumbled and light poured in, carrying his children with it. He shouted for them to stay away, but Sakura just smiled at him, climbing over the wall, cutting her hands and feet on the glass as she ran to him.
This nightmare had affected Soichiro so profoundly, that he walked around in a daze for twenty-four hours. But the most insightful dream had come on the night before his first appointment with Doctor Kawai. Grown up Soichiro and Yukino visited the Arima family's vacation house at Tateshina with his adopted parents, Soji and Shizuni. In the dream the four worked together, making raisin walnut bread, but somehow, no matter what they did it failed to reach the correct consistency. After a while, Soji suggested they let it go, but Shizuni defied him, insisting the problem was due to a missing ingredient. She ordered to Soichiro to take Yukino, go to the grocery store and find it. The next day, after Soichiro had described his dreams to Doctor Kawai, the old man laughed.
"What did I say that was so humorous?" bristled Soichiro.
"Nothing," replied the doctor. "Given your circumstances, I didn't expect much, but this is gold."
"Yes, the nature of your experiences with your birthmother. The woman is a monster; is she not?"
"What do you mean by gold?" Soichiro preferred not to go into too much detail regarding his birthmother, Ryoko, with this stranger.
"Well, the missing ingredient dream and the malignant cellar nightmare are clear indicators of the way forward," said the old man, removing his glasses to squint at something unseen.
"You have no idea?" asked the doctor, turning to observe his patient.
"No." Soichiro avoided the man's sharp gaze.
"How did the cellar dream make you feel?"
"Because Sakura could have been severely injured."
"What about you?"
"Yes, you were already cut and bleeding."
"My condition was of no consequence; only Sakura mattered."
"Now do you have an idea?" pressed Doctor Kawai, leaning back in his chair.
"No." Soichiro frowned at the man.
"That cellar dream is a strong motivator, impelling you toward health because it informed you of something your conscious mind can't see."
"And what is that?" Soichiro asked, skeptically.
"Your preliminary tests show that you're quite intelligent. Can you figure it out?" The doctor leaned forward, watching Soichiro with bright, keen eyes.
"That's why I'm paying you."
"Well then let me earn my keep," laughed the doctor, continuing his careful scrutiny of Soichiro. "The dream metaphor is clear; you do not wish to harm your children, in fact you have a strong desire to protect them. Yet even so, the shadow of your suffering falls upon your children, and they must live in its darkness. Fixing this is your obligation as their father."
"And the other?" asked Soichiro, tearing up for he knew this to be true. He had a dark hole at his center, and his children sensed it. Perhaps they even believed it to be their fault.
"The second dream describes the problem quite clearly. Something is missing inside you; your second mother, Shizuni, charges you to go out into the world and, with the help of your wife, find what has been lost."
"Something is missing?" asked Soichiro, but even as he asked he saw the cleverness of the dream's metaphor.
"Indeed. Tell me, how you feel when you see your wife and children interact?" said the doctor, resting his chin on his tented hands.
"Like an outsider." The harsh truth of this dark answer surprised Soichiro, and he hastened to soften it. "But I …"
"No buts, you spoke from your heart. No doubt as your children matured under the care of a loving mother, you saw something take hold in them that you lack, and at the same time covet to the point of jealousy. This dream points the way forward. This is where we will begin our search for the missing ingredient. Our time draws to a close. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes, Doctor Kawai, you said you didn't expect much from my dream diary. Why?"
Doctor Kawai gazed at him skeptically. "I'll explain another time," he said, shaking his head.
"No! You'll explain now!" shouted Soichiro, jumping to his feet. "And what does my birthmother have to do with it?"
Doctor Kawai chuckled, waving Soichiro back into seat. "You are a passionate one; I shall have to remember that. You know, Detective Arima, very few patients listen in such detail. If you wish I will try to explain, but it's a bit esoteric."
"Thank you, Doctor Kawai," replied Soichiro, embarrassed by his outburst. "I shall do my best to follow."
"You see, Detective Arima, consciousness is not the totality of our mind."
"I understand that; totality consists of the conscious and unconscious mind."
"Indeed, in fact, the conscious mind is but a very small island swimming in the vast sea of the unconscious. Dreams are metaphorical messages from the unconscious; thus we must learn to interpret them."
"What has that to do with my birthmother?"
"The unconscious is our mysterious other; thus, for males, it is linked and strongly identified with the feminine as each man experiences those ineffable qualities, starting with the mother. In your case, your birthmother is a cruel and heartless woman the likes of which I find shocking. So I feared, given that model of femininity, the unconscious image might thwart our work. But it has been exceedingly beneficent; thus you must have had some compensatory relationship with another woman or women."
"You're right; I do not entirely understand."
"And I've simplified it, but as our work together progresses, I have no doubt you will come to an understanding."
After that first appointment, Soichiro considered the word compensatory. Its root was the verb to compensate, which had several meanings: to make restitution, or to atone, but it also meant to counterbalance. With this last meaning, Shizuni came to mind; she had come to the hospital to care for him after Reiji and Soji had saved him. At the time Soichiro had just turned three, and he feared her. She was like Ryoko, a woman – a frightening creature. But she patiently endured his angry tantrums, calming him, never taking offence or giving up. She had won him over with her quiet, inexhaustible kindness. Then too, he had Yukino, who never deserted him in spite of his violent and shameful behavior.
Soichiro came back to the here and now as the train slowed, and an automated voice announced his stop. He got to his feet and, grabbing his briefcase, he made his way down the aisle and off the train.
A half hour later, clutching his briefcase to his chest, Soichiro stood outside the gate of the house where he'd grown up. In the late autumn light it looked beautiful. Having second thoughts, he paused; this might upset Shizuni. Perhaps he was being selfish; he might make her cry, and he'd caused her enough grief over the three decades of their relationship. However, if he canceled on her, she would worry, and then she would call Yukino, and then …
"Soichiro, why are you standing out there?" asked Shizuni, having opened the gate while he dithered. "Come in; the tea's ready."
At that an overwhelming feeling of love for this woman possessed Soichiro, and he hugged her. "Thank you, Mom."
"It's only tea, dear," she said, staring at him in surprise. Soichiro knew why; he wasn't really the touchy-feely type.
As the two walked inside Soichiro admired the house that had once appeared so huge to him. Now his adult stature reduced it to human size. He'd found so much happiness and comfort in this place; it had witnessed both his breakdown and his resurrection. Once inside, he saw the dining table laid out with his favorite foods. Deeply touched by Shizuni's gesture, his throat constricted as tears filled his eyes; she'd remembered all the things he loved and had prepared them in an effort to please him. Why had she done that?
"Now, what is so important?" asked Shizuni, once they were seated. She poured two steaming cups of green tea.
Overcome by Shizuni's kindness, Soichiro fought for control as he stared at the plate she had set in front of him. She'd made sure to keep all the different foods separate on his plate; something he had insisted on as a child. He'd outgrown this, but Shizuni honored him by remembering this detail from his boyhood.
He bowed to her. "This is so kind of you."
"Soichi, why are you weeping?"
"Thank you, Mom." He said covering his eyes with his hands and resting his elbows on the table.
"Remembering what I like. You even prepared creamed mushrooms on toast, and Yukino says that's a pain to make."
"I'm your mother; I enjoy doing things for you. You so rarely ask for anything; I must say I was surprised by your call."
Shizuni reached out tentatively, touching his hand upon which he grasped hers, holding it tightly.
"Shall I call Yukino?" asked Shizuni. "Did you remember something painful?"
"No, don't call Yukino," he said, wiping his eyes. "I want to speak with you alone."
"Soichiro, please, go on."
"You're going to think I'm an idiot," said Soichiro, opening his briefcase and pulling out the three keepsake boxes Yukino had made for their children. He set them on the table before Shizuni who looked at him quizzically as he nodded to the boxes. "Please open them."
"Babies' keepsake boxes," said Shizuni, holding Sakura's. "Such a lovely tradition."
Shizuni did as ordered, opening each box and examining the contents, touching each item gently as if it were a precious jewel. "Thank you for showing me these, Soichiro. Such wonderful memories. Your children are so beautiful."
Soichiro didn't answer; what could he say? That right now his children were not beautiful; they were rivals? That these keepsake boxes made him jealous of the love Yukino lavished on them? Shizuni watched him; she seemed to be taking stock.
"Yukino is a wonderful mother," said Shizuni. "I'm so glad you found her; she changed everything because you gave her your heart."
"Pitiful as it is."
"Soichiro …" said Shizuni, gazing at him with a curious expression. "There is something I'd like to show you. Will you give me a moment? It may surprise you."
"I should go," said Soichiro, losing heart. He could not talk to Shizuni about his failings; she would never understand. She'd probably hate him for his infantile selfishness.
"No, you shouldn't; I believe I know why you came here – to me. Tell me you will wait."
"I'll wait, but I promised Yukino I'd be home early."
"This won't take long."
Shizuni left the room and climbed the stairs; he heard her footsteps overhead as she walked down the hall to her bedroom. Ten minutes later she returned with a pale blue box, a delicate fall garden scene painted on its top. Placing it before him, she smiled. Woven into the scene in old fashioned calligraphy was the name Soichiro Arima; his birth date was written in the trees with multi-colored leaves.
"My father made this box just for you. Open it, Soichiro."
"Mom, I didn't know …" mumbled Soichiro, his eyes wide with surprise. "It's beautiful."
"As you're in a hurry, I'll do it."
A pond scene decorated the inside lid of the box. Soichiro held it, examining the detailed nature painting, his grandfather's specialty. Among the cattails, lotus and other water plants frogs, turtles, dragon flies, moths, butterflies and birds cavorted. If you looked closely, a little boy with black hair kneeled at the water's edge surveying the scene. The contents of the box were wrapped in crisp baby blue tissue paper and sealed with a gold sticker embossed with the name Soichiro. Shizuni peeled the sticker loose; the paper crinkled as she opened the folds.
"Kuma-chan," said Soichiro as he stared into the black plastic eyes of his beloved blue teddy bear.
"Do you remember the day I brought him to the hospital?" asked Shizuni.
"Yes, I was frightened …"
"Because you were alone at night."
"You told me hold on to him, and he would give me courage."
"Did I exaggerate?" asked Shizuni, softly.
"No, you were right," said Soichiro, holding the blue bear in the palm of his hand. Once upon a time the stuffed animal had seemed huge. "With Kuma-chan in my arms, I slept through the night."
"Kuma-chan is the first toy anyone ever gave me. Did I remember to thank you?"
"It was months before you spoke even a single word to us. But after I gave him to you, you did let me hold you on my lap. I took that as a sign of your gratitude."
"I'm sorry; I was afraid of you at first."
"Who can blame you? I've always wondered, Soichiro, did you talk when you lived with Ryoko?"
"Yes, I did. I can remember calling her mommy."
"Why did you stop talking?"
"Ryoko left me for dead, even though I begged her to give me another chance. Words seemed useless after that."
"But then you found people who listened."
"Yes, but it was confusing at first."
"Do you remember this?" asked Shizuni, holding up a small hooded coat.
"My favorite tan coat!"
"You wore this until it was so tight you couldn't move in it anymore."
"That was the first winter coat I had that wasn't dirty and ragged. I remember how warm and soft it felt; it smelled good too. I was so sad when I outgrew it; I didn't know you would get me a new one."
"What about these?" she asked.
"My first pair of real shoes, and my homecoming outfit – blue pants and a striped shirt with a frog embroidered on it. I loved that frog."
"You see, Soichiro, you came home from the hospital twice, once as an infant with your birthmother and then again with Soji and I, your mother and father. That second homecoming will always be so precious to me; you are my only child. Though you were a toddler and not an infant, I wanted to commemorate that momentous occasion."
"Mom, thank you." Soichiro could not help himself, he cried like a baby as, with tears in her eyes, Shizuni held him in her arms.
"Even though she did not give birth to you, you have a mother who loves you with all her heart, no matter what you do. I hope you will find solace in it."
When the two recovered they went through the rest of the box's contents which, like his children's, contained Soichiro's baby teeth, and a lock of his black silky, fine toddler hair. She had even kept his hospital wrist band, and the bandage he'd wore on his head, claiming it had magical powers, since his wound had healed without scarring. After they explored the rest of the box's contents, which included Soichiro's original art works, report cards, poems and other treasures, they sat at the table laughing and reminiscing about his childhood. Shizuni warmed up the food, and they ate together.
"Thank you, Mom."
"You know I showed your keepsake box to Yukino one afternoon shortly before you two married."
"You did?" asked Soichiro. "Where were Dad and I?"
"Off meeting some of his contacts in the police department."
"Yukino never mentioned it; I wish she had."
"She decided then and there to have my father make a similar box for Sakura. Of course we didn't know the baby was Sakura then."
"I assumed the boxes were a custom of Yukino's family. I don't know why, but it gives me great joy to know the tradition has been passed down through you," said Soichiro. He stood and went to the sliding door, opening it.
"Hey, Mom, come look; it's snowing."
"How beautiful," said Shizuni, joining him. "The first snow of the season … Do you remember how you loved to sit in the garden and watch snow fall? Your dad called you our little samurai."
"Put on your jacket, Mom. Let's sit in the garden together - for a little while."
And they did just that, sitting on the viewing porch that overlooked the small Zen garden in the entryway. Mesmerized, the two watched in silence as the snow fell slowly in huge feathery flakes that melted the moment they touched the earth.
"You know it is close to the thirtieth anniversary of your first homecoming," said Shizuni.
"Indeed, just two weeks from tomorrow."
"My true homecoming."
With that the world intruded as loud shouts shattered their peaceful conversation. Moments later, the front gate flew open and Sakura, Suo and Ai entered followed by Soji.