Anand Sharma wasn’t young though he looked young in his mid forties. He had come to Tokyo to attend a six week course on mass communication. It was his first visit to Japan and being a strict vegetarian, he was quite uncomfortable. There was hardly any meal without meat or fish. In fact, most of the preparations served to him in the hotel or in the Japanese Institute of Mass Communication had strong fish odour. He lasted on fruits, cheese sandwiches and salads during the first week and then finally compromised on eating egg preparations.
Generally, the faculty spoke Japanese but the students, mostly from Asian countries spoke English, which was interpreted by the two interpreters engaged by the Institute.
Yuko Suzuki was one of the two interpreters. She was tall and slim and had her education in USA, where her father had practiced medicine for a long time. She was more popular amongst the trainees for her lively, affable nature. The trainee officers felt more at ease in approaching her for their day to day problems.
Anand too liked Yuko and she respected him for his age, knowledge and experience, perhaps in that order. She was however impressed after she had interpreted his speech and a small poem he had composed when the trainee group had called on the Mayor of Hiroshima.
“You write well and speak very well. Your poem, ‘An Ode to Japanese Farmers’ is very touching. I don’t know whether I did justice in interpreting it,” Yuko had told him at the close of the function.
His speech and the poem were published in the local papers next day, with his photograph with the Mayor. Yuko had brought a copy of the newspaper. She gave it to him with a big hug.
“I am so happy for you. Your speech has been received very well and the poem particularly has been acclaimed in a big way. They say you are a genius.”
Anand recalled that he had butterflies in his stomach when he approached the dais to speak on behalf of the trainee group, which was customary. He had noticed a big smile and thumb-up from Yuko while walking to the dais.
Yuko had come to know of Anand’s eating habits and tried to help him to tide over the problem particularly during field visits, which were far too many.
It was the third week of their training. They were being taken to Osaka for three days. It was a hectic schedule requiring frequently quick movements from one site to another. Though instructions about individual food habits had been passed on to the host restaurants in advance, communication gaps still remained making life difficult for Anand.
Anand was awfully surprised when at the close of first day’s programme, Yuko came to his room and handed him a sufficiently large packet of sandwiches with different recipes and cake pieces.
“It will take care of you to some extent. You can supplement it with some thing from the table.”
Anand didn’t know what to say. He mumbled thanks as she left the room.
For reasons best known to the genealogists, people from Indian sub-continent are generally emotional. They are moved by small favours and upset over trivial matters.
Anand was floored by the gesture. Was it a special gesture from Yuko? Why should she have taken the trouble of bringing food packet all the way? Is there anything to it?
He knew it was being crazy. He had two loving sons and a dutiful wife waiting for him back home. It was incredible that an introvert of his like should have fallen in love in a strange country with a girl half his age.
Yuko lived in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. She had lost her mother in the early childhood and her father, had not remarried. Her elder brother lived in Osaka with his wife. Yuko loved her father immensely and that was the reason that she had been desisting marriage suggestions.
It was Sunday. Anand requested Yuko if she could accompany him to Tokyo Disney Land. Yuko’ father had gone to his son over the week-end. She was free and agreed instantly.
They had a very pleasant day at TDL. Anand was floating over the ninth cloud in the company of his young companion. Anand was now sure that he had developed a liking for Yuko and he longed to be in her company.
Was it infatuation? Was it love? He was not sure. Was it misinterpretation of her charming smile, her pleasant nature and her caring concern? Was it platonic attraction or was it purely physical? He was not sure of that too. He had however told her of his life, his family, of his sons and his job.
Following that visit to TDL, Anand had a restless night. He was enthralled, rather captivated by Yuko’s charm. He kept on thinking of some excuses to be close to her. Next morning he invited her for coffee after the classes.
Yuko was equally fascinated by her new friend. She was aware of his short stay and his family background and yet she felt comfortable in his company. Anand took her to a coffee shop. They talked of religion, politics and of economy, occasionally pecking at personal matters. After the coffee, he escorted her up to her place and left with an invitation to meet at her again the next evening. He was thrilled that this time the invitation was from Yuko at her place.
Anand saw her standing at the balcony. The flowers and a small gift he had brought made her very happy.
“Please come in and take your seat. I will join you soon,” she said before going in to the inner room.
Yuko came out in a pink gown. She had let loose her long hair. Anand was awed by her presence. Her perfume and her curvaceous body were enticing him, stretching his imagination to no end.
She served him a couple of cake pieces, pastries and sandwiches along with coffee. They talked on almost every subject that crossed their minds but in his inner thoughts, her proximity was drawing him crazy.
It was late evening. Yuko offered him to stay back for dinner. He accepted. She took out a bottle of saki from the cupboard.
He knew he was getting bold if not insane after couple of Saki. He held her hands in his and looked at her speechlessly and then he held her in his arms and kissed passionately. Yuko responded. It was a perfect harmony of feelings and desire bringing their hearts and bodies into a blissful fusion.
They met a few more times and every time Anand would vow to avoid being physical and he would fail every time. A brief smile, a friendly handshake and her body aroma would lead him to the temptation. The attraction was too intense to remain platonic.
Days were passing rapidly. Anand was getting panicky as the day of his departure neared. He wanted to spend most of the evenings with Yuko.
She had come to see him off at the airport. Her silent gaze tore his heart. Holding her hands, he promised telephone calls, letters and possibly a visit in future.
“Please do not promise anything,” she whispered. “Unfulfilled promises hurt you more. I want you to stay true to yourself. That is what matters. My love will be with you always. Take care,” she whispered.
Anand pressed her hands and went inside the terminal melting into the crowd.
Time acquires additional wings, sometimes two, sometimes four and at times many more. Conversely, its wings are clipped or crippled, making it drag painfully slow. Ironically, the two contrasting phenomena could be happening concurrently. There is but one simple denominator. If you are standing on the right side of life, good time flies faster. If unfortunately you are on the wrong side, difficult time has its wings inflicted.
Anand was on the right side of life, he was having a good time. After joining his family, he had made a casual reference of his friendship with a Japanese girl to his wife; it meant nothing more to her and he was swarmed by the events in his own world. For Yuko, who was treading on the wrong side of life, the time had its wings clipped.
Anand sent her a letter along with a family photograph. It was prosaic composition, and he knew it. In fact, he was very cautious in choosing his words. Apparently, he had written the letter without any urgency for it was written six weeks after his return.
On that single day Yuko received two communications. The first was the medical report from her father’s clinic and the second was the letter from Anand. The first conveyed the existence of a life with in her and the second was the lifeless letter from an erstwhile friend.
The medical report had not shocked her nor did Anand’s letter cause her any aversion or ill feeling. She felt no malaise towards him. Perhaps she had anticipated things to take turn that way. The doctor-father wanted her to be relieved of the burden, which Yuko politely but firmly refused. “It is my responsibility and I will bear it alone,” she told her father.
Yuko named her son, Akira, which meant brightness.
Time gained some wings for Yuko too. She now helped her father in his clinic. Akira was a bright student. He was eleven years old now. He was slim and tall with dark hair that often reminded Yuko of her past.
Akira was a serious lad much beyond his age. He had come to know the whole story from his grandfather. He never talked of it with his mother though his young mind was agitated whenever he saw his mother sitting quietly in the balcony, looking intently at the sun dissolving slowly into the western horizon.
Akira had completed his school and he was to choose a profession. His grandfather wanted him to be a doctor so that he could take over the clinic after him.
“No,” was the brief but firm answer from Yuko.
“I want him to do Business Administration.”
Pain seared through young Akira’s heart. This woman refuses to think beyond a worthless man who non-existingly existed for her.
“I don’t like business and businessmen,” he shouted.
“You are going to be a successful business executive,” she said in her cool and impassionate voice.
“Be a businessman and go and find out that scoundrel,” Akira shouted in a rage.
“I will do that. Yes I will do that but I will kill that devil with this very knife,” he fumed waving the knife he had picked up from the table.
Yuko was shocked. She could not speak. She was gasping for breath. Tears appeared in her eyes.
It had taken sixteen long years for her to cry and the tears won’t stop. She broke down completely.
Akira was moved. He never wanted to hurt his mother.
“I know you loved him but I don’t know why you still love him and so dearly.”
“Son, we don’t know what compulsions he might be having. For me, it is enough that you are the precious gift of our love. He doesn’t know anything about you. All I want is to have him share this happiness,” she said holding his head against her bosoms.
Akira was appointed a junior manger in a multinational company. He was doing well and his company had asked him to go on a business promotion tour. Akira had opted for India.
Yuko was pleasantly surprised. She saw her wish coming true.
Before bidding farewell to Akira, she said, “Take this my son,” and handed him an old photograph she had preserved so dearly. It was her picture with Anand. Akira had never seen that photograph and he had never seen his mother as cheerful like in the photograph. Akira wished he could bring back those moments in his mother’s life. She also gave him Anand’s business card to help in locating Anand. She had been preserving that card, Anand had given her eighteen years ago.
Akira went to Anand’s office and asked for him. Anand was now amongst the top brass of the company. It was not difficult to locate him but what could a young boy from Japan say about his relation with a man who had been to Japan nearly two decades ago.
“I have a gift for him from one of his friends from Japan. I would like to see him at his residence,” he told Anand’s Secretary who obliged smilingly. The young man must have brought a precious gift for the boss for promoting his business interest, she thought.
Anand had grayed completely but held straight and tall. His wife was no more. Both his sons were living separately.
It was late evening. Anand was sitting in the lawn reading a book. A cup and pot of tea lay on the small table beside him.
There was storm raging inside Akira. His mouth was dry and his voice, a mere shriek.
“Excuse me Sir. You are Mr. Anand?”
Anand looked up. In front of him was a young boy perhaps from far-east.
“Yes. Yes, I am Anand. Please do come in.”
This man oblivious of his sin is not worth any respect, Akira thought. Walking straight towards Anand, Akira extended his hand. Anand offered him a chair lying next.
“Please be seated, and tell me what can I do for you?” Anand then asked his servant to get some tea and snacks for the young man.
“I am Akira. Coming from Shinjuku district of Tokyo,” Akira said.
“Nice meeting you. I had been to Tokyo once and I remember that area.”
“Yes, I know you had been to Tokyo. And do you still remember Dr. Shibata of Shinjuku district?” Akira asked him.
Suddenly, dark clouds appeared before Anand’s eyes. He became pensive, colour fading from his face. He paused and then said, “Yes. I remember Dr. Shibata. He lived in the yellow building next to the children park. I remember, he lived with his daughter; very nice people.”
“The yellow building and the Children Park are no more. A tall sky-scrapper has replaced them.”
“Oh!” Anand sighed.
All these years, whenever Anand remembered his stay in Tokyo, he identified it with the small park, the yellow building next to it and the people living in it.
“You know Dr. Shibata and his family? How is he? Must have grown old,” Anand asked Akira.
“I am grandson of Dr. Shibata,” Akira said icily.
“What a pleasant surprise! I am really happy to see you. I remember now. Your father lived in Osaka. I never met him though. I knew Dr. Shibata and your aunt only.” Anand tried to compose himself.
“Dr. Shibata is no more and I am Yuko’s son though she never married. She is still alive. I don’t know why but she is still alive,” Akira whispered staring at Anand.
Those looks had questions, anguish, contempt, grief and pity.
Anand was shaken. His voice quivered. “Oh God! You are the son of Yuko? Son of Yuko! Oh God!”
An era had passed. Was it two decades? Was it a millennium? All he had done was to write an innocuous letter and forgotten the past conveniently. Suddenly he remembered Yuko’s words.
“Please do not promise anything. Just try to be true to yourself.”
He had been untrue to himself and to Yuko who loved him so dearly and to whom he had many so many promises. Guilt and shame had wrecked his conscience.
“Please stay with me to night,” he told Akira before entering the house.
It was a quiet dinner. Anand had still not recovered from the shock. After dinner, they sat in the living room with coffee. Anand was fidgeting with a magazine and Akira was glancing through a newspaper. Both of them were choking with emotions. There was a lot to be said and a lot to be heard. But words were failing both of them.
Anand then took Akira’s hands in his and asked, “How is your mother?” And after a long pause he said, “I have sunk so low that perhaps my voice may not reach you. You know …… you are.....” and he could speak no more.
“Yes, I know father. I know everything,” Akira said and kissed Anand’s hands with his quivering lips.
“My mother knows that this moment I am with you. It was her only wish that I come here and see you. She has no other wish in life. In fact, she has been living for this moment. She may now die peacefully.”
“Please don’t say that, please …… ” Anand cried.
After a while Anand took Akira to the adjoining room.
“Go to sleep my son,” Anand said after a while and sat on a chair near Akira’s bed. He was looking at Akira and revisiting his past. His fingers were caressing the soft hair of his son as he remembered the moments he had spent with Yuko.
Suddenly Akira sat on the bed.
“Father, please give me your passport tomorrow. Next week, we are flying to Tokyo to see my mother,” he said gleefully.