1st Year, P. 7 (con. 2)

The Alpha squad followed behind as the two boys merrily made their way to Watanabe’s house. The outskirts of the city were near a village. In the center stood a small white Minka, built for a family of four. The yard was unkempt, but a little garden filled with a variety of vegetables was plotted with a thin-wired fence around the perimeter. Watanabe’s mother and younger sister waited to greet them in the garden.

“Konnichiwa Okaa-san. Look who came to join us for a twelfth time in a row,” Watanabe said.

“Irasshaimase, Jiro,” the woman replied gleefully.

The chubby little girl screamed, “Onii Chan!” Then she ran up to hug Yoshida’s leg.

“Hey, I’m your big brother. You never welcome me with such fanfare,” Watanabe scoffed.

Yoshida grinned and knelt down to hug the girl.

“That’s because I’m more handsome. Isn’t that right, Hinna?” he teased.

The girl nodded and kissed him on the cheek.

Watanabe scoffed and grabbed the basket of cabbage from his mother. He barged inside the house without looking back. Mrs. Watanabe winked knowingly, then went inside as well. Yoshida remained outside with Hinna. They both giggled at the silliness of her brother. The sun was setting, so Yoshida scooped the girl in his arms to whisk her away. Hinna sheepishly tugged at his ear.

“What is it Hinna-Chan?” he asked.

As she leaned in to whisper, both he and the Alpha squad could smell the sweetness of honey cake from her warm breath.

“Did you know; today is a special day,” she replied

Yoshida pretended to ponder for several minutes until Hinna’s eyes teared up.

“Let me see. I know today is special. It could only be for one reason alone. Today is Hinna-Chan’s birthday!” he answered.

Her tears quickly receded, and she grinned from ear to ear.

“There’s no need to fear. Your big brother will always remember all the special things about you, Hinna-Chan,” he said, as he dug around in his uniform trousers. When he plucked out his fist, Hinna anxiously tried to open his hand. “There now, you see. Today is your 4th birthday, so I brought four crayons to brighten your day.”

Hinna clasped the crayons to her chest, as if they were a handful of the finest jewels. She hugged Yoshida tightly around the neck and whispered, “Arigato gozaimasu.”

Yoshida’s memories flashed forward to a future time. He stood alone in a large office decorated with scores of antique weapons (swords, rifles, laser pistols, and knives) on all four walls. The Cherrywood desk was also decorated with smaller swords and daggers. Yoshida appeared taller, and at least two years older than before. His long hair was tied in a samurai bun, and he wore a traditional black kimono. He looked sullen, yet attentive.

Mr. Yoshida entered the room without so much as a word. He sat down at his desk and looked over at least a dozen documents before acknowledging his son’s presence. He gruffly cleared his throat, then began.

“I called you in here today, because I believe it is high-time you become acquainted with the harshness of reality. Old Toyoko was furthest away from the initial impact of the dueling houses. Our state remained preserved from the effects of war with a biochemical shield that kept us hidden from plain sight. Eventually, technology could not keep up, and the veil was removed after a series of bombs blasted through the exterior. Showers of ashes consistently fell from the sky and could not be resolved. The once bustling cities and country sides became vast wastelands.”

Yoshida sighed, and said, “Yeah, I know about all of that. What does it have to do with me.”

The elder Yoshida chuckled at his son’s disinterest.

 “Fortunately for you, I was born into the prominent Kuge aristocratic class. As grandnephew to the Shogun, there was an expectation for me to assume the position when my father took deathly ill,” he replied.

Yoshida abruptly interrupted his father.

 “With all due respect, Oto-San, I am disillusioned with the stifling hypocrisy of high-society. The eccentric trends segregate us from the rest of the war-torn society, and only make us appear as an established cult. Though rumors had been repeatedly denied, the elitists clearly favor of the Greater House. I know about your hefty donations of monetary tributes to avoid the infantry lottery. The entire state has been exempted from sanction as well.”

Mr. Yoshida shuffled his papers, then peered firmly at his son.

“It would behoove you to appreciate the sacrifices made on your behalf. I know you are resentful that I have kept you home for the last month and a half. Your well-being is my utmost concern. That is also why I shooed away that ruffian boy who came to see you last week. No good could come from hanging with the likes of him,” he said.

Yoshida stiffened his jaw.

“Oto-San, what boy?” he asked.

Mr. Yoshida went back to reading his documents in silence.

“Father, what boy?” Yoshida shouted.

Mr. Yoshida slammed his papers on the desk and said,

“Some fat bastard-child, I imagine. He said his name was Watanabe.”

Yoshida dashed out of his father’s office, then out of the house. He ran as fast as his feet would carry him to Watanabe’s village. The village looked deserted and lifeless. No people roamed about the dirt paths. Every house looked like a slum. Even the once well-kept Watanabe garden matched the unkempt yard. There were flowers and candles were lit around the porch area. Inside, the house was dim, with the sounds of weeping.

Yoshida somberly went inside the sitting room to see Mrs. Watanabe laying on top of Hinna’s body. He gasped at the dead child, whose angelic chubby face was slender and blue. An old nurse wept along with Mrs. Watanabe, as she pulled the mother off to put a dirty burlap blanket over Hinna. Yoshida fell to his knees beside them.

“What happened to Hinna-Chan?” he cried.

No one answered him. At least nothing could be articulated through the heavy sobs from each woman. Yoshida continued to weep as he helped the women bury young Hinna in the front yard near the garden. By nightfall, the women left him sitting by the lump of dirt. Suddenly, someone came behind him.

“Where were you while we buried your baby sister?” he asked.

Watanabe remained silent. For several minutes, only sniffles could be heard between the two. Finally, Yoshida rose to face his friend. Anger and bewilderment kept them at a distance. A sickly, frail cat skirted by them, and for a moment their attention was drawn in that direction.

Yoshida took in a big gulp, then said, “Oh, Jiro. Gomen.”

Watanabe wiped his nose on his sleeve. His face was bruised and caked with mud.

“You’re sorry is all you have to say? After all this time, I thought we were friends. Did you know Hinna called for you when she got sick? I hesitated to go to your house, but my mother begged me to ask you for help. She thought you could sneak some medicine and food for us. Your house is so big. I didn’t know which window to climb, so I tried a few. Your old man caught me. He cursed me out for all that I’m worth, then sent his bodyguards to attack me. They busted me up pretty good.”

Yoshida burst into tears.

“Believe me, I came as soon as I could. It looks like I got here not long after Hinna died,” he said.

Watanabe spat at him.

“Hinna died three days ago! Whatever illness came over her made her look blue all over. Some big brother you are. You’re too late for everything.”

Suddenly, Watanabe lunged at Yoshida. The boys fell to the ground and tussled. Yoshida allowed his friend to punch repeatedly in the face. The cruelty of the scenario hurt far worse than any landed blows.

~The Waring Robins~

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