Kenzo’s thirtieth birthday was celebrated with great fuss by his friends, despite his protests. They’ve decided to throw a huge party and reclaim him, after such long absence. Half smiling, half annoyed, he followed them and relaxed a bit. His mind was totally elsewhere.
-You look changed, but in a good way-said one of his old friends, holding out a glass of drink to him. You’re slim, tanned and surprisingly silent. Where’s that wild party guy I knew from high school?-he continued teasingly.
-I might have grown out of that-grinned Kenzo. And before you get worried: I feel fine! But thanks anyway for this party and remembering my birthday despite my long silence. Cheers, my friend!
-Hmmmm….I think you’re under some spell. Could it be Benzaiten’s touch?-asked the friend with a wink.
But before Kenzo could answer that, a noisy group of youth, boys and girls came for the birthday man and called him to cut the cake.The rest of the evening he spent trying to escape the attempts of various female guests in getting him drunk and perhaps engaged to one of them.He skillfully avoided all traps, making sure he wasn’t hurting anyone’s feelings. By midnight, he excused himself and JT drove him home.
A warm, dim light was filtering through the glass panel of his living room and Kenzo stepped in, looking around inquisitively. A small, lit candle, nesting inside a lotus flower was flickering on the table, sending dancing shadows on the walls of the room. He recognised the familiar scent of his love seconds before Ren’s arms encircled him from behind.
-You are the most beautiful gift !-murmured Kenzo, turning in his embrace.
-JT let me in-whispered Ren. I wanted to surprise you.
-You did and JT knows me well. Kenzo hold his love closer and buried his face in Ren’s hair, breathing in deeply. For a moment, the Universe ceased to exist around them. It was just the silence of the night and the rhythm of two hearts beating together: tadam, tadam…
The first rays of the sun found them sipping coffee together on the balcony. Down below, the city was stretching its limbs and cracking its fingers, gurgling, hissing and buzzing louder and louder.
The morning light put a rosy sheen on Ren’s cheeks while Kenzo was glancing at him furtively. He sighed, then blurted out:
-My uncle is coming today to visit. This has become an annual tradition lately. He keeps “encouraging” me to find a girl and marry her, settle down and give our family an heir. I keep trying to elude his offers but I don’t want to hurt him either. He raised me with love and affection since I was fifteen, after my parents died in an accident.So, it will take a few days till we can meet again….
Ren bit his lower lip and kept silent for a moment. Then he turned to Kenzo with a gentle smile.
-Your uncle sounds very much like my father. He warned me before we went to the sea that he would want to have a serious talk with me. So, I can imagine what it would be about….
-It looks like we are doomed -continued Ren, chuckling.
-Let’s hope we are not!-grinned Kenzo. I still have a few aces up in my sleeve!-he added with a wink.
They stood up and Ren took his bag, ready to leave.
-I must go now! You’ll find me feeding the Koi when you’ll be available!-he said, facing Kenzo.
The goodbye kiss was long and bitter sweet. Fate was casting a long shadow upon them and they were sensing its chill, despite all bravery.
- Autumn changes
Uncle Seiji Nishimura was a venerable gentleman. Kenzo’s father had been his younger brother and the fatal accident left him heartbroken and responsible with the raising of his teenage nephew. The following 15 years had built a strong bond between them, so naturally, uncle Seiji wanted to see Kenzo fulfilled in all aspects.
He was proud of the young man’s achievements, but kept being concerned of his lack of interest in starting a family of its own. With Kenzo attaining his thirtieth birthday, he came to visit, determined to get a proper result this time.
-Don’t try to charm me off my feet, Kenzo!-he said laughing, as they embraced each other. I’ve learned your tricks these years. This year it’s my turn to make the rules and since I have to pay a visit to a distinguished gentleman, I hope you will accompany me!
-I will, uncle! Don’t worry.-said Kenzo with a grin. JT will take us wherever you want.
-Good!-nodded approvingly the old man. Then tell him to be ready for tomorrow afternoon.
The car rolled slowly into the quiet street. It was a pleasant area, far from noise and crowd, well protected by trees and colorful gardens. They stopped in front of a house bearing the lines of classical architecture, adjusted to the needs of modern comfort. A tidy row of bushes was lining the pathway to the house. Uncle and nephew walked together to the door and a tall and lean man in his late sixties opened it , inviting them in a pleasant, slightly raspy voice:
-Please, come into my modest house!-he said with a polite bow.
Uncle Seiji returned the bow and presented Kenzo to their host.
-Professor Shibata! Allow me to introduce my nephew, Kenzo Nishimura!
-I’m honored, Professor Shibata!-bowed Kenzo.
-Come, come in, gentlemen!- said the Professor with a warm smile. It’s a good time for a tea and some talk.
He guided them to a well lit, spacious room, with walls covered in shelves full of books. They sat down around a low table.
-Sumiko!-said the host. You can bring in the tea.
The girl carrying the silver tray of tea and cups was young and graceful. She moved quickly and with ease, serving each guest.
-My daughter, Sumiko!-introduced her the Professor. Sumiko, these are my old friend, Seiji Nishimura and his nephew, Kenzo Nishimura.
She greeted them with such natural grace that for a moment Kenzo felt ….intimidated. She was so different from all the girls he ever met. And then, there was that lingering sense of familiarity that baffled him. He was certain he had never met her before; yet….Huh! He dismissed the feeling and focused on the conversation.
-Sumiko, why don’t you show Kenzo-san our garden while we talk here inside?-said the father after the tea.
-Sure, Father!-she said and turned to the young man. Kenzo-san! Do you like flowers?-she asked briskly. Taken by surprise, Kenzo reddened and muttered something.
The garden was neat and well proportioned. Some narrow pathways were crisscrossing it, coiling around artful bushes and small flower beds. At the end of the garden, half hidden by the flow of Kana vines, there was a tiny pavilion, basking in the light of late summer dusk.
-Interesting!-said Kenzo. I see that you have a pavilion, but no pond nearby….
-It was Mom’s idea-said Sumiko. She wanted a pond with fish too, but Father was afraid we might fall in it, so they built only this. Sometimes we have blue flowers planted around it, like it’s water….
-You said “we”….
-Yes. Me and my younger brother. We were very small at that time….The pavilion became a playground and hiding place for us. Even now, he’s the one spending time reading inside the pavilion.He might be in there! Let me call him.
She took a few steps forward and called:
-Ren! Ren!! Are you there?!
Kenzo’s heart stopped. “NO!”-he shouted inwardly. “No! It cannot be!” But he already knew the answer. He just realised why Sumiko looked so familiar: she resembled a lot to Ren. They were brother and sister after all….Then, he heard him answering her call.
The curtain of Kana split and the youth stepped out in the light, trying to locate his sister. He saw Kenzo and froze, but Sumiko didn’t notice the exchange of glances. She grabbed her brother’s hand.
-Come on, Ren! We have visitors. I am Nishimura-san’s tour guide in our garden, while his uncle is talking with Father. Nishimura-san, this is my brother,Ren!
-Pleased to meet you!-said Kenzo, trying to capture Ren’s gaze. He could see how pale the youth has turned.
-I’m honored!-replied Ren politely and his voice cracked for a moment. He took a deep breath, continuing: You will both excuse me, I feel a bit dizzy because of the sun. Anyway, Sumiko is the best tour guide one can have; so, enjoy your time in the garden!
He put a peck on Sumiko’s cheek and hurried to the house. His eyes were dark with despair.
-Please don’t take him wrong, Kenzo-san!-said Sumiko worriedly. Ren is a very sensitive person and he suffered a lot when our Mom died. He was only two years old at that time….
-I can understand, Sumiko-san. I know how it feels. I’ve lost my parents when I was a teenager. I would suggest that we return to the house; your brother might need you and I think my uncle is ready to go home too. Thank you for your kindness in showing me around!
-You’re welcome, Kenzo-san. Anytime.