"Yua?" Baba¹ calls my name, syllables melding together to sound melodic in his voice. He smiles at me, full of mirth and vitality. Contentment and joy lines his face, as wrinkles etch stories into his skin.
"Yes Baba?" I take a seat next to him on the bench, watching as the cherry blossoms fall. They flutter in the wind, tints of pink lining the sky as they cascade like water droplets.
"Have you ever heard the Legend of Sakura?" His eyes are glazed as he looks in front of him, hands resting on his cane.
"No. What is it?"
He smiles and turns towards me, "It all started with a tree that couldn't blossom and a little bit of magic..."
"Yua?" Baba calls my name faintly, his voice barely a whisper as his hand trembles towards mine.
"Yes Baba?" I hold his hand in mine and squeeze it.
His hands are frigid and so thin that I can see the bones. A nasal cannula is wired into his nose, a heart monitor connected; he is made of wires, his wrinkles sagging into ashy gray. The machines beep around us, the only sound in the silence of the hospital.
"Yua, my dear sweet granddaughter Yua," he reaches up and caresses my face with a shaky palm. I press my hand against his, holding it as he holds my face. "It's almost time for me to go-"
"Don't talk like that!" I snap in frustration, dropping his hand as I fight to hold back the tears. "Nothing's going to happen to you Baba! The doctors will make you better and you'll be home in no time. Don't talk as if you're already-"
I can't even say the word. Tears threaten to fall as I choke back a cry. I look at Baba through glassy eyes and watch as his expression softens. He reaches up and strokes my face again, pulling me close until our foreheads touch.
"My little darling sakura. You and I both know that my time on this Earth is almost over. It's time for me to move on soon." He strokes my hair, running fingers through the strands as he whispers soothing whispers into my ear.
"It's not fair Baba, you should have more time." I choke on sobs as the tears fall. I wrap my arms around him and hold him tight. "It's just not fair.."
"Shhh, my little sakura. It will be alright."
I wipe my tears with the back of my hand and lean back, watching as a smile dances along his lips.
"I would like to watch the cherry blossoms fall one last time."
"Numerous wars had ravaged Japan then, but even they could not touch this tree or the forest it inhabited. No matter what, the tree could just not blossom at all, causing it to look dead."
Baba pauses, catching a sakura flower in his hand.
"One day, a fairy came along and saw it. Casting a spell that would last twenty years and allow the tree to feel what human hearts could, she said she wanted to see the tree blossom and bloom. This spell let the tree be able to shift from being a plant to a human. There was a catch though; if the tree wasn't able to become vibrant after the twenty years were up, it would die immediately."
"But surely it didn't die. Right Baba?"
"You're right, Yua. The tree had spent the first few years as a plant, after transforming into a human and learning of the atrocities of humanity. It was even more lonely by then, with no hope of it becoming vibrant at all. That was until it came across a beautiful and kind woman by the name of Sakura. Together, they shared their sadness over the war, as well as their dreams, and soon the two became friends."
"I'm glad the tree was happy."
Baba smiles, his hand gripping his cane, "The tree told Sakura that their name was Yohiro, and over time fell in love with her. It couldn't bear the thought of losing her and confessed their love to her, as well as the fact that they were actually a tree-"
"But Baba, trees and humans can't get married!"
"Indeed they can't, and Sakura knew that. She didn't go back to the tree after that, and the tree fell into a deeper state of loneliness until the twenty years were up."
"Baba! You said the tree wasn't going to die!"
"And it didn't, because Sakura came back and told Yohiro that she loved them too. When the fairy came, she conjoined the two souls together and finally the tree was able to bloom."
The cherry blossoms flutter in the air, tints of pink showering the world. The air was sweet, and it was a beautiful day for hanami². The sky was a light blue and the sun casted twinkling rays of light across the land.
Baba smiled, closing his eyes and listening to the sounds of life around him. His face rested into a content smile; and it was as if I was that young girl and he was that youthful Baba again, telling me the Legend of Sakura.
When he opened his eyes, he reached out a hand and caught a cherry blossom. Taking my hand in his, he placed the blossom into my palm and folded my hand over it. The tears welled up in my eyes, as I grasped the small flower within my hand.
"I love you Baba."
Baba smiled, full of mirth and vitality, and I watched as his eyes closed for the last time.
"Yua," Baba said, placing a cherry blossom into my palm, "i will always be with you no matter what, just like Yohiro and Sakura are forever together. Whenever you see a cherry blossom, know that I am there with you."
Baba caresses my face with his hand, a joyful smile lighting up his face, "My little sakura."
¹Baba - An honorific for grandparents in Japan
²Traditional Japanese cherry blossom viewing