"Baba¹! Baba!" I call, running towards him.
"Yua!" Baba's face lights up as he sets his cane down and spins me around in the air. Merriment and joy lines his face, as wrinkles etch stories into his skin.
The two of us spin around until the world blurs together, our laughter tinkling together like ringing bells.
"Tell me the tale of Uba-zakura again Baba," I say, watching as the cherry blossoms fall. They flutter in the wind, tints of white and pink lining the sky as they cascade down.
"Yes!" I exclaim, twirling around under the falling flowers.
He chuckles, "This tale begins with a milk nurse's undying love for a child that wasn't her own..."
"Baba, Baba," I whisper, my voice strained as I grip his hand.
"My little sakura," Baba calls my name faintly, his voice barely audible as his hand trembles in mine.
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 granddaughter Yua," he gasps for breath. "It's almost time for the Shinigami² to come-"
"Baba..." I grip his hand tighter, fighting to hold back tears. "Nothing's going to happen to you Baba. The doctors will make you better and you'll come back home. Don't talk as if you're already-"
I can't even say the word. Tears fall like glass as I choke back a cry. I look at Baba through glassy eyes and watch as his expression softens. He lets go of my face and pulls me close until our foreheads touch.
"My little darling sakura. It's time for me to move on. Humans cannot live forever, just as cherry blossoms do not last a whole year." He strokes my hair, running fingers through the strands.
"It's not fair Baba, you should have more time-" I sniffle, struggling to regain my breath. I wrap my arms around him tightly, feeling how frail he is against me. No longer does he smell of sweet flowers and medicinal herbs, replaced by the desolateness of sterility and antibiotics. "It's just not fair..."
"Do you remember the tale of Uba-zakura Yua?"
"How could I forget? You told me it all the time."
I wipe my tears with the back of my hand, watching as a smile dances along his lips.
"I would like to watch the cherry blossoms fall one last time."
"There was once a man named Tokubei who was quite fortunate in life—yet, he had never experienced the joys of parenthood. His wife and him prayed for days until finally their prayers were heard. The wife gave birth to a baby girl, O-Tsuyu." Baba pauses, catching a sakura flower in his hand.
"The wife had a milk deficiency and so they hired a milk nurse named O-Sode. Over time, O-Sode had grown a motherly love for O-Tsuyu, thinking of her as if she was her own daughter."
"I'm going to love my child just as much Baba!"
Baba laughs, "Hold your horses little one. Do you want to leave me that soon?"
"No Baba! You would come and live with my family."
"And what if your husband doesn't like me?"
"He will love you!"
Baba grins, "Alright Yua, when you grow up and get married, Baba will come live with you."
I nod my head fervently.
Baba just shakes his head in amusement, "When O-Tsuyu was fifteen, she fell gravely ill—to the point that it looked like she might die. When O-Sode heard this, she went to Saihouji³ and prayed to Fudou-sama⁴ every day for twenty one days—and O-Tsuyu finally recovered."
"If you get sick Baba, I will pray everyday until you get better."
Baba squeezes my hand.
"Tokubei threw a feast to celebrate O-Tsuyu's recovery, but on the same day, O-Sode fell ill. The doctors said she was dying."
Baba smooths out the petals of the cherry blossom.
"On her death bed, O-Sode revealed to O-Tsuyu's family that her prayers to die in O-Tsuyu's place were answered. She told them to not grieve, but fulfill her promise to Fudou-Sama—to plant a cherry blossom tree in the garden of Saihouji. With that O-Sode passed away."
Tears prick the corners of my eyes as I burrow myself under Baba's arm.
"O-Tsuyu's family planted the cherry blossom tree, and every year on the anniversary of O-Sode's death, it blossoms, as if to shower the world with O-Sode's love for O-Tsuyu."
Baba pauses and strokes my hair.
"I love you, my little sakura."
"I love you too Baba."
The cherry blossoms flutter in the air, tints of pink showering the world. The air was sweet with the laughs of children nearby. It was a beautiful day for hanami⁵.
Baba closes his eyes, basking in the warmth of life. His face rests in a content smile; and it was as if I was that young girl and he was that youthful Baba again, telling me the tale of Uba-zakura.
"Tell me the tale of Uba-zakura Baba," I whisper.
"Again?" he chuckles, before breaking off into a coughing fit.
"I never get tired of it."
He chuckles affectionately, "This tale begins with a milk nurse's undying love for a child that wasn't her own..."
Opening his eyes, Baba reaches out a hand and catches a cherry blossom. Taking my hand in his, he places the blossom into my palm. Tears well up in my eyes, as I fold my hand over the blossom.
"I love you my little sakura."
Baba smiles as his eyes close for the last time.
"Yua," Baba says, placing a cherry blossom into my palm, "O-Sode sacrificed herself for O-Tsuyu, and I would do the same for you. Whenever you see a cherry blossom, know that they signify my love for you."
Baba caresses my face with his hand, a smile lighting up his face, "My little sakura."
¹ Baba - Nicknames for grandparents in Japan from obaasan
² "Grim Reaper" "Bringer of Death" "Death Spirit" in Japanese religion
³ Famous Japanese temple nearby O-Sode and O-Tsuyu's village
⁴ The Wisdom King Acala in Vajrayana Buddhism
⁵ Traditional Japanese cherry blossom viewing