By: Yusri Fajar
You and I sat under a sakura tree by the River of Kamo in Kyoto. For hundreds of days we both had been in wait for the sakura, which one could only enjoy for no more than fifteen days.
“If it is not awe-inspiring when it blooms leaving people who have been waiting disappointed, the sakura will definitely take its own life, if only it could do such thing. For what’s the point of blossoming if it turns out embarrassing and doesn’t radiate beauty,” you said. And with that the thought of many people in your country welcoming death on the tip of a katana stabbed into the stomach after they failed to further their cause and keep their honor intact flashed into my mind.
While enjoying hanami and resting your head on my shoulder, you whispered your fear that I would commit harakiri. Yet, since leaving Indonesia it had never crossed my mind to commit suicide in Japan.
Even if I fail to earn the degree, I wouldn’t choose to tread that cursed path. Why did you suddenly bring the suicide thing up and fear that I’d do it? Silence fell upon you, then you turned your eyes away to the sakura falling on the surface of the river.
A few moments passed until you told me about your ex-lover who ended his life by hanging himself on the banks of the Kamo. He fell into disgrace and his self-esteem was on the floor for failing to complete the electrical installation at Kyoto Station.
People knew him as the best graduate of the Faculty of Engineering at University of Ritsumeikan. His eyes goggled with his tongue sticking out after a rope he tied to a sakura tree ensnared his neck. An honorable and heroic death to him, yet a tragic one to you.
Do you want to die and meet your lover to prove your love? Oh, my heart burned with jealousy. I downed the sake from that purple bottle and took in the sushi we bought from the Keiten Sushi.
Our first hanami by the Kamo turned into a tense affair. It occurred to me that you remained fond of the person whose life had flown out the window.
My first encounter with you took place a few months back on the second floor of the Konshikan building at Kinugasa campus of Ritsumeikan University. You introduced yourself, Kaori Hasegawa, a doctoral student of peace studies program.
After that meeting, you and I were getting closer to each other. You were in the final stage of your doctoral dissertation. From your accounts, I learned that you had visited Indonesia several times, conducting research studies on conflicts that claimed hundreds of lives.
When visiting Poso you met a man who carried sharp weapons, also homemade firearms. Your heart was pounding, over your mind death loomed around the corner. He said he must be vigilant at all times, anticipating assault from the enemy.
Upon interviewing him, you learned that he was daring and willing to put his life on the line in defense of his pride and dignity. Are you not afraid to explore the conflict areas in Indonesia? You maintained that is the challenge of a researcher working in a conflict area, which pales in comparison to the challenge your grandfather took on when committing kamikaze attack in the cruel and horrifying World War II.
As the dusk drew near, you and I left the banks of the Kamo River for the campus. You held my hand in yours. I hoped the shadow of your ex-boyfriend no longer haunted you. Having arrived at the campus we sat on a red bench while sipping cups of hot green tea.
In one corner of the courtyard stood a 0.5 m high wooden platform, where you gave your speech criticizing the government for failing to reduce suicide rates.
Now harakiri is no longer limited to cutting through one’s gut with a katana, but one could do with hanging him/herself (as your former lover did), drinking poison, getting him/herself hit by a train or jumping from a height. A friend of yours from Tokyo wrote a dissertation on harakiri. You, on the other hand, were more interested in examining ethnic conflict.
“Cokro,” you called me with a grim-looking face. “Nakata-sensei isn’t satisfied with my research work in Indonesia. My dissertation isn’t up to what he had come to expect. I need additional data to sharpen my analysis. According to him, my research lacks depth and doesn’t reflect the best of my ability,” that was what you made of Professor Nakata, your dissertation advisor, who is a perfectionist.
“Do you still have time to revise and delve deeper?”
“No. Three weeks from now I have to submit my dissertation.”
“You still have enough time,” I gave you words of encouragement as I did not want you to give up the fight. You know, Kaori, your persistence in completing various tasks amazed me. You’re not only beautiful, but also really good at expressing opinions. It did you an injustice should you fail to obtain your doctorate.
“Reading your dissertation, I think it’s ready to submit and be put to test.”
“Nakata-sensei doesn’t think so. He’s thwarted by my research. Should my grades drop and I fail this, where would I go to find a hiding?”
“You will pass it, guaranteed. We will both attend the graduation ceremony together.”
“I’m not sure. Nakata-sensei made a snide remark that got me pessimistic.” Silently I was absorbing the waves of despair which overwhelmed you.
“Try to beg Nakata-sensei for more time. If you need to go to Indonesia again, I will accompany and help you.”
“It won’t matter. Nakata-sensei takes it that my dissertation is rubbish and short of quality. A week ago, he even slammed the draft to the floor. His patience and belief in me are in tatters. There’s nothing left to be proud of before him. My hope to be the best graduate died instantly.”
“But, you haven’t failed yet. I’m sure you’ll rise above this.”
“I’ve failed to attain the best, Cokro. I can’t overcome the challenge that is my research. I am not a student worthy of praise anymore. How do I explain this to my parents and friends in Nagasaki? They have high hopes of me, as with Nakata-sensei.”
You looked down and ran your fingers through your hair. Your eyeballs began to soak in tears. “What’s the point of living in failure, shame and emptiness? I don’t even have a shred of honor anymore,” you told me, and buried your face against my chest. Grief had turned into a samurai’s sword striking you from various directions.
Seeing you overcome with painful sadness, I asked you to leave Kinugasa campus that began to darken and go quiet. On the way home you remained immersed in gloom. At your apato, you asked me to accompany you through the night.
But, you knew there was a woman faithfully waiting for me at my own apato. A gentle woman you met when you came to pay a visit.
When I bid farewell to her and promised to come by the next day, I saw her face reflecting deepened anguish. With a heavy heart you let go of me after you landed your tasteless kiss on my lips.
The sky was gloomy when I went down to the Taniguchikarata region. I pedaled my bike to your apato in Omurashibasicho. I pressed the red button, but did not hear your steps approaching the door. Maybe you were still asleep after a night long revising the dissertation. Maybe you were in the middle of a hot bath while listening to the music. So I lay myself in wait.
Ten minutes later I hit the button again. Still no answer. Don’t you want to see me again, Kaori?
Anxious, I then called your mobile phone. I heard the ring tone, but there was no answer. Filled with curiosity, I walked over your apato windows adorned with netting and bamboo ornaments. From the windows I saw papers scattering on the floor of the front room. The books lay opened and all over the place.
Your body curled over the tatami. A few strands of your long, black unraveled hair swept your pale face. Above the table your laptop was still on. I found my picture plastered over the screen.
I called out your name loudly, but it seemed you did not hear me. I ran from the windows and banged on the door and tried to pry it open, to no avail. The neighbors came rushing out their apatos, swarmed around me and asked what happened to you.
I could not give a definite answer. Then they broke down the door with tense and grim faces. As the door opened, we scrambled in.
Inside you remained silent, your lips were shut, eyes closed. Through the windows I saw the sakura petals falling down outside.