A New Beginning
The tap runs in the kitchen, a broom swishes on the floorboards, the fragrance of cherry blossoms glides in the air. I imagine the blossoms fluttering in the wind, the delicate pink petals falling softly to the grass below. “Your medicine is ready, Young Master.” Suzuka’s quiet voice shatters the peace as she slides the wooden door open. I hear her footsteps approaching my mattress on the floor and brace my hands behind me, rising marginally until a hacking cough wracks my frame.
“Young Master, please be careful!” A tray clatters next to me. Suzuka’s hands prop me up, rubbing my back soothingly. Another bout of coughing prevents me from speaking. I spit blood into my palm, clasping my mouth as the other hand clutches the blanket. She uses her handkerchief to wipe me clean. I hear her drop two pills into a cup of green tea, its divine aroma wafting into my nose. She presses the cup to my lips. I swallow, the warm tea barely masking the pills’ sour taste. “Thank you, Suzuka,” I croak as I’m gently pushed down to the mattress. “I have done only what is expected, Young Master.” She lightly touches my cheek. “Rest now. Dr. Ryougi will be here in the morning.” She pulls the blankets up, her soft robes brushing past my skin. The door slides closed.
Alone with my thoughts, I allow myself a few minutes of self-pity. Why am I trapped in this weak body with some books and the servants for company instead of flirting with girls like a normal sixteen-year-old boy? Mother died from this illness shortly after I was born, and Father leaves very early in the morning and returns late in the night from his job when I’m already asleep. A quick kiss on my forehead or a squeeze of my hand is the only contact we have these days. His work pays for my medicines, but I miss him.
With a sigh, I roll over to face the garden existing beyond the glass wall and recall my childhood. I would sift the grass for insects, showing them to Father. He’d play along with my fantasy scenarios and chase me around the garden, throwing me in the air once he caught me. I used to love sucking on my favorite brand of green tea flavored candies and reading high up in the massive cherry tree’s branches, alone in my private world. “Young Master! It’s too dangerous up there!” the servants wailed. I’d stick my tongue out and ignore their panicked shouts until Father would come out and bellow at me to return. I’m still proud that I fell off only once, barely scathed. Clutching a picture book in my grubby fingers, I frequently napped leaning on the trunk, dreaming of dragons soaring through the sky.
The coughing fits started a few years later. At first, they were one or two times a day, then persisting for a few minutes until one afternoon I collapsed in the kitchen. I woke up hooked to IVs and a doctor sitting at my bedside, his tired, kind eyes meeting my gaze. Father stood next to him with a grim expression. “You have the same rare form of leukemia your mother did,” the doctor told me. “I recommend you stay here for the time being. I am deeply sorry.” I struggled to accept my life was permanently altered, the sunshine-filled days unwillingly exchanged for solitary ones spent staring at the four walls of a hospital room, the monitors beeping in the background.
Larger and larger black lumps appeared in my vision. The doctor, Dr. Ryougi I later learned, was baffled by this new symptom, its treatment eluding him. I became exhausted from the medicines and tests: a cycle of needle pricks on my arm, pens tapping on clipboards, and bitter pills I was forced to swallow. Oxygen tubes meant to assist with breathing during the coughing fits felt uncomfortable up my nose. Too soon, my sight entirely disappeared. In my dreams I would return to the cherry tree or soar with the dragons, basking in the vivid colors that were cruelly snatched from me.
Father accepted a demanding job to pay for the high hospital costs. He periodically managed to take time off work to visit, his appearances a welcome source of comfort. Dr. Ryougi frequently checked on me, teaching me Braille a few minutes daily between shifts and handing me books to read. I told him offhandedly once I was craving green tea. He started giving me candies he “happened to find in the nurses’ lounge” of the same brand I ate as a child. His devotion made me love him like a second father regardless if his kindness stemmed from sympathy or pity. When my illness progressed to the final stage, he granted my wish to go home as he felt I had suffered enough. He agreed to do house calls to personally treat my weak constitution.
I shake my head to disperse the memories and the strong urge to sleep overtakes me.
I’m lying on the grass in the garden. I recognize its softness immediately, comforting despite the pebbles poking my back. I gradually sit up, rubbing at the sleep lingering in my eyes before jolting awake. I’m outside, I can see my hands, and I haven’t coughed yet. I stare straight ahead and see my body lying on the floor in my room, confirming what I was dreading: I’m officially dead. I groan, holding my head in my hands.
I hear tinkling laughter above me. I look up and see a young girl atop a tree branch, her unusual purple hair decorated with flower petals.