The story of the man who walks the path of the cherry blossom trees
The man walked alone, for a purpose which was unapparent. This was not unusual for the man, in fact, if you asked a single soul who had taken any time to observe the comings and goings of people on the bridge by the blossoms; they could tell you that the man walked this path most days.
They would say that he held his face in a way which looked neither morose nor content. He walked of a pace which suggested he was not under the customary constraints of time yet he seemed to have a purpose. Perhaps the best way to describe the man would be that of one in deep contemplation. Of what he contemplated, even I would be at a stretch to predict. I could guarantee it to be something extraordinary in subject although I could not say that it would be of an interest to even the most spirited of philosophers. What I could tell you, is what led the man to walk the path along the river by the blossoms at almost the same time every day.
Before I do that, I must take you from the depths of China to which you have only just begun to imagine. If you wish to join me, I will place us in a leafy city whereby you may find the spirited philosophers amongst a foray of many more spiritless men. The man’s story here is a long and winding one however, the part of which I am privy is much shorter, and for that, all the more sad. The man is unaware that I know as much of his story as I do, being that he never met me, although I know him greatly. In this city, unlike his most recent destination, he was an extrovert. This man flourished. He did all the things you would expect of a man at his age. He worked and enjoyed himself, in all the ways young men do.
It was one unusually sunny day, in this leafy city, the name of which I will let you conjure for yourself. The man was alone. Enjoying a rest bite from the mêlée of the city, he walked. He walked until he found a rather unusual tree. The petals fell from the branches like snow, their soft pink hue romanticising the already picturesque gardens into which he had found himself. The boughs of the trees hung heavily with the weight of the blossom as they consumed the space overhead like a blanket.
The man uncharacteristically flopped to the ground without warning. He sat in a position atypical to adults; legs outstretched before him like a ragdoll. He sighed. Not the sigh of a man discontent but one of a tranquil man. Simultaneously, he heard the squawk of a chaffinch. He turned his head, adjusting his arms as he did so; the chaffinch was bigger than he had expected. In fact, the chaffinch, clearly a female, could even be described as tall, for a female. Most peculiarly, the chaffinch spoke.
‘Kate’, was all she said, this chaffinch, who could be more appropriately described as a woman.
She looked at him.
‘erm, David?’ At a loss for words, something to which he was unaccustomed, he stumbled over his own name.
‘Yes, nice to meet you, Dave’. She slowly rolled her mouth around his name as though it were a foreign word.
She sat with him, uninvited. Assuming the same position as him, they became two ragdoll’s looking at the Cherry Blossom blanket above their heads. From here, I could not tell you what they spoke of. From what I do know of the story, they talked in great depth across an expanse of subjects, all of which were arbitrary to the real conversation they were having; two people beginning to understand one another and their mutual desires.
They stayed this way, until the blossoms were entwined in her hair and the sun began its long descent to bed. The soft pinks changing delicately to red and finally to the darkest grey of summer nights. The all-consuming black of winter evaded them, to allow a slow amble back to the false illumination of the city.
They said goodbye to each other in a way that wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for two friends who had known each other for a long while. They hugged; she stood on the tip of her toes to reach and then they departed.
He knew that their first meeting was one that he would remember. She was an anomaly, she laughed loudly, almost unbearably, and he liked it. Her eyes sparkled. He couldn’t even say what colour they were but he knew that they sparkled and he liked this too. He probably couldn’t describe her, she had no remarkable features, but he found her remarkable. He wandered home, thinking about her. He didn’t think about anything specific, he simply thought about the whole of her. He didn’t notice when he unlocked his back door, removed his shoes and got changed for bed. He didn’t notice as he drifted off to sleep, she consumed the entirety of his thoughts.
With the birdsong the man rose, absorbed by this woman who had flown into his life, albeit for a single afternoon. He whistled today. He never whistled. But within the tune that fluttered alongside the morning birdsong was sadness. She was gone. And even if by the luck of fate, she had not been destined to leave after such a brief meeting, he was to leave too.
And this is where fate decided to stir the pot of the two who met under the cherry blossom blanket in the leafy city on the unusually sunny day. He saw her. She was walking. The bounce in her step he had not noticed the day before, and he added this to the list of things that he liked about her, even if it did make her hair swoosh in a way that others may deem unattractive. They were at the train station in the city. The station resembled that of any other train station in any other city, perhaps the size varied and you could assume that the destinations varied too, but in function and in likeability, the resemblance was uncanny. She was crossing the bridge towards Platform 2.
He called her name unashamedly, for at this time the man was not ashamed, he was quite the opposite. At the sound of her name, she span around, rather ungracefully and somewhat suddenly. The man behind her had to lurch to the right in order to avoid crashing into her. As one can imagine, the man, who was walking at the speed of all men-in-suits-at-the-train-station-on-their-way-to-work do, was not amused. He cursed under his breath as Kate descended but she did not hear, and had she heard she would not have cared.
As I observed this I felt as though I could have cut the lengths which invisibly bound them. They were drawn to each other, in a way you rarely see, in fiction or otherwise. They did not speak. They looked at each other, drinking in the curvatures of each other’s face, both of their eyes sparkled.
The illusory rope creaked as it twisted around their hips inching them closer together. They were not touching but an electrical current colourfully snapped between them like neurological messages. They perfectly mirrored each other, lips popped open and pupils dilated. Neither noticed, nor did they care, that they hadn’t drawn a breath since their eyes met. Every muscle in their bodies was rigid with expectation. I watched as time momentarily paused for them, mesmerised by these two strangers. But time does what she does best and passed. As she did so, she forced this last shared moment into memory. Kate left to board her train.
By nothing but coincidence, if you, unlike I, do believe in such a thing, she sat next to me. Like most train passengers, we did not talk, until she cried. I saw the first tear roll down her flushed cheek and fall onto her bunched hands. She looked up, and with only the acknowledgment of love lost passing between us, I put my arm around her. As unashamedly as the man had hollered her name, she mourned.
Since I had the fortune of seeing Kate through the many fazes of her life, I can tell you that the story of the two lovers who met under the cherry blossom blanket on that unusual day in the city did not end there. Oh, but you know that already; this story has a long way to travel yet.
We skip a beat now, and you can find Kate, perched on a city bench. She is older, more graceful. She still emanates the youthful joy that have drawn many to her, but with wisdom she has become more demure. She is with her daughter, Ada. Ada is in every way dissimilar to her mother; she treads carefully, thinks deeply and loves wholeheartedly. She has long auburn hair which falls loosely down her back. Her mother watches her, entranced. She sighs, not the sigh of a woman discontent but of a woman fulfilled. These were her favourite days. The sun flooded the sky, stretching through the breaks in the blossom as her near-adult daughter sits, legs stretched out in front of her, squinting up at the clouds.
Kate thinks back to that extraordinary day when the man stole her heart and wonders where he is now. She imagines the changes to his face, the creases in his skin and greying in his hair. She lifts her hand to her own face. How she has changed in the time that has passed. Would he even recognise her now? Or she him? She could still hear the sound of his laugh, so infectious and unrestrained always reaching into the pit of his eyes. She remembers how she had wanted to explore every part of his body with her hands and with her mouth. His scent had been completely captivating and she sometimes recalled it as she walked, instantly transported to that day. She stopped thinking about him as abruptly as she had begun, as was practise now. She knew better than to let her memories take over or set her imagination free. The momentary pleasure of escape was always enveloped by crippling heartache. That man was in the past now, and she had worked hard to forget him. Today, she made another promise to herself that she would not keep. She allowed herself to think of him one last time, in one last image: He was standing, all the tension released from his body, watching her through the glass. He didn’t wave goodbye as the train slowly pulled away, just gazed at her, paralysed. This was the hardest memory to subdue and the worst to endure; it was the last time she had ever felt herself being pulled towards someone, unable to reach them, and wanting nothing more than to immerse herself within them. She had been the first to look away, as that singular tear had fallen. Her last memory of him obscured by blurred vision.
* * *
Do you remember the man who walks the path along the bridge by the blossoms at almost the same time every day? He is contemplating. Although it may not be of interest to even the most spirited of philosophers, he is thinking philosophically. He begins to think about the woman. He always starts by thinking of that woman, in the emerald green dress. That woman; the bird who flew away.
He thinks about the last day that he saw her; the landscape had been as colourless as the days preceding it; as though painted with watercolours. He was on holiday with his girlfriend Sarah. She was overbearing, the relationship wouldn’t last. They were on a ‘romantic break’ in France, a top a nameless mountain in the Alps. They had decided to rest in a café, thick fondant-like hot chocolate steamed under their noses. Tedious conversation and hollow laughter artificially flowed between them.
He knew it was her immediately; it wasn’t with his eyes that he saw her but his body reacted chemically to her presence. He snapped his head up and there she was. He couldn’t help but stare at her for a moment: She looked so alive as she pulled up her goggles and released her hair, much longer now he noticed, he liked it. Sarah’s voice became a quiet hum beneath the sound of his racing heart. Kate almost glistened against the bright bluebird sky as the whitewash filter flickered from his eyes instantly revealing vivid shades once forgotten. He did not move. He just watched her as adrenaline surged through his body. Filled with potential he stood up, time stopped. But fate played with him cruelly on this day and with the swift click of her fingers the optimism he had felt shattered within him.
A handsome man skied to a stop next to Kate; they kissed lovingly before an incredible smile broke across her face. She scooped up the little girl standing next to the man and nuzzled into her neck.
‘Let’s race this time, Ada’, she exclaimed with childlike enthusiasm.
Ada giggled the same infectious giggle that Dave had heard all those years before. The girl was so astonishingly beautiful and in every way similar to her mother; her eyes glistened and her laugh was unbearably adorable. Kate’s voice resonated in Dave’s heart and ears but he did nothing. He watched them race down the mountain, leaving imprints of their happiness on the now blank space before his eyes. Slowly everything returned to shades of grey which he had previously become accustomed, though it felt more punishing now. The sound of Sarah’s voice, all the more impossible to withstand, returned to his ears. Normality resumed and in an instant he resented Kate for having such a powerful possession over his body. In those few moments everything had changed yet nothing was different.
David returned to China, Sarah in tow. He stayed working there and moved on. For the most part he was able to forget. Only on the days that he walked the path along the bridge with the cherry blossoms did he remember. As he aged these walks became more frequent and he allowed his imagination to create woven tapestries of how things could have been. He contemplated the multitude of alternate endings. He imagined them growing up together and growing old together. Having children, or perhaps, not having children. Mostly though, he imagined reliving the day on the nameless mountain in the French Alps when he sat with a woman he knew he didn’t love and watched the woman he has never forgotten ski past. He imagined what could have been if he had spoken a word to her, to have been the brave man who hollered her name the years before. He no longer resented the turns of fate which had made their union impossible; he was glad she had found happiness and hoped it had lasted.
He was a lot older now, softer around the edges with speckled grey hair that indicated at the strife of a man who had witnessed a lot. His face was not unkind, and his smile still touched his eyes, but often it did not reach to the depths of them, it merely skipped across the surface like a stone. He slipped under the canopy of blossoms and meandered his way around low hanging branches, children playing and young couples laughing. Kate felt his presence and her head snapped up. The blanket shuddered releasing a flourish of fragrant petals. Her heart raced as the boughs separated. Two children came crashing through, screeching as they did so, one little girl chasing the other, the petals landing softly on their heads as they ran. The ache of disappointment to which she had become familiar ebbed under her skin. The children vanished and left behind them an emptiness larger than the space that they had occupied.
‘Let’s go home baby’ she whispered almost inaudibly to Ada, and ushered her up from her seat. They walked hand in hand; a young proud woman with her elegant mother. They crossed the bridge surrounded by blossoms and headed back towards the exuberant Chinese city they had begun to call home.
I watched as David parted the canopy of his favourite tree and sat on the aged bench beneath it, stretching his legs out before him. He had spent many hours of many days resting here picturing her coquettishly twist her hair whilst he played with her body and brain. For him, they had grown old together under this tree. However, something felt peculiar today. Her scent was tangible in the air, as if he could reach out and bottle it. Although distant, her laughter sounded alive and it made his heart jitter. He felt the touch of her skin on his own, the warmth of her hand emanating into his. It was as though they were sitting side by side, sharing time and space. But like every other visit, he was alone: One ragdoll on a bench, under the cherry blossom blanket, watching the sun make its long descent to bed.
You may wonder how I know the story of these lovers, cruelly manipulated by time, circumstance and myself. Do you know who I am? I have a multitude of names. The one I choose to call myself is Fate. You have seen the paths I laid for David and Kate and you may have even seen them laid before you in your own lives. It is not within my power to make decisions for you and you witnessed what became of the choices they made. I merely watch people’s stories develop beside one another. I often laid David and Kate’s footsteps so close to each other that they could have grasped the ethereal, the transcendental but like so many people they did not. They made a myriad of small decisions which drew them further from each other.
You might also wonder why I challenge people to overcome such patently large barriers of distance and time, to which I can only say one thing: Had David and Kate seized the opportunities they were given, of which there were many; their devotion would have outlived the seasonal changes of the Cherry Blossom trees; two ragdolls beneath the blanket.