the color of letters



My father was dying…
He had returned after twenty-five years from Japan, to die at home.
On his deathbed he had one request from me:
“Be gentle with my friend in Tokyo…,” as he scribbled her name with teary eyes.

I hadn’t heard about this friend previously.
In fact I had not heard much about my father’s life while growing up.
I grew up imagining the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, separating me from my father.
I grew up learning the meaning of infinite void while I searched for a father’s love…

After his death,
I took the scribbled name he had written with his trembling hands,
And resolved to find her.
I flew to Tokyo.

Upon arrival at Narita Airport I found myself in a sea of Kanji and Hiragana
And quickly learned to swim to a hidden out-of-the-way rinjin.
There, I found a weathered wooden gate wounding a white-washed wall,
And rang the doorbell.

4:00 PM, no one was home, I thought, and was about to leave
When I heard wooden clogs shuffle along hard pavement behind the door.
My breath caught. I stopped, and turned back around,
And stared at the door with all my strength.

The door opened with a soft wooden whisper,
And revealed a beautiful woman with onyx eyes and graying hair.
She looked at me bewildered, not a word passing her lips,
And collapsed in my arms.

We spent the days visiting tea houses,
And looking at ancient koi,
And watching raindrops splatter on lotus leaves,
Until it was time to leave.

“Here, all this is yours.  Take it all, I have no need for anything,” she said.
I asked her to take me to his den library.
It was a room lined with books from floor to ceiling, lit by a bank of north light.
The room smelled of moths and even older thoughts eating the Turkish rug.

One book struck me the most…
It was by a man named Vladimir Nabokov,
Speak, Memory.

And it was the only possession of my father I brought back with me.

That evening I left her with her graying memories.
Upon our farewell she took the train back from Narita,
And I flew to San Francisco,
Over the Pacific Ocean, even deeper than a child’s imagination.

Mid-flight, in the dim cabin light, with sleeping passengers all around me,
All of us hurtling forty thousand feet above a dark ocean,
I opened the book to chapter 2,
And learned about the color of letters

-Iliad A. Terra

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