One Petal


 Once upon a time in a certain place, a young man, who had lost his parents as a child, was living in a lonely place at the foot of a mountain.
The village was far away and socializing was not the young man’s strong point, so he was living a humble self-sustaining life; still he was a gentle hearted man working all day on his field, and if there was something that he needed, he would descend to the village to exchange things and supply himself, so he was satisfied with his daily life.
Speaking of the young man’s daily routine, on his way to the village there was a great cherry tree at whose roots there was an old looking shrine with a holy Jizō inside; he would leave a small offering here every day. As he had no parents, no children, not even friends, he used to forget about the loneliness of his days by speaking from the depth of his heart to the holy Jizō who would never answer.
One day the young man saw that food became scarce so he had to go to the village to do exchange; he took on his back some vegetables that he had grown on his own field and took the usual hill road, when he found the holy Jizō had tumbled down out of the shrine and collapsed to the ground. In the shrine there were traces of the offerings which had been eaten untidily, so it seemed that a traveler who happened to pass by had removed the holy Jizō, praying to be allowed to spend the night in the shrine in order to avoid rain and dew.
‘Now really… what a thing to do…’
Amazed to see this, the young man put his luggage down straightaway, he lift the holy Jizō from the ground and put it in its place, then cleaned the mud from its face.
‘What? Even his bib is missing…’
He looked around and saw the bib muddled and hanging from the branches of the tree. Although he tried to reach it, it was not a thing that could fit the holy Jizō anymore. He didn’t know what to do, so:
‘It’s so frail…It can’t be helped, so please forgive me for giving you this…’
The young man took off the towel that he was wearing and wound it around the holy Jizō’s neck.
‘It’s not beautiful but it’s surely better than that.’
After saying this, he took his burden again and went down to the village.

That night, when he was lying exhausted in bed, someone came to the young man’s house to visit.
“Knock, knock…knock, knock, knock…”
‘Who could this be… in the middle of the night…’
Besides the fact that usually nobody came to visit, now it was happening in the middle of the night. He took the hoe that stood hanging on the wall, then approached timidly and opened the lock at the entrance. When he opened the door, he was so astonished that he dropped the hoe from his hands.
There was a beautiful, well dressed girl, standing all alone, gazing at him.
‘Please forgive me for calling on you so late at night…Actually, I went looking for my mother, whom I’ve been separated with in childhood, but I got lost; in addition to this the sun has set. I was ready to sleep in the field, but because I happened to see light coming from this house, I just came here. You must be in doubt, but could you please let me stay in for the night?’
The young man who only stood in astonishment at first, at hearing the girl’s story he felt sorry for her, so he kindly offered her shelter.
‘I have nothing, but please feel at ease.’
He gave the girl the futon in which he always slept, while he himself spend the rest of the night crouched in a corner on the floor.
In the morning the young man was woken for the first time in many years by the smell of warm miso soup.
‘Please forgive me for coming into the kitchen without asking. I hope you’ll like this…’
The girl gave him the miso soup that she had just prepared.
‘No, no, don’t worry. I’m the one who should be apologizing for having nothing to eat…’
After taking a sip of miso soup he asked the the girl:
‘You said you were looking for your mother, but do you have any clues?’
At this question, the girl’s face clouded up and she answered:
‘Actually I only heard that she was supposed to be living somewhere but I have no idea as to where that place might be, so I have only been asking around…’
‘I see… That’s a real problem.’

The young man put his hands together and pondered, then made this suggestion to the girl:
‘What do you say we go down to the village together once every few days and ask the people around? However you put it, it’s dangerous for a girl to be traveling alone, so if it’s all right with you, you may stay here however long you want.’
At hearing this, her face that had been bent down lighted up and she thanked the young man many times over, then took some miso soup, too, and started sipping.

After some time the two fell in love with each other, so they spontaneously exchanged vows and became husband and wife. The girl was looking for her mother as always but, as she couldn’t find her, not even clues about her, both she and her husband eventually ran out of ideas. After exactly one year since the girl had come, the young man noticed something strange. For some mysterious reason, as it was already past spring, petals of cherry tree flowers came from somewhere fluttering about the house now and then.
‘How strange, isn’t it?’
It wasn’t such a big deal, so he didn’t pay special attention to this, but every time he found flower petals he stood wondering.
After that three more years passed. The girl seemed to have given up looking for her mother, as she wasn’t searching with much zeal anymore; they didn’t even descend together to the village so often anymore, but the two, even if they were poor, were living a happy life and never forgot to express their gratitude, so they used to go every single day to the holy Jizō to pray.

One day, when they went together as always to the place of the holy Jizō, they found a crowd there. The young man turned towards a man who was looking at the cherry tree and was grumbling something to himself and asked:
‘Is something happening? Why is everybody gathered here?’
The man answered:
‘Nah, it’s just that it’s been decided that we should cut this tree but it’s harder than we thought.’
The young man said to himself:
‘Such a splendid cherry tree…it’s a pity…’
The girl seemed to feel the same way. The two returned home with their heads bowed and a feeling of desolation.
That night, when the young man came to bed, the girl started talking quietly:
‘Darling, I have something to tell you.’
‘What is it? Tell me.’
‘Actually, I have to say goodbye.’
Hearing this terrible thing, the young man raised his body and turned towards her:
‘What? All of a sudden…Did something happen?’
At this the girl answered hiding her face full of tears:
‘I…I’ve been lying to you all this time. You may not believe it but I am the spirit of that cherry tree. I was always watching you coming to that Jizō shrine, but before I knew it, I fell in love with you because you were so kind; I knew from the beginning that my wish could not come true, but I couldn’t put an end to my feelings, so I came to you. From the beginning…I knew all along that it would come to this.’

As she was saying this, a faint light surrounded her body.

‘…Wait…I understand that you’re the spirit of the tree but…why do we have to part? No, I don’t want this. Tree spirit or anything, you are you. Please stay with me.’
The young man was crying aloud but the girl’s figure had already vanished; only a fluttering flower petal was left of her.
With that petal in his palm the young man stood sobbing and he could only hear the girl’s faint voice:
‘If only I could… I also wanted to be with you forever. However… This is fate. The time I’ve spent with you is so precious and nothing is going to change that. But from now on I’ll go on watching over you. Please, don’t forget about me. Before they cut down that cherry tree, take a twig from it and put it in the house. That will remind you of me, so please take care of it. I will always be…by your side…’
The girl’s voice vanished completely; only the man’s crying voice was still resounding.
Doing as he was told, he took a twig of the cherry tree and arranged it in a corner of the house.
Afterwards he never saw the girl again and never heard her voice, but during his whole life, no matter how seasons changed or how many years passed, the twig never withered and went on making beautiful flowers bloom.

 Notes:

A Jizō is a boddhisatva, guardian of children and travelers.

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