Running On Three Legs 


 

I hated my father. Reticent, with no will to be successful, always smeared with oil… I was thinking from the bottom of my heart that all I didn’t want was to become such a father.
My family ran a small independent business – a bicycle shop, where father was always working with a sour look, from 10 A.M. to 7 P.M, repairing chains that had got out of place, mending holes in flat tires and the like. Because I hated to see the figure of such a father, when going to school and coming home, I used to avoid the main entrance which was also the entrance to the shop and was using the backdoor to get in and out, but even after graduating from high school and going to study at the university in Tokyo, then coming like that to work here, my feelings hadn’t changed.
I think I started hating my father during the time when I was in the lower grades in primary school. At my school on Children’s Day (5th of May) there was this “Carp streamer assembly”, a sort of athletic meet, but among the contests in which parents also took part there was the “Running on three legs” contest. In general children took part in this with their fathers, but because my father had had an accident a long time ago, his right leg had a disability, so I was running together with my mother.
This happened during primary school and I still can’t say whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.
‘Why are you running with your mom?’
‘It’s just you running with your mom. Are you one with the Mother complex?’
Such questions came from my classmates who didn’t know about my father’s leg condition, but instead I began to bear a grudge against father for this and blamed him for everything. At this father would always keep silent and to me, who was very young, said only: ‘Even if you blame me, there’s nothing you can do about it.’ With this dilemma, the anger which I had nothing to turn towards could only turn into meanness.
As to why I remember these things right now, I got a call from my mother two days ago in the evening, telling me something about father being hospitalized and asking whether I could come home soon. It seemed that my father with his disability in one leg, while returning from flower viewing with the neighborhood association, made some mistake and fell down hitting his head severely and now he was very worried because he had to spend some time in the hospital.
The unpleasant memories from my childhood rose in me all of a sudden, so I sighed and, while grumbling ‘oh, man!’, I dialed the number of the Tokyo Station and booked a ticket for the first Shinkansen train in the morning.
Picked up by mother at the station, I was now returning after a long time home, where it was gloomy as ever and smelling like oil. I went upstairs to the room where I had spent the first eighteen years of my life, and when I sat on the chair of my writing desk which was full of scratches, I noticed a photograph that I hadn’t seen before on the stand. I took it and was staring at it when mother came unnoticed and said: ‘That picture, you see, it’s there because your father said to put it there.’
That photo was of me during middle school, laughing and displaying a prize certificate that I had been awarded in a contest at prefecture level.
‘Why would he do that?’
I gave the picture to mother.
‘You see, your father was really happy. Well, he himself wasn’t able to run, right? That’s why he really loved to see you running’ she said leaning her chin on her right hand and raising the eyebrows.
‘Uhm, I see… So, how is father?’
When I asked about my father’s condition, mother sat down and answered with a somehow gloomy look:
‘It seems that the hit in the head is nothing serious, but he probably won’t be able to come home for some time…’
Hearing those words I turned the chair so I could face my mother and asked:
‘Why? Is there something else wrong?’
My mother’s look became even darker.

‘You see, it seems that your father has cancer…’ she said in a very low voice, while staring at the floor mat. ‘For a very long time the state of his health has been bad, but he never said anything about it and just endured it, right? Only that this time at the examination they found cancer… and it seems that he had been in pain all the time… Even the doctor said: “How could you just leave it until it got that way?” That’s why we asked you to come home…’
Mother’s confession was so sudden that in a single moment my head went blank and I was worried. Then she said: ‘Right now it can be cured somehow, but, you see, even after he leaves hospital, he will have to go there a few times a week… If this happens, could you continue the work at the shop? This is what worries him the most, so… would you take over the shop?’
At these totally unexpected words of mother’s, I only sunk into silence.
Mother stood up slowly and took that photograph in her hands.
‘It’s because he told me that I should never, for nothing in the world, tell you about it that I kept quiet all the time but… your father’s leg is like that because he protected you…’ She was saying things with such obscure meaning.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked in a voice mixed with irritation.
‘You probably don’t remember because you were small, but you were playing in front of the house one day and, running after the ball, you jumped in the roadway right when a car was coming and it was on the point of running over you, but instead your father…’
As I listened to this, the memories inside my head about that moment were vaguely coming back to life. That event had been too much for me, who was very young at that time, so I have been keeping all about the accident unconsciously at the bottom of my memory. That’s right… Indeed, I was saved by father…
When I realized it, I was staring into emptiness and tears were flowing from my eyes.
‘That’s why it broke my heart when you were angry at father for not being able to run with you in the “three legs” contest… But for your father it must have been even more painful. He really wanted to run together with you…with his leg bound tightly to yours, he wanted to run…’
That’s all she said and, hiding her face with her hand, she went downstairs.
I looked at that picture for a while, but the scent of my mother’s specialty “mackerel boiled in miso” reached me, so I went downstairs at her in the kitchen and told her:
‘I… will take over the shop.’
Without turning to me, mother said only:
‘All right.’
Tomorrow I’ll go see father. And I’ll tell him this: ‘Father, from now on we’ll truly be together on three legs.’
I had the feeling that, thoughtless, the sound of my mother chopping vegetables got louder.

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