Shiro

 

 Someone said once:
‘A really important thing is one that you don’t realize you lost…’
While staring at the cut down cherry tree trunk in the garden of my home, I whisper in my heart:
‘That’s right, indeed…’
It must be already a year since Shiro died. Shiro is the dog that I got when I was about 10 years old. At the barber’s where I always used to accompany my father, the dog that they were keeping gave birth. ‘There’s nobody who’d take it, so could you please keep it?’, I caught what the barber was saying to my father and, to his annoyance, started crying and begging him.
At first father refused firmly to listen to my wish. Only two months earlier
Tarō had died, the dog that we had been keeping. The cause of Tarō’s death had been filaria. Food couldn’t even pass through his throat and while taking a walk his breath was leaking as if it were dried up; of course he wasn’t able to run, he was hardly able to walk. One day when mother went in the garden to feed him in the morning, Tarō was already cold. Father and I wrapped up gently Tarō’s remains in a blanket and went to bury it in the mountain nearby. Tarō’s warmth while alive had gone and, in the changeless shape that we had seen in the morning, he had become stiff. After we had buried Tarō, when father lit up one of the cigarettes he always used to smoke, he stuck it in front of the rock that stood for a gravestone. Father didn’t talk at all but I guess he was the one who regretted it the most. Though I was a child, his feelings passed through him and soaked into me.
That’s why father was now against keeping another dog. Mother was also against it. She was saying again and again: ‘You wouldn’t like to have such a sad experience again, would you? I don’t want it. Do you want to go through that again?’ But I went on crying and in the end both father and mother gave in, so the next day I went again to the barber’s and came back with Shiro. For some reason, with its cream colored fur, Shiro seemed to be descended from a special breed. Still a puppy only three months old, he used to scatter around the things in the house, so it became a nuisance to my family. However, both mother and father, who had never complained before, told me ‘Because you are the one who brought him, take good care of him’, while opening a tin can with Shiro’s food.
My daily routine was all about Shiro’s walks, putting in order the things that Shiro scattered around the house, Shiro’s food, Shiro’s toilet, so every day of mine was full of Shiro. As those days went by, Shiro got big and along with his development, it was able to remember various things. He really seemed to be a clever type of dog but, although he wasn’t able to do tricks, whenever we went for a walk, he would turn his back toward me obediently and would stay still until I put on the leash, then, unlike the dogs in the neighborhood, if they barked at him, he wouldn’t bark in response; with an unconcerned look he always walked at the same pace right by my side.
However a dog’s development is really fast and, though it was less than a year since he had come to our place, he had become so big that we couldn’t keep rearing him inside. Father built a dog kennel in the garden and said we would keep him outside but I resorted to tears against this. Now that I think of it, I don’t know why I was so sad, since it was right at the entrance of the house, but at that time I felt as if my heart was being torn apart. ‘Then I’ll also sleep outside with Shiro!’ I boasted, but even this request was rejected with a scold from my father. In the end, from that day on Shiro was reared outside.
After that, apart from the fact that we weren’t together during the night, there was no change in our daily routine, but one evening when I went out in the garden to leave him food for the night, Shiro’s figure was missing and only the empty kennel and the torn off chain were left behind. Shiro was gone. I felt I was losing my head and searched for a way to tell my parents that Shiro was gone, but in the end, without finding Shiro, I cried until I got exhausted and fell asleep.

The following morning, the moment I woke up I opened the door praying that Shiro had come back, but the torn off chain was still lying outside the dog kennel. I felt the urge to start crying again but, noticing that something was different, I peeked timidly in the kennel that was supposed to be deserted. And there, isn’t that a cream colored lump with an undulating back, breathing while asleep?
‘Shiro!’ I screamed. At this, that white lump got up slowly, came out of the kennel, shook its fur and, as if nothing had happened, went back in his kennel. I rushed in to call father so that he could repair the chain that Shiro had torn off. I was both relieved and angry, so I scolded Shiro, but he simply turned its back on me and had no reaction.
Afterwards, this used to happen a couple of times a year. But because Shiro would always come back to his kennel until the following morning, my parents and I didn’t worry about it anymore. ‘He must have a girlfriend in the neighborhood and goes to see her’ said mom laughing but I didn’t find it strange.
While I was in my second year of middle school, a small change appeared in Shiro’s wandering habits. Usually he disappeared and came back to its kennel in the morning but in spring, when the flowers of the cherry tree in the garden were blooming, for some reason it would get close to that trunk and sleep there. At first I was surprised but, as there was nothing altered at the base of the tree, father said: ‘Maybe because of the weather he likes that spot better’ and I agreed, so I didn’t think it strange anymore.
After that some springs passed, I was already past puberty and the environment in my home also changed to great extent. I didn’t talk so much to my parents anymore and the time I used to spend with Shiro decreased a lot; it was as if all the things home had become like the air. The walking I was supposed to do, the feeding and the cleaning after Shiro, became mother’s job. The only thing that hadn’t changed was Shiro’s wandering habits; he would as usually disappear in the night and sleep until morning cuddled up near that cherry tree trunk.
The spring when I graduated from high-school and failed at the entrance exam at the university, a small incident happened. It had been decided that the cherry tree, the one that Shiro liked so much, should be cut down. By all means the reason was that the branches were too long and were getting caught in the garage of the house next door, but concerning the fact that the cherry tree would be cut down, I only said ‘Really? I see’ and had nothing in particular against it. When I came home one day, the scenery was a bit changed. It was only that. However, mother told me that, when father was cutting down the tree, Shiro was barking all the time. ‘You really liked that tree, didn’t you? What a terrible thing to do… I’m so sorry’ she was murmuring while petting Shiro gently on the head. The next day father moved Shiro’s kennel on the spot where the cherry tree had been. Surely mother must have suggested that. Because the spot where the cherry tree had been planted was far away from the entrance, the distance between me and Shiro was now larger.
After spending a life of rōnin for about a year and then passing the entrance exam at a university in Tokyo, the next year I bid farewell to my home where I had lived for so many years, to my family and to Shiro and left for the capital by myself. Afterwards somehow or another I lived my life as a student, then somehow or another I found employment and, to put it in a cool way, I was living my life to the fullest. ‘Until I want to return to my home town, I should take it at leisure…’

The call from my mother came just during that time. At the other end of the line, mother was crying. Shiro had died. I realized that, before hearing about Shiro’s death, I had forgotten about Shiro. I felt terribly sad but I didn’t come to tears and, after telling her that I would come home for the weekend, I slowly put the telephone receiver in its place.
When I got home Shiro had already been buried near that cherry tree trunk where he used to cuddle up. The cause of death had been old age.
In front of the small rock that stood for a gravestone there was a filter stuck into the ground, all that was left of a cigarette.
‘That’s right…It’s been 15 years since then.’
I was meeting my parents after a long time and, as we were talking about our memories with Shiro, father took off his glasses and, while pressing down his eyes, said: ‘I knew it all the time. You see, that cherry tree was planted there the year when you were born. I’m sure Shiro was watching over you. To cut the tree like that, it must have made Shiro very sad… I really did a terrible thing. How could I have forgotten about that?... Shiro was watching over you…’
Because father was saying this over and over again, for some reason both my mother and I sunk into silence.
After returning to my place in Tōkyō the next day, somehow or another I started living my daily life the usual way. But, while I had no intention to leave this kind of life behind, suddenly I found myself facing its end. Unexpectedly I was handed in a notice of discharge. Therefore I decided in the end to return home and, pretending to look for a job, I was living a life of depravity.
After another two months the wind announcing spring began to blow outside and it depressed me even more, as I was unwilling to do anything. Because I was home, I had no trouble eating, but contrary to the feeling that I should do something, my legs wouldn’t move outside.
One morning I was trying to put myself back to sleep when I thought I’d heard the cry of a dog from outside. Huh? I thought and tried to listen carefully. I really did hear it.
I slipped on my sandals and, after a long time, I went outside. However there wasn’t any trace of a dog anywhere. This way, somehow or another I found myself before the cherry tree trunk that was in front of Shiro’s grave.
That’s when, for the first time after Shiro had died, I cried.
I was crying with my voice raised.
On the tree trunk that had been cut down I could see small flower buds.
It was a clear afternoon and the spring breeze was blowing.

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