The Farewell Cup
radually my feelings of paranoia diminished. Still the sense of disbelief, certainly, still a lingering state of shock—but the remaining days passed more tranquilly than I had dared to hope.
Early on the morning of August 23, I donned a new uniform. Then, for a long time I gazed at myself in the shower room mirror—at the golden eagle patches on my shoulders, glowing faintly in gathering light from the open doorway. I was peering into an unfamiliar face, still swollen and inflamed. One of my eyebrows was all but gone, my hair thinning badly. I was looking at an unfamiliar being, a person I scarcely knew. Only age seventeen, yet older than time.
Now, after the long and irredeemable months, I gazed at the image before me pensively, filled with wonderment beyond calculation, at the hand moving of its own volition to trace its fingertips down the scorched and peeling cheek, across a scar at the comer of my lip. “Yasuo Kuwa – hara,” the image whispered, “who are you? What have you become?” Then I was seeing on through the myself, through the mirror into my past. . . burning cities and dead men, planes, clouds, sky. . . ships
and the infinite sea. Voices were calling faintly but ever more persistently, calling my name. I pressed my forehead against the cold hard surface of the mirror, against the forehead of my other self within it, and we closed our eyes.
Tingling strangely, I left the barracks and, as though compelled by another mind, wandered out onto the empty and forsaken airstrip. From somewhere, near yet far, came the sounds of ancient music—music filled with lamentation, yet somehow, faintly welling traces of hope as well.
Hiro’s once proud fighter planes huddled together along a remote corner of the air field, emasculated now without their propellers. Instinctively, I began walking toward them, head down, pondering my steps, watching one foot, slowly, persistently succeeding the next like the passage of days.
The nostalgic music continued, flowing with my childhood, my heritage, full of time, tradition, and the land. Yet so very subtly, I could not sense its direction—mere echoes, it seemed, down the corridors of memory. Upon reaching the assembled aircraft, I moved among them slowly, appraisingly, like one who had only observed such things from afar. There, almost in the very center, was my Hayabusa, an old and valiant warrior, now consigned to history.
For a while I merely stood there looking at it, unwilling to say farewell. Then, on sudden impulse, I placed my hand upon the patched wing, glanced about to insure my solitude, and climbed into the cockpit. There I remained for some time, perhaps ten minutes, and once I laid my hands upon the controls. Cold and hard, unresponsive like the limbs of a corpse in rigor mortis. Closing my eyes, I listened. The music rose then gradually diminished, infused with the fading drone of motors somewhere along the red horizon. . . a muffled then mounting roar that gradually fell away, simmered, lingered ever more faintly. . . and was gone. Only the most miniscule remnant mingled with the vague, persistent ringing in my ears, within the chambers of my memory. I glanced about, startled. All sound evaporated now, like the final, diminishing tones of an ancient bell. Nothing left but the brightening day. By ten a. m. I had said my last sayonara, saluted the riffling flag—still the white flag with its red and rising sun—climbed aboard the waiting bus with several others—and passed beyond the portals of Hiro forever.
Going home. Never before had life been so dreamlike. We were passing among a swelling human throng, gradually being absorbed once more into civilian life. Rolling forward, haltingly among a motley herd of vehicles and bicycles, among the bleats and honks of horns, our driver trying his best to avoid pot holes, bomb craters and other obstructions, past neighborhoods in ruin, crews at work among the debris. The task seemed insuperable, yet there they were, scurrying about with endless and ant-like determination.
I was moving among my people, a population strange yet familiar. Thus far, the enemy had apparently taken no unfair advantage of our surrender. And, surprisingly to many of the Americans, Japan at large was already resigned to a new order. Despite our so-called fanaticism on the field of battle, we were also a people of resignation when it was required. We were the three bamboos of legend that could bend with the wind. Our Emperor had spoken.
The people whom I moved among and my comrades in farewell were a laughing people because of our relief, a crying people because of our defeat and the immensity of our sacrifice. . . a bitter people because of our victimization by many of our trusted leaders. . . a smiling people because of our joy in reunion. . . a grieving people because so many would never return. Many awaited the main invasion with trepidation, others mainly with curiosity. Some, with mere apathy, for the entire gamut of emotion, of fear, pain, and suffering, had grown numb.
Come what may, the war had ended.
The bus rumbled forward, and I heaved an immense, quivering sigh. My skin was still peeling, my eyes still smarting, the fever from August sixth still simmering away, diminishing, alternating with erratic currents of coldness. But the farmland was unfolding now, blending its therapeutic greenery with the growing blue of the sky.
My family was still safe and alive, waiting. And Toyoko? God willing, I would be with her soon. What might happen then? I did not know what the future might hold. Who ever, anywhere, truly knows with certainty from one hour to the next? But I hoped that she might still await and welcome me! That was all I could ask for now.
Idly, I traced my fingers over a tiny cut on my hand, remembering the farewell gathering I had attended the night before. A dozen of us had convened for a sukiyaki dinner in the billet of a Lieutenant Kurotsuka. There had been much toasting with sake, and each man had cut his own hand and drunk the blood of his comrade’s in a token of fidelity. It was a strange and ironic brotherhood—we of the smiling blood-traced lip s—yet remarkably real and powerful.
Kurotsuka, an assistant commander for the Second Squadron, had been a man of compassion, one who longed for peace and harmony within the world. He had also been a valiant and exemplary leader, greatly admired by his compatriots and subordinates. I saw now, clearly, his handsome, ruddy visage, highly malleable with its prominent facial muscles. I saw the glow of his dark eyes, caught in the vague incandescence of a light bulb. The lingering blush of red upon his mouth. Most of all, I remembered his parting words as he stood there before us:
“It is true my friends—yes undeniable. There is no turning back. We have lost a great war, lost it at a material and physical level.” He paused for some time. “But spiritually. . . we must refuse to be vanquished. Let us therefore covenant together that we shall never lose our spirit of belonging, of brotherhood, the spirit of our heritage and our country.
We are aged men in one sense. We have fought bravely, seen and suffered much. And yet. . . we are very young in years. The future stretches before us, and in time’s own due course perhaps we shall become young at heart, in a day to be determined by a power beyond that of our humble mortal reckoning.
“Meanwhile. . . let us dedicate ourselves—not to death, but to life! To life! And to the rebuilding of Nippon, that it may one day attain its former power and greatness, yet also stand respected as a force for good among every nation.” I glanced at the others, at the intensity of their gaze, the glistening of their eyes. Tears trickled down their cheeks, down my own. “For what men, my brothers, in all this world, will ever know war as we have known it? Or cherish peace as we shall cherish it?” Our sake cups were raised high.