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Fiction Historical Fiction Drama

“... I speak for members on all sides of the house today, in offering to Japanese-Canadians the formal and sincere apology- That was Prime Minister Brian Mulroney addressing the House of Commons and an audience of Japanese-Canadians yesterday, offering an apology to the 22,000 Japanese-Canadians who were interred in Canada following the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1942. 

Along with the apology, is a $300 million compensation package. The money will go to a Japanese community fund, individual compensation, and the creation of a race relations foundation.

The apology from the Canadian government and attempt at redress comes after President Reagan and the United States government offered similar reparations last month-”


Makoto turned the tuning dial and settled on a station that was playing music. He was on his way home from work, the van lumbering down the highway with the wipers slapping the rain off the windshield. He didn’t want to think about the internment camps today.

He pushed the memories away and leaned forward over the wheel to look above him, his mouth stretching wide as he did so. He hoped the rain would stop when he was ready to go back out. He didn’t want to spend the evening in the rain.

Cars whooshed by as he put on his signal and he took his exit off the highway and into town. He maneuvered through town until he pulled off onto the side street that led to his apartment. 

He mentally sighed when he saw that the streets in town were damp but it wasn’t raining. It was just after 6 and some folks were enjoying the break in the weather after supper; mothers were pushing young children in strollers and kids were rolling along the sidewalks on their bikes, ball gloves stuck over the ends of their handlebars, and Blue Jays ball caps on. One kid was riding one-handed, holding a bat over their shoulder. They didn’t seem worried about the muddy infield or the grass soaking their sneakers.

Makoto smiled, he remembered riding his bike down to the ball field as a youngster, after…

He signaled onto his street and rolled along to his apartment. It was a three-story and he had the top floor. The building wasn’t very old and was small and simple; perfect for him. He liked to sit on the balcony in his white plastic chair in the mornings and drink his coffee before work and tea in the evenings. 

He would set his drink on the white side table next to another white plastic chair (they had come as a set) that he never sat in. 

He watched people go about their lives or the birds and squirrels or the clouds rolling in and out. The elevation here was good and sometimes he could watch storms roll in over the town, grey streaks of distant rain falling and the occasional flash of lightning. 

When the storms were heading west, he’d sit and wait until it was upon him, then he’d slip his socks off and put his feet up against the railing and let the rain patter cooly against them, as long as the rest of him wasn’t getting too wet, and listen to the drumming of rain and the cars on the highway behind him.

He’d lived there for a year, since selling the house. He missed the yard and the quiet nights by the lake, listening to the frog’s song, but it was just too much for him alone. The light it had was gone and it only felt dark, lonely, and haunted by memories.

“If these walls could talk…” was the familiar expression, one he had used for lack of a better phrase, but didn’t like. It was too cute a saying to express the dread he felt going to his queen bed with one side painfully untouched or sitting at the kitchen table alone, or walking in after a long day at work to find the house dark and quiet. He started leaving lights on and the radio playing just so he wouldn’t feel so goddamn alone when he got home and had to cook supper for one.

He sold it to Atsuko and Andrew. “It doesn’t deserve to be so dark and quiet. It should be full of light and life and I’m not the one to do it anymore,” he said. “I wish I could afford to just give it to you, but I can’t.” They worked out a deal and moved in and made the house a home again. They offered to let him live with them but he refused. “You deserve to have it to yourselves.” He enjoyed the house when he visited; they had made it bright again.

Then he moved into the apartment. He felt lonely there too, but it was different. The light penetrated the simple layout effortlessly, while the house had corners the sun just couldn’t reach. 

Makoto pulled the van into his parking spot and cut the engine. He grabbed his lunch bag and thermos, opened the squeaking door, and got out. His neighbour Greg that lived in the basement was outside with the hood up on his car, greasy hands laid over the edge of the engine bay, and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.

Makoto smiled and nodded as he walked by. “Hey, Mak,” Greg said, “Heard the government apologized about those camps during the war. That got anything to do with you?”

Makoto stopped. “Yes. it does,” he said without turning. He started walking again.

“Wonder how much you’ll get. I’d love a big, fat cheque from those bastards in Ottawa,” Greg said.

“Don’t know,” Makoto said as he rounded the corner for the door. Greg had propped the door open with the deadbolt and Makoto pushed his way inside, letting the door fall and bounce off of the frame. He didn’t want to think about the camps today.

He trudged up the stairs, his steel toes were heavy and thunked against the carpet. He unlocked the door and went into his apartment. The kitchen light was on and the radio was playing a local station. He emptied his lunch pail and rinsed his thermos; he would do the dishes later, he wanted to get home before it rained again.

He went into the bathroom and started to wash his face to get ready to shave and trim his beard. Cool water dripped off his face as he looked in the mirror. At 51, the lines on his face were starting to deepen. His temples had gone grey and there were silver strands threaded through his dark hair.  

He grabbed the shaving cream and spread it onto his cheeks, and started to shave, being careful to keep the lines of his beard neat, the way his father had.

His father had been a fisherman and Makoto missed him when he was out on the ocean, but he remembered his father being cheery and warm when he got home. His father would call him “Mako” for short and ruffle his hair and carry him on his shoulders and tease him about which girl Mako liked. 

And then, they were taken to the camps when Makoto was five. He didn’t see his father for a long time while they were there. He had been sent to Ontario to do manual labour while Makoto, his mother, and his sister had to stay in one of the camps.

He didn’t want to think about the camps today. He finished shaving and grabbed his scissors to trim his beard, just like his father used to. After the war, they were reunited, but they weren’t allowed to return home. They moved to Ontario where Makoto’s father started work as a marine mechanic. His father was different after that. He didn’t call Makoto “Mako” anymore, ruffle his hair, or tease him about girls. 

He shook the thoughts about his father away, finished trimming his beard, and showered. Afterward, he combed his hair and brushed his teeth. He looked out the window in his bedroom and saw that it had rained while he was showering but had stopped again. He hoped that it would hold off until dark.

He pulled on a pair of slacks and a knitted sweater and then the watch Ume had bought for his birthday one year. He also slipped their wedding ring onto his finger before going to the kitchen.

He started boiling water on the stove while he fetched his thermos and chabako from the cupboard. 

The chabako was made of mulberry wood and had a bonsai tree burned into the top. He and Ume had received it as a wedding gift and she loved it. In the Fall when the weather was nice, they would take Atsuko in the backyard and laugh and play before sitting down for Nodate. It was difficult when she was small to teach her to enjoy the art and simple beauty of the ceremony but she learned in time.

Makoto started to think about his mother’s tea set and wondered what happened to it after it was confiscated. Once they had moved to Ontario, his mother had gotten a new one but she often lamented that her original one had been taken. 

Makoto refocused. The kettle started to whistle. He took it off the element and poured it into the thermos. Then he went to the fridge and grabbed the dorayaki that he had made the night before and placed them in a Tupperware. Makoto could never make it the same way that Ume could, but he thought his were still pretty good; they were Atsuko’s favourite. Then he grabbed a small decorative teapot.

He set everything by the front door and went into the hall closet to grab his mat. Satisfied, he gathered up everything and headed out the door. 


* * *


It had started to rain again on the way to the cemetery. It made his brows furrow and his hands tighten on the wheel. It felt personal like the weather was out to get him.

But as he rounded the last corner before he got to the cemetery, the rain let up again and the sun broke through the clouds and he let out a relieved sigh. Then he smiled when he saw Atsuko’s car outside the gate. He pulled up behind her as she began to open her door. 

He got out and walked over to her. “Hi sweetie,” he said as he hugged her.

“Hi Daddy,” she said, squeezing him back. He could feel her start to shake a little and he held her tighter. 

Finally, they separated. Her cheeks were wet and he had tears in his eyes. He wiped his tears away, then hers. “I can’t believe it’s been three years,” he said.

“Mommy!” Aiko cried from the backseat of the car.

“Sorry sweetie, I’m coming!” Atsuko said with a snuffle. She opened the door and pulled Aiko out.

Cha” Aiko called to Makoto, reaching for him. She couldn’t say Jii-chan yet

“Aiko-chan!” he said back, taking her in his arms. “How are you?”

“Good!” she said.

“Jii-chan missed you,” Makoto said. Aiko spoke back to him in her toddler language. He didn’t understand it all, but he caught the gist of it.

He set her down and went to the sliding door of the van to get his equipment. “I was nervous about the rain all day,” he said.

“Me too,” Atsuko said, scooping up Aiko in her arms. “I almost called to say maybe we should reschedule.”

“I thought about doing that too, but I’m glad we didn’t. The grass will be a little wet but the mat should keep us dry,” he said, using his back to close the van door. “Ready?”

They made their way through the gate and Makoto couldn’t help but remember the funeral. It felt like a dream; friends and family seemed like strangers– like Atsuko and Ume were the only people he had ever known. She was five months pregnant with Aiko then and Makoto was so worried that the stress would send her into labour early. 

He felt utter numbness that night when he went to bed alone like he’d never feel anything again. And then joy when Aiko was born, mixed with the pain that she would never know her grandmother.

They reached Ume’s grave and Makoto set everything down. MATSUMURA was etched across the top, underneath on the left was his name followed by his birthday. On the right was “Ume” and then June 25th 1945-September 23rd, 1985. The epitaph was written in kanji; 


人生は風前の灯火. 


“Life is a candle before the wind.”


She had gone that night to visit Atsuko and Andrew. She asked if Makoto wanted to go but he said no. It had been a long day at work and he wanted to stay home and watch the Jays play the Brewers. 

It was a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He’ll never forget the phone call, the way his blood went cold, and the pit that dropped into his stomach. Makoto wished every day that he had gone with her.

He and Atsuko had been standing quietly for a minute, both lost in memory. “We should start,” Atsuko finally said.

Makoto nodded and laid out the mat, organized the equipment, and emptied the thermos into the teapot. Atsuko sat Aiko down and she and Makoto both sat in seiza. Aiko started to fuss.

“We’re having a nodate with grandma, but you have to be quiet OK? Just wait and you’ll get a treat,” Atsuko said. Aiko’s eyes lit up at the idea of a treat.

“Ready?” Makoto asked.

“Ready.”

They both bowed and began the ceremony, neatly folding the chakin and carefully creasing it, wiping down the utensils, and rinsing the tea bowl; like he had been taught by his mother and he had taught Atsuko. 

He began ritualistically making the tea while Atsuko got her and Aiko each a dorayaki to eat. Aiko’s eyes lit up when she tasted the treat. Atsuko also set one at the base of Ume’s headstone. 

It was Atsuko’s idea to have a nodate in the cemetery on the anniversary of Ume’s death. Makoto was hesitant but eventually, she convinced him to try. “I know it’s not the proper way,” she said. “But we're not just Japanese, we're Canadian too. We'll come up with our own ceremony. For Mom.” Atsuko had brought Aiko both years before. She wouldn’t remember the ceremony yet, but it was both Makoto and Atsuko’s wish that she wouldn’t remember a time without it.

Aiko smiled and giggled when Matoko used the chasen to vigorously whisk the tea before Atsuko shushed her. Makoto couldn’t help but grin to himself; he remembered when Atsuko was that small and giggling at the splashing sounds when her grandmother whisked the matcha together.

He made three bowls; one for Atsuko, one for Aiko (she tried a small sip once it cooled but didn’t like it), and another to set in front of the headstone. Atsuko picked hers up in her right hand and set it in her left, carefully spinning it to face the right direction before drinking it.

Once the tea had been drunk, Makoto wiped everything down and packed it away in the chabako. They closed the ceremony with a bow and each had tears spilling down their cheeks.

Atsuko grabbed Aiko and they stood up. “I really miss her,” Atsuko said.

“She would be so proud of you.”

“I wish she’d gotten to meet you,” Atsuko said to Aiko, touching her nose with her finger which made her giggle.

“She was so excited,” Makoto said. 

Aiko started to squirm so Atsuko set her down, “Not too far, OK?” she said. Aiko babbled back as she toddled away. She found one of the corner markers in the wet grass and began to examine it.

They both watched as she tried to pick the marker out of the ground before giving up and moving on.

“Do you remember when I was in school and we were doing poetry and I had to write a haiku?” Atsuko asked. “And then you, me, and Mom spoke almost exclusively in haikus for nearly a month?” 

Makoto laughed. “I remember,” he said.

“It was so strange learning about a piece of our culture from anyone but you or Mom or Obāsan.

Makoto nodded. “Yes, I suppose that is strange.”

They were quiet for a moment. “Are you OK? With the redress and everything yesterday?” Atsuko asked.

Makoto thought for a second. “I really haven’t thought about it too much to be honest. I keep telling myself I can think about that later. Today is about your Mom.”

“I think it’s about time,” Atsuko said as she watched Aiko. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

Makoto turned to her and she had tears in her eyes again. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her against him. “I think I thought of a haiku,” he said, watching Aiko. She was collecting sticks underneath the giant oak tree that stood near the iron fence. The leaves around them were changing and soon the landscape would be fiery with the coming season.

Atsuko smiled and looked at him. “Let’s hear it,”

“In Autumn, leaves fall,

leaving empty trees behind. 

But blossoms follow,” he said as Aiko came running over to show them a stick she found…


July 08, 2023 02:34

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6 comments

Mary Bendickson
22:27 Jul 08, 2023

A lot of deep stories this week. This one I could follow nicely. Lovely ritual.

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C. Charles
23:12 Jul 08, 2023

Thanks for reading!

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Jabria Reid
19:43 Jul 15, 2023

This was hauntingly beautiful. I love the repetition of the sentence "He didn’t want to think about the internment camps today" and the emphasis that the memories of that period in his past would not mar the celebration of his late wife's life on that day. The brief exchange between him and his neighbor was a great juxtaposition of the general public's opinion of these government "apologies" vs. the opinions of those who were directly affected I did some side research to make sure I understood the importance of the nodate ceremony and WOW...

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C. Charles
22:37 Jul 15, 2023

Oh my goodness! This is one of my favourite comments I’ve gotten on a story. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences. And for the feedback!

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M.L. Chatten
03:28 Jul 08, 2023

I’m not crying, you’re crying… and also I’m crying 😭

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C. Charles
15:37 Jul 09, 2023

Lol I’m glad it got you in the feels!

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