“So you’re back,” the old Japanese man said, his face wrinkling as his cheeks turned up into a slight smile. His eyes drifted to a corner of the quaint traditional house and landed on a small, shimmery figure that was slowly materializing.
The man sighed and, turning his back on the figure for just a moment, picked up a wooden tray containing tea things and some small Japanese crackers. He slowly walked forward, shaking a bit as he went, to a short table that was situated in the center of the small room. He cautiously set the tray on the table, trying hard not to drop anything.
The old man straightened up, looking around for his companion who was in the house somewhere. When he didn’t spot it, he shrugged and started to lower himself to a sitting position on one of the beautifully crafted mats on his floor. He had just grasped one of the lovely teacups on the tray when he heard a soft “meow” from the corner of the room.
“You’ve decided to join me once again, Shiro,” the man said, not even looking up from his teacup. There were slight footsteps on the floor and then a small thump as a beautiful white cat hopped onto the opposite side of the table. It’s piercing yellow eyes watched the old man as his unsteady hand poured himself some tea.
When the man finally looked up, he met the cat’s eyes and smiled.
“I missed you, pretty girl. It’s been a while since I’ve been in your presence. To what do I owe the honor?” He said as he poured the cat a cup of tea. She stared at him a moment longer and then lowered her head to the teacup, cautiously taking a lick. Finding that it was good, she continued to lap it up thankfully.
“Here is your favorite, I always have them at tea time just in case you decide to show up,” the man smiled, gingerly picking up a cracker and sliding it to the cat. She looked up from her teacup and spotted the cracker, taking a small nibble of it.
“How is the afterlife treating you?” He said, watching the beautiful creature as she finished her cracker. She looked up and meowed softly to which the man replied, “I thought so.”
As the man continued to converse with the cat, there came a small knock at the door. The cat straightened her ears, looked at the door with boredom, and continued to indulge herself with another cracker.
“I’ll go see who it is,” the old man said as he stood up and wobbled, regaining his balance as he headed to the door.
When he got there, he opened the door to an excited young woman whose long black hair was tied up in a bun.
“Yuuto, you’ll never believe it! Shoto and Hinata are having a baby! Oh, it’s so exciting! I’m so happy for them, they will be great parents!” She said, her enthusiasm clearly showing.
“That’s lovely, Akita,” Yuuto replied to his young friend, “you hear that Shiro? The Tanaka’s are having a baby!” He turned around to see the cat standing behind him, staring intently at Akita.
Akita rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Are you talking about that stupid cat again? You know she died eight years ago, why do you keep pretending she’s around? Just accept the loss and get over it,” she said, annoyed.
Shiro meowed angrily, to which Yuuto chuckled. Akita’s eyes turned sharp.
“What are you laughing at?” She said, looking at the spot Yuuto was gazing but seeing nothing. “You’re crazy! Are you sure you don’t need help? Are you sure you aren’t seeing things?” She said, looking back at Yuuto.
He returned the look and said, “Gukou yama-o utsusu. Faith can move mountains. I’m not crazy, dear Akita. Just having faith in an old friend that she will return to me.”
Akita rolled her eyes once more. “Whatever, old man,” she said teasingly. “I should probably get going, I have to make dinner for obaasan, so she doesn’t go hungry.” Akita frowned and spun on her heels, heading down the street at a slightly speedy pace.
“Did you enjoy the tea?” Yuuto said as he gently closed his door, turning once again to see Shiro licking her paws. She looked up at him with amusement and he said, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
The cat walked towards him and Yuuto bent down to pet her. She rubbed against his leg lovingly, her soft fur soothing on the old man’s skin. She meowed in pleasure as Yuuto rubbed behind her ear, her favorite spot to be pet.
Suddenly the cat felt something cold and wet hit her back and looked up to see that the old man had tears rolling down his cheeks. She meowed in sorrow and nuzzled him again, not knowing what was wrong.
“It’s okay, old friend. It is better this way,” Yuuto said, a smile forming through the tears. “I will be joining you soon, and then we can have tea together all the time.” The old man lifted a shaky hand to his face and wiped away a tear. He sat down on the floor as the cat cuddled up in his lap, the sun shining on her beautiful snow-white fur.
“The afterlife, is it great?” Yuuto asked dreamily. Shiro meowed thoughtfully, as Yuuto smiled and looked off into the distance. The man continued to pet her, lost in his own thoughts.
When he stopped feeling fur against his hand, he looked down to see Shiro’s figure fading, her piercing eyes looking at him once more before she disappeared.
The nurse put the cup of herbal tea up to Yuuto’s lips, urging him to drink it. He barely managed to swallow one sip through his weak lips when Akita burst into the room. When she saw him lying down in his bed, pale and fragile, she burst into angry tears.
“Why didn’t you say something sooner?!” She cried, rushing over to his bed and looking into his old, tired eyes.
Yuuto tried to sit up but the nurse forced him to lay, pushing him to drink another sip of the medicinal drink.
“I didn’t want to worry you, my dear,” he said in a little bit more than a whisper. He sighed and rejected the nurse’s hand when she tried to get him to drink more. Akita sat on the edge of the bed and reached for his hand, holding his cold, frail fingers in hers.
“We could have helped you, and stopped the spread of it sooner,” Akita said desperately, the tears still rolling down her face. Yuuto let go of her hand and reached up to wipe her tears, smiling as best he could.
Then he heard a familiar sound. It was a soft mewing, coming from the corner of the room. Yuuto turned his head to see the beautiful white fur materializing from the doorway. The keen yellow eyes looked sharp as they met with his own.
“You decided to see me once more before I’m with you, pretty girl?” the words barely left the old man’s mouth, his breathing was faltering.
Akita followed his gaze, but once again saw nothing. She turned back around and looked at Yuuto, smiling.
“Crazy old man,” she said lovingly, then bent down to kiss him on the forehead. When she did, she watched him close his eyes and smile, a single tear sliding down his cheek.
Akita watched him quietly as his breathing slowed, then eventually came to a complete stop. The nurse put a hand on her shoulder as she cried, that her beloved friend Yuuto had passed away.
There was a funeral and the community mourned the loss of their cherished friend. The town collectively agreed to adopt a beautiful white cat in Yuuto’s honor, and Akita was the one who took it into her household. She gave it the name Ocha, meaning tea, in memory of her friend.
Yuuto made it into the afterlife, reuniting with his old and trusted companion, Shiro. They spent their days watching over the town, especially Akita and Ocha. Yuuto was finally at peace, knowing he would never miss tea with his friend again.