Hana and the Flower Rain - A rare blossom at the Sakura festival delivers a life-changing encounter.

Submitted into Contest #191 in response to: Start your story with your character(s) going to buy some flowers.... view prompt

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Asian American Drama Fiction

The streets were alive with the energy of a thousand joyful faces. People milled together, raising flower-adorned drinks, smiling at one another while knocking glasses together in toasts and good cheer. 

The scents from the food vendors in their small street shacks mingled aromatics with the sounds of knives knocking swiftly against wooden blocks. The musical notes of percussion, wind, and stringed instruments resonated through the air. 

It was Sakura, the annual Japanese celebration of the Cherry Blossoms. 

Overhead, pink and white silk blossoms were strung together, tethered across the street from one shop to the next. Cherry trees of all sizes stood in large ornate ceramic vases in front of each shop door. 

And Luke Woodley was blind and deaf to it all. 

His focus was on the bench in the center of the plaza. Not twenty feet from where he stood, the most beautiful vision he'd ever seen sat alone, a pleasant smile on a delicate face. Wearing an igata red padded jacket that ran to the mid-thigh of her demurely crossed legs, the Japanese woman looked like she was waiting for someone to return. 

Her hair, long and black, lay flat over a shoulder and shimmered like tourmaline crystal. Yet, even from this distance, Luke could see the feminine grace of dainty hands with fingers like paintbrushes tipped in lavender paint resting over a knee.

 She wore a thin, white turtleneck sweater complimenting a slender frame and an elegant neck. A small, perfectly narrow nose sat centered beneath eyes that could easily be mistaken for blue pearls. Above them, an exquisite set of feathery eyebrows, fading in an arc of fullness to fine, wispy points.

In a surge of emotional command between impulse and urgency, Luke launched himself across the promenade to the flower vendor, her cart teaming with bouquets in a myriad of colored bushels. The volume of floral arrangements stymied his ability to make a selection. Upon seeing the woman on the bench, Luke knew that he needed to bring her flowers; beyond that, his plan was a blank sheet. 

The smiling Japanese vendor sought to assist her frantic-looking customer. 

"For wife?" she asked. 

Luke shook his head, his eyes still searching for the epiphany of the perfect bouquet. 

"For girlfriend?" the woman asked with a smile as she came around to stand beside him. 

Again, Luke shook his head.

The old woman placed her hand gently on Luke's forearm; her smile drew back to an empathetic crease. "For sick?"

Taking in a breath of the floral rainbow stacked on the shelves, Luke took the woman's hand from his arm and turned, then discreetly pointed to his inspiration–the woman seated on the bench. 

"For special," Luke said to the vendor. 

The woman looked, smiled, nodded, and patted Luke's hand gently but excitedly. "Yes, very special you need–very special." She said, agreeing with Luke's assessment. 

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Luke retrieved his wallet, opened it, and withdrew the gold plastic card. Handing it to the vendor, he bowed and smiled. "Yes, please. Very special, very fast, please. Thank you." Then he turned to keep the stunning woman on the bench in his view. 

****

Hana was weary. It was the end of a long day on the heels of a long week, but she was determined to replenish her reserves from the Sakura festival. Walking through the throng of festivalgoers, she smiled, nodded, and laughed with the others enjoying the traditional Japanese celebration of spring's arrival. 

The faux-blossom festoons overhead, and the sight of Sakura Cherry saplings in the doorways of each shop brought back childhood memories. Each year, at the end of March, her father took a week's vacation from work, spending the time taking the family to view the blossoms in Japan's many beautiful natural settings, from Maruyama Park to Mount Yoshino, then to Himenji Castle, finishing with days languishing in a resort at Fuji Five Lakes. 

But, like the Sakura blossoms, the flashbacks were fragile and flittered away too soon. Her parents were old now and didn't travel much, and having them come to America was out of the question–regardless of the need. 

Purchasing a cup of Sakurayu, a tea made in the traditional way of the shiozuke from the petals of Sakura blossoms, Hana moved along the promenade while taking small sips of the delicate elixir. From another vendor, she purchased another delicacy made from shiozuke, a sakura mochi. 

Yet, as warming as the tea was and satisfying as the red bean curd treat tasted on her tongue, once more, both reminded her that so many things in life last but a moment before they are gone. A drink swallowed, a bite finished, a sunset falling below the horizon, and a lifetime passing by in the blink of an eye. 

Hana knew it was time to go home. Her time in America was coming to an end, and her homeland was calling. She had done her best to find the American dream, to beat the odds and come out on top, but that America was a storybook. The reality of America was a land filled with ordinary people seeking no more than to live happy little lives, in many ways, not much different than the lives of most people in Japan. 

It was warm for a spring evening, and with her turtleneck, jacket, and the mass of bodies congregated in a small area, she was overheating. Spying the vacant bench in the plaza's open space, she would sit and rest. Instead of running down her mental checklist of all the items still requiring attention before she began her journey back to her parents, she would employ her father's consistent lesson–patience. "Sit and be patient. Allow your surroundings to bring you what you need at the moment. There is always time for patience." 

And so, Hana went to the vacant bench and sat. 

****

With each step, Luke closed the distance to the woman on the bench; the bouquet in his hands was a symbol of the woman in his sight; delicate, vibrant, and beautiful. The determination he felt in his purpose was unlike any motivation he could recount–he knew he had to meet her, even if only to offer the flowers and a few words. He had to speak to her. 

Suddenly, his target became obscured by the shaggy hair and smiling face of his colleague and friend, Taiga Sakai. 

"Nice flowers, bro! But you shouldn't have. Chia will like them, though, and she'll forgive me for hitting the sake when I come home with these!" 

Unimpressed with his friend's brash sense of humor, Luke pulled the flowers away from Taiga's reach and looked over his shoulder, desperate to keep his view of the woman on the bench.

 A sigh of relief released from his mouth; she was still there, casually looking about, seeming to take everything in. This surprised Luke pleasantly, seeing a woman more interested in the life around her than the brain-numbing confections on a smartphone. 

"Dude? What's up with you?" Taiga asked, once more blocking his friend's vision and path. "You look like a bloodhound on the scent. What's got your whiskers in a whirl?"

Luke stopped and placed a hand on Taiga's shoulder. "Don't be obvious but turn around and look at the woman sitting on the bench."

Taiga lowered his brow into creases of curiosity, turned slightly, and looked over his shoulder. "Whoah!"

"Right? It's not just me; she's amazing!" Luke whispered. 

"Bro, if you don't want me to be obvious, what do you think you're doing walking at her like a laser beam with an orchard in your hands?"

For a moment, Luke paused to consider his friend's observation, then decided his course of action was the correct one. "I'm going for impact, not subtlety. I've got to get her to think about me long after I say hello. How many chances do you think a woman like gives a guy like me?"

"If you mean a white guy, not more than one, but don't be surprised if she doesn't even give you that." 

Luke took a step to move around his friend, then stopped again. "Wait, what makes you say that, aside from the obvious racist insinuations?" 

"Dude. She looks serious. Traditional." Taiga explained with a heavy emphasis on the descriptive. "Those kinds of homegirls are not easy to win over–not even for a casanova like me."

"Bah! Stop messing with me, Taiga!" Luke chirped. "All I know is if I don't take my shot, I'll regret it the rest of my life. I can't explain it, but I have to meet her. I have to." 

With a half bow and invitational sweep of the hand toward the woman, Taiga stepped aside and gave his blessing. "Good luck, bro. But don't say I didn't warn you."

****

Hana saw the man with an armful of flowers approaching but thought nothing of it other than he was handsome for a hakujin. She hadn't had the same liking for white guys as her friends and found most of them to have limited knowledge of her culture–there was more to a Japanese woman than anime and kimonos. 

She was about to look away, establishing a vibe of unapproachability and disinterest, but the way he looked directly at her prevented her from breaking her gaze. It became immediately apparent that the man meant to come to her. 

He was, in fact, quite handsome. 

"Hello. I'm Luke–Luke Woodley, and I'd like you to have these." Luke stood in front of the woman and handed her the bouquet. 

With the manners instilled by her parents, Hana had no choice but to answer. "Hello. I'm Hana," she replied with a quick smile and nod. "Oh? Do we know each other? Have I forgotten? I am not very good with names or faces." 

Luke smiled. "Are you saying we all look the same?" The befuddled expression on Hana's face told look his attempt at ice-breaking humor had fallen flat. In an effort to recover, he thrust the bouquet at Hana. "Sorry. That was a lousy attempt at being funny. My friends all tell me I'm not funny."

Hana giggled. "Well, that's kind of funny!" 

 Luke went on undeterred, "Please accept these flowers, Hana."

Hana uncrossed her legs and leaned forward to accept the bouquet. "Thank you, but why would you give me flowers?"

With his hands suddenly unoccupied, Luke crossed them behind his back and shifted nervously from heel to heel. "Always go with the truth, my father said."

"Pardon me?" Hana replied. 

Luke cleared his throat, desperate to summon up some courage. "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, Hana. Could I take you for a bite to eat? Perhaps you could be a tour guide of sorts for the Sakura?" Luke asked, waving a hand at the spectacle about them. 

Hana rose from the bench, looked at Luke, then down at her feet. "Thank you for the compliment and the flowers. You're very sweet, but no, I'm sorry. I must decline your invitation."

Inside, Luke was shattered. The flame of hope snuffed out like a candle in the wind. Fighting off the sound of desperation, he took a deep breath, then calmly asked, "Why not? Do you have a boyfriend? Is it against your rules to go out with a hakujin?" 

Hana raised her eyes to look at Luke, and though she was smiling at his use of the Japanese word, she shook her head. "No. It's not that." 

"Then why not? I assure you, I'm harmless, completely enchanted by you, but no threat, I promise." 

Hana thought of her reasons for remaining unattached. Even though the man standing before her had kind eyes and a romantic inclination, both things she found appealing, she could not give him any false hope. 

"I am sorry, Luke." Hana began, "You do seem like a very nice man, and I do appreciate the gesture and invitation, but I cannot join you tonight" She moved to walk past him and be on her way. "I'm sorry. I have to go. Please excuse me, and thank you again for the sweet compliment and the flowers. If it's any consolation, no man has ever approached me with a bouquet right out of the blue." 

 Stepping aside, Luke gave room for Hana to pass by. As he watched her walking away, the same panicky impulse that drove him to the flower vendor now pushed his feet forward to catch up. Shuffling up beside her, he tried again. "What about tomorrow night? Or Saturday? Or if the evening isn't good for you, I'll take the day off work, and we can go out in the afternoon."

Hana shook her head and continued in silence. 

"Even a quick cup of coffee in the morning?" It was a plea; the desperation he'd hoped to avoid sprang out of him into plain sight. 

"It was lovely to meet you, Luke. I am sorry. I have to go." Hana said, walking on without looking back. 

Luke stopped and watched as the most beautiful woman he'd ever met blended into the crowd and disappeared. 

"Crash and burn, huh? Sorry, bro." Taiga had materialized at his side, apparently witnessing the entirety of Luke's failed attempt to win over Hana. "I tried to warn you."

Luke sighed and shrugged. "Yeah. You did." 

"Sake!" Taiga announced, slapping his friend on the shoulder. "That's what we need! Cherry Blossom sake! C'mon, bro, let's turn that frown upside down." 

With a final look toward Hana's departure, Luke turned to follow his friend. At the moment, drowning his rejection in sake seemed like a decent idea. "Do they even make cherry blossom sake?"

"No idea, bro," Taiga said. "I'm so American, the folks in the old country would call me "gaijin"-an outsider. We'd better taste as many as possible until we find cherry sake or pass out trying. 

******

During his night of despondent drinking over losing the woman he never had, Luke received a miracle. Taiga's wife, Chia texted her husband back with a revelation–she knew Hana. 

While Luke floundered in his courting of Hana, Taiga had taken pictures of the impending train wreck. With Chia's stated association with Hana, Luke had another chance. A quick exchange of details revealed that Chia knew Hana from the hospital and crossed paths with her several times a week. 

Armed with this information, Luke put a stop to the Sakura festivities and dragged Taiga home so that Chia could relay every bit of knowledge she had on Hana. Luke's vigor was renewed, and his heart and soul thrust him forward into total infatuation with the Japanese beauty. 

*****

Each day during the following week, Luke hovered around the hospital, desperate to catch sight of Hana. But, unfortunately, each day, he failed to conjure a follow-up meeting. In an effort to keep his attempts noticed, Luke would hand over whatever gifts he'd arrived with, intended for Hana, to Chia, who was able to get them to Hana, albeit without explanation of where and when. 

On each disappointing day, Luke implored Chia for more information on Hana. Each time, Chia would reply, "There's nothing more I can tell you about Hana, except that she appreciates each thoughtful gesture. You just need to be patient."

"Patient" was a word Luke had resigned himself to since his infatuation had begun–he felt like he'd been living his life in slow motion from the moment Hana disappeared into the Sakura Festival crowd. 

His anxiety evaporated on Friday night with a light rapping on his apartment door. Rising from his table, where he'd been brainstorming new ideas waiting to be rejected by the enigmatic Hana, Luke walked to the door and looked through the peephole. 

Hana stood waiting on the other side. 

Luke's stupefaction was doubled when he opened the door as Hana greeted him by dropping a large bag to the floor, placing both hands on his face, and pulling him down her lips for a long, slow kiss. 

Backpedaling as Hana pushed herself into his chest, Luke stumbled back inside. He was able to catch his breath but not diffuse the shocking bomb of her arrival when Hana jammed the door with her heel and snatched her bag from the hall. Then she jumped back inside and rushed into Luke's arms. 

Confounded, Luke broke away from her cascading kisses. "Hana–I…."

".... I'm going home to Japan tomorrow.' Hana jumped in, cutting off his query. "I will never see you again, Luke--this is a limited-time offer. If you want me, then I am here, and I am yours. There is nothing for you past tomorrow." 

They never slept a single minute through the night. Luke had never known such lovemaking; it was everything and more. In a pause of passion, Hana had told him what Chia could not. 

During their next session, Luke cried. 

A week later, Luke sat silently on the Qantas direct flight to Japan. Holding to his promise to Hana, Luke was seeing her home. 

Hana, short for her full name, Hananoami, means "flower rain." Her life was like that of a cherry blossom, beautiful and fragile. And as the Sakura celebration says, "Every blossom is a reminder that life can be tragically short."

A Sakura Festival blog told Luke that in the north country, they would arrive in time to see the Hana-no-ami, the flower rain of blossoms falling from the trees. 

The day they laid Hana to rest came under a Sakura-Fubuki–a cherry blossom snowstorm.

March 31, 2023 02:06

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