“Dad? Why did you name me Sakura?”
I haven’t walked this street in eight years. I look to my left and see Mrs. Wong setting out her copper-colored flower pots; the buds that are growing inside soaking up the late-spring sun. I hitch my basket closer to my elbow and step forward. When Mrs. Wong notices me, she gasps.
“Sakura dear? Is that you? Oh my, you’re all grown up!” She waddles over to me and envelopes me in a big hug. I stroke her back, enjoying the tender embrace. When we release, I say that it’s good to see her.
“How is it in Japan? I hear the beaches are absolutely beautiful there!”
“It is very pretty, and the people are just as nice,” I reply. I notice some white lilies near the back that she hasn’t put out yet and I'm pulled toward them, my long skirt swishing behind me.
“Do you have any of these in a bouquet?” I ask, pointing to the plant.
“I think so, let me look.” She moves to the other side of the store, leaving me to browse the other flora that decorate her shop. I spot a bonsai tree near the front and slowly glide to it. Upon further inspection, I see that it’s a cherry blossom tree. In other words, a sakura tree.
“Your mother and I named you Sakura because when your mother told me that was pregnant with you, a cherry blossom landed right on her head!”
Mrs. Wong comes out of the foliage and hands me a medium-sized bouquet made of white lilies, lavender, and greenery. I thank her and pay for the beautiful arrangement.
After a lengthy goodbye, I head to my next stop across the street. A familiar face pops up from behind the display case.
“Dad? What is ‘love’?”
“Sakura! It’s so good to see you!” Adrian exclaims. We hug, being careful with my basket.
“Hello, Adrian. Where is your father?” I ask, looking around.
“He’s retired, so I’m taking care of the shop now. He’s been fighting cancer in his lungs, so he’s taking it easy.”
“Oh my… I’m very sorry, Adrian.”
“Thanks. But I know everything will be alright! Mom is taking care of him; though, she’s not getting any younger either.”
“What about your sister, Marianne? What’s she doing nowadays?”
“Oh, she decided that serving sweets wasn’t her thing, so she flew out to California to try and ‘make it big’.” He exaggerates his statements with air quotes, which makes me smile.
“So, what brings you back here? I’m fairly sure it’s not just me,” he jokes. His beautiful blue eyes draw me in, making my spine tingle, just like it did back then. I peel my eyes away before I turn too red and look over at the different baked goods. I skim over the usual croissants and baguettes that line the top of the shelves before landing on the rows of macarons in the right side of the display case. A rainbow of flavors, set just the right way to entice a possible buyer to make a purchase. I turn and take a step closer to the counter, bending a little to get a better look at the cards set in front of each row.
“Ah, our specialty! Baked the newest ones a few hours ago, so they’re nice and fresh,” he grins. Adrian walks back behind the counter and kneels down so I can see him through the glass. I smile softly at him, and request a set of six macarons; three red velvet and three strawberry. I purchase my sweets and say goodbye, promising to catch up another time.
“Well, Sakura, ‘love’ is something that no one can really explain. You have to experience it for yourself. When you feel love for the first time, you'll never be the same.”
After leaving Adrian, I walk a few feet down to another shop. An older gentleman is being helped by the owner, a middle-aged man wearing a priest’s suit.
“Daddy? Why do we have to go to church?”
I go into the shop, looking at the bookmarks and ornaments until the customer pays and exits. A gentle hand is placed on my shoulder, turning me around. We embrace for a long moment, then we let go.
“Hello, Sakura. How have you been?” Priest Jonathon holds out his hand and I shake it.
“I’m well, thank you. Japan is treating me wonderfully, and I watch your sermons on Facebook every Sunday,” I reply. His face lights up and we talk a little about his last message. I assure him that I’m spreading the Good Word when I can overseas and he is proud of the fact that I have helped save ten people since I’ve been there. It’s not many, but it’s a start.
As we chat, I notice a shelf full of Bibles. There are different versions, different colored bindings, as well as different sizes; large ones for those who can’t see well anymore, and pocket-size New Testament ones for children to keep with them. I politely excuse myself from the conversation and move closer to examine the Bibles. My hand reaches out and takes one of the medium-sized ones at random. I open it and skim the pages, watching the small print fly by. I look back at the shelf and find just the right one; it's Navy blue with a leather cover, and the words "The Holy Bible" is written in silver letters on the front. I put the one I had in my hands back, and pick up the one I spotted down from its cozy perch. I flip through the pages, finding my favorite verses and reading them. When I finish, I hold it up and ask how much. My priest shakes his head.
“Go ahead and take it, Sakura. Call it a gift.” He smiles and tears prick the corners of my eyes. I give him one last hug and gently place the Good Book in with the rest of my treasures.
“Well, why do you go to school? Because we need to learn, Sakura. At school, you learn how to multiply and what makes the grass grow. At church, we learn more about God and his plans for us.”
My stomach growls and I remember that I haven’t eaten since lunch. My watch tells me that it’s past dinnertime. Down on the corner, I see a vendor selling a variety of Mexican street food. The sign on the truck features a fiery background with a cartoon jalapeño grilling the words Los Picante Jalapeño.
“Dad? Why can’t I understand what she’s saying?”
I walk up to the food truck, inhaling the delicious aroma of savory Mexican cuisine. Two chalkboard signs are propped up, one on either side of the open window; one lists a variety of aguas frescas and the other holds the names of the dishes they serve. My eyes scan over the items, knowing the menu by heart, but also making sure that she hasn’t made any changes to her repertoire. All of the names are familiar to me; the elotes, the birria tacos, quesadillas, and even dogueros. I step up to the window and ding the bell. A new face rises from behind the counter and grins.
“¡Hola! What can I get for you?” he asks. My face falls, and he must have sensed my disappointment, because he looked quite concerned. “I am sorry, were you looking for my abuela?” I blink my eyes a few times and he calls out for his grandmother.
“¿Qué quieres, Raphael? ¡Estoy ocupada! (What is it, Raphael? I’m busy!)” She comes to the front and spies me through the open window. She gasps and hurries to the back of the truck. She gets out with the help of her grandson and makes her way over to me, albeit quite slowly. We embrace and she takes me over to a picnic table just a foot or two away. I set down my basket and she puts down her cane. She barks at Raphael to make an order of quesadilla de pollo and add guajillo peppers. He goes back into the truck and soon, the smell of hot oil on a grill wafts from the still-open window. I turn my focus back to Señora Rosa when she takes my hands.
“It has been so long, my dear cosita! Where have you been?” she asks.
“I’ve been studying in Japan. It’s a beautiful place, Señora. I wish I could take you there to see it.”
She laughs. “Oh, I am not going anywhere in my old age. I am lucky just to get out of bed in the morning!” She laughs again, which quickly turns into a cough.
“Señora Rosa? Do you want to go back inside the truck? I’m sure it’s warmer in there,” I offer. With the sun starting to go down, the evening wind is starting to become bitter and cold.
But she just shakes her head and gives my hands a squeeze. “No no. Doctor says I should be outside more anyways, not holed up in some van, working myself to the bone! I was quite glad that my grandson decided that he wanted to be a cook and learn from his darling abuela. Now he runs the truck with me.”
“That’s great news, Señora Rosa!” Finished with my usual order, Raphael joins us outside, bringing me my food. He sits on the other side of the picnic table, content with being a third wheel to our conversation. I look at my food and involuntarily lick my lips. The buttery smell of the cooking oil, the spicy scent of the guajillo peppers, and the sight of my perfect, golden-brown tortilla makes my stomach rumble. I say a prayer, then dig in while Señora Rosa catches me up on how the business is doing.
“Well, my little one, she is speaking Spanish. Just like how you learned English growing up, Señora Rosa learned Spanish down in Mexico, which is where she is from. When we get home, I can teach you some Spanish, okay?”
When I finish my meal, there isn’t a single crumb left on my plate. Raphael kindly takes it for me and throws it in the trash can near the back of the truck.
“You know, Señora. I think he’s catching up to you. It was just as good as I remember it.” I smile, remembering the first time I had the quesadilla de pollo and how Señora Rosa sneakily put the guajillo peppers inside. She started laughing when I took my first bite, then was surprised when I claimed that I loved the spicy pepper she added. It quickly became my favorite meal.
I look at my watch and stand to leave. I tell Señora Rosa goodbye, and that it was nice to meet Raphael, then make my way down the road again.
As I pass by the last store on the street, a little glimmer of light catches my eye. I stop and look closer at the shop, which is just starting to pack up for the night.
“But Daddy, I need it! Why can’t I have it?”
“What can I do for you?” the shopkeeper asks. Her eyes tell of long nights and the slump of her shoulders speak of exhaustion.
“I won’t take up too much of your time. I would just like to buy this please.” I hold up a keychain I took from a small bowl labeled “50 cents each”. She takes me to the counter and I pay for my trinket, looking at it as I leave the small shop. The silver letters and prominent design speak of bravery and pride. I set it into my basket and walk on, my load becoming ever more heavy.
“Sakura, I think it’s time you learned the difference between wanting and needing. See, you really want this necklace, right But will this necklace feed you? Give you clothes? No dear, it won’t. A need is something that a person cannot live without. A want is something that you can live without. This necklace falls under the ‘wants’ category. Perhaps, when I come back and we have a little more money to spare, we can expand our spending to some of our wants, okay?”
The gate is closed, but not locked, so I easily slip inside. Ruby red, radiant yellow, and sunset orange dance along the grass I step on, the sun waving goodbye to the last piece of day. The stones I walk past reflect the rippling colors, bringing a little bit of life into this cold piece of land.
“Dad? Do you have to go?”
I arrive at my destination, my basket weighing heavy on my arm. I sit on the ground and start unloading my gifts.
My bouquet of lilies and lavender go first, right in the middle. My father’s favorite flower and scent. I take out the macarons and place them to the upper left. My father’s favorite flavors and sweets. The Bible I was gifted goes on the upper right. My father’s favorite book.
“Yes, Sakura. I do.”
I hold up the Navy Seal keychain that I bought on a whim, the silver letters still shining as the day grows dark. I place it on the very top of the tombstone, tears falling from my eyes.
“Happy birthday, Dad.”