February 21st, 1977.
I thought I was going to be all alone after the deaths of Midori-chan and Michiko, but then I found some new allies. Or rather, they found me.
Her name was Iijiri Kyoko. She was a bizarre and energetic woman. She reminded me of a younger Michiko. There was always light in Kyoko�s eyes. Her voice always seemed to be laughing at life itself. The laugh lines added to her strong sense of happiness, always floating around her. She latched onto people without even trying. I met her when she knocked on my door early that morning of February 21st, 1977. I had just moved into the village after my wife�s death. At the time, I kept to myself. I just wanted to be left alone in my misery after losing my wife and daughter. Too bad Kyoko didn�t see it that way at the time.
They pounded on the door hard.
�Leave me alone!� I yelled from inside. Kyoko did the opposite, knocking on the door harder. I kept trying to ignore them at first. Maybe they�ll go away after a while. Slowly, she kept knocking on my door. I gritted my teeth and rolled my eyes.
�I�m coming! I�m coming!� I said at last, clenching my fists. I pushed the door wide open. A tiny woman stood before me with a huge smile on her face. I looked her up and down. She looked about my age. Her deep, royal blue hair was wound in two tight braids. Her brown and red hand-knit shawl was wrapped tight around her thin body. The western-style clothes she wore looked odd on her. I thought she would�ve looked better in a kimono. This woman looked so tiny to me. I blinked, thinking that I saw Michiko standing before me. I looked at her funny.
�What do you want?� I asked. The woman grinned.
�Hi�� I mumbled. I looked at her, trying to figure her out. What did she want with me? What was she doing here on my doorstep and why wouldn�t she go away?
�Can I help you?� I asked. My neighbor smiled, still gripping her shawl tighter around her body to block out the winter breeze.
�Just saying hi!� she chirped. I didn�t seem to believe her. Something told me she wasn�t going to leave right away.
�Why?� I asked.
�May I come in?� the woman asked. I raised an eyebrow.
�Why?� I asked again. The woman didn�t answer. She just pushed past me and let herself in. I was appalled.
�Oh, come right on in, why don�t you?� I mumbled sarcastically under my breath. I slid the door shut.
The woman walked around the house, looking as if she were in an art museum. I watched her and followed close behind.
Feel free to leave now, I thought over and over again. Then, Kyoko turned around with a puzzled look on her face. I stared at her as I tried to fake at least a hint of kindness. �What?� I asked. Kyoko shook her head.
�You have no pictures,� she pointed out. I narrowed my eyes.
�That�s so sad!� she announced with a high-pitched tone. I thought she had lost her mind. I didn�t know how much longer I could take of her upbeat mood. I began digging in my mind for an excuse to get her out of my house.
�And?� I pushed. The woman shrugged.
�Don�t you have any family?� she asked. Oh, she really pushed me over the edge with that question. She really hit a nerve there with me. I glared.
�They�re dead!� I hissed. The glow in her face began to die away and she lowered her head.
�I�m so sorry�� she mumbled. I said nothing, leaning against the wall. I was tired from the grief and feeling helpless. I couldn�t take it anymore. The woman must have seen the sorrow in my eyes when I leaned against the wall. Though I couldn�t see it at the time, I really needed someone. So, Kyoko leaned against the wall next to me in silence. I didn�t look up at her. Yet, I knew I had a new ally�somehow.
�What is your name?� she asked.
�Ah. My name�s Iijiri Kyoko. I live down the street.�
�This is a nice village. Nobody bothers you here. Not many find this place too easily. Did you just wander here?� she asked.
�Ah. We barely get anybody young here,� Kyoko said.
�You don�t?� I asked, puzzled.
�No. There is my daughter and Jamie�s son. Tohma�s boy is already in college and engaged,� she explained.
�She�s another lady in this neighborhood. She�s half-American,� Kyoko replied.
�Oh. How old is your daughter?�
�Twelve.� Then, Kyoko paused for a moment. �Tell me, would it be too early to wonder if she�s gay or not?�
I gave her a strange look. �Huh?�
Kyoko shrugged at me as she shook her head. �I don�t know. She never seems to have any interest in boys.�
�I wouldn�t know.�
�Alright. Sorry for asking.�
December 27th, 1977.
I sat in my living room looking at Midori-chan�s old hand-made Christmas cards. Each one had cute little kitty cats with Santa hats on. Pigs were for my birthday. That was all she could draw. Still, those cats and pigs became my joy. Looking at those cards only made my heart hurt around this time.
My thoughts were interrupted by footsteps. I looked up and saw Kyoko coming from the kitchen with a tray of tea.
�You looked like you needed it,� she said. I stayed silent; waving the tray over to the table. My friend set it down as I moved my cards.
�Cute cards,� Kyoko spoke up.
�Yeah,� I mumbled. The woman poured me some tea.
�Riku made me a Christmas card this year,� she said.
�Funny,� she said. �Eleven months and I don�t know you.� I glanced at her.
�What is that supposed to mean?� I asked. She shrugged.
�You haven�t told me about your home or family,� she answered. I said nothing. Kyoko pressed her lips together as she picked up her cup.
�Midori-chan,� I finally said. Kyoko glanced up at me.
�My daughter�s name was Midori-chan,� I said softly.
�What was she like?� I lowered the four Christmas cards in front of her.
�You have to promise me,� I began.
�Promise you what?� I looked at her with desperate eyes. I leaned across the table.
�Stay by me no matter what,� I pleaded. �Promise me that!� Kyoko gave me a sharp nod.
I took a moment to tell her my story.
�I used to be a priest in another village. However back in �59, I met a young woman named Hino Michiko,� I said. Kyoko looked at me with big eyes.
�Hino?� she asked. �You mean the sake brewers?� I nodded.
�Yeah,� I said. �I originally intended to stay chaste for the rest of my life, but being young and na�ve then, I fell in love with her. Michiko-chan was a bright and beautiful sweetheart. Very rich too, she came from a wealthy high-class family. I didn�t care about any of that. I loved Michiko for who she was. There was a problem, however. I tried to keep my vow of chastity, but that soon became close to impossible.
�I turned my boss at the time for help. He told me to act on my feelings in a pure way. He suggested to take it slow. I wasn�t sure at first. In the end, I asked Michiko out on a date. She said yes. From there, we became a couple.
�Four years later, Michiko and I were married. We were a happy couple. Yet, Michiko kept having the feeling that we were missing something. She didn�t know what it was for years. So one day, I wished that the answer would find her. Then in summer of �68, Michiko started feeling sick. I thought my wife had come down with a stomach virus. Turns out, Michiko was pregnant. She had finally gotten her answer. On February second �69, our little angel, Midori-chan, was born. Her mother and I loved her so much. You could say that we were the ideal family. But then, it all broke into pieces.
�A month after her sixth birthday, Midori-chan fell ill. At first, it was minor with a little cough. But then it got worse and worse. The doctors couldn�t help her. Michiko and I didn�t know what to do. All we could do was watch our daughter�s life slip away. On September twelfth, Midori-chan died. She died the day after my birthday. I couldn�t even do the funeral ceremony; another priest had to take my place. Then a month later, Michiko became ill as well. It started with the cough and got worse and she ended up in the hospital just like our daughter. Six months later, she passed. It was as if after Midori-chan died, my wife had lost the will to live.�
I felt drained of everything that I had left within me. But, I still went on as I had to do so.
�I have great healing powers,� I said. �How ironic! A man with great healing powers and I couldn�t even save my own family from illness! After that, I lost interest in life. I quit being a priest after Michiko�s death and have kept to myself ever since.� Kyoko reached out and touched my hand.
�It�s okay,� she whispered. I tried my best to smile at her.
�I�m sorry I brought you down.�
�That�s okay,� my friend insisted.
�Promise me that�ll you help me on my mission.�
Kyoko blinked. �What mission?�
�I want to help someone in any way to make up for not being able to save my family. And I need all of the help I can get.�
�Say no more. You always have people that will have your back no matter what.�
I really began to smile for the first time since coming upon this hidden village. Within in a year, I had come to befriend Kyoko, Jamie, Tohma, Yuji, Miyuki, Hitomi, and Kenji. They all became my team for my mission that would occur six years later.