Nukegara by Yukiko Tominaga
We go through the forest by bicycle, among the Cicada’s full chorus. How long has it been since I had come home in summer?
“I’ll bet we can find them easily in this place.”
I speak to my son who is riding behind me, on my bicycle seat.
“Yeah, but they are also brown.”
He met Cicadas for the first time in this place. We live in a town where the summer is too cool for the Cicada to grow and winter too warm for sleeping. When was the last time I came home?
“Don’t you worry. I used to be good at this,” I said.
I probably would not have come home if not for this.
I remember when my grandmother was still energetic. She loved talking to people. Other than that, she had no hobby. As soon as she finished her breakfast, she visited her friend’s house. When the noon siren echoed in the town, the front door opened and before I knew it, my grandmother was in the kitchen preparing lunch for her husband and herself. They ate lunch together; only the sound of biting into pickled cucumbers kept them company. Each dish they emptied she immediately took to the sink, washed it, still chewing her food, then sat back next to her husband. She repeated this over and over. When all the dishes were clean, she said only, “I am going.” Then she left for her friend's house to chat until the five o'clock siren rang once again.
My grandfather, who was blind, often walking along the wall the whole afternoon, calling my grandmother’s name. In a Haiku, he wrote:
Fine autumn day
Where is my wife who is gun bullet
This Haiku was written down by my mother with a Fude. It is still on the wall in front of my old desk, next to a faded Audrey Hepburn poster.
I heard about his death three months after he'd died. My mother telephoned one night and told me the news, speaking, as if she was telling me about my childhood friend’s wedding.
“When did he die?”
“Three months ago. I did not tell you because I thought you were too busy studying. I did not want you to feel guilty for not being able to come home.”
I never witnessed my grandfather growing weak. In my memory he still walked along the wall, calling my grandmother - bright and healthy. I was glad that I had his Haiku.
My grandmother grew weaker, moved in with my parents and was now living her life as a sick old woman. According to her doctor she was very healthy, though she lived each day full of enthusiasm only to die.
“It might be the last time for you to see her. Come home to show grandma her great grandson.”
“That might be true, it’s his summer vacation anyway. He might enjoy it,” I said.
Before the sun was up, we went to catch an elephant beetle. On the weekend we went to the amusement park with a giant pool attached to it. Everyday was a new discovery for my son.
However, this was not so for my grandmother. She no longer cared if someone came to visit her. As we spoke to her, her gaze passed us as if there was something better waiting for up ahead. The only change brought to her life by our visit was that she now had to wait for the bathroom.
I don't recall her speaking, not even once during our visit. Her voice only existed in my memory. For what reason does she stay so healthy?
“Let’s find a cicada.” I parked the bicycle by the sidewalk.
“But I don’t see them.”
“Mom can find them,” I said.
Even though the Cicadas were screaming, they were invisible. I could not even find one.
They have only one week to live: What kind of cicada would be suicidal enough to scream in the lowest part of a tree? If I do not find one my son might grow up to be a man who becomes frustrated, giving up easily. I looked for a Cicada for my pride and for his bright future.
“Look, there is a nukegara.” I grabbed it and showed it to him.
“Is this a cicada?”
“No, this is a shell which the Cicada stayed in before he became a Cicada, like the cocoon of a butterfly. It was a house for him to grow up. Hold it.”
He touched it with his index finger nail. The shell rolled in my palm.
“No, I don’t want.”
“Why, are you scared?”
“It’s okay. It’s not going to move.”
“It’s rarer to find it than it is to find a Cicada.” This was a lie of course.
“It’s empty. It’s creepy.”
I let it fall. The brown shell settled slowly and blended in with the ground. The Cicada chorus grew louder.
“Should we go?”
We continued our bicycle ride among the trees.
“Cicada lives underground for five years like a baby in a tummy. Then they come out and live in the shell then become a Cicada before flying away, so it was not a dead Cicada,” I said.
“They never go back there again?”
“Because, they can’t fit there anymore.”
“Where is their home?”
“They don’t have one.”
Yukiko Tominaga is originally from Japan and moved to the US fourteen years ago. She is currently attending the MFA program at San Francisco State University. This is her first publication.