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Woman in Purple Kimono

Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

Woman in a Purple Kimono
Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

Spring, 1971.  Every afternoon, the little boy walked home from the local primary school after classes. He was in no hurry, he knew his home would be empty. His mother had passed away several years ago, and his father would not come back from work until late. Ambling along the narrow streets lined with cherry trees in full bloom, he passed a local post office and rows of old shops selling sweets, cheap plastic toys and various knickknacks. The one shop that did not interest him was a gallery selling old Japanese woodblock prints. The middle-aged woman who owned the gallery often waved and called him Chibi-chan (little-one), which annoyed him. One afternoon, the woman was standing in front of her gallery when he walked by. She was all dressed up in a beautiful purple kimono tied with a beige-and-white obi. “Konichiwa, Chibi-chan!” the woman greeted him with a smile and held out a sack of dorayaki (red bean cakes) for him. The boy was surprised and delighted, “Arigato-gozaimasu!” he took the gift and started to run home but stopped after several steps. He turned around and walked back to the woman. Rummaging in his pocket, he fished out something to give to the woman - a little rubber toy dinosaur.

Spring, 1981.  High school graduation day. After the ceremony, the teenage boy rode his bicycle home through the same narrow streets. The ground was paved with fallen pink cherry petals. The shops selling knickknacks no longer held much sway on him. He was thinking about what kind of job he should find to help his aging father. When he came to the old woodblock print gallery, the owner was waiting for him outside. She had on the same purple kimono, but her hair had turned gray. The teenager got off his bicycle and walked towards her.  “Kon-nichi-wa, omedeto-gozaimasu!” the woman congratulated him with the same kind smile and held out a nicely packaged box for him. The teenager thanked her and walked home, pushing the bicycle with one hand and holding the box in the other. That night, he opened the gift and shared the Sakura mochi with his father.

Winter, 2001.  It got dark early, snow had been falling all day. The manager waited till the other workers had left and closed up the post office. He walked home along the streets lined with leafless trees. Most of the shops had closed early. He pulled up the collar of his overcoat against the blowing snow and picked up his pace, knowing that his wife and kid were waiting for him for dinner. The old woodblock print gallery had not been open for some time, he was surprised to see a package hanging outside the wooden door. When he got closer, he saw the writing on the package: ちびちゃん (Chibi-chan). He thought for a moment before realizing it was for him. He stuffed the package under his coat and continued walking briskly home, trailing footprints on the deepening snow.

That night, he opened the package and found a little rubber dinosaur and a hand-written note: For your Chibi-chan.

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