It had been a particularly rough morning for Chieko. Dreaming of the little boy was no new occurrence, but this night’s was far more vivid than any dream she had had of the child before. They were, this time, walking hand in hand down the streets of a desolate city. When the little boy began to grow weary, she stooped to allow him to climb onto her back. The weight of his slightly plump body was nearly too much for her tiny frame, but they continued on. Still. She began to sing to the child Edo komoriuta, a lullabyher mother sang to her in times of woe. “Nen-nen korori yo, Okorori” and when the little boy started to sing along, chiming in “yo, Bōya wa yoi ko da” Chieko began to wake, drifting from that world to this, as though she were emerging from a velvety fog into a dense, dark forest. The maternal love she felt did not immediately fade into the depths of her memory as it always had before, but rather clung to her, in the same manner the child did on their walk. Desperate and hopeful.
But this dream child was, in Cheiko’s eyes, just that. Though she knew his brown eyes and black hair, his stubby fingers and crooked smile better than she knew her own features, he was not real. She had received news from her doctor that she was unable to carry children months before her marriage and although she was wonderfully happy with Koji, the pangs of her maternal love for the little phantom boy swelled in her heart. It was this that allowed her to welcome the gloomy morning as a friend. The sole companion in her misery. Her husband had done his best to comfort her before he left for work, but it was futile.
“You never really wanted children,” Chieko said coldly. She was all alone in her longing for a full and proper family and was furious that she’d admitted that she had dreamed of the little boy yet again.
“I’m sorry baby,” Koji said, kissing Chieko and taking up his briefcase. “But don’t forget, tonight we’re having dinner at Abe’s home. His wife can’t wait to meet you. Maybe their son-“ He broke off at the look on his wife’s face. “I’m sorry.” He paused “I really am.”
He looked at his watch, blew her another kiss and headed out the door. She knew it was silly to be so melancholic from a dream, but she couldn’t help the emotions that would nearly overcome her. It’s not fair, she thought bitterly. Still, she prepared for her day’s work, desperately attempting to liven up by listening to her favorite KPOP cd as she gradually progressed through the Tokyo morning traffic.
By the time she arrived at the primary school at which she was a respected and renowned educator, she had forgotten much of the imagery of the dream, even if the emotions hadn’t completely faded.
Later that evening, as Chieko and her husband were driving to the dinner, he arbitrarily apologized for not being more sensitive to her feeling of loss.
“This boy,” he sighed, “Is a symbol of what you want the most. I understand that and I am sorry he keeps coming to you in your dreams. I am sorry you feel slighted. And I stick by what I said, we can adopt. I know it won’t be-”
“Koji”, she interrupted, “let’s not get into this now. I want my family. My own. Neither of us have family and I just…” her voice trailed off.
They sat in silence. “Okay,” he attempted at lightening the mood once again. “You know I’m gonna have to limit myself a good three sake bombs only, this guy’s new and he doesn’t know how liberal I am yet, I want to keep scaring him into completing his work early.”
Chieko pressed her lips together in what she hoped would pass for a smile. When they arrived at the three story home on the corner of a small, winding road, there was a beautiful woman standing outside smoking a cigarette.
“Ohaiyo!” she squealed, stamping the cigarette out with her heeled foot. “You must be Mr. Urata. My husband’s told me so much about you. You are much younger than I thought, though! Is this your wife?” and she gave a quick bow, which was nearly indistinguishable from a nod, to Chieko and Koji. “Please, come in.”
Before Chieko could complete her thought that this woman was one of the worst possible candidates for motherhood, they were ushered into the town-home. There they were greeted by three of Koji’s employees and their respective spouses. Introductions were made and, shortly after, the guests were led into a rather large dining area. Chieko sat miserably, angry at her husband, angry at the people sitting around her, angry at fate itself. They were all ignorant of the emptiness in her heart. She was jealous and envious of their ability to laugh. How could a figment of her imagination have such an effect on her? After the meal, drinks were served. Kiyo, the woman of the house who had greeted them upon their arrival had cornered Chieko and attempted to engage her in her soliloquy about the differences in education from their generation to this one.
“My son knows more at six than I did at twelve, I tell you. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with him. He just -” and she looked over Chieko’s shoulder to the door. “Ah, Renji, what are you doing out of bed?”
Everyone’s attention was drawn lovingly to the little boy who had just come into the room. He was dressed in Incredible Hulk pajamas and had a Hulk mask on his face. His little eyes were bright and though his mother was approaching him, softly scolding him for being out of bed. His gaze was fixed on Chieko. For her part, Chieko waved at the little boy, smiling, and echoed some of his mother’s ‘you ought to be sleeping’ phrases. Slowly, Renji lifted his mask. Chieko froze. Staring back at her was the same crooked smile and brown eyes, the same stubby fingers and black hair that had visited her again and again in her dreams. Kiyo held her sons hand, and introduced him to the room, but still, the boy kept his eyes locked on Chieko. He began to hum Edo komoriuta.
“I remember you,” he smiled.