“Within a thousand blessings, soon enough, a thousand tears are shed; and we are left to either regret or be grateful of what we had. This is a story of a young man who saves a crane, and what his kindness came to be.“
In cold, cold winter, no life was around. No traces of voices to be heard, no traces of joy to be found.
In cold, cold winter, people struggled. Days were frigid enough to cause one’s muscles to tense as nights howled with raging winds and heavy snow; loud enough to wake one from sleep.
In cold, cold winter, nothing is easy, the farmer thought to himself. His garment was thin, sewn out of cheap fabric that he traded with money gained from two week’s worth of hard work, in sacrifice of three day’s worth of food.
Yet, he was grateful and never complained of the little he could earn. With the bamboo basket he carried on his back, he walked along the snowy path that led him back home, legs freezing and fingers numb.
Nothing could be heard aside from the crunching of snow underneath his feet, until suddenly, he heard the rustling of snow and sounds of wings flapping. The young farmer looked around, his legs following the sound of the wings.
Behind the bare trees was a crane, a magnificent creature, a deity of happiness. He had never seen one before, nor did he think such a beautiful creature could exist. Wings large and whiter than snow, satin-like feathers that shone even in the peak hours of dusk. The crane was still and aware of his presence. Had it not been the kind heart of the young farmer, the bird would have become his dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner for the following days.
He approached the crane and spotted rope around its legs, tied to a tree. Perhaps it was a trap for wild rabbits, he bent down to untangle the rope. His knees hurt and his fingers were close to frostbite, but nothing could beat the satisfaction he felt to witness the crane flapping its free wings and soaring back into the sky. The sound of its wings beating resonated louder than his own heartbeat.
Returning home, the farmer ate what was left before sleeping; a bowl of rice.
He usually woke up in the middle of the night, sometimes from the rattling of the roof or whistling wind passing through the cracks of his shabby house but never before to the sound of someone knocking on his front door.
The young farmer struggled to get up. Shivering, he forced himself to walk to the door. He became alarmed when he realized there was a figure outside. A silhouette of a person. He grabbed a blunt knife, a rusty arrow, something else sharp that he owned to brace himself when he opened the door. In case it was an attacker.
There was nothing to kill, and there was nothing to defend. In front of his doorstep was a beautiful young woman, skin white as snow and fingertips red from the cold. He did not let his guard down but stared at her suspiciously.
Tell me your name, and what you want from me.
When the girl finally met his gaze, he was enchanted; as if pulled into a world he had never been to before. The young woman was captivating and more gracious than any of the young maidens he had seen in the town. More alluring than any of the women offered in the finest brothels. He swore he saw the stars twinkle in her eyes, as if they contained the vast galaxy. Perhaps even more.
Please allow me to stay here for the night.
Her voice reminded him of spring. Flowers, like plum blossoms or canola and other blooming buds of the season. He was too charmed by her presence to send her away.
The next morning he prepared some rice and offered her the best leftovers that he reserved for the most needy of times before leaving for work. When he returned, she was still there, waiting for him by the door.
Young lady, please tell me your name. I must learn about you. He implored.
I do not have a name. She answered in a sweet voice. She did not talk much and only spoke when spoken to.
Perhaps you could give me one.
Very well, the young man decided. I shall call you Miyuki. It was snowing quite heavily when we first met.
Miyuki, now with a name, blushed.
Miyuki, I am a man with nothing to offer, you must not stay with me.
Tell me your name.
Akio, he answered. His heart raced as the young woman repeated his name several times, familiarizing herself with it. Soon enough, it flowed smoothly off her tongue, and it made Akio’s heart pound faster than ever before.
Several days passed and the two had learnt more of each other. By then Akio had fallen in love with her, as any man would have, but not for her beauty alone. She was also kind and supportive despite his poor living condition.
One cold night, when the sky was clear and the moon illuminated their home, Akio proposed. He confessed his love for her kind soul and honest heart. Miyuki, who had fallen for the hardworking man accepted his hand in marriage, and the two began their lives together.
When spring arrived, blossom petals decorated her hair, plucked from the greenery which had been resurrected after a long, deep slumber. Miyuki greeted the birds and the flowers around her every morning. Akio wished he could stay at home and watch her more. A smile broke on his face whenever he thought of how beautiful she was. Now that the weather turned warm, both Akio and Miyuki were able to work, which increased the earnings of the poor couple.
Sometimes, Miyuki received a gift from the villagers, some tea from her pickings that she could bring home. In the evenings the couple would watch the sunset together, under the cherry blossom tree. When the sun illuminated her soft skin, blossom petals fell onto her hair. Akio reached out to brush them away but catching the sight of her, decided to leave them. Instead, he stroked her cheek lovingly.
She looked beautiful this way.
Seasons came and seasons left. The cherry blossoms had withered away, now replaced with the shocking sight of Akio’s body spread out under the tree, blood trickling from his mouth. Miyuki rushed to his side and carefully brought him inside their home. She tucked him into the thin mattress that they owned.
She could not sleep. The night passed and gave way to dawn. Akio had arose earlier and was preparing to head out.
My dear husband, you are sick. You must rest. Gently, she reached for his arm, persuading him not to go.
If I don’t, we will not be able to earn enough.
Rest. I will ask medicine from the merchant. You must rest, Akio.
So he did. Miyuki went on her own into town in search of medicine. The merchant, who knew her for her kindness, sold it to her at a lowered price. It was a favor that could only be spared once. On her way home, she calculated the amount of money left in their savings.
When she arrived, she fed Akio all the medicine.
We do not have any money to afford more medicine, my love. Please, let me go to work tomorrow. Akio reached to take her cold hands, but his were colder.
Miyuki grasped her husband tightly. You must not. I will weave for us, my love. Give me some time.
She walked to the furthest corner of the room and slid the door open. Before entering the room, she turned to Akio.
Whatever you do, you must not open this door, nor must you enter this room.
Several hours passed by. When Miyuki emerged, Akio was fast asleep. She clutched the newly woven cloth in her hands, which were sore and swollen from continuous weaving. She slipped into the mattress and closed her eyelids, waiting for dawn to arrive.
In the morning, she left to the town. The roll of fabric for the merchant in her hands. Embroidered in detail and woven with shiny thread, she was able to sell it to the merchant for a high price. She used her gains to purchase medicine for her husband.
But nothing can last forever, especially wealth. Akio’s condition worsened and did not change even with herbs that the doctor prescribed.
My love, we cannot afford my medicine without any money. Please, let me work. Akio weakly pleaded with a sad look in his eyes. But nothing was more melancholic than the eyes of his own wife; eyes which stared down at him, pleading for him not to go.
I love you with all my heart. I cannot bear to see you like this, Miyuki said as tears formed in her eyes. It was the very first time Akio was seeing her cry, and his broken heart fell deeper in love with her, as he did in the first time.
My love, you have done so much for me. When you weave, your fingers are hurt, those beautiful fingers of yours. Will you not let me work, then?
I would offer any part of my body to God, sacrifice my limbs and bones for you if it meant that you are able to stay alive and heal.
Miyuki embraced her husband. He felt his left shoulder dampen with her tears, and stroked the small of her back gently. Her love for him was true, and he could not feel happier or more sorry in a single moment, all at once.
I will weave, and you must not come into this room no matter what happens.
She gave him the same cryptic advice as before.
Akio’s curiosity had arisen this time but he trusted the words of his beloved wife and patiently waited for her. The next morning, with the same swollen fingers she held a beautiful roll of cloth, woven with fine details of gold. Akio wanted to ask how she had woven the cloth out of nothing but she left quickly to buy his medicine.
Days passed by, and winter arrived again at their doorstep. They were yet without savings and no more food to eat. Work in winter was restricted, the only choice was for Miyuki to weave.
Miyuki and Akio stayed in the weaving room that night; the only room with a fireplace.
My love, tonight I will weave for us two. You must not look behind you until dawn arrives and I wake up in your arms. Miyuki placed her hand on Akio’s cheek, her husband leaned into her touch. I trust you, my love.
But Akio could not sleep. How could he with the sound of fabric being woven bothering him. How did she produce it? He had always wondered so. He wondered why she never allowed him to see her weaving. The curiosity overtook him and without thinking he peeked over his shoulders at his wife, twice.
The sight he caught was not that of his familiar wife. It was a crane, plucking at her own feathers with tears streaming from its eyes. The very last feather was used to complete the final row of fabric in the weave. Miyuki then realised Akio was staring at her with an expected look on his face.
My dear husband, I told you not to look!
My love, tell me; who are you?
Miyuki inhaled deeply.
I am the crane you saved in the winter that we first met. Because you were kind to me, I transformed into a beautiful woman, in hopes that I could repay you with happiness. Miyuki lifted an arm to show Akio. I have plucked my very last feather for you, my love; for I love you with all my heart.
What will become of you now, Miyuki? Akio asked in trembling voice.
You have seen my true form. I must not return to your arms ever again. Akio’s heart shatters with her words. Miyuki remained in the form of a crane and made to exit the couple’s home.
She took off without a single look back. Akio has not seen her ever since.
He lives life in resentment now. He loved Miyuki dearly; but can only grapple with regret that he had disobeyed her simple request.
If only I had not turned around, if only I trusted her, if only I…
If only, if only, if only…..
In the last draws of his breath, Akio is reunited with his beloved. Flower petals stuck in her hair, he hears her melodious voice serenading the birds. With tears of joy, he reaches out to hold on to her.
My love, I have returned for you.
*** This story is a retelling from a Japanese legend, The Crane Wife. It was a tale that caught my eye from the start. Though there might be my own twist to it, it was a story I enjoyed writing very much. Header Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay.