Chapter 2.Winter: Gifts
"I am Tetsu, a hunter in Kanayama. Did you say that you cannot pass through Todoroki? We hunters know a secret path behind Kanayama. Shall we use that path?" "Oh! Tetsu-san!" Kohei exclaimed. "Ah, Kohei-san," said Tetsu. "I always read your Japanese Sake Lectures. If they are your acquaintances, I will do all that I can to rescue them. I will enter the mountain soon."
"Wait, I want to go with you," Yukio said in an agonized voice.
"Sorry, city people would only slow me down. The route is an animal track, only descendants of hunters can use it. Please wait here." "Please take your RUICA with you," Kanalu advised. "Oh, I will, please set the radio transmitter to maximum power." The heavily bearded mountaineer smiled and disappeared into the snow with his colleagues.
Takashi was struggling to get back to the car. It was hard for him to maintain his balance. He slipped several times and fell in the snow. At times he was tempted to simply rest in the snow, but he resisted the thought and pushed on. His feet and hands were numb with cold. Feeling the severe cold, he wondered how people in Alaska and Siberia survived the winters. He felt basic animal sensations he had not experienced in his sheltered urban life. It was his instinct to protect himself from the cold and heat, to obtain food and water, to protect children and to communicate with nature. He sensed something rising from the earth. He realized that there was life in the snow and soil. There were many lives sleeping in the mountains and forests. Feeling their existence, he felt warmed, strangely insulated from the coldness of the snow.
He thought he heard a loud voice. He realized that he could live on earth as one of its beautiful creatures. He realized that he had a right to live and a mission to keep alive.
Finally he saw the car. He reminded himself that Ta-kun was inside the car waiting for him, so he couldn't linger. "I must return to the car." Crawling on the ground, he covered the final distance and reached the car. He shook off the snow from his body and entered the car from the back. Ta-kun was crying. Takashi felt very sorry for his actions. "Please forgive me, Ta-kun."
Takashi removed Ta-kun from the child seat and held him. He was so light. He wrapped Ta-kun with blankets and clothes to keep him warm. Ta-kun was tired and fell asleep in Takeshi's arms. His diapers were not changed, and there was no milk. It was an awful situation for the baby. Takashi looked at Ta-kun's face, now quiet in sleep, and thought how simple human needs were. He felt a small and warm life in his arms. He felt the warmth of Ta-kun. Human beings are warm. Takashi had not felt this for a long time.
Night was falling. Takashi kept the car radio on. The newscast reported that there was a baby abduction case in Takafu-cho. Takashi had not yet apologized for his actions, so no explanation was given. He deeply regretted the pain he had caused the Kishigami family, though he had not intended to harm them. Because of him, his parents had repeatedly offered their apologies. His mother had come to Takafu-cho. Takashi remembered the photo file that Keigo sent him. He switched on the RUICA without waking Ta-kun.
It was a picture of Takashi and his sister when he was 4 years old and his sister had just been born. His mother had retrieved a still image from the family's digital file, which they rarely looked at. He stared at the picture. Both his father and mother were young. Takashi, then a kindergarten student, looked at his sister in a protective way. His sister was small and weak, just like Ta-kun. She was held in her father's arms as if he cherished a fragile treasure. Tears filled his eyes, as he realized that his parents had raised him and his sister with love. Ta-kun's warmth penetrated Takashi's body. His feet became chilled. He thought that this small life was irreplaceable and held him tight.