The tree was over two thousand years old, the oldest, Obasan had told her, on the island of Honshu, perhaps in all of Japan. Its smooth, ashen trunk was as wide as Obasan’s house, its crown so high Saki had to jerk her head far back in her wheelchair to see it through the leaf canopy of the surrounding Bodhis.
When Obasan had first shown Saki the old tree, they had approached it from the cliff side. Now alone, Saki reassured herself that the ascent up the slope had not been too steep. Obasan had followed behind her, her hands on the back handles of the chair only a precaution as Saki deftly maneuvered her power chair by means of the sip-and-puff mouthstick specially designed by her father’s colleague at the observatory. She could make the trip on her own and get back before Obasan noticed she had gone, in plenty of time to welcome her father home after his year away, in time to enjoy her birthday dinner, the last dinner, if the announcement were true, they or anyone else was ever to have.
As she sat facing the door that stood in the back of the kitchen, a droplet of sweat curled down Saki’s cheek, settling just to the right of the corner of her mouth. She stretched and twisted her tongue to lick it off. It was hot late this afternoon and would only get hotter as the evening pressed on. More sweat would pour down her face and into her eyes and mouth, and there would be nothing she could do about it. She would just have to push through.