It was when my great aunt was in her late seventies. She lived in the same old house in a crowded neighbourhood of Tokyo where I spent much of the first year of my life on this earth before my family moved to north Japan.
Her husband had passed away long before I was born, and her daughter’s family lived in another part of the city. So, as far as I’ve known her, she was always the one and only person who lived in the house.
My great aunt was a person with a big heart and a childlike open curiosity, and growing up, I always looked forward to visiting her or meeting her in a family gathering. Whenever she saw me, she never failed to pamper me with a huge amount of what I craved for as a child – a sense of unconditional love and total acceptance. I always felt comfortable being with her.
When my mother came to see me that winter and made an arrangement to visit my great aunt (who was her aunt), I was a college student in Tokyo. Though the place I lived was not far from her place, I was so consumed in the busy student life that I hadn’t visited her much. So, when my mother made the plan to meet my great aunt at a restaurant located in a popular hotel near her house, I was delighted.
My great aunt was overjoyed to see both of us. We sat at a white table and ordered food. There was nothing fancy about the hotel or about the restaurant. When the food arrived, my mother, who wanted it to be a treat for her aunt, complained that it was not as good as she’d wanted it to be, but my great aunt said it was delicious.
I don’t really remember what we talked about that evening. It must have been about each other’s daily life and some news about the people we knew in common. But I remember noticing what felt like the first sign of her failing memory as we conversed that night – so subtle that I almost didn’t recognize.
Once the dinner was over, we parted our ways. My great aunt walked back to her house, and my mother and I caught a train to go back to my apartment.
A few weeks later, I got a postcard from my great aunt. In it, she wrote that since she had met me and my mother in that restaurant, she found herself walking by the hotel often and whenever she did, she would look inside expecting to find us there. “I’m probably feeling lonely, and I’m missing you,” she wrote.
That postcard was kept on my desk for a long time. I don’t know why I never wrote back to her because I always meant to do so. Deeply touched by what she shared with me, I was still a young student with her mind occupied with busy noises.
I’ve met her several times after that. But I always think about that postcard that she wrote to me that winter.