“What a bliss it is to come back to one’s own  country.” thought Mioko . They had come back to Japan after staying in England for five years. After staying  with her parents in Tokyo,they were travelling to Sopporo. Where Tapamkun ,  her husband was to join as a scientist in Hokkaido University .  She wanted her parents to stay with her. They were growing old and weak . Her mother had laughed,” Don’t worry about us , didn’t we survive without you when you were away to England . Now you can come and see us more often .”She didn’t insist . Japanese houses are meant for five people . Her parents couldn’t have a second child because  her grandparents were living with them . She thought about the strange unwritten law of her country. One child when grandparents are with you and three when they are not . Her parents didn’t want to come because that would make them six .

Tokyo was her hometown,city of cherry trees and beautiful blossoms ,city of her childhood and her youth . Pleasant memories crossed her mind .Her old friends, her neighbours, her school. She giggled inwardly when she thought of her school days . Coming from home in the school uniform, girls changed to ultramodern dresses carried secretly in their bags at the Metro Station .She also did the same.  It was one hour journey to her school.A meeting hub of young boys and girls . It was here she had met Tapamkun and fell in love . She sometimes even missed the school . Her parents came to know through the school authorities . Her mother started travelling with her. How she had  cried and how many sleepless nights she had  spent for him ! Her parents,  like any other Japanese parents wanted her to complete her studies . Tapamkun waited for her . He had sent his parents to meet her parents and they had got married in a Shinto Temple.little Robito was born soon after .

Not that she didn’t miss Liverpool . Tapamkun was offered a job there and got an opportunity to do his Ph.D also . Life could not have been better.  They lived every moment to their fill with friendly and lively people . Enjoyed beach parties and Mersey ferry cruises . The city of Beatles blessed them with their real ningyo (doll ) , their chirpy bubbly daughter Ashiko,  who filled their lives with lively colours. Still they missed their country, their parents and friends much and decided to come back.

Mioko loved Sopporo better than Tokyo . They were able to rent a house in Odori Koan . Tomoko , her friendly landlady helped her to set the house . She soon became god mother to both her children .She never stood still , she was either cooking or cleaning and scrubbing her house in her simple yokata  . No show offs and no pretension . Mioko knew that this sweet little old woman was going to have great impact on her children.What a relief it was !she could get some time for herself  and decided  to join cooking classes .

Spring with its glory had long gone and even Autumn was ready to collect its pallet of colours. Beautifully painted trees were now shedding their leaves and waiting for somber winter to paint them serene white . Days were coming shorter and colder . When one day Tomoko knocked at their part of the house and wanted to come in . It was unusual because here nobody goes to other’s house uninvited. She had brought home cooked cookies for the children. Mioko was apprehensive . but asked her politely to be seated. “ Is every thing O.K , ooka saan? “ she asked eagerly. “ Has Ashiko been troublesome? “ I knew that Robito was a quiet little boy , he could not trouble any one . “ No, I have a complaint against you.”  Mioko was irritated a bit . She had utmost respect for Tomoko , she always treated her like her mother. And here she was finding faults with her. Still she kept her composure and asked politely, “What did I do ooka saan ?” “ Do you or your husband scold or beat Robito? Why is he so distracted and gloomy ? It is not good for a boy of his age . “

Mioko was jolted out of her state of apathy . Why didn’t she ever think  about it ?. Why did she take everything so casually ? Robito had started his schooling in Japan. Soon they had shifted to Liverpool. She remembered that there she was asked to visit his school because teachers felt that he was not giving any response. He didn’t disturb the class ,never talked and never even smiled. “ I have never seen such a child ,” one teacher had declared,”children should be mischievous and lively.” But it didn’t bother her because his grades were good. She remained engrossed in her on problems.Her two miscarriages and arrival of Ashiko kept her busy.Later on they had come to know that he was badly bullied by his classmates for his funny English .

She was overcome with the sense of guilt. She had been a bad mother. How could she ignore her first born! Coming back to his own country had given another jolt to his self confidence. This quick shifting of cultures and languages had scared his personality . He was comfortable nowhere . She had even seen Ashiko laughing at him . She had not got any complaint from the school because in Japanese schools group activities are encouraged. One group is declared the winner and other the runner up and everyone gets a prize.  Still she had heard veiled complaints that he was responsible for the defeat of his group. She had to do something to help her child get out of that dark abyss.

Winter had arrived . Snow started swirling down making scenario beautiful and life more difficult. They had to clear the snow almost everyday .City of Sopporo was preparing itself for the great Snow Festival in Susokino area . Artists from all over the world arrived there to make snow and ice sculptures.

Winter months remained agog with festivities . There was a competition for school children also .She knew that Robito loved sketching and making wax idols. She would persuade him to participate.

Robito was not ready to come out of his ivory tower. Good old Tomoko was ultimately able to persuade him , telling him all the time that even if he didn’t win any prize she would give him  a prize for participation .. Robito could not refuse her . After all she was the only one who understood him . We sat together,making sketches , selecting pictures and ultimately it was decided that he would make a little mermaid sitting on a rock.  Tomoko was a great artist.  She trained him well , making and breaking idols till she was satisfied. Robito seemed to be coming out of his cocoon slowly . He started talking a bit . But then he returned to his deep silence .

Sculpture making competitions  were held in the second week of February.  Robito and three other boys were selected to represent their school. We persuaded Tomoko to accompany us . She looked no less than a queen in her best kimono. While Robito was ushered in for the competition, we enjoyed the wonderful work of artists from all our the world. We reached the competition hall to see statues made by the children and wait for the result .Robito’s mermaid stood there white and graceful . We waited in the gallery for the announcement. Seconds dragged by . Many names were announced for different categories. Mioko was glad that she was able to regain her child . Now came the turn of school children. They couldn’t believe their ears when Robito’s entry was declared the best entry . There were tears of joy . Robito ran towards the audience gallery and hugged Tomoko. Mioko felt a tinge of jealousy. She kissed Robito smiling through her tears .

Robito stood there beaming at the audience who were cheering him up .

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