Lovely white flowers mask the town. They bloom on every street corner, not in beds or fields set aside for their cultivations, but blending naturally and in line with every row of houses, as though the buildings and the blossoms have grown up together.
The season is early spring and snow still lingers on the nearby mountains, but the stretch of ocean that gently laps the town's southern shore is bathed in refulgent sunlight.
This is an old and prosperous harbor town.
Even now, its piers see many cruise ships and freighters come and go.
Its history, however, is sharply divided between the time "before" and the time "after" an event that happened one day long ago.
People here prefer not to talk about it—the watershed engraved upon the town's chronology.
The memories are too sorrowful to make stories out of them.
Kaim knows this, and because he knows it, he has come here once again.
"Passing through?" the tavern master asks him.
At the sound of his voice, Kaim responds with a faint smile.
"You're here for the festival, I suppose. You should take your time and enjoy it."
The man is in high spirits. He has joined his customers in glass after glass until now and is quite red in the face, but no one shows any signs of blaming him for overindulging. Every seat in the tavern is filled and the air reverberates with laughter. Happy voices can be heard now and then as well from the road outside.
The entire town is celebrating. Once each year the festival has people making merry all night long until the sun comes up.
"I hope you've got a room for the night, Sir. Too late to find one now! Every inn is full to overflowing."
"So it seems."
"Not that anyone could be foolish enough to spend a night like this quietly tucked away under the covers in his room."
The tavern master winks at Kaim as if to say "Not you, Sir. I'm sure!"
"Tonight we're going to have the biggest, wildest party you've ever seen, and everybody's invited—locals or not. Drink, food, gambling, women: just let me know what you want. I'll make sure you have it."
Kaim sips his drink and says nothing.
Because he is planning to stay awake all night, he has not taken a room—though he has no plans to enjoy the festival, either.
Kaim will be offering up a prayer at the hour before dawn when the night is at its darkest and deepest. He will leave the town, sent off by the morning sun as it pokes its face up between the mountains and the sea, just as he did at the time of his last visit. Back then, the tavern master, who a few minutes ago was telling one of his regular customers that his first grandchild is about to be born, was himself just an infant.
"This one's on me, drink up!" says the tavern master, filling Kaim's shot glass.
He peers at Kaim suspiciously and says, "You did come for the festival, didn't you?"
"No, not really," says Kaim.
"Don't tell me you didn't know about it!
You mean you came here by pure chance?"
"Well, if you came here on business, forget it.
You'll never get serious talk out of anybody on a special night like this."
The tavern master goes on to explain what is so special about this night.
"You must've heard something about it. Once, a long time ago, this town was almost completely destroyed."
There are two great events that divide history into "before" and "after": one is the birth or death of some great personage—a hero or a savior.
The other is something like a war or plague or natural disaster.
What divided this town's history into "before" and "after" was a violent earthquake.
It happened without warning and gave the soundly sleeping people of the town no chance to flee.
A crack opened up in the earth with a roar, and roads and buildings just fell to pieces.
Fires started, and they spread in the twinkling of an eye.
Almost everyone was killed.
"You probably cant imagine it. All I know is what they taught me in school. And what does 'Resurrection Festival' mean to a kid! It was just something that happened 'once upon a time.' I live here and that's all it means to me, so a traveler like you probably can't even begin to imagine what it was like."
"Is that what they call this holiday? 'Resurrection Festival'?"
"Uh-huh. The town was resurrected from a total ruin to this.
That's what the celebration is all about."
Kaim gives the man a grim smile and sips his liquor.
"What's so funny?" the tavern master asks.
"Last time I was here, they were calling it 'Earthquake Memorial Day.'
It wasn't a festival for this kind of wild celebrating."
"What are you talking about?
It's been the 'Resurrection Festival' ever since I was a kid."
"That was before you were old enough to remember anything."
"And before that, they called it 'Consolation of the Spirits.' They'd burn a candle for each person who died, and pray for them to rest in peace. It was a sad festival, lots of crying."
"You sound as if you saw it happening yourself."
The tavern master laughs with a loud snort.
"You look sober, but you must be plastered out of your mind! Now listen, it's festival night, so I'm going to let you off the hook for pulling my leg, but don't try stuff like that in front of the other townspeople. All of our ancestors—mine included—are the ones who barely escaped with their lives."
Kaim knows full well what he is doing. He never expected the man to believe him.
He just wanted to find out himself whether the townspeople were still handing down the memories of the tragedy—whether, deep down behind their laughing faces, there still lingered the sorrow that had been passed down from their forefather's time.
Called away by one of his other customers, the tavern master leaves Kaim's side but not without first delivering a warning.
"Be careful what you say, Sir. That kind of nonsense can get you in trouble. Really. Think about it: the earthquake happened all of two hundred years ago!"
Kaim does not answer him.
Instead, he sips his liquor in silence.
Among the ones who died in the tragedy two hundred years ago were his wife and daughter.
Of all the dozens of wives and hundreds of children that Kaim has had in his eternal life, the wife and child he had here were especially unforgettable.
In those days, Kaim had a job at the harbor.
There were just the three of them—he, his wife, and their little girl.
They lived simply and happily.
The same kind of days that had preceded today would continue on into endless tomorrows. Everyone in the town believed that—including Kaim's wife and daughter, of course.
But Kaim knew differently. Precisely because his own life was long without end and he had consequently tasted the pain of countless partings, Kaim knew all too well that in the daily life of humans there was no "forever."
This life his family was leading would have to end sometime. It could not go on unchanged. This was by no means a cause for sorrow, however. Denied a grasp upon "forever," human beings knew how to love and cherish the here and now.
Kaim especially loved to show his daughter flowers—the more fragile and short-lived the better.
Flowers that bloomed with the morning sun and scattered before the sun went down. They were everywhere in this harbor town: lovely, white flowers that bloomed in early spring.
His daughter loved the flowers. She was a gentle child who would never break off blossoms that had struggled so bravely to bloom. Instead, she simply watched them for hours at a time.
That year, too...
"Look how big the buds are! They'll be blooming any time now!" she said happily when she found the white flowers on the road near the house.
"Tomorrow, maybe?" Kaim wondered aloud.
"Absolutely!" his wife chimed in merrily. "Get up early tomorrow morning and have a look!"
"Poor little flowers, though," said the daughter. "It's nice when they bloom, but then they wither right away."
"All the better" said Kaim's wife. "It's good luck if you get to see them blooming. It makes it more fun."
"It may be fun for us," answered the girl. "But think about the poor flowers. They work so hard to open up, and they wither that same day. It's sad..."
"Well, yes, I guess so..."
A momentary air of sadness flowed into the room, but Kaim quickly dispelled it with a laugh.
"Happiness is not the same thing as 'longevity'!" he proclaimed.
"What does that mean, Papa?"
"It may not bloom for long, but the flower's happy if it can open up the prettiest blossom and give off the sweetest perfume it knows how to make while it is blooming."
The girl seemed to be having trouble grasping this and simply nodded with a little sigh. She then broke into a smile and said, "It must be true if you say so, Papa!"
Your smile is more beautiful than any flower in full bloom.
He should have said it to her.
He later regretted that he had not.
The words he had uttered so carelessly, he came to realize, turned out to be something of a prophecy.
"Well now, young lady," he said. "If you're getting up early to see all the flowers tomorrow morning, you'd better go to bed right now."
"All right, Papa, if I really have to..."
"I'm going to bed now, too" said Kaim's wife.
"Okay, then. G'nite, Papa."
His wife said to Kaim, "Good night, dear. I really am going to bed now."
"Good night" Kaim replied, enjoying one last cup to ease the day's fatigue.
These turned out to be the last words the family shared.
A violent earthquake struck the town before dawn.
Kaim's house collapsed in a heap of rubble.
Kaim's two loved ones departed for that distant other world before they could awaken from their sleep and without ever having had a chance to say "Good morning" to him.
The morning sun rose on a town that had been destroyed in an instant.
Amid the rubble, the flowers were blooming—the white flowers that Kaim's daughter had wanted so badly to see.
Kaim thought to lay a flower in offering on his daughter's cold corpse, but he abandoned the idea.
He could not bring himself to pick a flower.
No one—no living being on the face of the earth, he realized—had the right to snatch the life of a flower that possessed that life for only one short day.
Kaim could never say to his daughter,
"You go first to heaven and wait for me: I'll be there before long."
Nor would he ever know the joy of reunion with his loved ones.
To live for a thousand years, meant bearing the pain of a thousand years of partings.
Kaim continued his long journey.
A dizzying numbers of years and months followed by: years and months during which numberless wars and natural calamities scourged the earth. People were born, and they died. They loved each other and were parted from the ones they loved. There were joys beyond measure, and sorrows just as measureless. People fought and argued without end, but they also loved and forgave each other endlessly. Thus was history built up as the tears of the past evolved gradually into prayers for the future.
Kaim continued his long journey.
After a while, he rarely thought about the wife and daughter with whom he had spent those few short days in the harbor town. But he never forgot them.
Kaim continued his long journey.
And in the course of his travels, he stopped by this harbor town again.
As the night deepened, the din of the crowds only increased, but now, as a hint of light comes into the eastern sky, without a signal from anyone, the noise gives way to silence.
Kaim has been standing in the town's central square. The revelers, too, have found their way here one at a time, until, almost before he knows it, the stone-paved plaza is filled with people.
Kaim feels a tap on the shoulder.
"I didn't expect to find you here!" says the tavern master.
When Kaim gives him a silent smile, the tavern master looks somewhat embarrassed and says, "There's something I forgot to tell you before..."
"Well, you know, the earthquake happened a long time ago. Before my father and mother's time, even before my grandparents' generation. It might sound funny for me to say this, but I can't imagine this town in ruins."
"I know what you mean."
"I do think, though, that there are probably things in this world that you can remember even if you haven't actually experienced them. Like the earthquake: I haven't forgotten it. And I'm not the only one. It may have happened two hundred years ago, but nobody in this town has ever forgotten it. We can't imagine it, but we can't forget it, either."
Just as Kaim nods again to signal his understanding of the tavern keeper's words, a somber melody echoes throughout the square. This is the hour when the earthquake destroyed the town.
All the people assembled here close their eyes, clasp their hands together, and offer up a prayer, the tavern master and Kaim among them.
To Kaim's closed eyes come the smiling faces of his dead wife and daughter. Why are they so beautiful and so sad, these faces that believe with all their hearts that tomorrow is sure to come?
The music ends.
The morning sun climbs above the horizon.
And everywhere throughout the town bloom countless white flowers.
In two hundred years, the white flowers have changed.
The scientists have hypothesized that "The earthquake may have changed the nature of the soil itself," but no one knows the cause for sure.
The lives of the flowers have lengthened.
Where before they would bloom and wither in the space of a single day, now they hold their blooms for three and four days at a time.
Moistened by the dew of night, bathed in the light of the sun, the white flowers strive to live their lives to the fullest, beautifying the town as if striving to live out the portion of life denied to those whose "tomorrows" were snatched away from them forever.