His wife Michiko noticed Kimura leaving his bed in the middle of the night. He went out through the front door, as if sleepwalking, and went into the barn at the end of the garden. The only thing in the big barn was carefully arranged stacks of wooden boxes waiting for the apple harvest. The boxes hadn’t been used for years. Peeping furtively at him, she would see her husband sitting motionless on an apple box, eyes shut. He would often sit like that until daybreak. She might not have understood what he was doing, but she did know that her husband was helpless and suffering.
She didn’t want to make her husband give up what he’d been working at for years. Anyway, he would simply turn a deaf ear the moment it was mentioned. He wasn’t going to stop, whatever anyone said. If he wasn’t going to quit, she had no choice but to go along.
Any semblance of acting the ‘happy family’ had disappeared. Her husband remained stressed. Even when with the family, his heart was not in it. He mind was always elsewhere. He said very little at mealtimes. If he did open his mouth, it was normally to tell someone off. No-one understood exactly what was annoying him. They tried desperately not to rub him up the wrong way. His young daughters stayed clear of him. Everyone in the family tiptoed around him.
Before they’d sold the car, and it only happened once, her husband decided to take the family on holiday. The girls weren’t in the least excited. They already knew what would happen if they went on holiday with their dad who could explode at any moment. One lunchtime, he stopped the car at a noodle restaurant at a sightseeing spot. Never having eaten out, his daughters were stumped when they had to choose something they liked from the menu. His eldest daughter eventually found something that looked familiar on the menu and gave a waitress her order.
‘Curry rice please.’
Her father lost his temper when he heard this.
‘Who orders that sort of thing in a noodle restaurant?’
His daughter was momentarily bewildered. She had no idea why he was so angry. Having specially stopped at a soba noodle restaurant, her father naturally expected her to have some delicious noodles. That message is hardly likely to get through to a child, though, unless you spell it out clearly. Scolding without a proper explanation can only harm a child.
Her husband no longer cared about such things. His energy was entirely devoted to worrying about his apple trees.
Things were terrible, and that day they would certainly have headed home straight after lunch. She remembers nothing of the trip home. No-one in the car would have uttered a word. She had never disliked or felt so dissatisfied with her husband as then. But she knew that the turmoil her husband was in was because he cared for his family.
Had he been tackling the apple trees alone, he might not have had such bad moods. He is an unselfish man. If it was only him, he wouldn’t have cared if he was without food, or had no clothes, nor would he be upset. However hard-pressed, he would happily have pursued his dream. The reason her husband was suffered was the family.
He offered not a single apology for reducing them to poverty, but it was her husband who suffered thinking about this more than anyone. The cause of his misery was that he couldn’t buy his daughters the things they needed for school, let alone clothes, and was unable to give them the happiness they deserved. His wretchedness created a gloomy atmosphere in the home, and the children started flagging. For their part, the children didn’t find the family being poor particularly painful. Their father’s helpless misery, and the shadow it cast over their hearts, left them much more dispirited than having an awful time at school.
They didn’t mind not having money. Had they all been able to just live and laugh about it, the children would have been much happier. Everyone thought so except their father. He couldn’t bring himself to share these feelings. In the end, his feelings of guilt about his family in turn affected them. It was a sad dilemma, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. If there was any saving grace, it was that the family was not falling apart.
Her husband, uncharacteristically, once showed signs of weakening in the orchards.
‘Well, better to give up then, eh?’
Inside she knew he didn’t really believe this. To show that them that their dad was suffering too, however, she told her eldest daughter about it, and got an unexpected answer.
‘I hate that sort of talk. What are we this poor for?’
At some point, her daughter had come to share her father’s dream.
She didn’t talk to her husband about this. She knew that her daughter, in her own way as a child, knew herself, and that the stage of offering words of encouragement was long since passed. Her husband would now have to shoulder the additional burden of his primary school daughter’s hopes too. He was being driven to the edge.
Growing apples without using pesticides. This was a noble dream, but it was clearly failing. There had been no blossom for years. Some apple trees had already started to wilt. It was only a matter of time before all the trees started to wither and die. It seemed there were no options left for her husband. In the beginning, new measures had been tried out one after another, but more recently it began to feel they’d tried everything. He continued going to the orchards every day, catching insects, and spreading mud and vinegar, but the apple trees simply weakened. They’d have been much better off if they’d packed it all in. Had that been possible, it wouldn’t have been this hard.
Her husband hadn’t achieved his goal, and he wasn’t about to give up. This was something that, as a wife, she instinctively knew was true. But where was he going to end up? She’d given up thinking about it. She felt there may be something terrible waiting. If you were going to end up there anyway, there was no point in dwelling on it, however awful. All she could do was stick by her husband. This meant following him when he got up in the middle of the night and tenderly watching over him. Her husband spent nights in torment sitting on an apple box. Even if he was aware of his plight, she had no intention of bringing it up.