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It’s taken me a very long time and such a lot of work, but I have delighted in this so much. – Where we live in the far north of Honshu, so many people have left. Off, to Tokyo! Off, to find their fortunes abroad! That sort of thing. They used to come back. It was always accepted, the younger generation would go off and study, try their luck in the city. But always, always, they came back. They would come home married, or come home and marry and take up a position in the family profession very often. Raise a beautiful family.
I used to work on the maternity ward when I was younger. Oh those babies. Those beautiful, beautiful babies. Proud parents. Honoured grandparents, even great grandparents. All those people, all those ages. Like flowers at different stages, budding, blooming, withering – well, let’s not talk about that part.
So you see, this place, it emptied out! They stopped returning. They stopped returning and stopped returning and stopped returning…
It was lucky for me that I had given up working. It would have broken my heart to see that maternity ward empty. Completely empty, I was told. No mothers. No babies. Then the staff were gone too. Can’t run a maternity ward without pregnancies. Just a ghost ward. Cobwebs lacing the cribs where covers used to lay. And those that could bear children, long gone. No young men here anymore, no young women. No sex! No sex… well, perhaps some, but none that would produce a child.
The streets emptied, the cafes, the bus stops stood with nobody waiting. And the schools! No babies means no young children. No children and the teachers leave. I had joked with the priest at our temple once that the cemetery was fast becoming the most populated place. I made him laugh, but we each had a tear. And that was it, that was the moment and I knew something must be done. I would bring people, I would fill the houses and the shops and the bus shelters, the schools and… anyway, now at least, I had somewhere to start. It really took some time, but I soon upped my pace. I had to think about who the people should be, and how many of each kind, and I had to consider their hearts and minds so as to inform their expressions. Eventually I realised that each should be unique. Years. I have spent years at this. But now when you walk about the town you find people everywhere. It had always been an interest of mine, knitting, but this was on an industrial scale. When I finished the first full-grown adults and what looked like a teenager, I planted them at the bus stop. In the afternoon it clouded over and so I ran and gathered them and placed them inside the bus shelter. Sitting and standing. Huddled together. They were so very grateful, hugging me and offering their thanks. I told them it was nothing, but it touched my heart that I had helped them.
At the school these days, I see the youngsters sitting upright neatly. I peer through a window and don’t want to interrupt their studies. I’m so proud of them. Their manners, their cheerful faces. At times I hear them sing for recently they have started choir practice. That rather fills my heart. If my husband were still alive I’m sure he’d tease me, but he knows how much I always loved the children. The children and the babies. We weren’t blessed. But I feel blessed now.
Arthritis in both hands. But it doesn’t much matter. Everyone is here now. They all came back, and I know that they’ll look after me. You can’t knit a village. That’s what he would say. My husband. They won’t be real. But deep down he knew that he was wrong.
Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. She is the author of four novels, Soothing Music for Stray Cats (Alcemi), Perfect Architect (Alcemi), From Seven to the Sea (Seren) and My Falling Down House (Seren). Her journalism has been published in various Japanese architectural magazines and in the UK’s Architecture Today magazine. She has also ghost written on Japanese architects for the German publisher, Prestel Art. Joso is twice the recipient of Arts Council England awards to support her writing. Meanwhile, she received the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award as well as a small grant from the DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation, and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Her new short-story collection, Japan Stories, is out on 15 June but available for pre-order from Seren now.