Hikaru was a clean slate, a young man, full of the newness of life. He retained nothing of yesterday, no family memories except for his name which had been passed down from one great or grand to another. His name belonged to someone else so long ago that he knew nothing of them and nothing of the way the world was then. He knew only that he was here now. He knew this moment and no other. That was by design. Hikaru was to be sent to the past to gather what was needed for now. He was to find and remember all that had been lost. He had that one directive. See, know, and recall for us. His people waited patiently for him to bring them inspiration, light, something to fulfill them.
The people of Hikaru's time, advanced as they were, sought their knowledge from years passed, trampled and forgotten, days gone by before they were born. There was no music in Hikaru's time, no art, creativity or whimsy, only the perfunctory, that which was required, only what was useful in the here and now. There was no room for wishfulness, imagination, and the satisfaction of a life well-lived. But they craved it, each and every one of them.
They went to work. They bought things. They filled their pristine, spacious homes with things. Every endeavor was to further career, to achieve goals, to built monuments to success. Most lived alone. Ate alone. Adventured alone. The prevailing motivation was self: self-advancement, self-fulfillment, finding self, satisfying self. Selfishness had brought Hikaru's people immense dissatisfaction. His world was deficient, though each person on Earth had every material need met and every whim attended to. They got things done. They accomplished things. They were, by and large, a success. But it left them hungry.
Hikaru was a small part of the group sent back to the time before. They were looking for literature, poetry and songs, great treasures of taste and charm and experience. He relished the opportunity, to see and hear and touch the curious world of before. An aching need drove him, both for himself and for his people. Soon he would be fulfilled. Soon he would see. But for now he was an empty vessel. He knew only to pursue what moved his heart. It was a vague order, but he would do what he could.
Time folds easily enough. Finding the precise point to nudge it is somewhat complicated, but once you have the math down and the figures straight, a small bend is all it takes. In an instant, or 'the blink of an eye' as the saying goes, you are there. And so it was with Hikaru, there at the bank of the Black River in an ordinary American town a thousand years before he was born.
The birds sang a different song than he was used to, a whistle, a simple call. It was musical. The birds here were serene. In his time the birds' song was a cry, a gasp. It was like a plea into the empty air, one that was never answered. The birds were scared. No one remembered why. But this was markedly different. He breathed deeply to take in the tune. It would be important to remember, instinct told him. The air was pure, as expected, with no hint of the wars ahead that would sully it. The ground beneath his feet was a distinct brown, not fancy or flourishing, just simply the color the Earth was originally, the color of the dust from which mankind had come. It struck him as something profound, though he could not say why. The dirt in his time was better, complex and with varying hues that shone in the light, but this dirt had more beauty in its plainness than all the diversity of his back home.
The river was brown too, probably owing to the dirt. Why was it called the Black River? Hikaru couldn't tell. Maybe it used to be black. Maybe this dingy brown was an improvement?
He was a stone's throw from the house he'd been sent to find. It was pink, painted so by one of the occupants. She was an artist and a woman, with an eye for what would work and what would not. The house had been three other colors first: white, beige, and something even less appealing. But it needed to be pink. She just knew.
She would not know Hikaru was there. He was invisible. She would go about her work, all the while unaware that her ordinary day was having a profound effect on the inquisitive visitor from the bleak future.
She lived simple days with her husband, the tinkerer who worked in the barn. She baked her own bread and made strawberry jam, and painted canvases as inspired as the house she'd painted pink. She built fires in the fireplace during the winter and crocheted stuffed animals for her grandchildren, a red rabbit and a giant green frog. She was always making something. She wrote poetry too and would one day pass her words on to her children and grandchildren. Hikaru knew this well because her writing was some of the few samples from that era, kept in vaults for safe keeping. He'd never been allowed to read any of it, of course. But since it was safely put away, it would survive for another thousand years at least. Even hidden away, her words had an effect. She rippled the water at the edge of the Black River, and its movement was felt across the ocean. That's the way her quiet life was, a whisper resounding.
Hikaru felt intrusive, but watched her paint. He tried to ignore how uncomfortable he felt observing her, but he needed to understand how life was lived in her day, what was important. She painted scenes mostly, houses and yards and lighthouses and a tiny shed with a half-moon on the door. That one made her laugh, though he didn't understand why. Her workspace was the quiet walkout basement of the tall pink house. The air smelled of the spun clay pottery of her other hobby. Her paints were arranged on shelves her husband had built for her. She set flowers and fruit and nature in bowls to paint, or photos of mountains and hills and snow-covered houses and bridges and ponds to bring to life on the blank space before her. Upstairs her homemade bread baked in the oven, having risen under tea towels earlier in the day. Coffee percolated in a white Mr. Coffee maker perched high on a counter, but dangerously close to the crocheted white tablecloth spread on a nearby wooden table. She made the world around her. She created with her hands and her heart. Her peacefulness was contagious and Hikaru found himself resting even as he was hard at work.
One morning her husband slipped and sliced into his hand with a chainsaw. Hikaru thought the elderly man would lose his finger. In fact, he was certain. There was nothing he could do to help. He couldn't reach into their world. He was powerless, though he tried. He screamed. He called for help. He tried to steady the man. He even tore off his jacket to use to stop the bleeding. All of his actions were like pushing air. All he could do was watch. But the woman came out of the house stronger than the man. She had a dish towel in her hand, ran to him with it, and held the stub that was bleeding. The ambulance was already on the way. She'd been looking out the window when it happened and called them first. Hikaru noticed a bag of ice in her other hand. She picked up the finger herself and dropped it inside. A formidable woman, it seemed. But what caught his attention, and his heart, more than anything was the way she then bowed her head and prayed. Hikaru had studied prayer. He'd read about it and thought he understood why people did it, though no one he knew and no one they knew prayed. Even if they had, they certainly wouldn't have meant it. This woman meant it.
He studied her. And around her was light. It moved, seemingly at her insistence. It touched the man. It steadied the woman's hand. And it was with the ambulance driver as he turned the corner. Hikaru could see the light. And as he watched, it encompassed him too. He was not invisible to it, though the man and the woman and the rescue squad milled about, stepped through him, and went on their way, the light remained, and watched him.
"What do you want?" It asked.
Hikaru was struck. What did he want? He wanted experience, to feel alive, to be alive, to have the kind of energy as someone who sings or dances or watches a sunset and feels it. He wanted desperately to be a part of the sun rising and the night going away. He wanted to feel music, life moving him and him moving life. He was running out of words, though he couldn't think of any to use. What do I want? He asked himself a thousand times. And each time, with every part of his being, his heart, his strength, Hikaru wanted to be a part of what he'd just witnessed. What do these people do that I do not? What do these people have knowledge of that I am missing? How did that woman call the light to move on her behalf? And why did it?
"That's what I want," Hikaru said, motioning to all that he'd just seen.
To his astonishment, the light answered him.
"What do you think I want?" It asked Hikaru.
He had not anticipated the light wanting anything. What could it want? Why would it need anything? So, dumbfounded, he asked.
"What do you want?" He said simply.
He was too naive to understand what a question like that would mean or where the answer would take him. But it reached out to him. The light wanted Hikaru.
When he returned to his own time his people were patiently waiting.
"Well," they prompted.
"I have something," he said. All he could do was shine the light, but he hoped they'd understand.