“ChiChi, I know you want to but I don’t think you should go this year. In your condition, you can’t. There’s too much walking… too much memory.” He pointed to ChiChi’s dilemma. “That should keep you home this year.”
ChiChi’s hands were on her growing belly. She was eight months pregnant. Her condition limited her physical activities but ChiChi was determined to make this journey. “Walking is perfectly fine for a pregnant woman and it is because of my baby, I have to go this year.”
Gyumao rubbed his left temple. He was getting a headache. His daughter was so stubborn sometimes. He hoped with another male around, he had ammunition against ChiChi but at the moment, the ammunition was more interested in eating than listening. “Goku, you’re her husband and ChiChi’s carrying your baby. You should have a say in this.”
Goku raised his face from his large ramen bowl. When ChiChi and her Dad had discussions, he let them talk and agree with whatever they wanted to do. Some things involved him and Goku trusted his wife and father-in-law to make the decision for him. Goku slurped the noodles. “What should I say?”
“Tell ChiChi she can’t go.”
“Don’t tell my husband what to say! Goku, tell my Dad to mind his business.”
The irony of his daughter’s action wasn’t lost on Gyumao. “Don’t you tell your husband what to say.”
“Don’t pull Goku into this!” ChiChi was losing her temper. “It’s my decision and I’m going! Goku will come with me.”
“I am?” Goku wondered what he was being pulled into. “Where am I going?”
ChiChi rubbed her temple in the same way her father did moments earlier. “Oh, Goku, weren’t you listening? I’m talking about the Cherry Blossom Festival in Kaito Village. It’s not far from East City.”
“Not far from East City but it’s far from here. It’s seven hours by one of my airships.”
“We can take Nimbus,” Goku offered if that bothered Gyumao. “It’ll get us there in less than half that time.”
“In ChiChi’s condition, Goku, Nimbus won’t do. It’ll be uncomfortable for ChiChi to sit for a long period of time on that cloud. You should be catering to your child’s condition more than your wife’s wants.”
Goku didn’t know why but he didn’t like what Gyumao said. ChiChi has been more cautious than anyone during her pregnancy. She won’t let them have intimacy in case it hurt the baby. It wasn’t fun for Goku waiting but he knew ChiChi did this for their child’s benefit. “Nimbus is comfortable and if we need to make stops, we can.”
Outnumbered Gyumao gave up. “I was hoping you’d be on my side, Goku.” He pointed at Goku harshly. “If ChiChi has a bad experience, it’ll be your fault, Goku, and your responsibility to make it right.”
Gyumao stormed off in a huff leaving Goku confused. It was a simple festival. Why was Gyumao against ChiChi going? Maybe her condition had something to do with it but Goku felt there was something else going on.
Goku and ChiChi had an early start to Kaito Village. It was still dark and slightly chilly when Goku and ChiChi left their home on Mount Paouz. Goku was annoyed ChiChi told them they had to wear kimonos for this trip. Kimonos fit too snugly for Goku but he did it for ChiChi. She seemed annoyed her Dad didn’t want her going on this trip and ChiChi had been very tight-lipped about the reasons.
Goku wrapped ChiChi in a large blanket and placed her on his lap as Nimbus flew them to Kaito Village. ChiChi slept most of the journey and though Goku wanted to sleep, he stayed awake. As Gyumao and the priest told him, ChiChi was his responsibility. They took two breaks: for ChiChi to relieve herself, and stretch her legs and for them to have breakfast before they finally arrived at Kaito Village near eleven that morning.
Because of the Cherry Blossom festival, Kaito Village was overrun with tourists wanting to view the famous blooming cherry trees officially announcing spring. Hotel and restaurants were full and when the first signs of light shone on the village, everyone was up to take part in the busy day.
“The Masumi Shrine is where we have to start, Goku. It was built during the founding of this village nearly 2,000 years ago and it’s the only building created during that time still standing. It’s the most visited shrine in the region.”
“Wow,” Goku took this news in as his eyes went up the levels of steps leading to the Shrine’s top. “It’s really old!” And the steps were so many! There were at least five hundred steps. It was easy for Goku to climb but Goku wasn’t confident ChiChi could do it in her condition.
No wonder Gyumao didn’t want ChiChi doing this.
“My stars, is it really you, ChiChi? I can’t believe you came.”
Goku looked over ChiChi at the man calling her name. Goku didn’t know this man of fair height and muscles. Muscles, Goku nearly snorted. He had some, Goku admitted as he noticed the definition of his arm when the sleeve of his kimono rolled down when the man waved at them.
“Nao!” ChiChi waddled to the man excitedly. She embraced him. “How wonderful to see you again!”
Wonderful? Who was this guy and why was ChiChi speaking so cheerful to him? ChiChi’s only this excited with her Pops and me. Goku stared at the hug. It didn’t last long but it unnerved Goku. Only me and her Pops hug ChiChi.
Whenever a man stood too close to ChiChi, she always stepped back. ChiChi didn’t do this and was the one to initiate a hug between her and Noa. It piqued Goku’s curiosity. He followed wondering who was this man that caused his wife to express emotion Goku thought was only reserved for him and Gyuamo.
“Not the time for you to walk to the shrine,” Goku heard Noa say. “You can’t get up all those steps by yourself, ChiChi.”
“I have to, Nao. This year is more important than any year.”
And why was that Goku wondered. What was going on that he didn’t know?
Nao looked over ChiChi at Goku’s arrival. “Son Goku,” Nao acknowledged. “I never thought there’d be the day we meet but I’m glad we did. I finally see the man who will always be my rival.”
“Rival?” Goku felt Nao’s Ki. It was very low like everyone except for his friends: Krillin, Master Roshi, Tien, Yamcha and ChiChi, and his real rival Piccolo. This Ki didn’t feel like anyone who could say he is their rival. “I never met you.”
“No, but you took something I consider mine.”
Woman? Goku admitted to having a bad memory but he never took anyone’s woman. He didn’t know how! “I never did that.”
Nao grinned. “Oh, you definitely did.”
“Who did I take?”
“She’s standing next to you.”
ChiChi?! Goku looked at his wife. She didn’t react to Nao’s words as he thought. He thought she would be angry but she was smiling. For a woman who went around introducing herself as ‘Son Goku’s wife’ ChiChi wasn’t acting like it. “ChiChi’s my wife.”
“Yes, she is and judging by the roundness of her belly, you worked fast staking your claim on her.”
“Nao.” ChiChi held her stomach and bowed her head blushing. Blushing? Was she blushing at what Nao said or what he did to ChiChi months ago. “Don’t say it like that.”
“But it is what he did.” Nao smiled at Goku who had a strange desire to punch him. “I really should hate you. Taking my woman and putting your seed in her belly. All of it should be mine.”
Goku didn’t hate this guy but he was starting to dislike him. “ChiChi,” Goku didn’t hold the hard edge in his voice, “who is this guy?”
“This is Nao, Goku. His family practically rules this village. He’s not a prince since the village has a democratic system but his family has some influence. They are one of the oldest in this village and that shrine is his family’s.”
“Okay.” Goku understood and didn’t care about that part. “Why is he saying I took him from you? You’ve always been mine.”
“But you haven’t shown yourself for years, Son Goku,” Nao reminded him. “By that logic, there was no way of knowing you will honor your word. You’re not the only male who made marriage promises to young girls and did not follow through. Your absence in those years made Mao ChiChi available.”
”Son ChiChi,” Goku corrected Nao.
“Son,” Nao repeated. “Finally,” he chuckled.
“It’s been a long trip, Nao, and Goku and I have things to do. We have to get going.”
“Up the shrine?” Nao didn’t see that as possible. “That’s a long trip, ChiChi. It will be very tiring for a woman in your condition.”
“I’m going with her,” Goku acknowledged as he stood closer to ChiChi. “She’ll be fine.”
From the doubtful expression on his face, Nao wasn’t entirely certain Goku was up to the task. “There’s a famous story from my ancestors. My eldest ancestor built this shrine as dedication to his wife. She was pregnant, near birth, when it was completed. My ancestor wanted his wife to give birth to their first child as a sign of good luck for the shrine but his wife couldn’t go up the steps. My ancestor carried his pregnant wife up those five hundred steps. The legend goes he didn’t break a sweat. He never tired and never stopped. His love helped him carry his wife up there.”
Nao took a step to ChiChi. “I’m not your husband but I can carry you up there, ChiChi.”
A strong hand landed on Nao’s chest. It hit with such force Nao was knocked off his feet. He would’ve soared if a wooden electric pole three feet away hadn’t caught him. ChiChi gasped and covered her mouth at the sound of Nao’s back hitting the pole. Pain shot up Nao’s back and the sudden wind knocked from him through Goku’s blow made breathing difficult. He only had the energy to look up to see Goku looking down on him.
“ChiChi is my wife. I’ll carry her.”
“Nao,” ChiChi exhaled shocked. She hadn’t expected Goku to do that. “I’m sorry.”
She’s apologizing to him??!!!! What is ChiChi’s history with this guy? “He’s fine,” Goku dismissed Nao and ChiChi’s concerns as he picked her up and walked up the steps to the shrine.
To Goku’s discomfort, Nao’s strength returned. He got back on his feet and followed them.
“Impressive,” Nao noted as Goku easily carried ChiChi up the steps. “You’re not breaking a sweat at all. You won’t need a drink when we reach the top. I won’t either since I walk up these steps every day,” Nao admitted proudly. “But you…. you’re good.”
Heh, Goku thought with a sly smirk. Nao found this impressive. Goku called this a warmup. “This is nothing. I had to do milk runs up mountains with steps longer than this when I was a kid.” To show off how easy this was, Goku started skipping steps, walking two at a time instead of one.
“Skipping steps.” Nao imitated Goku. “I can do it, too.”
Alone. But Goku knew Nao couldn’t do it with ChiChi. Not that Goku would give him the chance. Goku went ahead increasing his pace. Nao followed wanting to keep up but with Goku’s strength and stamina Nao couldn’t beat him. He admitted defeat as Goku reached the top of the steps first.
Goku gently placed ChiChi on her feet. “Where to next, ChiChi?” Wherever it was, Goku wanted it away from Nao.
“I want to go to the altar and say a prayer for our baby and our family.”
Goku wasn’t overly religious but he went with ChiChi to the altar as she tossed a coin in the offering box and offered a prayer for their unborn child, her father and to Goku’s surprise, his grandfather and her mother, both who have long since passed from this world and both neither spoke much about.
Holding ChiChi’s hand and with Nao following and adding comments about his family’s shrine here and there, Goku toured the shrine with his wife. ChiChi picked up flowers, incense and a water bottle from one shop. It was odd to Goku. When ChiChi went into the shop, the owner knew what ChiChi wanted and handed her a prepared bag. ChiChi’s solemn expression rendered Goku to be silent, too, and not ask questions. Not now, he thought, but later, he will. Goku followed ChiChi to another shop where her mood was cheerful as she purchased good luck amulets and charms for their family and home and toys for their baby.
After taking a break to snack on dango, ChiChi was ready to leave the shrine and see the cherry blossoms in the park. Goku carried ChiChi down the shrine again with Nao following them.
“I’ve nothing to do,” Nao said as he was happy to be a third wheel. “Let’s see the cherry blossoms together.”
Crowds of people toured the park where the cherry blossoms bloomed. The pink petals were pretty and the scent wafting from the trees comforting and not too much for Goku’s sensitive nose. Unfortunately, it was all soured in Goku’s mind with Nao playing tour guide for them. He conversed with ChiChi while Goku stayed in the middle keeping Nao separate from ChiChi. Goku wasn’t sure what was going on with him. He just didn’t like Nao and didn’t want him near ChiChi. He didn’t understand why he was like this and why ChiChi tolerated Nao after he commented he should’ve married her and she should have his baby.
In the middle of the tour, Nao suddenly led Goku and ChiChi off the path everyone else took. Part of it was rocky, coarse and slippery due to the passing rain from the previous night. Goku held tightly to ChiChi to make sure she didn’t fall. “This,” Nao said, “is why ChiChi’s father didn’t want ChiChi coming alone. Well, one reason anyway.”
There was a change in Nao’s tone. He was no longer joyful or playful. He sounded serious as he walked up the rocky path. There were cherry blossoms around them with petals dancing as they from the lightest breeze. Nao looked back at them more than once as if making sure Goku had a stronghold on ChiChi.
“This area is reserved and not for the public,” Nao said as they crossed over into a smoother area. The path was easier for ChiChi to walk alone but Goku still held her hand. This area was closed off by a long fence which Nao unlocked. Within this big fence was a smaller fence circling a very tall cherry blossom. From Goku’s observation, it was the tallest one in the park. Why were they here?
ChiChi let go of Goku’s hand and went inside the fenced cherry blossom. Goku noticed Nao stood on the other side of the fence and did not enter with ChiChi. Goku looked on curious. What was going on here? ChiChi walked around to the other side of the tree. Not wanting to be left out, Goku followed ChiChi inside the fenced area. He arrived as ChiChi got on her knees. He went around to see why and saw ChiChi kneeling before a stone grave marker.
Goku watched ChiChi arrange the flowers, water and incense she purchased from the shop. She put her hands in prayer and closed her eyes. Understanding what was going on, Goku kneeled beside ChiChi. He put his hands together in prayer. He wanted to be respectful but he needed questions answered. Mainly, who was he praying to?!!!
“Whose grave is this, ChiChi?”
ChiChi opened her eyes and with a sad smile told Goku. “My mother.”
“But….. but… “ Goku stammered. Goku knew he didn’t have the best memory and forgot A LOT but he knew damn well he would remember if ChiChi told him her mother was buried here. “I thought your Mom was buried at Gyumao’s place.”
“Partly,” ChiChi admitted. “This was the last spot my parents were happy together. They brought me here as a baby to see the cherry blossoms. Not long after this, Mother got sick. Before she died, she wanted part of her remains to be here where she was last happy. My Dad honored Mother’s wishes but he never came after that.” ChiChi paused to collect herself. The story was always heartbreaking for her. “It was too much for Dad to come back and after her death…. well, Dad went down a different path.”
“It isolated Gyumao from everyone.” Now Nao was speaking. “Son Gohan wasn’t the only one Gyumao cut ties from.”
“I was fourteen when I found a photo Dad kept from me,” ChiChi took over the story. “It was me as a baby with my parents. I confronted Dad and he told me the story. I wanted to come here and give respects to Mother but Dad wouldn’t come. So I came alone.”
“Spunky and determined,” Nao recalled fondly. “When she stumbled on my family’s shrine, it was like seeing a ghost. ChiChi looks exactly like her mother. My family shared stories of Gyumao and our ancestors. Our families go back centuries. Seeing ChiChi after all those years was like a family reunion.”
“Family,” Goku repeated. And what kind of family did Nao see in ChiChi? He wanted to put a baby in her! “You talked about wanting ChiChi for yourself.”
Nao suddenly broke off into a raucous laugh. “That pissed you off, didn’t it, Goku? I saw it in your eyes. Forgive me,” Nao begged, ”but I had to test you. I wanted to be sure you were good for ChiChi and you wanted her. When ChiChi told me about you, I was worried and every time ChiChi came here alone without you and with no contact from you, I worried you would not honor your word. But when you knocked me back when I offered to carry her, I knew I was wrong about you, and when you carried ChiChi up those steps…. WOW!!!” Nao applauded. “Damn. That’s love. True love. My ancestor did and I did it with my wife.”
“Wife?” Goku repeated as it slowly clicked for him. “You mean….”
“Married for six years and the father of two kids. I carried my love up those steps during two pregnancies. ChiChi,” Nao’s eyes shone with approval for Goku, “you got yourself a good one.”
ChiChi smiled at Goku with so much pride and love, it made Goku blush. “I always knew it.” He hadn’t felt this embarrassed since ChiChi kissed him at the Tenkaichi Budokai.
“So it was a test?” Goku wanted to be sure. “You don’t want, ChiChi?”
“No, Goku. She’s all yours and I pray for the soul that tries to take her from you.” Nao rubbed the spot on his chest Goku hit. “I think I have a few bruised ribs and a concussion from that hit.”
Embarrassed, Goku sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be sorry. You did what every man should do in your position. To make up for what I said, I’ll give you two a moment and then we can head to my wife’s family restaurant for a hearty meal.”
Nao walked off giving Goku and ChiChi a moment alone.
“Oh, boy,” ChiChi giggled. “Nao will regret offering to feed you.”
ChiChi was all smiles but Goku didn’t share her mood. He had questions. “Did you know he will test me?”
“I didn’t know he will do it until he did it,” ChiChi admitted. “Nao said he would if you two ever meet and I should stay out of it if I wanted proof of your feelings for me. That was a long time ago and I knew I never needed it.”
“Really?” Goku wasn’t sure if that was completely true.
“I didn’t think I needed it,” ChiChi said, “But that was before the tournament. I guess afterward part of me wanted to see what you would do, too.”
Goku couldn’t be upset if he was deceived. With how he forgot ChiChi and never visited and what happened when they met at the tournament, he understood he had to show proof of his feelings for her “So, you came here alone?”
“Since I was fourteen,” ChiChi nodded solemnly. “I know it wasn’t wise to come in my condition but under this tree, during this season I feel closest to my Mom here. I didn’t know her at all, Goku. I grew up in that castle not feeling her presence but when I came here for the first time, I felt something. So, I came back every year to talk. I talked about waiting for you. I talked about becoming a fighter to impress you and preparing myself to be your wife. It’s silly but it feels like Mother is listening.” ChiChi touched her stomach. “The last time I came here was a month before meeting you again. A lot has changed and I wanted to share with Mother you and our baby. I had to do it this year because so much has happened. I just needed her to know.”
“I know.” Goku understood. He had that same feeling of his Grandpa’s home. His presence felt strongest there. Goku talked to him a lot there about his adventures since his death, about ChiChi and their unborn baby.
A gentle breeze blew by. Cherry blossom petals flew in the wind and dropped on Goku and ChiChi like light sprinklings of snow. ChiChi closed her eyes and embraced the wind. Goku followed suit and closed his eyes. It was strange but it did feel as if there was another presence here.
“You’ll be back next year, ChiChi, and the year after that with me and our baby. You’ll never come here alone again.”
Tears misted ChiChi’s eyes as she threw her arms around Goku. “Oh, Goku.” ChiChi looked upward at the pink and white cherry blossoms. ChiChi felt her mother’s spirit in this tree and felt she was watching them now, and with the wind, felt her mother’s approval. Mother, I told you he is wonderful.