Other Essays (Non-Goldfish)

The Story of a White Strawberry

Finally, Osaka!

What amazed me in the first place was … the toilet at Kansai airport! Yup. While my wife was busy consulting the trip advisor at the arrival hall, I visited the restroom. Please do not ask what was my business there. But I could assure you that Japan had the most comfortable toilet in the world! Not only it had a heated seat and an adjustable rinse button, but it also had a speaker that could produce the sound of running water, which I could adjust the volume to my liking. Oh, they are so thoughtful of me! It was a very helpful feature for a shy person like me to disguise whatever I did there. I would definitely enjoy Osaka!

From the airport, my wife and I proceeded to our hotel by train. I was a bit perplexed to find the underground train station not as I imagined. I felt like in the middle of the second world war period. The station was dark and old with so many confusing tunnels. One stopping point could carry several destinations. If a person mistakenly entered a train too early by several minutes, he might end up in the wrong town. So scary for tourists with no Kanji learning like us! What a relief to be able to come out alive from that place.

My wife booked a hotel in the Dotonbori area, the heart of Osaka (so people said). I must admit it was a very strategic location. To the left, there was a large traditional market to the excitement of my wife. Well, wherever we went around the world, she was always looking for traditional markets. There seemed to be a deep connection between the two for a reason unknown to me. The first destination after we check-in our hotel was – you guessed it – the traditional market. It was at that market I saw people selling and eating sea-urchins for the first time. I wondered how it tasted. Several times I was tempted to try. But, on the second thought, we prefered okonomiyaki instead.

The busy Dotonbori Street

To the right of our hotel was the famous Dotonbori street, which was a superblock full of shops and dining places. It was really a busy area, a sea of people. So many things to see, so many to try. Not to mention the discounted store ladies could not resist. Walking down that street in the afternoon and at night gave a very different sensation. Yes, I must say, the place was transformed into a different world at night. Enjoying the river in the middle of the shopping area by boat after dark was romantic. The colorful light had a magical touch, especially when you spent the moment with your beloved. It was indeed a river of delight. When the boat passed through an extra-large and extra-bright signboard, my wife shouted in excitement,” This is the famous glico man icon! We must take a picture! Quick, quick!” Well, I did not know who the hell the glico man was. Perhaps an acquaintance of Ultraman or so. Anyway, as long as it made my wife happy, I would do it for her. After all, my profession during this trip was her private photographer.

The Glico Man Signboard

Our hotel room was small but neatly arranged. Not surprising. This was Japan. Many things were small, neat, and efficient. I quickly checked the toilet. It had a heated seat and the adjustable rinse button, alright. But no speaker! I was a bit disappointed not to find such an important feature. Anyway, the room was good enough – functional enough; you know what I mean – for our honeymoon: the third honeymoon, to be precise.

Yes, this was our third.

The first was almost twenty years ago when we got married. Boy, it had been a long time! We went to the United States at that moment. Oh, the memory of the days gone by! Since then …. Marriage was like a dream. A dream with sweet and sour dressing. Before I knew it, almost twenty years had passed. That’s how I would describe twenty years of marriage in three sentences. Now we were in our forties. I began to understand why the wise said life begins at forties. It was true. It was the time when reality intruded and the fog of dream dispersed. I still vividly remembered how my life escalated out of control since my father’s death three years ago, slightly after I entered my fortieth years. I hated God for taking my father’s life too early – at least, in my opinion. And I did not know why, my wife and I started to hurt each other emotionally to the point of damaging our marriage. It was when expectation turned into disappointment and kind words became harsh. Love grew cold and the heart searched elsewhere. It would take a miracle to recover what we lost. And a miracle we got, thank God! The miracle took the form of a new “me” – an emergence from darkness and brokenness. Only by then, we decided on our second honeymoon to tend what remained, to grow the love once more. It was a celebration of the second chance of marriage.

Our second honeymoon took place in Bali. The spirit was: Just the two of us. We roamed from street to street leisurely, checking on shops and restaurants, passing through the paddy fields in our way to the beach, and stopping for a scoop of ice cream to enjoy together. No hurry. I felt so free. We held hands all the time, a simple gesture we haven’t done for a long time. And we conversed! Yes, we talked about many simple things. This was extraordinary since our usual interaction was dominated by purposeful and necessary conversation mainly. And what more, she spoke to me in a gentle way! She gave me her time and attention. She listened to me willingly. That was extraordinary! Romance came in simple things. We were just like a teenager in dating. The world was once more ours.

Her habit of making the utmost of every opportunity remained. Even in a honeymoon like this, she thought about finding new suppliers for her fruit business. This time I did not object. I never had any objection to her business as long as she could keep the balance between attending to the family and the business. So, part of our romance in Bali was to browse through fruit markets. I knew she sold Black Sapote before – an exotic fruit in this country. I suggested her to find other types of rare fruits. ”Have you ever considered to sell the White Strawberry?” “Is there such a thing?” she asked in return. “Yes,” I replied. “I read about it on the internet.” “Well, I don’t think we can find it here, “said my wife, “But I know that Bali has a special variety of Mango which was grown solely here.” Then we tried to find a seller of Balinese Mango. It was not the season yet, but we found one. Too bad, the taste was not agreeable for us. Different people have different taste, I suppose. We discarded the idea of selling the mango.

In Bali, we visited the beach behind our hotel and sat for a while, enjoying the sunset. I remembered we saw two beautiful kites with boat shapes sailing in the dusking sky – one was black and another was colorful. The color contrast made me think about how different was my wife’s personality from mine. The black one must be me. Marriage is the mingling of two different souls, after all. We concluded our trip with a romantic night at the hotel combined with a discussion about how to improve her business system! Well, gotta accept her industrious personality. Is not marriage all about acceptance? I began to see the child in her vaguely, a willful child who wanted her own way yet yearned for approval and love. This was a beautiful experience, just the two of us. The Bali moment was so memorable that we wondered why we must wait almost twenty years to do so. That was how we came up with the idea of our third honeymoon. She suggested Osaka.

The two kites

Let me tell you that Black Sapote was available in Indonesia, though it was not a fruit we can find every day. It tasted as good as a chocolate pudding. But the White strawberry was nowhere to be found in this country. Human hearts value and yearn for things they cannot acquire. When we planned our trip to Osaka, we did not realize that we would soon meet the rare jewel.

But the trip to Osaka got complications. It almost got cancelled due to mishaps beyond our control.

In June that year, when my wife was busy with one of her online business, she was furious over a mistake her employee made. Well, my wife was not so tolerant of mistakes. As she was angry, she damaged her retina. A flood of fresh blood streamed out from the tear in her right retina, preventing her from seeing clearly. That was her first blow. Fear crept up in her heart. “How if I become blind for the rest of my life?” Fortunately, the doctor took a quick measure by sealing the tear with a laser. The prescription was for her to reduce her activity drastically for about a month. Forget about fitness. Forget about working hard and moving fast. Walk slowly. Lower your stress. Sleep in an upright position. Those were against my wife’s nature. She was an ever-active person. But she obeyed them patiently for she was determined to recover quickly. And how happy she was when the day of recovery came! The plan to go to Osaka at the end of November was still intact.

Another month passed without incident.

Then it was my turn. At the beginning of August, as I was busy with my fishes (yes, I was a goldfish enthusiast), I was stung by an electric shock. The situation was not favorable at that time. I was barefooted on a wet floor holding a brittle electric cable. I could not move my body. I thought I was gonna die. I could only cry out in my remaining awareness for God’s help. Miraculously, I fell backwards to the floor, and the cable was unplugged from its source. I was alive! But the hard bump in my head gave me vertigo since. Well, it was another story. What I wanted to tell was vertigo restricted my movement for several months to come. I could not drive. I became dizzy in a crowded area. And I should not get too tired. I must rely on my wife for many things. How could I go to Osaka with vertigo?

The misfortune did not stop. Two weeks later, out of nothing, my wife felt another stream of blood in the same location of her eye. The wound reopened, so we thought. This time, it was more severe. Her eyesight was a blur in the first attack. But now, she could not see completely with her right eye! This was a heavier blow for her. The local doctor concluded that the retina was fine, but he could do nothing with so much blood flooding her eye. Unsatisfied with the answer, we directly flew to Singapore to find a better solution. The trip to Singapore was a case of a man with vertigo leading his half-blind wife. What a scene! How weak we were! Where were our youth and vigor? Yet, the Singaporean doctor said the same thing. My wife needed to rest like before for three months to let the body absorb the blood. Three months of being inactive! That was too much for her. But, three months? That would mean September, October, and November. So close to our schedule to Osaka! How if she did not fully recover yet by the time? We prepared our heart for the possibility to cancel the trip. Well, health was the number one priority, right?

Our life was drastically changed. We were at the peak of our business. She handled two progressing business, and I ran a company of my own with seven branches which were still expanding. We purposefully worked separately since we were not good at cooperating with each other. But now, we agreed to slow down. It became our motto. Let the world run its course as fast as it wanted. As for us, we needed to slow down. I needed to take care of my wife, although I myself was weak. I also needed to attend to her emotional need for she was sad and fearful. This fierce tiger of mine had suddenly become timid. Every day she would raise her fingers in front of her eye to check whether there was an improvement on her sight or not, a behavior that reminded me of my late father. He also had a retina problem before he died. Yet, there was thirty years gap between my wife and my father. She did not suppose to be like this.

My wife recovered quicker than we thought. Praise the Lord! We would not need to waive our tickets to Osaka!

But, then … something worst happened.

In November, my wife told me that we had almost overdue vouchers to do free health check-up for both of us. She did not want to waste them. I agreed to do it since I thought it would be quick. Half a day was more than enough. My wife and I felt healthy; we had nothing to worry. Her eyesight was improving, and my vertigo was not as severe as before. What was different in this health check was the abdomen check. We never did this before. We took it for granted. Usually, we concerned only about the blood test and cardiac health. If the free voucher did not include the abdomen test, for sure, we would not sign up for it.

I remembered. It was Tuesday.

Coming out from the USG abdomen test room, my wife looked tense.

“What happens?” I asked.

“The doctor sees a bulge in my left kidney …” she answered worriedly.

Oh, my God!

What was this, o Lord? Please, I did not want to hear something frightful. I hope it was not the thing I thought it was.

Next was a hectic week for us. The doctor recommended CT-Scan for further examination. We scheduled it right away for the next day, on Wednesday. The result was consulted with a local kidney doctor, who informed us that 90 percent of this case was malignant cancer. It was an enormous blow to my wife. She could not even cry. What we could do was to gather as many information as possible from the doctor and what course of actions available to us. One consolation was when the doctor said, “you are lucky! Cases like this are usually diagnosed too late since symptoms only appear at a later stage. You discover it by accident. It is God’s providence. Now you are at stadium one. And also, the cancer was at the periphery of the kidney; there is a good chance it has not spread into the main organ.”

That night, we decided to get a second opinion from Singapore, since we were still Singapore-minded in terms of health care. We bought the first ticket for tomorrow morning for just the two of us – well, this was not considered a honeymoon, right? We researched the best doctors there and made an appointment for tomorrow. That Thursday, we flew to Singapore in the morning, consulted two doctors, and flew back to Indonesia in the afternoon. There was a big decision to make. And the decision must be quick. I prayed for her. That night, after much personal struggling, she made the decision for surgery with one of the Singaporean doctors. Actually, all the schedule for the surgery was fully booked. My wife couldn’t have one soon. But, there was one schedule available on Monday because the supposed patient did not make a confirmation. We quickly took the slot.

That Friday, I prepared all the funds necessary for the surgery, which was a lot. My wife prepared for the insurance documents. And we bought another flight to Singapore for Saturday.

We took the surgery package from the hospital to save money. The package gave us the standard room. But because all the standard room were full, they transferred my wife to the VIP with no additional charge. Hooray! I had something to tell about the service in the VIP room later on. For now, it was enough to say that the room was very comfortable, much more comfortable than our hotel at Osaka later on. My wife rested that Saturday in the hospital to prepare for the surgery, while I took accommodation in the nearest hotel.

My wife was in a terrible state. She was worried to the core. She silently questioned why all these happened to her. She worried whether she would survive the surgery or not. Would she wake up from the anesthesia? Would the surgery be a success? Could the cancer be removed completely? Would she stay alive? She was so depressed. She could not even pray. I realized she was entering the darkest hour of her life. I knew I could not show my worry to her. I exerted myself to be calm. I motivated her, assured her, and prayed for her. I was by her side all the time. I felt very close to her, a feeling I never felt before.

Then it was time for the surgery on Monday.

I accompanied her to the anesthesia room until the doctor told me to leave. I smiled at her, said some motivating words, and go. Then I cried in silence. All the worry that I suppressed so far in front of her came to me when I was alone. Would this be the last time I saw her alive? Had I been a good angel to her? Alone in the cold waiting room, I struggled. It was like forever. The waiting opened up a wound in my soul. Was I not familiar with this waiting? Three years ago, in this same hospital, I waited like this for my father’s brain surgery, and the surgery failed. My father died at this hospital. Oh, I was so afraid the same would happen again. “Oh, Lord. Please don’t do this to me …” It was my Gethsemane.

Then the doctor called me.

He told me the operation was a success! I was relieved to hear that. I just need to wait for her to wake up.

She was brought back to the hospital room in a semi-conscious state. I waited by her side. I looked at her. Was she the woman I love? The yes and no seemed to be a package. To love is a journey of success and failure. For me, it is a journey to appreciate who God has given to me.

My wife’s condition improved day by day. She could smile again. She was the type of woman who would never waste whatever good the world gave to her. The VIP room had a list of lunch and dinner menu, and to my amazement, the menu included lobster! Could you believe that? Lobster as the menu in a hospital! My wife ordered that menu almost all the time! And she devoured it by herself; nothing left for me. She was like a child with her childishness.

The doctor reported that the cancer was successfully removed. She did not need to worry about that for the rest of her life, so said the doctor. Only 1 centimetre of her kidney was cut out, so the organ was pretty much intact. There was no restriction on food. “Could I eat musang king durian?” asked my wife. What a question! Yet, desire is always a sign of life. “Yes, sure! Eat as much as you want,” said the doctor. I was a bit worried about that bold statement. The only restriction was not to lift heavy things and to swim in public for a while.

“I guess we need to cancel our trip to Osaka,” I said to the doctor.

“When was the trip?” asked the doctor.

“Two weeks from now. She must still be weak by the time,” I replied.

“I tell you what. By all means, go! Enjoy your time in Osaka!” prescribed the doctor. I could not believe my ear.

We took several days in Singapore to help my wife recover. Of course, she asked for the musang king durian near our hotel. We also used the opportunity to visit the eye doctor. The doctor was amazed to see her improvement. “Are you the same person as you were three months ago?” the doctor could not hide his amazement. My wife was in a happy mood. She thought all these experiences were a miracle. How could she not? She discovered the cancer by accident, and it was in an early stadium, and it was only in the periphery. Then the operation was a success. Then she got lobsters and musang king durian. And on top of that, the insurance (Manulife, I openly said) covered the bill in full! The only thing she forgot to count as a miracle was the presence of an angel sent to her: Me.  

As for me, this was also a healing experience. I recounted before that I brought my father to this same hospital three years ago, and he died here. It left a trauma in me. Now, I took my wife to the same hospital, and she recovered. It healed her and me, at the same time. Three years ago, I also brought my father to the same eye doctor due to his losing eyesight, and he did not recover. Now I took my wife to the same eye doctor, and she regained her sight. What a curious life pattern! Just a coincidence?

Finally, Osaka!

It was the honeymoon that almost got cancelled! It became an unforgettable journey for us. It was a journey of a just-recovered people, physically and emotionally, and a just-recovered marriage. In my physical weakness, I continued to be an angel guiding my wife strolling along the dotonbori street. I just found out how attached she was to the okonomiyaki and takoyaki. I lost count how many times she bought them during our trip. But I must admit, I could not find the same quality of the food in my country! She was happy during this honeymoon, especially for having a private photographer like me, I guessed. We visited Nara to watch the deers lived and walked among humans. We visited the famous castle which was even more beautiful during this fall season. Yes, it was autumn. We purposefully chose that time of the year to see the colorful maple leaves. Hopefully, our old age would be as colorful as the autumn leaves. We visited several temples famous for their autumn view. Not to forget, we visited the Koriyama Goldfish museum. By day we travelled to these places by train, and we came back to Osaka at night to visit stores in Dotonbori street.

The deers at Nara
An autumn hill at Arashiyama, Kyoto

One theme of life emerged for us during the travel. We did not want to live in a hurry anymore. What we need was: to slow down. Yes, it was our new theme. To slow down.

One night, as we walked slowly through Dotonbori to go back to our hotel, I saw a woman displayed strawberries in her stall. At a glance, I saw something whitish. I paused for a moment to get a clearer view of what it was. It was … the white strawberries! Wow! I stumbled upon a treasure!

The heart’s desire

I was and would always be a shy person, I guessed. That was why I needed my wife. I asked her to buy the white strawberry for me. But after looking at the price, she decided to buy the red ones instead, of the Amao variety. At our hotel room, we consumed the Amao strawberry, and they were sweet and tasty. But I put on a sad face since she did not buy me what I wanted. When the heart yearned for a particular thing, nothing else would satisfy it. I reasoned where else could we find a white strawberry? When we visited the temple around Osaka, we saw people sold strawberries, but no white one, right? Even in Japan, the white strawberry was rare. This might be a chance of a lifetime. Why didn’t she want to buy them for me? I regard rarity highly, while she the price. I was like a child so persistent to her mother to buy him the toy he wanted.

The next day, she bought one box for me, consisted of roughly six pieces of the fruit. I was so excited. We consumed them in our hotel in no time. I was very pleased to have the desire of my heart fulfilled. Well, frankly, if I were blindfolded, I would not be able to distinguish the taste between the white one and the red one. I was not that sensitive to taste. I tried to figure out the flavor of pineapple that people on the internet said about the white strawberry, but I had a hard time discovering it. Perhaps, my yearning for the white strawberry was not entirely rational, as was the case with any desire. Anyway, I was happy over the white strawberry. One dream realized, one desire fulfiled. What an experience! I know life breaks people more often than let them acquire their dreams. I was blessed to finally meet the intent of my heart, though just for a moment. But as desire breeds desire, I began to think about being the first white strawberry farmer in my country! Was it possible? I knew it was not. But, I was familiar enough with living with impossibility, wasn’t I?

I asked my wife to buy three more boxes. I wanted to give one to my mother, one to my pastor, and one for ourself. Too bad, when we arrived back to Indonesia, they began to rot. I could not give them as a gift to my pastor. I managed to save some for my mother. I also managed to pick some seeds from the skin of the white strawberry and tried to germinate them, but to no avail. Well, perhaps I dreamed too highly, as I also dreamed too ideally about my marriage before, until reality intruded. Anyway, the encounter with the white strawberry was precious, as precious as the experience of life and death we just went through. Not all worked out as expected, and life was a constant adjustment to our expectation, a lesson to treasure what we already had. The story of the white strawberry is a story of the yearning of the heart.

In Indonesia, I tried to find white strawberry seed from the local online shop but cannot find one. I bought red strawberry sprouts instead. Perhaps I could learn to grow the local strawberry before one day – if it was possible –  I acquired the seed of the true white strawberry. Dream on. But stay in reality. The climate in my town was hot; it was not a suitable condition to grow any strawberry, I knew. However, I still tried. Tried to forget about the white strawberry. Tried to grow what was available: the red strawberry and the marriage I had. This time, with more proper expectation and adjustment.

Cheers to life! Until the next honeymoon.


September 22, 2020

My wife and me

One thought on “The Story of a White Strawberry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s