by James Kester
Sunlight casts strange, twisting shadows on the domed glass. The sky beyond is dazzling, so beautiful, an ocean of endless ochre and gold. Against this magnificent backdrop his terror seems small, insignificant.
Sachiko , I am to be buried in the sky . . .
The yoke twists, wings bank. Gravity settles upon his chest like the palm of an unseen god as the green carpet of land below gives way to ocean. A new horizon, a contrasting line of sea and gleaming sky, as sharp as the divider between night and day. Like a sensory extension, he can feel the plane around him, slaved to the direction of his will. The roar and pull of the engine synchs with his fast-beating heart.
He hears her voice in his head. To die is your duty.
On the dashboard – held by a single faded scrap of tape – is a grainy black and white photograph of a young woman in a flower-print dress (The flowers are Red Lotus, he can conjure their vibrant hues, feel the silken folds of the fabric, even smell the delicate jasmine of her skin). Touching the tips of his gloves to the photograph – as if by some strange osmosis he might connect with her through memories – he hears the soft pulse of her heart competing with his own. Her breath is in his ear, whispering.
Her tears feel warm on his cheeks.
The plane is climbing; sunlight loops above his head like a fiery, elongated palm. The sea below is a series of tattered dunes. Across them, her final words to him echo: Though fear may fill your heart, know that you were born to fly . . .
He nods in agreement. Since he was a child, his world has been the sky. He remembers his first time in a cockpit the way some remember their first taste of ice-cream, or that first stolen kiss. The dark, mechanical grotto of the engine was his sand-box, the smell of oil and sweat like perfume to his senses, the clouds his playground. To out-fly the birds, to leave the earth on sycamore wings, hauling the stick one way and feeling his soul soar the other. Solid ground is no substitute for this, this, this . . .
A flicker of motion disrupts his reverie. Somehow a spider has stowed aboard, dangling from a gossamer thread above his knees. What must it make of this wild cacophony of wind and motors? He plucks at the thread, but makes no attempt to break it. The spider hangs motionless for a second then scurries up its wire as though it were a prize being reeled-in by a fisherman. He’s comforted by its presence, for now he will not be alone on this journey.
‘Welcome,’ he says. Then, to her, Did you send it?
In his mind, he sees her brow raise, enigmatic.
‘Little friend,’ he says to the spider, ‘if you’re to join me you must have a name.’ He studies the spindly form unfurling like a miniature umbrella. ‘It will be Sky-Spinner!’ Playfully, he taps the thread again, the spider twitches its disgruntled response.
Far below lies a tousled carpet of clouds, like white mountains, bathed in sunlight. A multitude of needles flicker; his altitude climbs to 7,000 metres, speed 450kph. The plane purrs like the predator she is. Birds can only dream of such performance! It feels like his soul is trying to leave his body. All at once a gap appears in the clouds, beyond it is a glittering blue infinity. The ocean. He had almost forgotten.
Gripping the yoke with both hands he pushes the plane into a shallow descent; the engine climbs in corresponding pitch, blood pools in his skull, colours sharpen with lurid detail. The needle rotates anti-clockwise and the numbers spin backwards, counting down towards the moment. Gravity lifts the base of the photograph level with his eyes. Monochrome cannot mask beauty. She has become a statue; but memory renders motion and she asks, Can death destroy love?
Nothing can destroy love, Sachiko.
Then, will you wait for me?
Of course I will wait for you.
The spider clambers back up its web, retreating beneath the foot-well, as though privy to their silent conversation.
Banking steeply, aiming for the hole in the clouds, the engine has become a banshee wail that even the funnelling wind cannot drown. The plane soars through the gap into a white tunnel of clouds. Frothing waters climb to greet it.
‘I’m afraid, Sky-Spinner.’
Pushing with all his might, the screaming reaches its fiercest pitch. Gravity releases, his body is pressed back against the seat. The edges of the photograph lift again like a trap-door. Their eyes lock, across time and space. She’s telling him how much she loves him.
I promise you, Sachiko, our love will outlast death itself . . .
The spider emerges once more, scrambling along his thigh, coming to rest in his lap. It looks like a black snowflake. A nice image to end on. He closes his eyes.
The deck of the American gunship approaches. In his final moments he holds her memory tight. He is skilful, a leaf borne on the divine wind.
Divine Wind was inspired by an article written by Matthew M. Burke and Chiyomi Sumida about a series of letters left behind by a Kamikaze pilot, Imperial Japanese Army Lt. Ryoji Uehara. Kamikaze were the suicide bombers of their time, and have often been depicted as fanatics, embarking on their final voyages with mindless obeisance, uttering the final military cheer ‘Banzai!’ as their bomb-laden planes found their target. But Uehara’s letters reveal an intellectual, impressionable and conflicted youth, drawn into conflict more because of what he had lost than what he stood to gain. It was this flip-side of heroism – and the fact that motivation is never a clear cut affair – that James Kester aims to reflect in his story above all else. See more of James’s work at www.jameskester.co.uk or find him on Twitter @jkesterauthor.