From that day on, Hachi walked to the train station with Professor Ueno every morning and met his train every afternoon. The Professor knew that Hachi ran home after his train left the station because his housekeeper told him so. Hachi kept himself very busy while the Professor was at work. He cleaned his paws and chased his tail. He sniffed the wind and chewed on sticks. He often took long naps in the sun under the cherry tree in the yard. But he always woke up in time to return to the station to meet his master's train.
The Station Master checked the time as soon as Hachi arrived. "Five minutes to three," he would announce, looking at the big clock hanging from the station's ceiling. "Hachi, you are always right on time. I could set that clock by you."
A year passed, and the Professor's routine did not change. He and Hachi walked to the train station in the spring, when the cherry blossoms bloomed, and in the summer, when the rains came. They walked to the train station in the autumn, when the leaves changed color, and in the winter, when the snow fell. The Professor was always the last one to step onto the train before it left in the morning, and he was always the first one to step off the train after it arrived in the afternoon. And Hachi was always there to meet him. He was never a minute early and never a minute late. And as soon as he saw the Professor, he always ran to his master, licked his fingers, and spun in joyful circles before him.
One morning in early May as the Professor and Hachi were taking their morning walk to the train station, Professor Ueno stopped to admire the many-colored fish-shaped banners hanging from bamboo poles outside the houses they passed. "Hachi. Sit. Look, little friend," the Professor said, pointing. "Those flags look like a type of fish called carp, and they have been hung in honor of Tango-no-Sekku, a special holiday that celebrates all the boys of Japan."
Hachi's eyes followed his master's finger toward the waving banners.
"It is traditional to hang a special carp flag for each boy in the family," the Professor told Hachi. "When I was young, a big red-and-white carp flag that looked exactly like that one flew for me." He gestured toward an especially large banner rippling in the wind.
"The carp is very strong and very brave, little friend. He must swim upstream against the current, and that takes great determination and perseverance. But once he does so, he knows he can overcome all of life's obstacles and difficulties. Every boy, including you, Hachi, must strive to be as strong and brave as the carp."
Hachi sat completely still with his ears thrust forward, listening carefully to the Professor as he always did when receiving such lessons from his master.
"Come, Hachi. It is time to catch my train. Heel." The Professor started off again, and Hachi fell into step beside him. It was a mild spring day, yet by the time Professor Ueno and Hachi walked up the steps to the train station, the Professor's face was covered with sweat. He removed his glasses and wiped his forehead with a clean white handkerchief.
"Good morning, Professor." The Station Master greeted Professor Ueno with a bow. "Hello, Hachi."
"Good morning, Mr. Yoshikawa." The Professor lifted his handkerchief and wiped his brow again.
"Are you not feeling well?" the Station Master asked, his voice full of concern. "Would you like a glass of water?"
"No, thank you. That is very kind of you, but I am fine," the Professor said, putting his handkerchief into his pocket. He showed the Ticket Taker his pass and walked through the doorway.
"Hachi!" Yasuo called. The Professor and Hachi crossed over to the platform.
"Happy Boys' Day, Yasuo," said the Professor.
"Thank you." said Yasuo. He ran his hands up and down the fur around Hachi's neck. "He has gotten so big."
"He stands almost two feet high now and weighs one hundred pounds. That is a good size for a male Akita," said the Professor, who never let an opportunity to teach go by.
"Feel his coat here." He guided Yasuo's hands to Hachi's chest. "This fur is his undercoat. It is n0 thicker and softer than the rest of his fur. Once the undercoat has come in, the Akita-ken is full grown."
"I am still growing," said Yasuo. "I am going to be very tall."
"Taller than I am?" teased the Professor, who was not tall at all.
"I hope so," said Yasuo, standing up on his toes.
"Yasuo!" said his mother in a scolding voice. "The Professor is a man of respect. Do not be rude to him."
But Professor Ueno only laughed. "I am sure you will rise to great heights," he said to the boy.
The nine o'clock train arrived right on schedule. As everyone clamored onto it, Professor Ueno leaned down to say good-bye to Hachi.
"What a good dog you are." He repeated the same words every day. "What a fine dog you are. Hachi, you are the best dog in all of Japan." He patted Hachi's head and kissed the tip of his nose.
"I will return at three o'clock," he reminded Hachi. "Farewell, little friend." The train pulled away, and the Professor waved as he always did.
Hachi stayed right where he was, watching the train as usual. But then he did something he had never done before. As the train picked up speed, Hachi chased after it and let out a loud bark.
"Wan-wan!" he called to Professor Ueno. And then again, "Wan-wan! Wan-wan!"
The Professor leaned out of the train with a worried look on his face. Was Hachi all right? But when he saw the dog standing on the platform and wagging his tail, he grinned and waved.
"Hachi, what a splendid voice you have," he called out proudly. "What a good dog you are. Farewell, little friend."
The Station Master walked over to Hachi and squatted down before him.
"What did you have to say to the Professor today that was so important?" he asked the Akita-ken.
But Hachi would not repeat himself. He merely turned and left for home.
At three o'clock that afternoon when the train pulled into Shibuya Station, Hachi sat in his usual spot by the tracks, his eyes focused on the first car's door. It slid open, and a woman in a blue-and-white kimono with a tiny baby strapped to her back stepped out. A man carrying a newspaper followed. Two young girls in matching blue skirts and white blouses with red kerchiefs tied around their necks came next. Where was the Professor? Hachi sat still as a statue, waiting. Finally Yasuo and his mother stepped onto the platform.
"Hachi!" Yasuo called. The dog barely looked at him. "Okaasan, where is the Professor? He was not on the train."
"Perhaps he was in another car," Mrs. Takahashi said, her eyes searching the platform. "I do not see him," she said. "Hachi, your master must have missed his train. Do not worry. I am sure he will be on the next one."
"Do not worry, Hachi," Yasuo repeated, patting the dog on the head.
Hachi sat up very tall and straight with his ears held erect, staring at the train tracks. When the next train arrived, he looked at each person who stepped out, but none of them was the Professor. Other trains came and went, each one discharging many passengers. Some people hurried by Hachi; others stopped and ran their hands along the dog's soft fur. Hachi paid no attention to any of them.
Hachi waited all afternoon and all evening as train after train pulled in and out of the station. Mr. Yoshikawa brought him water and tried to share a bowl of rice with him, but Hachi would not eat. Finally it was midnight, and the last train arrived at the station. Professor Ueno was not on it.
"Where can the Professor be?" the Station Master wondered out loud. He took off his hat and scratched the side of his head. "This is not like him. He never misses his train."
The Station Master put his hat back on and pulled the brim down low over his eyes. "I am sorry, Hachi. I have to close the station now. And you must go home. Go." Mr. Yoshikawa pointed his white glove at the stairway.
Hachi's eyes followed the Station's Master finger, but the rest of him did not move.
"I am sorry, Hachi, but you must go." Mr. Yoshikawa was kind yet firm as he forced Hachi through the station toward the exit.
Hachi did not want to leave, but he had no choice. The station was locked up tight behind him.
Copyright © 2004 by Leslea Newman
This text is from an uncorrected proof.