After a long day of classes I flopped into bed in my dorm room, when my laptop lit up with a new message.
It was from a guy called Leon who went to the same university.
Hey, I think you’re really sweet, it read. Then he went on to confess that he had feelings for me.
I’ve only spoken to him once! I thought.
Not knowing what to do, I went to bed and the next day, I avoided all the scheduled mealtimes so I wouldn’t have to see him. Sneaking into the dining room after dinnertime, I immediately spotted Leon huddled over the buffet scrounging leftovers.
‘Hey,’ I said awkwardly, as our eyes made contact.
Washing our dishes together we laughed about how we were both trying to avoid the other.
He’s actually kind of cute! I thought.
After that, Leon and I quickly fell for each other. ‘He’s the only person I’ve ever been in love with,’ I told my sister Sherry.
A year later, Leon and I went on holiday to Japan. I knew Leon had studied in Toyko, but stepping off the plane, I couldn’t believe it when he started speaking fluent Japanese!
Showing me around, I fell as in love with the culture and the country as Leon had, and over the next few years, we went back three times. On one of our trips, Leon took me to a beautiful rainforest where he pulled out a ring.
‘You are the most generous person I have ever known,’ he began. ‘Will you marry me?’
‘One hundred times yes!’ I cried, leaping into his arms.
The following year, we returned once again, but while Leon had to go home, I got a job in a school in the town of Hita.
Sitting in my tiny apartment that night in April 2016, I looked at the clock.
Leon will be half way home by now, I thought.
Suddenly, the place started rocking.
Earthquake! I realised, piercing my skin with my ngernails.
When the shaking stopped, I stuffed a bag full of necessities in case I needed to flee quickly. But when the rumbling didn’t return after a day, I assumed that had been the main shock.
Then, at 1am the next morning, I was woken when my body was being thrown from side to side.
Plates were smashing around me and staring at the ceiling my mind was racing.
Is the apartment above going to crush me? I thought, terrified.
As the lights flickered I messaged my friends nearby.
Then while the floor beneath me shook, I flung my emergency pack across my shoulder and stumbled down the hall, gripping the walls. Running out into the street I saw my neighbours pour out onto the road, too.
All around us, buildings were falling to the ground and trees crumbled on top.
When the rumbling finally stopped, the only sound to be heard was tears, as people desperately searched for loved ones. Finding my friends, we made our way to the evacuation centre, which was crammed full of people and found a small spot on the cold concrete floor.
Everyone was covered in dust and the evacuation centres were filled with a deafening silence.
The entire Kumamoto area had been hit. Once Leon had landed, we spoke on the phone.
‘I’m completely fine,’ I told him.
But I felt so sad for the people who lived in Hita. Their beautiful town had mostly been reduced to rubble, but compared to other places, we were lucky. Over the next few days everyone united, sharing clothes and food, and helping clear the debris.
Soon, I went back to my apartment and slowly the town began to be rebuilt.
‘We should get married here,’ I told Leon one day. ‘I want the whole town to have a reason to smile.’
So I concocted a plan. For a bit of fun, I contacted the Guinness World Records to tell them I wanted to attempt the biggest number of flower girls in a wedding ceremony.
Plastering signs all over the town, I invited everyone to sign up to be one of my ower girls.
Then I set up a wedding station in a local restaurant, so they could come and put their names down.
‘253!’ we squealed, counting them all up. ‘Surely that’s a record,’ I said.
Then the whole town banded together, sewing and baking. Last April – a year on from the destructive earthquake – our friends and family flew in for our big day.
Walking in pairs, my ower girls sprinkled petals down the aisle before my dad Don gave me away. After Leon and I said our vows, we kissed under the cherry blossoms and the town exploded into cheers.
Then we filled the streets and sang and danced. A few months later, Guinness World Records contacted us to say we of officially held the record.
By then I was back home in Australia with my new hubby, so we video chatted with our Japanese family. Projected onto a building, we shared the great news with them. As they all jumped for joy, it was so great to see everyone celebrating again.
I am so lucky I got to share the happiest day of my life with a town that needed a bit of happiness in theirs.
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