The Peach Boy

Artwork by Dmitry Borshch.

And so came the day when Momotaro, whose parents found him inside of a peach, grew tired of adventures and settled down with a samurai’s daughter. For years they found happiness, planting peach trees on their land, telling stories to each other—her tales of warriors on horseback wearing masks of monsters, his tales of demons, of fellowships forged with talking bees, millstones, crabs, and cow dung. But while their lives were seemingly full, the samurai’s daughter felt an emptiness in the house. And so every year they tried, in vain, to have a child. Each birth came too early, the samurai’s daughter producing a peach pit with the face of a crying boy or girl. She placed the pits on shelves alongside name cards—Misora, Eiko, Manabu, Ayu, Sachiko, Matsue, Hirano, Yoshi, Suzume—and prayed for their spirits every night. More and more shelves were built but with every pit added to the wall, the samurai’s daughter’s melancholy grew deeper, until, at six months in again, she heard a heavy plop in the outhouse and made a decision to stop collecting her pits entirely.

One day, Momotaro, while clearing the outhouse, discovered that a peach tree had begun to grow. He took the sapling, cleaned it off, and planted it in front of their house. And seeing how the pits on the shelves only saddened his wife, he asked her if he could try planting those as well. “Let them grow,” he said. “Let them live.” She hesitantly agreed, so long as he didn’t take them all at once. So, one-by-one he planted peach trees as gifts, outside the homes of his neighbors.

Rainstorms came and went, the laughter of children in the summer had come and gone until those children weren’t children at all. At long last, the first peaches began to grow, and the village waited in anticipation of harvest. On Official Peach Day, a holiday declared by the local samurai, families brought out baskets to collect the first fruit, sinking their teeth into a juicy peach or two as they worked. What the villagers had noticed, however, is that each tree, while being perfectly unremarkable otherwise, possessed one gargantuan peach that equaled at least a dozen or more of a standard size.

“This big one is enough for dinner,” one man remarked.

“My children will have a lot of fun sharing this,” a woman said.

That night, as families sat down to enjoy their bounty, the giant peaches began to rock back and forth. An infestation, many thought—worms, rodents. Eat around the ruined parts, a mother told her children; we can’t afford to waste. The children cut into the peach with knives, with their bare hands. They stuffed their faces and smiled. And then, suddenly, the eating stopped. They could hear crying. One child could see an outline of a mouth beneath the peach flesh, another could make out a finger. The mother carefully removed the rest of the fruit and uncovered a healthy baby girl. In the next house, a bachelor held a baby boy, in the house of a widower crying could be heard, and in the home of Momotaro, the samurai’s daughter was filled with joy. She cradled her son, Hayato, looked up to her husband and said: “Find the rest of my children. Bring them back to me.”