Koiwai-san shuffled through the crowd, trying to find his way back to his hotel room. He was supposed to be on vacation here, but he felt homesick. He was a foreigner in a strange land, and the only thing that felt familiar about this place was the fact that most residents spoke Japanese, which was his native language.
He felt a light tap on his back. It was as if someone was trying to tap him on the shoulder, but was too short to actually do so.
As he whirled around, he saw that this was exactly the case. A young girl of about four or five was standing behind him, looking up at him with huge, bright green eyes that seemed to be filled with wonder. The most unusual thing about her appearance was her hair. It was done into four stubby pigtails, and was the same green color as her eyes. Surely her hair must’ve been dyed that color; Kowai-san was pretty sure that no one could have naturally green hair. Especially a shade that bright.
The little girl opened her mouth and began to speak.
“Ohhh!” she cried. “Hello! Yotsuba’s lost. Can you help me?”
“Um, sure,” Koiwai-san replied awkwardly, taking her by the hand.
This kid’s pretty weird, he thought to himself.
“So,” he said to her as they walked along, “you never told me what this Yotsuba looks like. Can you, uh, describe her to me?”
“She looks like this!” the little girl exclaimed, pointing to herself. She wore a huge grin.
“Huh?” Koiwai-san said, puzzled. “Is she your twin?”
“Yotsuba...” the little girl said, “is me!”
So she refers to herself in the third person, thought Koiwai-san. That’s a bit...odd.
“Oh, okay,” he said amiably. “Nice to meet you, Yotsuba.”
“You too!” she exclaimed. “What’s your name, Mister?”
“You can call me Koiwai-san,” he said.
Koiwai-san could get used to this girl’s quirkiness. It was pretty charming, actually. The strangest thing of all, though, was how cheerful she was, considering she was a little girl barely out of her toddler years and she was lost in a city that Koiwai-san would’ve thought big and frightening when he was her age.
“Yotsuba, do you know where your mommy and daddy are?” he asked.
“Huh...uh...wuh…” Yotsuba stammered. “Who are they?”
Then it hit Koiwai-san.
She doesn’t have any parents, he realized. She’s an orphan.
“Who takes care of you?” he reiterated in a more Yotsuba-friendly manner.
“The, uh, oh… orpuh...orphanage!” she stuttered and then finally exclaimed triumphantly.
“Ah,” Koiwai-san said, feeling a sense of tender pity for the girl. “I saw an orphanage a few streets away from here. Is it big and gray?”
“Yes!” Yotsuba cried.
“Is there a white sign with big black letters there?”
“Okay, I think I can get you back there, Yotsuba-chan,” said Koiwai-san.
“Cool!” Yotsuba squealed.
She chattered happily away as they walked. Koiwai did his best to make sense of her talking, but it was a bit difficult. Then they came at last to the orphanage. Koiwai-san’s heart sank. He felt sad to leave Yotsuba.
At the door to the orphanage, a matronly, older woman in a ruffled apron greeted them. She looked like she might be good with children, but, to Koiwai, she didn’t seem to be a good fit for Yotsuba as a parent.
“You brought her back!” she said to Koiwai. “Thank you! I was so worried.”
“No problem,” Koiwai said with a smile.
“Bye-bye, Koiwai-san!” Yotsuba said, and the woman led her back into the building.
That night, Koiwai-san couldn’t stop thinking about Yotsuba. He wondered how she felt in that big, gray building, living without a real father or mother. He wished that he could do something to help her. He’d been a little bit like her as a child. Maybe, just maybe, he would make a good daddy for her.
The next day, Koiwai-san went walking to the orphanage. As he stepped inside, he was greeted with the sight of a room that looked old… and faded. A worn rug lay on the floor. There a was a wooden desk, at which a receptionist sat, her hands folded. A few pictures, drawn by children, were tacked onto the wall behind her, but they threatened to fall down.
“Hello!” the receptionist said. “What can I do for you today?”
“I’d like to visit Yotsuba,” Koiwai-san said.
“Follow me,” the lady said, leading Koiwai-san up a set of stairs and to a tiny room with a little bed in the corner, on which Yotsuba sat.
“Yotsuba,” the lady said. “You have a visitor!”
“Ah!” Yotsuba said, running to greet Koiwai, “Koiwai-san!”
She wrapped her arms around his waist. The lady giggled and then left them alone.
“Yotsuba was sad while you were gone,” Yotsuba informed Koiwai. “Please sit down.”
She patted a spot on the bed. Koiwai sat.
“It’s good to see you, Yotsuba-chan,” Koiwai-san said.
“Yotsuba likes seeing you, too!” Yotsuba squealed.
Koiwai-san ruffled the child’s hair, and Yotsuba laughed.
“Yotsuba,” Koiwai-san said, “you know what your hair reminds me of?”
“Ooh, what!?” Yotsuba asked.
“A four-leaf clover,” Koiwai-san said.
“Ah, those,” Yotsuba sighed. “Somebody said that if you find one, you’ll be happy forever!”
Being a father to Yotsuba would certainly make Koiwai happy forever. Maybe Yotsuba was his four-leaf girl. He knew what he had to do. He wanted to adopt Yotsuba.
“Yotsuba,” he said, “what would you think if you got to live with Koiwai-san?”
Yotsuba thought for a moment.
“Yotsuba would like that very, very much!” she exclaimed.
Koiwai-san sat down, reading through every word of fine print on the adoption papers. There wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do, he decided, to make Yotsuba’s life better. He could adopt her and then bring her to his home in Japan. They could live together as father and daughter. The head of the orphanage just had to sign the paper. He already had.
It didn’t take long for her to do so.
“Yotsuba will have a happy home with you, I think,” she said.
Then, out came Yotsuba to meet her new father.
“Koiwai-san!” she cried. “Again!”
She stumbled into his arms and they embraced.
“You’re living with me now, Yotsuba-chan,” he said to her. “You can call me Daddy.”
“Okay, Daddy!” Yotsuba heartily agreed. “Yotsuba… loves you.”