Lina was seven years old when her parents took her to Japan for a holiday. She would have rather gone to Disneyland, but they’d promised to take her there another time.
They had been to several different places around the country and were now in Iga, a small city in the middle of Honshu – the largest of Japan’s islands. The area was full of mountains and trees, and there was not much to do there except visit a few temples and go on long, boring walks. At least, that’s what Lina would have said if you asked her.
It was a warm, sunny day in Iga, and the family had set out on a trip to find a nearby waterfall. Lina’s mother had read about the place in a book and was determined to find it without the help of a guide. They had packed plenty of food and some extra layers, for in the shaded valley of the forest it could get rather chilly.
Lina took her new Nikon camera, which her parents had bought her in Tokyo as an early birthday present. She didn’t much like walking but kept herself occupied taking photos of the beautiful trees and wildlife that surrounded her, so very different to what she was used to seeing back home.
The walk seemed to go on forever, and they had to retrace their steps more than once thanks to the unclear paths, but finally they heard the sound of running water and knew they were nearly at their destination.
The sound got louder and as they rounded the final corner, there was the waterfall in all its magnificence. Lina had to admit, it was quite spectacular the way the water tumbled off the cliff so high above and each drop seemed to free-fall its way down before joining together in the churning mass at the bottom.
Lina’s parents suggested having a swim in the calm pool below to cool off, but Lina dipped a toe in and decided it was far too cold, so she left them to it and went off in search of something else to photograph.
A butterfly caught her attention as it landed on a leaf nearby. It was bigger than any she’d seen before, and its iridescent wings were splashed with bright red, green and blue. Lina approached it as quietly as she could so that she could get a good shot, but the click of the shutter must have startled the butterfly and it flitted off through the trees.
Determined to capture a photo of this beautiful creature, Lina followed it through the trees and waited for it to land. Again, it flew off just as she was lining up her shot. She followed it further and – third time lucky – she got the image she’d been hoping for.
Her satisfaction at capturing the perfect photo soon turned into dismay as she realised she could no longer hear the waterfall behind her. She had been concentrating so hard on keeping sight of the butterfly, she hadn’t been paying attention to the way she’d come. There was no path in sight, and she realised she was hopelessly lost in this Japanese forest.
Lina sat on a fallen tree trunk in tears, wondering what to do and desperately trying to listen for the waterfall. Suddenly – if it is possible for something so gentle to be sudden – the butterfly she had been chasing appeared again and landed on her hand. Although Lina couldn’t make out its face, she was sure it had a look of sadness about it.
The butterfly seemed to stare at Lina for a while, and then fluttered off a little way, where it stopped and hovered, as if waiting for Lina. Lina knew how ridiculous it was to imagine that a butterfly might be able to show her the way back to her parents, but feeling like she had no other option, she stood up, picked up her camera, and carefully walked towards the butterfly.
Seeing that she was following, the butterfly flicked its wings and continued into the forest, staying just a short distance ahead of the girl. They had only gone a short way when Lina heard the wonderful sound of rushing water again, and knew she was going to be safe. A few minutes more and they had reached the river that ran down from the pool where Lina’s parents were bathing.
They were just drying themselves off, oblivious to the peril their daughter had been in just a few minutes earlier.
Lina wondered to herself how she should thank the butterfly for helping her. She found herself quietly whispering “thank you” to it, as her parents approached. As if to acknowledge her thanks, the butterfly landed in the palm of her hand just long enough for her to take a one-handed photo, and then it flew off out of sight.
The rest of Lina’s trip was fairly uneventful, but when she got home she printed out a copy of the photo of the butterfly in her hand, and kept it on her bedroom wall as a reminder of her magical experience in Japan.
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