Not a day goes by without me thinking about the accident. I should have been more careful. Or even better, we should have just stayed at home. Why couldn’t it be me, instead of her? She’s only a child. Dang it! If there is a higher power watching over us, why couldn’t you save her? How could you let this happen to an 8 year old? She wanted to be an athlete. Now, her dreams are shattered and it’s all my fault.
23rd January 2022, was a bitterly cold Sunday in Worester, Canada. I was driving home after picking up Kuriyama and Machiko from a birthday party. Machiko was very happy after spending the afternoon with her best friend, Jenny.
Living in a small town meant there weren’t many kids about, and the few that were, lived at least a mile or two away from each other. This was the case with Jenny. She lived four miles away from us. Machiko had become fast friends with Jenny when we moved here 4 years ago from Ontario. There was only one school nearby and the small number of children our rural town had went there.
As the weather had been quite snowy that day, I had offered to drive the girls there and back. Machiko was busy rambling on about all the games they played and Kuriyama smiled at me, the kind of smile that said she was very happy and content in life. Kuriyama was the kind of woman who found joy in the simplest of things, whether it was watching our daughter play, or me reading the newspaper. That’s one of the many reasons why I loved her so much. She brought a lot of happiness into my life.
The snow had gotten worse and the roads were getting icier and slippery as we neared home. “We are less than five minutes from home. We should make it just fine. I’ll drive slower, but hang on tight everybody.” I was slowly starting to panic inside, as I couldn’t see more than five metres ahead of me. My six year old daughter was starting to get quite scared and Kuriyama was doing all she can to keep her calm. Unfortunately, we were on a stretch of country road just before the house and it would have been stupid to stop in the freezing cold. With no safe areas to take shelter, the best thing for us to do was keep moving. As I approached the final bend, I saw bright headlights ahead of me, it was hard to figure out how far exactly the car was and what side of the road they were on. Before I could even take another breath in, the headlights blinded me. I watched in horror as I swerved to avoid collision and ended up going off road and straight into the snowy woodland.
I slowly gained consciousness to find myself in a daze, trying to make sense of what just happened. Kuriyama laid still on the airbag, I checked for pulse and felt my heart sink into my stomach when I failed to find a beat. Her body was ice cold. “Daddy...” I heard a faint voice behind me. I was able to unbuckle and get out of the car with a few cuts and bruises. Machiko was alive but her legs were stuck. “Stay still, Machiko. I’m calling for help.”
The emergency team arrived in record time and took us all to the hospital. At some point, I must have passed out due to excessive blood loss. It took them a few days to get me back on my feet. Kuriyama was gone. The love of my life was no longer alive and my daughter was just about hanging to her life. I wish I never drove, I wish we stayed home or at Jenny’s. Her parents offered to hold us up till the weather settled and I wish I had listened to them. It was all my fault.
Even after years of therapy, I still blame myself for everything. Their life was my responsibility, and I failed them.
I have spent the last two years building her, hoping she helps make life easier for Machiko. With all the qualities of her mother. My employers have been kind enough to fund the whole project and if things go the way I hope, Machiko’s robot could be the first of many to help vulnerable people around the world.
“Daddy...” I heard her voice over the intercom and rushed to her room.
“Yes, Machiko. Is everything okay?”
“Yes it is Daddy. It’s my birthday today! Does that mean I get to have cake for breakfast?” I laughed. Every birthday morning, we let her have cake for breakfast and today was no different. Before the accident, Kuriyama would wake up in the early hours of the morning and bake a chocolate cake for our daughter. It always looked and tasted absolutely delicious! You could taste all the love and hard work she put into things with every single bite.
I could feel tears filling up my eyes as the memory of the three of us sitting at the table laughing and eating cake. We all knew it was an unhealthy way to start the day, but for one day a year, we threw out the rule book and enjoyed doing all the things that our daughter wanted. This has meant jumping around in the mud, going for a family run and even wearing tutu’s all day. No matter how crazy the idea was, we all took part in it as a family. One year, we had nothing but spaghetti bolognese to eat all day. Let’s just say, we skipped pasta for a while after that.
I sat on her bed and helped her out of bed. Having lost majority of any feeling in her legs, Machiko relied on her wheelchair and my assistance to get out and about. During the day, we had a nanny come in to look after her and take her to school. However, as her birthday fell on a Saturday this year, it meant we could spend the whole day together doing whatever she had in mind.
First thing first, we brushed our teeth in a synchronised fashion and washed our faces. After getting her into her chosen outfit for the day, she decided I had to be Captain America because in her eyes, I was the strongest man she knew. If only that were true...
Dressed as Iron Man and Captain America, we made our way into the kitchen. This was going to be the moment I would introduce her to her new companion. Over the years, she had seen her fair share of my projects around the house. I often tested them at home before they were ready for the world to try. Regardless, I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for what I was about to show my lovely child.
She settled herself in her spot at the table and to her confusion, so did I. “Daddy, where’s the cake?”
“Sweetheart, don’t worry. It’s on it’s way.” She looked confused and before her curious mind would ask more questions, a friendly female voice made its way to the table, singing the birthday song.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you...”
Machiko’s eyes filled up almost immediately as Kuri wheeled herself over to the table. “No sweetheart, this is Kuri. Her voice is similar to your mother’s but it’s not your Mum.” Her face was quite expressionless. I have never seen her so unsure about something. I wasn’t sure if she was sad, angry or scared. Just before I got to say something, Kuri chimes in.
“Happy Birthday, Machiko. My name is Kuri and I am your home bot. I am very pleased to meet you!” Kuri’s circular facial expression showed she was genuinely pleased to be there. I wanted her to be as realistic as I possibly could.
Machiko sat silently and after a few minutes, it looked like the initial shock was wearing off. “Thank you, Kuri. You may place the cake on the table.”
“Of course, Mr. Peters.” She put the cake down and her mechanical arms retracted back into her round body. “Is there anything else I can do for you both?”
“No, thank you, Kuri. Please wait for us in the living room.”
“Honey, what do you think? Do you like your birthday present? She will be your companion at home, so you’ll never be alone.”
After a moment of silence, she spoke. “Thank you, Daddy. But I am not alone. I don’t need a robot, I have you.” I got the feeling she thought it was a replacement for me. So I had to make sure she was aware that it was not the case.
“And you will always have me. I made Kuri for you. She will help you with anything you like when I am out at work. She even has a function that lets you video call me anytime you want. In fact, Kuri is just another way to to keep us connected at all times. Don’t you think that’s a great idea?”
She smiled. “Yes, that’s a great idea!”
“You can teach Kuri anything you like.”
“You named her Kuri. That’s what you called Mummy.”
“Yes.” I took a pause before going any further. “I used your mother’s name so you know, your mother is always with you and Kuri will do her best to learn everything you teach her. She’s even programmed to sing all the songs that you mother once sang to you.”
Today, Machiko is in college and Kuri still lives in the house. With Kuri’s help, Machiko was able to slowly start walking again. Their friendship evolved over the years and somehow, a robot named after her mother gave her a new lease on life.