Chapter 54: welcome back

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 55

Parting from others is seldom easy, but was something to which the samurai had long been accustomed. When it was time to bid farewell to his new friends, he did so with a promise to return in the season of autumn.

“The autumn leaves are a multitude of colors, and the morning mists are tranquil and magical,” proclaimed Sky with childlike exuberance.

Her innocent excitement made him smile. He carried thoughts like that with him as he made the long trek by horseback to the village of Tsukimi. His Arabian seemed happy to return, and he was pleased to arrive the eve before Asako’s memorial day. Somehow he felt that, in spite of the parchment he found beside his pallet the morning he began his return journey, Asako knew he had not forgotten her.

Once in Tsukimi, he visited the Jade Teahouse for a hearty meal. The landlord greeted him with a smile; “Do-i-ta-shi-ma-shi-te (Welcome back),” he said. “There will be no charge for you.”

Sung Ji refused, but the landlord insisted… “At least for today; your first day back in Tsukimi…your first meal since returning. Please accept it as a humble gift to an honorable samurai.”

He did so, with gratitude, and as in the past, was oblivious to the excitement Asuka chan tried to conceal. She demurely served his table, first bringing ginseng and green tea, followed by vegetable tempura, stirred rice and udon soup. He declined Toshiro’s offer of sake, and chose sweet rice tea instead as an after dinner drink. In the kitchen, Asuka’s eldest sister Midori justshook her head, but refrained from criticism as she watched her younger siblings chatting, and Asuka jumping and clapping her hands with glee, her eyes full of fascination and wonder. ‘No more taunts or warnings’, Midori decided, ‘let her enjoy the moment’. Mariko shared her excitement, and if the truth were told, Midori did also. She liked to see Asuka happy, and thought her love for the samurai was cute…and innocently harmless. Both sisters inwardly hoped she could maintain that happiness, even if the mysterious girl in white recurred beside the samurai. Asuka seemed content to have her hopes and dreams, but refrained from acting on them. She had in fact, told Mariko it didn’t matter if the Sung Ji didn’t love her, as the love she had for him was something special and wonderful that she treasured. “He is in my heart,” she said. “I will love him always.”

Midori watched her make a trip to the samurai’s table and back to the kitchen, and although she could see from her younger sister’s actions that she was infatuated with the Korean, he himself seemed totally clueless. ‘A typical man’…thought Midori. But she knew he was more than that, and not just because he was samurai. She recalled what old blind Sayaka said about him the last time he was at the Jade Teahouse. Sayaka had asked about him, and Midori, puzzled by her awareness in spite of her lack of sight, told her he was an adventurer.

“He is a profound mystery,” Sayaka declared. “I sense that his negative and positive forces are moving in the same direction, creating a limbo-like cocoon around him, preventing either extreme loss or gain. Yet it is an imbalance, but….” she paused, “there is something powerful protecting him…something that keeps serious misfortune from befalling him…” Midori shook her head. Trying to make sense of it was too confusing. Sayaka-sama was always speaking in riddles, but there was something special about her. Toshiro said often that although she was blind, she could ‘see’ things that ordinary men and women could not.

Later that night, following another long day of work, Midori checked on her younger sisters before she retired to her room. The sliding door to their bedchamber still open, she peered in to see Mariko already asleep, but not Asuka. She was sitting alone in the dark, dreaming the dreams of a young girl in love. Midori watched her a few moments, then smiled before quietly going to her own room.


The next morning, Ahn Sung Ji was waiting beneath the shade of the twin tree when Ryoko and her family arrived to pay their respects to Asako and her parents.

“It seems like only yesterday,” said Ryoko.

“Dea,” the samurai replied thoughtfully, glancing at the small bundle nestled in her arms.

Ryoko’s two eldest children were at their father Junichi’s side, while their mother held the newest family member. Sung Ji smiled when he saw the child’s innocent face. “It appears Kyoko and Sajiro have a new sibling,” he surmised.

“She is just three months old,” Ryoko revealed.

“We’ve named her Asako,” said Junichi.

“Asako chan…” Sung Ji said affectionately with a smile.

“She has cousin Asako’s name,” Kyoko proudly proclaimed. “Cousin Asako is very happy now.”

Ryoko glanced over and down at Kyoko, but rather than chide the girl she smiled. Turning her attention back to the samurai, she asked the same question she had asked one year ago… “Will you be staying long?”

Sung Ji was contemplative a moment before he replied… “Dea,” he said as if having given the matter serious thought. “I’ve decided to give up wandering.”

Ryoko smiled and then turned to look at her husband, who nodded his head. “We’ve discussed it between ourselves and agree,” she explained to Sung Ji, “If we saw you here today we would ask if you could stay in my brother’s home. You can repay us by keeping up the house and property, and tending the gravesite. I think that would help my niece rest in peace. While she was alive, I always believed she was the kind of girl who, if she loved someone, would love that person until she died. Now I believe her capacity for love is much more profound…it is everlasting.”

Sung Ji was shocked. Before he could refuse Ryoko quickly added, as she bowed… “Please. You would honor us greatly by accepting.”

“Hai,” he said as he returned the bow.

“Very good,” said Junichi. “After paying our respects you can join us at your new home for dinner. We’ve brought provisions, and Ryoko and little Kyoko chan are wonderful chefs.”

Ryoko lowered her head in humble shyness, while Kyoko beamed with joy upon hearing her father say, what was to her, such a grand compliment.


The following day, Ryoko and her family bade the retired samurai farewell. Later that evening, he walked from the house to the gravesite beneath the great, intertwined twin-tree. After placing fresh flowers alongside the ones already there, he sat beside the grave contemplating a dream he had the night before. He dreamed he was standing on the precipice from which Asako had fallen. He was watching the large, bright full moon slowly rise when suddenly he heard a gentle, melodious voice say… “Ari-gatou go-zai-masu’ (Thank you)…for ‘Tsukiakari no Kairou wo oboete’ (Remember the moonlit corridor).”

In the dream, he knew to whom the voice belonged before he turned to find Asako standing behind him, a tear on her cheek, but a smile on her face. She stood there in the lunar light, solemn and serene, the long strands of her silken hair and her rose-colored scarf lifted by the night breeze. He awoke at that point, but felt at peace, more so than he could recall ever having felt before.

Twilight had fallen while he reminisced beneath the tree. The tree inspired a thought: he recalled what Kwai and Chiharu had said, and realized that he too had begun to believe that, like Asako’s tree, birth and death were intertwined: one could not exist without the other, and indeed, each is dependent upon the other.

Having had enough introspection, he raised Asako’s flute to his lips, breathed deeply, and began her mother’s favorite ai no san-ka. A few peaceful moments passed as he played, his face caressed by a gentle breeze while the notes lifted skyward, when abruptly his eyes caught sight of something wafting in the air. He continued to play as he watched the object languidly approach, and then stopping directly in front of him it slowly spiraled downward, settling onto his lap. He ceased his playing, and with his right hand reached for and picked up what he discovered was a sakura blossom. It was a deep rose-red, which was unusual, and had evidently been carried on the night winds all the way from the tree-lined road that led back to Tsukimi. ‘That was quite a distance’, he thought as he recalled something Kyoko said to him before she and her family departed: “Once when I was sad missing cousin Asako she came to me at night and told me she could make me smile.” The little girl smiled then as she continued “Did you know that some flowers grow on trees?”  Kyoko chan beamed, as if pleased with herself for remembering something she thought delightful. Sung Ji smiled now as he recalled that moment, and marveled at the shape of the blossom in his hand. In all his years in Japan, he had never seen a red sakura blossom like this one: it was the shape of a heart. A gift, he knew, from Asako. Although a long way from his native country of Korea, Ahn Sung Ji, for the first time in his life, felt as though he was finally home.


Submitted: August 31, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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