peonylanternlafacadiohearn

This story is beautiful, full of vivid characters and has haunted me for many years. So now I present it here, it is not my work, it was written by Lafcadio Hearn, published 1899, in Japan in a book called: In Ghostly Japan

It is available in project Gutenberg at: http://www.archive.org/details/inghostlyjapan08128gut and http://www.archive.org/details/inghostlyjapan00unkngoog Many thanks to the people at Project Gutenberg -see end of file.

A Passional Karma

–This is the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-Lantern:–

I

There once lived in the district of Ushigome, in Yedo, a hatamoto (1) called Iijima Heizayemon, whose only daughter, Tsuyu, was beautiful as her name, which signifies “Morning Dew.” Iijima took

a second wife when his daughter was about sixteen; and, findingthat O-Tsuyu could not be happy with her mother-in-law, he had apretty villa built for the girl at Yanagijima, as a separate

residence, and gave her an excellent maidservant, called O-Yone,to wait upon her.

O-Tsuyu lived happily enough in her new home until one day when

the family physician, Yamamoto Shijo, paid her a visit in company

with a young samurai named Hagiwara Shinzaburo, who resided in

the Nedzu quarter. Shinzaburo was an unusually handsome lad, and

very gentle; and the two young people fell in love with each

other at sight. Even before the brief visit was over, they

contrived,–unheard by the old doctor,–to pledge themselves to

each other for life. And, at parting, O-Tsuyu whispered to the

youth,–“Remember! If you do not come to see me again, I shall

certainly die!”

Shinzaburo never forgot those words; and he was only too eager to

see more of O-Tsuyu. But etiquette forbade him to make the visit

alone: he was obliged to wait for some other chance to accompany

the doctor, who had promised to take him to the villa a second

time. Unfortunately the old man did not keep this promise. He had

perceived the sudden affection of O-Tsuyu; and he feared that her

father would hold him responsible for any serious results. Iijima

Heizayemon had a reputation for cutting off heads. And the more

Shijo thought about the possible consequences of his introduction

of Shinzaburo at the Iijima villa, the more he became afraid.

Therefore he purposely abstained from calling upon his young

friend.

Months passed; and O-Tsuyu, little imagining the true cause of

Shinzaburo’s neglect, believed that her love had been scorned.

Then she pined away, and died. Soon afterwards, the faithful

servant O-Yone also died, through grief at the loss of her

mistress; and the two were buried side by side in the cemetery of

Shin-Banzui-In,–a temple which still stands in the neighborhood

of Dango-Zaka, where the famous chrysanthemum-shows are yearly

held.

(1) The hatamoto were samurai forming the special military forceof the Shogun. The name literally signifies "Banner-Supporters."These were the highest class of samurai,--not only as theimmediate vassals of the Shogun, but as a military aristocracy.

II

Shinzaburo knew nothing of what had happened; but his

disappointment and his anxiety had resulted in a prolonged

illness. He was slowly recovering, but still very weak, when he

unexpectedly received another visit from Yamamoto Shijo. The old

man made a number of plausible excuses for his apparent neglect.

Shinzaburo said to him:–“I have been sick ever since the

beginning of spring;–even now I cannot eat anything…. Was it

not rather unkind of you never to call? I thought that we were to

make another visit together to the house of the Lady Iijima; and

I wanted to take to her some little present as a return for our

kind reception. Of course I could not go by myself.”

Shijo gravely responded,–“I am very sorry to tell you that the

young lady is dead!”

“Dead!” repeated Shinzaburo, turning white,–“did you say that

she is dead?”

The doctor remained silent for a moment, as if collecting

himself: then he resumed, in the quick light tone of a man

resolved not to take trouble seriously:–

“My great mistake was in having introduced you to her; for it

seems that she fell in love with you at once. I am afraid that

you must have said something to encourage this affection–when

you were in that little room together. At all events, I saw how

she felt towards you; and then I became uneasy,–fearing that her

father might come to hear of the matter, and lay the whole blame

upon me. So–to be quite frank with you,–I decided that it would

be better not to call upon you; and I purposely stayed away for a

long time. But, only a few days ago, happening to visit Iijima’s

house, I heard, to my great surprise, that his daughter had died,

and that her servant O-Yone had also died. Then, remembering all

that had taken place, I knew that the young lady must have died

of love for you…. [Laughing] Ah, you are really a sinful

fellow! Yes, you are! [Laughing] Isn’t it a sin to have been born

so handsome that the girls die for love of you? (1) [Seriously]

Well, we must leave the dead to the dead. It is no use to talk

further about the matter;–all that you now can do for her is to

repeat the Nembutsu (2)….  Good-bye.”

And the old man retired hastily,–anxious to avoid further

converse about the painful event for which he felt himself to

have been unwittingly responsible.

(1) Perhaps this conversation may seem strange to the Western reader; but it is true to life. The whole of the scene is characteristically Japanese.
(2) The invocation Namu Amida Butsu! ("Hail to the Buddha Amitabha!"),--repeated, as a prayer, for the sake of the dead.

III

Shinzaburo long remained stupefied with grief by the news of O-

Tsuyu’s death. But as soon as he found himself again able to

think clearly, he inscribed the dead girl’s name upon a mortuary

tablet, and placed the tablet in the Buddhist shrine of his

house, and set offerings before it, and recited prayers. Every

day thereafter he presented offerings, and repeated the Nembutsu;

and the memory of O-Tsuyu was never absent from his thought.

Nothing occurred to change the monotony of his solitude before

the time of the Bon,–the great Festival of the Dead,–which

begins upon the thirteenth day of the seventh month. Then he

decorated his house, and prepared everything for the festival;–

hanging out the lanterns that guide the returning spirits, and

setting the food of ghosts on the shoryodana, or Shelf of Souls.

And on the first evening of the Ban, after sun-down, he kindled a

small lamp before the tablet of O-Tsuyu, and lighted the

lanterns.

The night was clear, with a great moon,–and windless, and very

warm. Shinzaburo sought the coolness of his veranda. Clad only in

a light summer-robe, he sat there thinking, dreaming, sorrowing;

–sometimes fanning himself; sometimes making a little smoke to

drive the mosquitoes away. Everything was quiet. It was a

lonesome neighborhood, and there were few passers-by. He could

hear only the soft rushing of a neighboring stream, and the

shrilling of night-insects.

But all at once this stillness was broken by a sound of women’s

geta (1) approaching–kara-kon, kara-kon;–and the sound drew

nearer and nearer, quickly, till it reached the live-hedge

surrounding the garden. Then Shinzabur�, feeling curious, stood

on tiptoe, so as to look Over the hedge; and he saw two women

passing. One, who was carrying a beautiful lantern decorated with

peony-flowers,(2) appeared to be a servant;–the other was a

slender girl of about seventeen, wearing a long-sleeved robe

embroidered with designs of autumn-blossoms. Almost at the same

instant both women turned their faces toward Shinzaburo;–and to

his utter astonishment, he recognized O-Tsuyu and her servant O-

Yone.

They stopped immediately; and the girl cried out,–“Oh, how

strange!… Hagiwara Sama!”

Shinzaburo simultaneously called to the maid:–“O-Yone! Ah, you

are O-Yone!–I remember you very well.”

“Hagiwara Sama!” exclaimed O-Yone in a tone of supreme amazement.

“Never could I have believed it possible!… Sir, we were told

that you had died.”

“How extraordinary!” cried Shinzaburo. “Why, I was told that both

of you were dead!”

“Ah, what a hateful story!” returned O-Yone. “Why repeat such

unlucky words?… Who told you?”

“Please to come in,” said Shinzaburo;–“here we can talk better.

The garden-gate is open.”

So they entered, and exchanged greeting; and when Shinzaburo had

made them comfortable, he said:–

“I trust that you will pardon my discourtesy in not having called

upon you for so long a time. But Shijo, the doctor, about a month

ago, told me that you had both died.”

“So it was he who told you?” exclaimed O-Yone. “It was very

wicked of him to say such a thing. Well, it was also Shijo who

told us that you were dead. I think that he wanted to deceive

you,–which was not a difficult thing to do, because you are so

confiding and trustful. Possibly my mistress betrayed her liking

for you in some words which found their way to her father’s ears;

and, in that case, O-Kuni–the new wife–might have planned to

make the doctor tell you that we were dead, so as to bring about

a separation. Anyhow, when my mistress heard that you had died,

she wanted to cut off her hair immediately, and to become a nun.

But I was able to prevent her from cutting off her hair; and I

persuaded her at last to become a nun only in her heart.

Afterwards her father wished her to marry a certain young man;

and she refused. Then there was a great deal of trouble,–chiefly

caused by O-Kuni;–and we went away from the villa, and found a

very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now just

barely able to live, by doing a little private work…. My

mistress has been constantly repeating the Nembutsu for your

sake. To-day, being the first day of the Bon, we went to visit

the temples; and we were on our way home–thus late–when this

strange meeting happened.”

“Oh, how extraordinary!” cried Shinzaburo. “Can it be true?-or is

it only a dream? Here I, too, have been constantly reciting the

Nembutsu before a tablet with her name upon it! Look!” And he

showed them O-Tsuyu’s tablet in its place upon the Shelf of

Souls.

“We are more than grateful for your kind remembrance,” returned

O-Yone, smiling…. “Now as for my mistress,”–she continued,

turning towards O-Tsuyu, who had all the while remained demure

and silent, half-hiding her face with her sleeve,–“as for my

mistress, she actually says that she would not mind being

disowned by her father for the time of seven existences,(3) or

even being killed by him, for your sake! Come! will you not allow

her to stay here to-night?”

Shinzaburo turned pale for joy. He answered in a voice trembling

with emotion:–“Please remain; but do not speak loud–because

there is a troublesome fellow living close by,–a ninsomi (4)

called Hakuodo Yusai, who tells peoples fortunes by looking at

their faces. He is inclined to be curious; and it is better that

he should not know.”

The two women remained that night in the house of the young

samurai, and returned to their own home a little before daybreak.

And after that night they came every nighht for seven nights,–

whether the weather were foul or fair,–always at the same hour.

And Shinzaburo became more and more attached to the girl; and the

twain were fettered, each to each, by that bond of illusion which

is stronger than bands of iron.

1 Komageta in the original. The geta is a wooden sandal, or clog,

of which there are many varieties,–some decidedly elegant. The

komageta, or “pony-geta” is so-called because of the sonorous

hoof-like echo which it makes on hard ground.

2 The sort of lantern here referred to is no longer made; and its

shape can best be understood by a glance at the picture

accompanying this story. It was totally unlike the modern

domestic band-lantern, painted with the owner’s crest; but it was

not altogether unlike some forms of lanterns still manufactured

for the Festival of the Dead, and called Bon-doro. The flowers

ornamenting it were not painted: they were artificial flowers of

crepe-silk, and were attached to the top of the lantern.

3 “For the time of seven existences,”–that is to say, for the

time of seven successive lives. In Japanese drama and romance it

is not uncommon to represent a father as disowning his child “for

the time of seven lives.” Such a disowning is called shichi-sho

made no mando, a disinheritance for seven lives,–signifying that

in six future lives after the present the erring son or daughter

will continue to feel the parental displeasure.

4 The profession is not yet extinct. The ninsomi uses a kind of

magnifying glass (or magnifying-mirror sometimes), called

tengankyo or ninsomegane.

IV

Now there was a man called Tomozo, who lived in a small cottage

adjoining Shinzaburo’s residence, Tomozo and his wife O-Mine were

both employed by Shinzaburo as servants. Both seemed to be

devoted to their young master; and by his help they were able to

live in comparative comfort.

One night, at a very late hour, Tomozo heard the voice of a woman

in his master’s apartment; and this made him uneasy. He feared

that Shinzaburo, being very gentle and affectionate, might be

made the dupe of some cunning wanton,–in which event the

domestics would be the first to suffer. He therefore resolved to

watch; and on the following night he stole on tiptoe to

Shinzaburo’s dwelling, and looked through a chink in one of the

sliding shutters. By the glow of a night-lantern within the

sleeping-room, he was able to perceive that his master and a

strange woman were talking together under the mosquito-net. At

first he could not see the woman distinctly. Her back was turned

to him;–he only observed that she was very slim, and that she

appeared to be very young,–judging from the fashion of her dress

and hair.(1) Putting his ear to the chink, he could hear the

conversation plainly. The woman said:–

“And if I should be disowned by my father, would you then let me

come and live with you?”

Shinzaburo answered:–

“Most assuredly I would–nay, I should be

glad of the chance. But there is no reason to fear that you will

ever be disowned by your father; for you are his only daughter,

and he loves you very much. What I do fear is that some day we

shall be cruelly separated.”

She responded softly:–

“Never, never could I even think of accepting any other man for

my husband. Even if our secret were to become known, and my

father were to kill me for what I have done, still–after death

itself–I could never cease to think of you. And I am now quite

sure that you yourself would not be able to live very long

without me.”… Then clinging closely to him, with her lips at

his neck, she caressed him; and he returned her caresses.

Tomozo wondered as he listened,–because the language of the

woman was not the language of a common woman, but the language of

a lady of rank.(2) Then he determined at all hazards to get one

glimpse of her face; and he crept round the house, backwards and

forwards, peering through every crack and chink. And at last he

was able to see;–but therewith an icy trembling seized him; and

the hair of his head stood up.

For the face was the face of a woman long dead,–and the fingers

caressing were fingers of naked bone,–and of the body below the

waist there was not anything: it melted off into thinnest

trailing shadow. Where the eyes of the lover deluded saw youth

and grace and beauty, there appeared to the eyes of the watcher

horror only, and the emptiness of death. Simultaneously another

woman’s figure, and a weirder, rose up from within the chamber,

and swiftly made toward the watcher, as if discerning his

presence. Then, in uttermost terror, he fled to the dwelling of

Hakuodo Yusai, and, knocking frantically at the doors, succeeded

in arousing him.

1 The color and form of the dress, and the style of wearing the

hair, are by Japanese custom regulated accord-big to the age of

the woman.

2 The forms of speech used by the samurai, and other superior

classes, differed considerably from those of the popular idiom;

but these differences could not be effectively rendered into

English.

V

Hakuodo Yusai, the ninsomi, was a very old man; but in his time

he had travelled much, and he had heard and seen so many things

that he could not be easily surprised. Yet the story of the

terrified Tomozo both alarmed and amazed him. He had read in

ancient Chinese books of love between the living and the dead;

but he had never believed it possible. Now, however, he felt

convinced that the statement of Tomozo was not a falsehood, and

that something very strange was really going on in the house of

Hagiwara. Should the truth prove to be what Tomozo imagined, then

the young samurai was a doomed man.

“If the woman be a ghost,”–said Yusai to the frightened servant,

“–if the woman be a ghost, your master must die very soon,–

unless something extraordinary can be done to save him. And if

the woman be a ghost, the signs of death will appear upon his

face. For the spirit of the living is yoki, and pure;–the spirit

of the dead is inki, and unclean: the one is Positive, the other

Negative. He whose bride is a ghost cannot live. Even though in

his blood there existed the force of a life of one hundred years,

that force must quickly perish…. Still, I shall do all that I

can to save Hagiwara Sama. And in the meantime, Tomozo, say

nothing to any other person,–not even to your wife,–about this

matter. At sunrise I shall call upon your master.”

When questioned next morning by Yusai, Shinzaburo at first

attempted to deny that any women had been visiting the house; but

finding this artless policy of no avail, and perceiving that the

old man’s purpose was altogether unselfish, he was finally

persuaded to acknowledge what had really occurred, and to give

his reasons for wishing to keep the matter a secret. As for the

lady Iijima, he intended, he said, to make her his wife as soon

as possible.

“Oh, madness!” cried Yusai,–losing all patience in the intensity

of his alarm. “Know, sir, that the people who have been coming

here, night after night, are dead! Some frightful delusion is

upon you!… Why, the simple fact that you long supposed O-Tsuyu

to be dead, and repeated the Nembutsu for her, and made offerings

before her tablet, is itself the proof!… The lips of the dead

have touched you!–the hands of the dead have caressed you!…

Even at this moment I see in your face the signs of death–and

you will not believe!… Listen to me now, sir,–I beg of you,–

if you wish to save yourself: otherwise you have less than twenty

days to live. They told you–those people–that they were

residing in the district of Shitaya, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. Did you

ever visit them at that place? No!–of course you did not! Then

go to-day,–as soon as you can,–to Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and try to

find their home!…”

And having uttered this counsel with the most vehement

earnestness, Hakuodo Yusai abruptly took his departure.

Shinzaburo, startled though not convinced, resolved after a

moment’s reflection to follow the advice of the ninsomi, and to

go to Shitaya. It was yet early in the morning when he reached

the quarter of Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and began his search for the

dwelling of O-Tsuyu. He went through every street and side-

street, read all the names inscribed at the various entrances,

and made inquiries whenever an opportunity presented itself. But

he could not find anything resembling the little house mentioned

by O-Yone; and none of the people whom he questioned knew of any

house in the quarter inhabited by two single women. Feeling at

last certain that further research would be useless, he turned

homeward by the shortest way, which happened to lead through the

grounds of the temple Shin-Banzui-In.

Suddenly his attention was attracted by two new tombs, placed

side by side, at the rear of the temple. One was a common tomb,

such as might have been erected for a person of humble rank: the

other was a large and handsome monument; and hanging before it

was a beautiful peony-lantern, which had probably been left there

at the time of the Festival of the Dead. Shinzaburo remembered

that the peony-lantern carried by O-Yone was exactly similar; and

the coincidence impressed him as strange. He looked again at the

tombs; but the tombs explained nothing. Neither bore any personal

name,–only the Buddhist kaimyo, or posthumous appellation. Then

he determined to seek information at the temple. An acolyte

stated, in reply to his questions, that the large tomb had been

recently erected for the daughter of Iijima Heizayemon, the

hatamoto of Ushigome; and that the small tomb next to it was that

of her servant O-Yone, who had died of grief soon after the young

lady’s funeral.

Immediately to Shinzabur�’s memory there recurred, with another

and sinister meaning, the words of O-Yone:–“We went away, and

found a very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now

just barely able to live–by doing a little private work….”

Here was indeed the very small house,–and in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.

But the little private work…?

Terror-stricken, the samurai hastened with all speed to the house

of Yusai, and begged for his counsel and assistance. But Yusai

declared himself unable to be of any aid in such a case. All that

he could do was to send Shinzaburo to the high-priest Ryoseki, of

Shin-Banzui-In, with a letter praying for immediate religious

help.

VII

The high-priest Ryoseki was a learned and a holy man. By

spiritual vision he was able to know the secret of any sorrow,

and the nature of the karma that had caused it. He heard unmoved

the story of Shinzaburo, and said to him:–

“A very great danger now threatens you, because of an error

committed in one of your former states of existence. The karma

that binds you to the dead is very strong; but if I tried to

explain its character, you would not be able to understand. I

shall therefore tell you only this,–that the dead person has no

desire to injure you out of hate, feels no enmity towards you:

she is influenced, on the contrary, by the most passionate

affection for you. Probably the girl has been in love with you

from a time long preceding your present life,–from a time of not

less than three or four past existences; and it would seem that,

although necessarily changing her form and condition at each

succeeding birth, she has not been able to cease from following

after you. Therefore it will not be an easy thing to escape from

her influence…. But now I am going to lend you this powerful

mamoni.(1) It is a pure gold image of that Buddha called the Sea-

Sounding Tathagata–Kai-On-Nyorai,–because his preaching of the

Law sounds through the world like the sound of the sea. And this

little image is especially a shiryo-yoke,(2)–which protects the

living from the dead. This you must wear, in its covering, next

to your body,–under the girdle…. Besides, I shall presently

perform in the temple, a segaki-service(3) for the repose of the

troubled spirit…. And here is a holy sutra, called Ubo-Darani-

Kyo, or “Treasure-Raining Sutra”(4) you must be careful to recite

it every night in your house–without fail…. Furthermore I

shall give you this package of o-fuda(5);–you must paste one of

them over every opening of your house,–no matter how small. If

you do this, the power of the holy texts will prevent the dead

from entering. But–whatever may happen–do not fail to recite

the sutra.”

Shinzaburo humbly thanked the high-priest; and then, taking with

him the image, the sutra, and the bundle of sacred texts, he made

all haste to reach his home before the hour of sunset.

1 The Japanese word mamori has significations at least as

numerous as those attaching to our own term “amulet.” It would be

impossible, in a mere footnote, even to suggest the variety of

Japanese religious objects to which the name is given. In this

instance, the mamori is a very small image, probably enclosed in

a miniature shrine of lacquer-work or metal, over which a silk

cover is drawn. Such little images were often worn by samurai on

the person. I was recently shown a miniature figure of Kwannon,

in an iron case, which had been carried by an officer through the

Satsuma war. He observed, with good reason, that it had probably

saved his life; for it had stopped a bullet of which the dent was

plainly visible.

2 From shiryo, a ghost, and yokeru, to exclude. The Japanese

have, two kinds of ghosts proper in their folk-lore: the spirits

of the dead, shiryo; and the spirits of the living, ikiryo. A

house or a person may be haunted by an ikiryo as well as by a

shiryo.

3 A special service,–accompanying offerings of food, etc., to

those dead having no living relatives or friends to care for

them,–is thus termed. In this case, however, the service would

be of a particular and exceptional kind.

4 The name would be more correctly written Ubo-Darani-Kyo. It is

the Japanese pronunciation of the title of a very short sutra

translated out of Sanscrit into Chinese by the Indian priest

Amoghavajra, probably during the eighth century. The Chinese text

contains transliterations of some mysterious Sanscrit words,–

apparently talismanic words,–like those to be seen in Kern’s

translation of the Saddharma-Pundarika, ch. xxvi.

5 O-fuda is the general name given to religious texts used as

charms or talismans. They are sometimes stamped or burned upon

wood, but more commonly written or printed upon narrow strips of

paper. O-fuda are pasted above house-entrances, on the walls of

rooms, upon tablets placed in household shrines, etc., etc. Some

kinds are worn about the person;–others are made into pellets,

and swallowed as spiritual medicine. The text of the larger o-

fuda is often accompanied by curious pictures or symbolic

illustrations.

VIII

With Yusai’s advice and help, Shinzaburo was able before dark to

fix the holy texts over all the apertures of his dwelling. Then

the ninsomi returned to his own house,–leaving the youth alone.

Night came, warm and clear. Shinzaburo made fast the doors, bound

the precious amulet about his waist, entered his mosquito-net,

and by the glow of a night-lantern began to recite the Ubo-

Darani-Kyo. For a long time he chanted the words, comprehending

little of their meaning;–then he tried to obtain some rest. But

his mind was still too much disturbed by the strange events of

the day. Midnight passed; and no sleep came to him. At last he

heard the boom of the great temple-bell of Dentsu-In announcing

the eighth hour.(1)

It ceased; and Shinzaburo suddenly heard the sound of geta

approaching from the old direction,–but this time more slowly:

karan-koron, karan-koron! At once a cold sweat broke over his

forehead. Opening the sutra hastily, with trembling hand, he

began again to recite it aloud. The steps came nearer and

nearer,–reached the live hedge,–stopped! Then, strange to say,

Shinzaburo felt unable to remain under his mosquito-net:

something stronger even than his fear impelled him to look; and,

instead of continuing to recite the Ubo-Darani-Kyo, he foolishly

approached the shutters, and through a chink peered out into the

night. Before the house he saw O-Tsuyu standing, and O-Yone with

the peony-lantern; and both of them were gazing at the Buddhist

texts pasted above the entrance. Never before–not even in what

time she lived–had O-Tsuyu appeared so beautiful; and Shinzaburo

felt his heart drawn towards her with a power almost resistless.

But the terror of death and the terror of the unknown restrained;

and there went on within him such a struggle between his love and

his fear that he became as one suffering in the body the pains of

the Sho-netsu hell.(2)

Presently he heard the voice of the maid-servant, saying:–

“My dear mistress, there is no way to enter. The heart of

Hagiwara Sama must have changed. For the promise that he made

last night has been broken; and the doors have been made fast to

keep us out…. We cannot go in to-night…. It will be wiser for

you to make up your mind not to think any more about him, because

his feeling towards you has certainly changed. It is evident that

he does not want to see you. So it will be better not to give

yourself any more trouble for the sake of a man whose heart is so

unkind.”

But the girl answered, weeping:–

“Oh, to think that this could happen after the pledges which we

made to each other!… Often I was told that the heart of a man

changes as quickly as the sky of autumn;–yet surely the heart of

Hagiwara Sama cannot be so cruel that he should really intend to

exclude me in this way!… Dear Yone, please find some means of

taking me to him…. Unless you do, I will never, never go home

again.”

Thus she continued to plead, veiling her face with her long

sleeves,–and very beautiful she looked, and very touching; but

the fear of death was strong upon her lover.

O-Yone at last made answer,–“My dear young lady, why will you

trouble your mind about a man who seems to be so cruel?… Well,

let us see if there be no way to enter at the back of the house:

come with me!”

And taking O-Tsuyu by the hand, she led her away toward the rear

of the dwelling; and there the two disappeared as suddenly as the

light disappears when the flame of a lamp is blown out.

1 According to the old Japanese way of counting time, this

yatsudoki or eighth hour was the same as our two o’clock in the

morning. Each Japanese hour was equal to two European hours, so

that there were only six hours instead of our twelve; and these

six hours were counted backwards in the order,–9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.

Thus the ninth hour corresponded to our midday, or midnight;

half-past nine to our one o’clock; eight to our two o’clock. Two

o’clock in the morning, also called “the Hour of the Ox,” was the

Japanese hour of ghosts and goblins.

2 En-netsu or Sho-netsu (Sanscrit “Tapana”) is the sixth of the

Eight Hot Hells of Japanese Buddhism. One day of life in this

hell is equal in duration to thousands (some say millions) of

human years.

IX

Night after night the shadows came at the Hour of the Ox; and

nightly Shinzaburo heard the weeping of O-Tsuyu. Yet he believed

himself saved,–little imagining that his doom had already been

decided by the character of his dependents.

Tomozo had promised Yusai never to speak to any other person–not

even to O-Mine–of the strange events that were taking place. But

Tomozo was not long suffered by the haunters to rest in peace.

Night after night O-Yone entered into his dwelling, and roused

him from his sleep, and asked him to remove the o-fuda placed

over one very small window at the back of his master’s house. And

Tomozo, out of fear, as often promised her to take away the o-

fuda before the next sundown; but never by day could he make up

his mind to remove it,–believing that evil was intended to

Shinzaburo. At last, in a night of storm, O-Yone startled him

from slumber with a cry of reproach, and stooped above his

pillow, and said to him: “Have a care how you trifle with us! If,

by to-morrow night, you do not take away that text, you shall

learn how I can hate!” And she made her face so frightful as she

spoke that Tomozo nearly died of terror.

O-Mine, the wife of Tomozo, had never till then known of these

visits: even to her husband they had seemed like bad dreams. But

on this particular night it chanced that, waking suddenly, she

heard the voice of a woman talking to Tomozo. Almost in the same

moment the talk-ing ceased; and when O-Mine looked about her, she

saw, by the light of the night-lamp, only her husband,–

shuddering and white with fear. The stranger was gone; the doors

were fast: it seemed impossible that anybody could have entered.

Nevertheless the jealousy of the wife had been aroused; and she

began to chide and to question Tomozo in such a manner that he

thought himself obliged to betray the secret, and to explain the

terrible dilemma in which he had been placed.

Then the passion of O-Mine yielded to wonder and alarm; but she

was a subtle woman, and she devised immediately a plan to save

her husband by the sacrifice of her master. And she gave

Tomozo a cunning counsel,–telling him to make conditions with

the dead.

They came again on the following night at the Hour of the Ox; and

O-Mine hid herself on hearing the sound of their coming,–karan-

koron, karan-koron! But Tomozo went out to meet them in the dark,

and even found courage to say to them what his wife had told him

to say:–

“It is true that I deserve your blame;–but I had no wish to

cause you anger. The reason that the o-fuda has not been taken

away is that my wife and I are able to live only by the help of

Hagiwara Sama, and that we cannot expose him to any danger

without bringing misfortune upon ourselves. But if we could

obtain the sum of a hundred ryo in gold, we should be able to

please you, because we should then need no help from anybody.

Therefore if you will give us a hundred ryo, I can take the o-

fuda away without being afraid of losing our only means of

support.”

When he had uttered these words, O-Yone and O-Tsuyu looked at

each other in silence for a moment. Then O-Yon� said:–

“Mistress, I told you that it was not right to trouble this man,

–as we have no just cause of ill will against him. But it is

certainly useless to fret yourself about Hagiwara Sama, because

his heart has changed towards you. Now once again, my dear young

lady, let me beg you not to think any more about him!”

But O-Tsuyu, weeping, made answer:–

“Dear Yone, whatever may happen, I cannot possibly keep myself

from thinking about him! You know that you can get a hundred ryo

to have the o-fuda taken off…. Only once more, I pray, dear

Yone!–only once more bring me face to face with Hagiwara Sama,

–I beseech you!” And hiding her face with her sleeve, she thus

continued to plead.

“Oh! why will you ask me to do these things?” responded O-Yone.

“You know very well that I have no money. But since you will

persist in this whim of yours, in spite of all that I can say, I

suppose that I must try to find the money somehow, and to bring

it here to-morrow night….” Then, turning to the faithless

Tomozo, she said:–“Tomozo, I must tell you that Hagiwara Sama

now wears upon his body a mamoni called by the name of Kai-On-

Nyorai, and that so long as he wears it we cannot approach him.

So you will have to get that mamori away from him, by some means

or other, as well as to remove the o-fuda.”

Tomozo feebly made answer:–

“That also I can do, if you will promise to bring me the hundred

ryo.”

“Well, mistress,” said O-Yone, “you will wait,–will you not,–

until to-morrow night?”

“Oh, dear Yone!” sobbed the other,–“have we to go back to-night

again without seeing Hagiwara Sama? Ah! it is cruel!”

And the shadow of the mistress, weeping, was led away by the

shadow of the maid.

x

Another day went, and another night came, and the dead came with

it. But this time no lamentation was heard without the house of

Hagiwara; for the faithless servant found his reward at the Hour

of the Ox, and removed the o-fuda. Moreover he had been able,

while his master was at the bath, to steal from its case the

golden mamori, and to substitute for it an image of copper; and

he had buried the Kai-On-Nyorai in a desolate field. So the

visitants found nothing to oppose their entering. Veiling their

faces with their sleeves they rose and passed, like a streaming

of vapor, into the little window from over which the holy text

had been torn away. But what happened thereafter within the house

Tomozo never knew.

The sun was high before he ventured again to approach his

master’s dwelling, and to knock upon the sliding-doors. For the

first time in years he obtained no response; and the silence made

him afraid. Repeatedly he called, and received no answer. Then,

aided by O-Mine, he succeeded in effecting an entrance and making

his way alone to the sleeping-room, where he called again in

vain. He rolled back the rumbling shutters to admit the light;

but still within the house there was no stir. At last he dared to

lift a corner of the mosquito-net. But no sooner had he looked

beneath than he fled from the house, with a cry of horror.

Shinzaburo was dead–hideously dead;–and his face was the face

of a man who had died in the uttermost agony of fear;–and lying

beside him in the bed were the bones of a woman! And the bones of

the arms, and the bones of the hands, clung fast about his neck.

Xl

Hakuodo Yusai, the fortune-teller, went to view the corpse at the

prayer of the faithless Tomozo. The old man was terrified and

astonished at the spectacle, but looked about him with a keen

eye. He soon perceived that the o-fuda had been taken from the

little window at the back of the house; and on searching the body

of Shinzaburo, he discovered that the golden mamori had been

taken from its wrapping, and a copper image of Fudo put in place

of it. He suspected Tomozo of the theft; but the whole occurrence

was so very extraordinary that he thought it prudent to consult

with the priest Ryoseki before taking further action. Therefore,

after having made a careful examination of the premises, he

betook himself to the temple Shin-Banzui-In, as quickly as his

aged limbs could bear him.

Ryoseki, without waiting to hear the purpose of the old man’s

visit, at once invited him into a private apartment.

“You know that you are always welcome here,” said Ryoseki.

“Please seat yourself at ease…. Well, I am sorry to tell you

that Hagiwara Sama is dead.”

Yusai wonderingly exclaimed:–“Yes, he is dead;–but how did you

learn of it?”

The priest responded:–

“Hagiwara Sama was suffering from the results of an evil karma;

and his attendant was a bad man. What happened to Hagiwara Sama

was unavoidable;–his destiny had been determined from a time

long before his last birth. It will be better for you not to let

your mind be troubled by this event.”

Yusai said:–

“I have heard that a priest of pure life may gain power to see

into the future for a hundred years; but truly this is the first

time in my existence that I have had proof of such power….

Still, there is another matter about which I am very anxious….”

“You mean,” interrupted Ryoseki, “the stealing of the holy

mamori, the Kai-On-Nyorai. But you must not give yourself any

concern about that. The image has been buried in a field; and it

will be found there and returned to me during the eighth month of

the coming year. So please do not be anxious about it.”

More and more amazed, the old ninsomi ventured to observe:–

“I have studied the In-Yo,(1) and the science of divination; and

I make my living by telling peoples’ fortunes;–but I cannot

possibly understand how you know these things.”

Ryoseki answered gravely:–

“Never mind how I happen to know them…. I now want to speak to

you about Hagiwara’s funeral. The House of Hagiwara has its own

family-cemetery, of course; but to bury him there would not be

proper. He must be buried beside O-Tsuyu, the Lady Iijima; for

his karma-relation to her was a very deep one. And it is but

right that you should erect a tomb for him at your own cost,

because you have been indebted to him for many favors.”

Thus it came to pass that Shinzaburo was buried beside O-Tsuyu,

in the cemetery of Shin-Banzui-In, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.

–Here ends the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-

Lantern.–

1 The Male and Female principles of the universe, the Active and

Passive forces of Nature. Yusai refers here to the old Chinese

nature-philosophy,–better known to Western readers by the name

FENG-SHUI.

***

My friend asked me whether the story had interested me; and I

answered by telling him that I wanted to go to the cemetery of

Shin-Banzui-In,–so as to realize more definitely the local

color of the author’s studies.

“I shall go with you at once,” he said. “But what did you think

of the personages?”

“To Western thinking,” I made answer, “Shinzaburo is a despicable

creature. I have been mentally comparing him with the true lovers

of our old ballad-literature. They were only too glad to follow a

dead sweetheart into the grave; and nevertheless, being

Christians, they believed that they had only one human life to

enjoy in this world. But Shinzaburo was a Buddhist,–with a

million lives behind him and a million lives before him; and he

was too selfish to give up even one miserable existence for the

sake of the girl that came back to him from the dead. Then he was

even more cowardly than selfish. Although a samurai by birth and

training, he had to beg a priest to save him from ghosts. In

every way he proved himself contemptible; and O-Tsuyu did quite

right in choking him to death.”

“From the Japanese point of view, likewise,” my friend responded,

“Shinzaburo is rather contemptible. But the use of this weak

character helped the author to develop incidents that could not

otherwise, perhaps, have been so effectively managed. To my

thinking, the only attractive character in the story is that of

O-Yone: type of the old-time loyal and loving servant,–

intelligent, shrewd, full of resource,–faithful not only unto

death, but beyond death…. Well, let us go to Shin-Banzui-In.”

We found the temple uninteresting, and the cemetery an

abomination of desolation. Spaces once occupied by graves had

been turned into potato-patches. Between were tombs leaning at

all angles out of the perpendicular, tablets made illegible by

scurf, empty pedestals, shattered water-tanks, and statues of

Buddhas without heads or hands. Recent rains had soaked the black

soil,–leaving here and there small pools of slime about which

swarms of tiny frogs were hopping. Everything–excepting the

potato-patches–seemed to have been neglected for years. In a

shed just within the gate, we observed a woman cooking; and my

companion presumed to ask her if she knew anything about the

tombs described in the Romance of the Peony-Lantern.

“Ah! the tombs of O-Tsuyu and O-Yone?” she responded, smiling;–“

you will find them near the end of the first row at the back of

the temple–next to the statue of Jizo.”

Surprises of this kind I had met with elsewhere in Japan.

We picked our way between the rain-pools and between the green

ridges of young potatoes,–whose roots were doubtless feeding on

the sub-stance of many another O-Tsuyu and O-Yone;–and we

reached at last two lichen-eaten tombs of which the inscriptions

seemed almost obliterated. Beside the larger tomb was a statue of

Jizo, with a broken nose.

“The characters are not easy to make out,” said my friend–“but

wait!”…. He drew from his sleeve a sheet of soft white paper,

laid it over the inscription, and began to rub the paper with a

lump of clay. As he did so, the characters appeared in white on

the blackened surface.

“Eleventh day, third month–Rat, Elder Brother, Fire–Sixth year

of Horeki [A. D. 1756].’… This would seem to be the grave of

some innkeeper of Nedzu, named Kichibei. Let us see what is on

the other monument.”

With a fresh sheet of paper he presently brought out the text of

a kaimyo, and read,–

“En-myo-In, Ho-yo-I-tei-ken-shi, Ho-ni’:–‘Nun-of-the-Law,

Illustrious, Pure-of-heart-and-will, Famed-in-the-Law,–

inhabiting the Mansion-of-the-Preaching-of-Wonder.’…. The grave

of some Buddhist nun.”

“What utter humbug!” I exclaimed. “That woman was only making fun

of us.”

“Now,” my friend protested, “you are unjust to the, woman! You

came here because you wanted a sensation; and she tried her very

best to please you. You did not suppose that ghost-story was

true, did you?”

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**eBooks Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971**

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Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) and Neil Gaiman (1960 – ….), are the authors I most wish to  emulate one day.

Urashima Taro –

April 13, 2009

This is a story written by Lafcadio Hearn published in his book “Out of the East” 1895, Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

outoftheeastlafcadiohearnFourteen hundred and sixteen years ago,
the fisher-boy Urashima Taro left the shore
of Suminoye in his boat.

Summer days were then as now, — all
drowsy and tender blue, with only some light,
pure white clouds hanging over the mirror of
the sea. Then, too, were the hills the same, —
far blue soft shapes melting into the blue sky.
And the winds were lazy.

And presently the boy, also lazy, let his
boat drift as he fished. It was a queer boat,
unpainted and rudderless, of a shape you
probably never saw. But still, after fourteen

hundred years, there are such boats to be seen
in front of the ancient fishing-hamlets of the
coast of the Sea of Japan.

After long waiting, Urashima caught some-
thing, and drew it up to him. But he found
it was only a tortoise.

Now a tortoise is sacred to the Dragon God
of the Sea, and the period of its natural life is
a thousand — some say ten thousand — years.
So that to kill it is very wrong. The boy
gently unfastened the creature from his line,
and set it free, with a prayer to the gods.

But he caught nothing more. And the day
was very warm ; and sea and air and all
things were very, very silent. And a great
drowsiness grew upon him, — and he slept in
his drifting boat.

Then out of the dreaming of the sea rose
up a beautiful girl, — just as you can see her
in the picture to Professor Chamberlain’s
” Urashima,” — robed in crimson and blue,
with long black hair flowing down her back
even to her feet, after the fashion of a prince’s
daughter fourteen hundred years ago.

Gliding over the waters she came, softly as
air ; and she stood above the sleeping boy in

the boat, and woke him with a light touch,

and said : —

“Do not be surprised. My father, the
Dragon King of the Sea, sent me to you,
because of your kind heart. For to-day you
set free a tortoise. And now we will go to my
father’s palace in the island where summer
never dies ; and I will be your flower-wife if
you wish ; and we shall live there happily for-
ever.”

And Urashima wondered more and more as
he looked upon her ; for she was more beauti-
ful than any human being, and he could not
but love her. Then she took one oar, and he
took another, and they rowed away together,
— just as you may still see, off the far
western coast, wife and husband rowing to-
gether, when the fishing-boats flit into the
evening gold.

They rowed away softly and swiftly over
the silent blue water down into the south, —
till they came to the island where summer
never dies, — and to the palace of the Dragon
King of the Sea.

[Here the text of the little book suddenly
shrinks away as you read, and faint blue

ripplings flood the page; and beyond them
in a fairy horizon you can see the long low
soft shore of the island, and peaked roofs
rising through evergreen foliage — the roofs of
the Sea God’s palace — like the palace of the
Mikado Yuriaku, fourteen hundred and six-
teen years ago.]
riversidepress1895

There strange servitors came to receive them
in robes of ceremony — creatures of the Sea,
who paid greeting to Urashima as the son-in-
law of the Dragon King.

So the Sea God’s daughter became the bride
of Urashima ; and it was a bridal of wondrous
splendor; and in the Dragon Palace there
was great rejoicing.

And each day for Urashima there were new
wonders and new pleasures : — wonders of the
deepest deep brought up by the servants of
the Ocean God ; — pleasures of that enchanted
land where summer never dies. And so three
years passed.

But in spite of all these things, the fisher-
boy felt always a heaviness at his heart when
he thought of his parents waiting alone. So
that at last he prayed his bride to let him go
home for a little while only, just to say one

word to his father and mother, — after which
he would hasten back to her.

At these words she began to weep ; and for
a long time she continued to weep silently.
Then she said to him : ” Since you wish to
go, of course you must go. I fear your going
very much; I fear we shall never see each
other again. But I will give you a little box
to take with you. It will help you to come
back to me if you will do what I tell you. Do
not open it. Above all things, do not open it,
— no matter what may happen ! Because, if
you open it, you will never be able to come
back, and you will never see me again.”

Then she gave him a little lacquered box
tied about with a silken cord. [And that
box can be seen unto this day in the temple
of Kanagawa, by the seashore; and the
priests there also keep Urashima Taro’s fish-
ing line, and some strange jewels which he
brought back with him from the realm of the
Dragon King.]

But Urashima comforted his bride, and
promised her never, never to open the box —
never even to loosen the silken string. Then
he passed away through the summer light over

the ever-sleeping sea ; — and the shape of the
island where summer never dies faded behind
him like a dream ; — and he saw again before
him the blue mountains of Japan, sharpening
in the white glow of the northern horizon.

Again at last he glided into his native bay ;
— again he stood upon its beach. But as he
looked, there came upon him a great bewilder-
ment, — a weird doubt.

For the place was at once the same, and yet
not the same. The cottage of his fathers had
disappeared. There was a village ; but the
shapes of the houses were all strange, and the
trees were strange, and the fields, and even
the faces of the people. Nearly all remem-
bered landmarks were gone ; — the Shinto
temple appeared to have been rebuilt in a new
place ; the woods had vanished from the neigh-
boring slopes. Only the voice of the little
stream flowing through the settlement, and
the forms of the mountains, were still the
same. All else was unfamiliar and new. In
vain he tried to find the dwelling of his par-
ents ; and the fisherfolk stared wonderingly
at him ; and he could not remember having
ever seen any of those faces before.

There came along a very old man, leaning
on a stick, and Urashima asked him the way
to the house of the Urashima family. But the
old man looked quite astonished, and made
him repeat the question many times, and then
cried out : —

” Urashima Taro ! Where do you come
from that you do not know the story ? Ura-
shima Taro ! Why, it is more than four
hundred years since he was drowned, and a
monument is erected to his memory in the
graveyard. The graves of all his people are
in that graveyard, — the old graveyard which
is not now used any more. Urashima Taro !
How can you be so foolish as to ask where
his house is ? ” And the old man hobbled on,
laughing at the simplicity of his questioner.

But Urashima went to the village grave-
yard, — the old graveyard that was not used
any more, — and there he found his own tomb-
stone, and the tombstones of his father and
his mother and his kindred, and the tomb-
stones of many others he had known. So old
tkey were, so moss-eaten, that it was very
hard to read the names upon them.

Then he knew himself the victim of some

strange illusion, and he took his way back to
the beach, — always carrying in his hand the
box, the gift of the Sea God’s daughter. But
what was this illusion ? And what could be
in that box ? Or might not that which was
in the box be the cause of the illusion?
Doubt mastered faith. Recklessly he broke
the promise made to his beloved; — he loos-
ened the silken cord ; — he opened the box !

Instantly, without any sound, there burst
from it a white cold spectral vapor that rose
in air like a summer cloud, and began to drift
away swiftly into the south, over the silent
sea. There was nothing else in the box.

And Urashima then knew that he had de-
stroyed his own happiness, — that he could
never again return to his beloved, the daugh-
ter of the Ocean King. So that he wept and
cried out bitterly in his despair.

Yet for a moment only. In another, he
himself was changed. An icy chill shot
through all his blood ; — his teeth fell out ;
his face shriveled ; his hair turned white as
snow ; his limbs withered ; his strength ebbed ;
he sank down lifeless on the sand, crushed
by the weight of four hundred winters.

Now in the official annals of the Emperors
it is written that ” in the twenty-first year of
the Mikado Yuriaku, the boy Urashima of
Midzunoye, in the district of Yosa, in the
province of Tango, a descendant of the divin-
ity Shimanemi, went to Elysium [ITorai] in
a fishing-boat.” After this there is no more
news of Urashima during the reigns of thirty-
one emperors and empresses — that is, from
the fifth until the ninth century. And then
the annals announce that ” in the second year
of Tenchiyo, in the reign of the Mikado Go-
Junwa, the boy Urashima returned, and pres-
ently departed again, none knew whither.” *

—o(O)o—

Once there was a girl, she didn’t know what she could do, and what she could not do.
She was a little unsure of herself.
Far in the distance, were ice and snow covered mountains.
She wanted to climb the mountain range and find out what was on the other side.
In her family no one ever did that before.
But she was a little afraid, so she asked many people….do you think I CAN do this difficult thing ? Do you honestly think I will make it ?

Some said , yes, but really thought, no, but they said ‘yes’ to be nice to her>
Others smiled and said nothing.
-Others said ‘yes’.

But still she was not sure what she wanted to do.

She heard stories, of people who tried, and didn’t make it.
They went and got stuck.
Some came back, others never heard of again.

She started walking towards the forest and the mountains a little then she got scared and came back and asked some more people…. .

“Can I ask you something…?….. ”
“Do you think…… ?….”
“Is there any point ….?……”

But it did not matter who she asked, how many times, she was never sure.

Until one night she met an old wise woman.
She told her trouble to the woman, and the wise woman listened for a long time.
“And that is it”. the girl said, “I’m still not sure. I’m afraid.”

“If you believe you can then you can, if you believe you cannot then you cannot”. The wise woman said and smiled very kindly.

“I see” the girl said, she was sad. The woman was not much help either.

“You will never be sure until you look inside yourself and find out what YOU feel, and what you want !” the wise one said to her.

“I have looked inside and tried to find out, but still I doubt myself.”
The wise woman smiled then and put a hand on her arm. She looked her in the face and added:
“That’s right my dear, sometimes even then, you may not know. You may not know all your life. You may die wondering if you should, have or if you COULD have climbed that mountain range and come to the other side, to find the unknown different land there.”

“Oh no, don’t say that ! Aren’t you  the wise woman ?”

The wise one was silent for a long time.


.

Then she said, “you already know people who are old and still wondering if they should have or if they COULD have climbed over that range – don’t you ?”

The girl nodded and cried.
The wise woman hugged her and let her cry.

Do you know why you unsure ?”

“No, why ?”
“Because there is only one way to know if you CAN”.
“What way is that? I really want to be sure.”  The girl cried.

“Well listen carefully then my child: if you really want to be sure, and you really want to know, there is only ONE way: you go and you start to climb, and give it all you can. Then you either make it, or you will know you did your best”

She watched the girl with love and held her tight as she continued: “And you know what ? When you do your best, then the world, will give you something else, you will not go away empty.”
She brushed the girl’s hair out of her face gently.
“But if you don’t try, then you don’t really want to know. Or maybe you really DO know that you want something else. And so you need to do that other thing”.

The girl walked away a little bit and sat down and stayed very quiet for a long time.
“How do you know all this?” she asked the wise woman.
“Did you stay here and do you wonder if you should have climbed the mountain range ?”

“I was a girl, like you once. I didn’t know what I wanted, but in the distance I saw a high mountain range. Everyone I asked about it, told me ‘that is the end of the world’ no one can make it, at least no one from YOUR family. Just be a good little girl and be happy here'”.

“Is that why you are still here?” the girl asked the old wise one.
She shook here head, “No, that is why I am here with you now. I came from that mountain range, from the other side.” And the woman turned and walked away into the forest before the girl could say anything else to her.

—o(O)o—

‘dance me to the children that are asking to be born….’
– Leonard Cohen

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Wyndrider

February 10, 2009

Wyndrider

_ooo000(O)000ooo_


Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day.


(Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Tx  by Lafcadio Hearn 1899


I want to tell you a little of my story.  Perhaps no one will ever read these pages, yet in writing I feel that I am speaking to someone who understands. For you, the one who reads without judging, these pages are written.


“Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.”

—ooo000(O)000ooo—

My people have not always been in this place.  How came we here  – and not to some other place ? That is a story which goes back a long time. At dusk, when the sun sets, we talk about it: where we came from, why we had to leave to live here in the sea of sand.  My friends and I like to hear the story told while lying down in the cool food gardens, it helps us imagine the forest and the plants those stories talk about. None of us have ever been there. Jani, the last person I know who lived there, she died three years ago.

But I will go there before I die.

Dusk is the time everyone gets together, those who want to rest from the day’s work and the guards who don’t have to leave for their night watch yet.  It may seem strange to speak of guarding a place, which is a tiny dot in the great desert sands of Umijaabour.

It is impossible for any living creature to cross Umijaabour on foot, no human or animal can carry enough food and water to get even a hundredth of the way across. Even the dromedaries that live on the borders of this sand kingdom, do not venture more than a few months journey into its interior. They do not even come close to our Morai.

And yet, despite this remoteness, this vast distance between us and the rest of the world, we cover out Morai in sand, we hide all bright colours and we dye our clothes the colour of sand. Everything we show to the outside world is the colour of the shifting sands. But inside we love bright orange, reds, blues and yellows and most of all, the cool green of our living plants, our source of life.

When I am home, I am a lookout and a guard, soaring high up in the air.  One of my duties is to make sure that no carelessly left cloth, no bright gleaming object is visible.

The night fliers were not common in the early days. Posting night guards in the lookout towers was as much as anyone could do. Now we send up three or four night guards at a time – especially since our friends in the southern Morai were destroyed twelve moons ago.

.

Mantosan was my special friend in those days, before Kai. Mantosan was the first one in our Morai who copied the great gliders of the “lonely eagles” that brought our grand parents here. He was always restless. No one was surprised that he became our first windrider. Now every Morai has someone who watches and stands guard from above day and night. Now windriders are the messengers to the other Moraii.

I have not always lived here. I am lucky I was given a home here. Lucky to be able to say ‘my people’, to have a place to come back to. It is true I did spend most of my time travelling, yet this was my home.  I remember coming here, to the northern Morai when I had just learnt to talk.

In my time, the first outsider to land at our Morai was Kai.  At the time he was almost killed, but later celebrated as a hero. I think they did that to make up for almost skewering him on arrival. When he landed he was bound and roughly taken below, but he always remained quiet and calm the whole time. I think that saved his life.

Kai was a tall thin man surrounded by a peaceful feeling which I had never felt from anyone before. I think it was that which won them over in the end. I always thought that the long hours of flying and watching must have become part of his blood – so that even when speaking, he looked at us from a long way away…as though he was still riding the air currents high above the sands, soaring, a small dark speck high in the glaring sky and we were just a particularly puzzling air current to navigate. I had read that men who spent months on the moving and heaving waters in ships seemed awkward and unsteady when they walked on solid land. Kai, was like that, he was like a graceful bird, forced to waddle clumsily on land, stopping only because need had forced him to touch the earth for a while, eager to be gone again to where he was at home. I did not understand the lure of the wind in those days. I did not know that she is also a jealous mistress not afraid to use her claws.

Oh, Kai, he was charming enough and could tell a good story, but when he thought no one was watching him he would wrap himself in the mantle of his loneliness and his eyes would take on that faraway look. His natural quietness came back to him.  I saw that he had to work hard at talking, smiling and speaking with us in an open way. I believe that he was once a talkative, happy person, but the long hours of flying had taken their toll. That and something else. Perhaps that is why I wanted to draw him out. Perhaps it was our fate, either way, the die were cast and I would lose both Kai and Mantosan. They died because of me. I know this. I am sorry, but I will not tell you here why or how it happened. I cannot. Perhaps another time. Let others tell you, there are many willing to talk about that time, but know that what you hear from outsiders is rarely the whole story.

It is now my duty to carry on their work. I have told Maia that it is a burden I cannot refuse, that I actually WANT to carry it.  It is the only way I can keep at bay the acid of guilt. I know in my heart, that I would die if I did I not take up their work and follow their footsteps. Others may call me foolish, but I know what I know. It is what I must do.

It is ironic, that when I go to visit the different Moraii the people look at me as once I looked at Kai.  Now I am the exotic traveller from far away, the “lonely eagle”, the bearer of news from far away places, the bringer of messages, privileged to speak with the elders until late into the night. The  novelty of such ‘privilege’ has worn off long ago. I just smile and do my best; smile, play with the children and always watch the elders and especially the older women.

I made the mistake once of ignoring the old women, when I first arrived in the Westernmost Morai. I was young, I looked to the men. To be sure, I was successful with some of them, I am attractive, but then the older women spoke subtly against me and I was not welcome in that Morai for many revolutions, not until those old ones had moved on. Now I always look to the old women first. If that door is not open, I know that I will not  be able to achieve much in that place.

_ooo000(O)000ooo_

“Kai and Mantosan, you are in my heart every day.   I will carry on your work until my last breath until my wings rest forever in the sand, or go up in the holy flames”.

Until now, I have only ever told Maia why I feel this way about you both.

My life was originally planned quite differently, before I met Kai, but I am happy with what I have now.  I love the life I’ve had, yes, even truth be told the endless hours riding the currents, soaring the hot billows, always searching for the next one and the next one to carry me on and on, knowing that death is just a broken wing away, just one small ‘insignificant little mistake’ away. Death is ever looking over my shoulder. And “yes”, I do cry at night that the voice of children is never for me, yet still, I love this life !

Who in this world does not pay a price ?

And who never feels that the price is too high ?

Last week I was welcomed by old Oi of the rocks, who dwells by a hidden spring so small it can only support him and his family. Lavender grows very well in the dry and sandy soil there and Oi’s people love it and use it, making medicines and oils they sell far and wide. The smell of lavender is still in my clothes.

Oi has an innate understanding of the human body, he is a mender. Oi asked about the weakness in my right side. Somehow he knew it was there. I remember the first time he gently touched that place of pain, he stepped back, smiling but would not look at me. I waited until he met my eyes, “Oi, my friend – I  know !”

He shook his head with tears in his eyes.

“Oi, there is little that I do not already know, but your silence tells me most clearly”.

Then Oi the shy one, embraced me.

Thank you old friend.

Oi receives very few visitors, he does not trust anyone easily. Living away from the protection of the larger Moraii this is natural. His hidden location is his only real defence. A single family such as his, could never stand long against a full attack from the air. I think he has access to underground passages in the rock, left by the ancients before the sea of sand, but it is only a hunch.

I cannot write of where Oi lives, not even of the direction. I do not want to carry the weight of yet another’s work.  I have already heaped upon myself enough for one lifetime. Let me finish this work well and I will be content with my life. It is all I ask now. Ha ha…, I have become modest, or is it realistic ? – after all these years.

Yet I am proud that Oi finally trusted me.

_ooo000(O)000ooo_

“Who is it that speaks to you ? Let me first tell you what I look like, that is easiest. My hair is long, tied back tightly down my spine in the style of all windriders. I am simply being honest when I describe myself as beautiful. I have a strong well proportioned body, I am kind hearted and children naturally come to play with me. For those reasons more than any others, I know I must win over the older women first. Pardon me if I speak plainly, but if  I were a man, I too would be attracted to a woman such as I. However I know this path is not for me. It is too late now for me. Inside I feel too old. My debt to Kai and Mantosan have been my work, and my family.  I know what I must do. I can do more as I am now, than by trying to force myself into a task I am not suited to and in which I would be as clumsy and ill-suited as a bird walking in the sand.

Speaking like this you may think I am already an old woman and indeed in spirit I feel so already.  I am told that I am now in the ‘full bloom of maturity’, though I do not feel it. Many a young man in search of a helpmate has looked at me and wondered if he could win me, or seduce me, or even force me.

Forsooth only one ever tried to force me, and he will wear the scars for the rest of his life. But for that last instant of pity I would have taken out not only one but both his eyes. It is his burden to carry, not something to lay at my feet !  No one in that Morai stood against me, no one defended him, though I do not visit there anymore.

I have no compunction about what I did and would do so again. You do not challenge an eagle unscathed !  Windriders do not often speak of this, but each of us has weapons to draw upon in times of utmost need.   I have never hesitated to use them.

Then there were a few who sought to win me openly, though now I no longer enjoy or encourage this game, I have become tired of it and in this respect I fear I am too old as well. Now I quickly stifle any hopeful questions and probing.  Word has spread and these days I rarely have to quell a hopeful young lad.  The old women know why.

My manner is direct but I am not hurtful, at least that is what I tell myself. I have no patience for the games of those who play with power and control. Games such as these will kill a windrider faster than anything else. Umijaabour does not play games,  perhaps because she is the ‘great game’. The sand, the sun and the wind don’t play stupid games, they are honest, not sentimental nor spiteful. They do not bear a grudge, they deal with you instantly. The windrider who wants to ride for months between the Moraii needs to earn her passage by being honest. Play games with the wind and you will find yourself caught in your own web ! In the early days many windriders were caught just so, lost in the sands and discovered years later, a white and dry tangle of bones and struts in the shifting sands. This is a fate any of us might one day face, but then who in this world does not face death in one form or another every day ?

I know of no one who has ever recorded the full extent of Umijaabour, the sea of sand or Umi-retish, the sea of water. I fly a path between five Moraii and each complete circuit takes the time of one revolution about the sun. To the north it is too cold to fly and the land is dead and sterile, the ground there is hard and brittle from the heat of a thousand suns which the ancients released in anger.

We do not know who destroyed the Great Southern Morai.

Tears burn me every time the image of those charred black remains comes to mind. I saw it many months after the event. Not a soul, not a body was left. The wind had carried strange omens for months before. Something dreadful had happened there. I never put down, never set foot on the ground.  Everything I needed to see, I saw from my glider.

I miss sensible Maia so much, I can still hear her voice quietly telling me her thoughts. “Maia, I hope you can hear me, I feel you are still with me, when I call you.  High up on a clear night, when all is silent, only the rush of wind around me, I can hear your answers, dear Maia”.

For myself, I love the dusk most of all, the air is gentle in a way it is not at any other time. The strong power of the dawn with its hopeful innocent strength is so different from the mellow, silky feel of the coming evening.  I am a dusk person. Kai used to say it meant I would do my greatest work when I was old. I doubt it, in that case I should have done it already.

The feeling of soaring on the wind, as she gently brushes my face and caresses my body is, beautiful.  Space stretching out below me, I soar above the world. That feeling alone makes everything worth while. I have no words to convey this to those who have not experienced it.  The power of the wind as she lifts me and carries me, pushing me, sometimes letting me glide dreamily and at other times jolting me roughly is sensual, like that of a lover, though you will not find many windriders say so openly. And the wind is more patient than a human lover, she surely carries you across the crest eventually. At those times I wonder how those thin wings of cloth, metal and wood can hold me high above the world, bending, swaying, hissing gently.

I can see in the eyes of the young ones, the way they look at me, those who love the wind and would be windriders. The elders ask me who in their Morai will soar the winds and I laugh at them and tell them to open their eyes and look around at this and that child in the corner, quietly gazing at me with silent longing or sitting on my lap, in rapt attention, lost in the stories of flying like an eagle. “Why do you ask ME ?” I tell them.  “See what the childrens’ faces tell you !”  These days I can speak to them in this manner, they know me.

Most of all I love flying in the deepest darkest hours of the night.  Only up high, soaring over the sands, hunting for isolated warm air pockets, the icy crystal clear sky above, do I feel free. In those times my feelings expand in all directions and I feel part of the wind, the sand, the moon, the star patterns above. I feel safe, being a part, a tiny part of it all.  Then I feel that the world is mine and I am held up by more than air and wind. I love the soft breeze, the endless space in all directions. Sometimes it helps me to forget my longings and other times I feel them stronger than ever, dropping tears on the sand.

Riding the wind at night means finding the last rising air currents to take me as high as possible, so that I won’t have to put down and wait in the sands until early morning.  But when I choose the wrong direction, I have to spend the night on the ground. But this does not happened often.

Kai and Mantosan always loved to fly the ‘night sun’, as they liked to call the moon. Mantosan developed the broad night rider’s wings. He taught me the way of ‘wake-sleep’. If the wind was kind, we used his way to fly for days on end without stopping.  Now I often stay aloft for seven days before I am forced to put down in the sand. I have become known as the fastest rider between the Moraii, though that is not what I sought to do. I do not care for this distinction. I fly to be alone, to be at peace, just to fly.  I don’t want to stop. I don’t want the interruptions.

Wherever I visit a Morai, then I know that in the deep night hours those who cannot sleep will come to my room to share their thoughts with me, things they cannot share with any one of their own.  I sleep lightly and my sleep on solid ground is not much different from sleep in the air. I can often hear their footsteps before they come to my door. Some hesitate, standing quietly before my door for a time.

Tian was one of those, I knew she stood there silently for a very very long time. I walked to the door and opened it, there was a child sitting on the floor looking up at me, her wet eyes glittered in the dim light. I was surprised, I had never had a nocturnal visitor so young.

Others came, purposefully, knocking urgently. Their manner of approach already tells me much. I do little, I mostly listen.  Most choices in our lives are in truth already set.

By this time, I have collected so many secrets I feel I have already lived many lifetimes; perhaps that too makes me feel old. I understand Kai better now, I too am changing from who I used to be.  My friends tell me so.

Some ask me to ‘see’ for them.  They have heard that I have talent and the old women have taught me how to shine a light some little way into the myriad of possible paths the future holds for each of us. I have looked at the paths of many people.  Sometimes the choices are few, and narrow, other times a few broad roads are interspersed with many fine lines as a spider web.  I cannot always speak of what I see, some things are forbidden and others are hidden from me.  However I prefer not to ‘see’ this way.  A quiet chat in the deepest night hours brings them more peace.

Early on, I was cautioned not to shine the light onto my own path. Twelve moons past, just before I met Oi, I felt I really needed to look. I was shown that which I wished not to see and which I cannot now forget. I understand now why it is better not to look.

—ooo000(O)000ooo—

I have written for one other reason.  Tomorrow I will leave on my last journey. I know it will be my last, though I do not know why it should be so, I feel it will be. When I look back over these past thirteen moons I see many small signs and I have come to see that without realizing it, that I have finished many small things.

At first I thought of it simply as my desire for a simple life, but looking back I can see how I have prepared myself for this day. I have fulfilled my promises, paid what I owe, I have spoken plainly of my feelings to all my close friends in every Morai.

Perhaps that is why I feel so much for little Tian. Now she is still too young to understand. I cannot speak to her as to my other older friends. I know she looks to me as her older sister, her hero. Perhaps when she is older one day she will read this and understand.

“Little Tian, one day you too will be a windrider. I miss you already, why are you still so young ?”

—ooo000(O)000ooo—

When I look back over the years, I remember only glimpses through the windows. I am envied for my freedom to come and go, to fly away, but they do not know the price of this freedom.

Yet I regret nothing !

Not even the hardest and most painful part of my life: always and all the time, leaving people behind, a new acquaintance or an old friend.  When next we meet again a whole cycle of the sun will have passed, thirteen moons and the young ones are older and different people – we meet again almost as strangers.  Yet still I look forward to those meetings.

Do those who stay in one place know how good it feels to be welcomed by their smiling faces after many weeks riding the wind, living high in the air, sleeping while flying, sleeping in the sand ?

When I arrive, I have good food and my own room, and that is a great comfort. But do they know that their open arms mean even more to me ? – that being part of their circle is what keeps me alive ?  Some do, the very old ones do.

And yet Arda has told me of the price of staying. She has told me of the pain of being left behind and how she envied me every time she saw me climb to the top of her Morai. Everyone watching me, wishing me well, weaving their love and care around me before I left. She said she envied me the knowledge of the wind, how I  teased out the wind, until a strong current carried me away and out of her life for who knows how long.

I feel for her….

I think she should become a windrider, she is tall and heavy but she loves the wind.

I remember a poem I read in an old book once:

Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day[1].

I like to sing it to myself high up in the air, in the deep quiet of the night, when the wind is calm and carries me gently.


—ooo000(O)000ooo—


This is the last night, it is time to fold away these papers, and join the old women, Aldi, Arda and Marly. They will have last words for me to carry to the other Moraii, and as always, they will ask me to carry more than I should. And for once, for the very first time, I will refuse. When they finally understand I will long be gone.

Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.

Even if I wanted to speak, what would I say ? …and even should I know what to say, what good would it do ?

Would they even believe me ?

I think not.

I look at them with a new intensity, deeply drinking in this last night.

And they do not know. If I seem strange and absent to them, it is the lot of all windriders…

Tian, I have asked for a small present to be made for you, two pure white pearls, encased in silver to wear in your ears, in the manner of the old ones. One day you will understand what they really mean and that I meant them as a farewell gift. Then you will understand that I loved you when I left.  They are in the bottom of your bag, along with the other things you asked me to bring you. You will find them when I am far away I pray.

“Oh breath of Umijaabour, you who carry my life in your hand every moment, I ask you to whisper to my little sister Tian, whisper to her of my love when she is alone, when she is crying because I have not returned. Please whisper to her these words of mine.

‘Be strong when I am gone. Grow up and be strong and learn all you can my little Tian. I will not be  there to hold you again. I am so sorry …. I will be there to ease your pain… on the wind, that is where you will feel my love, I will be there for you always, even after I have left this world, will I be watching you.’

Oh, Tian, you have your family, your sister and brother, but I will always think of you as the daughter I never had.

….when I leave tomorrow morning, you will smile, wave and call to me. You will not guess, why I cannot look back at you even once, because if I did, I would never leave. I would stay in this Morai for the rest of my life.

You will look for me in thirteen moons, but I will not be there. Perhaps I am wrong and we will meet again, but in my heart I know it is not so. When we meet again, it will not be in this world.

“And Tian wide eyed little one that you are…. forgive me when I do not come back”.

—ooo000(O)000ooo—

Tian found her gift, she became a windrider.

She never forgot her ‘older sister’.

Pearls are the most precious gift in a world of sand without water.

When she was an old woman, Tian passed the pearls set in silver on to her daughter Ngagimi.

The original letter was found in Tian’s belongings when she died and is now in my library.

This letter became well known throughout the Moraii, it was her greatest work. Many copied it and read it to each other, even making plays of it.  Some said it was just a story, that it was not a true story.

Er-el-Jarhum

_ooo000(O)000ooo_

“But the fruit holds immortality,” said the miner.

“Come with me,” said the Traveller.

Beaton followed him back to the village and then to a particular hut. There, on the floor of the main living quarters lay an old emaciated woman, gasping for breath. Two young women sat by her side, holding her thin hands, the webs now cracked and brittle.

“But she’s dying,” said Beaton to the Traveller.

“No, she is changing,” he said. “The white fruit from the seed of your friend  disallows change”.

“But she is physically dying then” said Beaton.

“I understand what you mean,” said the Traveller.

“I wasn’t sure at first. This word ‘death’ is a difficult idea. If you want to reach the land where there is no death, you must travel a twelve season journey. I will show you the path, but I will not go with you.”

“Then I haven’t reached paradise ? said Beaton.

“What is paradise ?” asked the Traveller. “that white fruit is an unchanging dream. It is death, as you call it. Now I must take it back to the world of those like you. We cannot have it here.”

“The Physiognomy”, Jeffery Ford, Ch 19 pp155, Avon Books, Harper Collins, 1997.

_ooo000(O)000ooo_


[1] (Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Translated  by Lafcadio Hearn, from his book: “In Ghostly Japan”, 1899.

Ngagimi

February 10, 2009

Ngagimi

– the outpost

…’tis not the darkness thou fear’st my friend

but the blinding light of day,

should’st thine fears be taken away

revealing life without end….

–  Ngagimi, “Voices of Xylantheum”

o0(O)0o

Dusk. The warm wind carried the smell of smoke, fire and food. Just three old solid stone houses, a few small palms with sharp leaves like knife blades.

He sat in his comfortable reclining chair in the shadows of the verandah looking out over the sea of sand. In all directions a vast sea of sand, sparse tufts of grass here and there sheltered by odd twisted rocks. Directly in front of him was a faint glow of lights on the horizon. It grew a little brighter and was easier to see as the darkness gathered. The wind was still warm. Stars stood out like pinpricks. The remaining unshuttered window behind him glowed a warm orange.

.

His clothes were old now, but well made and of good quality long ago. He sat back and let his mind rove in all directions, sweeping a huge spiral around his house including the sky above and the subterranean caves. Ever since the attack, he did this at least once every hour.

No danger, no change, just the solitary figure of Ngagimi, still walking towards this place. He sensed that she was tired, but she would reach him. Not everyone made it.  She  was strong enough.

The chime of an old-fashioned grandfather clock reached him, coming from inside the house.  It was the reminder he had set himself to scan the area, though for years now he had been playing an old game: he would set his body clock to scan just before the chime, finishing exactly when it started its tune. By now, after many years of playing this game, his body’s innate sense of timekeeping was virtually perfect, he knew exactly when it was time.

He’d seen her walking all day, he knew she was coming, he’d seen her coming in his mind’s eye before he ever saw the faint dot moving in the shimmering heat of the day. Daytime was no time to walk in this desert. That was the  time to put your tent up and sleep. But of course Ngagimi would not listen to such wisdom, ‘that was her’ he thought with a grim smile, ‘she always chose the hard way’.

It would take her another five hours to reach him.

Last time he saw her was over twenty years ago. They had not parted as friends. What brought her out here now, at a time like this, walking on her own ?  And to see him of all people ?

‘Stop!’ He pulled his thoughts back to the present. He could not afford to let himself think about that time again, he would loose himself and it might take a day to return. He would never get lost in the sands, but in his mind, there he had lost himself before, – for years. It was like resisting the itch to scratch an insect bite, hard not to kid himself that he would scratch it just that one tiny little bit, just once. He knew, once he started he would not stop.

The wind picked up the heat and the dry desiccated smell of sand and wrapped it around him, but there were pockets of cool air in it already. In an hour it would be too cold to sit out here without a jacket. He went inside to get it and checked on dinner cooking in the oven. It smelled nice.

When he sat down again, it was almost too dark to make out Ngagimi’s shape, she was barely visible, a tiny dot against the almost dark horizon. He turned around to make sure the window behind him was unshuttered. Yes, she’d see the light. As a rule he never let any light escape after dark, it had attracted too many strange refugees from the city and other places. Yes, it might look desolate and empty out there, but he had learnt the hard way.

It was said that if you died out there in the sands, it took less than a day and only your bones were left. In the beginning he thought it was a superstition to keep people in awe, huddled in their towers and subterranean wells. But since he had come here he had seen it happen often enough to know that there was more to it.

Every now and then, some raving, deranged soul would wander out of the city, out into the sands, scarcely knowing what they did.

None had been prepared for the sands or taken provisions. In the beginning he had gone to find them, to take them back or bring them here. Some he had reached in time. Others had quickly died in the heat of day, or frozen to death at night before he could reach them.

By the time he arrived nothing of their bodies remained but a clean dry skeleton. In less than a  day, sometimes after only a few hours nothing was left. There were never any footprints, nor had he ever seen birds or vultures. “The desert is hungry”, was an old saying. He had come to believe it.

In he early days he had asked discreet questions in the city. He was always told that it was either money or love that had driven them to desperation and out into the harsh vastness, seeking some kind of relief. He knew desperation, but he doubted it was the real story.

***

He too, left long ago, but he had planned it carefully. His first clear memory after the turmoil of leaving the city was looking back at it from a long way out. It had been an evening like this.

The shining city stood tall and solitary in a sea of sand and low bristly bushes with hard sharp needles on small twisted branches. They stood their ground in the biting cold winds of the night and the hot blinding heat of the sun.

The city, a beehive of human activity. It’s fragile butterfly beauty, humming and bustling with life and movement and yet so precariously founded on nothing but sand and the huge caverns hidden beneath it. There humans had huddled together, as a defence against the sand and bristle bushes stretching for thousands of miles in all directions. But it was more than that, it was a defence against something undefinable.

He looked back, on the beehive, the tall pyramid shaped buildings lit up from within. Between two large  buildings on the city’s edge bright purple and red light came streaming from the ground and flooded the docks. Cargo Zeppelins were tied to them, like giant balloons in the breeze pointing out the direction of the wind. It looked beautiful from this distance.

These specks of brightly shimmering light looked alive in the monotonous pastel colours of sand. Sand stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. The colours in the city drew the eye like a magnet, like jewels around a woman’s neck. Better not think like that.

He remembered the desire to go back to the city, like a magnet it drew him, pulled at him, gently but relentlessly. Just as relentlessly he had walked on and on until he arrived at this small cluster of houses half buried in the sand. He had retreated here before, when life in the city seemed ALL there was and human problems swamped his mind. The place had nothing, except a tiny little well, in deep old caves, yet having that, it had the most important thing in this world.  An old couple had lived there at the time.

But that time he had come to stay. The first thing he did on arrival was to plant pine trees from the few precious seeds he had brought with him. Three of them had survived, their roots had found the water below and they thrived. But he kept them pruned low, out of sight.

Some claimed this had been the first settlement, before the present city even. But such  debates did not interest him. So what if it had been or not ? Did it matter to anyone now ?

He stopped himself thinking about ‘her’ and what had brought him here. It was dangerous enough to think of his beginning time here.  He must not scratch he itch, else he could not stop.

He loved the simplicity of life here. There was no clutter, just the clean smell of the sand, wind, time and age. The smell of century after century… of thousands of years… of time herself… and he a passing speck. But it was lonely here and her coming here disturbed his loneliness.

In the city he had been successful, but felt he had felt insignificant, a nothing. He smiled as he thought about this. He had tried to become and succeeded in being a ‘big’ man, impressing everyone except Ngagimi and Sari the only ones he really cared about. Chuckling to himself he remembered Sari, her disfigured face looking at him with those strange Aesciine eyes of hers. She had tried to teach him in many subtle ways, but he had never heard her. Not until he came here did he understand what she had tried to tell him.  But then, she too had learnt the hard way, her face bore the traces. And after all these years, she still came to see him.

Out here he enjoyed feeling small, like an ant before the enormity of time. He felt small in the endless sea of sand, small and tiny before the blue vast sky…

In the city, others had ceased to be human, they had become only been obstacles to fight. He had lost his bearings, lost them with her who was out there now, coming to see him after all this time.

He shivered, not because of the cool breeze but because he knew that Ngagimi would not come here without good reason and he could not imagine what that might be. It had been over twenty years, yet it seemed like yesterday. Time was really just a dream.

He cast his mind out towards Ngagimi.  It would still take her a few hours to reach him. He walked back into his house and down a long spiral staircase descending far below the surface. The only sound his echoing footsteps as he descended into the cavernous depth, – that and the occasional ‘plop’ of water into a pool.

Placing his candle in precisely the same spot he had used for two decades, he lit a single stick of incense and knelt before the golden image, asking for a blessing for the one coming to see him.

………..

He came back to the present with a jolt. The candle was almost at its end. He had fallen into a deep trance. Like someone waking up and waying from side to side, he made his way back up.

Outside it was almost totally dark only the faint light of the night sky provided finer shades of gray. The wind blew warm from the north. The lights of the city glowed faintly on the far horizon and the starlight of distant suns opened up vast spaces above him. He always thought of the light of day as a door that shut out the vast expanse of the Universe above him. Now that door was open, and he again felt part of that immense space. He saw himself sitting  on the surface of this planet, the starlight emitted millions of years ago reaching him now at this time. He knew this was but one of countless worlds in an endless river of time.  He had no words to express what he felt then, but those were the feelings that had brought him out here and still kept him here.

It was what he had always missed in the city, though he did not know it until he left for the first time as a young man. Then he suddenly understood what it meant to breathe freely. And yet his fellow travellers had been terrified. After that first time he used every excuse to leave the city. And he had met others, strange ones like himself who also felt the need to touch that freedom.

Back in the city his world had again shrunken to the size of his desk and a room. His feelings had shrunk to frustrated outrage about the latest insult or injustice done unto him. His life had consisted of pacing the cage of work and friendships, his triumphs were made up of beating someone else in the scramble for the crumbs falling from above.

That and devouring the latest gossip about Sorio’s love live. When it all became too much, he would zone out on drugs like everyone else.

Compared to his life now, it had been like being blind and deaf, though it was not as lonely, he admitted that with a grim smile.

“You  don’t recognize old friends anymore ?”, a voice from the shadows.

He jumped  at the sound.  A dark tall woman stepped out of the shadow of the verandah on his left. Brass and silver bands were tightly wound about her upper arms and just above the elbows. She wore a stylish loose fitting dress, something that would have looked stunning at a cocktail soiree.

“Ngagimi”, a deep breath, ” – always the same, I should have known”, he smiled at her, “…been waiting long dearest ?”

“Ever since you left”, her mouth set, but curled into a tiny smile at the edges.

“and the joker still”, he replied.

“Please do sit”, he stood and gestured overtly to the wide armchair, covered in faded, once brightly coloured cushions beside him.

She remained standing, “I won’t stay long – … dearest”, she added the last word almost as an afterthought, tenderly, without the sarcasm and the bile she had usually put into that word. He could just make out a faint outline of her face in the darkness and saw her sphinx like smile.

“I came to give you this”, and she held out to him a small delicate earring, silver, encasing a tiny pure white pearl.

He recognized it but was too stunned to speak. Staring at her face he came out of his chair slowly as in a dream. When he stood before her, he held out his hand never taking his eyes off her face. With a soft clink the delicate jewelry dropped into his cupped hand.

“Good”, she said, “when you receive the other one, then you will know”.

With those words she turned and walked away from him out into the night.

Stunned he watched her go.

After a few steps he just lost sight of her in the darkness.

Then suddenly he got up and ran after her.

He stopped abruptly before a pile of clothes on the ground. Here the footprints stopped.  Her dress, shoes and silver and brass bands.

He squatted down, picked up the silky cloth as  well as her shoes and looked about from ground level. Nothing !  No one could hide in this flatness, even in this darkness a human shape would stand out against the sky. He smelt the soft cloth, it was her, but of her, there was no sign.

He sat where he was, watching, listening, for a long time.

Goosebumps rippled down his back as if he was being observed, but it was impossible to know who was watching him.  From that moment on he felt a presence that remained with him until he died.

The next day someone else set out from the city for his house. Whoever it was followed the wise desert travelers ways. They slept in the hottest part of the day, walked slowly and steadily, traveling in the ways of an experienced walker. In his regular scanning he tracked her progress, at that rate, it would take her two days to reach him.

As he had guessed, after two days, in the late afternoon, a human figure, a woman, became visible on the horizon. The shimmering heat liquefied and distorted her outline as she walked. It was someone who knew how to cover herself. Every attempt to ‘read’ her from a distance was firmly repelled. He could not find out her intent, nor who it was or why they had come.

He stopped his writing for the day, lit a candle and climbed down the spiral stairs to sit before the waters of the pool. He moved a tray so as to catch the falling drops before they hit the surface. Breathing slowly, he looked at his reflection. After a time he felt the space before him expand and melt away in all directions. It was as though he could feel the density of water, rock and air around him become thin vapour. Then images flooded his mind in quick succession.

He spent a long time in front of the pool, then climbed back to solid reality. Shivering, he shook himself like a dog coming out of water. He had not seen anything concrete, there had been much to see, but it had been deliberately veiled from him. He knew from experience that only after the events would he understand what he had seen.

Outside the weather had turned ominously quiet, tense and hazy. A sand storm was about to break. He bolted everything down.

He watched the haze in the distance become more solid, the air around him seemed to stand still, there was not the faintest breeze.

His visitor was very close, he could see she was hurrying now, it would be a race against time as to which of them reached him first.

Then a small movement, in the distance he saw the plants move suddenly, a wave of hot air racing along the ground pushing the little bushes even lower, sweeping past her.

She was running, head down and bent low. Had she been further out in the sands she would have dug a shallow trench and lain in it long ago, but she was too close to her destination.

Against his better judgment he slipped a sandmask over his head and ran out towards her. He used the crab-like sideways gait of experienced desert travelers.  It protected him and still allowed him move where he wanted to. She too wore a mask and ran, half walked in the same sideways motion.

This wind was a sandblaster, picking up sand and rasping every patch of exposed skin blood raw in an instant. He remembered seeing bloody bodies almost devoid of skin in the exposed parts. Some had been stripped to the bone in places. The storm was just beginning.

It was hard to see. Gray mist, dust and sand obscured his vision.

He was could not remember the direction she had gone in after he last saw her. Checking his compass he noticed he had drifted too far to the south. The wind increased its fury and he had no choice but to throw himself face forward into the sand, spreading his arms and legs as far apart as possible. His hands and feel clawed the sand, groping for a rock or a bush or anything. This storm could grow strong enough to lift him off the ground, dropping him close by or taking him far out into the deep desert where he had no hope of living longer than a day. He had better find some kind of anchor quickly.

Then something heavy, soft and white thudded onto him.

It was the visitor. Lying on top of him then sliding to the side she encircled his waist and held onto him with her right arm.

Her arm around him was powerful. He held her around the waist to cement the grip she had on him. The wind increased in speed and they had to hold tighter. A number of times he was lifted off the ground by he force of the storm.

He wondered why they were not carried away or rolled along the ground.  Then he saw that she held onto something else with her left arm. Her left arm was extended and held onto a steel cable tied to a belt around her waist. She had brought a sand anchor !

The cable was taught and hummed with the strain of holding them both, but the anchor held.

His clothes started to wear thin, in some places he felt his skin blasted away by the millions of sharp sand particles roaring past them every second.

He had heard of other places where the grains of sand were rounded and smooth, but he had only ever known this sand, like tiny pieces of broken glass, sharp and merciless at high speeds.

He tried to help her, thinking to ease the strain on her arm. She shook her head and pushed away his efforts, motioning him to hold tight around her waist.

Then came the deafening crackling and searing of a lightning flash. For an instant the smell of Ozone and the dry blasted smell of vapourized and molten sand. The static electricity made his skin crawl. Vicious flashes played about them, gradually moving away to the East.

It was some time before they were able to stand up. When they finally emerged, from underneath a blanket of sand the sky was dark and clean swept. She unhooked the cable and inserted its end into a small pear shaped device. Then she could pull the cable out of the sand easily. At its end was a small spindle, like the closed bud of a flower. The sand anchor. It had to be shot into the soft sand and there the leaves of the spindle’s bud would open wide. He smiled. He had never seen nor used one, distaining them as an aid for the careless and inexperienced.

She cleaned and stored the cable, then would it up and primed the barrel of the anchor. Only then did she turn  to him, looking at him with all black eyes that reminded him of Ngagimi.

“I am Nga-fathima, daughter of Ngagimi, daughter of Er-el-Jarhum”, she held her left hand at chest height palm out, in greeting. He matched her palm with his.

He narrowed his eyes and looked at her for a long time. Then he inclined his head towards her, “I am Er-el-Jarhum” he introduced himself. They walked to the house.

Sand was piled high, up to the windows, it would be hard work to clear it all away over the next few days. Perhaps another storm would help him ?

They entered the house. Deliberately and slowly, watching her as she sat on a cushion, he prepared Chai for her, saying nothing.  Nga-fathima sat quietly, resting.

Neither of them wanted to break the silence first.

“She never mentioned you”, he said as he put the cup of hot Chai before her.

Taking it and holding it, she looked him in the eye: “I asked her not to”,.

He looked away, went to the kitchen.

“You look like her”, he said when he returned.

Sipping the spicy tea, neither of them spoke for a long time. They looked at each other.  He noticed the ticking of the clock, the soft whispering of the breeze.  Time slowed down.

He watched her intently, “she was here three days ago”.

Her head jerked up from its cup, she searched his face,  her lips pressed together, trying to stop herself speaking.

She stood up, walked to the window and standing perfectly still looked out for a long time. Then she turned quickly with her arm held out directly in front of her, palm up. On it lay a small delicate earring, silver, encasing a tiny pure white pearl. “For you !”.

He stared at her open palm.

When he raised his eyes to meet hers, she held him with her eyes and said quietly:  “She died three days ago”.

ooo000(O)000ooo


Princes Hill, Australia,

2004-2008

The Lady on the Train

February 2, 2009

I was sitting in the train carriage on my own one night on the way home.

A lady came in.

She sat down next to me and looked at me. Suddenly I felt as if I’d just woken up and remembered why I wanted to be born. My life until that moment seemed like a dream to me. I understood that life was worth while – something about her inspired me to reach out to where I had never dared to go before.

There was something odd about her eyes, I couldn’t pick what it was at the time.

She told me a story about someone I knew and vaguely remembered. She told me about his past and she told me about his future. She showed me how the great disasters of his life fitted into a picture that made perfect sense.

Her voice was calm and peaceful and and I felt as though every word cam from an infinite time and distance and had taken an eternity to reach me at this moment.

Then she patted my hand and looked into my eyes for a long time. I saw her lips move and after a while I realized she was calling my name. But it was a name that I’d never heard before, but it was more ME than the one I’d used all my life.

She smiled and stood up.

“We’ll meet again, – enjoy your journey”.

She walked away and I didn’t even remember which way she went.

I have never doubted that we would meet again. At times I have felt impatient, but I know that she will choose her own time and place.

In her honour I live – I am awake every moment.

Her eyes had no whites,  they were solid black.