August 23, 2012

Okurokami - part 16

In the twilight of dawn in which two opposite worlds meet, the sparse woods lay quiet as if still uncertain whether to begin a new day or not. The dew-pearled grass and leaves have yet to come into their full colors with the half light of the early morning, and yet they are ripe with promise. Amongst them, a dirt road, hardly more than a path, makes it way down from a hill. 

Takeko, travelling alone, crests the hill and spies a small wayside eatery and tea house at the bottom.  She was surprised to see that their Noren  was already out, but not one to question a good thing she made her way down the path to the promise of a warm breakfast.
A noren: curtain set above the entry of shops and restaurants, often advertising their trade
"Hello young lady." The old man said as he stepped through entrance… As she returned his greeting, she wondered what it was about him that struck her. Perhaps it was the thick pony tie the man had tied his strange silver hair in? Or the brightness of the eyes in his age-lined face?

"You look like you need a rest, young miss. Have a seat and I'll get you some food and some tea."
"Uhm… Thank you." Takeko said as she sat down on the wooden bench in front of the small wooden building. No sooner had she taken the weight of her feet that the old man reappeared with tray laden with a large bowl of noodles and two cups of tea.

"That was quick!" She said as she took the tray from him. She eyeballed the noodles suspiciously, they had to be have been ready in advance, which meant they were yesterday's noodles… In other words they had to be soggy, also there was a pair of strange brown spongy looking squares on top. At any rate, it smelled delicious and was piping hot, judging from the steam wafting up from the bowl. She shrugged picked up her chopsticks, said "Itadakimasu" and experimentally slurped some noodles from clear soup. She paused for moment, chewed, and was amazed to find that the udon were perfect! They had that springy bounce that characterizes good noodles, and they had absorbed some of the rich yet subtle flavors from the clear broth. She then took a bite from one of the spongy squares. Her eyes widened as the rich sweet fried tofu flavor exploded into mouth. The old man chuckled as he sat down on the other bench and stretched his legs, "I knew you would like it."
"I do, it's delicious! What do you call this dish?"
"It's called kitsune-udon." He said giving her a wink. "Judging from the way you're going at it, you must not have had a good meal in a while… have you been travelling long?"
"Mphhu mphuu slrrrp." Takeko answered as she finished off her bowl. "Phouaaah, that was delicious. Yes, I have been travelling for a while, but it's a long story."
"Well, tell you what… it's a slow morning, I'll trade you some chichi dango for the story?"
Kitsune udon
 Under normal circumstances, Takeko would never even have considered retelling her tale to this strange man, no matter how kindly his seemed, but there was something about him, something she couldn't quite place, he inspired a feeling akin to nostalgia for something she couldn't remember... Perhaps she was merely lonely and emotionally weary. She sighed and nodded, in broad strokes, she started retelling the story of her life.

The unfortunate circumstances of her birth… The blind old warrior hermit… The quiet years in his grove spent learning bushido, reading his books, and tending to his twilight years… His death and the appearance of Teruro Magunojo in her life, quickly followed by that of Ingen. Their travels together as they trailed after Taizan Deshimaru. The twin evils he unleashed by attempting to bring a man's wife from the dead. Finally, she came to recent events and her retelling got more detailed. She had tried to avoid thinking about it, but somehow she felt that now, in the company of this old man was a time to reflect over those events. If only as a form of homage to those involved.