Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Something I wrote long time ago and never finished. Reading it again, I cringe at some parts and wonder what in the world I had been thinking when I wrote that. Oh well, if you can't laugh at old works, then what can you?
It was a gloomy morning, cold with winter chill. Snow blanketed the wooden rooftops and the dirty streets of Mibu. Everyone everywhere sought warmth under shelter and in front of a fire. In the middle of the worst morning in this year's winter a lone female figure collapsed onto the snowy road.
The melting snow seeped into her white yukata, turning it translucent against her bruised pale skin. Tears trailed from her eyes in hopeless despair and from the biting cold.
I am going to die, she though. Like a dog in the street. She was going to leave this world, nameless and unmourned.
Life's greatest pleasure lie in the simplest of things. That was what Shirokawa Fumiyoshi believed. He took his time enjoying a stick of dango under a paper umbrella, that had been set out in front of a tea shop to shield guests from the scorching summer sun. Only, the sun was hiding behind the clouds and it was still not yet summer.
Winter remained in the bones of the old Mibu village. Passers-by running daily errands looked awkwardly at this stranger - this foreigner - who was calmly enjoying his snacks outside, unfazed by the teeth-shattering winds.
Fumiyoshi finished the last of his snack and downed his green tea, which had been left out for so long it had gone ice-cold. He paid the owner and thanked him for the information about the girl, who had been found unconscious several mornings ago.
"Poor girl, being captured by the Miburo and all that," the owner of the tea shop commented with a sigh. "She'd be better off dead. Who knows what those wolves have done to her by now." The owner saw Fumiyoshi twitch and frowned. "Are you alright? I told you eating outside during winter is stupid but you youngsters never listen to a word from the elderly."
"I assure you, I'm fine." He picked up his walking stick and donned his rice-planter hat. "I shall take my leave now."
Winters were not kind in Mibu. Although the worst of this year's winter has passed, it was still common to catch death in the outdoor chill. Many Mibu villagers, out on their own business, turned to stare as Fumiyoshi walked the streets in only two layers of clothing: his underclothes and the peasant robes he travelled in. By normal standards, he was two layers of clothing too short.
It was obvious that this foreigner was made of something else; made of Aizu winters and hailstorms too many to remember, to be exact. Winter was always the cruelest of seasons because there was no way to hide from it if you were poor.
Such was the case with our current protagonist, who - for the first time in his life - was venturing outside Aizu. Given the opportunity and the money, Fumiyoshi would have preferred to see the shores of Hokkaido or visit the shrines in Edo, rather than come out all the way to a place like Mibu, where the people spoke differently and the spirit of the revolution was high.
Alas, he was not in Mibu for sight-seeing. That was just an added bonus. This little trip was using up his entire life's savings, which wasn't much to begin with, and he was already starting to wonder if it was all worth it.
Fumiyoshi entered a small trinket store and picked up a wooden sculpture of Shisa, about the size of his hand. As he pretended to examine it, he looked out the window at the large compound on the other side of the street.
There were two men stationed at the main entrance into the spacious compound. Both of them wore similar stoic expressions, a traditional Japanese topknot and sky-blue haori patterned with white mountains at the hem of the wide sleeves. Hanging from their hips was a dangerous-looking katana, accompanied by a shorter wakizashi.
Although the weapons were eye-catching, it was the haori which drew attention. Most haori in this period were dark in colour; deeper and richer if they were expensive, and duller for the cheaper ones. For haori to have such bright colours - like sky-blue - was quite unheard of, which was why it was perfect as a trademark.
The group of samurais hired by the protector of Kyoto to enforce the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate were very well known for their bright-coloured haori. Around Japan, they were known as the Shinsengumi - Newly Selected Corps - but here in Mibu, they were better known as the Miburo. The wolves of Mibu. It was their headquarters that lie opposite Old Man Matsumoto's trinket shop.
Several villagers that had engaged in small talk with Fumiyoshi mentioned screams of pain coming from the compound. At the moment, the headquarters was relatively silently, save for the telltale thwack of a bokken (wooden sword) as members trained inside.
Fumiyoshi regarded the compound with a wary eye and a sigh. At seventeen years, Shirokawa Fumiyoshi was feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. Early in his childhood, there was comfort and love. But they had been followed by ill fortune after his father's death, leaving him dirt poor and virtually alone.
And now, the only remaining member of his immediate family had been taken captive by a hostile group of sword-wielding men.
If it had been up to him, he would've gladly left his sister to the Shinsengumi. Of all their years together, he never had a single good memory of his older sister. She always played favourites and was never considerate. Their parents had often warned her that she would end up in trouble if she continued on like that.
True enough, she was promised to a rich merchant, who was violent with her. It wasn't long after the marriage that the selfish girl rebelled and ran away. In retrospect, from her being married to Merchant Yamashi to being captured by the Shinsengumi, Kasumi's prospects haven't improved much.
Fumiyoshi paid for the wooden Shisa and left the trinket shop. Although there was no love lost between him and Kasumi, he had told his dead father he would take care of his sister. Fumiyoshi scoffed at the idea now. He shouldn't have promised that delirious, dying man anything.