Shini no Miko

Hibiki no koe ni ozuru ga gotoshi
Even as the echo answers to the voice.

On the street, no matter where you go, you will find the same things. There are always vendors, hawking their wares. Children will always chase carts and play games along the edges of the street. The sound of their songs is picked up by the wind and carried into the air, no matter what language they are singing in. People are always buying and selling. There is an ever-present cloud of fine dust in the air of every city, drawn up by horse's hooves, cart wheels, and the feet of a thousand people. Wives will always haggle over produce prices, and men will socialize in shop doorways. The poor always linger, hoping for alms, and, somewhere, there is almost always the sound of someone praying.

Sometimes you must listen intently to hear all of it. If you are quiet enough, you will start to hear the city come to life around you. With the sounds come the smells, the sights. The canal, perhaps, brings to mind many more things than just the sound of slowly running water. The scent of slightly rotten sewage, wet dirt, molding wood and paper, the sound of geta on a stone bridge, conversation in a nearby teahouse . . . a woman's laughter.

No matter where you go, these sounds are inevitably the same. They change very little with the seasons, or from day to night. Exceptions exist, of course. During Gion, Kyoto is an uproar. Religious festivals draw people out of brothels and towards the local temples - and then, perhaps, back again, but that is a different matter. Depending on the season, the time of day, the weather, even, different sectors of the city will sound different. Yet it is all still the same.

If you are quiet enough, you begin to sense everything. The water rushing by in a swelling stream can be overwhelmed by the noise a hibiscus flower makes falling to wet cobblestones. A woman's scent may be stronger than the stench of contaminated water.

Maybe I'm waxing poetic. I'll blame it on the weather. The snow makes me think of so many things. Winter is truly a time of silence . . . It calls to mind a time when I was deaf and blind. I was, briefly. Thinking of it makes me appreciate what really is around me all the more.

The truth is, sometimes I have to ask people to speak up a little, if they aren't sitting in the right place. I must focus on what they're saying. Maybe there was some permanent damage done to my ears in those cold, white woods. The ringing in my ears that day was the worst I'd ever heard, so bad that blood rolled down my jaw.

But all life really is, after a time, is an echo. Tokyo mimics Kyoto, which mimics previous capitals, all the way back to Osaka. Love stories that unfolded a thousand years ago will unfold again tomorrow. City after city, life after life, become copies of each other, reflections in a still pool of water . . .

Kenshin . . . ?

I say. I stroke my lover's dark hair protectively.

What's your most prominent memory of Tomoe-san?

I'm quiet for a moment. Of Tomoe . . .

A pause. Do you mind?

A little smile crosses my lips. No, it's all right. I fall silent again, thinking. Besides her death, you mean.

Oh, Kenshin . . .

It occurs to me that I do not know what my most prominent memory of her is, other than how heavy she felt in my arms once her muscles were no longer of any use, or how hot her blood was, how it made the snow steam slightly. It feels as though there are many memories, and, yet, there are also so many days that I cannot remember. Over the years, it seems that we often forget the unremarkable days . . . But those are the days I wish I could remember the most. I think, I say finally, it is her mirror.

Her mirror? A frown crosses my lover's features. How do you mean?

I bought it for her one day . . . She kept it in her desk, beside her kaikan. Before we left the house, or often in the evening, by lamplight, she would take out her mirror, and look at herself. Sometimes, the way she looked at her reflection . . . It was as if she didn't know who she was.

Yahiko drops pebbles into the fish pond. Kaoru would yell at him for it, but I find it rather soothing, really. He sits on the edge of the pond, and watches the ripples spread outwards from the point of impact. The fish, of course, scatter from his tiny stones, but they come back as soon as the water is settled again. I cannot see the fish today, but I know what Yahiko is watching. I was a boy once, too, disturbing the serenity of someone's fishpond. Such things are always the same.

As I do the laundry, I think that I am going to hell. It's a common enough thought. Even though the snow has melted away - it was unseasonable, anyway, the cold weather makes me think of the past. People say that memories get distorted with time, but I don't think that's the case. In my experience, the memory of an act is just as clear as the real thing.

For that reason, it's easy for me to slip into such melancholy thoughts. It's far too easy for me to remember the dead, those I killed . . . And, worse yet, it's simpler still to think of all the other people, those I have never even met, who I have hurt.

Kaikan a dagger which women traditionally carried. I'd guess that's what Tomoe has. But maybe not.
Um, this was originally supposed to be for a fiction contest that Tales from the Meiji Era was hosting. But I didn't finish it in time, so - Anyway, there theme was kotowaza, which are Japanese proverbs. Mine's up at the top, in the italics, with the translation following.