In the summer of her twenty-second year, Uki finally got married. Her fiance was beside himself with joy and relief, for Uki hadn't told him that she'd put the wedding off because she wanted to wait for Outa's thirteenth birthday to pass, and he'd spent the past two years agonizing over why she wouldn't just settle down and marry him!
On the night before the wedding, her last night in her father's house, neither of the siblings could sleep. They sat on opposite sides of the fire, face-to-face, with the sounds of Kamishomoemon's snores in the background.
"You've gotten really pretty, Sis," Outa said gloomily.
laughed. "Why do you sound so disappointed about
"Because. It's because you're pretty that you're getting married tomorrow. If I had an ugly hag for a sister, she'd never have to go away."
"Oh, Outa," she sighed. "I'm literally a ten minute's walk away! Don't talk as though I'm moving to China or something."
"It's not the distance." Outa mopily poked at the fire with a stick. "You'll have your own family soon, and you won't have as much time for this one anymore. Things like that happen all the time." He'd never really known their mother, and all his life, Uki had been both sister and mother to him. For ages, she and Dad were his whole world, and now half of it was going to be gone.
She was using her you're-in-trouble-now-young-man voice, so he looked
up obligingly. "Haven't I taught you better than to sulk like
His face twisted into that half-grimace, half-pout he never got out of the habit of making. "You're right, you're right. I'm almost a man now, and I can take care of myself and Dad."
Uki gazed at her brother through the flickering flames. When did he get to be so old, such a big and handsome boy? And so mature, too. "You're so grown-up now," she murmured. "It's all thanks to that man, isn't it?" The last part was said to herself.
The man with "aku" on his back, the reason why Outa still wore the same symbol on his back, had told her to stop coddling her baby brother. Outa wasn't a baby anymore, he told her. She was sure that he'd told her that same thing, long ago...
Sanosuke-niichan! I want to go, too!"
Her big brother was going fishing with his friends at the creek, and she wanted to go with them. But Sanosuke turned and frowned at her over his shoulder. "Go home, runt. You're too small, you can't come."
When begging and crying and holding her breath until her face turned purple didn't work, Uki stormed off and Sanosuke went his way, with his homemade bamboo fishing pole in one hand and a pail of crickets in the other.
But she hid in the bushes and followed him-- through their family's fields, down the dirt path, until they reached the water and Sanosuke called out to his friends.
Once she saw him surrounded by all those other boys, talking and laughing and roughhousing, Uki suddenly started feeling shy. Maybe it was a mistake to follow Sanosuke-niichan here, she thought. Still, since she was here, she might as well have some fun, so, under cover of shrubbery, a safe distance away, she merrily made her way down to the water, holding her sandals in one hand.
All of a sudden- slip! She lost her footing on a wet rock, and went tumbling into the water. Uki began bawling immediately.
the sound of her voice, Sanosuke dropped his fishing pole in
surprise. "Hey, Sano, isn't that your baby sister? What's she
Sanosuke lifted her out of the water. "Uki, I told you to go home! Why did you follow me? That was so stupid!" Uki, feeling the eyes of all those big boys on her, was burning with shame, but she still couldn't stop crying. Big Brother was yelling at her. "You're not a baby anymore, why are you crying like that?"
Surely Sanosuke-niichan hated her now! Why had she been such a disobedient girl? She'd made her big brother hate her!
But even though he scolded her the entire time, Sanosuke carried her home. And when they got home, he toweled off her hair and brought her a fresh change of clothes, and even gave her a little piece of barley sugar candy. Uki knew her brother had been hoarding that inside his pillow. "You're not a baby anymore," he told her again.
Uki understood. She was old enough now to know better and keep herself out of danger and trouble. Big Brother had been there this time, but what if someday, he wasn't?
He gave her a hug and put her to bed, before she could catch cold.
just that..." Outa's voice brought Uki back from her reverie.
"I'm going to miss you, is all. I'll miss you, Sis."
She shuffled to his side and put her arms around him. "I'll miss you, too."
I'll miss you, and I love you. But I can't always be there for you. It'll be hard for both of us, but all I can do is sit back and watch as you learn to stand on your own two feet.