Ōchou

Ōchouher name evoked images of a soft spring day, of butterflies flitting among the gentle petals of the flowers, backlit against the pastel-blue sky.

It was the first time he had ever seen such emptiness in human eyes. When he first met her, selling his wares to the household for her mother's chronic arthritis, he had recognised it at once. A living Mononoke which lived in her, one that would harm none but herself. One who would kill herself, her psyche, over and over again, simply to please others.

He almost despised her. But somehow, he could not, and the scorn that he could never really feel turned to pity instead. He began to visit her house frequently to speak with her, to try to uncover the secrets within those lifeless eyes.

Ōchouhad her mother named her that, wished to fashion her into a butterfly, a beautiful creature that only could serve as an ornament, fragile and demure? The more he spoke with her, and heard her empty vague answers, the eyes that saw without seeing, the lips that smiled without feeling, as one who had lost her soul almost entirely; the more he heard of her story, the more he was drawn to this empty husk—and what should have been. Then one day, she mentioned that she was to be married to some great lord. Though she spoke of it with a joy in her voice, her eyes were cold and despairing, the carefully constructed and built tatamae façade nearly cracked by her true feelings—her honne. But then, he watched, nearly despairing, as she killed her soul once again with with stoic calm.

Up till then, he had only pitied her, but now, in his heart, a wholly new emotion rooted and sprouted—the soft beginnings of love. But because he had no room for love in his heart when dealing with a Mononoke, he reeled his love and pity into his Other, and sent him to watch over her for a time, hoping that her new family would be able to softly kill the Mononoke in her by treating her well. But it was a false hope, and the death of Ōchou's soul accelerated at a faster and faster pace. So much so that when he next met her, within the confines of her mind, she no longer recognised him, no longer trusted him, only his Other, hiding behind the mask she had herself made. But then—

No. He would not give in to useless sentimentalism. He wrenched his mind away from thoughts of her.

She was gone now, never to return again. He would not follow her. "The Despairing Mononoke." The man said to himself, wondering if he referred to himself, or her.

ŌchouHe traced the syllables of her name with his mouth one last time and then blew out the smoke he inhaled from the pipe into the air, where it dissipated softly into the kitchen, leaving behind the faint smell of tobacco and soft, bittersweet regret.