Title: mata au hi made
Author's note: giripan valentine's day love fest. 51.
Tangled in a thousand strands.
Tangled my hair and
Tangled my tangled memories
Of our long nights of love making.
When he met her, her hair was long, thick and dark, like a Heian maiden's. She was between eras, with westernization on the rise, and the clinging nostalgia of the old ways mixed within her. Even her traditional kimono seemed only for his benefit; he'd seen the western flats hidden in a corner near the door, right under an umbrella. Her hair had been swept back, for once not in a bun at the top of her head.
That night her hair had tumbled free, a wave of black night. She'd shyly blown out the lamp, and in the dark, he could only see with his fingertips. She was fragile, more so than any lover he'd ever had. Her bones were as delicate as a bird's, traced under his fingertips.
Greece thought to ask her for a lock of her thick dark hair, but he didn't. He was a country foremost; he couldn't just assume she saw him as anything else than a possible ally. But when he arrived home, he found a long black strand stuck among his things. He couldn't tell if it was a happy accident–like when his cats left their fur on his things–or a parting gift.
He twisted the strand about his table, high enough where the cats couldn't play with it.
Call it a keepsake, a charm, a memory.
He remembered moments fragmented from each other, seemingly mundane, yet which had lodged in his memory like broken glass.
He'd fallen behind on the trip, a omikuji still tight in his hand, paused at the tree just watching her head bent in prayer. She smelled like spring.
Through letters, he began to learn her language. She had very stiffly stood before him and requested his correspondence. They'd take months to get there, but a month was a fever dream to Greece, who could lose whole years without even trying.
In ink brushstrokes she'd give him calligraphy and translation. He wanted to frame it. He put his fingers across the paper and imagined they were blackening with ink.
Greece formed new words from the excessively polite, even obtuse letters. She'd translate Bashō, Ono no Komachi, leaving little succinct pearls of poems written on the back of her letters.
He'd bring forth colloquialisms, fragments of myths, Psyche and Eros, Hades and Persephone. For every one letter she'd send him, compact aesthetic, he'd send a rambling ten page letter with some news gleaned from the market, but mostly gleaned from the past.
It was in his blood, from the days of sitting at the feet of gods, to listening to Socrates's discourses.
Maybe one day, he'd teach her Greek.
By the next time Greece saw Japan, she'd cut her hair into a bob, like America's flappers. She seemed self conscious, touching the edges, uncomfortable with even this step forward into modernization. Already, nineteen-hundred had come and gone, with the world on the precipice of something greater than before.
The Meji era, she called it. Greece had a hard time remember the eras precisely, Heian, Tokugawa, they blended, but then so did many things. Present tense was never his specialty. He was all past, from memories and glories, of a world when gods walked the earth.
"It's cute," he said.
"Do...you think so?" She said. Japan chanced a hesitant look upwards. She was a nation pulled in two directions: her old ways of pulling within herself, back to the days of Sakoku, the quiet lady behind the screen.
"Does it really fit me?"
"It...looks good," he said.
He could not say if it fit what she was becoming, or even what they were becoming, but he knew it would never be the same.
That night, the edges of her bob felt like butterfly kisses against his skin. He left a bruise from kisses on her inner thigh and wished it could stay there, a mark, a tattoo of his fingerprint, a memory. By morning she was dressed, polite, distant. Her gaze turned demurely down, with no hint of a spark or telling secret.
In days, the bruise would heal as if he'd never been there.
Days shifted into one another. He found himself laid out just outside the tea house garden, by the pond filled with koi his cats would've loved to bat and look at. He was staring at the sky in a groggy haze. Just woken, the world around him still coming to focus.
"Did I fall asleep?" He murmured.
"You've been asleep for almost an entire day, Greece-san," she said.
Was that a tremor in her hand, her voice, or was he just letting his dreams bleed into daylight?
"It happens," he mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He stretched, noticing a blanket across him, wet with dew.
"I...apologize. I couldn't move you, and it would be unseemly to ask for help...I was glad it did not rain. I prayed for clear days until you woke up."
"Thank you," he said. He tried to remember the word of thanks in her language, but his sleep-numbed mind offered nothing helpful. So he left it like that and waited for the cobwebs to clear from his head.
She had already pulled herself away, distant, the tremors turning to something as smooth as glass. He could not tell what he had dreamed up or what was real.
He had little to pack for his journey back. A book of poems she'd translated for him, with cherry blossoms pushed into its pages like a bookmark, a fan emblazoned with fish for the hot summers of his homeland, an amulet to keep bad luck away–or at least, the luck of Japan's gods and spirits. His gods had always been more...precocious.
She kept fussing, making him a bento box of rice for the journey. He didn't have the heart to tell her that for all her work, it would barely be enough for an appetizer for him.
"One last thing, Greece-san..." she said.
He turned on the dock, the smell of salt mingling with her flower scent, plum and cherry blossoms.
"Mata au hi made," she said.
Greece tried to repeat it in a clumsy accented way. He either over accented the syllables, or spoke too slowly.
"The sentence for you to practice...it means until we meet again."
He nodded, the sound of waves to his back.
"Mata au hi made," he said, this time sounding just a little less accented.
She turned away, just the hint of redness on her cheeks. For a moment, the mask had dropped to the girl beneath it.
Greece was all inertia; what was a hundred or so years of waiting for a country? He'd wait a thousand or more if that was what it took.