There is Another Sky

Tenten has the routine down like clockwork.

She wakes up, ties her hair up, changes into her white and red clothes, and gathers up her weapons before heading out and locking the front door.

The weather is cold outside, but she doesn't bother to bring a jacket.

Searching for one will only slow her down.

She has all she needs: her scrolls and the brown bag on her shoulder.

She doesn't stop en route even though the sun is barely over the horizon.

Her steps are light, and her stride is steadfast.

She arrives at her destination, aware that she is alone, and pulls out her scrolls to begin her day.

The brown bag sits in the shade near the trees, and she proceeds to spend her morning in silence, ignoring the rise of the sun as she trains.

When it is noon, she picks up her weapons and returns them to her scrolls.

The training ground is once again empty, and she leaves without a word.

Walking through the village, she steps into a familiar shop and walks out with a white bag.

She chooses another route; her pace is quick and steady, but she carries her bags and scrolls with care.

When she arrives at the right place, a sigh of relief escapes her.

A smile appears on her face, and she sets down her bags, pulling the contents out before settling herself on the ground.

The bowl is set at her feet, along with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon.

The steam is rising when she lifts the lid, but her hands reaches out to the white glass bottle first.

She pulls out the cork, filling the cups to the brim with precision.

Lifting the first cup, she holds it out in front of her, and tilts the cup.

Every last drop is spilled onto the ground, and a stripe of wet dirt is in front of her with the sweet smell of sake in the air.

She repeats her actions two more times until there is one cup left remaining.

This time, she brings the cup to her lips.

The sweet sake stings her throat, but she swallows every last drop.

It's a ritual, not a tradition she tells herself.

"It's beautiful today. The sun is out, the skies are clear, and I can hear the birds chirping."

She sits there with her legs crossed and the sunlight beaming down on her.

The bowl of food goes untouched.

The bottle of sake remains uncorked.

The glass cups never gets refilled.

An hour passes and she gets up from her spot, dusting the dirt off her pants even though it doesn't bother her.

She grabs her brown bag, leaving the cups, the white glass bottle, and the bowl of herring soba and she turns around, but a thought comes to her and she stops in her tracks.

"Oh, I almost forgot," she says with a wide grin on her face.

Tenten turns her head over her shoulder. "Happy Birthday, Neji."

A gust of wind answers her and she remains still, tilting her head back to look at the sky.

She watches the birds fly up above the trees.

The skies are blue today.

The clouds are white.

The sun is out.

The birds are flying high.

Her vision begins to blur.

Without another word, she turns around and walks away.

It's a ritual, not a tradition she tells herself.

She wakes up at dawn, trains until her body aches, and buys a bowl of herring soba.

The sake is for Lee and Gai-sensei.

She doesn't like the taste, but she drinks it anyways.

Herring soba is his favorite.

She is there to be with him: to remember, to pretend, to forget.

She doesn't laugh; she doesn't cry because Team Gai is once again together.

It's a ritual, not a tradition she tells herself.

Lee and Gai-sensei are there with him, but she is not.

So, she remembers the good times of training early in the morning.

So, she pretends that she is not lonely.

So, she forgets that they are gone; that he is gone and that he is never coming back.

She visits him every year on the anniversary of his birth.

It's a ritual, not a tradition she tells herself, and she has the routine down like clockwork.

There is another sky;

Ever serene and fair.

And there is another sunshine;

though it be darkness there.

Emily Dickinson