Honor We Choose: Summer Part I
I wanted to share a short story I wrote when I was still in college. I think it's one of the best short stories I've written even though it can be very cliche and tell-y rather than show-y. Nevertheless, I'm proud of it as one of my earliest works, and it's always interesting to revisit where you've been in the past. Here's part 1 of 3. Enjoy.
"How can I deny what I have seen and done in the past month," he thought. The thoughts and emotions swirled in his head, and he was unsure of his course of action. "How can the gods ever forgive me if I......." Satoru was so distraught and distracted that he did not notice a figure walk up behind him.
"Morimoto-kun," a voice behind Satoru said. He snapped out of his meditation and saw Ayukawa Akira standing behind him with his katana slung in his sheath, wearing only a pair of white pants and moccasins.
"Konnichi wa, old friend," Satoru said.
"And such a beautiful afternoon it is. Karumi said I’d find you out here."
Satoru turned from Akira and stared into the ocean again. The image of his hands covered with the blood of that young boy protecting his sister burned in his mind. He whispered to the young boy’s soul: "Why didn’t you just stay out of the Shogun’s business?" The mournful cry of the boy’s soul reverberated in Satoru’s ears, sorrowing his soul.
"Do you have something on your mind, Morimoto-kun? Normally I’d never be able to sneak up on you like this." Akira looked at his friend with concern.
"Just pondering upon the ocean. Notice how the mighty waves invade the shore, and as they return to their source, they suck in whatever gets in the way....." Satoru’s voice trailed off at the last word and remained silent. He pulled out his katana and sliced the surface of the water, but more water just filled in the cut that he made. He whispered, "It’s useless."
"Karumi sent me out here to bring you back for tea. We do not want to keep her waiting."
Satoru turned around and smiled. "My thanks. Shall we go then?" Akira nodded. Satoru sheathed his katana, and the two walked back to Satoru’s residence.
The summer heat blanketed the earth with its warm embrace, and all life seemed to flourish under its care. They talked of old times as they walked back. Satoru laughed at the time when they were little boys, and they had a competition to see who could climb a tree the quickest. Satoru’s broken arm didn’t heal for many months. Soon, Satoru stopped, recognizing a familiar spot. He glanced up at the tree and noticed a small platform built into a lofty branch. Looking at the right palm of his hand, he ran his finger through a small scar that ran the whole length of his hand. Akira stood next to him and looked up at the tree.
"You remember this place, Ayukawa-kun?" Satoru asked, still looking at his hand.
"How can I forget? This is our little fortress that we would play in as children. This is where we made that oath...."
Satoru interrupted him, "We slashed the right palms of our hands and mingled our blood. Do you remember the promise we made?"
"A promise to be loyal to each other above anything else. To essentially be two bodies with one soul," Akira said proudly. Satoru just stood in silence, looking at the scar on his hand. Akira glanced at Satoru nervously.
Noticing Akira’s concerned look, Satoru asked with a forced cheerfulness, "What is the matter, Ayukawa-kun?"
"It is nothing," he lied. Akira had noticed ever since a week ago, he acted different, becoming more contemplative and easily distracted. He could not find any explanation for this because Satoru seemed to have it all. He had a great wife in Karumi. He had been the head retainer to Shogun Hibiki for over a month now. He was arguably the best swordsman in Japan, perhaps even surpassing the shogun himself. What could be wrong with Satoru?
Akira thought, "Why do your once proud shoulders sag and your confident eyes avert eye-to-eye contact? You speak in riddles that only priests amuse themselves with. What has changed you so much?" Satoru’s broad, five foot nine inch frame seemed shriveled with shame and burden. He seemed a smaller man to Akira now.
Satoru noticed Akira glancing at him and grinned. "Do not look at me with such pity, friend. I’m just thinking about some of the tasks I must accomplish tomorrow. Being the head retainer to the honorable Shogun Hibiki is very demanding." He hated having to lie to Akira. They had known each other for too long. As childhood friends, they always did everything together. A pair of six year-old kids tried to improve their swordsmanship by sparring with each other with sticks. Two young children devoted their lives to the Shogun, following their dreams of attaining retainer status. Two young adults faithfully served the Shogun. Two bachelors agreed to find each other the perfect wife and succeeded in their task. But no matter how close the bond between them was, Satoru couldn’t tell him--not until he was ready.
"I will tell you someday when I have made my decision and am ready to share my burden with you, friend," Satoru thought to himself, "Just rest in the fact that I will never turn my back on you."
Satoru and Akira reached the Morimoto residence and opened the wooden sliding. Karumi had just finished filling the tea kettle with hot water.
She smiled and bowed toward the two men. "Okaerinasai." Satoru and Akira acknowledged Karumi’s welcome, unstrapped their katanas, and sat at the table. Satoru gazed at his wife. Karumi was dressed in a traditional silk kimono with an elaborate floral pattern sewn on it. Her long black hair was rolled up and held up by a gold rod--the same gold rod that Satoru had given her on the day they were married. Karumi poured tea into three porcelain cups, handed them to both Satoru and Akira, and sat down with her own tea. Satoru shifted his attention away from her, as they gave thanks to the ancestors and drank the tea. Satoru stole another glance at Karumi as she poured some more tea.
Karumi was all that Satoru could ever wish for in a wife. Although she submitted to him in every way, she meant more to Satoru than that. Karumi quietly and subtly changed Satoru’s outlook in life. He was more compassionate, patient, and gentle than before. He had been taught that an adamant samurai was to show no weakness and vulnerability, but Karumi finally convinced him that sensitivity was acceptable. Karumi always said that holding in emotions and thoughts all the time only increase anger and pain. Yet her greatest accomplishment was helping Satoru drive the selfishness out of him--a task that was only conquered a week ago. Before, he would only do something if it concerned her, Akira, himself, or his loyalty to Shogun Hibiki. Nothing else mattered in his life. Though he always held the ideal of the great samurai warrior who protected the people from the evil forces that were bent on harming them, Satoru never really possessed a heart for the common people. She tried to teach him to live up to the great samurai warrior ideal no matter what the cost. But through many tears, heart aches, and verbal fights, Karumi had changed his life for the better. For this, Satoru was forever grateful.
Satoru closed his eyes and drank another cup of hot tea. He vowed in his heart, "May the gods destroy my soul if I ever betray you, Karumi."