Tomoe_Gozen Artist Depiction by Kikuchi Yosai (1781-1878)

Tomoe_Gozen Artist Depiction by Kikuchi Yosai (1781-1878)

My stomach is so contracted it feels as small and as hard as a nut.  My tongue feels swollen and my mouth is dry and cracked.  My muscles are wobbly and shake with each step.  Stop, Hajime.  These sensations are not worthy of a samurai.  Just one foot in front of the other, you are almost at the Kyoto city gates and there is bound to be work.

But who will hire me?  My clothes are in tatters, my bones jut out of my clothes. My only way is my sword.  And it is dead to me now.  I am a living ghost.

I hear something, a human voice.  It is singing, but like I have never heard before.  I hold my breath and stop walking, listening with every fiber of my being.  The hair on my arms and the back of my neck prickle and seem to reach to the voice.  My body moves towards the voice and my muscles are jolted with adrenaline. I soon pass the city gates and start running on unsteady legs towards the theater and the voice.  The door is blocked by a long wooden staff.  “You can’t come in here.  Buy a ticket.”

I  lean against the wall and slide to the ground, my soul absorbed by the voice.  I hear the audience stunned into silence.  I feel prickles at the corners of my eyes, but I can’t, I just won’t.  That would be the last indignation.  My heart breaks into smaller and smaller pieces with each note.  I start to expand and feel warm until nothing, nothing matters and everything is important.

The performance is over and I struggle to my feet.  The audience files out talking in animated voices, “Tomoe’s southern costumes are vibrant and beautiful.”  I struggle to catch a glimpse of Tomoe.  Another voice sighs “Her being glitters.”   I strain to see her.  I give up and wait until all the audience has left the theater.

And in an instant she appears in front of me.  I look staggered from her face to the ground, at her kimono back to her face.  Her lips are bright red.  Her beautiful full face is flushed with exhilaration.  I bow and all that comes out of my mouth is “Unhh”.  How can that be all that comes out of my mouth, now?  I who have faced and cheated death more times than I can count?  And now I face life and all I can say is “Unh!”

She starts to edge by me.  I can’t let her go, not now.  I have to think of something brilliant to say, something that will stop her.  My eyes cling to her as she is turning away, willing her to stay.  My palms are sweating and my brain is scrambling.

She stops and turns around.  She smiles, “What did you experience samurai?”

I square my shoulders and raise my chin.  My brain clears and my gaze steadies, “I felt my heart break into pieces and my being expanded until nothing mattered and everything mattered.”

I count ten heartbeats of silence.

“Would you like to learn our ways samurai?  There are others like you.  Meet us here at sunrise.  You will need to sell your sword to pay your way.”  And with that her kimono swirls as she melts into the crowds and haze of the city.

I look after her in bewilderment.  My body is frozen in the after math of her words.  I feel prickles of alarm which turn into jolts of anger.  Sell my sword, not likely!  Who does she think she is anyway?

There are many inns and eating places across from the theater.  Even though it is the last of my money I need food and rest.  I will find work tomorrow, with my sword.

The inn is full of people eating and drinking after the performance.  I can hear the bubbling “Wasn’t she beautiful?”  “What a slender waist!”  “I can’t decide if I like her dancing better or her voice better.”  She dances? And I missed it?

I shake my head to get the thoughts and voices out of my head.  I order my food determined to ignore the words around me.

A samurai sits across from me.  “Did you see the performance? “I wince and renew my focus on devouring my food and drink.  “You know Tomoe was a samurai?  She is renowned both for her archery and her swordsmanship, she is worth a thousand swordsmen, and is known for her valor.”  Stunned into further silence I fiercely chew.

How could she have been a samurai?  How could she have given it up?  Why is she singing?  Well that is a stupid question, how could she not sing?  And that thought screeches time to a halt.

Later, feeling sated, I am led to my room.  I stand at the threshold undecided and torn.  I thank my host.  I turn myself around and I go out into the streets, in search of a buyer.