Flower Spelling - Chapter 36
Chapter 36 – A New Friend
“Ah, good morning, Mr. Yamada.”
Having finally become accustomed to life in Kyo, Sogetsu was washing her clothes by the well when she spotted a young samurai walking along the roundabout corridor and cheerfully called out to him.
However, he – Yamada Ichinojo – only shot a fleeting glance at her, and walked past unsociably.
Oh no, it seems that he hates me.
“What’s going on with Ichi?”
Ito, who had apparently come to fetch water, looked at Yamada in the direction he had left and asked curiously.
“We all went to Shimabara the other day, didn’t we? I said something rude and offended him.”
Shimabara, one of the Hanamachi officially recognized by the Shogunate, is located in an area of rice fields a little to the west of the centre of Kyo. From the eastern gate straight to the west, there is a street called “Dosuji”, on both sides of which there are six towns, where dozens of shops are neatly arranged. The location and structure of Shimabara were similar to that of Yoshiwara in Edo, but unlike Yoshiwara, where the entry and exit of people were strictly restricted, Shimabara was open to all, both men and women, and prostitutes could leave the town as long as they had a bill.
There were about ten of them there, including Sogetsu, Takasugi, Kusaka, Ito, and other familiar faces. Among them, there were some faces whom she had never seen before, but most of them were young people of the same age as Sogetsu.
Kusaka led the way to Kakuya, a two-story, vermilion-red building with a lattice-like structure that naturally attracted attention. Ascending the stairs on the right-hand side of the entrance and going further in, they came to a room called “Between the limpet”.
The room was adorned with mother-of-pearl inlays all over the walls, just as the name “Limpet” implied, and the word “opulent” could be used to describe this room. From the dewdrop in the west corner of the room, one can view the garden downstairs, which was a sight to behold during the cherry blossom season, according to the landlady.
Somehow, it’s too prestigious and I feel totally out of place…
But it was only the beginning that the uncomfortableness set in.
Before long, all thoughts of formalities were out of her mind as she was immediately charmed by the skillful dancing of the geiko dispatched from the Okiya and the primitive dancing of the maiko who were still in their mid-teens.
In front of her was a plate of delicately arranged seasonal vegetables and soup, and to be honest, she thought the taste was slightly bland, but then again, when considering that this was authentic Kyo cuisine, even the blandness seemed to be a good thing.
“Hey, have you tried this pickled radish? It’s crunchy and delicious.”
In an uplifted mood, Sogetsu spoke openly to the samurai sitting next to her. He was a young samurai, about fifteen or sixteen years old. His face was round and his eyebrows were lowered in a cute, distressed way. Even though she had never met him before, she felt close to him, and just as she had done earlier, he was squirming uncomfortably on his bottom.
But the youth’s eyes peeled back in dismay, then he turned red and faced the other way as fast as he could.
Eh, did I say something wrong?
Sogetsu was flustered when Takasugi’s laughter echoed from across the room.
“Sogetsu, he may look like a child, but he’s nineteen.”
“I’m not nineteen, but twenty! And you’re being too much!”
Despite the boy’s, or rather the young man’s, vehement protests, Takasugi kept a cool face saying that it didn’t make much difference.
“A-Ah, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude…”
“Whatever. I am used to it.”
Although she hurriedly apologized, Yamada’s face remained furious and there was nothing she could do. In the end, the party ended with the awkward atmosphere unresolved.
Later on, Takasugi told her that his name is Yamada Ichinojo and that they had studied together at Shokasonjuku.
“――Such an amusing thing happened. How strange, I was in the same room yet I am clueless to it.”
“Mr. Ito seemed to be absorbed in playing in the ozashiki with the maiko that time… So, I have been looking for a chance to talk to him again since then, but it hasn’t been easy. The way it felt now, it seems he is still pretty angry.”
Sighing, Ito chuckled and patted Sogetsu on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Ichi is not that bent. I’m sure he’s just at a loss as to how to talk to a girl. Once you have a chance to interact with him, you will be able to befriend him.”
“I hope so…”
A few days later.
A spring storm swept through the town of Kyo. The rain, which had begun in the morning, gradually increased in intensity with the wind, and by night it had developed into a fierce storm. Sogetsu was tossing and turning in her sleep helplessly, as the rain rattled and shook the shutters.
Still, it seemed that she had dozed off before she knew it. Waking up, she noticed that there was no sound of wind or rain. She got up and opened the shutters, only to find that it was already morning and the light was dazzling.
As if last night’s storm was a lie, the sky was blue and cloudless. A slight strong wind was still blowing, shaking her sleeves.
However, the storm had left its mark everywhere. The Takase River, which flowed behind the house, was swollen and muddy, and some of the residences of the clan had roof tiles falling off, fallen trees in the garden, and leaking raindrops.
The fact that no major injuries occurred was utterly fortuitous.
Sogetsu had been assigned the task of cleaning up the southwest corner of the house and was busy picking up the rubbish that littered the garden. A lot of fallen leaves, broken tree branches, scraps of paper, a chipped teacup from where it flew off, and a purplish hand towel that she was afraid to find out what it was used for…
Having walked around on the muddy ground, her sandals are thoroughly covered in mud. Even her kimono has mud splattered all over it.
As soon as this is over, I have to wash it or else――
Feeling that she had heard a faint voice, Sogetsu stopped her task and turned around.
… A voice from a baby?
She tried to listen, but no further voice stirred. Looking around, the only sign of life was the hustle and bustle of the clansmen as they passed through the corridors. Just as she resumed her work, the same voice sounded in her ears as before.
This time, perhaps owing to the concentration of the nerves in her ears, she heard it more distinctly than previously.
It’s not my imagination. It’s a voice of a being.
In the direction of the voice, at the corner of the garden, the debris of a collapsed outer wall attracted her attention. Peering into it, her eyes locked on a kitten staring at her, its drenched body trembling in the back.
“――Oh no! Are you alright!? I will save you immediately!”
Sogetsu crawled down onto the muddy ground, ducked under the rubble, and extended her hand towards the kitten.
Just a bit more…!
The knot in her obi was stuck and she was only a fist away from reaching it. As she pressed her body further in, the rubble produced an unwelcome crunch.
“――Oi, what are you doing? It’s dangerous!”
With an exasperated tone of voice, a strong force dragged her out. The one who was glaring at the mud-covered Sogetsu was that Yamada.
“What are you thinking! If this thing collapses, what then!?”
“Um! A kitten seems to be trapped under here.”
“Yes. That’s why I have to save it immediately, if not…!”
“You idiot! If the debris collapses, you’ll end up underneath it.”
“But now that I’ve discovered it, I can’t abandon it! If I don’t get it out quickly and warm it up, its voice will gradually weaken. I won’t bother you, Mr. Yamada!”
“I didn’t say anything about stopping you.” Yamada pushed away Sogetsu, who was ready to dive in. “I will go.”
“My body is smaller, I can enter deeper.” He said angrily, leaning his sidearm against a nearby corridor, and thrust himself hesitantly into the rubble, leaving the startled Sogetsu behind.
“Be careful!” She watched with trepidation for a while.
“Alright, I got it! ――Get it out!”
She grabbed Yamada by the leg and pulled him out.
In Yamada’s embrace, the little kitten, no larger than the palm of one’s hand, was so limp that it lacked the energy to purr. Sogetsu and Yamada hurriedly wiped its body with a dry cloth and prepared a hot water bottle to keep it warm. Their efforts were rewarded when it began to whimper again, but it refused to consume any of the food they tried to feed it.
“Its teeth just grew so I don’t think it can eat anything…”
The fish fillets, which she had scavenged from the kitchen, left her at a loss.
“If solid food won’t do, how about water? Maybe dissolving some sugar in water might do the trick.”
Upon Yamada’s suggestion, she dissolved some sugar in warm water, dipped her fingertips in it, and dabbed it into the kitten’s mouth.
One drip, two drips…
After a time, they made another attempt.
As the pair watched breathlessly, the kitten opened its mouth slightly.
The voices were overlapping.
Perhaps spurred on by one drink, the kitten purred noisily and urged for another.
“Thank god, I think it will be fine now.”
“Ah, too early to tell, but at least we are over the hump.”
They exchanged looks and giggled at one another.
Any initial embarrassment was swept aside and before long the two were chatting normally. And as the kitten got better, the distance between them grew even closer, and by the time it was ready to eat its baby food, the two had developed a deep rapport.
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