Paradise Lost

Farmers have a tough life, this was generally agreed. Shiro felt it hard to draw the same conclusion at this moment. As he took a break from his work to drink, he looked away from his stepped paddy fields. Down upon the lands that now and always had been his entire world. The scene was picturesque. He spied his modest yet adequate home, sitting on the bank of a lazy stream, built by his own hands with the same pride he applied to everything in life. He had chosen the site for it even before Masayuki had said yes. He had loved the area and had always dreamed of being able to fish from his own porch. His eyes meandered across the view, following the stream before coming to rest upon the wild meadow so loved by his daughter. It sloped gently downwards, to meet the stream that formed its southern border. Unkempt if not for the animals that were allowed to roam free, their grazing keeping the forest of bamboo at bay along its eastern edge. Any new shoots rapidly disappearing into some voracious goat or roe deer that called this place home.

As he was finishing his water his mind lingered on thoughts of his family. He imagined his daughter trying hard to help his beloved Masayuki with her woman’s work. Not a chance, she’s more likely to get help from a Kitsune! He laughed to himself. Smiling, he returned to work with renewed vigour.

If he had looked more closely at the meadow he may have seen his daughter amidst the luscious vegetation. There in the middle of it lay the small girl. Unmoving, with her eyes gently shut. Calm and content, as tall grasses swayed around her speckled with an uncountable array of wild flowers, red, blue, white and yellow.

Her father had tried, without much success, to teach her the names many a time. Shiro was a kind, well-meaning man. After a long day’s work in the fields he would still find the energy to talk to his daughter, sharing his thoughts and his memories of times gone by or his unassuming hopes for the future; to catch a fish as long as his arm or to see his only daughter wed and happy. While embarrassing, she didn’t like boys, these moments she cherished, curled up with her mother, both listening raptly to this loving husband, this attentive father.

As ever though, he would persevere with his teachings and she would endeavour to avoid them. He was by no means a learned man, this didn’t stop him wanting to share what knowledge he had acquired, more over it pushed him on. At times like that she just wanted to feel like she did right now. Feeling at one with the world; the sun, beating down in warm waves, upon her face. Bathing in the scents and sounds that surrounded her. She opened one eye slightly as a beautiful, lone butterfly drifted above her. She giggled, a wonderfully melodious sound, as it bounced sporadically, buffeted by the same cool breeze that offered her relief. The sight brought back one of her father’s favourite teachings. A teaching he himself had proudly picked up from a wandering monk. She had heard it so many times she really should remember it better, something about a butterfly beating its wings making a tree fall down on the other side of the world. The thought had always made her laugh, even though her father said that wasn’t the point with feigned chagrin. Don’t bring that bamboo forest crashing down on my head will you little friend, she silently joked with the delicate little creature. Watching as the butterfly’s wings trembled slightly and then stopped. It fell in a spiralling descent, landing beside her. She felt a pang of guilt for laughing at its plight in the sky and sadness for its passing beauty being lost from the world. She decided to help the lifeless little butterfly, scooping it gently into her hands. Still though she had to fight the turmoil the decision created within her. She had promised herself that she would stop. Knowing deep down that if people found out about her, about what she could do, life would change.

*****

The last time she had almost got caught, only a few cycles ago. That annoying boy, Nori is what they called him in his village. Brash and arrogant, always making trouble but not normally as far as her little meadow. He had come that day. She had been crouched by the forest’s edge, cupping water from the stream. Cool where it had passed for leagues beneath the shade of the bamboo. A huge stag had come bursting out from the undergrowth to stand before her. She had felt afraid, which she never had amongst any animal before. Its eyes were big, black, orbs of panic and as it turned its great head she saw why. There in its throat stood an arrow, tall and proud of itself, its feathers erect and strong. Blood bubbled and frothed from the great beast’s mouth and then it dropped. She knew at once she would help, dragging the arrow from its neck and hurling it into the stream, it caught in the current and bobbed harmlessly away. Then she had laid little hands on the wound. Not knowing how, she felt for the life, the love of the stag. Feeling it ebb away. She held on to it with her mind, grabbing it tight. Big and heavy, she focussed, heaving it back into the animal’s body. Her tiny frame and its large mass shuddered together as its eyes flickered open. They both drew air into their lungs, thirstily as if for the first time. Silently it rose from the floor, eyes intent on the girl before it. It kneeled on its front legs and gently licked at her face, even the smaller branches of its antlers dwarfing her. A sound from within the forest drew the stag to attention, alert and upright now, it listened. It turned and launched into long, graceful strides up the meadow, away from the stream. Finally it disappeared, back into the forest, about two leagues to the north.

Shortly afterwards Nori emerged from the forest with one of his cronies in tow, bow in hand, both boys were broad and stocky for their age. He was startled, when he looked up from his trail, to see a small girl, one of the farmer’s daughters standing before him. “Where did it go?” Nori demanded, his excitement clear.

“Where did what go?” Replied the girl.

“The beast I just shot, the beast that has left a trail of blood for seven leagues through the forest, where did it go?” Said Nori, excitement turning to confusion.

“Oh, it went that way,” She answered. The boys followed her pointed finger and were set to leave. So easily tricked, foolish boys, she thought.

“Wait,” Nori said to his friend, reaching out to take hold of his arm, “look,” he pointed to the ground at the girl’s feet, “the blood stops there.” She took a step back and Nori looked to her now, scrutinising her more closely. “I hope you’re not lying to me little girl, that was a very expensive arrow head, me and Hachiro had to save for weeks, so we could have a hunt,” said Nori accusingly.

“What’s it got to do with me? I haven’t seen anything, leave me alone,” said the girl.

“Two full copper moons it cost” Hachiro chipped in as menacingly as he could manage.

“I haven’t seen your stupid arrow or your stag” She said defiantly, yet as the words left her mouth she knew she had made a grave error. The look on Nori’s face confirmed her fears. “Bloody stag was it, seen our bloody stag she has, bled all over her hands, look!” spat Nori in his fury. The boy’s advance on the girl was halted suddenly by the thunderous call of the stag rolling across the meadow. There, stood at the top of the meadow was the stag, wreathed in sunlight. The saved had become the saviour. The boys whooped and hollered, the girl forgotten as their hunt resumed. She had run then, from the meadow along the stream, not stopping till she got home.

The next time her father, had need to trade in the village she had tried to refuse to go with him, making up a flurry of weak excuses. Shiro had looked hurt as he had set off. He got about six paces from the door before her resolve melted away and she hurried after him. In the village she stayed close to her father. He didn’t notice the venomous looks she received from the two boys, watching some burakumin playing dice on an upturned barrel, but she did.

Her thoughts returned to the present as she directed her attention to the butterfly nestled in her hands. She reached out for it and was surprised, she couldn’t feel it. She searched with her feelings more carefully now. There, she had found it, different from the stag, the butterfly had a small, fleeting, flickering little pulse. What it was she did not know, a soul maybe? She was more delicate now as she gently guided the butterfly’s life? back to the body within her hands. She felt the butterfly’s wings flutter at the same time as she felt a tingling in her skin. As she opened her hands, it flew up into the air, before gently landing on her nose. She giggled again as its light legs tickled. And then it was off. It circled her head once before allowing the wind to carry it on its merry dance.

Fly, my friend, but try to avoid knocking down any trees.

*****