As she sat under the magnificent roshomon, playing a strange harmonious melody with her lute, a drop or two rolled down her ruddy cheeks and fell on her worn out peacock blue kimono. She closed her eyes as the gentle breeze brought her a mesmerizing blend of petrichor and the sweet aroma of the cherry blossom.
“As the life goes by,
People live and people die,
Cherry blossom falls.”
But, it was not just her kimono that was worn out.
The austere old woman had walked thirty miles to reach her destination. How special the day was to her perhaps can never be fathomed by the ordinary man. She was exhausted after the unnaturally long errand. Her feet were scarred and bruised, and yet they meant nothing to her.
Ah, scars. She was no stranger to the word. Time had, both dutifully and plentifully, presented her mind and body with them. Scars speak much louder than the sword that caused them, don’t they?
Her father was a loyal retainer to the local daimyo. Not one day would pass when he would not tell her about how he fought for his lord till the very end of Sengoku Jidai, how he had almost made up his mind to commit seppuku, but her mother’s sublime face that floated before his teary eyes prevented him from doing so, and how much honor meant to him. There was a time when she too had started romanticizing about it.
Little did she know that the same honor would elude her and fetch nothing but distress and misery.
But how her father found accepting the wish of the daimyo, to appoint his daughter as one of the numerous palace concubines, in sync with his stringent Samurai code remained an unsolved mystery to her.
The day she gave birth to Takeishi, a grand feast was organized. How happy she was that day. Oh the ignorant human heart! Its imagination bears no connection with the bitter realities of the Earth and it believes everything that this manipulative and evil world shows.
She did realize her mistake a few days later, when a servant of the chief retainer brought her a message that left all her hopes and dreams devastated. She was to leave the palace the next morning. But the heartrending part was, Takeishi was to remain and she would be forbidden from seeing him for the rest of her days.
Sometimes, human thinking involves strange ironies, doesn’t it? One who is considered perfect for giving birth is not allowed to raise the one she gives birth to. She was immeasurably pained, and it undoubtedly shattered her when her own father refused to see her because of the ‘shame’ she had brought to the family.
She did what any other helpless woman in her situation would have done. She traveled to Edo and sold herself at Yoshiwara. But living as a courtesan was not easy either, and every moment of it was worse than servitude.
However, when a benevolent merchant bought her freedom and took her to a little shabby town near Sagami, everything seemed transformed. The day he decided to ignore all social prejudices, to marry her and grant her the respectable life she deserved, she couldn’t be happier. Neither could she cry harder the day when a ronin Samurai forced himself into their courtyard and murdered her husband with one merciless swing of his katana. The trade was so disproportionate, a life for a few nickel coins.
“The stage this world is,
With dramas and stories such,
Tears keep on flowing.”
Twenty years had passed since then, and now she sat under the magnificent roshomon, waiting for her son. She put her lute aside and stood up as she saw Takeishi in the distance, surrounded by proud well-dressed men with twin swords, bound by a sacred oath to protect him with their lives. She gazed at him intently, even as he passed through the gate without reciprocating the gaze with just one momentary glance. How could he? Social norms had taught him that it was unbecoming of a great daimyo to look at random commoners. Or maybe, inheriting the grand fortune of a hundred thousand koku had made him arrogant. Some things always remain unknown, no matter what.
If only she could shout out and convey the unending love she bore for him. If only she could offer him those humble rice balls she had brought as a present to him on his birthday. But then, the same norms of honor would require him to deny her. How could the mother of an ‘enlightened’ daimyo be a common whore?
She was not strong enough, at least not anymore, to be inflicted with the excruciating pain of being denied all over again.
With drenched eyes and a smiling face, she headed back home.