The young boy was running, running as fast as he could across the open space, a glittering tapestry of high summer grasses. “Look Mama, look at how fast I can run,” his voice high pitched, sharpened by excitement, and the very thrill of it all. “Look, Mama, look….” and as he ran, he left a hand trailing behind him among the stems which parted in his wake, the light sparkling and playing among the slender stems and pale slivers of leaves. When he paused for breath he looked back toward where his mother stood watching him, shafts of the late afternoon sun angled between them, as motes of dust raised by his scampering feet spiralled into the light, sending sparkling flashes into the air like dancing fireflies. The illusion delighted him. “I can do it again, look, Mama, I can do it again. The earth is on fire.” Running, always running, under an immaculate blue sky, with the wind never seeming to touch him, perhaps even running faster than the wind itself.
Shigoto Okugi’s mother watched him as he ran in wide circles around her. A smile creased her face, instinctively softening her visage. It was a smile for the being who was her son, not a kind of a smile that was intended to be shared with the rest of the world. Only she knew the difference, and she kept the knowledge of that to herself. They were standing in the open, in a sea of silvery-green swaying grasses that stretched out from where they were, until it was halted by a swathe of the trees, crowding together as if unsure whether to proceed further. Over in the other direction, towards where the sun was slanting in from, the grasses just seemed to come to an end, The earth that bore them coming to an abrupt finish, and the land just fell into the embrace into the sky at that point. In fact that was an illusion, a trick of geomorphology, as the ground simply fell gently away beyond the point which the eye could follow.
She loved to stand there, near this place where she believed the earth seemed to bow before the sky, it pleased her to take her young child there, and watch him run in circles around her. At this place where they could be alone she would allow herself to smile, her eyes dissolved into a tenderness that she ordinarily kept hidden behind a mask of who she assumed she was expected to be. These precious moments had about as much substance as the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms, and as such they were ragged fragments of time torn from the ironclad grasp of reality. He was running now, in ragged steps so relatively recently learned it seemed, with his stiff arms outstretched, a flightless, fearless bird, running in circles through the parched grasses of late summer. She barely appeared to move; yet her eyes followed the boy with every step. Here at this place she could feel something that she felt nowhere else, not simply for herself though, but through her child, her son she could reach a point of contentment that otherwise seemed so hard to reach. Through him she could catch a glimpse of some other place, which lay out there, beyond the point where the grasses dissolved into the sky.
If she had walked on a little further towards that dividing line between the heavens and a soil soaked in the past, she would have seen the ground sloping away down to the sea. Falling away in a series of undulations, broken only here and there by clumps of trees, their crowns leaning inland shaped by the wind; down by the shore a crumpled tangle of crude fishermen’s dwellings caught in extended lengths of drying nets strung between poles. But she never walked that far any more. They had once, and as mother and child stood side by side without a word between them looking out over the immensity of the sea, the smile slipped silently from her face, and she felt only sadness and longing. She never went that far again. For the sky she could smile, but not for the sea. The sky had a sense of lightness about it, the sea carried too much weight.
“Come, Oku-chan,” she called out to him, using the suffix of familiarity to his name. “Come now, we should be making our way back, it’ll be dark soon enough. Hurry now.” She turned away from the source of the light, and with her shoulders pulled back, she set back the way that they had come without a backward glance. Momentarily the young boy hesitated, as if the ground was holding him fixed in place, before casually abandoning whatever fantasy he was enacting where it was, and he ran after her. Then just as he caught up with her, and with his hand reaching blindly for hers, he turned and saw to his disappointment that there were no ‘fireflies’ left now. They had all fallen back to earth, fallen stars, burnt out and exhausted of purpose or significance perhaps. All there was the grass stretching towards the sky, and the vivid, treacle-like luminosity of a sky that seemed to promise everything to those who could reach for it.
“When I am big and grown up, I will run as far as the sky, and I will be this huge dragon and run as fast as the wind, and I will be bigger than everything that there is, “ he said with a quiet self-satisfied determination.
Shigoto’s mother turned to him. “You are a funny child, did you know that? Where do you get such ideas from?”
“I will, you know,” he stated, now with an even greater determination, buoyed by the teasing, it was all the proof he needed. But her hand had tightened its grip on his.
“Come on, we need to get back home. Oba-chan, your grandmother, will be waiting for us, and who knows, maybe your father will come by.” Her voice was flat now, all expression and emotion neatly stowed away, even to her son. Together they walked along the suggestion of a path through beaten down grasses until the trees opened up and embraced them, finally swallowing them whole. Behind them they left the wide-open spaces falling away into the unseen lap of the ocean, and the last fragile embers of the sunlight falling across waving grasses. A deepening sky riding above and beyond it all, as the light leached out of the sky as it was drawn back into the folds of the heavens.
Through the last days of summer, and with the first creases of change that came with the autumn winds, right up until the weather had veered right around and brought sufficient chill to bring the landscape to a pause, mother and son came to this place. Not everyday, as not every day brought the time available to make the walk from the small house they called home; past the last of the houses, stores, workshops, stables and sundry other buildings, before cutting through a distant corner the Palace gardens past the large pond before finally entering the dense woodland which enclosed and protected the gardens. It was a walk that took them perhaps twenty-five minutes to reach the point where the woodland began to thin, before finally forming a ragged edge, a boundary, and a point of transition. Beyond that were the grassy fields that stretched on toward sky and sea. In late summer or early autumn men in numbers would gather there, and crudely cut the grasses with swinging blades, or horses would be turned out to roam and silently graze their way across the open space. During the cold months when winter storms rolled impatiently in from the sea, and the grass swath now close-cropped and silver-withered, their strolls would end at the boundary between the shelter of the trees and the raw, open space; if they even got that far, they rarely lingered for long. Spring brought freshly minted greens and a temporary carpet of tiny dazzling white flower heads, and then as if released from some invisible shackle they would venture once more beyond the edge.
To Shigoto Okugi, mere young boy that he was, the subtlety and lyrical beauty in all this was by and large lost. To him it was all so much simpler, they either did or they did not reach the field. If they did he could be like a hound released from the leash, a harrier unbound from its stays; if not, then there would always some other consolation to be found. He lived after all in the rich world of his imagining. Unlike his mother he had not lived long enough, nor experienced enough to have formulated a distinct sense of past, present and future. For him each and every day stretched on endlessly in an unsegmented continuous present, in the main living unfettered. Life was as unmeasured by notions or realities of what had been, and what was yet to come. Life was all together much simpler than that. His home was where his hearth lay, a thin wisp of palest grey smoke spiralling into the air. His mother, always his mother, the rock he swam out from, out into the world in carefully calibrated and crafted strokes, always for now destined to return.