No one appeared at the entrance to greet them; even so Sensei bowed deep and offered a short prayer of thanks for their safe delivery. Shigoto was tired and somewhat confused after the long journey, his throat was dry, his stomach empty, and his legs stiff and aching for rest. “Shigoto, do you forget your manners, do you not bow to greet our kind host?” He bowed toward the empty porch out of a sense of duty, but as he straightened up there in the entrance way stood a figure of an elderly man, dressed with a simple kimono of a dark colour. Looking Shigoto directly in the eye, his voice was soft, yet firm, ‘Greetings young man, so kind of you to bring this rascal to visit. Please forgive the humbleness of this abode.” Before he had time to reply, Maguro Sensei had slipped off his sandals and entered the cottage leaving him standing outside. Gingerly picking up the two sacks again, pushing his aching limbs into action once more he followed the two men inside.
Leaving his sandals neatly next to Sensei’s he entered the dark interior, following the sound of voices toward the back of the building. There he found the two men comfortably settled on thin cushions, an iron kettle suspended over a few coals sighing softly to itself. He dropped the two sacks softly to the bare wooden floor, and took a place slightly to one side and behind Sensei; at last he could rest his limbs. The two men seemed to be already deep in conversation, a creeping tiredness washed over Shigoto’s body, he was pleased that he was not required to make polite conversation. The room was as simple as could be, bare polished wooden floor, a low writing desk with ink stone and a ceramic pot with a few hair brushes of different sizes were the only pieces of furniture. The paper screens had been opened completely to allow an unobstructed view of the landscape beyond. Mountain after mountain stretched as far as the eye could see, between the mountains, valleys plunged steep sided, the bottom of the valleys were filled with various shades soft verdant greens. The house seemed to be perched at the very edge of the world itself; the sound of running water in the distance was both refreshing and calming.
The two older men's conversation seemed to merge with the warming kettle, Shigoto was deeply weary after the journey, and tiredness was now dragging heavily at his limbs and his eyes. They were sat in a simple room with open views out where the paper-covered doors had been slid back. The floor was plain boards polished by use, in the centre of the room was a sunken hearth, above which was suspended a large black stained kettle. On one side of the room the wall was lined with shelves, crowding onto the shelves were what seemed like hundreds of ceramic jars of myriad colours and shapes with lids, though he looked, he could not find two the same. The room had an atmosphere of deep rural quiet, and a sense of peacefulness and tranquillity that mirrored its isolated position, as Shigoto took in the space where they sat, he was aware that the whole room was pervaded by a scent he could not quite trace the origin of. There was an earthiness, a faintly sweet fragrance that reminded him of plants and flowers, with out bringing neither a clear recognition of either the source or the precise constituents of the complex makeup of the scent. In one corner of the room was the tokonoma, an alcove in which a piece of calligraphy composed of a few dynamic strokes was hung, below it was a small vase with a handful of simple leaves and a shower of tiny white flowers held aloft by the thinnest of stems.
His attention drifted away from the alcove toward the paper-covered screens that made up the remaining interior walls of the room they sat in. At first glance he thought the paper was streaked with age or stains, then as he peered closer he realised that in fact they had been painted in a soft, thin pale ink, in some parts the ink so barely stained the water that it hardly marked the paper with ghostly shapes that seemed to exist only at the fringes of the perception. Yet, the more he looked though, the more he began to see, the paintings were landscapes, with mountains, streams, forest and mists. A small bowl of tea had been placed in front of him, the vapours from which rose up to him brought to mind the scent of spring moss after a shower of rain. His eyes roamed from the paintings to the scenery beyond the veranda and back to the paintings, there hardly seemed to be any difference between one and the other. Perhaps Kirifuda san had made the painting by looking out onto that very same view Without having to move a muscle, he found himself travelling effortlessly through the landscape before him, from mountain peak to mountain peak, roaming the thickly forested valley sides, seeing the fish beneath the clear rushing water of the streams, it was as if he was a bird, completely free to go wherever he choose to. High or low, it was all the same somehow. First he drifted up one valley, its sides were thickly crowded with trees, and the sound of the hurrying river below, no more than the sighing of a kettle. Then he turned about and followed the flow downstream, the river joined with another and the valley broadened out. If he glanced upwards he could see the mountains rising way above him, their peaks garlanded with wreaths of cloud.
“So, young Shigoto, I hear that you wish to become a garden maker following the path of your Sensei.” Kirifuda spoke in a quiet voice that held its knowledge and authority in reserve. The words of their host brought him back to the room.
“Tell me, what do you think of my efforts then?” The older man was sat cross legged on a thin cushion floor, comfortably cradling a small rough ceramic bowl in his two hands, his quiet eyes looking toward Shigoto.
Shigoto did not know quite how to reply, did he mean the paintings? But Kirifuda san’s thin arm stretched out to indicate the space beyond the veranda, as he looked again Shigoto realised that beyond the veranda lay a small carefully tended garden, but only a matter of only a few paces deep. In his shock and confusion Shigoto mumbled something indistinct, and then Maguro Sensei straightened his posture as he sat, a smile playing about his lips.
“Kirifuda san, forgive us, this young man has made a long journey. Finish up your tea Shigoto, your horse will be pining for company. Then perhaps when you have checked on the beast, you had better get some rest yourself.”
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