of the flute
A long time
ago in the village of Umemura, on the island of Shikoku, there
lived a fisherman to whom was born only one child, Kari, a son
who was clever and strong. He loved music above all things and
succeeded in all he turned his mind to. His mother sold her
weavings in the market and was consulted by all around for her
wisdom. His parents put their hope and their life in his hands
and he worked to prove himself worthy of their love.
of the villages smiled at him yet he loved just one, Rie, the
only child of the great Lord Tanemura. This Lord brought up
his daughter in the art of seamanship and battle as he would
have a son. Often did Kari observe Rie commanding her father's
ships. Though he did not speak of her, yet still many knew of
his secret love for her. In the evenings he could be seen on
the grassy cliffs playing his flute, watching the ships returning
about that Tanemura needed a messenger he could trust to carry
out some private business in the capital, Kyoto. The mission
was dangerous in those times, not only because the country was
in turmoil and the highways were harassed by desperate men,
but also on account of the nature of the business itself. The
Lord needed someone clever whom he could trust yet also someone
who would not be too closely associated with himself should
his mission fail.
In his search
for a suitable messenger Tanemura heard about Kari and the rumors
concerning his daughter Rie. Saying nothing yet seeking to investigate
the matter further he asked Kari to come and play his Shakuhatchi
overjoyed at his good fortune, being summoned to play at the
residence of the Lord, for he thought to be able to see 'her'
again. However things were arranged in such a way that their
paths did not cross at the first summons. Rie heard the music
in the great hall but was unable to see the musician himself.
Lord Tanemura called Kari to play for him frequently after this
and gradually confided his designs to him. One evening his advisor,
old Tanaka, a man many thought to have died years before, arranged
for Kari to meet Rie in the house during one of his later visits.
The two people did not show any outward affection yet old Tanaka
knew the small signs well and advised his Lord that he had indeed
found the right person for his messages.
Kari was given to understand that he was favoured and esteemed
by his Lord and was forthwith sent on his way, well provisioned
and fitted out as a travelling Shakuhatchi player. Fortune smiled
on Kari's journey to Kyoto, yet not on the plans of the Lord.
Kari fled the capital in danger of his life and realized he
had been tricked by Tanemura.
that his life was in danger if he ever returned he decided to
secretly see his parents one last time and thereafter start
a new life far away. Travelling quickly, hiding his instrument
and having become skilled in the ways of illusion he reached
the house of his birth on the eve of the O-Bon festival.
were not at home. Determining to wait he unrolled his futon.
He found the old worn book he had learnt reading and writing
from. He remembered his father slowly, haltingly teaching him
from this old torn volume, until one day he found himself teaching
his father. The old man had smiled at him then, closed the book
and pronounced himself a happy man. Kari slowly and gently replaced
the book and waited, playing his flute.
fell on a figure standing in the doorway, Rie. She smiled at
him and for a long time - they both waited one for the other.
She said nothing but came in and stood next to him on the Tatami
quietly looking at him. Without a word, he commenced to play
for her with all his heart, the music telling her what words
never could. Then heart met heart in the way of a woman with
a man for one last time. It was midnight when she hastened to
leave the small house.
and mother returned.
The son told them of his journey and of the trickery of the
Lord Tanemura. This would be the last time they would see his
face. If he stayed with them, surely the Lord would not let
him live after this.
Then the father turned to his son and said: "There is now
little to fear from the Lord, have you not heard the news ?
Rie, his daughter was drowned but 3 days ago. Now he will not
speak to anyone and looks set to die of grief."
this news Kari related all his experience of the night and then
in that late hour set out for the house of the Lord.
The house was shrouded in mourning yet in the big hall there
was still a fire burning. Kari was brought before the great
man, gaunt with lack of sleep, hollow eyes staring at him. Quietly
Kari told of his journey to Kyoto, how the plans of Tanemura
were thwarted by the court and how he barely escaped with his
life. Kari held his breath for an answer.
The Lord only nodded, and slowly waved his hands at him, with
" This is no longer a concern of mine, - go ! ".
spoke loudly: "Before I go I wouldst tell thee of one more
thing that is certain to be of concern to thee".
At these bold words Tanemura looked up slowly, glaring.
Thereupon Kari related the events of that night, leaving out
Then slowly taking his flute once more he played that which
he had played earlier for 'Her'. His heart called to her and
she answered them both one last time.
Never had he seen such pain on the face of any man.
the great house forever.
1 November 2001, 21:00-23:00, Ban Wat Chan, Vientiane, Laos
Inspired by Lafcadio Hearn's; "Kwaidan - stories and studies
of strange things" ; Charles E. Tuttle 1971 Tokyo
for 'her' who is with me always
© 2003 heiko