Excerpt from Haiku Dance, by Cora J. Ramos
968 A.D., early morning, Mount Takao, Japan
Under the thatch-covered bamboo porch of their simple wooden house, Shino sat next to Grandfather and watched a nightingale flit through the mist that hung over the rows of tea bushes they farmed.
Grandfather sighed softly and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I've made a decision. I'm sending you away."
Shino frowned. "Away. Why?
"At thirteen, you're entering your manhood and need discipline."
"No," Shino whispered, his lips tightening. "I've had enough of discipline."
Grandfather grasped his chin and turned it to face his penetrating eyes. “Shino-kun, there is great strength in you. But it sleeps. You’ve not learned to control your impetuous behavior. Until you do, you’re a tumbling leaf subject to the winds of circumstance and unprincipled people. I cannot allow you to fall into your father’s ways. That will not happen. Prepare to leave here—soon.”
“I can change, Grandfather. I will make you proud of me.” He bit his lip. No, I won’t beg. He avoided his grandfather’s disapproving stare by scratching his arm where an insect had bitten him.
“After your father died, when you came to live with us, I thought I could make a difference in your life.” Grandfather shook his head. He gazed at the green rows flowing down the side of the mountain below them. “But I’ve grown too old to deal with youthful rebelliousness and your troubled heart.” He wrapped his plain black haori cloak tighter about him to ward off the chill in the air. “I made too many mistakes with my daughters. I’ve vowed not to fail you as well. At this point you lack the restraint necessary to bring your restless spirit under control.”
As Grandfather reached for his hand, he jerked it away and stood up.
“You will not leave.” Grandfather glared at him. Shino looked at his feet. “I have much yet to say.” Shino looked at his feet. “Since your grandmother died, my health has become an issue. It won’t be long before I, too, leave this world. I must know that you’re on the right path.”
He frowned. It disturbed him when his grandfather spoke of death. He wanted to touch his wrinkled face and assure him that he wouldn’t be trouble any longer. Instead, he watched the smoke curling up from the other village houses on the hillside and inhaled the smells of the rice and fish being prepared for morning meal.
“In a few weeks, when the mountain passes become accessible, your cousin will come for you.”
When he turned back and saw the set of his grandfather’s jaw—his stern eyes focused on the distant fields—Shino knew it was already settled. There would be no more chances. No more excuses. He crossed his arms and turned toward the river below. “Then I’ll be glad to leave here,” he snapped. “This mountain holds only unhappiness for me, anyway.” He glanced across the valley at Fujiwara no Ichiro’s house. He felt the wetness on his cheek. Embarrassed, he quickly rubbed it away with one hand.
“That’s not true. What about Miyoshi?” Grandfather gripped his arm. Shino didn’t resist. “Do not harden your heart, beloved grandson.” He pulled Shino back down, wrapping his arms around his trembling shoulders and held him tight. “Use your pain to push through your anger.”
Acceptance was slow to wash over Shino, but when it did, he knelt and stared into Grandfather’s eyes. “I will miss you very much,” he whispered. “Where are you sending me?”
“You require a path that demands much of you, and you will have it. Before you were born, my oldest daughter, your Aunt Tatsuyo, left the mountain and married an official in one of the provinces just outside Heian Kyo. Do you remember that time when your mother took you to visit her, and you met her son, your cousin Juro?”
Shino nodded, remembering the older boy who was full of mischief. They’d had fun together.
“You are to follow Juro’s path and the Saito tradition.”
Shino frowned until the realization washed over him, then he gasped. “I will train to be samurai?”
Miyoshi sat on the steps of her house, watching Shino’s body stiffen while he talked to his grandfather on their front porch. She frowned and bit her nail as she watched him become angry, defiant, then sad—rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. He glanced over toward her house, but apparently did not see her waving. He didn’t cry as much now that he was getting older and playing with the big boys most of the time. It makes me sad to see him so unhappy. She watched him finally brighten. He got up and took off down the hill, his straw waraji sandals slapping his feet and his striped hakama pants flapping against his legs as he ran.
“Father, I’m going down by the reeds,” she called back into the house before slipping into her geta shoes and hurrying after Shino.