“How do you mean bought!”, exclaimed the old man “The Red House has never been up for sale in the first place!”
“I’m afraid it is as you heard it, Okuda san, “Someone has bought The Red House and soon will live in it.”
Ishibashi san knew very well his friend will be astounded at the news. That’s why he wasn’t in a hurry to give him all the details straightaway.
While his friend was trying to wrap his head around what he just heard, Ishibashi san lit his kiseru and looked up at the marvelous building on the hill – the object of much admiration, gossip, and even fear.
Painted red, with a black-tiled roof, it stood magnificent in the afterglow of the incredibly hot August afternoon. Ishibashi san had seen it in all times of the day, in all seasons, in times good and bad – and he could never decide when he liked it the best.
“But my dear Ishibashi san, I simply can’t believe it!”, Okuda san insisted, unsuspecting of his friend’s teasing, “I have so many questions. Who is that person, where are they coming from, how much did they pay for the house – not even thinking about how the question of its sale was raised! – and also – how did you get to know about it??”
Ishibashi san had to put on his most serious face and look away in the distance so that he doesn’t laugh out loud in Okuda san’s face. They’d been friends all their lives and Okuda san never once saw Ishibashi san as one of the town’s officials. His friend often forgot that Ishibashi san’s job was to know everything that was happening in their town of Haruido and he trusted Okuda with that information. He could really trust Okuda with his life.
“You’re not fun when you get into one of your meditations in the middle of the conversation Ishibashi san!”, Okuda was now sulking. He folded his hands and his brow furrowed so much, Ishibashi thought if he throws a handful of pebbles at it, not a single one will fall.
He sighed and gazed at the burweed that had taken over Okuda’s garden.
“I can’t answer all your questions but you know I know these things. I heard that person comes from a high-status society. Therefore the price of the house they paid is symbolic and it’s more of an agreement by the town to host an important resident. Think about it, it’s always been very quiet in Haruido, and someone of wealth and status can shake things up.”
“I don’t want things to be shaken up”, Okuda murmured, “I want everything to stay the same. Forever!”
Ishibashi chuckled and stood up, slowly walking away down the pebbled path. Okuda knew well this is how his friend indicated he was leaving and won’t be persuaded to stay. It was Okuda’s turn to sigh.
But then Ishibashi suddenly stopped halfway through. Okuda thought, perhaps he was admiring his phoenix tree as he looked up towards its blood-red leaves. Without tearing his gaze away, Ishibashi said:
“Nothing ever remains the same, Okuda. And there’s no such thing as forever – you know that… Oh and did I mention”, he started while turning back with a mischievous smile, “that there is a high chance the new resident of The Red House… is a woman?…”
This time, Ishibashi couldn’t contain his laughter when Okuda’s jaw dropped and seconds later he was up and trying to catch up with Ishibashi. The old town official also turned round and tried to run away while laughing but as they both had bad knees, neither Okuda could run fast enough to catch his friend, nor could Ishibashi get away.
“How can you leave me to hang after you serve me this!”, Okuda was raging, “Come back at once and tell me what in the heavens you mean! “
“Calm down, Okuda”, said his friend through the tears of laughter he was fighting, “If I tell you everything now, what are we going to talk about tomorrow!”
“You are the devil!”, shouted Okuda and stopped panting as his strength to run had left him.
Ishibashi stopped running himself and when he reached the gates, shouted back at Okuda:
“Enjoy thinking about this under the moon tonight. Now you’re really looking forward to having me on your engawa tomorrow.”
And then disappeared.
 Kiseru – a pipe-like tool for smoking used by the ancient Japanese
 Engawa – Japanese-style veranda-like porch