Red House Saga: Chapter 4

“It’s been three weeks…”, Okuda san sighed looking up at the Red House.

“It has”, replied his friend Ishibashi san, looking at the table with go pieces. “And it feels even longer since you’ve made a move! Are you going to play at all, Okuda, or shall we just gossip?”

“I’m so sorry my friend”, Okuda said, standing up and stretching his back by pushing his waist forward. “My mind is not here, and my body is all stiff.”

“The Red House has gotten the best of you.”

“It is on my mind a lot recently, I’ll admit that. And it doesn’t help that you’re telling me absolutely nothing about Lady Miyasai”, Okuda cheekily looked at his friend.

“You should have asked me if you wanted to know so much.”

The two men turned round toward the woman who has just spoke. Wearing a long grey kimono, she walked towards them on the engawa, carrying a plate of apples.

“Mine san? What can you possibly know?!”, Okuda explained.

“A thing or two”, the woman replied giving Okuda a side glance and a smirk while placing the apples in front of them. “for example, she spends the whole night staring at the “River of Heaven and then sleeps till noon.”

“See”, observed Ishibashi “Your good lady knows more than me”, and he bit into an apple.

“I see you’ve been at that market where all gossip comes from, Mine san, but you can’t be sure all that coms from there is true”, said Okuda, shaking his head disapprovingly.

“You underestimate the power that people’s curiosity has over them, my dear husband”, replied Mine san. “Some villagers have been up that hill almost every day trying to figure out what the lady is doing. As she hasn’t left the place for weeks, some go out of concern, others – out of curiosity. But trust me, a lot of them go and try to find out what she looks like and what she’s up to there.”

“In other words”, Okuda muttered angrily, while trying to scratch his back against a nearby tree “they’re sticking their noses in someone else’s business because they have nothing better to do”

“But Okuda san, the only difference between you and the rest of the people in Haruido is that you’re only badgering me for information while they’re casting the net wider and even going to the place”, observed Ishibashi.

Him and Mine san chuckled at Okuda’s offended face.

“I’m only trying to find out what kind of a person Haruido has acquired”, he tried to justify himself. Then he sat back down beside his friend and his wife and grabbed a yellow apple. “She doesn’t go out, we don’t know what she looks like or what she’s up to, or why she’s even here! We’ve seen more from her cat than from her. If you ask me, she has no manners, ignoring us like that.”

“Come now Okuda, she’s a Lady”, Mine san said. “She’s just not used to small town life. She still receives servants once a week to tidy up her place, I hear”

“Really?”

“Yes, people are sent from the palace to do her weekly chores on a Sunday.”

“Well, at this rate, we’ll need someone to coax her out of this layer if we want to see what’s she’s like. We can’t just rely on the villagers spying on her. I don’t trust gossip for solid information”

“What did you say?”, Ishibashi looked up at his friend, with face full of surprise.

“What? Just that I don’t trust gossip…”

“No, before that.”

“I said I don’t think villagers’ reports are good enough.”

“No! You said “spying”! Spying on her?”

“Oh yes. What of it?”

Ishibashi san leaned back, smiling and content.

“My dear friend – and Mine san – you did it again! You gave me an idea that’s worth exploring…”

“Oh yes”, Okuda sighed, “I don’t suppose I can persuade you to tell us anything about it.”

“Not yet”, Ishibashi smiles mysteriously. That made Mine san smile too.

“I love a good chase”, she said.

“Chase? Whatever do you mean?”, Okuda was really annoyed.

“Patience, my friend. You’ll know all about my plan soon”, Ishibashi reassured him. “But first”, he said quietly, almost to himself “I need to pay Lady Miyasai an official visit…”

Suddenly, a strong gust of wind started shaking the tree branches, and Mine san rushed towards the back of the house, hoping their drying laundry could be saved from the upcoming storm.

The Call of the Cuckoo (1887–1896) print in high resolution by Ogata Gekko.

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