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The Turning Point: A Remembrance

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The Buddha

The boy was very puzzled by the servants heightened activity that morning, and why none of them would look him in the eye when he would tug at their garments and ask them what was wrong. He kept trying to find his mother - she didn’t appear to be in any of her usual places when he went looking for her.

She had been getting harder and harder to find lately anyway, and even when he had found her she had had a funny look in her eyes. They were pale green like his, and she was slender and tall, like she always predicted he was going to be. His heart always swelled in his chest when he saw her walking down the halls in their mansion in Tenkai. She was so beautiful… she carried herself just like one of the princesses in his books, or a noblewoman, so much more beautiful and elegant than any of the other women he ever saw anywhere else around Tenkai.

But that day, something was definitely wrong… All over the mansion the servants had their heads together nattering away to each other in hushed whispers, but they would break apart guiltily the minute he came into the room, and act like nothing was wrong. In spite of whatever was going on and the boy’s obvious concern, his governess insisted on doing their usual lessons in their usual order, and only in his art instruction at the end of the day did the boy find any comfort at all. He sketched a nice picture of the lilies in his mother’s garden, because he knew the lilies were her favorite and her birthday was coming soon.  Maybe the teacher would let him turn the sketch into a painting for his mother, since he was doing his first work with paint and canvas, and the governess said he was showing some promise. He smiled as he pictured himself presenting a nice completed painting to his mother and her looking down at him, her face flushed with maternal pride, her smile wide and gracious. 

That evening as the sun was setting his father summoned him into his study. This startled the boy, as his father was a high-level administrator in Tenkai, and he was used to doing everything to avoid disturbing his father in the evening until he after he had had at least two or three glasses of sake when he got home from work, if even then. Usually his mother would keep him away from his father altogether, seeking to avoid any irritation of the overworked bureaucrat by the young boy.  They would see each other at the formal dining table, attended by servants, and – if it had been a good day at the office – the father might ask the boy something about his schoolwork, or his martial arts practice, but that was normally as far as their contact ever went. Occasionally if the father encountered the boy reading quietly in his room or sitting with his mother in the parlor he would tell him to tighten the wrap around his unruly hair, or tie the bow on his geta – but their conversations rarely ever extended beyond that. The boy tried a few times to have discussions with his father, but the father always seemed too distracted or too uncomfortable or both, so he eventually the boy stopped trying. 

Consequently, when the boy was summoned to his father’s study that evening, his heart pounded in his chest. He retraced his activities of that day, looking for any mis-steps that his father might need to give him a corrective lecture about, but he could think of none. Perhaps he had run and played overlong with the groundskeeper’s dogs during his exercise period that afternoon, but the groundskeeper always covered for him in those matters, allowing him to play with the dogs, dig in the dirt, play with his tools, and all manner of things that his governess and his father would have both severely reprimanded him for, had they ever found out. 

He walked into the study, his head low, bowed slightly to his father, and sat primly on the couch, nervously swinging his legs and awaiting his penance for whatever sin he had committed in the ever-puzzling world of adult rules and regulations.

 “Stop swinging your legs, Shien,” the father said out of habit. “I have something I have to tell you, and it is not going to be easy for either of us. But it is what it is, and we simply will get on with our lives.” The grave look on his father’s face, and the fact that he had a large glass of some sort of drink after dinner that he didn’t usually drink alerted the child that something very serious was wrong. He sat up straight and still and watched his father’s every move, and hung on his every word.

“Son, your mother has left us. She is in love with another man, she has run off to the Underworld, and she is not coming back. That’s it.” His father took a large swallow from his drink and looked at the boy, his gaze level and cool. 

The boy’s mind reeled. Surely it was a mistake – she was coming back for him, or she would have told him! “She wouldn’t leave me without telling me,” he cried, trying desperately to process the huge mountain of information his father had given him in so few words.  “She loves me – and you – she wouldn’t just go off and leave us like this!”

“Nevertheless, son, that is what she has done, and now we must go on with our lives. I expect you to act like my son, and your grandfather’s grandchild, and conduct yourself in a dignified manner. No weeping or wailing over this, there will be talk enough among the people of Tenkai because of what she did. It is up to us to save the image of the family by conducting ourselves with pride and grace under the magnifying glass we will now be scrutinized with. Everyone from the Jade Emperor on down will be watching us to see how we handle this, and we have to show them we are made of stronger stuff. Do I make myself clear, son?”

The small boy slumped under the weight of the concept that he was never going to see his mother again and tears started to overwhelm him. He looked at his father for help, his eyes clouded with the water over-spilling them, only to be met with his father’s narrowed grey gaze, inscrutable slits of cold steel, barely readable to the boy or anyone else.

“I said, do I make myself clear, Shien?”

The boy looked down and blinked his eyes, squeezed the tears out and looked up to meet his father’s gaze with an equally narrow one of his own, his bearing now as erect and as regal as his father’s.

"Yes, Father, I understand you completely now."


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