Posts Tagged ‘Mari’s dead baby’

Chapter 23…an introduction to Jizo and a troublesome Tengu.

July 31, 2019
The power and compassion of Jizo, a Buddhist ‘saint’ who is the protector of children, the dead unborn, women and travelers.

 

Kimono Cover

After Mari and Lady Nyo returned from shopping for kimono, Mari went to lie down. Her feet hurt in the high geta. It took careful steps and concentration not to twist an ankle.

When they were out, Lady Nyo told Mari of a small shrine close by, dedicated to Lord Jizo. Mari wanted to make an offering. When she saw the shrine on the road a few days before, Mari was deeply moved. She had lost her first and possibly only child and perhaps now she could face the grief. She had put it out of mind because of the disruption and shame.

Lord Tetsu and Lord Ekei had disappeared during the morning. Neither Mari nor Lady Nyo had a clue where the men were. They were just women and not to be informed. Lord Nyo was left in charge. Mari thought this a good time to approach Lady Nyo. She wanted to walk the short distance to the shrine, to spend some time in thought and she wanted to do it alone. Upon hearing Mari’s words, Lady Nyo expressed concern but she promised to talk to Lord Nyo. Mari knew she would have to have protection, either in the form of Lady Nyo or one of Lord Tetsu’s men. This was not of her choosing. She had no say in these things.

Lady Nyo found Mari in the tiny garden at the back of the inn, watching goldfish in the small pond from a stone bench. “Lady Mari,” she called softly.

Mari looked up. It was still early, just before dusk, and the sky was overlaid with clouds. It had turned misty but Mari was still hopeful she could make her visit to the shrine.

“My Lord Nyo has agreed and will send two men to go with you. I will send a servant and provide you with coin to buy incense.”

Mari smiled. She knew Lady Nyo was risking much in not accompanying her. Mari wanted some distance and privacy to think and to be alone. It didn’t seem possible in this century.

Lady Nyo was kind. She sensed Mari’s need. After all, this foreign-looking, foreign-acting woman was full of secrets and she knew that, in time, the tightly wound ball that was Lady Mari would unravel. She was willing to wait. There was something much bigger about this woman, this unusual and rather ugly favorite of Lord Tetsu. Lady Nyo did not know what it was but sensed it was worth her patience. There were clues but these were too fantastic to believe.

Mari set out with two armed guards and one of the two female servants. This time she wore her straw sandals and her traveling kimono, with an oiled paper cloak to protect from the rain. Mari had not been raised in either Shinto or Buddhist beliefs, though her mother privately offered prayers and burned incense at a small family shrine set up in a corner of their house. She had attended a Unitarian church, the religion of her father. Mari knew little about Lord Jizo. The only knowledge she had was that he was the “patron saint” of unborn, miscarried and stillborn children. It seemed enough of a starting place. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so empty after offering prayers for her dead baby.

The walk to the shrine was not far. The road was banked with mulberry trees. Beyond them, bamboo stands looked like small forests of waving greenery. A drizzle had started, serving to dampen the dust on the road.

There were few travelers today. When they got to the shrine, Mari was surprised how primitive it was: a raised open shed housing a stone pillar with a carved face. There were offerings of toys, incense, pebbles, a few small coins. Children’s clothes were folded and laid at the base of Lord Jizo. One mother had put a red bib around his neck. A white, knitted hat sat on his head at a rakish angle.

The two men and the servant stood back by the road but not so far that they couldn’t see Mari. She walked up the few stairs to kneel on the rough wooden floor of the shrine. There was a crow in the rafters who looked curiously at her. Mari placed her unlit incense in the bowl of sand in front of the statue. She raised her eyes to his face. His features were faint, dissolved by time. A small, smiling mouth, long earlobes, closed eyes. Mari felt tears forming and gulped to swallow them. She didn’t know what to pray for, except a vague prayer to her baby. She wasn’t a religious person back in her own century. Things were too disrupted and strange to even contemplate the spiritual now. The presence of magic had destroyed her belief in so many things.

A strange sensation came over her. She did not recognize it at first but soon realized she was feeling more than the usual emptiness. She felt disturbed by something. She didn’t understand. Tears coursed down her face. She raised her eyes and looked at the statue of Lord Jizo. The ancient details of his face dissolved even more. Whether it was because of her tears or some magic, she now saw the face of a laughing baby. She clasped her hands to her breast and uttered a soft, marveling cry. The vague stone features of Lord Jizo reappeared. Mari was deeply moved but also frightened. Perhaps it was the dim light of the shrine playing tricks or perhaps it was her confused mind. In any case, she felt a peace, something she had not felt in a long time, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from her heart.

Mari heard the faint sound of a flute. Sad, mournful music. She looked up to the rafters and saw a monk sitting there or what she thought was a monk. He was playing a bamboo flute and floated down like a dust mote. Mari looked around at the men and the girl outside. They seemed oblivious to anything happening inside the shrine. In fact, they weren’t moving at all. They looked frozen.

“Do not be afraid.” The monk, a dirty, dusty man in a ripped kimono, spoke in a raspy voice, clearing cobwebs from his face as he stood there.

Mari did not feel afraid. Perhaps she was enchanted and under a spell?

“Nah, you’re under no spell…but the men outside are.” He giggled and snorted.

Mari blanched. This monk could read her mind? The monk coughed and spat, not good behavior for a monk in a shrine.

“Were you the crow in the rafters?” Mari’s voice was soft, disbelief making it hard to speak.

“You’re a fast study, girl.” The monk laughed, seeing the astonishment on Mari’s face.

“What are you?”

“Oh, you are a rude one! Perhaps the shock of seeing a crow transform into a man has robbed you of manners?”

“But what are you?”

“You already asked that. I am Lord Yoki.”

“You are obviously not human. Are you a figment of my mind?”

“Oh, I am much more than that, girl. I am a Tengu. Are you familiar with Tengu?”

Mari shook her head, eyes wide in shock.

“Ah…we have met before, Mari.”

“How do you know my name?”

The Tengu laughed, a raspy sound from a thin, wizened throat. Mari studied his kimono. It was patched and stained, none too clean for a monk. He wore straw sandals and his toenails were very long, in fact they had grown over his sandals and seemed more like the claws of a bird. Mari noticed his nose was very long and red, probably from drinking too much sake. He scratched at his hindquarters, too. Lord Yoki smiled, blinked, and closed his eyes to mere slits. “You were visiting a friend in Kyoto one night. On your way home, I called out to you.”

Mari couldn’t think of where she had seen this creature.

“Ah…your friend, Miyo?”

Mari gasped. Miyo was back home in her 21st century, not here in the 17th century! What was happening here? Was she losing her mind? Then, she remembered. There was a large bird on a wire high above her one cold night. She remembered that evening with Miyo, telling her about her dream, a dream that turned out to be another reality. She remembered being scared by a voice, looking up in the dark, and seeing a huge bird with a long red beak.

“Yup, at your service.” The Tengu bowed and giggled like a girl.

“But…how? That night was hundreds of years from now. How are you here?”

“Better that you ask me why.”

Mari went to rise and fell on her backside. Her legs would not support her. “And you speak English! I must be losing my mind!”

“Oh, don’t get overly excited, girl,” he said, making a dismissive gesture. “Weirder things have happened.”

The Tengu grimaced and scratched at his scraggly beard. “Fleas,” he said flatly, with a grin.

Mari twisted around, trying to see the men outside. They had not moved an inch.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. They won’t bother us. We have things to talk about.”

The Tengu folded his legs and sat facing her, tucking his flute into his robe. “I am sure you have some questions for me?” He looked at her expectantly.

“What questions could I have for you?” Mari’s shock had lessened. She now began to sense danger.

“Perhaps you would like to know what your husband Steven is up to?”

“Steven!” Mari gasped, her eyes opening wide. What would this old man, if he was one, know of Steven?

“Well, why don’t you start by asking me some questions? I bet I know more than you could guess.” He folded his hands in front of him, looking rather pleased with himself.

Mari swallowed hard, wishing she had some water. Her throat was dry. “What do you know about my husband?”

The monk raised and lowered his eyebrows a few times and winked. Mari almost laughed. He looked like Groucho Marx.

“I travel in many circles, girl. I get around.”

Mari would have dismissed him as insane but uttering Steven’s name meant something else. “Then tell me what he is doing. Is he worried about me? Is he ok?”

The monk’s face softened. “You don’t understand much about this time travel, do you? Has no one explained to you what happens?”

Mari remembered only that Lord Tetsu said a year in this century would be like a minute in hers. Haltingly, Mari told the monk what she knew.

“Yes, yes, that is part of it. Going back and forth can be confusing but do not worry. You have no reason for concern about your husband. See those men out there? And your servant?”

Mari turned and saw them in the same position. Still frozen.

“That is how your disappearance has seemed to Lord Steven. He doesn’t have a clue.”

The monk chortled and the hair on the back of Mari’s neck stood up. Mari wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the floor. Tears started to well in her eyes. What had she done to Steven, to her marriage? Was she already dead and this some kind of Hell?

“Mari,” said the monk in a soft voice. “You are caught up in a web of magic and none of this is of your doing. You bought a kimono with some history and fell under its power. What happens now is out of your control. From the beginning, it was your fate.”

“What is going to happen to me?” Mari looked at the monk, her heart full of despair.

The monk, or Tengu, or whatever he was, scowled and spat again on the boards of the shrine. “Do I look like a fortune teller? I have no idea, girl, what your destiny is to be but I know you are a pawn in a larger game.”

“One of Lord Tetsu’s making?”

“Lord Tetsu is also a pawn but a much more important pawn. We all are pawns in this present game, Mari.”

“What does he want of me?”

Lord Yoki looked at Mari and studied her face but said nothing for a few seconds. “Our Lord Tetsu is a complex man. He can wield his own small magic, more tricks than anything else. There are other forces at work and our Lord is determined to find them out. This, in part, is the reason for this pilgrimage to Gassan Mountain.”

“But how do I figure in all of this?”

The monk laid his head to one side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Mari. He looked like a blinking owl. “I have no answers for you, girl. I just know that those answers exist. You will have to cultivate patience. You have no control or power as to what happens.”

Mari did not get much from his explanation. At least she now knew something about Steven, if she could believe this monk. If it was true her absence had gone unnoticed by him, then perhaps there was something good in this, a small comfort. There had to be a reason for her presence here, in this century, with Lord Tetsu and the others.

The monk vanished. In the blink of an eye, he was gone. Mari stretched out a hand to where he had been sitting. Had she dreamed all this? Was she also under a spell?

She heard voices. The men were talking amongst themselves, leaning on the long poles of their naginatas. The servant was plaiting reeds from her basket. Mari left the shrine, only turning back once to look at the statue of Lord Jizo. She still had no answers but for some strange reason, she felt comforted. Whether it was Lord Jizo or the monk, she didn’t know.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018   “The Kimono” is available at Amazon.com .

 


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