“Eh, it’s not the usual monk?”
“Well, you see, it seems that Katou-san strained his back. His disciple might come this year.”
The Bon festival started that hot summer day.
My mother told me as she decorated the shouryoudana (shelf with offerings for welcoming the spirits of one’s ancestors during the Bon Festival) with the eggplant cow and cucumber horse she made. During the Bon festival, the monk would visit each of his parishioners’ houses in order to chant sutras in front of the shouryoudana.
Modern houses with no Buddhist altars or shouryoudana are increasing. However, we live in my Buddhist grandparents’ house, so during this time every year, a small table is placed in front of the Buddha altar and set it up into a shouryoudana by spreading out a sheet made of Manchurian wild rice and putting offerings and mortuary tablet on it. We prepare this for the reunion of our ancestors’ spirits.
An elderly monk, who is the chief priest of our family’s temple, will always come to our house, but since he had a strained back, then it can’t be helped.
“Oh…… And here I was thinking of buying Katou-san his favorite mizu yokan. Then what should I buy?”
“Since it is his disciple who will come in his stead, he will eat anything.”
Handing the eggplant cow and cucumber horse to my mother, I stood up with a ‘yoisho~”
“Is his disciple young?”
“Perhaps he is in his thirties?”
“Well, I guess you’re right.”
While cleaning the Buddha altar, Mother said, “Hey, hurry up and buy,” shooing me with her hands.
“Fine. You don’t have to tell me. I’m leaving.”
I still have about three hours until the monk comes. I took a bag and a parasol and quickly left home.
The department store was quite lively with the recent summer sale. With reluctance, I headed for the pastry shop in the crowded department store. They have something for the Bon season, and the variety of sweets were replete.
Since Katou-san comes every year, I know the kind of things he likes. But as for the disciple whose age I don’t even know, I am completely clueless.
After a lot of consideration, I bought bite-sized kuzu manjuu and mizu yokan. The kuzu manjuu is refreshing to look at, and is easy to eat and tastes good. The monk must have eaten delicious treats at a lot of parishioners’ residences after chanting sutras. Therefore, the amount of tea cakes is moderate and it seems good since it is not too cold for the stomach.
Anyhow, the monk cannot leave without finishing the food that is given to him.
Regarding the mizu yokan, it is a token of sympathy for Katou-san.
On my way home from the department store, as I walked down the residential area with a parasol, a monk who was riding a motorcycle passed by me.
“Really, he is busy during this time……”
Although it is Bon festival, my father and younger brother were too busy to take a holiday. For that reason, I decided to help my mother so I was off from work today, thanks to the flexible shift work. There is really no existing rule that there must be at least two people present during the chanting of sutras, but Mother complained, “Although he will come all the way here, it feels lonely hearing it alone!”
I’m Kuzuhara Kano. Twenty-nine years old, single, lives with my family since I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have any hobbies nor special skills. I work in a Western-style restaurant, living a mundane everyday life. While my friends of the same age got married and gave birth one after another, I am still unmarried, and somewhat ashamed of it, so I have to cooperate with my family at such a time.
Nonetheless, I am not particularly impatient about marriage. Since I have work, I thought that I should live peacefully at my own pace.
Until this time.
When I came home, I took up the cleaning of the Buddhist altar. It doesn’t have to look very clean but since it was not easy to get the other family members besides myself to clean it, I thought of it as a chance so I cleaned it diligently.
“Kano, the monk will be here soon. If I’m not mistaken, his name was…… Hazekura-san. When the interphone rings, answer it, okay?”
I was already ready to welcome the monk. After finishing preparing the shouryoudana and cleaning the altar, I turned the air conditioner on so it was now cool. I have chilled the oshibori in the fridge and have prepared the sweets. I am only waiting for Hazekura-san to come.
However, when the scheduled time have passed the interphone did not ring. Just when I was thinking about it, our landline phone rang.
Mother answered the phone, and the person on the other line must be the monk. Apparently, he was lost so he called to ask the location of our house. After Mother roughly explained, she placed the phone back to the receiver and looked back at me.
“Kano, go out and guide Hazekura-san. It seems he is already near.”
I got out of the house and restlessly looked around. However, there’s no one nearby.
——Perhaps, he went to a wrong street?
When I thought of that, I decided to go out to the slightly wider street and went back inside to get my sandals. I passed on a little shortcut, and the moment I turned on a corner of a narrow alley, a shadow passed in front of me all of a sudden.
When I was about to bump into that person, I tried to avoid and lost my balance. However, the man was able to grab my waist.
“I’m sorry. Are you alright?”
Hearing that voice, I felt the chill run down my spine.
It was a low, a slightly sweet and gentle voice—
A man’s broad chest was displayed before my eyes, wearing a priest’s robe made of black silk and a brown loop-shaped stole, with the collar of a white robe underneath can be seen. When I suddenly raised my eyes, a man with a good-looking face and neat short hair was looking down at me.
“……Are . . . Are you Hazekura . . . san?”
“Yes, I’m Hazekura. Ah, perhaps you are Kuzuhara-san?”
When I replied, he looked relieved.
“I’m glad. It seems I turned on a wrong street. Well then, I’m going to visit your house.”
As he said so, the smiling Hazekura-san was watching me closely, and my heart made a funny sound.
“Y-Yes, please. By the way……. Uhm, your hand on my waist . . .”
Hazekura-san’s hand kept on supporting my waist even though I already avoided the danger.
“Ah, I’m sorry for being impertinent.”
He gently drew his hand away, smiling as if he did not really meant what he said. However, he stood near me. What’s with this person? It doesn’t feel disgusting but . . . he is really close. The smiling Hazekura-san spoke to me, who is standing still due to agitation.
“Kuzuharsan? Shall we go?”
“Y-Yes. This way……”
……I’m sure it is just my imagination. Hazekura-san has a very handsome face that’s why I was shaken with surprise. Get a grip, girl.
When we arrived home, Hazekura-san courteously greeted Mother, who came to welcome us. Mother’s eyes instantly sparkled and guided Hazekura-san towards our Buddhist altar. I also followed behind them.
Hazekura-san opened the black bag he brought and took out a bell and a fish gong. He then sat down in front of the shouryoudana and waited for us to sit down before he started chanting sutras quietly.
But what was that a while ago?
My heart throbbed at a man who I met for the first time. Moreover, the other person was a monk though……
Is it because of his good-looking face? Or because he was staring at me? Could it be because he was touching my waist? Although I am thankful that he is in the middle of chanting sutras, my head is filled with klesha (In Buddhism, these are mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions.).
But, he got a nice voice……
Katou-san who comes every year has a calm and nice voice. However, Hazekura-san has a low voice that is enthralling and is very mellow. It unknowingly made me feel like I am listening to a comfortable music.
How long has it been?
The high-pitched sound of the bell returned me back to reality. When I noticed it, Hazekura-san had finished chanting sutras. He turned back and lowered his head.
“Thank you very much.”
Taken aback by his voice, I stood up quickly.
I went to the kitchen to prepare tea. Meanwhile, Mother started to converse with Hazekura-san. Even so, Mother’s tone was unusually cheerful.
——Mother, Hazekura-san is a handsome guy so you’re happy, huh……
While thinking that, I quickly returned to our family’s altar room, bringing the confections and the tea I brewed, as well as the cold hand towel. When I got there, there was already a low dining table and Mother’s cheerful voice echoed.
“Oh, then are you going to inherit your family’s temple in the future?”
“Well, that is probably the case.”
When I placed the tea in front of Hazekursan, he nodded and smiled. I also nodded back and smiled.
“Hazekura-san, how old are you?”
In response to a Mother’s sudden question, Hazekura-san calmly answered that he is thirty-one.
“Then are you already married?”
“No, I am still unmarried. Somehow, I didn’t have any luck.”
He then pierced the kuzu manjuu with a small bamboo skewer and gradually brought it to his mouth. My eyes followed Hazekura-san’s hand. What a beautiful hand…… His fingers are long and slightly bony. Above all, its movements are graceful.
When I noticed, I was staring at the movements of his hand.
“Oh, then how about my daughter? She is twenty-nine years old and has no boyfriend. Even though her appearance is not that bad, she did not have any luck at all…… I thought it was time for her to have a matchmaking soon.”
At Mother’s unexpected words, my face instantly blushed. I glared at her who was next to me.
“Hey, Mother!! What’s with you all of a sudden? You are bothering him with that kind of thing, so stop it!”
When I interrupted, Hazekura-san gave us a kind smile and said, “No, not in the least.”
At this timing, our landline phone rang. Lucky for me, so I stood up but Mother stopped me for some reason.
“Perhaps that’s for me! Excuse me for a moment! Kano, please keep him company.”
Mother vigorously stood up and left the altar room in a fluster. I stared at the sliding door where my mother exited, a little stunned.
——Eh, hey, do not leave us alone at this timing.
……What should I do? What should I say to……
“She called you ‘Kano’?”
Hazekura-san quietly said to me who was rendered speechless.
“How is it written?”
“The plant, hana [花], and no [乃]. . . Ah, did you get it? It’s like this…… [Kano’s name in kanji: 花乃]”
When I wrote the “乃” character with my finger on the low dining table, Hazekursan nodded and said, “I see”.
“What a pretty name. It suits you perfectly.”
I’m sure he only wanted to ease my mind. I bowed at him while feeling a little sorry for myself.
“About the conversation earlier…”
What about the conversation earlier?
Hazekura-san, with a gentle smile, gazed at me.
“Is it true that you are not dating anyone at the moment?”
Should I retort?
“The men in this society have no discerning eyes. Even though you are this beautiful.”
I unintentionally stiffened at his straightforward compliment. This person can really openly say embarrassing things. He makes me feel shy, though……
“Whe-Whether I am beautiful or not, I did not have luck. Besides, I am going to leave such things to nature.”
While I said that, Hazekura-san did not take his eyes off me. I cannot feel at ease at his intent stare. I feel like . . . I want to check myself at the bathroom mirror right now.
……I wonder if it’s okay? Is there something weird on my face……?
“Is that so? Then, is this also luck?”
While still staring at me, he deepened his smile and replied.
“Huh? What is?
Without comprehending what Hazekura-san was trying to say, I stared at his face. He also stared at me for some reason.
At that moment, my mother who finished talking on the phone returned to the altar room in hasty steps.
“I’m sorry for leaving at the middle of our conversation. Daughter, did you satisfactorily entertain our guest?”
“Yes. I had fun conversing with her.”
Hazekursan flashed Mother a smile.
Where was the fun?
Internally retorting, I listened to the conversation between Mother and Hazekura-san in silence, when suddenly he looked at his wristwatch.
“Ah, I had a great time talking with you. But I must to go to the next house, so I will take my leave.”
Hazekura-san bowed his head deeply and stood up.
Mother escorted Hazekura-san until the entryway. While watching the two of them, I suddenly noticed that I forgot to hand out my token of sympathy for Katou-san. I hurried back to the kitchen, grabbed the paper bag, and jogged towards the front door.
“Ex-Excuse me. This……”
While I was passing the paper bag to Hazekura-san, Mother’s voice entered my ears.
“Kano, Hazekura-san came here by car so go and send him off until there!”
Mother’s order is absolute at such times. I left the house bringing the paper bag and walked side by side with Hazekura-san until the nearest coin-operated parking space where he parked his car.
“So you came here by car, huh……”
“Going from house to house will truly take time. I usually ride a motorcycle, but I have a lot of houses to visit today so I drove a car instead.”
He politely answered, in a nice voice, at my casual remark.
“So you are really busy right now?”
“Well, quite…… Especially since the chief priest is not available this year, I am busier than usual.”
“I see . . . It sounds tough . . .”
Every year, Katou-san is also busy but because he cannot move this year, he became busier.
“Kano-san, what is your work?”
This time, it was I who was asked.
“I am working at a Western-style restaurant at the neighboring town.”
“What kind of shop it it?”
Hazekura-san inquired without a moment’s hesitation.
“It is a restaurant called Sumiretei.”
“Ah, I’ve heard about it. A parishioner, who lives within its vicinity, told me that the restaurant’s omelette rice is delicious.”
“Th-Thank you very much. Please do visit if ever you come within the area.”
“Yes, I’ll certainly do.”
Walking while holding a casual conversation, the parking area came to view. When Hazekura-san took out his key, the hybrid sedan emitted a sound. With this, I was finally relieved of my burden. I offered the paper bag I brought with me to Hazekura-san.
“This is Katou-san’s favorite mizu yokan. Please eat this with everyone.”
Hazekura-san’s eyes were fixed on me instead of the paper bag. He enveloped my hands that were holding the paper bag with his big hands. Without comprehending the meaning of that action, I blanked out for a moment.
His voice seemed to deepen a bit. When I looked up, Hazekura-san’s gaze seemed to pierce me.
“I really want you to consider it.”
“Huh? What are you . . .”
“Please become my wife.”
My brain ceased to function at his sudden declaration.
“Ha-Hazekura-san, what nonsense are you suddenly spouting?”
Feigning ignorance, I managed to appear calm and averted my eyes from Hazekura-san. However, the warmth transmitted by Hazekura-san’s hands to mine made my hands strangely perspire.
“I feel that our encounter is somewhat fated. I do not think that this encounter is meaningless.”
Hazekura-san closed the distance between us.
“I am not compelling you to respond right away. But would you mind considering the future with me?”
“Su-Suddenly saying such a thing, it bothers me! In the first place, it is impossible for me to marry someone I just met today!”
Hazekura-san burst out laughing when he heard my not so calm assertion.
“……Right, I have really shocked you.”
After saying that, he retreated one step backwards. He removed his hands from my hands and grasped the paper bag instead.
“My apologies, I surprised you. However—”
As he was taking the paper bag, his long finger stroked my back of my hand. At the unexpected contact, my heart skipped a beat.
“I wasn’t lying earlier. Thank you for this token. See you again.”
At his assertion, his expression appeared very happy. It might be an exaggeration, but it seemed like he declared a war.
Leaving me standing absentmindedly on the spot, Hazekura-san got on his car and left the parking area. When he passed by me, he flashed me a charming smile.
……What was that just now?