Why do we do it? Where does the madness come from? Is there hidden madness in everyone?
There. Down at the bottom on the south end. I dare not step there. It is a black hole that swallows whole. It is where my life ended.
The echoes of that night have not faded. Seven years ago, time stopped. I eat, I (barely) sleep, I carry out my duties as samurai. But I have not recovered. Crippled forever in a single blinding moment of madness.
It is winter now but was a warm, late summer night then. The night of the Ebisu Feast. Umada village was decorated with lanterns, the merchants were selling their dolls and everyone came out to enjoy the vibrant life in the air. Osayo came out too, the silk merchant's daughter. I'd had my eye on her the last couple of months and she was every dream come true.
It's easy for a samurai not to fear death. But a woman is worse than any invading army. We had exchanged words and I even allowed myself a little familiarity with her. But that's as far I went. I couldn't pull the trigger and confess I needed her. If only we still lived in a time of war I could have proven myself to her. But as an ordinary man I could not approach her.
Why do I torture myself? Why come back here? What is it I hope to accomplish? The bridge that has haunted my dreams for so many years is not lessened by this visit. No, it still bears silent witness to a madman.
Like everyone, I'd had my share of sake that night. Osaya was such a prize that every day I waited was a danger to me for her to be swept away. It's true the merchants are the lowest class and we samurai reign at the top. Part of me believed that and part of me thought it meant nothing. She was funny and intelligent and would easily see through a fraud like me who is nothing without his status. Three times I made her laugh and I still count those as treasures of my life.
I will never be able to make her laugh again.
I secretly stalked her at the festival, following her wonderful visage, trying to work up the drunken courage to touch her hand. And then I saw it, the fatal embrace. He was handsome, a man from outside the village, and he too had the light of intelligence in his eyes same as she. How was I to compete?
Immediately they separated from the crowd, wanting to talk and be alone. I looked around but this bothered no one but me. They headed for scenic Utsune bridge. So it was true. I was to spend my life alone, a coward.
If only I had left it at that and taken my medicine.
My inner voice screamed at me to stop. "But I have to know!" That was a lie. I just couldn't mind my own business. How can a coward live with himself? He must make others' business his own to feel alive; a poacher.
Her face in the bright moonlight was happy. Oh, how I ached to give her that happiness! To mean something to her would mean everything. They stopped on the bridge, watching the sweet flowing water below gurgle in the evening warmth. The longer they stayed, the more I boiled.
She would go home with him, giving him her body in the dark. Worse, he'd take up her time, robbing me of even the few morsels I did get. I felt I had nothing to lose as I stood facing daily castration by his presence. I determined a logic of my own making. Remove him and I still had a chance.
The visions in my head were mocking me and my impotence. To see another with her so easy and free, lacking any fear...I could not bear it. I must act!
I tore from the trees with sword drawn. They both stared at me in frozen wonder, only realizing too late my intentions. With a single slice I chopped him down. I looked at Osaya, half-proud of my deed. I had acted!
That was all she said before running off. Then I realized I'd lost her forever. I went home straight away and burned down my house. Conflagration in the heart of the night.
The next day I found out it was her brother I had killed. It has been said that whether a man does good or evil it begins in his imagination. I had been contemptuous. "What matters a person's imagination? That is not real!" What a way to find out I was deadly wrong.
I am ronin now, wandering as a hired sword. Some fools admire me as I walk this black path to nowhere. Umada village died too and is now a town of lonesome weeds. I wonder if my bad karma infested the place, my dark deed bringing ruin to the land. So many questions I cannot answer.
Osaya said nothing. To my knowledge she's told no one of my murderous moment. As a samurai I can kill at will if I feel justified but this clearly was not. She could have made a lot of trouble for me (and half of me wishes she had). But being the person she is, she did not. I will die in distant awe of her. I do not begrudge the man who is worthy of her now. I can see that can never be me.
If only I had been honest! People speak of senseless tragedies of failed communication, they happen all the time. But I do not get angry like others do when they occur, I get silently sad. I do killings now to make my life worse, punishing myself, serving bad men. How can I not believe I'm a bad man too?
Why did I damage the life I most wanted to bring joy? I hear now she moves from place to place, as if on the run (from me?). What can I do? How can I bring her brother back? I've thought of seppuku but what would that gain her? Satisfaction? Or is there simply no answer to be found...
Today it is winter. Tomorrow it will be winter too.