“Welcome back, Rinako-san. Forgive me for troubling you with this,” said the elderly woman.
“Please do not apologise, Otsuka-san. You were right to bring this matter to my attention--I came as soon as I received your telegram,” Rinako replied.
“It is only because I saw your brother-in-law and his family skulk out of the city the day after the typhoon that I contacted you.”
Shamed, the younger woman bowed low. “And for that I thank you, Otsuka-san. It is the responsibility of my husband and I to care for his parents, now that his younger brother has departed, though I am indebted to you for caring for them this past week. And if you do not mind my asking, how did they catch this illness?”
“After the typhoon destroyed the town’s clean water supplies, your husband’s parents, along with many other townsfolk, fell sick from drinking brackish water.”
The elderly woman stepped aside, “They are waiting for you, Rinako-san.”
Leaving her geta-shoes in the foyer, Rinako shuffled soundlessly on split-toe tabi-socks into the tatami-floor room. Takashi and Miwako, her husband’s parents, lay sleeping on futons placed side-by-side. Rinako choked back tears upon observing their sunken cheeks and the unhealthy pallor of their skin.
They had seemed so much larger than life when she had last seen them, just on ten years ago. It seemed inconceivable that a mere illness could do this to them.
As Rinako moved over to kneel beside her mother-in-law, painful memories of when she and her husband had lived here with his parents crowded in upon her.
“Why did my son marry you, Rinako-san? Never before have I seen such a lazy and tardy wife! Why can’t you keep our house in order? Why can’t you be more like my younger son’s wife?” Miwako complained.
“Gomen nasai, Oka-san, I will try harder.”
Rinako’s knees creaked as she knelt, waking Miwako from her shallow slumber. “Oh, it is you--took your time getting here!”
“Gomen nasai, Oka-san. But I am here now,” replied Rinako as she offered Miwako a glass of clean water. She did not mention that she had travelled for five days on trains, busses and on foot, to get here.
“Can’t you control your son, Rinako-san? Is he dim-witted, or are you as ill suited to motherhood as you are to housework?”
Rinako grabbed a cloth and quickly wiped up the miso-soup that her toddler had spilt. “Gomen nasai, Oka-san, I will endeavour to be a better mother.”
“Still following that foreign religion?” said Miwako as she lowered her head to her pillow.
“Hai, Oka-san, we are still Christians.”
“You must speak with your husband, Rinako-san,” said Miwako one morning.
“On what matter, Oka-san?”
“As my eldest son, it is his responsibility to care for the family altar after we are gone. You must convince him to abandon Christianity.”
Rinako knelt and pressed her forehead to the floor. “Gomen nasai, Oka-san, but on this matter I cannot obey you. Your son and I follow Iesu-sama now, and His Word does not permit ancestor worship.”
“How long will you stay this time?” Miwako demanded as her daughter-in-law bathed her brow.
“Your son and grandson arrive in a few days, Oka-san, along with our clothes and valuables. From now on we will live with you and oto-san.”
“Is that so?”
Rinako’s husband placed an open Bible on her lap. “Faithful Rinako-san, I am mindful of the toll taken from you by living with my parents these past three years, but I have good news. I have accepted the invitation to pastor that church in Kyoto.”
“What has changed your mind, husband. You said we could not leave your parents.”
“They are sound in mind and body, Rinako-san, and my brother--the one my mother esteems--lives around the corner. Here, read Luke 9:60.”
“I see the words, husband, but what do they mean?”
“It means that unbelievers should look after their own. We Christians must proclaim the Good News about Iesu-sama.”
“What’s to stop you running off to serve your religion like last time, Rinako-san?”
“Ten years ago we served Iesu-sama by going to Kyoto. Now we serve Iesu-sama by looking after you and oto-san,” Rinako explained kindly.
“Huh! I would rather my younger son and his wife looks after us. I hope no ill has befallen them--we have not heard from them since the typhoon.”
“I am sure they are fine, Oka-san. Hush now and rest. I will tend to oto-san.”
Gomen nasai – sorry
Oka-san – mother or mother-in-law
Oto-san – father or father-in-law
Iesu-sama – Jesus
Luke 9:60 NIV Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
1 Timothy 5:8 NIV If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
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