I, Sasuke Hayashi, know the ways of the cha-no-yu. The proper way to lay the fire, arrange the tearoom, and prepare the koicha, these are not mysteries to me.
But I am best at the conversation.
“Every man has many troubles,” my father used to say, “but at the tea ceremony he must forget them. My son, speak of the tea, the sweets, even the weather! But never mention your problems.”
My father was a wise man, a master of the cha-no-yu. But never, I am convinced, had he attended a tea ceremony like this.
I knelt before the fire, silent, listening as the water bubbled in the pot.
Beside me, young Daichi Kimura fidgeted with his kimono, eyes fixed on his lap, silent and dumb as a stone.
Across from him, his brother Ichiro glowered into the fire. His face was red, angry. He reminded me of a bull, ready for a fight.
My host, Akio, seemed determined not to notice his sons. But his eyes, usually so cheerful, were sad.
No one spoke, not a word. The air seemed to crackle with tension.
I frowned. At least I could be polite.
Looking up, my eyes rested on the scroll hanging from the wall. In bold, sweeping calligraphy I read the phrase “Ichigo Ichie – each moment, only once.”
“My friend,” I said to Akio, “I am interested in the scroll. Tell me, why did you select this saying for today?”
Akio smiled. “I am glad the scroll pleases you. The phrase has always meant much to me. I chose it today because--”
Ichiro coughed into his fist and asked, “Will you make the tea now, father?”
I glared at him, stunned by his rudeness. The boy deserved a thrashing!
But instead, Akio began to make the tea.
First he cleansed the tea bowl, then scooped the green tea powder into it. Next he added boiling water and mixed the tea until, satisfied, he bowed and passed the bowl to me.
Bowing in return, I accepted the bowl, clasping it in both hands. I took three delicious sips of the thick, strong koicha.
“How is the tea?” Akio asked.
“It is excellent,” I breathed. “Its taste is strong, yet subtle.”
Grabbing my napkin, I wiped off the rim of the bowl and handed it to Ichiro.
Ichiro took the bowl, hesitated, then set it down upon the floor. “I cannot accept it,” he growled. “I will not drink here, with this son of a viper.” He pointed an accusing finger at Daichi.
Daichi glared back at Ichiro. “Then I refuse, too!”
I shook my head. Aiii! Why couldn’t they keep their troubles to themselves?
Akio sighed, and bowed his head. “So, it is true. I had heard tell of an argument. Who is at fault?”
“It is Daichi!” Ichiro cried. “This son of yours offered to trade me his horse for mine, my best horse! So I did. But when I road this serpent’s mare, I found she was lame. He tricked me! And he will not give back my horse!”
“That is a lie!” Daichi bellowed. “I did not make the horse lame. You did. Why should I repay you?”
Before Ichiro could reply, Akio raised his hand. “Enough! You dishonor me, my sons. Your greed and pride are my disgrace.”
Then he turned to me. “Sasuke, my friend, you asked why I chose the phrase ‘Ichigo Ichie.’ I chose it as an example! The cha-no-yu is an important custom. Each moment spent together, every word spoken, is precious. It cannot be repeated. So,” he said, turning to his sons, “I will make peace between you.”
“Ichiro,” he said, “will you take my horse to replace the one Daichi sold you?”
Ichiro nodded, his eyes calculating.
“And will you, Daichi, consider the matter settled?”
Daichi nodded slowly, as if ashamed.
“Then it is finished,” Akio said.
Quietly, Ichiro picked up the tea bowl and drank. He passed it to Daichi, who also drank.
Then the young men stood up, bowed to their father, and left.
But I stayed where I was. I wanted one last word with Akio.
“Why did you do it?” I asked. “They are your sons. It is they who should honor you!”
Akio shook his head. “You are wrong, Sasuke. Peace is more important than tradition, or,” noticing my frown, “than the cha-no-yu.”
“A father,” he said softly, gazing into the fire, “must occasionally break with tradition for the sake of his children.”
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