Monastery Bells

Author's Statement

I do not think that, for Hachiro, Chizuru is much suited to cherry blossoms. In fact, I think he dreads what he views as an erstwhile comparison.

 

No, I think that her childhood friend cherishes how very much unlike these fleeting, wilting blossoms that she is. He hears her--much more aptly--in the monastery bells.

Her voice echos like the monastery bells, he thinks. He is thirteen years old, and he’s heard this sound before whilst traveling with his father to Kyoto; the Gion Festival, he remembers--those joyous, cacophonous bells, and none other, do her justice.

 

Because she’s shouting now, standing in the backyard and shooing a bird away from his morning meal. Chizuru is only ten, he thinks, but she’s so enormously, irreverently loud. And he hopes she never changes.

 

Chizuru places the wriggling worm in dirt beneath a kosumosu flower. The women at home are expected to be blossoms in their own right, beautiful and sedate, but not Chizuru. Here they are children, and Kodo-sensei allows Hachiro to peruse his books in the afternoon. Chizuru welcomes him most mornings with a smile and a clumsy embrace. When Kodo goes on house calls, they’re left alone, and unlike the flowers he has known, Chizuru shows no hesitation. She calls him “Hachiro-kun,” and never stops considering, even if proprietary dictates she should.

 

Chizuru never fails to have a story on her lips or a smile to share, fortunate for their friendship as Hachiro is a quiet child. So, when he learns this truth about her--that her body heals far too quickly--and the other children begin to call her names--to call her “monster”--he tells both them and her the way it is. She is no monster, just an ordinary girl. But:

 

“You can’t let anyone know that your injuries heal quickly…”

 

Her smiles return, though he’s now at less liberty to enjoy them. He realizes at once that he can’t let his brother take all the aptitudinal glory--the dojo itself be damned--because he needs to become much, much stronger if he hopes to protect her from more than scared, young boys with small rocks.

 

The years pass, and he throws himself into training, taking time for little else. Hachiro indeed grows stronger. The son once called “physically weak” is thriving. And as he grows and broadens, he visits dojos far and wide. He rests only to think of her. Occasionally, he walks by the old Yukimura clinic, hoping for a glimpse of her comings and goings.

 

As children, their words came easily. Why can’t he speak with her now? In attaining the strength to protect her, it seems as though he’s lost she for whom he grew this warrior’s pride. Now he holds onto a memory of a girl that she may no longer be, yet…

 

He can’t bring himself to tarnish that illusion.

 

In his mind, she never changes. She hasn’t stepped into the role so many women play, because he loves that she is genuine, and kind, and sweet. At at almost sixteen, he appreciates this imagined fact even more when--as the girls around him begin batting their eyes at Iba’s minted youngest son--Chizuru remains steadfastly dedicated to homemaking and tending to her garden.

 

Removed as he is from her daily life, in simple and honest milling about town, even he can hear it. Chizuru has quieted, yes, has budded and mellowed, but she is still genuine. Her laughter, at least, is still the monastery bells.

 

At eighteen, Hachiro can provide. Hachiro is a hanamoto. He could go to her, court her, hell, even marry her, but… embroidery on the front steps seems far too innocent for the world he’s embraced for himself: politics and inheritance.

 

Things are looking well for the Shogunate, but when Hachiro visits home, Chizuru is gone. No one knows where, only that Kodo left some time ago and, several months later, Chizuru followed after.

 

His stomach has never wanted to devour itself before. Indeed, this is a new sensation. So, when he runs into her again in Kyoto, he prays she isn’t racing through her life.

 

He knows he cannot be this person. He knows that she barely remembers him, but she has kept the promise they made to keep her safe. That’s good enough for him, even if he mourns the loss of her once innocently chanted “Hachiro-kun.” Chizuru has become a woman, if only just, and like all modest women, she has blossomed. He compares her aptitude for rushing headlong into danger to sakura rushing toward inevitable earth. And yet, he cannot and will not hold her back, though she so loves to worry him, and their adventure progresses to new heights of danger, taking him through obstacles he’d never before dreamed.

 

Sometimes he worries the dangers within him will devour her more quickly than those external. But even so…

 

In the end, when she awakes, they’re in a field spotted with flowers. He holds her in his arms, and barely stops the tears from falling; he cradles her body softly, hating himself all the while for treating this treasured woman as though she is a flower. She has proved much sturdier than botan and more enduring than the sakura. If anything, Chizuru is devilwood, not a simpering chabana.

 

Something about the way she says “Hachiro-kun” is going to be his undoing, her soft voice echoing in the recesses of his heart like monastery bells.

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