Sitting by the sparkling mountain stream in the bright cheery sun of the morning made Nobu feel as if he were in a dream. It was if the rest of the world did not exist, and if it did, then it was a place of inviting harmony waiting just on the other side of the mountain peak. The fish he'd caught tasted more wonderful than he'd ever eaten before - but then, he'd never eaten as a free man before.
Laying back between the fluttering trees to gaze upon the peaceful clouds, Nobu couldn't be blamed if he thought his woes and troubles mere figments of his imagination. Life is here and life is to be lived. How could any man argue with that? That simple fact should dissolve any arguments for death and destruction. Truth was on his side.
This is too much. I've been swallowed by the bowels of hell. I'm a fool beyond all measure, mocked by the gods. Who am I kidding? I can't stay out here the rest of my days. I must get to a bridge and leap into the void. A man ignores his life then one day hopes to walk away from his laments? My body is heavy, weighted like boulders. Why do I take another breath?
A hunter had come close to spotting Nobu. That jolted him back to reality, to his pounding heart of living fears. He'd let loose the desire to live and he was as on a runaway horse whose direction he could not control. Nobu lived with a foot in each world, splitting him in two. Where is home? Is there home?
The taiko drums from the village festival isolated Nobu into an invisible evening cell. They were the ones truly free, free to live their lives unchained to stupid rules without meaning. As he suspected, a likeness of his face had been plastered on reward posters. He'd been right to keep constantly moving without rest. The authorities were enraged at having been made a laughingstock. Not that a reward was necessary. The villagers would turn him over out of fear if nothing else.
Again, he could not understand the harm to the world were he to join the festival and dance in joy with the celebrating villagers. As a samurai, he'd never felt that urge, feeling separated from daily life to breathe only the rarefied air - or so he'd told himself. But it had been polluted air, poisoning his soul in the name of a higher cause that did not exist. This is difficult to acknowledge.
Kenbei! I have not once thought of him in these two weeks. They must be taking their wrath for me out on him. Do I truly know what I have done? He must have been furious at my departure. If I could ask for one thing above all others I'd ask he understand why I fled and broke the oh so precious samurai code. I fear I ask too much. Kenbei was different, true. But samurai hang their worth of following the code.
Can Kenbei mentally break free? Most likely I will die without knowing.
I have never known grieving such as this...never...this toll on my soul...
Slowly it dawns on me. What I have damaged I may not be able to undo. I have read of no samurai before who have pulled a stunt like mine. I am the worst in history. My heart is closed, never open. That has been the greatest guilt in my life. Oh, how I envied those with families. But how can a man build a house on a lie? Kimiko would not have wanted me had I not been samurai. For her to find out I was not a samurai at heart...she would have left me in an instant.
Dark thoughts and light thoughts. Which are real?
Part of me accepts my doom, part of me wriggles in frustrated torment. At least my disguise is working. But it takes the whole of my soul to keep fighting onward into endless white snow before my eyes. (Nobu had once seen a print of a winter whiteout and never forgot it, it frightened him so.) That young punk samurai I saw today...I could never go back to that, reading that stupid Hagakure [a book extolling the virtues of samurai code and conduct] like it was some sort of gospel. I see that type and think: "There goes a future fascist youth."
I can see no happy ending for this, my soul a scorpion's tail stinging me in the night.
Money is the demon of all demons! I was right on the foulness of this world. Godless merchants are the true rulers. How can anyone tell me there is a future in that? We must see the light and wake up before the ruin is irreversible. These beasts would destroy the love of nature for the love of a gold coin.
Nobu the samurai had been enslaved as Nobu the noodle maker, his taskmaster more fiercesome than any samurai overlord. "I pay you four mon for every hour! You work had now!" "Lunch break is one hour - not one hour five minute!" Nobu was too tired of a being to return to the mountains. The longest month of his life had left him a nobody headed nowhere. The breaking of his heart he could not stop.
"Help! Help!" Nobu screamed in his nightly nightmare, feeling he was drowning. Ever since he began his life as a noodle maker the drowning dream attacked him in his sleep. He'd wake up drenched in sweat, wide eyed in panic. In the culture of the samurai, Nobu had been often forced to say he did not fear death. But here, in the heart of the night, he feared it more than anything he could imagine.
Employing his old sense of duty, Nobu diligently pressed himself into making the best noodles possible, receiving high praise for them. No one understood his lack of appreciation for their appreciation. In every direction he turned, Nobu faced a different demon, poking him in relentless agony. "Please stop hurting me...please stop hurting me."
Nobu's life was reduced to that of a dazed numbness. He'd originally believed there was no way out of his dilemma and nothing he'd experienced yet had disproved that (except for flashing, intangible feelings of freedom he'd steal). His mind turned to philosophy and the alternative paths he'd always rejected. He remembered the stories of the Satsuma Christians and their fanatical devotion to a foreign belief. That had always struck Nobu.
The story of a sinless savior murdered for not joining the world of sin resonated in a disturbing way that Nobu never could get out of his head. If that man could not make it in this world, how could he?
He wondered how true this unthinkable story. He remembered that worm Ishida's reaction when there had been a discussion of the Christian savior. Ishida was a man who could foul the waters of a stream for miles on end simply by standing in it. "If he was sentenced to death then clearly he was not sinless!" Asshole Ishida always affirmed the wrong viewpoint, the viewpoint of the world. In this way Nobu knew the story was true.
Philosophy means nothing when it comes to paying the rent. In Nobu's confused mind, only Kimiko made any sense as a possible answer to his stricken life. He'd been desperately suicidal at the time of their break up, feeling that was the mistake of his life. He told himself he was doing her a favor, sparing her from a miserable life with him. But that made it no easier to live without her. A nagging despondence pestered him over the years, wondering how deep this mistake.
The folly of that decision revealed its full horror as he realized only in her arms had he found a home. In the heat of the moment he'd failed to trust her as he should and the price of that was the burning breaths of air he now inhaled. In an infamous letter written during that time of dark turmoil Nobu stated, "Don't you realize love is not meant for me?" Had he taken a fatal direction?
[Unknown in the closed world of Edo era Japan, but a scant fifty years later those same words would be written by a Frenchman to his wife during the disintegration of their marriage. Their names were Napoleon and Josephine.]
Day 47, Night:
Only the heavens accept me. The stars judge me not. I see the moon and dare wonder to reach it. Even I cannot imagine a world so wonderful as to meet this celestial friend in person. Surely, for that to happen all the dreams of the universe would be fulfilled! My consciousness is not of these times. I foresee this land will come alive someday but that day is so far off! I feel I have something to offer but exactly what I do not know. Maybe my time is in another life, when we the Japans return to life once more.
Nobu had been called out by the noodle shop owner. "Nobu! What's wrong with you?" A more sensitive boss than his last one, but this too posed danger. Nobu was quizzical in his look. "This is not a job for you. You're much too intelligent. What in your past are you trying to hide?" Ah, how to disguise the inside? This is what put Nobu on the road that night, staring up at the sky, wishing he were walking on the moon.
"Is is said,
"When one man sins
"We all sin.
"Is is said,
"When one man heals
"We all heal.
"Tell me again
"What it is you wish."
Nobu had never cared for monks or priests. Benign at best, meddling destroyers at worst, Nobu's prejudice stemmed from Oda Nobunaga's travails with the warrior-monks who interfered in the drive for unification, placing their own petty agenda before the good of the nation. But the man he listened to now, he was a breed apart, dousing the flames of hell licking Nobu's heels.
As a samurai, he'd always had a ready made excuse not to do the right thing. Tradition demanded it, pride demanded it, the shogun demanded it - always something. The whole rotten system is rigged. Obey or pay the price. This left Nobu in a curious place: for the first time in his life to do as he chose. That scared the life out of him - he'd have no one else to blame anymore.
This is too much. I flounder and squirm with no direction home. I'm too old to make anything of my life now. Regret drenches me like a typhoon. All those years sitting in the dark with my thumb up my ass. All my brave talk has amounted to nothing. Just run, run, run. How ironic after my defiant stance I end up killing myself anyway. The only goal now is to die an unknown so no one knows of my ultimate cowardice.
In what would centuries later be misdiagnosed as "bi-polar", Nobu wandered hopelessly across the land imbibing his midlife crisis, realizing he'd fucked up his life in the worst ways possible. He'd suspected his life would one day come to some sort of miserable end. But not this soon. To go back in time, to say yes to Kimiko and leave the samurai life, would be to live as a man of respect.
What is the price of a lie? Everything.
"We need to get lives!" The drunken outburst came from one of four men sitting in the sake bar. Nobu was one of those lost souls sitting at separate tables commiserating in their loneliness and misery. He'd fallen into a viper pit of self-recrimination, biting him in his sleep in helpless terror. He'd made it his habit to avoid sleep as long as possible, medicating with sake and clinging to the tangential comfort of shared torment.
His only guess for an answer - love - was further away than ever. A runaway fugitive with no identity, he had even less to offer than before. Nobu obsessed on his lost chances. "Why leave the rot of samurai life? I could never make it in the real world," he had long told himself. That sentiment he'd been unable to dislodge. Only the enraging thought of the satisfaction he might give to his enemies kept Nobu from departing the world. But on the other hand, did not this boundless despair also give them delight, to struggle in vain as an insect on fly paper?
Nobu wondered how much longer he could stagger along. He drank deeply from his cup of despondency, facing for the first time the measure of his life. It was true after all: he'd lost everything when he lost Kimiko. He needed her now more than the sun and the moon and the stars. She completed him. What hope had he as a half-man? "I steal the air I breathe."
Three loud, obnoxious samurai burst into the sake bar. These weren't the usual country samurai. These three came from a city castle much as Nobu's had been. Arrogant, reeking with a smug superiority, you could see in their eyes the contempt they held for the "lower classes". Nobu visibly moaned in pain at recognizing his old self. All those years without ever looking in the mirror!
"Dear Buddha, what a bunch of assholes," he muttered. His eye of contempt had long left him.
"You there! What was that you said?"
Samurais were basically bullies, coddled by a subservient society. Nobu could count on one hand the number of times someone ever stood up to them. He himself had feared of having his bluff be called. Nobu spoke with a slow clear enunciation.
"I said: Dear Buddha...What a bunch...of assholes."
"How dare you, you peasant dog! Crawl to me and beg forgiveness and I might let you live!" The loudmouth's two companions laughed in expectation of the coming spectacle.
Nobu turned away, his stare going out the window to the street. "Go ahead," ordered the unarmed man.
"What? What you say?" Nobu's resolute response threw the samurai off balance. "Who are you?"
"He's the noodle maker," explained the shop owner, hoping to avoid violence.
"Noodle maker! Ha! Prepare to die. You've made your last strands of soba!"
Nobu calmly turned his head, glaring directly into the man's eyes, having seen the likes of him a hundred times over. "Go ahead." Nobu's gaze was unwavering. "I'm already dead."
"Ahhhhhh!" belched the samurai drawing his sword above his head. He'd been expecting an obliging peasant to make it easy for him. But those eyes! They recognized him, causing doubt and fear. To kill when a man sees your evil is to be marked for eternity. The shop owner sensed an opening.
"Please, sir, he's the best noodle maker we've got. Spare his life for the sake of the village. Drinks are free for the night!"
"Bah! To hell with you and your village! I shall not stain my sword with the smell of soggy soba! If I see you again you shall die from the cut of my blade!"
The three samurai cursed as they left, the leader still madly curious with himself for not being able to strike down Nobu.
I guess I won't get off that easy, Nobu mused. I may not be much of anything worth having, but at least I'm not like them anymore. Perhaps this hasn't been a complete waste of time after all.