It wants to be something. We’ll see if my attention span can let it.
When I left my home to walk the road, I was very young, and many people came to watch. They wore their finest robes, and called my name along with prayers and chants to all the gods. “There is a young man who will do something,” they whispered. “That one, he should be watched, for surely he will live a charmed life,” they sang. “See, there? That one, who starts the road so early? Why can you not be more like him?” Mothers admonished their irresponsible sons with my name as a curse. Fathers blessed their blossoming daughters and spoke of engagement promises when I returned.
I was the youngest who had ever prepared for the journey. Some of the elders, they said “He will change his mind.” They said it when I was four. “He will see,” they said when I was six. When I was eight, they shook their heads, saying “He does not understand.” When I was ten, they said “Do not do this,” as I walked through the gates and set my feet upon the road.
Being ten, I had nothing of value. Only my own robe, made special by my mother and stained with her tears, so the color was of cherry blossoms rather than the apples it should have resembled. Only my father’s staff, which had been carved by his father’s fathers when the world was new and glowed with an ancient life of its own. Only a single rice ball in my sash, which my sister had rolled for me while laughing and crying and praising my drive and damning my stupidity.
That was all right. These things, they did not matter. Only the road mattered.
I did not say goodbye. I did not think to do so. I saw only the road ahead. The steps I had already taken in my life were of no further interest to me.
I left as the sun rose, and pulled my robe up as a hood to shield my eyes. The sun drew patterns of gold and onyx, painting the road with ideograms as it shone through the brittle branches of the sakura trees to either side. I did not laugh at their wonder, or stop to ponder the omens they might contain. As errant blossoms drifted around me, I blew them away from my face with irritation, keeping my eyes on the spot where I would next place my foot. When the sun had fully risen, when the patterns of shadow were no more, when the blossoms were merely drifting in the wind behind me, I thought of them no more. They had been lost to my previous steps, and no longer mattered.
When I had walked a few hours, I saw another man on the road. He walked alongside me for a while, and tried several times to ask questions. “Who are you,” he asked. “Where are you coming from,” he queried. “Do you miss your family,” he inquired.
I did not answer. Merely kept my head down. His questions would not shorten the road, would not help me reach the end. Eventually he stopped asking them. I think he was upset, or confused by my silence, but I did not spare breath to tell him that the road was what mattered, that the past was behind me and worrying about the present was a silly endeavor. The future was where I was heading, and I would reach it just the same with or without his questions and queries, with or without thinking about my family or how long ago I had left them. My sister’s face was already a faded tapestry, my mother’s nothing more than mist. What use had I for their memory? I would see them soon enough, when I returned.
He turned away at the second mile post, glancing once over his shoulder at me. Some might have taken his expression for one of pity as he shook his head at me and went into one of the many inns that dotted that portion of road. But his pity, misguided as it was, was forgotten as quickly as his questions. What use did I have to question the feelings of strangers who had happened to walk beside me? None at all, and the sooner I remembered that and forgot him and his questions and his pity, the sooner I could devote all of myself to the journey.
The inspiration for this story came from a board game, Tokaido, in which players recreate a journey along the famous Tokaido Road in Edo-era Japan. Through the wonders of cross-association, it ended up becoming both a parable and a sad little funeral dirge in my head. Like I said earlier, we’ll see if it goes anywhere or was only a fleeting thing that will fade from memory alongside a dose of NyQuil induced sleep followed by twelve hours of throwing eggs on muffins, but I felt like setting it down nonetheless.