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By ROB KEZELIS
This is the third of five chapters. It is highly recommended that you read it aloud to loved one in bed. Kids, too. If you haven’t read the first two chapters, start here.
Once upon a time, there was a pretty little girl named Haruko. She lived in a small stone hut at the foot of the beautiful Mount Fuji. HarukoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father was a poor monk. Because he was so poor, he also kept a little rice farm. No matter how hard he worked, his crop never seemed to be as big as anyone elseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Even so, her father was always very kind to everyone, especially to Haruko. He always told Haruko that she reminded him of her beautiful mother. Her mother had died so long ago that Haruko could not even remember her face.
Haruko was ten years old.
Although they were very poor, their hut was always neat and clean, with freshly washed linens blowing in the breeze behind the hut. They also had two scrawny chickens and a lame goat, but the goat didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem to mind it much, and besides, he never really walked far anyway. The goat gave them a little milk each morning. The chickens were so thin that they almost never laid eggs. She also had a dog named Taro, but although the pup slept with her, he always followed her father when he left for the rice field.
If you walked to the big road that led to Mount Fuji, you could see the top of the mountain just over the hill. There was a waterfall and a river, and a dam that her father built, trying to water his small rice field.
Even from there, Mount Fuji was beautiful and magical. In winter, her father had taken her to the top of the hill and watched as the full moon caressed Mount Fuji and the clouds that seemed to get caught on it. Haruko always wondered whether Mount Fuji had invisible, secret arms that could reach out and hold the clouds against their will.
Haruko had a rich grandmother Obaba who lived on the other side of the hill. She only got to see Grandmother Obaba on very special holidays, like on ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s name day. HarukoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father was Granmother ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s youngest son, (and therefore, not her favorite) so that was why he became a monk. And that was why he was a poor monk. He had to make do the best he could just to survive, because his two older brothers would inherit Grandmother’s lands and her titles. Because Grandmother Obaba was extremely rich and she had royal blood, her lands included at least one mountain, and more than a few major hills, rice fields, mandarin orange groves, even a lake or two.
So it happened that Haruko’s fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two older brothers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ her uncles – were rich and famous. Their huge family homes were built right next to Grandmother ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Haruko remembered that her unclesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ houses were decorated in beautiful colors. Their paper doors had green dragons and wonderful mountain scenes painted on them. In front of the houses were bonsai trees, a lovely orange grove, and even lovelier gardens. Haruko had never been inside either house.
Grandmother ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house was the largest of the three. Her husband came from royalty, and his death many decades ago, was an honorable one in the service of the Emperor.
From Grandmother’s yard, there was a beautiful clearing which looked over Mount Fuji. It was always peaceful and quiet there. Obaba called it her special place. There were bonsai plants, a small area to pray or read in, and a small flower garden with the most beautiful gardinia and peonies. You could smell the flowers when they bloomed all the way down the hill.
Haruko always had to take off her wooden slippers the few times that she went inside ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house, but then again, so did every one else. In Japan, it was impolite to wear your outside shoes indoors, unless you were a beggar and had no shoes at all.
Grandmother Obaba was having her name-day celebration. Because she was one of her many grandchildren, even Haruko was invited. She spent the past few days practicing Origami with rice paper so she could bring a proper gift to honor Grandmother Obaba.
Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper. You can make incredible animals, flying birds, even beautiful boxes out of paper. Haruko loved making Origami birds and she was very good at it. Her fingers seemed to talk to the paper as she folded.
Haruko wanted to make something special for Grandmother Obaba. She practiced hard until she made a perfect peacock. It was very hard to fold it just right, but she finally did it. Then, she worked on a crane, a swan and a sparrow, working hard until she got them just right. She chose the three best birds as a gift. She decided not to take the peacock. Then, she began to prepare her father’s tea and lunch.
Late that morning, her father returned from the rice field. He was tired, covered in mud and pale. The year before there was a flood and it washed out most of his crop. Last night, the storm was at least as bad as the year before.
Once the storm started, her father worked all night to fix the dam that kept the water away from his field, but the water was too strong. Half of the dam had broken away again. If it rained any harder, his whole crop would be threatened.
He sat down, muddy, tired, sore and sad.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, my dear Haruko. You look so pretty today. Are you ready to see your Grandmother Obaba?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yes, father. May I pour you some tea?Ã¢â‚¬Â Without waiting for an answer, she pulled his favorite teacup from the small cupboard and filled it with a deep green, steaming hot tea. Her father sipped at it and closed his eyes. His head started to nod and he seemed to fall asleep. Finally, he shook his head and began to talk again.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, the dam is in trouble again. Most of our rice field might wash away. If it does, it will be a hard season for us. I have to go back to save what I can. So, I cannot walk you to Grandmother ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house. Can you walk alone there? Do you remember the path?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yes, honorable father. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a big girl now.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Her father smiled at her words. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yes, yes, you are a big beautiful girl. A big nine year old girl. Will you show me what you made for her, please?Ã¢â‚¬Â
She smiled as she told herself, no, I am ten, dearest father. But she did not try to correct him. He had enough to worry about.
Haruko brought the paper envelope she had folded and took out three small birds. The largest was no bigger than her small hand. It was a purple and yellow crane, folded just right. The second bird was an owl, red and black with the folds making eyes that seemed to follow you around the room. It was smaller than the monkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s little finger. The last bird was the smallest. It was a green and golden sparrow. As small as it was, it was perfectly folded. Her father smiled at her.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“These are lovely, Haruko. I am sure that Grandmother will be pleased.Ã¢â‚¬Â He sighed, then got to his feet. He opened his special box where he kept his few coins and other valuables.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, let me tell you a story before we go. I’ve never told you about the old witch Yamamba before. She is a very old lady who eats children, even big nine year old girls like you. She lives deep in the forest, she comes out only at night and she particularly likes to wander on the hill between here and GrandmotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yamamba can be stopped, but you have to be brave and very sure of yourself. And, you have to be armed properly. Better yet, always come home before it gets dark, and you can be safe.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He kept searching through his little box. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a secret about Yamamba. As evil as she is, she can never attack you, but only if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let her. You have to be a brave girl to stop her. Your own fear can cause your death.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What must one do, father?Ã¢â‚¬Â Haruko asked.
Her father still could not find what he was looking for, Then he turned and saw his monkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s robe, hanging near the door. He reached over to it, and pulled out a small silk bag. Inside were three small charms, each one of them hardly larger than a small seed. Ã¢â‚¬Å“These are magical symbols and charms. If you are about to be attacked, you must take one, and only one, and throw it behind you. Then, run like the wind away from her. You must chant, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see you, I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see you.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ over and over again.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The monk looked at her sternly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the last one is gone, all you can do is chant, over and over again, until you get home. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget to chant. Without chanting, the charms wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. If you keep chanting, even if you used the last charm, you will be safe.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget, please tell your grandmother that I am trying to save my crop and that it saddens me to no end that I could not go to her name day party.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The monk kissed his daughter on her forehead, finished off his tea, and went off back to work on his failing dam.
Once again, Haruko made sure that her clothes were clean and neat. She packed her gift box in old silk and tied it to her back. Haruko began walking through the forest to her Grandmother ObabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house.
She was careful to avoid all of the puddles left by the rainstorm, but no matter how hard she tried, she still ended up with mud on her clothes. When she finally got to her GrandmotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house, three servants quickly whisked her to a side door, where two other servants rushed to clean her clothing before being admitted to Grandmother Obaba. In their rush, her hand-made paper gift box was smashed, and the envelope inside was crushed and torn. Haruko began to cry silently.
The servants chided her to keep quiet, but at least they got her clean. Finally, they let her dress again, and gave her back her gift.
Haruko took the torn envelope and entered the Tea Room, where all important ceremonies took place. She was introduced and after being granted the right to enter, she bowed to Grandmother and wished her a happy holiday. She meekly handed over the torn envelope and explained that the trip here caused her gift a great hardship.
All of the guests tittered and laughed, knowing that nothing this poor child could do could ever please Grandmother. Their Grandmother Obaba was too well versed in proper behavior, and how could this silly young girl ever learn it? What, with her father being nothing more than a useless monk and a worse father and husband?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hardship. Ha! What could a monkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s daughter know about life or hardship? Ha!Ã¢â‚¬Â Grandmother’s voice was shrill and angry.
Grandmother Obaba picked open the dirty, crushed envelope and found the owl and the peacock smashed, dirty and torn into bits. She searched further and pulled out the tiny paper sparrow, still perfectly intact. She looked and looked and looked, and after the longest time, she smiled.
Everyone in the room expected Grandmother to banish Haruko to the servantsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ chambers until the party was over. Just then, Grandmother Obaba surprised them all.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Haruko, isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it? You are my youngest sonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s daughter? This sparrow is lovely. How sweet of you to think of my favorite bird.Ã¢â‚¬Â
GrandmotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reaction surprised everyone in the Tea Room. Haruko was invited to sit at the feet of Grandmother and have her tea. This seat of honor was rarely given to any grandchild, and rarely, even to her favorite sons.
After all little girls and boys were served with tea (and all the adults were served with Saki, a hot rice drink for adults), Grandmother asked Haruko a question.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, if I gave you some paper, could you make another bird for me? To replace those
two torn birds.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko bowed deeply and said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Honorable Grandmother Obaba, if it would please you, I would be honored to make a whole flock of birds for you.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Grandmother Obaba laughed, not just because Haruko used to proper form of address, but because in her youth she, too, loved making Origami animals. Grandmother clapped her hands, and a servant came in with paper and a small table. The small table was placed in front of Haruko.
Haruko’s eyes opened wide as she looked at all the fine paper before her. She had never seen or imagined such wonderful paper or such colors. She searched to find the cheapest, smallest one, so Grandmother would not be angry if she made a mistake. There it was. A square piece of cheap, black rice paper. Haruko began to fold. As soon as her fingers touched the paper, she forgot about everything else. She ignored the snickers, the stares and her cousins, aunts and uncles. Her fingers flew and drew, pinched and bended, caressed, and finally creased and folded the small paper. When she was done, she handed the finished owl to Grandmother Obaba.
Everyone in the room could tell that Grandmother was not pleased. Her famous frown was clearly visible to everyone as she examined black owl closely. It grew deeper as she examined the owl over and over again.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why did you pick that paper, Haruko? It was the ugliest paper on the table. Was this to be an insult to your grandmother? If so, then shame on you, little girl. Your father has not taught you well at all.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The entire room was quiet as they watched the growing spectacle. A few secretly exchanged glances as though they were sure what would happen next. Grandmother Obaba was famous for being a fierce lady if anyone insulted her. Her face was turning red. Everyone expected her to chase Haruko out of her home in shame. If that happened, Haruko would never be asked back to visit ever again.
Haruko knelt down in front of her grandmother and bowed very deeply. Without looking up she answered in a very meek and quiet voice.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, no, Honorable Grandmother. If I had torn your bird while making it, I would have wasted your beautiful paper. I did not dare to tear something so special. But If I made something nice from the poor, ugly paper, it wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be ugly anymore.Ã¢â‚¬Â She bowed her head again.
Grandmother Obaba was quiet for a moment, and then started to laugh. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My dear little girl, it seems as that worthless son of mine has done something right. You are polite and apparently wise beyond your years. Come stand up and give Grandmother a kiss.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko obeyed at once. Grandmother Obaba looked at the bird again. Haruko really did take a piece of ugly paper and made it into something beautiful. Very beautiful.
Soon the party was over. Grandmother Obaba got another round of bows and kisses, as her large family and friends withdrew.
Just as she bowed for the last time before leaving, a maid grabbed HarukoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arm and motioned for her to be quiet. When the last of the guests had left, Haruko was led into a small room, filled with scrolls, artwork and several drawing tables. On them were handwritten poems, art work, pens and ink. Grandmother Obaba sat cross-legged at a small table in the center of the room.
She motioned Haruko in and pointed her where to sit.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Come in, little one. This is my favorite room. I never show it to anyone.Ã¢â‚¬Â As she talked, she was working and folding a very thin piece of rice paper. It was so thin, you could almost see through it. Yet, Grandmother never looked down at her own hands. They seemed to move on their own.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Little Haruko, tell me. Did you see that the paper folding was a test? If you had picked the rarest, best paper, it would have told me something about your character. By taking the ugliest paper and making something beautiful out of it, you showed your true self. Your father has done well with you, little one. However, I think you will have to pass one more test, probably the most important one you can imagine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Grandmother Obaba continued to work the incredibly thin paper, not even glancing at it once. After a few moments, she sighed, then made one last fold. Only then did she look at her work, then handed it to her granddaughter. It was a dragon, with fangs on each leg, two horns and a wicked tail, all from one piece of paper. It was the most incredible thing that Haruko had ever seen. Grandmother Obaba was clearly a master of Origami. Grandmother finally spoke.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Because of your love of paper, I am thinking that you might be welcome back here again. That is, if you pass a test that I will create for you. You will tell your father that. And, also tell him he will be welcome, but only if you pass this test. Better yet, tell him that I insist that he come as well, if you pass.Ã¢â‚¬Â She looked stern as she said the last words.
Haruko then explained why he could not come on her name day, and that she had no chance to explain on his behalf earlier. She timidly asked what the test would be.
Grandmother sat back and stared out the window for a bit. She looked back at Haruko, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will be a surprise.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Grandmother nodded to herself and removed a rag from the floor. Beneath it, she lifted up a floor board that fit perfectly into the floor. Underneath it sat a small, shiny black, wooden box. She handed the box over to Haruko.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Here, my little one. This is a gift for you. My grandmother gave this to me when I started doing Origami. I have filled it with some paper for you. Use it wisely. But remember one thing. There will be a test that I will prepare for you. It will be a very important test.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Bowing again, Haruko took the box from her.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now, what are you going to do?Ã¢â‚¬Â She asked Haruko. In response, Haruko again bowed deeply.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Honorable Grandmother Obaba-san, this unworthy one deeply thanks you for a lovely party and for letting me stay with you. But I must go back. My father will be coming home and he will want his supper and tea. There is no one else who takes care of him. I am very honored to be here, but I beg you to please let me go back to my duties.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Grandmother Obaba smiled at her and nodded for her to go home.
Haruko carefully wrapped the box in her sack, tied it to her obi sash that went around her waist and started up the side of the hill between Obaba’s home and her father’s hut. It was getting quite late in the afternoon. As she walked, Haruko loved listening to the last few lovely birds singing as the sun began to set.
Haruko approached the dark forest in the valley, just as a menacing dark storm cloud passed over the low sun. As it blocked out the sun, darkness seemed to crawl out and surround everything, including Haruko. It was as though the trees themselves were oozing darkness.
Soon, there was heavy thunder around her, but Haruko could see no lightning. All of a sudden it became so dark, that Haruko had problems keeping to the path. Just then, she saw a strange, ghostly light ahead of her. It seemed to be floating through the trees without form. The light reflected off the trees, but Haruko could see no person around the light.
Harukos started walking faster down the path. She was probably still fifteen minutes from her home, and the safety of her father’s arms. As the wind picked up even more, the first drops of rain began to fall. It made her wooden sandals (because all good little Japanese girls wear wooden sandals) slip and slide in the soil.
The strange light began to get closer to her. Haruko hurried even more. As it approached, she heard a low moaning coming from the light, as though it were alive. Haruko began to run as fast as her little feet could carry her.
KABOOOM! Just then, a huge bold of lightning hit so close to Haruko, that it knocked her to the ground. She could feel the weird feeling in the air, as though it were alive. Her ears and eyes ached horrible from the lightning strike. Haruko was incredibly scared. She had never felt such a horrible feeling. Again it became totally black, but Haruko still saw the lighting bolt in her eyes, like when she stared at the sun for too long.
Just then, the skies opened up and the rain fell harder than she had ever felt it.
As Haruko tried to stand up, she could not remember which way she was heading. In the rain that now fell, the ground showed no signs of her footprints.
Again, another KABOOM, this time with twin lightning bolts. That short flash was enough to give her a hint as to her path, but in the darkness that fell again, she could no be sure. She started walking anyway. Just to be sure, she pulled out one of her father’s sacred charms, and threw it to the ground, chanting Ã¢â‚¬Å“I won’t see you, I won’t see you!Ã¢â‚¬Â
She walked and stumbled and fell and walked for so long that she realized that she was not on the path anymore. Huge thorn-bushes, the kind she had never seen on the path, surrounded her. They began to scratch at her arms and legs, and were ripping her wet kimono.
As she turned around, looking for a way out, she saw the ghostly light, this time following her. Haruko turned back and forced her way through the thorns, finding some space beyond the bushes.
Luckily, the lightning was moving off, and was now just providing some light, although the strikes were still very loud and very scary.
Haruko pulled out the second charm and threw it behind her. She looked back, the charm seemed to glow in the dark, and as it did, the ghostly light seemed to get smaller and not so bright.
Haruko knew that at some point if she kept going downhill, she would reach the river. If she reached it above her father’s dam, the river would be very fast, noisy and rocky. She could follow the stream to their little farm and then to her home. If she reached it down stream of her home, the slow waters would guide her in the other direction. Either way, she knew that she would get home, but much later than she had planned.
Just then, she heard the moaning again, and saw the ghostly light, but this time, it was really close. She threw the third charm and ran in what she hoped was the right direction.
All of a sudden, she felt herself grabbed from behind. She saw an old, wrinkled lady, carrying a long pole with a waxed paper candle box hanging from the end. She was so scared that she could not even scream, although with the storm, no one was there to hear her.
The old lady started to laugh as she saw Haruko’s face. She grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the hill. Just there, Haruko saw a cave with some light coming from inside. The old lady pushed her toward it. Just then, the rain picked up again and the wind blew more fiercely than ever before.
It was easy for Haruko to go into the cave, despite being scared that this old lady was the dreaded Yamamba. Just then, Haruko realized her mistake. She had forgotten to chant her protecting chant, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I won’t see you.Ã¢â‚¬Â She could not even remember if she chanted correctly with the first charm. She shivered, partly because she was completely soaked, and partly because this old, wrinkled lady was looking at her with dark, dark eyes. On the other hand, there was a nice fire going, and she was out of the rain.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So, my little one, you are Haruko, no?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, yes, ma’am,Ã¢â‚¬Â she answered. Haruko knew that being polite was never a mistake.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So, ‘Haruko-yes-ma’am’, why were you out in the rain so long?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Slowly and timidly, she explained about the party, and how her grandmother asked her to stay on later. Too late, actually. She then reached around to show her the box grandmother gave her, only to find that it had been washed away in the rain, or had fallen off in the thorn bushes. Perhaps, it fell off one of the many times that she had fallen. Losing that special box, with all the special papers inside made her very sad.
Finally, she found enough courage to ask, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are you Yamamba?Ã¢â‚¬Â
The old lady began to laugh so hard that she started coughing and almost fell to the ground. As she stood up, still laughing, she reached for a pot from the fire and poured two cups of tea. She handed one to Haruko, who politely bowed. As thirsty, cold and tired as she was, she did not dare sip that drink.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“And what if I were? What if I poisoned your tea so that I could eat you? What if you dead already, and in the grasp of an endless nightmare? What would you say to that, my little one?Ã¢â‚¬Â She grabbed Haruko’s tea cup, poured its tea into her own cup and swallowed it all in one gulp. Cackling again, she poured both of them another cup. This time, Haruko timidly sipped the cup. It tasted so good, and was so hot, that she found herself drinking it all.
After a few moments, Haruko firmly pinched her own arm, hard enough to make the skin sore. Now, she was sure that she was awake, and not under any spell.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Well, maybe you are not Yamamba,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said in a tone much braver than she felt. Inside, she was still scared and worried.
The old lady started laughing even harder. After pouring more tea for the both of them, the old lady started questioning Haruko again.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What happened to your gift box?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I . . . I . . . I don’t know,Ã¢â‚¬Â Haruko stuttered. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a wonderful gift, and now it is gone. I feel terrible that I lost it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko wondered again if the tea was poisoned. In the flickering light from the fireplace, the old lady seem to be extremely old one moment, then she seemed to be a very beautiful young lady the very next moment. Haruko shook her head and when she looked again, the old lady was there in front of her.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Well, child, let us say that I am Yamamba, but that I am not very hungry at the moment. If I were, that would make me a powerful witch. If I could grant you one wish, what would that wish be?Ã¢â‚¬Â She cackled some more as she waited for Haruko to answer.
Haruko was still very unsure of this old woman, but as time passed, she did not think that she was about to be poisoned or eaten, at least no right away. But, she was still scared, and tired, and wet, and hungry, and lost. Worst of all, she was late and her father would worry. Then it came to her Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the answer to the old lady’s question.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would want my father’s dam fixed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What? You don’t want Obaba’s gift back? You realize that you are insulting her by losing it?Ã¢â‚¬Â the old lady asked. Again she looked young and beautiful. It had to be a trick of light from the fire.
Haruko was quiet for a bit. Finally, she looked up, saw that it was the old lady again, and said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is not an insult that the wind, the rain, and the forest to take something from me. And, although I lost something beautiful, it is not an insult to my wonderful grandmother. If I have one wish, and only one wish, then I wish that my father’s dam could be fixed, so our crop would not wash away again this season.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The old lady stared at Haruko with the strangest look. Again she seemed to shift from old to young back to old. Haruko was getting dizzy looking at her, so she turned to stare at the embers in the fireplace, red, black, shifting colors, and so much heat, wonderful heat coming from the flame. As she stared at the embers, she realized that she missed her father, very, very much. And her puppy. Her mood was as dark as the evening sky, even though the storm had finally passed. For Haruko, everything had gone wrong.
The old lady poured herself another tea, and then sat next to Haruko. She took Haruko’s hand, and gently caressed it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Little Haruko, it is time for you to leave. I think there is a dog down the hill, someone you know. Why don’t you greet him? He misses you badly.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko almost jumped from her seat. A dog? Looking for her? That had to be Taro. She bowed deeply to the old lady, and ran out of the cave, forgetting to thank her for the tea. As she stepped out of the cave, she was almost blinded by the midday sun. Haruko had only been in the cave for an hour the night before, yet, there was the sun high in the sky.
As Haruko took a few steps down the hill, she recognized Taro’s voice. Taro ran up to her, barking and jumping. After a face-full of licks and paws, she turned around to wave good bye and thank you to the old lady. But the cave had disappeared, in fact the whole rocky hill had gone away. In its place stood a grassy rise, with birch and fir trees.
Suddenly, Haruko knew exactly where she was. She had played in this field many times, and she knew that there was no cave here. She realized that her home was just around the bend of the path, no more that five minutes away. By now, nothing could shock Haruko anymore.
Haruko and her puppy ran into her home, where she saw her father, muddy, exhausted and sleeping with his head resting on their table. He did not stir when Haruko entered, not until the puppy nipped at his leg.
Haruko’s father finally stirred, and noticed his daughter. He stood up, shook himself awake, and hugged her .
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, I was so worried. What happened? Why did you not come home last night?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko explained what happened at the party, then grandmother Obaba’s meeting in her drawing room, and finally, her trek back through the storm, and all about the old lady. She told him that as the sun set, the storm arrived and how she was in a cave for a short time.
Her father nodded thoughtfully. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is some powerful magic indeed.Ã¢â‚¬Â He yawned and stretched again. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Haruko, if you aren’t too tired, can you bring tea and hot water with me? I must try one last time to fix our dam.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko was surprised that she did not feel tired at all. Seeing her father lifted her spirits wonderfully. As they made their way to his rice field and the broken dam, Haruko told her father everything else that had happened. As they approached the falls, her father stopped, as though he were struck by lightning.
There, in the place of his little broken leaking dam, stood a beautiful, strong dam. Powerful magic, indeed. Her father inspected the dam with Haruko. It was better and stronger than ever before.
Haruko and her father walked back to their hut. As they entered, Haruko’s mouth dropped open in surprise. There on the table was Grandmother Obaba’s beautiful black box. Next to it was a fine paper scroll. Her father opened it and began to read out loud.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dear son and dearest Haruko. Little Haruko passed her final test. It was my personal sorceress who met you last night. (Every important Japanese household had a personal sorceress) She told me of you wish and granted it. Little Haruko is welcome to visit anytime she wants. When she comes next time, I will tell her my most favorite fairy tale. This afternoon would be wonderful.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Haruko looked anxiously at her father, who nodded permission for her to go.
When Haruko arrived at her grandmother’s, she was allowed in the front door. A maid took her to the small room again where she sat and waited. Her grandmother came in with an ancient scroll. She unrolled it and nodded to the bowing Haruko.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hello again, little one. I am pleased that you came. This story is about a son of a prince and an evil cave, much different than the one you saw. It is also the story of the desert, far away from here.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And Grandmother Obaba began to read.
(Robert Kezelis is a lawyer, sculptor and writing curmudgeon based south of Chicago.)