I could feel the boat traveling at a good speed, but had no idea which direction it was headed in. From the way the waves hit the boat and the sound of the wind, I guessed that the path we were traveling was not very wide. Maybe we were on the main current of the Tone river. I wanted to ask, but thought it was probably better not to talk more than I needed to, so I didn’t. The younger woman accompanying me questioned me incessantly the entire time. There wasn’t a theme to what she was asking, and it didn’t seem like she was writing down my answers.
Three hours later, after many twists and turns, the boat stopped. The harbor and the surrounding area were well covered, giving no view of the outside.
And just as I expected, as we walked up the stairs into a temple-like building, no part of the outside world was visible.
A young monk in black robes and a recently shaved head came out to greet us. The trio from the committee appeared too. I was led to an empty, traditional-style room. On the wall was a scroll with freshly written calligraphy. I couldn’t read what it said, but it looked similar to the one hanging in Harmony School.
I knelt down on the tatami, but at the monk’s directions, switched to sitting in the lotus position, with the tops of my feet on my thighs. He seemed want me to meditate and collect myself. Since we had to meditate every day at Harmony School, I was used to this, but secretly wished I had worn a more comfortable pair of pants.
I breathed deeply into my stomach and tried to settle my mind as quickly as possible. But I needn’t have hurried, because I ended up waiting for two or three hours anyway. During that time, I realized that the sun had set. Time seemed to pass at a different speed that it usually did. I was only half-heartedly trying to calm my mind. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on just one thing.
As the room darkened, I started feeling a little bit uneasy. At first I couldn’t figure out why, then I realized that even though it was near sunset, I couldn’t hear “Going Home”. No matter where you are in Kamisu 66, you can always hear that melody. If I was far enough that I couldn’t hear it, then it meant that I was outside the Holy Barrier.
Was that even possible?
Nature called. I spoke aloud asking if anyone was around, but there was no answer. I had no choice but to step outside. The corridor had nightingale floors that screeched with every step. Thankfully, the bathroom was right around the end of the hall.
When I came back, a lamp was lit and an old bent-backed monk with a white mustache was sitting in the room. Even though I was only twelve at the time, I was already taller than him. He looked ancient. He was wearing rough, heavily patched robes, and even without saying anything gave off an air of affability. I knelt before him.
“How are you? Are you hungry?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes, a little.”
“Since you came all the way here, I would like to treat you to our vegetarian cuisine, but unfortunately you have to fast until tomorrow morning. Can you do it?”
I was disappointed, but nodded anyway.
“By the way, I am the preceptor of this ravaged temple. My name is Mushin.”
I straightened up reflexively. There was no one in Kamisu 66 who didn’t know the name of the holy priest. Like Shisei Kaburagi who was revered for his powerful cantus, Mushin was loved and respected for his character.