Light and Wave

“Could you please stop doing that?” she complained, her feet half-buried in the wet sand.

With a waving of his hand, he released the tides and the tranquil waters came to crash gently against her pale ankles.

“Thank you” she said mockingly, and went back to play with the waves.

It had been a while since they had last visited that beach. It was one of their earliest memories, almost as old as their tree, but for some reason both of them had forgotten about its existence until that morning. Still, the place had not forsaken them, and as soon as they had walked within the boundaries of that distant shore, the white sands welcomed them, as if only an instant had passed, as if the waves and the tide had been waiting for them to return ever since they had left.

Perhaps they had been waiting. Perhaps the gentle breeze and the distant cries of seagulls were just that, a welcome, the relief of a creation being acknowledged by its creators.

They didn’t know and they couldn’t know for sure. In some ways, in many ways, that world was still a mystery to them, as much as they were to it.

“You lost again” he said as just another wavelet found its way between her bare feet.

~Idiot, she sent through her mind-touch (which meant she wasn’t angry yet but would soon be if he kept teasing her that way).

He smiled and turned to his old notebook.

It was a simple game indeed. She had tried to teach him many times, and every single one of those times they had ended up quarreling.

“You are doing it wrong!” she would always say.

“Why, because I’m winning?”

“No, because you are thinking!”

And then she would turn and, facing the sea, she would wait for the next wave to break before jumping once again.

Gracious, her feet would take off just as the thin sheet of water that had been a wave spread under her. For a moment, she would stand there, frozen in mid-air, a breathing statue waiting for the right time to come back to life, until the sea claimed its waters back and her feet, still dry, touched land again.

“See?”

“But that’s what I’ve been doing all the time!” he would complain.

“No it’s not! You calculate the speed of the water, the direction of the wind, the humidity in the air, the friction of your feet against the sand and then perform the most perfect jump your calculations allow you to. You cheat!”

“And isn’t that the whole point of the game? To make the most perfect jump? To never touch the water? To never lose?” At this point, his voice always adopted that rational tone he employed every time he knew (or he thought he knew) he was right.

“No boy, this is not about winning or losing, not even about making the perfect jump, as you put it. It’s about reacting, letting your body and your instincts take over you without knowing or even caring whether your feet will end up getting wet or not.”

And then, seeing how pointless it all had been, seeing in the deep of his eyes how incomprehensible that notion was for him, she would finally add with a sad smile:

“But I guess that’s your problem, right? You can’t stop knowing. You can’t stop thinking.”

After that, she would turn and face the horizon (which after that kind of argument was usually a colour between a stormy grey and a dying twilight) and resume her game as if nothing had ever happened.

In the end, they reached some kind of silent agreement, a wordless pact according to which she was allowed to play with the waves mostly undisturbed while he waited for her on the blanket scribbling on his old notebook.

He had tried to understand her game many times. He had analyzed the rules, or rather the lack of them, from every imaginable point of view but had failed miserably to grasp its purpose. Did it have any purpose at all? What was the point of deliberately letting luck and chance decide the outcome of anything at all when they could level entire continents and extinguish suns with the blink of an eye? For life’s sake, they were Gods! They were supposed to know everything, to think everything!

Sometimes, as he observed the lines of her shape getting ready to react, he thought he understood. There was something in that reckless abandon of hers, in the way she let her small body talk to the waves. Sometimes, he thought he could hear the waters talking back to her, silent, welcoming, caring. Sometimes, in that brief moment of absence in which her heartbeat almost came to a halt, he thought he understood.

But then, when the waves broke to drops and the drops turned to foam in a pattern so perfect and predictable, he remembered how pointless it all was and turned to his old notebook, where everything was orderly and clear.

From time to time, when words got stuck in his head, he liked to watch her play. Although he knew he’d never be able to understand the purpose of such a pointless game, he had to admit (at least to himself) that there was something soothing, almost relaxing, in watching her play.

It was in one of these pauses that he discovered a different way of enjoying her game. Like every god, he had learnt to appreciate the delights of destruction, the bitter sweetness in the undoing of things made to last, even if that thing was briefer than a heartbeat.

He looked at her, a dark shade against the dim light of a dying afternoon, and closed his notebook. He had to wait until the precise moment, or it wouldn’t work. Too soon and she would realize. Too late, and it wouldn’t matter. So he stared at her and, as she started the small ritualistic movements that would take her towards that careless state in which nothing mattered, he let his influence creep freely over the sands, towards the sea, an unseen breath of sheer will and silent determination sweeping and expanding.

Still sitting on the blanket, he let his mind mix with the waters, feeling every single little drop of blue, lost and alone in that vastness that was the sea. He mounted the waves, rushing, staring, studying, waiting for the precise moment to act.

He waited as her concentration built up, careless and unaware, pure wild intuition following the trail of some unconscious pattern. Watching her from both shore and sea he wondered once more at the way she let her mind commune with the elements. It was as if she was the face of a many-sided coin, ready to flip and reveal a new, previously unknown aspect at any instant.

He listened as probabilities around her started to fix, knowing that the moment was close, looking for that exact split second in which her feet left the ground and time almost ceased to be.

And there it was, shining bright like a tiny flame in the fiercest of voids, alone but not scared, completely vulnerable and exposed.

Now, he thought, and the world stood still.

A surge of pure warning gushed from her, piercing his mind, bending his shields.

He knew he shouldn’t. He knew he mustn’t.

But still, what if…?

He released the tides and all around her turned into chaos. A towering wave the shape of a wall swallowed her shape in a furious confusion of sound and foam, chewing her body with watery jaws.

When the full realization of what he had done hit him, he stood up and ran towards the shore, leaving a trail of white dust in his wake.

He waved his hand in a quick swipe and the whole sea retreated into itself, a quiet barrier of quivering waters shining in the distance.

Panting, he scanned the seabed with a single, wide glance. With a gesture of his finger, he forced the whole world into silence and listened, searching for her heartbeat. He searched through the countless tiny souls of mice and men, among the tired heartbeats of the exiled gods, in the vastness and the roots of their old tree and found nothing.

He tried to reach her through their mind-touch, lowering all his shields, shattering barriers he had spent so much time raising, almost exposing his very core to the world, just to find the slightest clue of her presence.

Nothing. No trace, not even the distant echo of her, or an afterimage. No hint or trail for him to follow.

What have I done?

Blink. A tremor in the distance. Waters quivering, coming to life. Sudden motion.

For a moment he stood there, motionless, thoughtless, speechless, watching as the waves rushed towards him with borrowed rage; a huge, massive barrier of hungry waters stretching towards the margins of the world, threatening to swallow everything in its wake.

As he tried to stop its seemingly unstoppable advance, he realized it was too late. There was no thought these waters would obey, no command they would kneel down to. It was as if every single drop had suddenly regained a consciousness they had been denied long ago, as if they had been woken up from an ancient slumber, ready to take revenge on those who had imprisoned them in their unconscious sleep.

He knew he should be afraid. He could remember the last time the elements had rebelled against them, how utterly devastating the fight had been and how they had almost lost themselves to a world they had just started to tame.

Yet there he was, watching instead of running, awe-struck as the raging waters swallowed the sun and came closer and closer. There was no time to think, no time to react, no room to-

Suddenly, abruptly, the waters came to a halt.

He tried to move, but he couldn’t. He tried to think, but he couldn’t. It was as if something, someone had taken hold of his heartbeat, pinning him down in that spot, forcing him to stand there and watch as the waters, now quiet and still, finally settled down and the world was plunged into silence once again.

There was something there, moving beneath the very surface, something great and dark, hidden among the layers of crystal-like substance; a presence, calculating, estimating, analyzing.

And all he could do was look at his own reflection. He was trapped, a helpless prey caught in amber, unable to move, to run, to speak.

In the silence of the world, under the eyes of that unknown will, he heard the rumour of their old tree, faint and reassuring. He knew it would only take a few moments to get his heartbeat back, to re-synchronize and have his powers back. But for the first time since he could remember, he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to be in control, he didn’t want to know or to think. He didn’t know what was going to happen next and he didn’t want to know.

Uncertainty. That was the word.

The mirror broke with the sound of a thousand shrieks and he was stricken by an unseen force. He fell down, slowly, as if the air around him had suddenly got thicker. For an instant, he had the feeling that he was being gently pushed down, as if the presence in the mirror, now freed, wanted him to witness its arrival.

Shiny little particles of water floated in mid-air, frozen in a trajectory they would never be able to complete. It was only a crack, a ragged hole of clear sky against the dark background of a liquid wall. Pulsing white light poured through the breach, long thin needles of clarity piercing the dark waters.

As he finally fell down, he could glimpse a dark spot inside the cascade of sunlight, growing, increasing in size until it detached from the brightness and became a fully formed human shape.

She approached him with slow, heavy steps, as if time had ceased to matter, as if nothing mattered anymore.

“You are powerless” she said, looking down at him, wet hair hanging down the sides of her inscrutable face.

~And what are you going to do? he sent, still unable to move or speak.

She moved her hand, ever so slightly, and the world around them burst into chaos. A tempest of water and foam raged above them, behind them, around them, until silence swallowed all sound and every tiny little particle of water and light froze in place.

Without taking her eyes of his, she blinked, just once, and the whole sea started to fall on them like a cloudless rain.

Silence followed.

The Jade Tea Ceremony

The thrush observed Goemon Asahina as he stirred his tea for the third time and left the whisk on top of a beautifully patterned piece of silk. The bird approached the man with a curious gaze, its tiny shape a dark silhouette against the evening sun. Goemon took the cup with both hands and, feeling its warmth against his palms, took a long, silent sip and left it in the exact same spot where it had rested during the Tea Ceremony.

“Welcome, friend,” Goemon said to the bird with a smile. The small creature closed the short distance with tiny hops, as if encouraged by the hospitality of the man.

“How are you feeling today, Goemon?” The woman sitting opposite Goemon Asahina said in a calm voice.

The bird flew away.

The man took another sip of his tea and looked at something beyond the wooden door that led to the garden. The teak trees grew upwards in a straight line, projecting needle like shadows on the trimmed grass.

“I have always liked this place. When I was a child I used to walk with my father among the trees and listen to the birds. He used to say that the birds carried the voice of the wind and if you listened carefully enough, you could almost hear the wind speaking. He said that listening to the wind was very important, because the wind is very old and knows everything.”

Kiko eyed the man. His face looked older than it did in her last visit. His skin was  was one shade too pale and his fingernails were cracked and brittle-looking. The shaking in the right hand had receded, but it was still there.

“Your father was a wise man.”

Goemon turned his gaze from the garden and looked at Kiko. The young woman, sitting in seiza, kept her back straight and her hands on her lap, one on top of the other. Her wakizashi, still in its scabbard, lied on the floor to her right as it was customary.

The man sipped his tea again.

“Do you ever listen to the wind, Kiko?”

Three droplets of crystal clear liquid fell on one of the satin flowers embroidered in his kimono. The last lights of the day shone through them for a while before being absorbed by the invisible seams in the fabric.

“Sometimes.”

“Good. Good.”

“Do you know why I am here, Goemon Asahira?”

“I do, Kiko Kuni.”

The woman reached for her wakizashi and handed it to Goemon. The man took it and unsheathed it with his right hand. He considered the polished steel for a moment. There had always been something puzzling about the glint of the ancient blade, something Goemon had never been able to pinpoint.

Kiko stood up.

“Are you ready?”

The man said nothing, but looked at the garden one last time.

Kiko walked past the man, unsheathed her katana and waited.

The wakizashi made a soft ‘thud’ as it entered the man’s flesh and cut his innards. Kiko raised her katana over Goemon Asahira’s head and cut it with a single, deft move.

The body that had once been Goemon Asahira was still on his knees when the two eta and the shujenga that had been waiting outside entered the room.

Kiko dropped her sword and left the room in silence.

Outside, the thrushes kept singing.