Welcome back! I have another excerpt for you from The Samurai's Garden. Hanako, a widow and poor farmer in northern Japan, has help working her farm from Hiro, a former samurai. She now has more time for socializing with her neighbors, including the wealthy Widow Nakamura:
The Widow Nakamura had invited her to tea, and Hiro insisted she go. "You should become friends with your neighbors," he advised her. "There may be a time when you will be of great assistance to each other."
So Hanako accepted, bathing in the stream and dressing carefully in her better kimono. She brushed her waist-long ebony hair until it shone, and then tied it carefully behind her neck with strips of fabric. The dusty road and the long walk nearly negated her attempt at tidiness, but she wanted to look her best. Her apparel was not as nice as the widow’s lowest servants, but the widow always received her with a warm smile, making her forget her shabby clothes. The older woman, though obviously well-educated and high-born, had a down-to-earth manner and outlook on life. Reiko was definitely in charge of the house, but treated her children and her servants with kindness.
Just like Hiro.
The thought came to her as she trudged along the road to the Nakamura home. Hiro and the Widow Nakamura had much in common. With them, she never felt small. She was treated as an equal. And this was why she trusted them, and why she was able to voice her thoughts with Reiko.
Today, the widow waited for her in the lush gardens beside her home.
"Good morning, Hanako," she called.
"Good morning, Nakamura-san," Hanako replied, stopping to bow respectfully.
"It is such a lovely day. I thought we would have our tea out here in the garden."
Hanako nodded her assent, and Reiko led the way through the garden to an open structure about the size of Hanako’s hut. Under the roof, a small, low table held a plate of appetizing treats. Reiko gestured toward one of the silky cushions beside the table. "Please sit down. Chidori-san will bring the tea shortly."
Hanako knelt on the cushion, looking around her at the colorful garden. It was such a peaceful spot. Her mother had grown flowers like these all around their hut. Hanako remembered the colors, the fragrance, and the brightness they had provided to their drab surroundings. Had the castle in Mutsu boasted a large garden, with a place to sit and entertain guests?
Reiko settled herself on the cushion opposite Hanako, smiling serenely as she poured the tea. Hanako reached out to pick up the fragile cup, carefully lifting it to sip the fragrant brew.
For a moment she remembered Kenji’s mocking words when she had wanted to purchase a tea set in the marketplace. "Why would you need something like that? You don’t need nice cups for the slop we drink. It would be a waste!"
If only you could see me now. I am drinking fine tea out of a lovely cup, seated on a silk cushion in a beautiful garden.
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