Genre: General Fiction
Type of Short Story: Short Story Collection
Summary: A Moments Indulgence is a collection of 10 gripping short stories from around the world, that will take you on a mesmerising journey into a world of suspense, humour, courage, and some pain. The stories are unique, diverse and conversational.
Kiyoshi Matsumoto sat on the floor, resting the cloth between her chin and knees, and heaved a long sigh. The whiteness of the fabric and her long black hair against her peach‐colored skin made her look like a fairy straight out of a children's book. As she sat there with big, beautiful black eyes staring ahead, she contemplated the direction that her life was going to take today.
Even as her thoughts wandered, she could clearly hear the bells toll at a distance at this early hour. It reminded her of the importance of the occasion. A few days ago in the town of Kitsuke the Shujo
Onie festival had just ended and she had prayed for a good and happy life. It seemed that her prayers were answered. Before twilight today, she would be married and each time she thought of how much her life was likely to change, she felt pride for her family and also uncertainty about the times to come. On the other hand, her father was the most pleased and had been jolly all week.
Her marriage, unlike any of her friends, was arranged because her father had promised her hand to his oldest friend Daiche Nakamura. Several years ago, when her father was fishing in the Seto river, he was nearly killed when he had fallen in. His friend had jumped into the icy waters, almost killing himself while trying to save him. Had it not been for Daiche Nakamura who had saved him, her father would have certainly been dead. In gratitude, her father had promised to marry her to Mr Nakamura.
Undoubtedly, this was a promise made with little thought and in haste, but because Mr Nakamura had saved her father’s life, no argument was encouraged. The only person who had expressed disapproval was Kiyoshi’s mother. According to her, although she was very grateful that her husband’s life had been saved, she could not come to terms with the fact that her older daughter had been sacrificed.
Even as she was growing up, Kiyoshi was aware that by the time she was 18, she would be married to Mr Nakamura, who was around her father’s age. Until three years ago, she had no qualms. But now that she was grown up and was seeing the world, she felt a tinge of sorrow and anger. All her friends were moving into big cities and starting to live exciting lives. Helpless as she was, all that she could do was watch them and feel bad that she may not have a chance at such a life.
Soon as she turned 18, she had been engaged to be married to Mr Nakamura. It was a grand ceremony better known as yunio in Japanese and some of her friends had attended. As was the tradition, they had exchanged the symbolic gifts of konbu (its character can be written to mean a child‐bearing woman), dried cuttlefish (due to its phallic shape), a long linen thread (symbolizing old age) and a folded fan (symbol of wealth) wrapped in rice paper.
She could hear the whispers and understood the pity in their eyes, and she felt a little awkward. But there was so much music and sake (alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice) that most of it faded by the end of the night.
Since the engagement seven months ago, she had met Mr Nakamura officially thrice. He had courted her in the gardens of the Nakamura residence, while her mother talked to his okaasan (mother in Japanese) and waited. The Nakamura family had a well‐known heritage and a respectable standing in society, being one of the oldest medical practitioners of the town of Kitsuki.
Secretly Kiyoshi did not mind Mr Nakamura courting her. He showered her with expensive gifts and talked to her very gently. He had a respectful demeanor, which was much better than the young boys of her age. With her friends, she pretended that she was just being an honorable and obedient daughter, but in her heart she knew that her marriage would be a good one.
According to Japanese law, they were already married, but like most conservative families, could be together only after the ceremony. The legal marriage had been a no fuss affair at the local government registrar’s office, with only Mr Nakamura, and both their mothers present.
The shrine where the ceremony was being held as per Shinto (Indigenous spirituality of Japan) customs was only 10 minutes from where she lived and Kiyoshi had figured that she would need at least two hours to get ready. Her mother would wake up exactly at 5 AM, which was anytime now. She yawned and stretched and putting down the soft cloth, tied her hair in a knot, wishing that she had slept better. Her own apprehensions and her younger sister Miyabi’s excitement had made her restless all night.
“Oh dear Lord,” she sighed, getting up to do her toilet and be ready for the occasion.
The Matsumoto family procession commenced at 9 AM. They were delayed but it was okay because the bridegroom’s family would enter only when all of the bride’s family was seated inside the shrine.
She walked with her mother and Miyabi by her side. Her mother looked elegant in a light blue dress with white pump shoes and a matching purse. Mother was handling everything very well, but Kiyoshi noticed the slight twitching of her eyebrows now and then. It meant that mother was anxious.
Kiyoshi wore a white silk kimono that was heavily brocaded and embroidered with the motif of a bounty of flowers and flowing water. On her head, she had the traditional silk tsunokakushi (a rectangular piece of cloth, often white and worn by brides), on which there were laced flower designs.
Her sister Miyabi was wearing a peach colored dress, which brought out the color of her cheeks and her youthfulness. She was constantly by Kiyoshi’s side making sure to properly arrange the layers of cloth on Kiyoshi’s kimono as she walked.
The men and the rest of the family comprising her relatives and friends followed slowly. Because it was a short walk to the shrine, the procession was completed on foot. It was a beautiful and sunny day. There was joy and cheer, laughter and noise, and songs and dance. Children danced around while the older people talked louder and louder.
Kiyoshi looked down the tarred road, between the ancient yellow walls of Kitsuki, and noticed how the trees threw patterns on the ground that were very similar to her attire. It was as if the trees were giving her company on her special day. She smiled as she listened to her cousins sing old wedding songs, mostly teasing her about tonight.
As they advanced, her short life zoomed before her eyes. She walked in silence, remembering moments from the days gone by, some joyous, some annoying but all of them special and hers.
With each step forward, the world around her seemed to become quieter, as if giving her time to think and to reflect. Deep in thought and her eyes staring down at her shoes, she walked with her head down. She would miss her family and the carefree life that she had all these years. It made her very emotional.
During the bridal procession, passersby stopped and showered greetings and blessings on her. Some even clapped. There was song and dance and everything was loud and merry. When the shrine was only a few meters, it started to drizzle. People started scurrying about, exclaiming aloud. Everyone began to quicken their pace in order to avoid a sudden downpour. Like a delicate butterfly, Kiyoshi picked up her dress very slightly, and ran as quickly and cautiously as she could, with Miyabi close on her heels.
Soon they reached the shrine. Shiny and decorative footwear left wet marks on the red floor as people entered the covered portion of the shrine to take shelter from the rain. Seeing this, two monks shook their heads disapprovingly and gestured to the crowd with their hands to move quickly toward the right corridor and into the inner sanctum.
Kiyoshi took a deep breath as the incense from inside found its way to her lungs. She smiled as she entered the large prayer hall and waved to her friends as she walked bravely between two sections of people who were already seated. Miyabi had to nudge her several times to stop waving so much, and walk slowly like a bride. As she sat and waited facing the altar, she stole a glance at Lord Buddha and wished that He could stop her heart from beating so fast.
She had gone through the whole ceremony a hundred times in her mind, but she was very angry that she was still having sensations that she was not prepared for. The prayer hall was slowly filling up. Families and friends gathered and greeted each other in whispers, nods and full smiles. Kiyoshi looked ahead at the altar respectfully and called out to the Lord silently, seeking courage.
“Where is mother?” asked Kiyoshi, her voice on an edge.
“I don’t know, I thought she was walking behind us,” whispered Miyabi.
Kiyoshi held the front of her Obi (a broad sash worn around the waist of the kimono) with the palm of her hand, as a bilious feeling built up inside her chest.