Chiyoko grasped the handle of the cable car and stepped on board. She took a seat on one of the wooden benches and looked out at the sidewalk and the pedestrians. On the bench next to her, two children in school uniforms chatted playfully. The bell rang and the cable car began to move.
She watched store fronts and scenes of morning life in the city. After a few stops, a mother and two young children got on board, then an old man and his puppy, and later an old woman carrying flowers. As the cable car moved up the hill, more of the city became visible. Water towers, elevated trams, office buildings, and city hall appeared on the skyline. One by one, the passengers stepped off the cable car until only Chiyoko remained. The cable car reached the end of the line, halfway up a tall hill. Chiyoko stepped down to the sidewalk. Then she gave an appreciative curtsy to the cable car driver. The cable car waited on its platform for its departure time to travel back to the city. Chiyoko began walking up the hill.
The sidewalk became increasingly patchy until it was only a dirt path. Chiyoko stopped to admire the new spring leaves of maple trees and the abundant blossoms of cherry trees. Birds sang. Small fluffy clouds decorated a blue sky. Chiyoko followed the dirt path through the trees until she arrived at a low wooden fence and a gate, which was hanging loosely from its hinges. She opened the gate and stepped through, then followed the path up to the heavy wooden house at the top of the hill. She walked up the steps to the porch of the house. A bell hung from the wall by the door. She paused thoughtfully, then rang the bell. There was a sound of footsteps.
Toru opened the door. His thin metal frame seemed slightly hunched. He moved with an ancient grace. He said, “Good morning, Chiyoko.” He gestured for her to enter and said, “You do not need to ring, you can just come in.”
Chiyoko removed her shoes at the door and stepped into the vast sparse interior of the house. The dark wood gave the impression that the space was the inside of a tree. The north side of the house was open to the elements and light poured in. Chairs were arranged almost randomly. A few shelves against the east wall held dusty cases and memorabilia.
Toru moved to the north side of the house, a silhouette against the outdoor light. The slight steam rising from behind his ears was shockingly luminous in the sunlight.
He asked, “How long has it been?”
Chiyoko replied, “About a year.”
Toru nodded. He asked, “Have I missed anything?”
“Yes,” she replied. She walked next to Toru and looked at the light reflecting off the metal of his face. She did not try to hide her sad tone as she said, “You always miss things because you stay here.”
Toru looked out over the hills and the city. Then he turned and walked back into the darkness of the house. Chiyoko walked over to the go board on its table. She picked up a black stone from its bowl and placed it onto the board.
Toru heard the familiar clicking sound and turned his head. He asked, “Are you challenging me?”
Chiyoko assumed an innocent tone. She said, “I am just placing a piece…” then trailed off with an amused humming. She walked over to the shelves and looked over them. She ran one finger through the dust on the top shelf. She asked, “Have you been eating well?”
“Yes,” he replied.
Chiyoko hummed her amusement again. She asked, “Bamboo charcoal?”
Toru walked to the go board and looked at it. He said, “Yes, the bamboo grove on this hill has been very productive.” Toru took a white stone from its bowl and placed it onto the board.
Chiyoko sat down in a chair next to the go board. She asked, “And your water is clean?” She placed a black stone onto the board.
Toru sat down across from her. He said, “The stream is very clean.” He placed a white piece. He picked up a dried piece of bamboo from the floor next to his chair. He said, “The dry bamboo is very strong. It can experience significant force and only bend a little.” He grasped the bamboo with both hands. He continued, “But it is not flexible.” In his hands, the dry bamboo made popping and crunching sounds. It split, splintered, and then broke. He picked up a green piece of bamboo, and then he bent and twisted one of its leaves. He said, “The bamboo leaves; however, are very flexible, but they are not very strong.” The leaf ripped in his hands.
Chiyoko sat looking at him intently. Her arms were folded in her lap. Her only movement was her slow breath of steam.
Toru continued, “The green bamboo sticks are a better combination of these properties. They are both strong and flexible. They can bend in the wind and also stand under their own weight.” He looked at Chiyoko and sighed a brief puff of steam. He said, “I must be boring you.”
Chiyoko shook her head slightly. She said, “No. This is why I came here, even though I don’t know what this is yet.”
Toru picked up another dried stick of bamboo and turned it in his hands. He said, “I feel that I have lost my flexibility, my ability to change my mind.”
Chiyoko said softly, “You can change your mind if you want to.”
Toru looked out at the trees and the sky. He said, “I feel that I am just an ancient stratbot, living alone with my regret and shame.”
Chiyoko said, “Regret and shame… everyone feels these things. These feelings do not isolate you.”
Toru glanced down at the go board and placed a stone. He said, “I was supposed to be better than this. I should be better than this.”
Chiyoko said softly, “Ah. That belief, perhaps, can feel isolating.” She placed her stone and looked at Toru.
Toru stood up and walked to the shelves, stopping in front of a wooden case. He opened the case and looked at the contents, a shiny metal arm. Chiyoko turned to look at him and then looked away.
Toru said, “I keep this here for you.”
Chiyoko replied, “I know. I do not want it.”
Toru asked, “Why will you not look at it?”
Chiyoko sighed a slow exhalation of steam. She lifted the sleeve of her kimono to reveal that her arm, from the elbow down, was a polished metal chainsaw. She recited, as if it were a poem,
“It was Harua
where I traded my left arm
to build our defense”
She continued, “When we heard the Kogen shogunate was coming to our city, we cut the wood from our houses to build a wall. I needed to work fast. I made a choice, and I have not unmade that choice.”
Toru held his hand above the metal arm in its case, looking at the way the sunlight reflected off its polished surface. He responded,
“I searched the city
To recover what you lost
But you will not look”
Toru closed the case and returned to his seat by the go board. Chiyoko rested her arm in her lap, leaving the sleeve pulled up to her elbow.
Toru picked up a stone from its bowl and looked at the board. He said, “I find that I want to lose this game. I want my reasoning to be wrong, so that my expectations may also be wrong, so that I will feel hope.” After a long moment of hesitation, he placed the stone onto the board.
Chiyoko softly said, “You can feel hope if you want to.”
Toru said, “You could stay here, with me, if you wanted to.”
Chiyoko said nothing, looking at the board.
Toru said, “Except that no, you probably could not. You crave experience and sensation. To stay here, you would starve.”
“I don’t know about that,” Chiyoko replied.
A long moment of silence passed. Toru and Chiyoko alternated placing their stones onto the board. Toru’s white stones aggregated into regimented, methodical, and calculated positions. Chiyoko’s black stones emerged as elegant, responsive, and improvised forms.
She looked at the board and asked, “Do you think that Father intended us to be different in this way?”
Toru exhaled a short breath of steam. He asked, “Why do you call him that?”
She asked, “Do you think that Natsuo intended us to be different in this way?”
Toru sighed slowly. He said, “I apologize for being short with you.” He looked away and said, “I do not know what Natsuo… what Father… intended for us.” He looked back at the go board and continued, “but I feel that I have failed to do it, whatever it might be.” He leaned back in his chair. He said, “The board is filling up. The pieces are taking their places.”
Chiyoko replied cheerfully, “I was contemplating my next move.” She stood up, still looking at the board. Then she looked up at Toru and said, “Please excuse me.” She walked to the front door, put on her shoes and exited.
Toru leaned his head back and laughed softly. He said, “That is a strong move.” He waited by the board, wondering if she would return, then stood up and walked to the north side of the house, looking out over the hill and the city. A pair of meeks scurried underneath the floorboards. Birds hopped and tweeted in the trees. On the horizon, voluminous clouds paused above rice fields.
The hinges of the front door squeaked. Chiyoko entered carrying a small branch of a cherry tree. She removed her shoes and walked quietly to the shelves, then placed the branch on top, adjusting it so that the cherry blossoms were pleasingly arranged. She turned to look at Toru, as if accounting for his presence when deciding how the branch should be placed. She made one final adjustment and then gave a small nod of approval.
Toru walked to the center of the room and looked at the cherry branch and the shelves. He said, “A beautiful arrangement, thank you.”
Chiyoko replied, “You are welcome.”
Toru said, “The branch seems to be cut very cleanly.”
Chiyoko reflexively straightened and looked at him. Toru glanced down at her left arm, now concealed by the sleeve of her kimono.
She said, “Yes! Of course I used my arm!”
Toru nodded slowly, carefully. Chiyoko regained her composure, then slowly softened. Her patient exhalation of steam dissolved into a quiet laugh. Toru tilted his head ironically to the side. Chiyoko’s laugh relaxed to a cheerful giggle.
She said, “I have decided my next move.” She walked to the go board. From the sleeve of her kimono she withdrew a single cherry blossom, which she placed at the center of the board.
Toru looked at the cherry blossom and then at Chiyoko. He said, “Often, the center of the go board is the weakest move.”
Chiyoko replied, “Do you have a countermove?”
Toru laughed and said, “I do not.”
Chiyoko said, “You did say that you wanted to lose so that you could believe that your expectations were wrong. Did you expect this?”
Toru laughed again. He said, “I did not.”
“Then perhaps you got what you wanted,” Chiyoko commented.
“Yes. I did,” answered Toru.
Chiyoko hummed playfully and noted, “And you did not even need to lose.”