Green stalks of bamboo swayed slightly in the wind. Leaves twisted and caught the light. The grove whispered and rattled with the sound of the breeze and the gentle collisions of the stalks against each other.
Toru hoisted a bamboo bundle onto his shoulder and started on the dirt path back to the house. The slope was gentle but the path was long and by the time he had reached the barn he was exhaling heavy breaths of steam. He rested the bamboo bundle against a post protruding from the side of the barn and then he opened the door. The inside of the barn was dark but well-ventilated. Stacks of bamboo stood drying in organized rows. Toru took stock of the interior and did some mental calculations.
He said to himself, “At my current pace of consumption, this bamboo will generate about four times my typical intake. If current factors persist, it seems unlikely that I will experience a shortage. This neglects the possibility of unforeseen circumstances, of course…” he trailed off, then shook his head and continued, “but that is always the case.” He closed the barn door.
Toru looked at his hands, which were dusty from carrying the bamboo. He attempted to brush the dust off, but his attempt just moved the dust around on his hands. He turned and continued up the dirt path to the house. At the front door, he removed his shoes and stepped inside. Lost in thought, he did not even notice that the room was occupied. When he did look up and notice, he stopped suddenly and then uttered a surprised laugh.
“Good morning,” said Chiyoko, seated in a chair.
Toru stood still for a moment and then responded, “Good morning.”
“You have said that I can come in without knocking,” said Chiyoko.
“Yes,” said Toru, “I just wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.” He inclined his head and said, “I am pleasantly surprised.”
“I had an unusual conversation recently,” said Chiyoko, “and I realized that I wanted to talk to you about it.”
Toru sat in the second chair. He repeated, “An unusual conversation?”
“Yes,” said Chiyoko. “It was about topics of a sensitive nature.”
“I see,” said Toru, nodding.
Chiyoko looked out at the blue sky. She said, “At first, I felt very concerned. Then I felt worried and frustrated. I felt that I just wanted to know what was the right thing to do so that I could do it and then get on with my life.” She adjusted slightly in her chair. She said, “But then, slowly, I started to feel a tiny sense of joy and relief.”
Toru looked at her. “Relief?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Chiyoko. “I feel relief. I feel completely uncertain about what to do, and this caused me relief because I felt that I finally understood you. I felt that I finally understood how you must have felt about Harua.”
Toru sank back into his chair. “Well,” he said, “I still feel completely uncertain about Harua.”
Chiyoko continued, “When you were the strategist for the Kogen shogunate, you had to make a choice. You explained to me the decision that you had to make. I understood that it was a difficult decision. I even understood, at least a little bit, why you might make the choice that you made, but I never understood how it would feel to make that choice.” Chiyoko sat forward in her chair. She said, “Now I find myself unsure what to do and I feel how difficult it is.” She paused and looked down at the go board still sitting on its table. She said, “Now that I know how this feels, I feel some tiny glimmer of joy and relief to realize that I have gotten closer to understanding you.”
Toru nodded. “Does that help you to know what to do?” he asked.
“No,” said Chiyoko, “no, not at all.” She hummed a sad laugh and then added, “It does not help me in even the smallest way.” She paused and then continued, “Though it does make me afraid of feeling trapped in regret.”
“Like I am?” asked Toru.
“That is not what I was trying to say,” said Chiyoko, “but, yes, trapped like you seem to be.”
Toru nodded. He gestured at the empty room, “Not everyone wants to live this way,” he said.
“And yet you stay here,” said Chiyoko.
“I loved them,” said Toru. “I loved the people of Harua, both bots and humans. I loved the people of every town that the shogunate took in the following years.” He shifted in his chair. He said, “That love makes it harder… more painful to remember. But that love also makes it easier. When I feel my regrets most strongly, I also remember that feeling of love. And I remember that I made my choices because of my love for them.” He paused and slowly exhaled a gentle puff of steam. He said, “I may lack confidence in the quality of my decisions but I have faith in the strength of my love.”
“I also have faith in that,” said Chiyoko.
“And I stay here until I feel confident that I can do better next time,” said Toru.
“Perhaps there is no way to become perfectly confident of a decision,” said Chiyoko. “Perhaps the decisions of the past and any future decisions will always have uncertainty.”
Toru stood up slowly and walked to the row of shelves. He opened the wooden case and then stood looking at its contents in silence. Chiyoko watched him for a moment and then laughed softly.
Toru said, “That was a bit surprising.” He looked at the contents of the case, a shiny metal chainsaw, neatly arranged inside the polished wooden box.
“Ah,” said Chiyoko, “yes, I forgot to mention that.” She held up her left arm and the sleeve of her kimono slid down to her bent elbow. She watched her left hand as she slowly opened and closed her fingers. “My arm feels a little unfamiliar,” she said, “but I am getting used to it.”
Toru watched as she played with the fine motor skills of her left hand. He said, “It looks good on you.”
“Thank you,” replied Chiyoko. She stood up, walked to Toru, and held out her left hand. Toru looked at it and gave an admiring humming noise. Chiyoko laughed. She said, “I wasn’t showing it to you. I was offering it to you.”
“I… do not understand,” replied Toru.
Chiyoko grasped Toru’s right hand with her left hand. She lightly squeezed Toru’s fingers. Then she began walking and gently tugged on Toru’s hand. She said, “I am inviting you to come with me.”
“Ah,” said Toru, and he walked with her as she led him to the door.
Chiyoko opened the door of the house and slipped on her shoes. Toru put on his shoes. Then Chiyoko took him by the hand once more and led him across the porch and down the stairs. She took him to the dirt path and began walking down it. They passed bushes and trees. They passed birds and butterflies. They passed a stream quietly bubbling over stones. The air was warm and a slight breeze ruffled the vegetation. A few small clouds dotted the sky and sunlight graced the hillside. Chiyoko walked with Toru to the gate and she stopped there.
Toru asked, “Where are we going?”
Chiyoko opened the gate and stepped through. “I don’t know,” she said. She held out her left hand again and asked, “Do you want to come along?”
Toru laughed like a weight had fallen from his shoulders. “Yes,” he said, “Yes, I do.”