The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Prologue.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi Meikyuu no Kishi.
Snow drifted from the sky.
The large and heavy snowflakes fell as if they would never stop.
To look up at the sky was to see a canvas of white with countless dull, gray shadows painted upon it. His line of sight followed the snow sweeping across his entire field of vision into the sky, and before he knew it, all he saw was white.
He watched as a snowflake drifted lightly onto his shoulder. It was a big, thick snowflake that looked almost like a crystal made of cotton. Snowflakes fell continuously onto his shoulders, arms and his bright red palms. They immediately melted into the transparent color of water.
His breath really showed how piercingly frigid it was, more so than the white snow. He turned his small child's slender neck and the white of his breath followed his movements and hung in the air, making him feel chillier.
He had already stood there for an hour.
His little hands and exposed knees were all red like a completely ripened fruit, and he had lost all feeling in them. No matter how he rubbed or covered them, he felt only the cold seep into his bones. So he was like this, feeling nothing as he stared uncertainly into the air.
This was the yard on the northern side.
A storehouse that was no longer in use stood in the corner of the narrow yard. A crack in the earthen wall made the air even colder.
The three sides of the courtyard were the main building, the storehouse, and where the wall contained the yard. However, at this frigid and windless time, there was nothing he could use in this place to shelter him from the cold.
There wasn't even anything in the yard one could call a tree. For a time in the summer, the irises would bloom, but right now, the ground was only scattered with the white snow.
"What a stubborn child." His grandmother had moved from the Kansai region when she had gotten married, but when she spoke, she still carried a thick accent.
"He could at least cry a little. Even a little bit would let people know that he feels bad."
"Mother, you don't have to be so harsh."
"It's because you dote on him so much that he's become so stubborn."
"Today's young parents only know how to please their children. It's better if the children receive some strict discipline."
"But mother, what if he gets a cold..."
"He won't get a cold from a little bit of snow. —You listen to me. Unless he sincerely apologizes, he's not allowed back inside."
He just stood there.
In fact, all this had originally happened because of a small matter; someone had dripped water onto the floorboards under the sink and hadn't wiped it up.
His younger brother blamed him and he denied that he'd done it.
By his thinking, it was because he didn't remember doing such a thing that he felt secure enough to say that he didn't do it. His grandmother often warned him that telling lies was the worst thing he could do, so he didn't want to lie and say that he had done such a thing.
"Just be honest and apologize, and the matter would be over."
Grandmother had said it very severely, so he could only explain again that he hadn't done it.
"Why are you so stubborn?"
His grandmother always said this about him, so his young mind decided that he was indeed stubborn. Even though he wasn't too clear on what exactly "stubborn" meant, he had his own way of explaining it: because I'm a "stubborn" child, grandmother doesn't like me.
He hadn't cried because he was confused.
His grandmother wanted him to apologize, but if he had given in and done so, wouldn't he have become the kind of lying child that his grandmother hated so much? He didn't know what the right thing to do was. He felt very anxious.
The hallway extended horizontally in front of him. Beyond the hallway's glass window was the paper door of the kitchen. Through the half piece of glass installed in the paper door, he could see his grandmother and his mother arguing in the kitchen.
The two of them arguing made him feel very sad. Usually, in the end his mother would admit she was wrong, and then she would have no choice but to quickly clean the bathroom. He knew that his mother would eventually hide in the bathroom and secretly weep.
—I wonder if mommy is crying again.
He thought about this as he stood uncertainly.
His feet felt a little numb. He moved all his weight onto one foot and felt a dull pain in his knee. He could not feel the tips of his feet, but he still forced himself to try to move a little more. As a result, he immediately felt and retreated from a sharp, cold pain. He could feel the snow melting on his knees, melting into an icy water that trickled down his calf.
He sighed heavily the way children do.
A puff of wind suddenly brushed the back of his neck. It wasn't a cold, empty draft but a very warm breeze.
He looked around because he thought that someone had felt sorry for him and opened a door for his sake.
However, after he looked all around him, he found that all the windows were still shut tightly. The window facing the opposite room was covered in a thin fog because of the warm air inside.
He tilted his head suspiciously and looked around once more. The warm air still didn't stop blowing onto him.
He looked towards the side of the storehouse and immediately blinked his eyes in surprise.
A white object extended from the small crevice between the storehouse and the wall.
It looked like a person's arm, a completely bare arm, white and full, reaching out from the crevice behind the storehouse, but he couldn't see to whom the arm belonged. He thought, Could they be hiding behind the storehouse?
He felt like that was unthinkable.
The space in the crevice between the storehouse and the wall was too small. Yesterday, his brother had cried the whole day because he couldn't get the baseball that had rolled into the narrow crack. Even with his or his brother's small bodies, they couldn't fit anything in the crevice but their arms. That arm looked like it belonged to an adult, yet how were they able to fit into that space?
The forearm portion of the arm was swaying as if it were stirring water. He realized that the hand was beckoning to him, and then he took a step toward it. It was very strange that although his knees were numb from the cold, they didn't make any dry, rough sounds.
He didn't feel the least bit frightened, because he realized that the warm air was blowing from that direction.
He was really very cold and he also didn't know what he should do, so he obediently walked over towards the arm.
The snow had already completely coated the ground, almost covering all of his little footprints, eventually leaving no trace of him.
The white sky resembled faded ink, the color gradually changing.
The white of the short winter day gradually turned into the color of night.