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All Things Sacred

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There is a tradition in Kansai called "omiyamairi". About one month after a baby is born, their family take them to the nearest shrine to be blessed. Everyone wears their best clothes, especially the mother, who holds the child at her breast, underneath a brightly coloured cloth wrapped around her. For the plump sum of ten thousand yen, a priest traces an ideogram with red paint on the child’s forehead, as a good omen for their future. for boys, so they grow big and strong, and , for girls.

 

Not having ten thou to spare and wearing a ratty faux-fur coat on top of her tight dress and high heels, Bokuto’s mother decided she could dispense with the priest and do it herself. She’d had the training, after all – in another life.

 

On a whim, as she was wandering through Kamiya-chō in Tokyo with her three-months old son in a hand carrier, she took an abupt turn just before the subway station and climbed the stairs to Nishikubo Hachiman shrine1. It was a pain with the baby and the heels as the stairs were quite steep, but she managed all the same.

 

Up there she sat her barely-covered ass on a freezingly cold bench, underneath the skeleton of a cherry tree, and lay the baby beside her, cosily tucked in his little portable nest. Their breaths hung white and still in the night air.

 

Coming to a decision, she took a tube out of her Chanel bag, some fuschia lipstick which matched the exact shade of her painted nails.

 

"It’s a terrible curse, you know," she told her son, as though finishing a thought out loud. "They wrote 'small' on my forehead when I hadn’t even started thinking. In the end, that’s who I became. A small person."

 

She bit her lip so she wouldn’t start crying. She had no right, and she probably felt emotional because she was a little drunk.

 

She continued, "I’ve always wondered why they wouldn’t let people choose the kanji they wished for their child. Any kanji, not just 'big' for boys and 'small' for girls. Maybe because monks have stamps of only those two kanji at the ready and don’t want to bother writing custom kanji for each child. Mmh."

 

She fished a pack of Lucky Strike out of the pocket of her coat and tapped the bottom on the edge of the bench. A cigarette peaked out of the opening, like an omikuji stick from its box 2. She brought its butt to her lips, pinched them, drawing it out, and then lit it up with a flick of her windproof lighter that had always seemed too manly for her.

 

She didn’t inhale at first, simply watched the smoke curling up in fragrant ribbons in front of her face.

 

"I won’t write 'small' on your forehead, I don’t wish it on anyone. I won’t write 'big' either, because the big ones trample the little ones. And you won’t do that, you’ll be a good person."

 

She finally took a long puff and released it like a powerful sigh, up, up.

"I want to give you a blessing. Before I... "

 

Her thumb flicked at the cigarette between her fingers, bright red specks of ash flew out, died out. She risked a furtive glance at him. Despite the relatively late hour, way past any child’s bedtime in this godforsaken city, he was still awake, and returned her stare with wide open eyes. He would probably grow up to be an energetic boy, this one.

 

"Before we part," she finished.

 

The baby was still looking at her. If she read judgement instead of mere curiosity in there, she knew it was her own fault.

 

"Don’t worry. I’ll leave you with your grandparents. On your father’s side, there’s no one left on my side."

 

She brought the cigarette to her lips again, inhale, forceful exhale.

 

"It could have been worse," she mused, just a tad on the defensive. "I could have just left you in a coin locker somewhere."

 

She tried not to think that she was carrying him in a baby basket instead of a conspicuous stroller, and was on her way to the subway station before she’d decided to stop at the shrine at the last minute.

 

The baby slightly moved his head : light from the only working streetlamp in the vicinity hit his clear brown eyes at an angle which turned them yellow.

She shivered and looked straight in front of her.

 

"Yeah. I guess I’m better than some, worse than most. You’re right."

 

She stubbed the cigarette out on the ground, then took the tube of lipstick in her dominant hand again.

 

"I don’t want to flatter myself, but I know it won’t be an easy life for you, without me. Trust me, I know. You’ll want to see yourself in the eyes of others. You’ll desperately seek their approval, their warmth, because I won’t be there to give it to you.

"But I want you to shine your own light. I want you to be proud and people to look at you with awe.

"You’ll inspire, rather than seek to be inspired. You’ll never cease wanting to be loved, because I’m afraid that can’t be cured. But you will love, and you will shine, and you will give off your own warmth."

 

Behind the shrine, a lamp at the front of the priest’s house was suddenly switched on.

 

"Let’s hurry this up. Soon they’ll come out and shoo us away."

 

After a quick prayer, the words coming back to her effortlessly, she rolled out the stick with its lurid shade of pink and drew two little inward strokes on the baby's forehead, like the eyes of a crab. Then one straight stroke in the middle, cut off by a perpendicular one. Lastly, two legs, one like a tail, one like a hook, protruding under the horizontal stroke.

 

 

"You will be a beacon of light."

 

****

Suffice to say, Bokuto’s grandparents were less than pleased with the situation when an underling of the clan brought the baby to them.

 

"What was that woman thinking ? Bringing shame to our very doorstep !" Bokuto’s grandfather grumbled, holding the baby upstraight, at arms’ length, as though the gesture alone could take the inconvenience away from him.

 

"Are we even sure that our son was the father ?" said Bokuto’s grandmother. "Maybe we can call social services and let them deal with it..."

 

"Can’t you see what’s on his forehead ?" Bokuto’s grandfather cut in.

 

"What is it ?"

 

"She has blessed the child before leaving him to us. That woman was the daughter of a priest, and used to be a miko3 when she was young. That, on his forehead, is a good omen. It would probably turn against us if we were to abandon him as well. Plus, it’s a male heir for the clan. We’ll simply have to adopt him, and he’ll take our family’s name. Our lawman can arrange it - discreetly."

 

As a yakuza, Bokuto’s grandfather was a pious man, and firmly believed in the powers of the miko. The kami4 spoke through them, and their predictions always turned out to be true.

 

"What did she write ? ‘Hikari’ ? Is that what she wants us to call him?"

 

"That won’t do," declared Bokuto's grandfather. "It's not manly enough. We can keep it as a first kanji for his name, as it’s an auspicious one, but we’ll have to add « -tarou » as a suffix.

"Koutarou, of the Bokuto clan. This is what we'll call him."