Shame and pain make my steps slow. Reeling over the recent encounter, I’m unable to escape the past I’d tried to leave behind 10 years ago.
Yes, I remember you, Saito. And I remember all too well the young idealist who’d volunteered to be an assassin. A murderer that killed the youth who should have been the future of this country. The bloodshed that made me start to go mad - so that even sake started to look red and have a coppery tang to it’s taste. Every single day the tightness of the two scars on my cheek remind me of those I’ve killed and those I’ve lost. Even in sleep, there’s no escape. I awaken in a sweat and my heart pounds, with the memories of faces and the deaths vivid in my mind. Reliving the nightmare again and again. Yet, people I meet only see the man who WAS the Battousai, and how I might be used by turning to slaughter again. No one notices the wandering samurai who refuses to kill, trying to do a bit of good where he can. Everywhere I go, this is my lot. My atonement.
The tsuyu, rainy season, hasn’t even started yet but it’s pouring buckets today. Just my luck. My kimono and the juban layers underneath are quickly soaking up the moisture in the cool spring deluge. Oozing from the cut, blood mingles with the drops that hit my shoulder. Goosebumps tighten my skin and further open the wound, intensifying the sting. Another among countless scars, another blood stain to clean out, another patch on my clothes. Always more blood and always more pain. Why in the world did I think people wouldn’t find out who I am here in Tokyo? What a fool I was. Time to move on again?
As I clear the station’s gate, there’s movement in my peripheral vision. Kaoru-san, with her umbrella and a spare, is waiting in the downpour. ‘Why is she here? She knows. She KNOWS! So, why did she come? Why?’
As she greets the police officers, there’s no mistaking her smiling approach.
Stopping in my tracks, I’m completely dumbfounded.
“You don’t have anywhere to go,” she mentions casually.
That added shame forces me to cast my eyes to the ground. Obviously, I have nothing and the reminder isn’t appreciated.
Holding out the extra umbrella, she invites me to come back with her - her way of offering thanks for my help earlier.
Ridiculously out of the question. My brain takes a moment to form a response to the shocking suggestion that an innocent young lady, even though she’s a warrior in her own right, would want to be around the likes of an assassin. To shelter the one who is the household name for the worst of those in the revolution - the Battousai? To have such a man in her home? Preposterous. People will talk! Doesn’t she care about her reputation and that of the school? The Battousai would just be a blotch on her life - her ruination.
Resigned to the fact that wandering begins again, I remind her with a tight smile to show she need not be concerned, and continue on my way. It’s not just self defense. It's what I can do for her - a compassion of sorts. “You know the truth now, don’t you? That I used to be a man slayer.”
“I know nothing of the sort,” is her strong rebuttal.
Everything freezes - time, my feet, my mind. And I can’t process what she’s saying, because I feel trapped like an awkward shy boy. But the rain drops cease their onslaught as her umbrella covers me. Why is she doing this?
“The only man I met, is a rurouni named Kenshin.”
Rurouni are masterless samurai. We have no means of income now in the Meiji era, no status and no respect in society. But her acceptance, despite knowing my past, cuts me to the core. Warily, my eyes meet her honest intensity. For so long I’ve been rejected and looked down upon, that I’m unable to even open my mouth to form a response. Does she really know what she’s saying? Even if she doesn’t, I’ll treasure those precious words for the rest of my life.
“All of us have a thing or two in our past we don’t want to talk about...Don’t we?” she continues with absolute sincerity.
I can’t breathe. Does she actually see the man that left killing behind?
“Here.” She holds the umbrella out in offering. Then, at my lack of response she insists, “Take it.”
Still rendered mute, I stare down not really seeing it - shocked at her previous declaration. It takes all my will to raise my hands and clumsily receive it. Is this a dream?
“Let’s go,” she commands and leaves, confidently expecting me to accompany her.
My hands fumble trying to open the thoughtful loan.
Having made quite a few strides but not hearing my footsteps, she looks back.
I haven’t managed to budge from the spot.
She queries, “Are you coming?”
Slowly my head lifts, but my heart speeds up as our gazes lock. Maybe this isn’t a dream after all.
“Well?” she prods, nods, and turns once more for home.
There’s no question that I’ll do as she says, because she’s just changed everything with a simple act of kindness. Everything. No more wandering.
Time continues before I can put up the umbrella. But for once, I move on with a fresh start and make a vow to protect this woman who saw the real me.