Setsuna paused, her hand resting on the wooden gate. She turned to regard Haruka with a questioning glance. Hotaru said nothing, looking down at the ground, refusing to commit her opinion.
Haruka glanced at Michiru, who nodded briefly. She turned to Setsuna, bowed deeply and said simply, “Onegai shimasu.”
Setsuna turned to the gate, her kimono swishing softly against itself with the motion. Green dragonflies flitted across her back as she walked, flying beneath her obi and emerging again to dive towards the ground. Her hair was bound in an intricate design, piled on her head in a traditional fashion.
Haruka smoothed her own hakama, smiled tightly down at Hotaru, whose deep purple kimono matched her eyes, while chrysanthemums burst out their firework colors across her slim form. Haruka offered her arm to Michiru, who was clad in a stylish yellow kimono, set off with a pattern of contrasting colors.
The four women proceeded along a path of grey stepping stones set in a bed of soft green moss. The impression was that of walking along a stream bed while green water flowed gently by. The trees hung low, the trail curved, bent, crossed a bridge and disappeared into the shadows.
The building was small, wooden, and set off the path at an angle. As they approached it, Haruka stepped forward, bowed to the other women and entered the building. After a moment, the three women standing outside kneeled slowly by the door.
The door was slid open, and placing her fan in front of her, touching her hands to the tatami, Setsuna looked into the building. Pushing her fan forward, she edged into the small room, moving to the side. One at a time, Hotaru, then Michiru repeated these motions, until they too were sitting in front of Haruka.
Haruka began to prepare the sweets, while Setsuna rose, motioning to Hotaru to join her. Michiru met Haruka’s gaze, saw her eyes sparkling with emotion, then rose herself, following Setsuna and Hotaru to the alcove.
Following the prescibed ritual, the three women admired, then bowed before, the flowers and scroll on the daïs. They returned to sit in front of Haruka, who bowed in greeting.
While they had followed the form laid out for the guests of the ritual, Haruka had finished preparing the sweets, and now offered them. While the three ate, she prepared the tea. The motions, so exact, so exacting, became the focus of the moment, driving before them all extraneous thoughts. Haruka breathed deeply from her center, and paid minute attention to each step. For these brief moments she could see nothing but tea, water, utensils. For one brief moment, she did not see purple and red eyes watching her, as they faded from view.
Setsuna spoke, as the ritual required her to, she turned to Hotaru and mouthed phrases she had known as long as they existed. Hotaru did not look up, but replied with answers as ancient. Setsuna relaxed into the rhythm of the ceremony, allowing herself to enjoy the sights, smells, flavors of the moment. Allowing herself not see Michru’s triumphant face as she raised her arms and stripped her of her Star Seed.
Hotaru turned to Michiru, her eyes still downcast, speaking nearly inaudibly. This ritual seemed alien, empty to her. She could not imagine that peace could come from so strict and lifeless a discipline.
Michiru responded and turned back to Haruka, who was lost in her own activity. Michiru ate, but the food was paste in her mouth. She had lost all pleasure in life when they had agreed to take on Galaxia. Death had been a welcome thought, and she resented the need that had brought her back from that peace. Now she would never be able to forget the look of betrayal in Setsuna’s eyes…
Haruka looked up, meeting Setsuna’s clear gaze. A small smile played at the corner of the older woman’s eyes and mouth. She watched with unnerving intensity as Haruka turned the bowl towards her. She stood fluidly, stepped forward to take the cup, and returned to her place. Her bows were sincere and deep, her voice resonant, her pleasure in these simple acts apparent. The tea was jade in color, soapy in taste and the most incredible tea she had ever tasted. Life, this life, was not over, love had renewed it and had given them all another chance. She returned the cup with a briliant smile and Haruka returned it with a less sure one.
Again Haruka made the tea. She would not look at her hands, those hands that had pulled the Star Seed from the girl she regarded as her daughter. Hotaru had refused to discuss what had happened, and Haruka was terribly worried about her. Once again she focused her attention on the tea, drawing out each step, putting into it her intent of bringing peace to their family. She placed the bowl at the edge of the tatami matting, hope for forgiveness apparent in each movement.
Hotaru rose with an uneven jerk. While Haruka had turned the bowl, Hotaru had seen the gentleness of her hands, watched the bright intensity in her eyes, and remembered that she too, had been the focal point of those things. She retrieved the bowl, placing it in front of her. She met Michiru’s gaze this time as she spoke and watched the green-haired woman’s lips shape the reply. And she remembered the times when those lips had brought comfort. For the first time, Hotaru entered into the spirit of the ritual, finding beauty in the patterns. The bowl was beautiful, crafted by a skilled hand, as deep and glowing as space itself. Hotaru tasted the tea, and thought of the tea she had been served by these women, the many cups along with the teaching, the entertainment, the love they had shared. As she set the bowl in front of Haruka, Hotaru smiled. Haruka face filled with relief as she set about preparing the last cup.
Michiru watched Haruka’s movements, so precise, so natural. She watched the whisk move through the tea, as if it were a wind that stirred the ocean. The bowl was warm as she took it in her hands. She remembered reaching out for Haruka as she died, and feeling the warmth that filled her with peace. Michiru spoke the words of thanks to Haruka, thanking her for her love, for her support, and in the end, her very presence by her side. The tea tasted wonderful, filling her nostrils with the scent of a spring morning. She thought back to the many cups of tea that Setsuna had made their family, the care with which she had prepared them and the love they represented. Setsuna had forgiven her, and with her last sip, Michiru at last found forgiveness within herself. The bowl, now empty, still felt good in her hands, the feeling she had had as she held Hotaru as a baby. They were alive, they were together, Galaxia had not won. She returned the bowl to Haruka and returned to her place.
Haruka completed the measured steps of cleanup, her body straighter, more upright, than it had been when they began. They all bowed to her, and she returned the gesture. Rising, they left the small building, and a few moments later, Haruka joined them outside. Once again they bowed and turned away from the building.
Michiru linked her arm once again with Haruka’s and touching her hand, squeezed it slightly. The taller woman smiled down at her, the relief and happiness apparent on her face.
Behind them Hotaru reached out and took Setsuna’s hand, smiling up at her.
The four women left the garden with the same measured steps with which they had entered.
Note: I am sure that this in an inaccurate and insufficient representation of the intricacies and subtlety of the Cha-No-Yu. I sincerely apologize to any Chadoka who may be reading.
Also, I have thought long and hard about the use of the Japanese phrase “onegai shimasu” in this story. I have not translated it for various reasons, but primarily because I felt that it might shift the feeling of the story. “Onegai shimasu” is, IMHO, one of the most quintessentially Japanese phrases in existence. It is commonly translated into English as “please” but “I humbly request a favor” is probably closer to the real sense of the phrase. It is used in a multitude of situations and I am not qualified to properly define its parameters. I simply hope you “get” what I was trying to do.