Last night the pastor, his wife, a young girl who is the summer missionary and a church deacon dropped by without warning.
I had gone swimming only hours before and my outfit of dirty linen shirt and wrinkled skirt and straggly, damp hair definitely left something to be desired, in terms of an official church visit.
This was nothing compared to Keith, who tends to lounge around the house wearing nothing more than his tan tee shirt and cotton undershorts. I had to go fend the visitors off at the door while Keith hopped around the living room, desperately pulling on his sweaty ACU pants.
Fortunately, the house itself was company ready.
It turns out they go around popping in on people on Thursdays, bearing chocolate chip cookies and goodwill. Outfits aside, it was fun to have company. They are such warm people.
Excerpt: (Rather a long one, but I like this whole scene so much)
The front door of the house slid open, letting out a swath of golden light upon the polished wood of the veranda. A tall figure stood there, outlined in the light.
“Master Tenshio,” said the figure warmly. “What an honor to receive the O-nishi Daitoku at my humble house…” the voice trailed off. “Is that what I think it is?” the figure asked, in a very different sort of voice. The person stepped out of the doorway onto the veranda. “Tenshio, what on earth are you doing with a human child?”
“It’s a very long story,” said Tenshio, his voice tired.
“Please come in,” said Osamu, stepped to the side of the door. The light revealed a round, pale face and long nose on which sat a pair of glasses. He wore a dark gold kimono of glossy, embossed silk, and had what appeared to be a pen stuck behind his ear.
Tenshio stepped up onto the veranda, leaving his sandals on the broad front step. Gilly followed close behind.
“Is it… without shoes?” gasped Osamu in horror. Gilly twisted one filthy sock covered foot on top of the other and hunched her shoulders up. “And why is it dressed like a gardener?”
“This child is a girl,” said Tenshio wearily. “And don’t ask.” He put his hand on Gilly’s shoulder. “Gilly, this is the O-toshokan’in, Master Osamu. You must say, “It is an honor to meet you, Master Osamu.”
“…honor to meet you, Master Oh…mu…” struggled Gilly.
“O-sa-mu,” coached Tenshio.
Osamu’s eyes strayed to her socks. “Perhaps I can offer your… child… some clean socks, though I doubt I have any in its… her size.”
“That would be most appreciated,” said Tenshio.
The inside of Osamu’s house was full of golden tatami mats, golden paper lined walls and dark gold polished wood. From the center hall rose an open staircase of this golden wood. Two open doors led off the hall way.
Gilly followed Tenshio and their host into one of the front rooms. The wall at the back of the room was recessed, making an alcove in the center. A delicate ink painting hung in the center of the alcove, above a small, highly polished wooden tray.
The room was empty, other than those objects, and a low, polished stand with curving legs. The long windows facing the valley were opened, giving a view out to the falling, blue green ridge, the shadowed valley below it, and the dark sky above.
Osamu opened a hidden cupboard and produced blue and white cushions which he placed on the floor.
“Should she go to bed?” asked Osamu doubtfully, settling himself cross-legged on the cushion. “Does she drink tea?”
Gilly pushed her cushion up close to Tenshio’s and sat down, her legs folded up to the side. Her disheveled head turned from one creature to the other as they spoke.
“Water for her, thank you,” said Tenshio. “She may sleep soon. She sleeps a great deal.”
Osamu clapped his hands and requested tea and water from the retainer. Gilly was amazed to see that the retainer of this house was a creature quite similar to the white haired, slender ones that had helped and hindered her so often in Tenshio’s house.
“He has the same ones you do!” Gilly whispered to Tenshio.
“They are the Sennyo and they often serve in the houses of my people,” explained Tenshio. “Now, hush. Ask me questions later, if you must.”
“But Tenshio…” she breathed, tugging at his sleeve. A blush suffused his flat cheeks. He closed his eyes, composing his soul in patience to bear the trial set before him.
“Little girl,” he said softly, “how many times must I repeat to you the same thing? You must use my title with my name. It is not fitting for you to call me by my name alone.”
“Sorry,” she breathed, chagrined. She stood on her knees on the cushion and put her mouth close to Tenshio’s ear, her small fingers placed delicately on the heavy silk covering his shoulder. “But I have to use the bathroom…”
Osamu watched the entire interaction in a state of complete stupefaction. His mouth had dropped open and his glasses had slid even further down his nose.
“Please excuse the child,” said Tenshio to him, in a worn voice.
Osamu shook his head vaguely and remembered to close his mouth. “Of course,” he said, faintly, pushing his glasses back into place with one finger. “I will have a retainer show her the way…”
“Go with the retainer, Gilly,” said Tenshio. His voice made clear that he would brook no argument over the matter.
Gilly didn’t argue. When the retainer came, bearing the tea tray, Gilly obediently took the tall creature’s hand and left with her. The toes of Gilly’s borrowed socks flopped upon the floor and gathered in folds around her thin ankles as she went from the room.
“Where in the name of heaven did you come across a human child, Tenshio?” demanded Osamu, as soon as the door had shut behind the two.
He poured a steaming cup of tea into a glazed mug and handed it to Tenshio, and then poured one for himself. “Perhaps some sake would be more welcome,” Osamu added.
“An entire distillery would not suffice,” said Tenshio wryly, rubbing his face with his hand. “If I could return the child to her parents, I would do so. Though,” he added, loyally, “she is a good enough child in her own way.”
He missed the strange look his friend gave him. By the time he had explained the strange particulars of how Gilly had come to be under his guardianship, the child in question was returned, looking pale but resolute.
She had been taken to the outbuilding, which she had faced down with the bravura of sheer necessity, and she had been fed. Her face was damp and red from being washed, and her hair had been taken down, combed and bound tightly back up again. Even her jacket had been straightened and tightened. She had been through the well meaning wringer.
She shuffled across the tatami mats to her cushion and settled down on it, leaning against Tenshio’s arm in relief.
Osamu’s face was pale as well. “But surely you realize that the Ishi no Torii is forbidden to those not called.”
“I am well aware of the edicts concerning that gate,” said Tenshio, tersely. “What I must know is the best way of reaching it.”
Osamu leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. His two long forelocks fell loose into his lap, framing his round, earnest face. “I know of some documents that may shed light on the location of the Ishi no Torii, and you are welcome to them. But it’s a great pity that the O-nishi Daitoku should die so soon after obtaining his honored position.”
Gilly had been falling asleep, her eyelids falling heavy over her eyes, but she sat up at that. She looked up at Tenshio in concern.
“Your help is much appreciated,” said Tenshio, bowing from the waist as he sat. “Please excuse us. I think I had best take the child up to the O-minami shrine.”
Osamu’s eyes lit up with relief, but he managed not to show it on the rest of his face. “How sad I am that you cannot stop the night here.”
Tenshio looked at his friend from the corner of his long eye, a glance bright with unspoken amusement. Then he looked down. “Thank you so much for your hospitality. I will return in the morning to review the documents you so kindly mentioned.”
“Of course, of course,” said Osamu.
Outside on the veranda, the cool, mountain air revived Gilly. She gravely returned the socks.
“Thank you very much, Master Shamu, for your socks,” she said, holding them out to the suddenly horrified daemon.
“He didn’t like me,” said Gilly, later. Over her shoulder, she could see the lights of the librarian’s house disappear behind the dark trees.
“I never knew it until tonight, but Master Osamu’s weak point is clearly children. If I wished to overthrow him, I need merely bring two or three such with me, and the job would be done. In any case, you cannot expect every individual you meet to find your company appealing, and most especially so if you are bringing dirty feet into their house.”
“Yes, Master Tenshio.”