The three walk in silence past a few more shops, merchants hawking their wares on the streets, some performers. Kaori’s mother breaks the silence.
“Why don’t we go to the teahouse? We can sit down and enjoy the afternoon.”
Kaori nods. Her fan flutters around her, erratic, brief motions. Eyes downcast, she replays the scene just past. Her steps are small but quick. Kaori knows it was improper of her to have been so forward with the shopkeep. A proper lady is demure and soft, not confrontational and opinionated. Who would better know their stock than a shopkeep, and for that, who is she to question him? Even still, Kaori can’t help but feel a little proud of her witticism. Her fan continues its butterfly course around her face as her Mother speaks up.
“Here we are; Aioko recommended this place during her visit last Autumn. She said it was lovely and that poets were known to come here.” Kaori’s mind stills as her fan snaps shut and finds it’s way into her belt-sash. She looks at her mother and meets her gaze. Her head is tilted to one side. Kaori smiles and bows her head lightly by way of thanks, and the three turn and walk inside.
Three-panneled rice-paper dividers sit between tables, providing privacy, each of them is painted with a lovely natural scene: an oriole sitting on a branch, framed by peach blossoms; a river coursing over rocks with crickets on them; a cherry tree on a hill in full bloom, clouds whirling behind it. Near the back, several screens have been folded and tables brought together as a group of five men sit, drinking tea and laughing.
Kaori and her family choose a table midway between the door and the group of men. A serving girl approaches shortly with a tray, on it sits the tea pot and three cups. She sets the tea pot down as Kaori’s mother produces a cup for herself. The serving girl bows as she backs away. Her mother inclines her head briefly. Kaori can hear a little bit of the men talking, it seems they are composing a group poem. One of them is writing, his brush quick over the paper, the table in front of him cleared away for his supplies. The gentleman from earlier, who almost ran into her outside the fabric shop enters the teahouse, heads straight for the table with the men, sits.
Kaori’s turns to look back at her mother, as an elderly woman walks in. She smiles at her daughter, “Go on Kaori, take your brother with you. I have business to attend.” Kaori doesn’t wonder. The two of them rise, their cups untouched, and walk over to the table. Kaori hears the last verse spoken:
Trapped by absence of blue
the oriole cannot sing
A brief pause as everyone considers the verse and the scribe writes it down, his hand quick. Everyone looks at one another, and into this Kaori’s voice echoes, perhaps too loud.
White showers the black,
brown splinters caught in a web,
rice grains on pavement.
The men turn to look at her, one by one they smile, the scribe is the first to look at the man at the head of the table. Slowly the referee shakes his head at the scribe. The man dressed in the green brocade is still looking at her as the referee speaks. “Too obvious young one. Your form is good, as is your wit. Your subtlety needs work though, and where is your cutting word, hmm? Though do sit, watch, perhaps you might learn?”
A blush creeps over Kaori’s face as she fans herself delicately, the man in green brocade pulls out a seat for her, and she sits as her brother hovers behind her chair.