Book I: Realities

“Japan Airlines Flight 102 from Tokyo arriving through Gate 4, please step to the baggage claim area.”

Mikeio Ichishita stepped through the Custom’s door into the spacious waiting room of LAX with her luggage in disarray and heart pounding. The knot in her stomach had not subsided since leaving the 747, and the Custom official’s probing questions did not help.

“Where will you be staying? Is this your current address? How long will your visit be? Are you carrying any fruits or meats?”

The rasping foreign language was as unpleasant sounding as it was nerve-racking. However, the slim girl did not think of these things because she was too excited and because her luggage had begun to slip again. Mikeio frantically grasped at the sliding bag but to no avail. It crashed to the ground throwing her clothes every which way. Mikeio gave a sigh of dismay and looked at the ceiling in a gesture of “why me?” as she set her other bags down and knelt to gather her belongings. An Oriental youth in his late teens reached over to help. The bag was hastily re-packed and closed.

“Arigato, thank you.” she bowed, but the boy shook her hand instead and mumbled a return. With a second glance, Mikeio closely examined her benefactor. The youth seemed very reserved, of slim build, and immaculately dressed. So well dressed in fact, that he stuck out of the crowd. He paid no attention to her as he continued his search for someone else amongst the crowd, so Mikeio returned to her own search. She did not know who she was looking for, only a name on a white card, nor did she know what to do. With a white-gloved hand she smoothed her red- plaid woolen skirt and reached into her purse for her host family’s name. She peered around the airport’s wide expanse for a kind face but found none. The bustling passengers seemed like mindless machines hurrying like ants about a colony.

 With another sigh, this one of despair, she collapsed into a couch, and waited for her escort. Among all the long-nosed barbarians, she felt very, very small. Her delicate gloved fingers clasped around her knees as she rocked back and forth. To her right was a crane-nosed man sound asleep and peacefully snoring away, droning like a hornet’s nest. And on her left was the boy, peering over a squat woman’s garish hat in search of his own arrival. Beads of perspiration formed on the lad’s forehead as he rent his fingers with worry. Looking down, Mikeio pulled her feet up onto the seat and sighed again. The tall lad had stood up on his seat and scanned the crowd as a captain would the sea.

Mikeio looked again at her card and tried to visualize what her host would look like. Tall perhaps? Imposing? Handsome? How would he dress? A polo shirt with twill pants or perhaps an oxford dress shirt… Mikeio was startled out of her daydreaming as the fat lady suddenly turned away, and startled the boy. This caused him to lose his balance and fall into Mikeio’s lap. Crane-nose woke with a start and in foul temper, started cursing the two. Although she could not understand all the words, the meaning was clear; the man thought that she and her “boy friend” were cavorting on the seat and they had disturbed him with their merry-making. Mikeio burned with embarrassment and hot tears of shame trickled down her cheek. As the man stalked away, she turned sharply to hide her tears. In doing so, she sent the boy sprawling to the ground. The youth hastily picked himself up, brushed himself off, and mumbled apologies. As he stooped to pick up Mikeio’s fallen purse, he caught sight of the white card that had fallen near Mikeio’s boot.

“I…oh God, you’re Mikeio Ichishita?! ” he asked in disbelief. Then in Japanese he said, “I’m terribly sorry, are you okay? Here’s your purse… I’m Tom Nokumura… Uh, here’s a handkerchief, please, I’m sorry…here, let me help you.” Tom sat beside her and put a hand on her shoulder until the sobbing stopped. Mikeio shuddered once and then sat up daubing at her eyes with the handkerchief.

“You are Tso-Mase Nokumura?” she asked. Her eyes widened in disbelief but averted them to the ground, ashamed at her own impoliteness. Tom actually blushed before replying.

“I’m afraid I am.” he said, once again wringing his hands, “I’m very sorry for what happened just now. Are you all right?”

“Yes, thank you, and please don’t worry it was an accident. I was just upset at how that man treated us.” she touched his hand questioningly, “Are all Americans like that?” Mikeio asked as she felt the pressure of the millions of ignorant and prejudiced people in the land of plenty and was filled with the urge and anxiety to be accepted.

“No, you mustn’t think of America as a racist pit. In fact, after a while, you’ll find that America is as pleasant a place to live in as Japan, if not more.” Tom said as he hefted Mikeio’s suitcases under his arms.

“I guess it depends on whom you meet. You’re probably right. Anyway, I was probably just over-reacting to my first encounter.” she said with confidence she did not feel. Deep inside her, she still felt nervous about being a foreign exchange student in a different country.

“Well, buck up,” he said with a smile, “Just wait, you’ll find that before you know it, you won’t want to go home. Anyway, don’t worry about it. Shall we go now? The car is just this way.”

Mikeio nodded in affirmation and straightened her beret before following the boy. As they weaved through the cluttered passageway, Mikeio kept lagging behind as she got caught in the crowd and lacked the aggressiveness of the boy. Every time she would trail behind, Tom would turn around to help her narrowly missing the legs of the passing people with the bags. Mikeio smiled ruefully as she squeezed her way through the crowd. When they finally left the building, Mikeio felt the bite of the cold evening air and was filled with a mixture of rising confidence and excitement and the compelling urge to run back into the terminal building, all the way back home. Home? For the next ten months, this impassive country would be her home. The tiny girl shook away her pessimism and locked it away into a compartment of her mind. Mustering her courage, she bit her lip and stepped off the curb.

*          *          *

 The front gate was structured with an oriental curve and the garden within portrayed a sense of calm and serenity.  The yard was filled entirely with little round pebbles, save

in the center, where a large stone sat like a gnarled man. It had been carefully planted in such a way that, the light of the fading sunset, appeared to make the stone’s surface

dance as if filled with life. Running along the stone-step path was a twisting stream with a miniature bridge spanning its breadth near a small grove of bamboo. The scene was

framed by stone lanterns and countless little bonsai pines each cut to the narrowness of perfection. And nearing the wall grew long elegant white peony buds just starting to


Mikeio drew in her breath lest she should destroy the perfection by exhaling. She ran her hand along a stone lantern in awe and slowly let out her breath. She turned to Tom with shining eyes and complimented the garden’s beauty. Tom merely shrugged as he lifted the baggage from the trunk and led the way through the garden into the blue tiled wood house. Through the front door was a little room with a step lined with shoes. The pair put their shoes with the others and opened the paper shoji doors into the raised tatami mats


However imposing the house seemed to be on the exterior, the interior was informal and comfortable. On one side of the house resided matching walnut-stained western furniture.

On the east side of the house, the rooms remained simple and sparse as according to Japanese tradition.

“Mama! Papa! We’re home!” Tom yelled into the recesses of the house.

There was a clattering on the stairs and down swung a girl of about the same age as Mikeio. She was dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt: barefoot and genial.

“Hi! You must be Mikeio, I’m Cindi.” she said offering her hand.

“Please, call me Miki, it’s my nickname back home. I’m glad to know you.” replied Mikeio, taking an immediate liking to her.

Tom took the luggage upstairs and left the two girls alone. Cindi took Mikeio’s beret and scarf and put them on a chair. Then she took Mikeio by the hand and showed her the house. Entering the living room, Mikeio was introduced to the parents who seemed kind and considerate. The two girls chatted casually as they mounted the staircase to the room

which they were to share. They found that they had many things in common such as their tastes in clothes and food.

Later that night, after Mikeio had settled in, Tom’s father had performed a tea ceremony for them setting a mood of quiet and calm. As the ceremony progressed, Mikeio was transported into the past hen, her teacher, her Sensei, had performed the ceremony. In comparison, the Sensei’s motions were fluid and clean while Mr. Nokumura’s, though an excellent tea master, seemed jerky, even clumsy. Mikeio remembered fondly, her master demonstrating with great care, the importance of every detail and that every motion had to be deliberate and controlled and the mind had to be clear of all worldly thought. The mystery was in the tea, the delicate, bittersweet taste that seemed bland, but was filled of taste. The mere scent of it now evoked strong memories of how her sensei used to play the flute after each performance, the loneliness he seemed to have and the melancholia that the song produced. It was from him that she learned her arts and her honor. Too soon, the ceremony was done.

After a purifying bath, Mikeio changed into a loose kimono and went to her room. From the folds of a silken cloth, she drew one of her most prized possessions, a long lacquered bamboo flute. Her Sensei had given it to her right before his death the previous year. The flute was a symbol of her love and her harmony. She hummed a melody as she lovingly caressed its smooth exterior and then stepped out onto the balcony. She raised the tube to her mouth and haunting notes wafted through the air.

While drying her hair, Cindi stepped into the room and became intensely curious at the music. In the darkness, she could see Mikeio’s slim figure silhouetted against the moonlight. Cindi put her towel on the bed and let her mind wander. She thought of childhoods past, of serene gardens, and ancient Japan.

In orchestra class, she had heard many flutes, but the hollow sound of the Chinese flute is very different from its modern metallic counterpart. The Chinese flute has only seven holes but an experienced player can modulate the sound to any pitch. The modern flute sounds very metallic and almost shrill in comparison to the melodious tone of the bamboo flute. When the song had ended, Mikeio slowly lowered the instrument and turned around back into the room. Finding Cindi there startled her. As she shook the drops of moisture from the flute and put it away, neither girl said a thing. Each absorbed in her own thoughts. A hawk screeched in the distance and shook them from their wanderings.

“That was beautiful Mikeio, where did you learn it?” asked Cindi.

“When I was three,” she replied, “my Sensei, my mentor, took me on as a student, gave me this flute, and taught me to play. That one, `Cha no yu’, ` The Tea Ceremony’, is my favorite. Although he never would teach me that particular piece, he played it a lot after he would perform the tea ceremony. I picked the melody up by ear; I wish you could hear the whole thing; it is so beautiful. It reminds me of feudal Japan when the great ladies and samurai lived in a world of harmony.”

“I’ve been in orchestra since I was six and have never heard anything like that.” Cindi said.

“What do you play?” inquired Mikeio.

“Violin, but I think the flute is wonderful. If I can get Mr. Strauss, our teacher, to let me play a second instrument, would you teach me to play it? That is, if you join orchestra. You are going to join aren’t you?”

“I suppose so, it might be fun.”

“You’ll like Mr. Strauss, he’s a cute old man with a great love for music. He is by far my favorite teacher because in his class I can get lost in a world of music carefree of the pressures of the world.”

“I know what you mean, learning from Sensei, I can close myself from the problems of the world and become completely immersed in harmony. I did wonder though, what is school like?”

Mikeio discovered through, Cindi’s explanations, that school in America had more freedom and choice. Uniforms were not required as they were in Japan. Nor were the students required to recite long passages and equations. However, the most pleasant aspect was the student’s choice to have school-funded dances and parties. Cindi told her that in their school, prom, though very big, was not as important as the Winter Ball, a formal extravaganza. That, however, was in December and it was a while till then.

*          *         *

Over the next few weeks, the Nokumura family took Mikeio to all the surrounding places; Disneyland, the beach, the wide malls, the little stores, and all the other things that were typical of America. Once, while wandering around the pier area near the house, Mikeio got lost. Unfamiliar with the surroundings, she grew worried, however, a tall handsome boy on the beach noticing her apprehension, helped her on her way. Mikeio, impressed by the boy’s kindness, wanted to thank him, but he had already left. She felt better about the people in this foreign land and decided that that was the flipside to what she had experienced in the airport. Finally, the start of school drew near. Mikeio waited in dreaded anticipation wondering about the people she would inevitably meet.

On the morning of the first day of school, the girls quickly showered, dressed, and ate in order to leave with Tom for school. They crowded into Tom’s car and set off. On the way, they stopped at an apartment to pick up Tom’s girl friend. The blonde haired girl was dressed in the finest name- brand fashions with her labels in full view. Tom walked her down the driveway to the car. In the back seat Cindi commented about the girl.

“That’s Michelle, watch out for her, she thinks she owns the world.” whispered Cindi, “She’s a phony but Tom can’t seem to see that…” The idea suddenly struck her that Mikeio would be a perfect match for her brother and she perused the possibilities. Michelle opened the door and sat in the front seat. When Tom got in, he introduced everyone proudly.

“Michelle, this is Mikeio, she’s a new student from Japan. And of course you know my sister.” Tom said.

“Glad to meet you my dear.” said Michelle not without a hint of sarcasm in her voice. That was all she said during the whole trip. After dropping off the three girls, Tom drove to the University feeling a bit unusual yet not knowing why.

Other than language, there were no major barriers at school for Mikeio that morning. Most of the teachers were kind and understanding. They displayed a vitality that kept the students attentive and active. Mikeio’s two years of high school English helped considerably but she inevitably stumbled over words while trying to communicate. It was frustrating and tedious but speech was a necessity to her life in America. At lunch, the first stirrings of trouble began.

Mikeio had met Cindi in the halls and they had gone to the cafeteria. While standing in line to buy their food, Michelle had stepped up to Cindi, greeted her, then cut in front of Mikeio for lunch. Mikeio turned to Cindi questioningly. Cindi shrugged and they dismissed it. Cindi and Mikeio ate at a small table along with Cindi’s other friends. While they ate, Michelle brought a group of her own friends to the table and started making racist comments.

“F.O.B. doesn’t like the food? How un-American. If you want to live in America you’ve got to act like us,” she sneered.

“Michelle you hypocrite!” Cindi snapped, “If you hate us so much why are you going out with my brother? Why don’t you just leave us alone!”

“My dear Cindi, I wasn’t talking about you. You were born here. I was talking about your odd friend here who cannot speak straight. I hear she’s in my judo class for P.E. I’ll enjoy that very much.” Michelle said and her friends all laughed.

“Come on Mikeio, let’s leave this rat.” Cindi said as she pulled Mikeio away from the table.

“Watch out for her, Mikeio.” Cindi continued when they were away. “When Michelle first got into our judo class she got beaten up badly that she hired a tutor to get revenge.

She’s an expert now.”

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be careful.” replied Mikeio.

“How come she hates me? I didn’t do anything to her.”

Cindi was going to comment on the ignorant racisms of some people but then recalling her previous inspiration, she said impishly, “She thinks you’re a threat to her relationship with Tom.” The bell rang leaving a confused Mikeio as she was pulled off to P.E.

After they had dressed in their sweats, they ran over to the gym arriving just as the tardy bell rang. Michelle and her friends were already there and stretching out before the start of class. When the teacher came he told the class to work on their techniques and show the new students the forms.

With that, the teacher went to the corner and read his Karate magazine. Cindi pointed across the gym to the boys’ karate class, in particular, to a blond haired green-belt doing forms.

“Isn’t he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” asked Cindi. “His name is John Willard and he’s got the softest blue eyes that just drive me wild! I’m trying to get him to ask me to the… Uh-oh, here comes Michelle.”

Michelle, who had been showing off in front of the new students, walked over to Mikeio and threw her on the ground. Mikeio just sat up and brushed herself off. Cindi however, was furious and jumped at the blond. Michelle’s pretty face contorted as she grabbed Cindi’s wrist and flipped her onto the mat. Cindi groaned in pain and slowly sat up to see Michelle advancing on Mikeio again.

“Miki! Watch out!” she yelled.

Michelle leapt forward to throw the petite Japanese.

This time however, Mikeio stepped to the side, grabbed her assailant by the wrist and slammed her into the floor.

Shocked, Michelle lifted her head, blood trickling from the side of her mouth.

“So sorry,” Mikeio said in halting English as she smiled sweetly.

“You know Judo don’t you?” demanded Michelle.

“Aikido, seventh dan…” she spoke to Cindi in Japanese for a bit. Cindi’s eyes widened and then turned to Michelle.

“She’s a seventh level black belt in Aikido and a nationally ranked champion in Japan.” Cindi said smugly.

For the rest of the hour, Michelle avoided Mikeio and her company. When P.E. was over, Cindi and Mikeio went to their last class, orchestra. There the class got acquainted with, Mr. Strauss who was a small jovial man with a great shock of white hair. The students were issued their instruments and shown the proper maintenance of them. Cindi was allowed to play the flute as well as her violin. Mikeio tried the metallic flute and found the metallic ring not too unpleasant. When Tom came to pick them up, Michelle did not come. Tom was worried so they waited half an hour before leaving.

“I guess you drove her off,” said Cindi to Mikeio.

“Mm. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it so violently,” replied Mikeio.

“Either way, she won’t bother you anymore.”

Mikeio agreed, but inside, she knew that it wasn’t over yet. Such a formidable foe would not let an incident such as this one defeat her. Although Michelle was temporarily out of the way, Mikeio knew that her friend’s reaction was premature and that they would now have to be more wary than ever.

As soon as they got home the trouble started. Michelle called and placatingly apologized that she was “occupied” and simply could not make it back in time for her ride. To further upset Tom, she mentioned that she had gotten a ride from “someone else” and was upset that she couldn’t “meet that darling Japanese girl again”. After the call, Tom confronted the two girls and asked for an explanation. Their vague answers and excuses worried Tom because he did not want to see any of them hurt in any way. However, even with the explanation, he could feel the tension drawing between Mikeio and Michelle.

*          *         *

Over the next few weeks Mikeio’s fluency in English broadened and language became less of a handicap. School was not difficult to cope with because in order to become a foreign exchange student, she had to attain top marks in her own school. With language no longer a major burden, she began to excel with leaps and bounds. She joined ethnic and other clubs and made many friends. Her friends became a barrier to the racial prejudices of the other students. Even when Michelle and her group of friends jeered and laughed at Mikeio’s mistakes and troubles, Mikeio’s own friends would support and help her.

One of the main reasons why Michelle’s actions would not bother her was that she could adapt and learn quickly from her mistakes. She did not do what many foreign students do and stay within the confines of their own ethnic group. In fact, many of her friends were not even oriental, much less Japanese. This helped Mikeio become more fluent in speaking and her speech did not develop a strong accent as many of the foreign students did.

Mikeio did not mind when Michelle tried to irritate her but when Michelle started to bother her friends, Mikeio became irritated. The P.E. mat became a battlefield for the girls. Michelle constantly used unnecessary roughness on Mikeio’s friends to prove that she was still the leader. For Mikeio, the philosophy of aikido dictated that she should avoid fights whenever possible, but when a fight was inevitable, it should be decisive, without malice, and without unnecessary violence. From the pages of Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings, famed for its role in many governmental structures and strategy, Mikeio and her friends decided on a way. A proverb stating: “cut the enemy as he cuts you.” was  the theme. 

The first step was to find Michelle’s weakest link. Most of the girls agreed with Cindi and decided that Michelle’s jealousy for Tom was her weak point. Even Mikeio had to agree, although she did so reluctantly. What Mikeio wanted least was to involve or hurt Tom, for whom she had great respect for. Cindi opted for rumors and subterfuge but Mikeio wanted a clean victory in which none of the girls could be blamed. After much discussion and several lunch hours, they settled on a plan.

*          *          *

The plan itself was quite simple but required the complete cooperation of all those involved. The plot began that night. The idea was to cut Michelle’s connections with

 Tom and making her think that Tom was interested in Mikeio instead. That night, the girls took Tom to see the movies until 1:30, and made sure some of Michelle’s friends knew about it. Michelle was up on her toes instantly, proving she was still keeping tabs on the boy. That morning, Michelle was standing on the sidewalk in front of her house to be picked up for school. In front of Tom, she gushed explanations and apologies for the past few days. Tom was a little disgusted at her behavior but held his peace.

This was just how the girls wanted her to react, because at the end of school, the girls delayed Michelle for an hour causing her to miss her ride with Tom. Tom didn’t know what to think, so after waiting a while, he left without her and she remained stranded at school. After she had walked two miles home, she couldn’t reach Tom on the telephone because Cindi had intentionally monopolized the line until it was too late to call. Michelle was frustrated and confused at the past events and the way she had been treated. That night she started thinking.

“Why were those girls so nice today? They’re the ones who hate me. And why did I miss Tom after school? Is it a coincidence? From the way they praised and talked to me, it almost seemed as if they wanted me to miss my ride. But why?” she pondered as she drifted to sleep. That night Michelle started dreaming. She was at school again and the girls were talking about how they took Tom out to the movies. All the girls became one girl, talking about one girl: Mikeio. Mikeio sneered at her and started laughing and jeering about how Tom was Mikeio’s and hers alone. The apparition reached into her purse and withdrew Tom in a jar screaming for help. Intent on saving the boy, Michelle kicked at the phantom, who melted away. Her foot came into contact with the jar and the glass splintered into a myriad of crystals. Tom was transformed into a splash of red and along with Mikeio’s demonic laugh. Tom’s scream reverberated in her ears.

 Michelle woke with a start, the scream still ringing in her ears. Her bed was wet with perspiration and her clothes clung to her sides. Mikeio! She thought as she sat up in bed. Everything came back to Mikeio! Pondering this, she went to the bathroom and snapped on the light. The glare of the incandescent bulb reflected off the mirrors and temporarily blinded her. Her hands clutched the edge of the counter, and her knuckles whitened. As her eyes began adjusting to the light, she thought she saw Mikeio’s image in the mirror instead of hers. She was laughing. The ring of Tom’s scream returned.

She would have revenge.

*          *         *

 The next day was Saturday. A social had been planned

 for that noon by the Nokumuras in celebration of the Moon

 Festival. That morning, Mikeio and the Nokumuras decorated

 the garden in preparation for the people to come. Mikeio

 walked to the center of the garden to the lonely rock. Most

 of the work was done, so Mikeio sat down next to the rock on

 the pebbles. From it’s sheath on a chair she gently slid the

 lacquered flute and blew across it. The notes echoed against

 the garden walls paused, and drifted across the neighborhood.

 She was thinking about Tom and her feelings toward him. Was

 she in love? Indeed she greatly respected him but love? She

 could not tell. Lost in thought, Mikeio did not notice the

 guests beginning to arrive for the party. The arriving girls

 saw that she felt disturbed and left her alone. Cindi

 welcomed the guests and took them upstairs for a conference.

 “Do you have it?” Cindi asked the girls. One of them

 pulled out a pair of scissors and grinned. “Okay, you all

 know what to do don’t you?”

 “Mikeio isn’t going to like it.” said a skinny girl.

 “Miki has the right idea by striking back at Michelle

 but, she is too passive and her plan won’t be much help. She

 doesn’t know Michelle as well as we do.” replied Cindi.

 “Well I don’t know, violence isn’t the answer either.”

 said the skinny girl.

 “Are you with us or not?” snapped Cindi.

 “I’m with you, I’m with you.” soothed the girl.

 “Okay, now, Martha, you are going make sure Mikeio is

 kept busy, and Suzy, you’ll come up from behind her and…”

 Outside, Michelle stepped from her parent’s car and

 strode towards the gate. Instead of soothing her, the music

 only infuriated the blonde. As she turned the handle, the

 music stopped. Martha had led Mikeio to the food table to

 talk with Tom. There was a crowd in the middle of the garden

 next to the rock. Michelle started walking through the crowd

 towards Mikeio and Tom. Suzy came behind her. Michelle felt

 the tug on her dress but she pulled away and was free. The

 group of girls quickly moved away to the other side of the

 garden leaving Michelle alone in the middle. Michelle felt

 the breeze on her legs and saw her skirt lying on the

 pebbles. She burned with embarrassment and anger.

 “MIKEIO!!!!” she screamed in fury. Michelle blinked

 through tears of anger and clenched her fists. Mikeio turned

 around and covered her mouth in amused horror, she could

 guess what the girls had done. Mikeio reached into her purse

 for a handkerchief as laughter rang across the pebbles. Michelle’s eyes narrowed and saw Mikeio’s hand enter her

 purse. The events of the dream flashed in front of her and

 she was blinded by insane rage. In a state of confusion,

 Michelle ran at the petite oriental. With a kick, she leapt

 into the air. Her body collapsed into a four foot space and

 her legs thrusted out at Mikeio. By reflex, the Aikido

 champion ducked and Michelle crashed into Tom.

 There was a sound like the dull noise of a basketball

 slammed into the pavement and an inhuman scream pierced the


 * * *

 When the anger cleared from Michelle’s eyes, she saw,

 not Mikeio, but Tom lying in the remains of the serving

 table. His head seemed to be a mass of blood and was twisted

 in a strange position. He was not moving.

 “Oh my God! What have I done!” thought Cindi as she ran

 to help Tom.

 “I’m to blame for this!” thought Mikeio as she felt for

 Tom’s pulse, “I shouldn’t have angered her.” The Japanese

 felt the blood coursing through his veins. He was breathing

 too. She then felt for broken bones and found none. There

 was a lot of blood but otherwise he seemed all right. Mikeio

 made a compress from her handkerchief and told Cindi to hold

 it on his head to stop the bleeding. She then yelled to Suzy

 to call for help.

 “I’ve killed him!! What am I going to do? Help me!

 Help him!” her brain shrieked and she fled the scene. In

 horror, the crowd tried to restrain her but she broke through

 like a wounded animal. Mikeio saw her leave, and because everything seemed under control, she rose to follow the panic

 stricken blond.

 Michelle ran across the street heedless of traffic and

 danger. She kept running, running towards the sea. Mikeio

 saw her turn the corner and raced after her. “What am I

 going to do? She’s gone crazy!” thought Mikeio as they raced

 down the street towards the docks. Her genuine concern for

 Michelle lent her the strength to pursue the half-crazed

 girl’s furious pace. At an intersection, cars raced at her,

 narrowly missing her.

 The girls ran on and on, neither lengthening nor

 narrowing the gap between them. As they ran, their thoughts

 raced also, each clarifying the past events in their own

 minds. Michelle realized that her prejudice, though unconscious to her before, stimulated by her jealous love for

 Tom, blinded her to Mikeio’s sincerity. Michelle saw that

 her actions were uncalled for, even though at the time they

 seemed very appropriate. She quietly absolved Mikeio of her

 previous feelings of hatred and regretted that they had not

 become friends.

 Simultaneously, as Michelle was, Mikeio was condemning

 herself and forgiving her former adversary. Mikeio felt that

 by coming to America she had unforgivably interrupted the relationship between Tom and Michelle. She realized that

 although Michelle was a bit haughty at times, Her love for

 Tom was genuine. True, Cindi and her friends had set off the

 bomb, but there would have been no bomb to begin with had she

 not trespassed upon Michelle’s pride. It had taken a tragedy

 for the girls to realize this within themselves, and now it

 seemed it was too late. Mikeio was afraid that since

 Michelle was running towards the pier, that Michelle might be contemplating suicide to atone for her crime. It was like an

 “eye for an eye”, a life for a life.

 A car swerved as Michelle stumbled onto the pier, almost

 out of breath. She lurched and then proceeded to the end of

 the structure unconscious of her surroundings intent only on

 the end of the pier ahead. Her slow trance-like walk,

 enabled Mikeio to begin to close the gap between them. As

 Michelle reached the end of the pier, she contemplated the shimmering waters below. Until then, Michelle had not even

 thought of suicide as a possible alternative. Suicide was

 not a notion to be taken lightly; and she stood there trembling, trying to summon the courage to jump. Mikeio

 called her name but Michelle did not hear. Mikeio walked up

 to her and gently touched her on her shoulder.

 “Michelle…” she quietly spoke.

 Startled, Michelle whirled around. As she did, her

 flailing hand caught her on the shoulder and sent her off the

 high wood structure into the cold water below. Mikeio was an

 excellent swimmer but had been rendered unconscious by the

 force of the impact with the water. Mikeio’s predicament

 shook Michelle out of her dream-like state and panicking, she spontaneously dove to help the girl. She speared the water

 cleanly and beautifully. When she rose, she looked frantically for the limp form of Mikeio. She spied the girl

 face down in the water. Michelle grasped Mikeio’s blouse and

 pulled her head out of the water and lifted her in the

 approved Red Cross fashion then treading for a moment to

 adjust her grip, Michelle headed for the dock with a powerful


 When she reached the lower boat launch, the dock-master,

 helped the unconscious girl onto the dock. Michelle pulled

 herself up, exhausted from the effort. It seemed as though

 they would get a second chance. The dock-master produced some

 smelling salts from his pocket and waved them under Mikeio’s

 nose. Mikeio groaned and slowly came to. Through blurred

 eyes she saw Michelle and grasped her hand.

 When they returned home, they left the cab in time to

 see the paramedics leave. Inside the house, they found Tom

 propped in a chair, Mrs. Nokumura and Cindi tending to him.

 Cindi ashamedly apologized for her conduct and brought

 Michelle some clothes, as she was still only partially

 dressed. Amends made, Mikeio left Michelle alone with Tom

 and together with Cindi, went upstairs to their room.

 The haunting notes of the flute drifted into the setting


 * * *

 Daylight streamed through the little window into the

 bedroom beneath. The walls were covered with movie posters

 and the twin canopied beds fit the white, pleasant atmosphere

 of the room. On the dresser lay a fine crafted Japanese

 bamboo flute and tucked into the frame of the mirror was a photograph of four people brightly smiling into the camera

 while standing in front of the Nokumura residence. Thomas

 Nokumura and his sister Cindi, Michelle Palmiato, stood next

 to their good friend, Mikeio Ichishita in a picture taken

 earlier in the year.

 It was 8:00 am as the radio clock abruptly came to life

 and woke the two sleeping girls with a jolt. Mikeio

 Ichishita rolled over in her bed with a groan and groped at

 the alarm clock to shut it off. Cindi, in the other bed

 never even moved. As Mikeio hit the snooze button, she immediately rolled back over and fell asleep. at 8:07 the

 snooze function of the alarm again aroused the girl. This

 time, she slid her legs down from the bed and stepped into

 her slippers. She trudged into the bathroom with a yawn.

 The cold water stemming from the shower woke her with a jolt

 as she jumped from the tub. Mikeio dried off and dressed in

 a pastel yellow shirt and red and black overalls. The fashionably over-sized jumper rustled over her slim figure as

 she leaned over and shook Cindi awake. Cindi groaned and

 with closed eyes, got up and went into the shower. Mikeio

 grinned as Cindi screamed in the cold water.

 As she came down for breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Nokumura cheerfully greeted Mikeio as if she were their daughter.

 Presently Tom and Cindi came down and they sat down to breakfast. After the meal, Mikeio picked up her books from

 the dining room table followed Cindi to Tom’s car to go to

 school. Though early-December, California climate permitted

 the petite oriental girl to be clad in short-sleeves comfortably. On the way, they picked up Michelle, their very

 good friend as well as Tom’s girlfriend.

 * * *

 After a late orchestra practice that day at school,

 Mikeio eased the through door and found Cindi already at

 home. Not only was Cindi at home but next to her, their

 backs facing Mikeio, was John Willard from their PE class.

 His arm was around Cindi’s waist as they looked through the

 previous year’s Yearbook. Mikeio quietly set down her books

 and crept up the stairs to her room and fetched her flute.

 then, on the other side of the living room wall, Mikeio began

 playing `Cha no Yu’, a Japanese love song. The couple caught

 by surprise were startled. John had no idea what it meant,

 but Cindi realizing the song for what it was furious.

 Still playing, Mikeio felt the ominous presence of a shadow

 in front of her. Cindi had snuck around the kitchen and

 caught Mikeio by surprise. Cindi reached down and started

 tickling Mikeio. Mikeio’s giggles rang across the house.

 * * *

 The gently structured design of the Japanese style home,

 sharply contrasted the surrounding houses. The beautiful

 garden, molded with deliberate care spread in a sea of unblemished pebbles, save one curiously shaped stone in the

 middle. The surrounding bonsai trees were trimmed with the

 care of a glassblower and the spreading pine sprayed shafts

 of sunlight through its branches. Running down the stepping

 stones, past the stream and over the miniature bridge came a

 girl dressed in a bright red t-shirt and equally electric

 yellow shorts. Michelle Palmiato walked to the door and rang

 the bell. Tom answered and brought her to the family room

 where Mikeio was still trying to get over her fits of

 laughter. As they sat down in front of the TV, Michelle

 brought out a flier for a school dance.

 “Guys, you probably know that the annual Winter Ball is

 coming up, its a formal dance, and I thought it would be

 great fun if we all went.” she said.

 “I think that would be wonderful except for two things:”

 Mikeio answered, “One I don’t have a formal dress and two, I

 don’t have a date.” Mikeio knew that John and Cindi were set

 on going together and crazy about each other although they

 tried to hide it, and Michelle was Tom’s girlfriend.

 “We’ve taken care of all of those things.” Tom said,”

 You girls are going shopping for dresses tomorrow and there’s

 a friend of mine who would like to take you. Subject to

 you’re approval of course. He’s been away for a while, but

 he’ll meet us at the mall tomorrow.

 “Well, okay, I don’t seem to have much choice.” Mikeio


 “Don’t act like its a chore or something Miki,” Michelle

 said, “It’s not like he’s ugly or anything, he’s one of the

 most popular boys on the university campus.”

 “He! HE! I don’t even know what “He”‘s name is, much

 less go out with him! “

 “Tomorrow will tell, Mikeio, tomorrow will tell.”

 * * *

 The next day, the group drove to the shopping center in

 Tom’s Toyota. The shoppers waited in front of Nordstroms for

 Tom’s friend. Presently a white Honda pulled across the

 parking lot and stopped. The door opened and a tall handsome

 boy rolled up the window and got out. The young man waved

 and walked towards them. When he arrived, he was introduced

 to Mikeio as ______——. In delighted surprise, she recognized him as the boy on the beach before. In turn, the

 boy was similarly surprised and pleased about Mikeio.

 Greeting everyone graciously, he proposed they go into the department store.

 Inside, they walked together to the other entrance of

 the store, the one that connected to the rest of the mall.

 As they did, ——- hung back to talked with Mikeio, who, understanding that he was to be her date to the Winter Ball,

 became very shy. She was tongue-tied as the boy related his impressions of her that first day on the beach, and could

 only stutter broken answers to his conversation. At the

 entrance, it was decided that they would separate to shop.

 The girls would look for their dresses and the boys would go

 get John a tuxedo as he did not yet have one.

 Michelle, Cindi, and Mikeio walked to the area where

 they sold evening gowns. Incessantly chattering, they

 admired and compared the various dresses. They then put on

 hold forty different dresses after trying each one on and in

 the process, drove the sales lady mad. The girls then

 repeated the escapade in each of the department stores and

 clothing shops until after four hours had covered the entire

 mall. Weary but happy, the girls returned to the first shop

 and bought their first choices.

 Meanwhile, the boys went straight to the directory and

 found the three places that had tuxedos. Discarding two

 because of their high prices, they entered the third store.

 “So John, which suit do you want?” Tom asked.

 “I think, this black one looks nice.” he replied, as he

 fingered the velvet lapels of the most expensive suit in the


 “Well sir, fine choice, this suit was hand sewn in Italy

 by the finest of tailors. The rental fee is one-hundred

 and fifty dollars.” the sales man said.

 “A night!?” _____—— asked in disbelief.

 “Why no, and hour.” the man replied.

 “I’ll take it.” John said.

 “For which night may I ask?”

 “I mean now.” John said nonchalantly and drew from his

 pocket a wad of bills large enough to choke a horse.

 “I’m buying it.”

 * * *

 The girls, laden with dress boxes, shoe boxes and other

 packages, met the boys at the appropriated hour. Tom and ______——– still in shock said not a word. When asked

 what they did all that time, John explained that after he had

 gotten his tuxedo, they had seen a movie and then played

 video games for the remaining time. As the others walked

 towards the car, _____—— motioned for Mikeio to stay

 behind. He then politely asked if she would have lunch with

 him the next day. Deeply attracted to him and desperately

 needing a date for the rapidly approaching dance, she


 * * *

 Mikeio wearily pushed open the front door, kicked open

 the front door, and trudged up the stairs. Upon entering the

 room that she and Cindi shared, she collapsed onto the bed.

 Cindi looked up questioningly from the book she was reading

 on the other bed.

 “What smells?” Cindi asked as she sniffed the air.

 “Oh, great!” Mikeio replied, and ran into the bathroom.

 The light and faucet snapped on simultaneously, as Mikeio

 threw her blouse into the foaming water. She then slipped on

 a nightgown and walked back into the room.

 Cindi put down her book and asked, “Well, are you or

 aren’t you going to tell me what happened?”

 “Okay, you know I left at 10:00 this morning when _____——– came to pick me up.” started lean Japanese

 girl. “He took me to the lake for what was to be a pleasant

 picnic. We went to the north end of the lake and found a

 shaded area to spread our picnic. As we did, we talked about

 every-day things. During our discussion, he slapped a

 fishing hat on his head you know, the kind with all the fly

 hook in it. I thought it was a strange thing to bring to a

 picnic but I didn’t really care. Then before I knew it, he

 had put together a fishing pole and baited it with a slimy

 worm! After he cast his line, he wiped his hand on his

 pants and resumed eating his sandwich. I felt nauseous!

 “Well, I decided not to be fazed by it and tried to have

 a good time. Eventually, we got to talking pretty intimately

 and I soon forgot the stupid fish hat and pole. I really

 like him. He was almost ready to ask me when his pole

 jerked. He cut himself off in mid-sentence and grabbed his

 pole. He was so excited that I was all but forgotten. He

 pulled in his fish, a pretty big one I’ll admit, but that’s

 not the point. He grabbed the fish by the gills and proudly

 presented it to my face. The fish was wriggling and its tail

 slapped me in the face! I was so shocked, and he was so embarrassed! He began apologizing like a madman as I tried

 to wipe the brine water from my blouse. We never got it back

 together from then on. After a while we went back to the

 car. We barely talked, we were so embarrassed. Anyway, it

 was a disaster.”

 “Sounds awful,” Cindi agreed. “But did he ask you to go

 to the dance?”

 “No.” Mikeio responded despondently,”I don’t think he

 thought it was appropriate at the time. Even after today, I

 really like him, but… anyway, I’m going to soak in a bath!”

 So she left and closed the door.

 * * *

 “…And so I took her home.”_______—— finished to

 Tom. “What should I do? She’s the nicest girl I’ve ever met,

 and you know how many I have! But she’s seems more sincere

 than all the rest. I don’t know.”

 “Ask her for another date tomorrow night.” replied Tom.

 “You know she needs a date for this thing, and you’ve told

 Gina that you weren’t going to take her. Don’t blow it this

 time. Mikeio is different, she’s more individualistic. Be

 safe, take her to a movie or something.”

 “Okay, I can do that. What should we see? A horror

 flick or something?” inquired ____.

 “Heck no, be conventional and take her to some

 drama/romance or something, how do you expect her to go to a

 dance with you if she’s too busy being scared?”

 “Okay, I’ll call her tonight for a movie tomorrow and

 dinner afterwards. All right, then I’ll see you later.”

 _______ held his finger on the cradle for a moment and

 then proceeded to dial Cindi’s line to talk to Mikeio.

 Getting nervous, ____ was about to hang up, when someone


 “Hello? May I speak to Mikeio? This is _______.” he


 “Hi, this is Cindi, Miki is in the shower right now can

 I take a message?”

 “Well,… I just wanted to know whether or not Mikeio

 would like to go to the movies or not.”

 “Movies eh?…” Cindi reflected for a moment and

 knowing how much Mikeio was attracted to _______. She

 answered for her. “_____? I’m sure she would like to go

 with you. I’ll tell her that you’ll pick her up at around…”

 “Five, I’ll be there at five o’clock. Thanks. Bye.” he

 finished. He hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. Then he

 went into the kitchen to find a newspaper to figure out what

 movie to see.

 * * *

 After dinner in the Nokumura’s house, Tom readied to

 perform the Tea Ceremony, the Zen ritual promoting harmony

 and unity within oneself though originally a symbolic ritual

 between lovers to demonstrate their feelings. Mikeio

 politely sat and participated in watching the flowing

 movements that produced the pure green tea. After a perfect performance, Tom cleaned-up as the girls retired to their


 Once up there, Mikeio went to her baggage and produced

 her lacquered flute. With a silken cloth, she remove any

 blemishes from the smooth flawless surface. With deliberate

 strokes, she covered the surface of the instrument in

 delicate semi-circles. Like the Tea Ceremony, the seemingly

 simple task was an art in discipline where the person built

 harmony by creating beauty in even the smallest detail.

 Cindi knew from the past that Mikeio played the flute as a substitute to the Tea Ceremony when she felt upset or

 distraught. Therefore, Cindi felt it unusual that Mikeio was

 doing both forms of Zen discipline in one night.

 “Was the Tea Ceremony not satisfactory tonight, Miki?”

 Cindi asked.

 “No, Tom was flawless. It’s not that. Tea alone

 doesn’t seem to be able to give me the same feeling of calm

 and quietness that I get if I play afterwards. Sensei always

 did after his ceremonies and I am so used to it. Now that he

 is gone, I feel closer to him in doing so.”

 “I understand.”

 Mikeio did not reply and instead walked into the evening

 air onto the terrace and gazed at the moon. Tracing a

 moonbeam down, her eyes fell upon the curiously twisted stone

 resting in the pebble pool in the garden. The intricate convolutions on the surface of the stone seemed to represent

 the hidden and confusing path of life. Placing her fingers

 over the holes on the flute, she closed her mind off to

 worldly troubles and raised the flute to her mouth.

 Once again, the haunting notes of the bamboo flute

 filled the evening air.

 * * *

 At McDonalds the next day, Mikeio and Cindi met Michelle

 for lunch. After a quick meal, they fell upon the task of

 buying Christmas gifts. Another mall invasion produced innumerable packages and boxes all brightly wrapped for the

 holiday season. Towards the end of the shopping spree at

 about three, Cindi “happened” to mention that Miki had a date

 with ______. The time constraint on Mikeio would not let her

 cancel the date, so after they hurried home, Mikeio quickly

 prepared for the encounter. Every so often, she would cast a

 steel stare at Cindi, who would grin impishly back.

 Promptly at five, _______——-. arrived at the Nokumura’s residence and rang the doorbell. Immaculately

 though casually dressed, _____——- chatted with an easy

 air to Cindi while they waited for Mikeio. When Miki came downstairs, they bid farewell and left. However, as they

 exited, Mikeio lingered at the door and cast Cindi a reproachful glance.

 The couple went to see a war drama about a news photographer caught in a web of political intrigue and

 romance. The movie was a powerful love story and left the

 majority of the audience in tears. However, the effect of

 the show was partially ruined for Mikeio as throughout the

 movie, ____—— commented on how the actor who played the photographer, was inaccurately using his equipment. Though

 dampened, the intense emotion of the movie still lingered

 over the couple. ______——- suggested they go to dinner at

 a very expensive elegant restaurant. However, fearing that

 such a restricted atmosphere would ruin the evening, Mikeio

 changed their destination to a local discotheque.

 At the dance hall, they shared a simple pizza and then

 went onto the dance floor. As the dances drew them physically closer together they were also drawn closer

 emotionally by their uninterrupted deep attraction to one

 another. Time flew by unnoticed by the couple on the dance

 floor until it was one o’clock and the discotheque was

 closing for the night. Hand in hand, Mikeio and ___——

 strolled out onto the beach front very much in love. He had

 asked her to go to the Winter Ball long ago. Drawing his arm

 around her, he drew her closer and they stepped onto the

 lighted pier. Together they sat upon a bench and were warmed

 from the sea air by their love. It was four o’clock by the

 time Mikeio got home.

 The next day at the Nokumura residence, Mikeio frantically cleaned the various rooms trying to get the house

 ready to welcome _____——- for a visit. Cindi and Tom

 were mildly amused as ____—— hed visited their house many

 times before without such worries. Mikeio’s

 self-consciousness trancended to the appearance of the house.

 She was in love.

 When _____——- arrived, the house was spotless.

 Mikeio was dressed fashionably in color coordinated sweats.

 However, after the ecstatic mood gave way to moderation,

 Mikeio and ______——- walked hand in hand to the garden to

 have tea by the stone. By performing the tea ceremony

 between two people, they established a tender sense of love

 and caring between them. In doing so, they reverted the tea

 ceremony back to its original purpose; truth between lovers, tranquility and romance. Mikeio had found the true purpose

 of the tea ceremony and no longer felt the remorse she had associated with it since her Sensei’s death. The mood was

 enhanced by the curious twisting surface of the rock beside

 them. After the ceremony, Mikeio again played her flute,

 this time for ______——. _____——- lay on the pebbles

 with his head in her lap, eyes closed and transfixed his mind

 on her music. Mikeio’s music was the essence of her soul,

 the flute was her physical body, Mikeio and flute were one.

 Mikeio had a new understanding of the song, the `Cha no Yu’.

 It was a song that would bind them forever. Slowly _____—— melded with Mikeio with their love as a unifying


 * * *

 “Hurry up Mikeio! We’re leaving soon and we still have

 to pick up Michelle and ______.” called John as they paused

 to wait for Mikeio before going to the limo that they had

 rented for the occasion. John helped Cindi into the

 luxurious car and stepped in himself. It was several days

 after ______ had taken Mikeio to the movies, and since then,

 they had spent every free moment with one another. Like a

 giant fist, love had slammed them together and the caring

 they had for each other could not be touched by anyone.

 Cindi was dressed in a pastel yellow off-the-shoulder

 dress with white lace trimming. She also wore a rabbit fur

 jacket over her attire. John and Tom were both clad in jet

 black tuxedos. However John’s tie and cummerbund were a

 paisley yellow whereas Tom’s was red. Mikeio rushed out of

 the gate into the car and they started towards Michelle’s

 house. Mikeio’s dress was royal blue satin, trimmed in

 black, and complemented with a black shawl.

 They picked up Michelle who, dressed in a strapless and

 sequined cocktail dress that looked as if it had been painted

 on her, stepped into the car. They then arrived at _______’s

 house and found him waiting on the porch. He was dressed,

 also in a black suit, though his tie and cummerbund were also

 black. His corsage to Mikeio was a single peony blossom,

 Mikeio’s favorite flower. The limo’s facilities included

 private phone, television set, stereo system and bar, yet the excitement of the event prevented the use of any of them.

 They first stopped for dinner at The Ritz, where the exorbitant prices and small portions put them in the “special

 occasion” mood.

 The limousine drew to the front of the plaza and

 delivered its occupants next to the fountain in the plaza.

 Arm in arm, they stepped into the spacious ballroom at the

 end of the fountains. Within the regal building, dozens of

 crystal chandeliers hung over the many balconies and cocktail

 tables. The hall was the epitome of elegance. The live band

 played a slow melodious tune for the couples in the floor.

 As the group was shown to a table, Tom and Michelle detoured

 and snuggled together on the floor. _____——- and Mikeio

 too left the table and went to dance. John started to rise,

 but the modern slow song ended and a classical waltz swelled throughout the room. Hearing the song, John sat flatly in

 his seat. Cindi, who was already standing, sat down next to

 him, distressed.

 “What’s wrong?” she asked.

 “I can’t waltz.” he muttered under his breath.

 Cindi’s laughter rang aloud and she said, “Is that all?!

 C’mon, its easy!”

 With that, she hauled him from his seat and led him to

 the floor where the others were already dancing unaware of

 those around them. Mikeio’s eyes were closed in bliss with

 her head upon —–‘s shoulder.

 “One, two, three. One, two,…three; That’s right. Now

 try not to look at your feet.” Cindi taught. Looking deeply

 into Cindi’s brown eyes, he forgot to count and lost concentration. His heart stepped towards her but his feet

 did not and he stumbled forward into her. John heard a

 cackling laugh in back of him and, red-faced, he got up and

 ignored it.

 “Fool can’t dance a waltz! Such ineptitude! Must come

 from peasant stock or something.” came the taunts.

 Rage rose to John’s face and with supreme effort quelled

 his urge to lash out against his peers. Another boy however, intentionally stepped on the hem of Cindi’s dress, and

 remarked: “Nah, it must be his Nip girlfriend. The waltz is

 a white dance, a damned Jap can’t do it!” Cindi’s

 off-the-shoulder dress was yanked down to a point considered

 indecent by the chaperones and she stumbled to the floor.

 Without a second thought, John whirled around, and kicked the

 first boy in the face with the heel of his patented shoes.

 The boy fell to the ground, inert with blood streaming from

 his mouth. John’s tuxedo pants, tight and not engineered for

 such a maneuver, was split at the crotch displaying the white

 beneath. John crossed his legs in frustrated humiliation as

 the crowd burst into laughter. Even realizing John’s

 handicap, the other boys, the prostrate boy’s companions,

 converged on John.

 Ganging up, the boys built up courage, confident that

 their numbers would overpower John. As a bolder boy clenched

 his fist and swung, it was caught neatly by the white gloved

 hand of Mikeio. Utilizing the momentum of the swing, Mikeio,

 with one hand, flipped the boy onto the floor. Another boy

 jumped but was met in the air with the slice of Mikeio’s

 hand. The boy writhed in pain as his arm broken. The other

 boys, losing their brazen confidence, began to back off,

 though still taunting and swearing. At that moment, the

 chaperons had arrived on the scene and with severe reprimands

 sent the entire section of the dance outside. They had been

 kicked out. The humiliation was too much for Mikeio and she

 ran blindly across the parking lot with ______——–

 chasing after her. A car’s tires squealed as Mikeio, in

 shock, stood in the car’s path. ________——- leapt forward

 and pushed Mikeio out of the way. The car barreled through

 and slammed into ______——- with a sickening-crunch. ________—– rolled across the hood and fell bleeding to the


 * * *

 “Doctor Smith to the operating room please, Doctor Smith

 to the operating room.”

 The group of friends sat helplessly in the emergency

 room as ______——- underwent emergency surgery for

 multiple head wounds, compound fractures, and internal

 injuries. The outlook was bleak. The sterile smell of the

 corridors and the white walls only lent to the feeling of foreboding felt by the group. It was three in the morning

 hours after the chaos of the paramedics, the police, and the ambulances. Tom comforted Mikeio who still in shock, was

 crying uncontrollably. Hours passed without word and the

 first rays of sunlight brought forth the beginning of a new

 day. The surgeon finally opened the door and walked towards

 them as _______——– was wheeled into an intensive care


 “We’ve done all that we could, I don’t know if it was

 enough, all we can do is wait. He was in a coma when he

 arrived, he hasn’t stirred since. All we can do is hope.”

 the surgeon said.

 “Can we see him?” Michelle asked.

 “He should not be disturbed until his vital signs have stabilized.” the doctor replied. “The best thing you can do

 is to go home and rest.”

 “I’m staying.” Mikeio said absently.

 “C’mon Mikeio, let’s go home, there’s nothing more we

 can do,” Tom said taking her by the shoulders and leading her

 towards the exit. “Thank you sir. He called over his shoulder.”

 At the exit, Mikeio threw a tantrum and tried to return

 to the room It took both Tom and John to get her into a taxi

 and go home. In the house later that day, Mikeio walked down

 the pinewood steps and into the garden. There, the curiously

 twisted rock in the middle of the pond of pebbles seemed to

 taunt her. Mikeio had not said a word since they had

 returned. Then, with a cry of frustration, anger and grief,

 Mikeio slammed a bare fist into the rock. Her bloodied

 knuckles brought her back to the saturated face of ____——— and she stepped back in horror. Then with

 another yell, she slammed her other fist into the craggy

 surface of the stone. Again and again she smashed the rock

 almost methodically until her hands were a mess of blood and

 the pain became too intense. There was a crashing of

 footsteps down the stairs to the garden and Tom and Cindi

 pulled Mikeio away from the bloody rock. Mikeio collapsed to

 her knees and burst into tears once more.

 At the hospital, Mikeio stared at her bandaged hands as

 she sat next to the still body of her friend the machines

 said that he was not dead, but from the oxygen tent and the

 pallor of the skin, she could not be sure. She had been

 there at the very beginning of the visiting period and now a

 nurse beckoned her out. Head bowed, Mikeio shuffled out of

 the darkened room. Several days passed, long helpless

 stretch of time spent in chapels, in front of shrines, and on

 the beach.

 In the depths of the night, came the laughter of a

 maniac. The cackle intensified. She was running, running in

 a void, an infinite void. Then a light appeared in the

 distance and she ran towards it. As she neared, she saw _____—— standing there staring reproachfully at her. The

 red boutonniere on the lapel of his tuxedo melted and became

 a dripping stain over his heart. He clutched at it and

 continued his reproachful stare. Mikeio, following his gaze,

 looked to her hand. In it rested her flute, but the instrument changed and in her hand lay a bloody knife. She

 jerked her hand away and dropped it but the blood remained

 dripping from her hand. She tried to wipe it off on her

 dress, but it would not go away. _____—— pointed his hand

 in back of her in horror. She turned. From the void, the headlights of a speeding car blinded her. She tired to run

 away but could not move. Tires squealed and the car passed

 through her. There was a sickening crunch behind her and

 moisture splattered on her back. She screamed…

 Mikeio jolted up from her sleep, sitting up in bed. She

 clutched the blanket around her knees in fear. The scream

 still resounded through the room. The pounding of her heart

 hurt her chest and she heaved, gasping for breath. Then she

 listened, the silence was deafening. Cindi was not in bed,

 they were at the hospital. Unwilling to go back to sleep,

 Mikeio slipped on a sweat shirt and shorts and walked out

 into the garden. The blood stained rock in the garden leered

 at her as she went through the gate. She walked down the

 road to the beach.

 This day, the seventh day of the coma, Mikeio walked in

 the chilly breeze along the desolate beach. Her hair, disheveled by the wind, whipped around her face. Folding her

 arms together as she walked, she looked across the sea to

 where her home was, the land of the rising sun. A seagull

 screeched in the distance and the roar of the surf brought in

 a wave of foam. Mikeio kicked the sand and looked ahead.

 Today, the pier lay before her. On previous occasions,

 Mikeio did not walk there for fear that the memories of that

 night with ______—— would hurt her too much. But today,

 she trudged unerringly to the structure. There had been no improvement in _____—–‘s condition. Now, she went to the

 pier to look for her lost love, a place where there had been

 pure happiness.

 She felt that it had been her fault, had she not been

 running away from her embarrassment, ____—– would never

 had to save her and never be in the hospital now. In helplessness, she hugged a pillar and cried. When she had

 finished, she went on. At the beginning of the pier, she

 paused and then stepped onto the wooden planks. As she

 walked the length of the way, ghosts and phantasms whirled

 around her. Images of the times they were together floated

 in front of her, and then the memory of that horrible

 screech, and the sickening crunch of the blow. She was cold.

 It wasn’t from the wind. The life seemed to flicker in her.

 At the end of the pier, she looked down into the lapping

 waves and stood. There had been another time, another pier

 standing on the edge, wanting to jump, yet that time was not

 herself. Now, she too wanted to jump…jump into the frigid

 waters of the Pacific and let the waves swallow her and her

 shame into the depths of the ocean.

 A Toyota and a BMW pulled up to the start of the pier.

 The doors opened and Mikeio’s friends and the parents stepped

 out. Tom started forward to stop Mikeio from killing

 herself, but Michelle’s hand stopped him.

 “She’s got to choose by herself, what’s right.” she said

 with shameless tears running down her cheeks. They had just

 come from the hospital.

 “Butterfly,” Mikeio thought as her sensei’s face floated

 in front of her. “Is it easier to destroy something or

 create and let it prosper?” Mikeio unfolded her hand and

 unwrapped the silken bundle she carried. She unrolled her

 bamboo flute, looked to the clouds and saw _______——–‘s

 smiling face. She caressed tenderly, the instrument in her

 hands and let it fall into the ocean. The flute fell pointed

 down and speared the water cleanly. Although it was made of

 wood, the flute sank into the depths leaving only faint

 ripples behind it. Soon those too were consumed by the

 vastness of the sea.

 Slowly, Mikeio turned from the water and the escape of

 suicide and slowly walked back along the pier to her family.

 Conscious that they were there, Mikeio looked into their eyes

 and understood. Mikeio went to Mr. Nokumura’s arms and cried

 upon his chest.

 At 5:45 the next day, _______—— was buried.

 * * *

 The convoluted surface of the twisted rock seemed to

 mock her as the rays of the rising sun bounced and reflected

 Mikeio Ichishita, a petite normally pleasant Japanese girl,

 winced as she looked at the indelible brown stains flecked

 across the rock. She sat in the pool of pebbles surrounded

 by the dwarf shrubs. Usually, the setting of a Japanese

 garden promoted a feeling of peace and tranquility, however,

 in light of the recent occurrences, this particular garden

 only aggravated the girl. Those brown blemishes fixed on the

 surface of the stone were blood stains, her blood.

 Pain coursed through her little body as she remembered

 him. If it were not for her, he never would have tried to

 save her, never would have…died. Why had she even come to

 America? Her heritage was Japanese. She was Japanese.

 But… hadn’t she become American when she had learned to

 live in America amidst all the new surroundings, She had lost

 her heritage. What was she? She could no longer find refuge

 in the Tea Ceremony, the death of her revered Sensei had

 insured that, and her beloved ______——, his unselfish

 act, giving himself up so that she could live. Her flute, he

 had loved that. No, never again would she play that again.

 Anyway, it was lost in the depths of the sea where she would

 never have to see it again.

 Her soul screamed with anguish and grief. The rock just

 smirked at her unfaltering with his face. His death was her

 fault… her … No! Mikeio hefted the porcelain cup of tea

 and hurled it against its face _____——-‘s image disappeared, washed over by the tea. Shocked by her useless

 violence, Mikeio collapsed and cried.

 “If we don’t do something soon, she’ll drive herself

 insane.” said Cindi Nokumura to her older brother Thomas.

 “She keeps blaming herself for what happened to _____—–.”

 “Well, what can we do? We’ve tried to reason with her

 but that didn’t stop the way she was feeling, and when you

 think about it, we goaded her into going with him to the

 Winter Ball. Of all the people she might listen to, we’d be

 the last.” he replied.

 “She seems to know what she’s doing. Let’s trust her to

 resolve her own problems. Anyway, she wouldn’t stand for our

 help I’m going to call Michelle. Will you get the mail? It

 just came.”

 “All right.”

 * * *

 “A package for a Miss Mi-Kee-oh Ichi… whatever it is.

 Will you sign?” the delivery man asked.

 “I’ll sign.” Cindi said. “Gee, it’s long, uh and heavy

 too! Who is it from? Hmm, let’s see… the Offices of

 Yamamoto and Mitsubishi, Who are they? oh, Thank you sir!

 “Tom! Where’s Mikeio? She has a package.” Cindi asked.

 “I heard her run upstairs, check your room. Hey, do I

 have any mail?” Tom called from the phone.

 Cindi carried the package up the stairs to the room she

 and Mikeio shared. The door was closed.

 “Mikeio?” she called silently as she knocked on the

 door. “There’s a package for you from Japan. It’s from a

 law firm: Offices of Yamamoto and Mitsubishi.”

 There was a scrambling in the room as the door opened.

 “Hi, Cindi. Is that it? It’s from Sensei.” she said as

 she took it into the room. “Thank you.”

 Cindi followed her into the room and sat down on the bed

 opposite to Mikeio’s. With infinitesimal care, Mikeio untied

 the silken cord around the package and unwrapped the brown

 paper. Inside the wooden box opened on well-oiled hinges.

 Wrapped in silk, fitted into the box rested an exquisite

 samurai sword, too short to be truly called a katana, the

 long sword of the samurai and too short to be a tanto, the

 short sword. It was in a class of its own, perfection. It

 was the Miko and it slept. Rested on top of it, set at a

 pleasant angle, was a letter written in beautiful Japanese calligraphy, reading:


 If you receive this letter, it would mean that I have

 moved on beyond this world of illusion. You were my best

 student and the child I never had. As you know, even though

 you were the best in the dojo, only a male can inherit it.

 However, in samurai tradition, the family crest and swords

 are passed on to the most capable child, the heir. Although

 I cannot will you the Dojo, I would be most honored if you

 would carry on my family’s honor and tradition please take my

 name as a second name and bring it honor. This sword, the

 Miko, is one of the two swords that hung in the alcove at the

 dojo. They are of my ancestors, from the famed legend of Yoshimitsu Sachou and Yoshi Sasuke. As you well know, the

 Miko and her male counterpart, the Yoshitomo, are symbols of

 our discipline. The Yoshitomo still resides in the dojo to

 maintain its honor and assure the continuance of the school.

 The Miko is yours to keep and pass on to future generations.

 It embodies all the values and honor that is associated with

 the family name. From your learning you have become part of

 that family. Maintain the honor of the Dojo, wield the Miko


 Within the shadows we call life, there will come a time

 when trouble seems to overwhelm us. Only poised between life

 and death does the haze clear and reality is seen. The edge

 of a Katana is the infinitesimal line between good and evil.

 The sword, like tea, is a way of life. Wield it well and it

 will serve you. Mikeio-Yoshimitsu Ichishita, remember the

 shadow and become one with the universe.

 Mikeio set the letter on the bed and gingerly lifted the scabbarded Miko. Then, in a quick smooth motion, the

 glittering blade flowed from its housing into the crisp

 winter air. The clean perfection of the blade, catching the

 sunlight, dimmed the rest of the room. Perfectly balanced,

 the sword’s cutting edge was sharper than any razor. The

 flowing watermark on its side was in a natural twisting shape

 of its namesake, a miko, a sorceress. A lone tear dripped

 from Mikeio’s eye and fell upon the blade and traced its

 length down to the tip. Mikeio wiped the swords on a silken

 cloth and sheathed them. Purpose gleamed in her eye.

 Heartened by the fact that Mikeio seemed to be pulling

 out of her depression, Cindi asked her to try go to school

 the next day, because she thought that the stirrings of

 recovery would be increased burying the horrors in work and

 social conduct. Mikeio, though far from healed, reluctantly

 accepted. The next day, early in the morning they woke and

 prepared for school. All of her friends and teachers gave

 her their respects. It had been a long process getting

 accepted among the other students, but throughout the year,

 Mikeio’s magnetic personality and charm established herself

 among the populous, and those friends were now there to lean

 on. They noted a seemingly subtle change in her attitude but

 shrugged it off or kept it to themselves. All went well

 until after lunch in orchestra. Mr. Strauss, Mikeio’s flute

 mentor, was overjoyed that Mikeio had come back. Knowing

 Mikeio’s talent with the flute, tried to persuade her to

 play. Mikeio’s demurring appeared to Mr. Strauss to be

 natural shyness and modesty, as he had no inkling of what had

 befallen Mikeio. He kept pressing Mikeio to play. Mikeio

 felt an obligation to do so despite the pain it caused.

 However, when the conductor drew a bamboo flute rather than a

 metallic one, something in Mikeio snapped. The flute, remarkably similar to her own, seemed to glow with a life of

 it’s own. Mikeio’s mending soul ripped as her mind replayed

 the screech of the car’s brakes and the crunch of ______——‘s body. Mikeio started to shake and perspire.

 She stumbled back, whirled around and ran from the room.

 Heedless of Michelle’s and Cindi’s calls, Mikeio ran

 blindly through the parking lot in the direction of the

 house. A car nearly missed her sending her into a frenzy. Irrational and confused, she kept running. Slowly an idea

 formed in her mind. She was regressing back to her mental

 state at the pier. In chase, Cindi paused at a telephone to

 call Tom at the University to tell him of Mikeio’s outburst.

 Mikeio ran into the garden, consciously avoiding the

 rock, as if it would harm her, and stumbled into the house.

 She needed to be alone to accomplish her task, she knew they

 would be close behind. Like a trapped animal, she looked furtively around, finally settling her eyes on the phone

 book. Opening it up to `Airlines’, she took the phone off

 the hook and set the receiver down. Then she ran upstairs,

 took the box containing the Miko and ran out the back door.

 Minutes after she had left Tom’s car pulled up onto the

 driveway. Carelessly parked, Tom, Cindi, and Michelle

 tumbled out and rushed into the house. After calling for

 Mikeio and searching the house, they came back together in

 the living room.

 “Where could she have gone?” asked Cindi, distraught.

 Then she saw the open phone book. “Hey, guys look here!”

 “Hmm. Airlines, you don’t suppose…” Michelle started.

 “Come on, let’s go! She must have caught a cab and gone

 to the airport or something.” assumed Tom.

 * * *

 “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading

 of passengers only. No parking.”

 Tom and the girls rushed into the International Terminal

 and spread out to ask for Mikeio at the various airlines. At

 every counter the answer was the same: she had not been there

 nor registered for any flight. They had been misled.

 * * *

 Mikeio bought some flowers from the nearby flower stand

 and walked solemnly into the cemetery. The unearthly calm

 soothed her inhibitions as she passed marker after marker.

 After walking to the top of a small hill, she stopped at a

 marker underneath a magnolia tree. There she sat arranging

 the flowers for half an hour. Then, sitting back on the

 green turf, she sighed. She was clad in a traditional style

 kimono, however, the odd feature was the fact that it was

 stark white. Even the hair ribbon in her long hair as white.

 White, the Japanese color of death.

 There, under the shadows of the magnolia tree, she

 crossed her legs under her and opened the box. From the

 wooden container, she drew the Miko and wiped it once down

 its surface in a ritual cleaning with the end of her obi.

 Mikeio spread a white silk cloth across her knees and contemplated the scenery. The many white markers stood

 unfaltering like soldiers guarding the people beneath, as if

 one day they would rise again to walk among the living.

 As Mikeio sat on the hill, ghosts of her cherished

 whirled around her. She concentrated and committed herself.

 She looked once at the gravestone and then dismissed everything from her mind. The only thing present was the

 Miko. Slowly she reached down and grasped its hilt. Women

 committed seppuku through the neck unlike the belly for males.

 Mikeio raised the blade to her neck and placed her other hand

 over the first. the only thing she saw was the blade. In

 that time, she marveled at the craftsmanship of the sword and

 admired the grain. Then, as the clouds moved, a shaft of

 sunlight broke through the leaves and glinted off the sword.

 The shine seemed to draw Mikeio back from her daze. What had

 Sensei said? Only hovered between life and death could one

 see through the shadows. Mikeio paused and reflected, the

 sword was her sensei’s honor, she mustn’t mar its life with a

 blemish of her tainted blood. It was more painful to live.

 Yet if she let herself join ______——-, then he would have

 died in vain. After all, he had died saving her life; she

 would scorn his actions by taking away her own life along

 with his sacrifice.

 Mikeio griped the handle harder and the blade flashed.

 A lone magnolia leaf, sliced at the stem, drifted from its

 branch and settled onto Mikeio’s lap bringing color to her

 attire. Mikeio lowered the sword from her extended position.

 Only then did she notice that she clutched her sword so tight

 that her knuckles had whitened. Slowly she loosened her hold

 and unwound. Her petite figure, bathed in sweat shuddered

 and collapsed from exhaustion. When she awakened, it was

 already dark. Mikeio packed away the leaf along with the

 swords and started her walk back home.

 She walked into the foyer and slipped off her shoes.

 The house was silent. Slowly yet filled with intent, she

 climbed the stairs to her room. Weary and sore, Mikeio

 smiled in the darkness. Almost as if the darkness became

 part of her Mikeio felt a certain satisfaction in being

 alive. Her fever of her lack of will to survive had broken.

 Now, it was up to her to mend.

 * * *

 “Where can she be?” Cindi asked coming through the

 foyer at three o’clock in the morning. “We searched the

 airport, the pier, the cemetery, and even the morgue!”

 “At least the police have been informed.” Tom said.

 “We can only wait now.”

 “Some help the police are!” Michelle ranted. “A person

 has to be missing for 72 hours in order for a search to go

 on. A lot can happen in 72 hours!”

 “Tom, Cindi, Michelle,” Mrs. Nokumura called silently

 from the second floor. “Come here.”

 The Nokumuras and Michelle had been searching the city

 for hours without luck. Now upon mounting the stairs to

 Cindi’s and Mikeio’s room, they found Mikeio sound asleep in

 her bed hugging the wooden box that contained her swords.

 “That’s not all,” Cindi’s mother said. “Look at this.”

 They followed her hand to where she pointed and saw a

 flyer, apparently removed from a fence or a community

 bulletin board. It read:

 January 15

 7th Annual National Championships:




 other sword techniques

 Eligible candidates must register by January 7

 to participate in the event. Eligibility is determined by…

 The rest of the flyer elaborated on the necessary requirements to be eligible for the competition. Mikeio’s

 friends knew that she was more than eligible for the event by

 mere fact that she was Japan’s National Champion in Aikido and

 a seventh degree black belt. However, their shock did not

 come from such an event, but rather Mikeio’s entry into it.

 For the duration they had known her, Mikeio was a peaceable

 girl that stressed harmony over violence fighting only for

 the honor of others and never herself. Even her title was

 attained only in class from her Sensei. Admittedly she was

 capable of winning such a bout, however it was not Mikeio’s

 nature to fight merely for glory. Something was wrong.

 The next day, when they questioned her on the matter,

 Mikeio lashed out and insisted on competing to prove to

 herself that she was alive and worthy to carry on her

 Sensei’s tradition. The others then realized that she was

 buring her grief for the loss of ______——- and her Sensei

 in work. The next few days was a blur of vigorous training

 in gymnastics, style and sword control. Mikeio was honing

 her skills to a razor edge. Mikeio trained in the garden and

 in the school gym. However, in her training, it became

 evident that her efforts merely vented anger and frustration

 rather than defining discipline. Even with all her work and development of her skills: double flips, split-second reflex,

 physical coordination, and balance, the fact remained that

 she could not sit and view the solitary rock in the garden

 without convulsing into a fit of anger and thus renewed


 Mikeio’s whole attitude and appearance changed. She was

 quieter now and not as responsive to other people and their

 emotions. Normally she was sensitive to other people’s

 problems and related to them but as she regressed, she turned

 a blind eye to her friends and how hurt they were by her

 actions. She dressed in darker more ominous colors and wore

 her martial arts gi more often. She ate sparingly and worked

 herself into the ground. Training, and physical discipline

 became the most important thing. Little emotion was ever

 shown and she avoided all the passing social events. The

 only times that she ever displayed any form of emotion was in

 anger in training and deep in the night, when Cindi would

 hear Mikeio sobbing herself to sleep.

 Day by day an evil in Mikeio seemed to grow and grow in

 her. Sharpened by the harshness of reality, a feeling of

 un-typical malice and dissatisfaction attacked her at any aggravation or dissatisfaction. Her temper grew shorter even

 as she tried to keep it in check. Mikeio had changed. Her

 workouts became more vigorous, many times accompanied by a

 delight in destruction. Mikeio was horrified by her changes

 but, like an actor watching himself on a stage, she had no

 control over her actions. It seemed that her attitudes and

 reactions were pre-arranged and pre-destined.

 However, even with all her training, Mikeio could not

 split a peony petal with the one slice of the sword. The

 magnolia leaf that she had cut was a hundred times coarser

 and thus was a hundred times easier to cut. To split a peony

 petal in twain while it was still attached to the flower

 required a great amount of skill and discipline. This discipline however was mostly in the mind and required

 intense concentration. The peony blossom is a delicate

 flower resembling a rose pressure on a petal at the edges

 resulted in them just bending. Too close to the base and the

 petal would fall off. Her anger did not let her obtain the

 necessary control to use her skill. Her inability reflected

 her inner-self and showed that her approach to her training

 was the wrong path. This knowledge, buried in her

 sub-conscious gave her a twinge of guilt at the fact that it

 was not her sensei’s way. However, instead of confronting

 the problem, she turned away and gave to anger at her lack of

 control, or chi.

 Tom and Cindi would watch as Mikeio aimed at the peony

 petal and tried to cut it by leaping into the air, doing an

 aerial-roll, tapering off into a flip while applying a

 dragon’s claw maneuver on the flower. Most of the time she

 failed to come in contact with the blossom and other times,

 she merely batted it onto the ground. Every time she failed,

 she would fall prey to a fit of anger and hack at surrounding

 bushes and trees. Still the Miko slept.

 The Nokumuras were genuinely concerned about Mikeio’s attitudes. Her previous self-control and entire personality

 were submerged in her insane obsession to become a perfect

 fighting machine in a world she perceived as a battlefield

 instead of harmony as she had contested before. Tom, Cindi,

 and Michelle had decided to act and try to reason with

 Mikeio. If Mikeio had refuted their arguments then they

 could have reacted, instead, she agreed with what they said,

 tried to change but always fell back to her training. She understood what the others were trying to convey but

 philosophy and advice cannot be taught or accepted without

 basis but rather needs to be exploited and revealed by


 * * *

 “We’ve got to get help for her. Maybe even psychiatric

 help.” said Michelle. “But even then I don’t know whether or

 not it would work. Her single differences are so subtle.”

 “But over all she’s… different.” added Cindi. ” If I

 didn’t know what happened I’d insist that she is a different


 “Maybe that’s it, maybe she is a different person,

 mentally that is. She’s buried the Mikeio that we know so

 far that maybe, for now, that person doesn’t exist anymore.

 I think we’ve been going about it all wrong were dealing with

 an entirely different personality .” Tom contemplated.

 “Then what should we do? Ignore it? We can’t do that!

 She’s destroying herself, we can’t just stand by and let her

 do it!” exclaimed Cindi.

 “Wait, I think Tom is right.” said Michelle. “And like

 you said, she’s destroying herself, she’ll realize that what

 she is doing is self-destructive. Maybe we should humor her.

 No matter how deeply it is submerged, Mikeio’s strongest

 attribute is her sensibility. We might be taking a chance

 but so far nothing else has worked. Let’s try it.”

 “But that’s just what her parents did, they just

 abandoned her here without considering the consequences.”

 Cindy replied.

 “I think they did consider them, and I think they knew

 what they were doing. If she goes too far we’ll stop her but

 for now let’s see what happens. Okay?” Tom asked.

 Grudgingly Cindi agreed. Suddenly Mikeio burst into the

 room and demanded to know what right they had in deciding

 what she should and shouldn’t do. Cindi began to say

 something in retort, but Tom interrupted her and by giving

 her a hard look and apologising to Mikeio. They promised

 that it wouldn’t happen again and avoided the conflict.

 Mikeio was not satisfied with the apology but couldn’t do

 anything because it seemed that the others had already

 dismissed it from the present conversation. Anger mounted

 yet remained hidden and restrained. She left the room with

 her reason submerged and her anger controlling herself. She

 took the Miko and went outside to practice.

 * * *

 In the darkness of the sword box the lone magnolia leaf

 that Mikeio had cut in the cemetery, though still green, had

 slowly dried and turned rigid. Cut off from water, its

 essence of life, it had decayed and become brittle. However,

 protected by the box against the weather, animals and people

 it remained untouched and superficially whole. And the Miko


 * * *

 The first day of the week-long tournament was devoted to

 the reading of the rules and the issuing of the equipment.

 Each participant was issued a pair of flexible heavy leather gauntlets, shin guards, vest, skirt, facemask, and a sword.

 The sword was the traditional training sword. Not even the

 solid oak, bokken, this sword consisted of several narrow

 staves of bamboo tied together with twine, and sheathed in

 leather. There was no guard as it was useless at this level

 of fighting. Rules enabled students to make contact anywhere

 on the body short of killing the opponent. Therefore, each

 match was brutal as well as bloody.

 The time left that day was to practice with the standard tournament sword and to adjust to the feel of the armour.

 The actual matches would take place the next day. Twenty

 schools were represented and sixteen independents were participating in an elimination pyramid to the final battle.

 Mikeio was the not only girl there, but the other girl was

 built like King Kong so she didn’t count. As they left the tournament hall, The gargantuan girl actually growled at

 Mikeio. The back of her leather jacket was the name of her

 gang and school of Karate. She was accompanied by their

 entire membership, fifteen people, but every one of them had

 at least eight-inch diameter biceps. Mikeio looked coldly

 back at them and hefted her sword while turning the corner.

 The gang jeered and taunted to a deaf ear.

 The next day, Mikeio and her friends arrived early at

 the center for Mikeio to warm up. Then the first round of preliminary matches was called. Against her was a lean boy

 scarcely older than herself and although terror showed in his

 eyes and his nervousness was affecting his style, he

 advanced. In pseudo-honor Mikeio waited till he began his

 first stroke and then mercilessly cut him down. The blow was

 not serious and only knocked the wind out of him, but it was

 painful nonetheless. Even as her opponent was bent in agony,

 Mikeio uncaringly waited till her win was confirmed and then

 walked off the mat without a single glance at her defeated

 opponent. Mikeio would have to fight a total of five matches

 to reach the finals and the second was after lunch, so Mikeio

 walked off to eat.

 Mikeio’s friends were horrified at her lack of humanity

 but dared not say a word lest they anger her and cause her to

 lose and possibly get hurt. On the second match, Mikeio

 faced off with a thirty-year old independent who was able to

 parry three of Mikeio’s thrusts before Mikeio flipped over her

 opponent and knocked him out. Again Mikeio waited until the

 score was announced and walked off. However, Cindi thought

 she saw Mikeio wince as she stepped over the inert figure.

 On the third day of the tournament, Mikeio beat two more

 of her opponents, one of which was from the other school.

 Then the next day she had only one match. This was against

 the sensei of another school. The thirty-seven year old

 kendo master proved to be somewhat of a challenge for Mikeio.

 During the match, he swooped under her guard and threw her

 legs up with his sword, but Mikeio’s acrobatic training paid

 off and she did a back-flip and landed safely. It had been a

 stroke she had never seen before and she was intrigued …

 after the match. Meanwhile, she faced off with him again.

 Employing a secret technique from her Aikido class, Mikeio

 hooked the pommel of his sword with the tip of hers and

 dislodged the sword from his grasp. With the same stroke she

 swung in a vicious arc and smashed the sword away. Then in

 the same continuous motion, she slammed her sword into her

 solar plexus so that he jack-knifed forward. With the

 momentum of his action, Mikeio flipped the man with her sword

 and smashed him to the ground. The man was bleeding from the

 mouth and nose. This time Mikeio was visibly disturbed and

 did stay to see if he was all right. However, she did not

 care for him nor talk to him but stood aside to see him come

 to and then walk off the mat.

 Back at home, Mikeio spent the evening practicing the

 curious stroke that the kendo master had attacked her with.

 When she was somewhat proficient, she stopped and went to

 sleep. Mikeio had made it to the Championship round. There

 were three elimination rounds to determine the winner. The Gargantuan girl from the other school was there and another

 of her classmates. The first of the Championship round that

 Mikeio encountered forfeited due to lack of equipment. So

 Mikeio waited patiently for the winner of another match to

 come. The winner of that particular match was the classmate

 of the other girl.

 In that match, Mikeio knew that she still could not cut

 the peony petal and so was uncertain on the outcome of the

 battle. Her opponent was very good. He parried all of

 Mikeio’s strikes and was able to hold her off effectively.

 He then set Mikeio into the corner of the mat with several

 side strokes and then got ready to make the finishing blow.

 The man was grinning fiendishly, his gnarled face resembling

 the twisted form of the rock in the garden. Mikeio was

 visibly shaken and her friends knew that in that state,

 Mikeio would surely lose. The blow that he made was neither

 fancy nor with skill the straight downward blow was made with

 brute strength and power. In the corner, Mikeio’s agility

 advantage was useless the sword smashed across her sword and

 glanced off across her face producing a large red welt.

 Cindi gave a short scream. To Mikeio the time afterwards

 seemed like hours. The realization of the blow sunk in and

 her suppressed anger from the past weeks literally gushed

 out. Blinded by her fury and unreasoning. Mikeio raised her

 sword and thrusted at his windpipe he fell back to avoid it

 but Mikeio had already employed the move that she had learned

 from the kendo master. Inexperienced in the move and

 retaining a large lack of control, Mikeio’s blow was

 unchecked and swung with full power. Her opponent was less

 skilled and far bulkier so instead of flipping, the stroke

 connected breaking both his legs.

 Mikeio, seeing what she had done, dropped her own sword

 in horror. She stumbled backwards and fell tears streaming,

 her pent up anger vented and dissipated. Mikeio’s friends

 knew they had let it go too far. This would have a permanent

 affect on Mikeio. Even with the injuries in the match the

 judges heartlessly declared Mikeio winner and registered her

 for the Championship event. The other female, stood in

 seething anger watching Mikeio and hating Mikeio for what she

 had done. Mikeio followed the stretcher to the ambulance and

 would have gone to the hospital had not the other girl pushed

 her away from the man.

 * * *

 Mikeio sat in the setting sun in front of the rock in

 the garden. The evil in her had all but vanished and only

 regret remained. Yet now she could focus her mind on the

 beauty of the stone and in sadness with herself, be at peace.

 Later that evening, Mikeio called the officials to drop her

 from the tournament but they insisted that she come and threatened that if she didn’t that they’d hold her

 responsible for the injured’s medical costs. Mikeio was

 tempted to accept the fee but she realized that the money

 would come out of the Nokumura household and understood that

 she had set this into motion and she would have to resolve

 it herself.

 That night she placed her hand on the hilt of the

 ancient katana and realized that she had misinterpreted the

 sword as a fighting weapon rather than a symbol of order and government, it was a work of art that represented simplicity,

 beauty, and peace, rather than war and revenge, the kind of

 revenge she had inflicted on herself. Now she understood her

 sensei’s last message. The sword was indeed the infinitesimal

 line between good and evil and by wielding it righteously,

 only sheathed, could it serve her. She had taken the other

 route. How could she attend the next day and not repeat the

 recent events or have herself as the victim. She looked to

 her Sensei for help and she envisioned him asking her to seek

 it through love. She thought of _____—— then she saw

 Tom, Cindi, and Michelle. Friendship was a love beyond any infatuation. Of course _____——‘s death hurt her and she

 would forever care for him, but the living must survive the

 dead and not dwell on memories too long; to live only in the

 dead’s memory and dwell too long on grief only insured the

 futility of death. Almost unconsciously, Mikeio unsheathed

 the Miko and closed her eyes. She let herself fill the room

 and feel all that was in it and saw what was the true thing

 that hurt her to the point of insanity. Like an adder, the

 Miko came alive. The blade snaked out, struck, and delicately sliced through the preserved petal of the peony

 corsage that ______—— had given to her on that fateful

 night. Mikeio rose and thought, “It is truly harder to carve

 the wood and make it a sculpture rather than obliterating it

 with a strike. Arigato Sensei.” Suddenly she knew what she

 had to do the following day. She reached into the sword box

 and crumbled the magnolia leaf into dust. She was reborn.

 * * *

 At the tournament the next day, the Amazon glared with

 unveiled hate at Mikeio as the start of the match was

 signaled. Mikeio stood sword down and unmoving. She didn’t

 even ready herself into a defensive stance. The other girl

 angered by her lack of preparation as if in insult, charged

 Mikeio. Mikeio’s friends yelled out for Mikeio to defend

 herself and not sacrifice herself for mere regrets. When the

 blow landed Mikeio was no longer there. Utilizing all her

 skill she had avoided the strike, flipped into the air and

 landed in back of her opponent. The crowd yelled for her to

 finish the her opponent off but Mikeio simply stood again.

 Again and again the other struck and again and again Mikeio

 dodged. Then, when the other girl employ a move too fast to

 be dodged, Mikeio struck. There was an ear-shattering crack

 and Mikeio landed kneeling in behind her rival, sword

 extended, bathed in sweat from one move. The other girl collapsed, not from injury but from disbelief. Her sword was

 shattered from tip to hilt but she was unscathed. When she

 could talk she turned around to Mikeio and congratulated her

 on her win, but Mikeio had fainted from exertion.

 * * *

 “Flight 102 to Tokyo now boarding on Gate 12. Passengers, please have your boarding passes ready. Flight

 102 now boarding Gate 12.”

 Mikeio turned and waved to her friends before walking

 through the clean hall to her airplane. When she had found

 her seat, she fastened her seatbelt and straightened her

 jeans with a perfectly manicured hand. She sported a light

 blue sweatshirt with the logo “I’m an American” splashed

 across the front. From her seat next to the window, she

 could see the forms of those people dear to her. She waved

 even though she knew that they could not see her. She felt

 whole again. Forever, would she remember him but that was

 what she wanted, never to forget him. In addition, now she

 had her revered sword and her honor once more.

 From the window of the terminal, Mikeio’s friends looked

 at the plane and could not help feeling that a part of them

 was going away too. As the plane taxied into the darkness of

 the runway, Tom drew Michelle close and together, they turned

 to leave.

 The plane roared down the runway east to Japan. Mikeio

 pressed her nose to the glass and saw a land as much of a

 homeland as Japan could ever be. Within the bowels of the

 plane a lone little girl gazed back at the lights of the land

 she had learned to call her own, and shed a tear.

 On ______——-‘s grave below in the little cemetery,

 lay the ticket stubs from the winter ball and a corsage with

 a split petal.

 * * *

 I am alone yet never lonely. Even among people, I can

 be alone. Thus I am enlightened.

 * finis *