The Tea Ceremony
'Well, this is awkward,' Ayu thought, listening in silence while Kazumi's grandparents fulfilled their granddaughter's promise; namely, the promise that they would, as Kazumi put it, "verbally tear her apart, even if someone else was in the room." And that someone, unfortunately, was Ayu.
"I don't appreciate," Tsuyoshi Kiyomizu, Kazumi's grandfather, started, "that you seem to be so intent on going against us."
"We try to instill proper values upon you, and you in return spit in our faces," Rin Kiyomizu, the grandmother, added sternly.
"All we ask of you is to respect your body, and lose weight to make yourself presentable
And what do you do?" He rested his face on his palm for a moment and sighed heavily. "You come back larger than you've ever been
And you bring along your little fat friend!"
Ayu shifted slightly, both to ease the pain forced upon her knees and to express her discomfort with that statement in as subtle a way as possible. Kazumi just sat there quietly, casting her gaze downward with overwhelming shame.
In normal circumstances, Ayu would've had a problem with that; but this was, in no way, "normal." The moment the two girls reached the front door of the expansive, old-world manor, she knew that this was going to be harder than she thought
A young woman arrived at the door. Bows were exchanged, and the woman led the two into a little waiting room. After the woman left the room, Ayu turned to Kazumi with a shocked look on her face. "They have a servant?!" she asked in disbelief.
Kazumi just muttered, "Servants," in response.
The first order of business was to engage in a traditional tea ceremony, to welcome the two girls back to a realm of old-world activities and customs. Even though Ayu and Kazumi had studied all the proper etiquette and protocol and knew that this excess anxiety was just part of the ceremony, the knowledge did nothing to ease the girls' troubled mind.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable waiting, the assistant woman returned and brought them into a small, dew-covered garden that sat next to a plain, wooden building, the teahouse. A small, three-foot screen door seemed to be the only way in and out of the teahouse, and Ayu knew this would be the opening through which Kazumi's grandparents would welcome their guests. After a little more waiting, a couple of figures dipped down through this tiny door into the garden.
After they made their way through the hole, the old couple stood up ominously, their tall, lean physiques nothing short of intimidating to anyone, especially the two rather short, chubby teens. The disdainful glare that permanently adorned their slender faces only deepened as they saw the size of their guests, Kazumi in particular.
The girls bowed deeply, to which they received short head nods in response. They were led through the same door Kazumi's grandparents came from, and Ayu, being the last one in, latched the door behind her. There was a small moment of panic when Kazumi tried to go through the opening; she suddenly found that the extra girth added to her already stunningly wide posterior was a tad to large for the narrow doorway. The very edges of her soft, ample rear caught the edges of the frame, preventing her forward progression. Ayu saw this and, standing right behind her in line, thought quickly and pushed her friend through, causing a small, but audible, gasp of pain to escape Kazumi's lips on the other side. In a split second of hesitation, however, Ayu caught a pretty hefty eye-full of Kazumi's enormous, round, orange bottom presenting itself to her and, despite the sheer amount of stress she was experiencing, found herself grinning at the sight of her friend's bottom-heavy predicament.
They held the ceremony in silence, everyone courteously going through their perspective roles without incident. When the ceremony was over and the meals were brought out, the verbal abuse began.
Tsuyoshi, the taller and apparently more forceful of the two, spoke up first, with a line that would foreshadow the rest of their stay. "You've gotten bigger," he said, his words aimed toward his own granddaughter. While he could've gotten the same message across more politely with, "You've grown," the undeniable malice in his voice showed that he in no way considered re-wording himself.
He had a frighteningly strict aura about him, that all seemed to branch off of his sternly narrowed eyes; it was obvious that the wide, loving eyes that Kazumi wore came from her father's side of the family. His short, grey cropped hair was cleanly trimmed, as well as his thinly furrowed brows. A square chin edged the bottom of a long and narrow face, riddled with the hard-earned wrinkles of a lifetime of hardship and work. The pure white, ornate silk robe he sported adorned his slim, 6'5'' body impressively, giving all those who saw him the immediate impression of royalty, which was confirmed by the rest of his personality.
Rin was just as imposing and only slightly shorter, at around 6'2''. She had her grey hair tied up in a traditional bun, decorated with classy ornaments that emitted a certain air of wealth. Her pointed chin, paired with her incredibly gaunt cheekbones, displayed almost no amount of baby fat whatsoever on her face. Her kimono, just as white and silky as her husbands, was also draped across a body so slender, it didn't seem to have any kind of access padding.
Kazumi nodded shamefully, knowing full well what this small statement would spark
"You don't listen to us," Tsuyoshi blurted suddenly, bringing Ayu back to the present, "you ignore our rule, you show no self control, no respect for your own body, you conform to this Western culture--this
Western disease, and completely abandon your Japanese heritage!
"Do your parents just not pay attention to you anymore?" Rin snapped, a statement so cold it actually made Ayu shiver somewhat.
"Oh no," Tsuyoshi countered. "Don't put all the blame on the parents, even if they deserve it. No, she's the one who's shown she has absolutely no restraint
The room quieted. For at least three minutes, no one spoke. The silence was stifling, hanging in the air like a crow staring down the participants of this traditional charade with malice. The only noise that could be heard was the occasional slurping of tea. Ayu would take small glances at her friend, who sat there as she had been for the last half hour or so: her head downcast and a heavy frown adorning her face. Anger filled her; an anger so strong that she could barely keep herself from screaming at the top of her lungs; an anger aimed toward the only two people in the world that were able to do this to her Kazumi. But she sat there, quietly intimidated, and waited for someone to break the silence.
Of course, that someone was Tsuyoshi. "Answer me this, Kazumi," he stated calmly, lacing his fingers together menacingly. "Did we tell you to lose weight the last time we were here?"
Kazumi, without looking up, answered timidly, "In more ways than one, yes sir." The fact that her extremely cheerful friend sounded so depressed from just a simple question made Ayu want to drive her fist through the table
But again, she stayed composed.
"And have you, or have you not, gained weight?"
Once again, Kazumi squeaked out her response, "I've gained weight, sir."
" Kazumi lied, taking over 10 pounds off her total to make it less embarrassing.
Tsuyoshi sighed deeply, lowering his head in shame. "So
" he started off, his anger rising. "If you could not follow a simple set of instructions
or at least try to
how can we trust you anymore?"
Before Kazumi could speak up, he continued on his tirade. "Throughout your life, we have been trying to instill proper values during these two-day-a-year visits
to keep you from ending up undisciplined like your mother
But you don't seem to realize that we have something valuable to teach you. You blow off our advice as if we do not know what we're talking about!"
"You've been overweight your entire life, and every time we see you, we try to warn you about your lifestyle decision; you're
eat all you can eat, throw all caution and self-regard out the window, live for today, forget tomorrow lifestyle, that jeopardizes your future and causes all your loved ones unnecessary worry and embarrassment. Which is what you're becoming: an unnecessary embarrassment."
"But we love you, and we try to help you
But you don't LISTEN!" he blurted out angrily, filling the air with his intimidating rage. "You don't respect us! You don't trust us! You don't give our advice any effort! So how do you expect us to put forward the effort for you?! How do you expect us to respect you? How do you expect us to trust you!"
"Answer me!" he shouted, hitting his hand on the table, resulting in a loud thud! "How can we trust you?!"
"Why did you have to wear white?" Kazumi muttered sullenly, her voice laden with exhaustion.
"What?" Ayu replied, her arm draped around her friend in comfort. "What do you mean?"
"Did you notice how all three of you were wearing white, and I was the only one wearing orange? Like I needed another reason to stand out
After the disastrous tea ceremony, Ayu and Kazumi were finally given an opportunity to get away from the tension and disappointment surrounding the old couple. Kazumi, with as little energy as she could muster, brought Ayu to the gardens behind the home which she said would often calm her down in these situations.
"I thought that this was the kimono you wanted me to wear?" Ayu piped up in her defense. "Remember when we were renting them? I picked out that really colorful purple one, but you told me that I should wear something more plain?
So that I wouldn't stick out?
Kazumi sighed and grabbed the sides of her temple. "Can I be right this one time?"
Ayu found herself grinning, if only for a moment. She gave her friend a quick, apologetic hug and said, "You're right. I'm sorry."
As she hugged her, their faces so close together, she could feel a warm, moist tear roll down her friend's chubby cheek.
"No, stop that," she ordered her sternly, wiping the glistening fluid from Kazumi's flustered face. "Don't let them get to you. That's why I'm here; to keep you from being overwhelmed."
Kazumi sniffed as she shook her head and held up her hand in acknowledgement. "I know," she admitted, a small quiver in her voice. "I know. It's just
it's hard to get used to this."
"I know it is
Let's just try to focus on this view," she insisted, gazing toward the gardens. "
It's beautiful isn't it?"
And it really was. The lush, green expanses spread out as far as eye could see, dotted with the pink of the gentle, flowing leaves of the dainty cherry blossom trees. The occasional bird could be seen exiting their woody home for a moment, sending rustles throughout these iconic, elegant trees, bringing the two girls back into a world of Imperial Japanese peace. Through this meditative scenery, Ayu soon felt her stress flow away, much like the bubbling stream that coursed through this traditional wonderland. The carefully tended grass bent slightly in the calm, caressing breeze that enveloped their faces and carelessly blew through the stray locks of hair that escaped the two girls' constrictive buns, as well as the other various, but equally exquisite foliage that expanded throughout this vast horticultural bounty that existed just beyond the rim of the modern world. Slow smiles crept across the two girl's tired faces as they continued to stare into this never-ending plane of tranquility
but only for so long.
"So what is there to do around here?" Ayu asked, after about a solid thirty minutes staring into open space.
"This," Kazumi replied, her voice filled with long-awaited calmness.
"No, I mean
What do you usually do when you come here?"
"This," Kazumi repeated, a slight tinge of impatience creeping into her voice now.
"Seriously?!" Ayu blurted out. "Is this it?"
" Kazumi hissed out as she eyed her friend through narrow slits of annoyance. "And if you don't mind, I was just getting to the good part."
"No, no, no," Ayu protested, shaking her head. "There's gotta be more
Here, tell me what you do on an average trip, like if I wasn't here."
Kazumi sighed spitefully. "Since I guess this is over
Okay," she continued, taking a small moment to think, "let's see
I get here
We have the ceremony, and I get chewed out by my grandparents
I come out here to do this
I get chewed out by my grandparents at dinner
I come out here to do this again
I take a bath in the hot spring
I get chewed out by my grandparents once before bed
I go to sleep, and do it all again the next day."
"What was that?" Ayu piped up, shooting her hand up to get Kazumi's attention.
"My grandparents and I usually see each other once before we go to bed
It doesn't help me sleep at all-"
"Not that," Ayu interrupted. "Did you just say
" Kazumi replied, confused. "My grandparents' hot spring. It's on the other side of the house
"YOUR GRANDPARENTS HAVE A HOT SPRING?!!" Ayu practically shouted, turning on her friend so fast, she actually jumped in surprise.
" Kazumi started, before Ayu yanked on her wrist so hard that she got a little bit whip-lashed.
"Well what are you waiting for?!" she asserted, dragging Kazumi along by force. "Let's go!"
Meanwhile, somewhere inside the vast, Imperial home, Tsuyoshi and Rin sat in complete and utter silence. It was a silence constructed from decades upon decades of an almost-purely social marriage, bonding the two together with only small sprinkles of either love or affection. A silence that could make any unfortunate passerby quake in sheer anxiety; a silence that almost seemed as though it would never end
Somehow, however, it did. Tsuyoshi said, with as little emotion as possible, piped up, "I think dinner will be ready soon. Perhaps we should send one of the servants to search for the girls soon."
I think I'll go get them," Rin replied, a statement that surprised Tsuyoshi, who again showed now sign of emotional change. "I don't know if I trust this Ayu girl
It might be best if I bring them back myself."
"When will you go?" Tsuyoshi asked.