By Ernest Lee
He is an old fashioned individual.
Truthfully, ‘old school’ would be a more accurate term to use in describing the man I wish to work for. So, when I was advised to dress traditionally, I understood precisely what was intended. I believe my appearance will be acceptable, however, I am apprehensive. There is much weighing upon the moment.
I have never met him, not personally. I know what he looks like, of course. I have researched him and his firm extensively. As has he of me. This is most certain, for not everyone is invited to his home.
When I received the notice, I became encouraged. This is a good sign. Now, as our encounter draws near … I begin to question myself. Have I assumed too much? Have I overstepped? Am I under dressed? I know what to expect … I think.
My mind trembles before the cost of failure, yet my heart leaps with hope and possibility as I forge toward destiny. Pacing the length of mortared wall festooned with Jasmine vines, the midday air is moist upon my skin. It is cool beneath the gray spring sky which soothes my fevered soul. I have made a bold move, one to further or defeat my cause.
Approaching the heavy plank door set into the tall brown wall causes it to open. My arrival is expected, and has been watched for. Swinging inward, the barrier is held open by a young woman, heavily painted, dressed in a pale blue Kimono embroidered with the image of a Red-crowned Crane. Her obi is white, eyes downcast.
She ushers me within, and I wait for her to secure the entrance. The garden is lush. Maples and Willows are heavily budding, Cherries and Plums are in full bloom. Evergreen shrubbery accentuates the open spaces. Reeds and grasses suggest transition and border. Hints of falling water echo off of the enclosing walls, rhythmically punctuated by knocking bamboo fixtures.
Following the woman along a meandering path, quickly passing statuary and shrines, I suddenly feel distressed. The graveled walkway grates beneath our sandals. The sound of my impertinence being ground under our feet?
Circumnavigating an impressive Aucuba shrub, the end of my tortuous journey appears. Stepping onto the engawa, a porch of polished blonde wood, we slip out of our sandals. I wash in the marble basin overflowing cold, clear water to a Koi pond. The chill awakens and refreshes my soul. She presents a cloth to dry myself, and waits. When finished, she slips open a translucent panel, framed in cherry wood, allowing access to the space within.
Respectfully, I await invitation.
Another woman, also dressed in a blue Kimono, emblazoned with lotus flowers, pulls aside an opaque panel on the other side of the room. A formidable man steps to the portal. My host is well known for his intimidating presence. His scowling visage, simply ferocious. We are wearing similar white Kimonos, unadorned, wide shouldered, with black obi. I fear an error on my part, and experience a moment of trepidation, while awaiting his judgment.
Lowering his head to clear the transom and honor the room, he enters, pauses, and invites me to join him with a curt nod. I also must bow to enter, and pause. As both panels whisper closed, we pay each other respect with a rigid bow, made only at our waist. I ensure mine is deeper than his.
My host assumes the position of honor before the tokonoma. We sit seiza, with myself opposite, and we nod, bowing once again. Neither of us has made eye contact, not a word has been spoken.
While the woman I followed assembles our utensils, the other arranges the first course of our meal. The Master silently prepares tea.
My host politely examines the tatami between his knees. An act permitting me to appreciate the grace of an elegant arrangement within a simple white urn behind him, without appearing rude. It is the only decoration within this room, implying peace and tranquility. It is powerful, and I rest, settled upon my heels.
Grace and simplicity, these are embodied in the liquidity of motion as we are served Wagashi, the shape and color of cherry blossoms, with a thick foamy green tea. Our bowls are intricately painted ceramic. Finishing my tea, I examine the utensil, and put it down before me, the front presented to my host.
Without pause, the tatami between us is cleared, then filled with Onigiri and Sake, served within delicate blue and white vessels.
Shortly, the tatami is again swept clear, to allow presentation of the tea.
In small porcelain cups, of simple design and structure, we are served pale green tea. It is a superior quality, of which I am unfamiliar. I am offered another, which I desire, yet politely decline as I admire the cup cradled in my palm. It is a delicate thing, white with a single blue line painted along the rim. There are translucent beads of ‘rice’ arranged throughout its form. As soon as I return it to the tatami, it too is whisked away.
With the ceremony now complete, my host finally makes eye contact, it is brief. We bow deeply to honor each other before rising, always he before I.
His voice, deep and stentorian, causes the room to vibrate as he speaks, “My office, nine, tomorrow.” Without further interaction, he departs via the same opaque panel through which he appeared.
I am shown to my sandals, and led to the gate at a pace more subdued than that of my arrival. This enables me to mingle with the ambiance through which I pass. The rocking of bamboo appliances no longer cause nervous discord, neither does the sporadic fall of water suggest imminent collapse. Rather, I experience a calming through repetition and a washing of peace, as subtle as the gardens through which I travel.
Drawing near the end of my passage, I spy the first drift of falling blossoms, both pink and white.
As does my future, spring prepares to bear fruit.