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The pan sizzled over the searing fire.
Fay stirred now and then to prevent the rice from sticking. Dense clouds of steam rose into the air every time she mixed in cold water.
"Grace!" she called without turning around.
At first, no one replied.
"It's going to get cold if you don't hurry up!"
Sure enough, she recognized the sound of footsteps approaching the house. In a matter of seconds Grace flew through the doorway, almost knocking down multiple pieces of furniture.
"Where have you been?"
Fay shrugged and put the pan back on the stove.
"Hey! I thought you said the food was ready!"
"Yeah, I lied. It will be done in five minutes. I knew if I called you when it was ready it would be cold before the time you got here," said Fay.
"Ughh," Grace sighed as she took a seat and rested her head on the table.
About forty seconds later, Grace asked, "Is it ready now?"
The mother smiled to herself. Even though she was an adult and Grace was nine years old, Fay always noticed her daughter's striking similarities. Personality wise, they were vivacious and outgoing; Ren escaped the house because he said he couldn't "handle their charisma." Compared to her father's, the girl's personality was visibly bold; she certainly inherited it from her mother. Their dynamic dispositions weren't always bubbly, though. Fay and Grace followed their emotions, no matter how irrational, sometimes making rash decisions. In many instances, recklessness was both their greatest strength and weakness.
Grace was still a kid in so many ways, but she was growing up nonetheless. Fay watched her learn and mature everyday. Grace had begun to realize the world wasn't just a playground anymore. Well, she still ran around and climbed, but she experienced her world differently now. The little girl's life opened up each time she met a new person or discovered a new place. Fay's attention returned to her daughter who resembled a snail-sloth in the way she plopped her head on the table.
Fay prepared a plate of rice and fish. On the Island, there wasn't much of a variety of food to eat besides rice, fish, and...well...fish.
She placed the food in front of her daughter.
"I want you to finish all of it."
Grace languidly tilted her head to the side and wordlessly began to eat. Meanwhile, her mother used a nearby rag to clean the pan. She soaked the rag to scrape off the burnt rice and then dried it off with a clean towel. Fay wiped a bead of sweat off her brow and turned to measure her daughter's progress.
Grace reclined back in her chair, arching her back to make it look like her belly was full. Close to two thirds of the food remained on her plate.
"I'm soooo full," she groaned, accentuating the groan.
"You barely touched it! C'mon three more bites," said Fay.
Grace took what were possibly the tiniest three bites ever, picked up her plate, and brought it over to her mom.
"Can I go back outside now?" asked Grace, already inching towards the door.
Fay didn't respond at first. She seemed to be contemplating something as she gazed with a far away look in her eye.
"Actually, I wanted to show you something."
Grace looked less than enthusiastic.
"It's a surprise, wait just a second," said Fay as she went into her room.
Moments later, she returned, carrying a long rectangular box wrapped in silk.
"What is that?" asked Grace, now curious.
"I'll show you but not here. Follow me."
Fay led her outside, past the houses, and to the rice field. In the midst of the growing season, the rice reached straight towards the sun, growing almost as tall as Grace. The grain created a seemingly endless sea of green that rippled like waves in the wind. Daughter followed mother, one after the other, through the narrow columns. Rice tapered high on both sides, forming a compressed tunnel. The plants brushed up against them as they made their way through. Fay did most of the work, pushing aside the underbrush while Grace enjoyed the secret feeling of the tunnel; the fact that her mother had a surprise added to the mystique.
Finally, the two reached the end and entered the interior of the field. During the day while they worked, Farmers used the vacant center as both a meeting area and a place to store their tools, water, or whatever else they needed. At this time, the farmers had long departed, returning to their homes and families. The last rays of sunlight waned under the flat tree line, and the familiar signs of dusk followed. The ground felt cool and earthy beneath Grace's feet, and the fresh air heightened her awareness. All around her, the night woke up and began to stir. The ever-present hum of insects permeated the air, and occasionally a cricket chirped from beneath a rock somewhere. Fireflies, which had technically been there the entire time, only now became visible as fleeting flashes hanging in the nightfall. Grace's eyes adjusted to the dimness of her surroundings. Her focus snapped back to reality.
Her mother stood before her, wearing a white long-sleeved gown. Against the darkness, the gown had a soothing effect on the eyes, emanating a type of serene fluorescence that Grace couldn't quite place. Fay preferred wearing simple, comfortable clothing as opposed to the usual, elaborate garb of other women. Grace always admired her mother for her common elegance. The way she carried herself, her deliberate action, and her smooth motion exuded a caring type of confidence. Fay delicately unwrapped the silk bundle, revealing a wooden box. Gently, she opened it.
The stainless sword wavered like a mirage. Fay grasped the hilt, which was bonded tightly by black leather strips, and extended it out in a straight line, an extension of her arm. Grace stared, mesmerized by the blade and her reflection that stared unflinchingly back at her.
"Woah," she gasped in awe.
"The Way of the Sword has always been about discipline, philosophy, beauty, and truth. You're grandmother began teaching me when I was about your age."
She held the sword in front of Grace.
"This katana has been passed down for generations."
"When the time comes, it will be your turn to continue the tradition."
"You're going to teach me how to fight? When do I start?"
Her mother laughed.
"First you need to learn the basics."
Fay sat cross-legged and motioned for Grace to do the same. She balanced the sword on her fingertips, under the tip of the blade and the hilt. As if holding fragile glass, she passed it to her daughter.
"Careful, it's not a toy."
The blade was light as a feather and so sharp that Grace thought it could carve through the air. Her heart pounded as she examined the weapon, running her fingers along the blade, the blood groove, and the tempered line. She recognized the traditional braided handle, or tsuka. She read the inscription etched into the base.
"The Noble Eightfold Path."
As if Fay could sense her daughter's fascination with the inscription, she explained, "The Noble Eightfold Path is not only vital to the Way of the Sword, but it is a way of life. The path leads to the end of suffering, or detachment."
Grace looked up from the sword.
"How is that possible?"
Fay ran her hand through the grass.
"There are trainings called prajñã, síla, and samãdhí. Prajñã stresses wisdom through the practice of right view and right intention. It is the right way of looking at life, nature, and the world as they really are for us. It lets us understand how our reality works."
She turned and faced Grace.
"Síla stresses ethical conduct, how we act towards society, other people. By achieving balance with the outside, you can achieve balance within."
She nodded at the katana.
"The final training, samãdhí, is most important to the Way of the Sword. The word samãdhí translates to "concentration." Wielding a sword requires total focus. This can be achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience."
"Are you detached?" asked Grace, immediately feeling a bit awkward about how she phrased the question.
"I don't know my destiny, and I accept that. All I know is that you and your father are in my life, and because of that I cannot suffer. As long as you two are happy and healthy, I will be the happiest woman alive."
She paused, and then said with a smirk, "But if for some reason either one of you run into trouble, then I'll take matters into my own hands."
In this moment, Grace regretted every time she had been a pain to her mother, and she wondered why the spirits blessed her with such an amazing influence in her life. Fay timidly paced back and forth, running her hands through the grass, gazing up at the sky, thinking about something far away. In this atmosphere she was so unlike the woman cleaning the burnt rice off the pan. Sitting cross-legged on the earth, the skinny girl hoped one day she could be just like her mother. Then, Grace remembered the katana resting in her lap.
"So now are you going to teach me how to use this thing?" Grace grinned.
Fay stopped pacing.
"You need to learn the basics first. Perhaps I should give a demonstration."
Grace passed the sword back to her mother.
Fay closed her eyes and relaxed her grip on the katana. She held the blade differently than Grace. When Grace held it she felt uncomfortable, awkward even, but her mother looked natural, as if she was born with a sword in her hand. Fay breathed in the night air, inhaling and exhaling in rhythm with the darkness of her mind. Her daughter, the breeze, the sounds, all the distractions faded into inhale, exhale. Her heart beat methodically to the cadence, inhale, exhale. All was silent, save for the inhale, the exhale.
Eyes closed, she stepped confidently, extending the katana forward. In the circle of swaying grass, she began a beautiful dance. The woman and the katana moved effortlessly, without loss of motion, in perfect unison. Her gown and dark hair streamed softly in the breeze, yet her eyes remained closed. The katana flashed with enlivened spirit and seemed to enjoy itself. The two strung together a series of steps, each one building upon the next. Grace could barely make out what was happening as the dance picked up speed. Each action was so efficient, so deliberate. The woman and the sword whirled as if performing a pirouette yet remained surefooted, on balance. All the while her eyes were closed, inhale, exhale.
As if the music changed pace, Fay transitioned fluently away from the center of the field and advanced along the perimeter next to the swaying grass. The blade sliced the edges of the grass ever so finely, and she never missed a step. The white dress trailed like moonlight as she came full circle, back in front of her daughter. Then, all was still.
The night stood motionless in veneration of the display. A passive breeze rolled over the waves of grain and, when it reached the center, shook loose the cuts made by the katana. In even symmetry, the row of rice fell away and fluttered to the earth only to be lifted by the wind. The grass snaked and coiled, completely subject to the wind's demands. Spellbound, Grace craned her neck and followed the wind as it carried the grain high into the sky and out of sight. Then, all was still, once again, save for the inhale, exhale.
"It's not about fighting," said Fay, whose sudden proximity jolted Grace back to reality.
"It's not about enemies, war, or killing, either."
"The sword becomes part of your identity."
"It's a source of discipline, a way of life."
Grace barely even listened to her words.
"How the spirits did you do that? That was amazing"'
Fay smiled warmly.
"Lots of practice. Lots and lots of practice."
"I don't care what it takes. One day I want to be able to do that, to move like that," said Grace.
This time, the daughter led her mother back through the narrow tunnel of rice, student followed by teacher.
Upon entering the house, Ren raised an eyebrow.
"Where were you two?"
"Uhhh...nowhere," both answered simultaneously.
Her father shrugged. Mother and daughter laughed at the similarity of this moment to the exchange they had when Grace came in for dinner.
As the atmosphere calmed down, Fay realized how long they had been out. It had to be close to midnight by now.
She turned to her daughter.
"Time for bed."
Normally, Grace protested each time her mother told her to go to bed, but this time was different. After the experience in the field, she saw her mother in a different light. Even if she didn't know it, she now saw the world in a different light, too. The way her mother moved, the way the sword flashed, the way the grasses carried fleetingly into the sky, and the whole experience shed light on the world in terms of "discipline, philosophy, beauty, and truth". Grace began to understand why her father gravitated towards the simplicity of the pond, why her mother practiced the Way of the Sword, why the symmetry of the White Lotus captivated her as a child. So when her mother told her to go to bed, she obeyed without hesitation. She didn't think about the reason she obeyed. Maybe her body needed physical rest, or maybe her thoughts were just too loud.
The wild girl breathed easily as she closed her eyes. The reality of the bed, the room, and the house faded into the distance. She focused on the evanescent images that flashed in the forefront of her mind. Dreams of streaming white gowns, katanas, and endless sky, they too faded into the distance until the only thing left was blackness and a steady rhythm: Inhale, exhale.
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