We broke off when we reached the steps that led up to Mitsuo’s shrine marked by the torii gate– two upright wooden posts painted red with two cross-pieces at the top. All shrines, especially the major ones were marked off from the city by a long path.
It was meant to be a symbol that the shrine was separated from the secular and into the nature. A long patch of forest led up to the Masuda shrine. Shrines were a place for gods and people to congregate and had to be kept pure.
Looking up at the steps that led to his home, Mitsuo seemed to deflate right before my eyes. He sighed heavily, rolled his shoulders like he was gearing up for a fight and gave me a tight smile and wave before setting off. I watched him disappear up the steps. I never remembered seeing Mitsuo happy when he was in the company of his family.
My temple on the other hand, was situated at the end of a market street. Each side of the pavement was lined with small grocery stores selling vegetables, fish, meat, wine and everything else. Everyday I walked home from school among the shouted announcements of today’s specials. It was a street that liked to play up festivities, where children never strayed far away from home and people tended to marry their neighbors. And underneath it all, I heard the whispers from customers about ‘that Kanda boy’. Parents talked about my delinquent habits and the ‘reform’ school I attended, giving warnings to newcomers to keep their children away from me.
To be fair, they weren’t all like that. A lot of the storeowners knew my family and generally liked us. The vegetable guy made sure to hail me down whenever there were peaches because he knew it was my brother Hajime’s favorite. The curry lady always slipped us extra katsu – deep-fried pork cutlets – when we ordered although we weren’t exactly that hard up for money. And the lady with the old style candy store gave me free bubblegum that always came with a pinch on my cheeks. While I breathed in the air that smelled of raw fish and vegetables, I watched the sky turn into a bright slashing blend of orange and red, the last hurrah of the sun before it disappeared for the night. I could already see beady little eyes opening up from sleep and thinking, playtime.