Once Mr. Ando was in bed, dry and warm from a hot bath, he did thank me, although he obviously still resented the whole dunking incident.
“There was no other way?” He groused.
“Not that I learned,” I said cheerfully.
He seemed to take that as an invitation to look me up and down sceptically. “You’re…awfully young.”
“I get that a lot.”
“But you do seem to know your business,” He said, and hesitated. “Do you know who – who would curse me like that?”
“Could be anyone. You never know who might hate you for whatever reason.”
If there was one thing I learned, it was that the smallest, most insignificant things, even done without purpose, could inexplicably press down on someone’s sore spot. And it was those things that brought the harshest, wildest kinds of anger.
“So you do know who it was?”
I took a sip of the hot tea his wife had brought us and I could feel her watching my back, anxious.
“I’ll show you a trick.” I offered. Taking out an incense stick, I lit it with a spark, and waved it around until the flame settled into a burning ember. The smell of aloeswood filled the room and I inhaled the pleasant, thick scent that was practically tangible. It was the smell of protection.
“Here. Hold this.” Mr. Ando held the stick. “Now blow the smoke, gently.”
The trail of smoke spread through the room, seeking and reaching, until it reached the closet. I went to open it and found a bottle of rice sake half-hidden behind a stack of shirts. I took out the bottle, and the smoke formed a blurry face of a man.
“That man, the one who gave you the bottle cursed you.”
“That’s…that’s Oshida!” Mr. Ando said, scrambling up. “He did this? But we’ve been friends since university!”
Friends were precarious things. Humans were so used to playing games, they put on masks of mirth and hid the hatred underneath. That was what Gosenbo-san always said. Allies could be trusted; there was a purpose to the connection. But being friends was a relationship that relied wholly on emotions and emotions were fickle.
“Thank you for the tea.” I bowed and left Mr. Ando to his confusion.
“I’ll send the money to the account,” Mrs. Ando said softly. “Thank you for your help.”
“If anything else happens, please feel free to call,” I recited.
She walked me to the door, reached out a hand, then thought better of it. “Wait. Do
you know? About us?”
“Me and…Oshida,” She whispered. “It wasn’t meant to be anything, just a one-time thing. A-and it got out of control. Did he do this because of me?”
“I don’t know, maybe he just always hated your husband.” Her gasp told me that was not the answer she expected. Maybe some part of her had wanted this to be about her, two men fighting over her, one desperate enough to curse her husband. It was all fun and games until someone got tortured to death.
“It’s really not my place,” I said. “If you want to be with him, more power to you, but this guy’s already proven he can resort to things like curses when he doesn’t get what he wants. If I were you, I’d get the hell out of there.”
Her eyes were wide and fearful as she struggled to hold back tears.
“I can’t tell Yoshi. He’d never forgive me,” She said, clenching her hands together. “Please, don’t tell him.”
“Marriage counselling’s not part of my job description. But here,” I took out two amulets and gave them to her. “One for your husband and you keep the other one. In case he turns against you. Thanks for your business. ”
Despite harbouring suspicions that her lover had been behind her husband’s condition, Mrs. Ando had obviously never considered the fact that said lover might turn his penchant for resorting to curses on her. Curses were sly that way. They could do things, make things go away and it seemed to cost you nothing so you use it again and again because, why not?
I saw this kind of thing all the time. The stupidity of my clients used to bother me – I had to bite my tongue just to keep from screaming at them – but now I was mostly numb to it. You couldn’t change people. It was human nature to push the boundaries, to be greedy for more, and by the time you realize you’ve been sucked in by your own curses, it was too late for anyone to do anything, even me.