The next day as he was about to board the train, still telling himself that Otoko could not be expected to come to the station, her pupil Sakami Keiko appeared.
“Happy New Year! Miss Ueno says she wanted to see you off, but she’s had to make New Year’s calls all morning, and this afternoon people are coming to see her. So I’m here in her place.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Oki replied. Her beauty attracted attention among the few holiday travelers. “This is the second time I’ve troubled you.”
“Not at all.”
Keiko was wearing the same kimono as last night: a bluish figured satin with a design of plovers fluttering among scattered snowflakes. The plovers gave it color, but it was rather somber holiday finery for such a young girl.
“That’s a handsome kimono. Did Miss Ueno paint the design?”
“No,” she blushed faintly. “I did it myself, though it’s not what I’d hoped.”
Actually the somber kimono brought out Keiko’s disturbing beauty all the more strikingly. And there was a youthfulness in the decorative color harmonies and varied shapes of the plovers. Even the scattered snowflakes seemed to be dancing.
Saying it was from Otoko, she gave him several boxes of Kyoto delicacies to eat on the train.
During the few minutes the train waited in the station Keiko came over and stood at his window. As he saw her there framed in the window it occurred to him that, in her whole life, this might be the time when she was at her most beautiful. He had not known Otoko in the full flower of her youthful beauty. She was sixteen when they parted.
Oki opened his supper early, around four-thirty. It was an assortment of New Year’s foods, including some small, perfectly formed rice balls.
They seemed to express a woman’s emotions. No doubt Otoko herself had made them for the man who had long ago destroyed her girlhood.
Chewing the little bite-sized rice balls, he could feel her forgiveness in his very tongue and teeth. No, it was not forgiveness, it was love. Surely it was a love that still lived deep within her.
All he knew of her years in Kyoto was that she had made her way alone, as a painter. Perhaps there had been other lovers, other affairs. Yet he knew that what she felt for him was a young girl’s desperate love. He himself had gone on to other women. but he had never loved again with such pain.
Beauty and Sadness
– Chapter 2: Early Springs –