Tomita fixed his eyes on the master.
“So it’s another lecture. You hardly hear a word before you realize you’ve been taught something. What a pain.” With a slight grimace he continued. “I admit I’m obliged for the sake. But how am I supposed to keep silent when all I get with my sake are some noodles, and on top of that I have to listen to these lectures–I can’t stand it.”
The master smiled. “But who on earth was it that started attacking Buddhist doctrine?”
“Well if you stop your sermon I won’t criticize Buddhist doctrine. But I won’t stop my attack on your bachelorhood, you know. When I go to Minomura’s place, the dishes are different. There has been a divine oracle that Oume-san is to serve me as I sit before the tokonoma.1 And so when I go there delicacies of all sorts are piled before me.”
“I don’t understand. Who is this Minomura, and why are you making so much of this Oume-san?”
“Well, she really is something else. When I sit there before the tokonoma, because there was this oracle even Minomura himself retreats to a corner and prostrates himself.”
“Who is this Minomura?”
“Minomura? He’s the man who opened the children’s hospital out toward Nagahama. One day while he was still in mourning for his previous wife, someone left a great sea bream at his door. He was terribly surprised and went around making a great fuss trying to find out who left it. Oume-san, who was still his maid at the time, said it was from Inari-sama as though it were plain as day, and soon set about preparing the fish and making the nonplussed Minomura eat it.2 That was the strange start to it all. Since then there have been these oracles from Inari-sama from time to time. There was even one telling Minomura to marry Ume, spoken through Oume-san herself of course. When Minomura made the preparations for the wedding Oume-san asked with a puzzled face where Mr. Minomura’s wife might be coming from. According to one of the oracles I myself am a vessel of divine will and am to be served well.”
“A suspicious woman indeed,” Togawa butted in.
“What? It’s not just that I’m served so well, but she really is a good wife. All of the children who check into the clinic grow fond of her. They say she takes good care of them. It’s just that sometimes there are these oracles.”
The Neikoku priest had been listening with his constant smile, exchanging glances with the master, but suddenly he said “Goodnight” and left. There wasn’t even time to see him to the door.
This priest was always coming and going out of the blue like that.
The wind howled. Take brought a copper teakettle to pour into the teapot and said, “The skies have completely cleared up.”
“We should be leaving, shouldn’t we?” Togawa said.
Tomita spread a wide grin over his wide face. “But I can’t leave just yet. The master here, who seems to take his bachelorhood as a vocation, has retreated. I have to launch my final offensive. Now it’s the same with Minomura. I don’t know why Inari-sama would choose the maid Oume-san as his wife, or why she is a vessel for such oracles. But anyway, the fact that Minomura was able to find a second wife was fortuitous for him. He suffers no inconvenience in his day to day life. And neither do I, as his guest. If the master is happy, so are his guests.”
No matter how much Tomita babbled the smile never disappeared from the master’s unconcerned face.
Togawa winked at the master. “Now, it really is quite late. I’m off.”
He made to get up but stopped and once again urged Tomita. “Come on, you should go too. We understand your point now. We get it.”
Finally Togawa dragged Tomita away.
Tomita made his way to the entrance, staggering slightly, and shouted out in a booming voice. “Hey! Take-san! There should have been enough sake for another hot glass, but I’ll leave it in your care until next time.”
The master came out to see them off and whispered to Togawa, “Shall I call a carriage?”
“What? We’re going the same way anyway. I’ll see him as far as his place. Goodbye.”
1) The tokonoma is an alcove in Japanese rooms, often where a scroll or other object of aesthetic appreciation is hung. The seat in front of the tokonoma is the seat of honor.
2) Inari-sama is one of the gods of Japan’s native religion Shinto.