By Ananya Iyer
“Hintaru, over here!” Okawa says with a vibrant voice. The day is only beginning and he and his brother have been at it outside for quite some time now. There are bamboo chutes everywhere guarding the village like a wall. They separate the normal land from the forest filled with unknown creatures. The rugged patio spatters across the floor like stepping blocks. The village is a small otherworldly place with fisherman huts designed in bamboo and straw. It's very common for people to be walking the patio around here. “Hintaru!!!”
“Yes, Okawa?” Hintaru starts to leer towards Okawa, he hears him from a distance and makes his way to him. Okawa is standing on the beach out by the waves throwing skip rocks into the ocean. He discovered a way to make it skip 4 times and wanted to brag to Hintaru. The rocks are very smooth and comforting to the hands and every time he throws it he feels pleasure in knowing it was him. “Wow Okawa, I still can't seem to get them to skip!”
“Yeah, it took me all day. The water out here is pretty plain so the rocks just go the distance. I'm not sure the rest of the shore is like this.”
“That explains a lot of my struggles then.” Hintaru comes close and throws his arms around Okawa's shoulder and gives him a gentle hug. They have grown up together in the city of Istrann there whole lives looking out for one another. It is growing into a bond they both adore. They are known as the last pupils of the town because nobody can separate them. Hintaru takes a rock and tries one more time to make it skip, it doesn't even bounce once and drops straight to the bottom of the ocean shore.
“Hey Hintaru, why do you throw it so abruptly? There is an art to this.”
“I'm no artist! You know this Okawa.”
“That may be so but just feel the smoothness of the rock, if you throw it at the right angle it'll bounce no problem. It's about treating the winds and waters with respect.”
“I just want the rock out of my hands to be honest. I am not about to conjoin with nature because I need it to skip on water.” laughs Hintaru. Hintaru leaves Okawa, to the shore and heads his way back into the village. The patio is still covered with grass and patches of dirt all over. While the sand slowly leads up to one side of the village and disappears into the dirt. The village is connected with many houses, the fish market is near the dock by the shore. Istrann is an overpopulated area where its wealth comes from the fish. They rely solely on selling good food to neighboring towns and people from all around come in to buy it. There are lanterns hanging down the streets on wires that are attached to balconies in each house. They illuminate the streets at night. There is one dojo at the end of town, they preach and teach Sutra. Istrann is home to this martial art and has been teaching it for generations. They raise the next samurai that are meant to protect the village. It is very expensive to be trained here, most people are born into lineage.
Okawa is still at the shore enjoying his time. Well after Hintaru left. He looks along the clean picked up shore and there aren't even many seashells around. The beach shore seems tidy and well kept. While the waters are full of fishermen and their boats except for this small area where he hand picked for skipping rocks into the water. The docks are further along the coastline where the most populated part of the city lies. Behind him is a pathway up into the village which is lit up by those lanterns dangling in the skies hung by string. He puts his rocks down and starts to head back the same way Hintaru went. Okawa was tired of doing the same thing and feels as though he has mastered throwing rocks so now he's heading back home to the rest of his family.
Okawa's father is a well known fisherman in the town. His mother stays at home and is very ill. The family tries their best to support each other but his dad Jin just doesn't have the funds to keep everyone happy all the time. He brings in a modest cut of salary and it's barely enough to feed the family. He also saves lots of his cash and doesn't like to spend it. It sometimes creates tension in the family because they know they could be living better but their father is barely able to keep food on the table.
Okawa and Hintaru are both home now. They sit in the doors of their residence where their mother rests in a rocking chair twiddling her fingers knitting away. She spends most of her time these days making new clothes for the family, they try their best to make ends meet and they plan on supporting their two children to the best of their ability. Onn is a very good cook when she is healthy, but lately she just lays around and knits. That leaves all the work up to Jin in the house and outside the house. They try not to pressure Hintaru or Okawa into picking up any of the house work. This isn't your formal Istrann household where the young are expected to help the elderly. Jin and Onn just want their kids to be happy and reach their fullest potential.
“I'm home!” Jin exclaims to the family pleasantly waiting for his arrival. He worked late that night bringing home a few fish from work. All he needs to do is prepare it to eat and the family can have their dinner.
“Father, what took you so long?” rebutted Hintaru.
“Oh there just wasn't much to catch today and I wanted to make sure I got home with plenty to eat. Sorry about my absence. The market is being stingy and wanting more from us lately and it's becoming more and more difficult to keep a balance of money and food in the household.”
“It's okay Jin, you're doing a wonderful job.” Onn says from her chair. “I'm almost done slowly working on Okawa's new gift we have been talking about. Give me a moment and I'll help you prepare the fish.”
“Honey please I think Hintaru should help since he so eagerly wants to know why I was missing for so long.”
Hintaru has a blank face. “Me?”
“Yes Hintaru, it's about time you picked up your legs in this house and learned some productive skills.”
“Jin, by all means let me help. Hintaru and Okawa have more important things to do like studying.” Onn exclaims.
“I guess you're right, Onn. Okawa, Hintaru, what was your most recent assignment by the local scholars?”
Okawa cracks his voice a little and screeches. “Scholars? I spent the day out by the shore enjoying the calm currents.”
“The scholars didn't come into town today.” Says Hintaru.
“Well go back over the stuff they brought last time then. It's important for the youth to study, Istrann isn't what it used to be and I have hopes and dreams that you guys will make it out of here.”
Okawa heads to the back room where there are scrolls neatly organized behind a table. Each one has a different tied up colored ribbon to them. The colors are red, blue and yellow. He was last studying the red ones so he picked them up again leaving the blue and yellow scrolls untouched. Hintaru wasn't very interested in studying so he didn't join him. Hintaru instead loved to play with fire anyway he could. Okawa often saw him next to the candles waving his hands to and fro. The flame never seemed to burn him and this made Okawa very curious. Hintaru just seemed so attached to fire, he could spend hours just staring in a well lit flame.
Okawa re-opens the first red scroll and begins reading. In the text he recalls his memory of a very particular part of sutra. He remembers these scrolls come from the dojo. The first red scroll was very descriptive in meditation. It made it very important to be in tune with the body at all times and live a healthy spiritual lifestyle. Living with a sense of freedom to the world around you and breaking chains of things that can corrupt your chakras is important in this day and age. The actual fighting is so minor compared to all the mental things that go through and this red scroll made sure Okawa understood this firmly. So while reading the scroll Okawa would take breaks and practice meditating.
Hintaru, still very busy with the flame, took a break for a moment. He noticed Okawa on the other side of the room in a trance-like state. He had his feet leveled with one another in what to him looked uncomfortable, but was perfectly fine for Okawa since he had been practicing his meditation for weeks. Hintaru tried to mimic Okawa wondering how it felt and his legs would tense up too quickly and get stiff. It was too difficult for him to bend like Okawa and stay comfortable enough to meditate. He also noticed Okawa's slow and controlled breathing. It seems he takes his study very seriously. Hintaru goes back to his flame and grabs it with his hand. The flame then circles his fingers as if they were lit on fire, but yet nothing burns. Hintaru is fascinated so much with what he can do with fire that he can't stop playing with it and testing its limits. He doesn't burn anything in the house however, but it sure does catch Onn's attention.
Onn looks at Hintaru while his hand is ablaze without an inch of scarring. She is concerned but doesn't say anything. She goes back to knitting and understands that children need to learn one way or another. Jin however definitely speaks up. “Hintaru! Put those flames out immediately.”
“But dad it doesn't hurt.”
“That doesn't matter, you should know better than to play with fire.”
“Can I at least play with it as long as it's on the candle?”
“If you burn anything in this household I'll have you working the docks for a week.”
Okawa was too deep in meditation to really know what was going on. With eyes closed and severely focused on his chakra levels, he was about to zone out his environment. After meditating for several minutes to a half an hour. Okawa stops and feels mentally exhausted. He picks the scroll back up and goes back to reading. The scroll seems to show various martial techniques now and emphasize how important a center of gravity is. Balance seems to be the most important thing. He reads on and studies the positions, taking notes as he goes. He now has made it past his studies yesterday. The first scroll ends on just defensive stances. Also some more standing positions for meditation. Okawa is in the corner practicing the various positions without making much noise.
Hintaru, still looking at the flame, notices Okawa in the corner of his eye. He looks over and sees him trying to balance on one foot while keeping his center of gravity. He watches Okawa now and is intrigued with this. “Hey Okawa, what are you doing over there?”
“So, this is what mom wants us to study?” Okawa loses concentration and balance. Falls slightly to the floor and gets back up. He was distracted by Hintaru and lost control of his breathing. It is very important to soothe the chakras while doing this stance and Hintaru's curiosity definitely made things difficult.
“Hintaro, can we talk another time? I need to focus.” Okawa was determined to get this stance right by the end of the night. The smell of cooked fish started to enter the room. The meal must be ready finally. Jin has finished cooking the food and is preparing the table.
“Okawa, Hintaru. It's time to eat.” Onn says while packing away her knitting.
Hintaru leaves the flame alone and makes his way out to the table in the living room. Okawa puts the scrolls back where he found them and follows. They all kneel at the table with the fish prepared right in front of them. It's steamed bass with some rice on the side. It's a common meal in this household, Jin tries to eat the cheap fishes and sell the expensive catches to keep the household in shape. He's the only one working and they need the proper support. Onn makes her way towards the table and kneels to eat. They take turns enjoying the meal with their chopsticks. Onn was the first one finished. Her belly gets full fast these days and doesn't eat much. Okawa and Hintaru seem to eat the most while Jin just kind of makes sure everyone gets the amount they want. He doesn't go hungry but he could definitely eat more. They put their chopsticks down and move their empty bowls of rice to the side. Okawa and Hintaru get up and prepare for slumber. While Jin and Onn clean up the table and do the same.
The rest of the night remains fairly quiet. They all go to their respective rooms in their night time gowns. Onn and Jin in the main bedroom, with Hintaru and Okawa in the other. Their room has a soft flooring and before going in they take off their shoes. They walk on the padded floor with their socks and head towards the blanket and pillow laying on the ground. The floor was very soft and covered with a small hemmed quilt. Before going to bed they put their shoes in the very large closet that moves very easily when they slide it to the right. They close the closet and prepare for sleep. Jin blows out the candles and darkness seems to come throughout the house.
By Ananya Iyer