Failure itself didn't hurt that much -- he knew pretty well that for the last 1300 years many have gone up the hill in vain to the Jishu Shrine in the center of the Kiyomizu Temple just to walk back disappointed. The test is simple, though: all you have to do is to walk through with closed eyes between two stones that are some ten meters apart from each other, while thinking of your unfulfilled love. The love of those who reach the opposite stone will come true, they say. The wooden-legged, the unskillful and the afraid, who could not get a lucky prophecy, can still buy all kinds of amulets for a few hundred yen.
No, not the failure hurt, not even the failure in front of a large audience. The small throng, consisting mainly of fourteensome-year-old, uniformed, navy-bloused girls had a great fun of the awkward gaijin -- some minutes later they tried themselves, too, with no greater success.
The worst was that he exactly knew how and why the whole thing happened. He started first, some were lining up behind him; there was no time even to think into the test, much less to meditate before. He started easily, though; the moment he closed his eyes, the picture of the small, brown-haired girl whom he had not seen for a year, appeared before him at once. He started to walk with small but determined steps; he felt that in spite of staggering a little, he was going to the right direction. He knew that speed did not count; he heard later that the secret is to run fast between the two stones but later he saw many people running directly beside the opposite stone.
No, the problem was not with the speed. He might have done some one-third of the distance when the picture of the girl started to fade by less time ago or simply more frequently seen faces. They didn't take shape clearly, though at first he could recognize all of them. He didn't let them break the concentration, in spite of the more and more faces. The first momentary confusion was overcome by the realization: this is a real test, not only a walk. The kami of the shrine, Okuninonushi no mikoto takes his duty seriously -- he realized and fear shot into him for the first time: he might not be able to reach the opposite stone.
He hastened his steps a little; he walked another two or three meters, a little staggering but still towards the right direction. The faces came, some of them returned more than once but there were some he could not recognize. The strict concentration seemed to deserve its reward: the attack seemed to fade away.
Maybe the problem was with the disdain or maybe the temporary calmness was part of the test, he could not know. Anyway, any kind of self-confidence proved to be very hasty. He might have been some three meters from the goal when completely unknown, mostly Asian faces started to run towards him at an unbearable intensity, with pictures of old loves, friends, acquaintances among them here and there. He shook, then stopped short: the noise of the throng reached him from a distance but he had no time to deal with them. He was fighting at a very different level.
It seemed to be hours but he could endure it only for a couple of moments: he shook, the concentration broke and to bring himself together again he had to concentrate on himself. From the outside it only seemed that with staggering steps he starts to walk again -- this time towards the wrong direction. And inside this time the picture of the small, brown-haired girl started to fade and finally disappeared with a bitter half-smile as the mocking cry sounded from the behind.
Slowly, as from a collapse, he recovered. The noise stopped a little around him: no one had seen a man getting this tired by a ten-meter walk; but then, as he recovered himself and drew away, the people looked for something else interesting. The schoolgirls were teasing and pushing each other; some other people started scientific explanations, which is the ultimate and perfect way of walking between the two stones. Needless to say, these people themselves would not try.
"It can't stay like this!" -- he was stirring his anger as he walked down from the hill. -- "I was not beaten, not yet! We are going to fight as equals!" -- he kept on telling to himself though it wasn't exactly clear to him how. By late evening, however, he had his plan ready.
He set out on foot: he estimated he could climb the hill in roughly two hours. The city died out gradually; after eleven practically all the lamps went out; he lost his way once but he arrived at the temple door around midnight. As it was a weekday no one was around -- everyone was fast asleep, trying to get some rest. He hardly made any noise when he climbed the temple wall; he was moving slowly, he looked only a big shadow in his dark clothes.
The two stones were waiting for him patiently. He walked around slowly. He had his time, there was no need to hurry. He gazed at the panorama in the light of the full moon -- it seemed to be a wild, eager, vast forest and so familiar at the same time but why?
A bell chimed midnight somewhere down. The time came. He took his clothes off slowly, cautiously; he folded and kneeled on them. It was not very cold in spite of being the end of September; after a short while he did not feel even the light breeze.
He was meditating for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. He cleaned his mind and body from the injuries of the civilization; it was the first time for quite a long while that he could get rid of the noise of the town, the smoke of the cars and cigarettes so perfectly; behaviors, masks, shapes broke apart. There were only three of them left: the two stones and him.
He opened his eyes and rose up slowly. He stood before the first stone: he drew himself, looked at the other one, and, with an unnatural slowness but without stopping for a moment, he bowed to the waist.
He closed his eyes slowly. The opposite stone outlined ahead of him for long moments. He waited while it faded away and brought into his mind the picture of the small, brown-haired girl. He had not seen the face for years this clearly; the face not only appeared ahead of his eyes but he could also feel the spring breeze blowing her freshly washed hair, smelling of flowery fields, into his face and he could hear her tinkling laughter and she felt so close and... Stop! -- he warned himself and quickly banished all his memories and concentrated only on the face.
He set out. In spite of all the fake scientific opinions he put his feet ahead each other very slowly; he tried not to realize he was walking. The face of the small, brown-haired girl shaped ahead of him like a leading star and he felt that nothing could divert him this time.
He did not have to wait for a long time for the attack. He felt a little itching in his head and beside the face the picture dimmed opalescent just like in the pictures of our grandmothers that were meant to be romantic. He did not let himself to be diverted: at every exhale he took the picture a little larger and clearer. He felt the pressure on him: he realized that the dimmed outline is nothing but a multitude of tiny faces gliding beside him at a horrible speed, as if he were rushing through a tunnel.
He was getting tired. The pressure did not grow but felt to be unbearable. He did not feel the time: it could have been ten seconds as well as half an hour. He did not care about that: he would not be misled by some relativistic effects. He felt he had not failed: he must be walking exactly in the middle line and it's only a matter of time and endurance when he can win.
Really. The pressure seemed to weaken and it disappeared gradually. He went on bravely: he was sure that he is over only the first part of the test. And now he was going to be disturbed by the shortened distance -- he thought.
Twenty steps, thirty, forty. He got confused: instead of more tests and transcendent opponents he was surrounded by hollow emptiness. Fifty, sixty, seventy. He got perplexed. He did not understand what had happened. He was sure he could not get diverted to any side. He felt that he won over the spiritual world. But then?
After a couple more staggering steps he opened his eyes and understood everything at once. Yes, he won. He did not divert to the left or right. His love has been proven, he deserves a reward and fulfillment. And still, he had failed. While fighting, he and Okuninushi no mikoto both were fighting with all their might; and while they were fighting in the horizontal coordinate, they had forgotten about the other direction. Yes, he had failed again, and this time upside.
He was standing six hundred meters above Kyoto, something like a kilometer from the shrine. He turned back: he saw the two stones in one line. So he had won. The small, brown-haired girl is going to be his, eventually.
This half-smile was still playing on his face in the morning when the natives found his broken body.
1994. 12. 04.