Reading the Air: brave daughter

young girl in kimono

Running through the snow; your gait uneven due to ill-fitting knee-boots made of rushes. You have no hat, no protections for young flesh, no coat, only a kimono of dark blue covered with a design to keep you in contact with the Kami-sama, the gods of all things. The fierce blizzard has driven even the Hokkaido elk and arctic rabbits to shelter, but not you. What is it that forces you to run your tiny body against horizontal winds, your small legs to take you forward despite foot-ware which only contains your feet and lower legs and snow bootswas never meant for running. Neither should you run as a girl.

What are you running from or running to? What slot in your tender early years attracts or repels you with such vehemence. Are you hunted or are you hunter? The snow is knee-deep but you drive on, burned cheeks, perspiration and tears indistinguishable.

You run from the hard labour and harsh treatment of your grandmother, slapped and scolded relentlessly as you learn the trade of housewife, of slave to men and children. You are a child, but you must look after other children. Hauling water for the well which you stand on tip-toe to reach, the bucket knocking you down and spilling as you lift it. You drag the wooden barrels up the snowy path to the kitchen, but by the time you arrive they are half empty, and you are scolded for wasting precious water.

You sleep on the kitchen floor nursing a new girl baby; there are no covers for either of you because of your sex. You scrub acres of wooden floors with a cloth too big for you to hold, and are forced to do the laundry in the river as it cracks through ice and thick snow, until your hands are blue and bleeding. snow bank

HokkaidoYou run to your mother, ka-chan, your bond with her of silent slaves. You were ripped from her by your grandmother who needed your help, rowed away down the river by stern men, their eyes covered by wide straw hats.

As you left, your mother negotiated the white bank shrieking at the separation, collapsing from the waist in the shallows, defeated. But your father ran on, strong but not strong enough to prevent this harsh breaking of his family for the matriarch. He soon collapsed too, sobbing, ashamed because he cannot afford to feed you because you are a girl, and he must put scant resources into growing his sons to inherit the family line. You stand unsettling the bamboo raft, your few belongings tied on to your back with a cloth, the oarsmen shouting and pushing you down. But you continue to shout ‘Ka-chan’ from a body as still as an icicle, refusing to be defeated.

JApanese daughter 1Exhaustion and desperation in the snow-field bring you down, a forgotten creature dotting the barren luminosity. Hunted? Hunter? Then a hunter finds you. He was not stalking a daughter, but he cherishes you and educates you in reading magical kanji and the power of story.

Then at the peak of your fondness for each other, he is pressganged by the army as fodder for the war, and disappears just as he appeared. He leaves you only one piece of evidence of his existence, a harmonica. You cannot play a man’s instrument, so you wrap it in your cloth like a relic.

You are alone and torn away from love again. You leave the hunter’s rustic hut, climbing through the drifts, and the running begins again. But you are stronger now, not abused, never scolded, sustained by the hunter’s love and your skills.

You know now that you must run towards the town to beg for work and that oka-chan and the hunter cannot help you now. It is the beginning of your girl’s life alone as servant, as child-bearer and carer, perhaps as prostitute, your body to always be the property of others. Duty will be your oxygen for life.



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