Chapter 1


One evening, misty rain billowed like haze. Sabu was crying as he crossed from west to east over Ryōgoku Bridge. He was drenched from the top of his head. Water drops fell from the thin Kokura sash and the faded black apron he wore over his Futagojima kimono. From time to time, his palm slid over his face soaked by rain and tears leaving dark blotches around his eyes and cheeks.

Sabu was a short and stocky youth with a round face and pointy head.

When he crossed the bridge, Eiji trailed after him. His thin build looked agile. The thick eyebrows and small tight lips on his long face reflected intelligence and a strong will.

Eiji caught up and blocked his way. Sabu kept his head down and tried to dodge him, but Eiji grabbed Sabu's shoulder.

Eiji said, "Please stop. Let's go home."

Sabu's hand wiped his eyes. He was choking up.

"It's all right. We'll go home," said Eiji. "Are you listening to me?"

"No. I'm going back home to Kasai. The proprietress told me to get out. This was the third time."

Eiji jerked his chin to the left and said, "Stop walking. People are staring."

The two youths turned at the foot of the bridge. The rain flowed nearly soundlessly at a constant rhythm.

"Honestly, I didn't know," said Sabu. "Last evening sacks of flour were in the cupboard, the proprietress told me to take one out to use in the kitchen. Only one was on the shelf, and one was left out. After she used it, I put the flour sack back, but she said I forgot."

"But hasn't she always been like that?" said Eiji.

"The flour got damp so she said I'm the apprentice who bungles everything," said Sabu, stopping short, crying as his palms rubbed his eyes. "She didn't give it back to me. I don't remember that. I didn't know."

"That's her habit. She doesn't think."

"No, I'm bad. No good. A fool. A dimwit. Even I know this wasn't going to work out. I've had enough." Sabu's throat choked up then he said, "That's what I think. It'd be better for me to go home to Kasai and become a farmer."

A samurai's mansion stood on the right side of the broad street along the river. A little further down the river on the left was Yokoami.

Two shabby-looking men, who looked middle-aged and may have been manservants or laborers, carried umbrellas with holes. They passed by while engaged in a lively conversation. Eiji shivered at the sight of their bare shins below their short winter coats.

For three years, Sabu had been a live-in apprentice at Hōko-dō in Kobuna-chō. He talked about never getting time off, always being scolded, ridiculed, and slapped. It was not a strong complaint, but a weak, monotonous echo resembling a baby's whine. As he remembered, the waters of the big river occasionally hit the stone wall and growled.

Eiji said, "An apprentice's life is hard anywhere you look. The proprietress's sharp tongue is her way." He nearly stumbled over his words. "And by nature you and women ... Watch it, a cart's coming."

Eiji touched Sabu's arm, and they stopped and moved toward the river. A man came from behind pulling an empty cart and overtook them.

"Learning a trade is tough," Eiji said. "Think about it, won't everyone say you went back home to Kasai to become a farmer and get a kick out of that. They'll die laughing from morning to night? … And at home in Kasai, won't they tell you to get out? Don't you think so?"

Sabu said nothing, but Eiji didn't expect an answer. Sabu seemed to be thinking about his family in Kasai: his grandfather stooped over and sick with asthma; his timid father; his strong-willed and quick-to-slap mother; his older brother's wife and her nonstop nagging and arguing with his mother that began each morning; his three younger siblings; his hard-drinking older brother; his five nephews and nieces; the old, cramped house with a thin coating of soot and leaning to one side; and the field little more than an acre. Sabu was distraught and sobbed as he started walking again.

Eiji said, "You gotta hometown. It's nice to have any kind of home to go back to. I'm alone and don't have parents, brothers, sisters, or other relatives. Last spring, I thought I was gonna get kicked out of the shop. Would they kick me out? Or would I have to leave? One or both would have been horrible."

Sabu turned around for a moment to look at Eiji's face. He didn't look back out of curiosity but bewilderment. Eiji was talking like he was upset and angry.

He had stolen coins from the reception desk several times last year and was caught by Yoshi, the proprietress, and confessed.

Eiji said, "A food cart selling eel broiled in soy sauce was set up at the canal beside Wakoku Bridge. I couldn't resist the aroma."

When he passed by and smelled the aroma, his stomach would not be satisfied until he enjoyed a meal of eel. He felt sickly, even his limbs trembled. He grabbed coins from the cash box at the reception desk twelve, maybe, thirteen times. He didn't think it was wrong because he wanted to eat eel so badly. In February, the proprietress Yoshi summoned him to her room.

"The proprietress didn't yell at me," said Eiji like he was chewing mud. She frowned and said, "On August 5 of last year and yesterday, I saw you do something at the reception desk. Don't do that again. If you want something, I will give it to you. Come to me and ask. That was it."

Was Yoshi only certain about seeing him steal twice? Did she deliberately try to not know? In either case, Eiji was so ashamed he could die and didn't think he could stay at the shop.

He didn't even think of himself as a thief. His grabbing coins from the cash box was disgraceful and embarrassing. He no longer wished to stay at the shop.

Eiji said, "If I fled the shop, where would I go? When I was eight years old, I was caught in the summer fire at Ōnoko-chō. My parents and younger sister burned to death. Only I was saved because I went fishing at Shiraogashi. Not one of my relatives' homes survived. My old man said he came from Ise, but I couldn't remember where. Even if I remembered, I wouldn't have gone there for help. My dark self at that time didn't grieve not having a home."

"I never knew. I didn't know anything about that," Sabu mumbled. "Ei-chan, that's why you never give up."

"I never stole again."

The pair came to the riverbank at Yokoami. Sabu stopped and stared at the ground. He scraped the toes of his zori sandals heavy with moisture back and forth over the earth.

"I've been thinking," he said, not sounding too sure. "I was thumped by my mother when I was little. My younger brother played a trick. She thought I did it and smacked me. While I was crying and saying it wasn't me, she figured out my brother did it. She didn't seem to care and said, 'Well then, this is for one of the times you didn't get smacked for all the things you've done before.'"

Eiji said, "Women are like that. They pinch you with the stroking hand and stroke you with the pinching hand. Either way, they quickly forget. Have you calmed down a little, Sabu? You're good now, let's go home."

Sabu said, "Okay." He sounded sure. "Thanks." In a near whisper, he added, "I'm sorry, Ei-chan."

Eiji said, "The next time, please, don't run off without a word. From now on, talk to me. I'll stand by you. Okay?"

Sabu slowly nodded.

They turned back. When they reached Ryōgoku Bridge, a twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl caught up with them from behind, held out an umbrella, and between gasps said, "Please, open this. I'm taking it to my big sister but went the wrong way. Please, open it."

Eiji looked at the girl. A hole pierced the umbrella he was opening. She wore a secondhand, lined, two-color-striped kimono dotted with patches. Her obi sash was frayed. Her worn-out geta sandals were for adults. The sandal's straps were stretched and had turned her mud-splattered toes into vipers.

"I don't need it," said Eiji. "We're going to Kobuna-chō and will be home soon."

"Then it's perfect, okay?" said the girl happily smiling. "I'm going to Horie-chō. To the shop called Sumiyoshi in Horie-chō. That's where my sister works. I'll go home with you."

"You're a pest," said Eiji. "I said we don't need an umbrella."

"But you two are soaked. Hey, open it."

"Sabu," said Eiji. "Run!"

The two ran out into the light rain.

"You jerks," shouted the girl. "Good. Get wet, losers!"

Eiji and Sabu were both fifteen back then and soon forgot about the girl.


On February 15, Eiji and Sabu turned twenty years old. For the first time in their lives, they went out together to drink sake. However, this was not their first time tasting sake. On celebratory days when sake was brought out at the shop, they drank two or three cups but never went out and paid to drink. They were half scared because the proprietor Hōbei forbade it. He loved to say, "Don't drink until you're twenty because your bones will be soft if sake is drunk before the body hardens."

Hōko-dō was a well-known, established premier shop of picture framers and scroll mounters. From the previous generation, they specialized in serving five or six well-known calligraphers and artists of the day. They worked only for long-established antique shops, samurai families, and large shops, and refused cheap jobs.

Obviously, the eight craftsmen underwent rigorous training that began at a young age. Of course, they learned to read and write but also learned flower arranging, the tea ceremony, and, from a young age, the appreciation of authentic items, such as the quality of calligraphy and paintings.

The shop currently employed eight craftsmen: Wasuke, the head craftsman, a 29-year-old; Taichi, 27; Shigeshichi, Gorō, Eiji, and Sabu, all 20; Denroku, 17; and Hanji, 15.

Thirteen craftsmen who used to work at the shop came and went. They had independent shops. When Hōko-dō overflowed with work or had special orders, they called on these suitable thirteen men for assistance.

This was the shop's tradition. The craftsmen's routines were regulated. Other than the first and fifteenth days of each month, they were forbidden to go out at night for amusement. One cup of sake with the evening meal was allowed with dinner from the age of twenty but not one drop more. Not everyone lived this life with strict obedience, but they were fine and not a cause for concern.

Work stopped at five regardless of the work backlog. They quit work at five, cleaned up, went to the public bathhouse, and after the evening meal were expected to go to bed at nine. During the time until bed, one could do as he wished: read a book, practice calligraphy, or play a game of go or shogi. However, no one should sneak out to drink sake or visit a woman.

The proprietor Hōbei knew these things happened but said nothing. If sneaking out became a frequent habit, naturally, the craftsman's work would be affected. At those times, first came a reprimand and then dismissal if he did not correct his behavior. This happened to about two craftsmen every five years. They could not be allowed to remain at Hōko-dō.

Eiji's and Sabu's hearts were pounding.

"I can't believe we're twenty. It feels so strange," Sabu said slowly. "I've been thinking it feels stranger than when I was sixteen and got my head shaved bald on top like a samurai."

"You're right," said Eiji.

They wore two-striped haori half-coats over handwoven cotton, striped lined kimonos tied closed with Kokura obi sashes, and zori sandals with hemp soles.

At dusk, they walked east on the streets of Kobuna-chō crowded with passersby. They had no destination in mind but seemed to be thinking about going to Hirokōji Bridge in Ryōgoku.

Sabu said, "Eiji, you're doing good work. You already set up folding screens and are an expert at painting the undercoat on fusuma sliding screens. But all I get to do is prepare paste."

"That's work, too," said Eiji.

"I think sometime I can't stand it when I'm kneading a sack underwater. I think about being twenty and still doing this."

"That's work, too, Sabu. The quality of the paste determines the results of the work of the mounters and framers. Do you understand?"

"I guess so."

"If you understand, then stop complaining. If you become Japan's best paste preparer, you'll be a fine craftsman. You must become Japan's best paste preparer."

"I guess so."

Sabu wanted to say "If I become a craftsman at Hōko-dō, I want to frame, mount, and make fusuma sliding screens for mansions," but couldn't.

"Wait a minute," said Eiji and stopped.

They were at the canal between Horie-chō and Shinzaimoku-machi. Five or six scattered buildings and a small restaurant appeared beside the canal. In front of the building at the end, a woman was hanging up a half-sized noren shop curtain with Sumiyoshi written in kana characters dyed white on dark blue cloth. She was small with a slender build. A tasuki sash held back her kimono sleeves as she worked. Slim, flexible-looking white shins peeked from under the tucked-up hem of her checkered yellow kimono.

"What is it, Ei-chan?"

"Sumiyoshi," whispered Eiji in his mouth. "I've heard that name before."

"It's a restaurant in Yanagibashi. Aren't you a regular customer there?"

"No, not the one in Yanagibashi. I've heard about another one somewhere else."

The woman finished hanging up the noren curtain and avoided the salt pile for good luck at her feet and went inside.

Eiji narrowed his eyes and thought for a short time like he was trying to recall a memory. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't remember. He softly clicked his tongue in exasperation, said it'd be okay to go see then nudged Sabu in that direction.

When they entered the restaurant, a man in his forties was raising a large lit hanging paper lantern to the ceiling. In the room, about thirty feet by eighteen feet, two dining tables were placed on both sides. Built-in benches were provided for each table. Round straw mats woven from cattail were placed about two feet apart. The many customers were not crammed together but drank in comfort.

In the kitchen, a lattice woven from bamboo was on the right side. Another noren, a light yellow one with Sumiyoshi written in blue, hung at the other end.

"It's early," said Eiji when he entered the restaurant and asked the man hanging up the lantern, "Are you open?"

"Welcome," answered the man. "Please come in." He gestured for them to come inside and shouted, "We have customers."

Eiji nudged Sabu's shoulder and chose a table and sat at the far end.

Two young women came right out, touching their hands to their hair, greeted them, and took their orders. Neither was the woman who was hanging up the noren earlier. One was eighteen or nineteen. The other was twenty-two or -three. Both were plump, wore face powder, and smelled of strong perfumed oil. As he blushed, Eiji ordered a dish of pickled and braised foods and two bottles of sake.

"I know who you are," said the older one to Sabu. "You're from Hōko-dō in Kobuna-chō."

A confused Sabu looked at Eiji. The other woman passed on their order. The older one sat down.

"No, not me," said a flustered Sabu but corrected himself. "No, you're right. The boss and his wife let us come today. Ei-chan here and me, I'm Sabu, have the same birthday."

"Stop it," said Eiji. "You talk too much."

"What's wrong? It's all right," said the woman. "Sabu-chan and Ei-chan, I'm Okame, a turtle. That's not a nickname. It's my real name. Nice to meet you."

Sabu laughed. Eiji scowled.

"We'd like to drink alone," Eiji said to the woman.

"I'll pour your drinks then leave you two alone. All right?"

"For privacy, you should go inside," she said out of nowhere like she was annoyed. "Soon it'll be crowded in here and we won't be able to easily chat. It's cramped, but if I sit across from you, we can talk quietly."

"Yeah," said Eiji and put his hands inside his kimono. "We don't have much money."

She laughed and told him not to worry about that, made them stand, and escorted them further inside. They passed through the noren and saw a row of three small 4½-tatami-mat rooms.

The fence with the neighbor was on the right side. Planted bamboo hid the fence. Scattered leaves had withered to a brown color. Stones with moss, probably an arrangement, were placed at the base of the plants. The moss was also shriveled.

"Here's a good place," she said as she took them into the room at the end. "I'll get a lantern."

Although a small room, a futon covered half the floor. Two small two-panel folding screens were set up to hide the sliding door to the adjoining room. A square hibachi heater made of paulownia wood was lit.

Okame probably told the truth about her name. She soon returned with a lit standing lantern. Another woman followed carrying two choashi trays, each one with legs shaped like a butterfly with wings spread.

"Should we be doing this?" asked Sabu in a whisper, sounding helpless. "What about the bill?"

"Oh, shut up," said Eiji while trying to hide his pounding heart. "They know the name of our shop. We could get fired. Stop fidgeting."

Eventually, Okame brought the food and drinks they ordered and served them on the two trays. She told them to clap if they needed anything and left.

"I won't hesitate," said Eiji. "That would be a problem. We won't be sharing drinks of friendship. We'll pour our own drinks. Okay?"

While staring at his tray, Sabu said, "Okay, but ... aren't you a little scared?"

"Scared of what?" asked the third woman, who opened the sliding door, stuck out her face, and flashed a grin.

"I'm terribly sorry. I thought you were the riverbank boss. Pardon me."

It was the woman who hung out the noren in front. Her slender face was tense. Her lips parted when she smiled; a double tooth peeked out. Eiji coldly turned away.


"Don't sulk," she said. "No one's here."

"We're fine," said Eiji, still looking away. "You don't need to pour the sake."

"This looks like a wake," she said. "And that's bad advice no one should have to listen to."

Eiji turned and said, "You're a pest."

She smiled, but her face tensed when she looked at Eiji's eyes.

"Excuse me," she said softly and closed the sliding door. Her double tooth exposed when she smiled stayed in Eiji's eyes.

Eiji did not take the day off on March 1. He repapered a sliding screen in the tatami room for a large money-exchange business customer called Watabun in Honchō, Nihonbashi. To inspect the paper alignment, he went with the senior apprentice Taichi.

Watabun was an old special customer of Hōko-dō. Once a year, they repapered the sliding doors. Every year since he was thirteen, Eiji assisted Taichi and Shigeshichi and became familiar with the family and the servants.

The proprietor Tokubei had a large frame and was portly. His breath always smelled of sake. He rarely came out to the shop but toyed with antiques and loved classical literature.

His wife Miyo was slender and petite. Her face was small, too. More than the proprietress of a large shop, she seemed more like a proprietress on a backstreet.

They had no sons, and their two daughters, Kimi and Sono, were two years apart. Both were attractive. The older sister inherited her father's immense physique and carefree personality. The younger sister was thin, had a narrow face, spoke like an adult, and took swift actions.

Watabun was a corner shop with a storehouse with two entrances. An inner garden separated the two-story shop from the one-story residence that had a gate on the side and the entryway in the front.

Following the earthen wall for fire protection on the right led to a well with a bucket. It wasn't the kitchen but where the family, guests, various merchants and craftsmen came and went.

As a house with many visitors, one apprentice was also the doorman. At the landing, the size of six tatami mats, he was hitting a hemp sack filled with small grains of gold and koban gold coins against a wooden board.

This monotonous and stupid action opened the sack and knocked it onto the board. Small amounts of gold stuck to the sack. If the sack was burned up after some fixed time, the collected gold scraps could be picked out.

Since its discovery by a government official would be unfortunate, this shouldn't be done at the shop but is likely done at money-exchange shops anywhere. Eiji felt contempt when he heard that because this large shop was so miserly.

As Eiji and Taichi passed through the tatami room carrying a bundle of sample paper, Sue, a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old maid, brought in tea and pastry. Eiji had not come to this house last year or the year before last but came every year until three years ago and was friendly with the two daughters and known to Sue.

Sue greeted Taichi and then saw Eiji.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it, Ei-san? You've grown up. At first, I thought my eyes were tricking me."

"Stop it," said a smiling Taichi. "That's pitiful. He's already twenty."

"Excuse me," said a redder Sue. "I was trying to say he's become a fine young man but blurted out the wrong words."

Eiji also blushed and avoided looking at Sue.

"How old are you, Sue?"

"I'm sixteen," she said to Taichi. "I'm small so people often think I'm twelve or thirteen. It's embarrassing."

Somebody stood in the hall watching them. She was the older daughter of the house. Someone else was there. The younger sister was passing by and peeked out from behind her sister and said, "Oh, it's Ei-chan."

The older sister didn't move, but the younger, Sono, leaped into the tatami room, flopped down to sit in front of Eiji, and stared wide-eyed at him. Sue slightly bowed and slipped away. Eiji glimpsed her retreating figure from the corner of his eye.

"What a shock. You're Ei-chan?" said Sono, her face beaming. "You've grown big. I'm surprised."

Taichi smiled only with his lips and said, "Not long ago, someone else said that."

"Ei-chan," said Sono staring at Eiji's eyes, ignoring Taichi. "Do you know who I am?"

"You're Sono-san. It's not like we haven't seen each other in ages. It's only been two years since I was last here."

"I've grown, too. Haven't I?"

"Hello," said Eiji to Kimi in the hall. "It's been a long time." Kimi gently nodded and leisurely said, "Welcome back."


The proprietor Tokubei appeared. Taichi spread out the paper samples. As usual, Tokubei's breath wreaked of alcohol.

"Come here for a moment, Ei-chan," said Sono. "I want to show you something."

"Sono-chan," snapped Kimi in the hall.

"Is that all right, Father?" asked Sono's nasally voice. "I want to show Ei-chan something. Can he come with me?"

Kimi scolded her, "Sono-chan!"

Tokubei waved his hand, unconcerned. "Stop bothering me. Do as you wish."

Eiji looked at Taichi for help. Taichi only smiled and jerked his chin to say, "Go."

Sono grabbed his hand.

"Come this way. Hurry."

She hasn't changed, thought Eiji. When the apprentices came to do a job here, the sisters always made them their playmates. Since the sliding doors were repapered every December, he played games with cards, shuttlecocks, beanbags, or marbles but felt humiliated when he played these girls' games.

However, this is an important customer, so as an apprentice, he could not refuse. Although he participated reluctantly, he was the best in any game. The strong-willed Sono became frustrated and often cried.

He was taken to the sisters' room. Everything, their dressers with two decorative shelves occupied by their dolls, the musical instruments of a koto and a shamisen, chadansu chests for tea utensils, and vermillion-lacquered clothes racks overflowed with gorgeous colors befitting the daughters and smelled of perfume.

"I'm sixteen," said Sono while kneeling in front of her dresser. "I had a long-sleeved silk kimono custom made from a Yuzen print. It's beautiful."

She opened a drawer and, with both hands and great care, passed it to Eiji.

"Spread it out and look at it," said Sono. "The pattern is called The Flowers of the Four Seasons. The cloth was dyed at Tamaruya in Kyoto."

"My kimono has a susomoyo pattern on the hem," said Kimi from the side. "I'll show you mine, too."

"Show him later," barked Sono. "You're always copying me. Stop butting in."

Eiji spread out the kimono.

"This is pretty," he said.

For the daughters of a wealthy man, a Yuzen kimono dyed in Kyoto was to be expected. Deliberately bringing someone to see it revealed the open nature of these down-to-earth residents of downtown. These sisters were not showing off.

The older sister scolded by her little sister did not mope but quietly opened her dresser. She seemed about to take out her kimono, but Sono was faster. While announcing she would show him her obi sash next, she opened the lower drawer. She shrieked, jumped up, and hugged Eiji with both arms.

"Eek!" she shouted and held tight to him. "A mouse ... there's a mouse in there!"

The surprised Kimi moved backward. Eiji freed himself from Sono's arms. However, the power of her clutch was surprisingly strong. He couldn't immediately break free.

"You have to let go," said Eiji. "That mouse isn't chasing you."

"No, I'm scared," said Sono and tightened her grip. "I can't breathe."

"You chased away the mouse," said Eiji. Finally, he could move his body and push Sono away. "Kimi-san, please come back."

He looked in the drawer but didn't see any mouse. He stuck in his hand and opened each sash in the pile until he felt the bottom, but did not see one mouse or bug. He returned the sashes to the drawer, stood, and glared at Sono's face.

Kimi hugged his chest with both arms and looked up at Eiji with a frightened expression.

"It's true. I'm not lying," said Sono, avoiding staring into Eiji's eyes. "If I try to pick up a sash, the mouse in there tries to bite me."

Eiji was about to speak when he heard his name being called from the hall. He turned and saw Sue.

"Taichi-san wants you," said Sue without looking. "Please come to take the measurements."

Eiji nodded at her, pointing at the drawer packed with sashes, and said to Sono, "There's not enough room in there for a small mouse to squat."

Sono shrugged.

"But it's in there. It's squatting in there like this. I think it'll bite me. It bared its teeth like this."

Sono showed him, but Eiji said nothing and left.


When he finished his work, Eiji left through the kitchen door. Sue saw him as he passed through the lattice door carrying the package of sample papers and the notebook of measurements. She seemed to have been waiting for him by the well. Her grinning face never took her eyes off Eiji as she ran to him. An earnest brooding light filled her eyes. Her grin warped like she was about to cry.

"Please forgive what I did earlier."

"About what?" he asked.

"About you being bigger," said Sue, never looking away. "I wanted to say how nice you looked."

"Oh, forget about it," said Eiji as he shifted the package. "I'm not mad at you."

"Really?" whispered Sue as tears fell. "Thank you."

"All of this over nothing."

"Ei-san, I first met you when you were thirteen. I remember thinking you were full of anger and scary."

Not knowing what to say, Eiji blushed and said angrily, "I remembered you."

"Thank you," Sue softly said, spun around, and jogged away. Eiji did not watch her. As long as his face was flush, he took breaths so deep his chest seemed to roll like waves.

A voice called, "Eiji, come here."

Taichi was peeking from inside the lattice door. Eiji thought he was caught doing something wrong and nervously walked over.

"You can go home before me," said Taichi. "I have to have a drink with the customer. It's boring, but what can I do? Please, tell the boss."

On the landing, the shop boy was still hitting the board with the heavy-looking hemp sack. Eiji nodded to Taichi and left.

"So I've gotten big?" Eiji muttered while walking and smiled. "I'm bigger, but my build and face haven't changed since I was thirteen."

When a girl becomes thirteen, her face and body become those of a young woman. He found that thought strange and was still smiling.

He returned home to Kobuna-chō. The shop was closed because it was a day off. Eiji entered from the wooden side door. Sabu was preparing paste in the narrow empty lot out back.

He sat on a small bench in front of a ten-quart bucket. He had tucked up the hem of his kimono and pulled back its sleeves with a cord. Both of his hands were in the bucket. He was kneading a sack containing wheat flour with a generous amount of water.

Milky water flowed out. After deposits formed, he poured it into a jar. The half-full jar was set on the ground in the shade and covered to rest.

Only paste made this way can be used in mounting or lining the backing of a folding screen. The jar is left alone for two to three years.

"Sabu, what happened?" Eiji called out as he approached. "Didn't you have the day off? What are you doing? Worse than that, why are you here out back?"

Sabu did not answer and turned away. Eiji noticed wetness on the side of his face.

"What happened?" Eiji said softly. "What happened?"

"Nothing," said Sabu, shaking his head. "Nothing happened."

"Are you crying?"

"No, I'm not crying." Sabu rubbed his eyes with his arm. "Flour gets in my eyes when I'm making the paste."

Eiji stared at Sabu's profile, but Sabu didn't turn to face him.

"I thought we could go out somewhere so I hurried home," said Eiji. "It looks like we can't because you're in the middle of your work."

Once the kneading began, Sabu couldn't stop until the mixture was in the jar. If Eiji went out drinking with Sabu, he wanted to talk about Sue despite being unsure about what. He managed to wind down without talking.

"It's okay. You can go," said Sabu, his white hands never stopped kneading. "Don't worry about me."

"Don't be stupid. By myself? If you're working, so will I," said Eiji. "I have the measurements for the fusuma screens at Watabun. I can gather the paper. But not here, why don't you come around to the workshop?"

"I'm okay here." Sabu sounded like his throat was throttled. "Please, leave me alone."

He plunged his hands into the bucket, slouched, and began to cry quietly.

Eiji bent over and said, "Sabu, tell me what's wrong. Why won't you talk to me?"

"Please, leave me alone."

The sniffling Sabu turned his face away.

"I mean it. Nothing's wrong. I'm asking you to leave me alone."

"Okay, if that's what you want."

Sabu gave a sharp nod. His stout body slouched over and his nodding head radiated childlike honesty. Eiji's heart was touched, What a pitiful guy.