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Chihiro's pack landed on a rock as she stumbled, flailed, and landed face first in the dirt. Groaning, she darted towards the rock and slung the pack over her shoulder, wiping the sweat off her forehead.
Chihiro continued walking at a slower pace, until she glimpsed sails sprouting out of nearby treetops. A salty breeze fluttered about, carrying the taste of the sea.
Chihiro loved the ocean. She once went to the port with her father, to sell their crop in the summer… years ago. Though, she was only seven then. She had always wished to see it again, properly, especially the ocean. She had waited for years, but there was never a free moment for dreams in their town. Basic needs were their only, priority.
But, now was not the time for fantasies, so she brushed past the scenery without a glance. Forcing back tears, Chihiro recalled from her memory the last peaceful event that had transpired before her flight... Chihiro had managed a faint thread of stability, which quickly tore, when she was faced once more with her dangerous situation.
What should she do?
Her heart hammered uncontrollably, the echo resounding throughout her body, louder by the minute. Just a few days ago, Chihiro had been sitting cross legged at a low table, eating awa, or millet, with her family. They had eaten rice with their supper that night, an ironic delicacy for those who work on a rice paddy. A muffled cough had wound its way from the corner of the room, unnoticed by Chihiro, who sat nursing her calloused feet, while shoveling rice into her open mouth.
Later that evening, after the family had drifted off to sleep covered in thin blankets, she was awoken by the scuffling forms of her siblings. Chihiro bolted out of her futon, in the direction of her parents raised voices, wishing privately that her mother hadn't discovered the bowl of rice she stashed under the table.
She gave a momentary shudder, when groping towards her brother Akako..... The entire family was clustered around his bedside, sobbing and wringing their hands in grief. Akako was pallid and feverish, coughing harshly while spitting blood into his hands, clamped tightly over his mouth. Her mother whimpered, clutching his hand, while praying silently to the spirits.
Anchored to the ground, Chihiro stared blankly at her brother, momentarily dumbfounded. A thousand thoughts flooded her head, wave upon wave crashing down... spinning... spinning...... spinning.... NOT AKAKO! Reeling.... this can’t be....no..
Then one thing was made painfully clear.
Chihiro was in danger if she remained here, in this room... with her family.
But wait! No, I can't leave! Chihiro thought quickly, not my own family.... it would be... But we would anyways all die. No, not my own family...no.... Her father let out a weak cough, spraying the floor in front of Chihiro with drops of blood.
”Nooo!... Please! NO!” She shouted, then staggered out of the tiny room, not glancing back at her parents bewildered faces.
By noon the next day, her brother had died, and the disease pervaded the hut, exempting no one from its grasp.
The consumption had plagued there town before, wiping out many villagers, who could not afford any care. The better off in town, merely died after a longer struggle. However, because they lived by a wide rice paddy, her family was never affected, and simply blessed their good fortune. They faithfully cared for their paddy, and paid the Shogun’s taxes each year, which left them with half their harvest. Though poor, they stubbornly held on to life, unyielding, for it was the only life they knew.
But that night so many irreplaceable things were destroyed.
Chihiro wouldn't.... she couldn't, face them and accept them. Let alone bring it upon herself, an unthinkable, incomprehensible, burden.
No. Not for her.
The next morning, laden with guilt, Chihiro ran away, clinging to her reasoning as if it was her lifeline. It was the port she was heading to. There, she reasoned, she could begin anew. No struggle. Life would be better out of her poor town, in a big city surrounded by the ocean. Perhaps there was medical care there, which might help her family… a little. Somewhat hopeful, Chihiro felt a bit of tranquility, casting a veil over her bleak thoughts.
Yes, the water is so inviting ... so free and uncontained.
Chihiro entered the bustling port, crammed with all sorts of people; merchants shouting and selling their wares, seamen hauling sacks that reeked of fish, artists painting glossy portraits as their subjects posed stiffly, with the calm ocean as their backdrop. She drank in all the sights of the city greedily, while wandering through the streets.
A lady dressed in a vivid silk kimono sauntered past Chihiro, trailed by two young girls. She gazed in awe at her painted white face. So this is the legendary geisha, thought Chihiro. She's beautiful! She bowed respectfully to the lady, and lifted her head when the last fold of silk was out of sight.
Well, things around here seem pretty stable, she pondered. After all it had barely been a month since the mysterious black ships arrived, from far away. Even in her distant town, the ships arrival had caused quite a stir.
Although she welcomed change, Chihiro never minded it until now. Now it was real, tangible, and most of all; important.
Things weren't turning out too bad. I’m sure to find work and a place to live here. Maybe, I could apprentice to a geisha, she contemplated, while flitting past disgruntled merchants, returning from a day’s work.
Chihiro found her way towards the dock, and gingerly sat on the edge, placing the pack by her side. She sat there for a while, feeling a sort of peace when staring at the ever changing sea, lapping against the musty dock. It really was very different from her.... well, home; there was so much she could do, when not confined to a rice paddy.
Chihiro stood up to leave, and then doubled over in a thundering cough, leaving flecks of blood on her pale, outstretched palm.