As the long August days of worshipping the dead ended, I took my final afternoon run. But instead of running away from my life– pushing myself to the brink– I skipped up the hill for a short distance and then turned to cross a wide valley of rice paddies that overlooked the town. Midway I stopped and admired the flow of an irrigation stream. It was nothing special, but I wanted to take in a few simple views– sights of lovely simplicity that would remain with me as lasting memories of the “real Japan” that had so captured my heart.
As I stood there mesmerized by the rippling water, the cicada chorus that had ebbed and flowed thoughout the afternoon began to grow in decibels from every direction. Without thinking I took off the delicate ankle bracelet I had bought to wear with the minis and threw it into the water. This was a spontaneous act, essentially without purpose or meaning. I did it to observe the gold glistening under the clear mountain water and because . . .well just because I could.
In order to follow through with my plans to see my old friends Yuki and Yasu, I would need two extra, unscheduled days in Tokyo. It was obvious that my mother-in-law Satoko was not pleased with this turn of events. As the children and I were preparing to leave Sado Island, she confronted me. My erratic behavior over the summer had not gone unnoticed.
“School has changed you. You are holding your chin up too high,” she told me in an unabashedly accusatory tone. “You should stop studying and pay more attention to your family.”
Apparently she was of the opinion that my philosophy studies had gone to my head. I stepped down into my shoes before I replied. ” I want to graduate. I want to think for myself.”
The old woman grimaced. “You know how my son is. Do you think there is any way you can do as you please?”
“Is that fair? Can’t I live a normal life?” I asked. “Can’t I say and do what I think is best?”
My mother-in-law was stern. “It is your job to be a good wife and mother. You made your choices and now you have to stick with them. It’s obvious no?”
With this Satoko rose and went down the hall. As I turned to carry our bags out to the car I heard the heavy rolling sound of the fireproof tower door. When I returned to call the children I found my critic had returned. In her hand was a money envelope . . .the kind used for gifts.
“When you get to Tokyo buy something more presentable to wear. You cannot go back to your husband in the little dresses you have been wearing around here all summer.”
I pushed the envelope back. Knowing what I was about to do, I could not accept it.
“I have enough cash and a credit card. Moreover I like what I am wearing.”
Satoko grabbed my forearm forcefully and thrust the envelope into my hand. “Change your image,” she instructed in an imperious tone.
Further refusal was pointless. I deposited the money in my purse, picked up my backpack, and called out for the children I felt bad for having been so tough on Satoko. It handn’t been my style to argue with her or push back. I’m sure she had set out to be a good mother, but for whatever reason had been unable to raise a son who appreciated her efforts. For this she had suffered and was about to endure more anguish with my departure. All I could do was move forward quickly and not look back. In a few days I would have to do the same with my husband. One way or another I wouldn’t be stuck.
As the children slipped on their shoes I took one last look at the little bit of house I could see from the entryway. In my ears the famous Sado Island ballad played. It was true, Sado was easy living– a good place to live, but under the circumstances I could not stay.