Future Memories - Family Duties
Pulling the last shirt off the clothesline she neatly folded it, while also watching Nami out of the corner of her eye. The girl had finally gotten the hang of folding sheets without dropping them on the ground, though it had taken her a couple of days to do so. The girl had a terribly serious expression on her face as she also finished the last of her folding, before looking back towards Kasumi.
Smiling at her, Kasumi then lifted her basket and re-entered the Tendo home, her latest student just a couple steps behind her. Putting away the laundry they then began planning an early lunch.
Having been here only a week, Kasumi was happy that she had gotten Nami into a personal name basis so quickly. Even after two years, being called, "Lady Tendo," still sounded strange.
Had it really been only two years?
Taking a deep breath she opened to the door to the Minister's office and stepped inside. Instead of the expected office furniture she found fresh tatami mats and several small wooden trays surrounding an elderly man, who knelt in the middle of the room. In one corner of the room a girl dressed in a very traditional kimono watched her.
The whole place felt like it had been taken out of a history book. Quietly closing the door behind her, she stepped forward and knelt in front of the man.
It wasn't often you get a personal invitation from the Minister of Culture and Education, and she had been quite surprised to receive the 'invitation.' Especially since no reason for the visit has been stated....
The man looked at her in a judging manner before asking, "Are you familiar with the Tea Ceremony?"
She almost smiled as she murmured, "Yes," in answer. A self-made student of household traditions and lore, Kasumi had learned the Tea Ceremony long ago.
Reaching to his left the man moved one of the many small trays between them, upon which rested everything one would need for such a ceremony.
Yes, only two years now, though Nami made her seventh student.
She had never imagined herself as a teacher, and yet, that was exactly what she now was, a teacher of traditional and domestic skills. Something that were starting to become more valued to the upper classes once again.
"I was wondering... why are we having lunch so early?"
Taking a moment to glance at the sixteen year old, the only daughter of an old and proud family, Kasumi debated a moment before finally saying, "So that we can get an early start on preparing the meal and dining area for company tonight. I am expecting an important guest, and they are accustomed to receiving only the very best from me."
"Oh! Who is it? A visiting dignitary, or a government official?" Suddenly wringing her hands the girl then added, "Our clothes! I'll go air out a couple summer kimonos immediately... and we'll need to go shopping! And-"
"And I've already got everything planned out, Nami. It will work out just fine, trust me."
Loosing herself in the ritual of the ceremony had helped calm her nervousness, and at its completion she once again waited on the man before her. Moving the tray that they had just used aside, he then placed another before her, this one containing a piled mass of cloth.
"Could you please mend this? My wife will be needing it tonight, but is unfortunately detained with other matters."
Gathering the item she found herself examining an aged kimono, white with blooming cherry blossoms carefully dyed into it. The detail was extremely fine, and it was obvious that effort had been taken in preserving it.
Overall, she found it heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
It took her almost thirty minutes to find and mentally categorize all the places where the hand-sewn stitching had thinned to the point of breaking. Then taking up the needle and thread so far untouched, she began to work.
Shopping was fun, it almost always was. Leaving Nami to watch the household and finish cleaning up, Kasumi quickly lost herself amongst the market stalls and booths, enjoying the hustle of the noon crowds.
Over the last few years she had watched in despair as the prices of fresh foods, as opposed to instant items, had started a slow climb upward. It wasn't as bad in Japan, she had heard, as it was in other countries like Europe or America, but it was still expensive.
That was before her job, however. It was amazing how much a family would spend to ensure that their daughters knew how to cook, clean, and sew. More modern skills, such as working with computers, were now just assumed.
But right now, she was shopping, smiling at the familiar faces as she passed by, and smiling even more at the unfamiliar ones. With all the new technology, it was sometimes amazing to see the new fashions, and accessories, that people threw themselves into. And while Kasumi herself had little need for such, it was always interesting to look at.
Purchasing the necessary ingredients she then headed back home. After all, she had a special guest coming tonight, and she wanted to make sure they felt as welcome as possible.
It took almost two hours before she finally finished. While laborious, it had also been a little fun reproducing the original stitch. Giving the kimono a final shake, she then refolded it and placed it back on the tray.
The Minister, silent up till that moment, suddenly bowed to her and said, "Thank you," before collecting the garment and quietly leaving the room. Confused a moment Kasumi waited. She hadn't been dismissed, but the Minister HAD left the room.
At that moment the girl, forgotten since she had first arrived, suddenly stood and approached her. Kneeling, and then deeply bowing before her, the girl asked, "Please forgive me, my name is Nishio Tara. I am to make the meal for my first marriage meeting today, but..." Taking a moment to glance at the door the Minister had departed through, the girl finished with a whisper, "Do you know how to cook?"
Smiling at the girl she answered, "Of course."
"Kasumi-sensei, while you were away the Postal Officer came. He had this letter for you."
Taking the letter she murmured, "Thank you, Nami," before wandering into the kitchen and dropping her bags off. Glancing at the letter she smiled at discovering the sender.
She would make sure to call him tomorrow after reading it.
Putting some of her purchases away, she set Nami to working some of the simpler tasks while she planned out the dinner she wanted to make.
"Kasumi-sensei, if I may ask... what are we making for dinner tonight?"
Smiling she answered, "Ramen." She didn't even finish her mental count to three before the girl exploded.
"WHAT? Kasumi-sensei, shouldn't you be making something more... appropriate, for the occasion? I mean... ramen?"
"Oh, I plan to have some other dishes too." Deciding that now was as good of time as any, Kasumi turned towards the girl and added, "Nami, one of the most important things I hope to ever teach you is that there is a time, and a place, for everything."
"The person coming here tonight... has had a hard life, Nami. They aren't coming here to be wooed by fancy meals or elaborate conversation. They are coming here hoping to forget. Tonight, I am going to cook a masterful, but simple, home meal for them, and we are going to talk about plain and ordinary things. And my goal, tonight, is to help them for at least a little while, to forget. About their past, about their troubles, and about their pain."
The girl dropped her gaze before murmuring, "I'm... I'm sorry, Kasumi-sensei. I didn't understand."
Nodding in reply she stated, "When you are finally married, it will be nights like these that hold your family together, no matter what the problems that arise." Then turning back towards the chopping block she said, "Now, let us do our duty, as best we can."
Gazing around the kitchen, and noticing that fish, rice, and vegetables had already been laid out, Kasumi asked, "Have you ever cooked anything before?" The girl's gaze dropped as she both blushed and shook her head in answer.
Nodding Kasumi then said, "Well then, first we shall need to wash the rice and vegetables." And thus she walked the girl through the simple tasks. Only so much water to rice... don't forget to scrub the carrots... chop in even pieces... take your time.
She found herself almost humming on several occasions.
It took a moment to really figure out why though. She was enjoying herself. Really, and honestly, enjoying herself. The girl really didn't know a thing about cooking, but she did listen to her, paid attention, and made the effort.
And that first time she was called "Tendo-sensei" something inside of her, clenched tight for so long, began to relax.
When she heard the knock at the door, she shooed Nami out of the kitchen and upstairs, having already made it clear to the girl that for tonight, her assistance was not required. Then walking to the front entrance she found it open as the individual had already let themselves in to remove their shoes.
Stepping forward she threw her arms around her guest and delivered a powerful hug as she said, "Welcome home, Nabiki."
Returning the hug Nabiki said, "Thanks for having me, sis. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Two months. I keep debating about hiring a couple large men to come and drag you out of your office, just so you'd spend time with me." Holding her sister at arms length she then softly added, "I've missed you."
Nabiki smiled and replied, "I've missed you too, sis."
Escorting her sister to the dining table, she fussed over$ her younger sibling a moment before visiting the kitchen a moment for a readied tea tray. After settling in across from her sister she then grinned and asked, "So how many millions did I make this month?"
Nabiki laughed before answering, "None, oh prestigious sister of mine. The economy isn't being nice to those of us who want to save, or invest."
It had become something of a game between the two of them, starting a couple months after their father had passed away. Kasumi would hound her sister horribly about how her money was being invested, and Nabiki in turn would constantly mention the cooking classes that Kasumi just obviously needed. It had become their way of coping with the changes in their lives.
However, nine months ago, only a year after loosing Father, it had all changed on her younger sister once again.
Tatewaki's death had taken an awful toll upon Nabiki, though she would never admit to it. Kasumi had watched her sister become withdrawn as both stress and nightmares had threatened to destroy her.
"Is Sato Itomi still living here with you?"
"Oh no, she left last month. A nice girl named Watabi Nami is staying with me now."
"Hmm... Watabi. Not one of the Ministers. Diet, or Military?"
"Diet." Then striking a very overly dramatic pose she added, "It is all I am good for, to be used by the people who's children I teach."
Again, they both laughed. In truth, Kasumi had once asked how many women were really wanting to learn how to cook and clean from her... the long waiting list she had gotten in response had been shocking.
Moving on, she pestered Nabiki about the latest news of her fast paced job, and the economy in general, before mentioning her own gossip that she had saved up for tonight. It was nice, being able to just talk with someone, without having to worry about lessons or manners. She wished it would happen more often.
The two of them talked well into the night, putting away a good portion of dinner in the process, before settling into those long pauses when one starts to run out of things to say. Eventually, she reached across the table and took Nabiki's hand, startling the woman out of her distant gaze.
"You're looking good, little sister, better then I've seen you... in a long time."
Nabiki looked at her oddly for a moment before that old grin came to her face. Shaking her head in acknowledgement of her inability to hide things from her older sister she said, "Yes. Yes, I have been doing better. A lot better, in fact."
"Can you tell me?"
They gazed at each other in silence a long time before Nabiki stood and began to collect her things to leave.
Before she left though, she stopped in front of a number of framed pictures that Kasumi had hung in the hallway. Gently reaching out she stroked a finger against one picture in particular before whispering, "I promised him I would mention no names, and you know how I always keep my promises." Then giving her one last embrace, Nabiki left.
Staring at the closed door a moment, Kasumi's eyes moved to the picture her sister had so tenderly touched...
...and found a pair of bright blue eyes, framed by black hair with a pigtail thrown over one shoulder, looking back at her.
And she smiled.