I had been walking home from a day of shopping when I spotted the girl again. She was Chinese; I'm certain of that, and young, no older then twenty by my own estimates. She was also tall, pretty, and had that lean muscular build one associates with a professional athlete. Only the large eyeglasses that she wore seemed out of place on her. I didn't know who she was, or what she wanted, but for almost a month now she'd been showing daily to look at the house. The couple of times that my son had called out to her she had run, but she always returned the next day.
We'd reported her to the local authorities but since she hadn't actually done anything yet, besides act a little suspicious, they had felt disinclined to do anything about it.
With a sigh I walked through the opened front gate to be greeted by an all too familiar sight of my son Ken yelling at Father again. My hopes of not being dragged into it lasted six steps before they noticed me.
"Mother, will you tell him to stop trying to teach crazy things to the kids! I'm sick and tired of listening to them cry every time they get hurt because of some damn fool thing he's told them!" Grunting in disgust he then turned and stomped his way into the house, leaving the two of us alone for the moment. I watched as Father slowly shuffled his way over to me, managing to look both dejected and sheepish at the same time.
Even at nearly eighty years of age the man still looked good. He was clean-shaven, having never felt the desire to grow a beard or mustache, and had somehow managed to naturally keep a full head of hair, though the ponytail had turned grey years ago. Recently his back had started to hunch on him, and he now occasionally mentioned pains, though he could still stand tall when something riled him up.
"Sorry Mika." Putting my bags down I reached out and lifted his chin, moving his gaze from the tops of his toes to me, and spent a moment looking into the bluest eyes I had ever seen. They were amazing, his eyes, so clear and pure that one could get lost in them for hours. Some of my earliest memories, before she had passed away, were of Mother spending whole evenings doing just that.
Glancing towards the house to make sure neither Ken or Reiko were listening I then kissed him on the cheek before stating, "Father, I know you mean well, but you need to be more careful... or at least more sneaky about it." Flashing me his infamous grin he again said, "Sorry," before stooping over and grabbing the majority of my bags. Picking up the rest I then entered the house with him following behind.
I ran into Reiko almost immediately, her still holding a sniffling Ryo who sported a number of fresh band-aids across the top of his right hand. The glare she leveled Father could have fried fish before she glanced at me and sniffed in disdain.
Sighing I walked past into the kitchen, the one place where she was least likely to follow.
I loved my family, but it was tiring at times.
"Father, you aren't twenty anymore."
It was high summer, and the heat was awful, but it didn't compare to the absolutely miserable look on Father's face. He said nothing as I carefully wrapped the freshly cleaned but still bloody mess of his hand. Finishing up I hugged the man, kissing him on his weathered cheek before gathering up the pillaged remains of the medical kit and stood. Slowly standing himself he glanced at me before saying, "I'll be in the dojo... um, practicing or something." Watching him sulk away was painful.
Entering the house, however, was even worse, as both Ken and Reiko were waiting for me.
"Mother, you need to put a leash on the man. He's crazy!"
"He is not, and you know it. He knew perfectly well what he was doing... he just hadn't compensated enough for his age."
Sneering as she sat on the couch Reiko mentioned, "He challenged an entire SCHOOL of martial artists, injured two of them, and then nearly crushed his fist trying to punch through a brick wall. I personally think it isn't his physical age that we aught to be worried about."
I glared at the woman, and not for the first time wondered what my son had possibly seen in her. She was snobbish, lazy, and held contempt for anyone who didn't see her as matron of all that was important. Every day I liked her less and less, especially since she now paid more attention to her social calendar then she did to the daily housework, or the day-to-day affairs of her own children. Looking back at Ken I met his eyes and silently dared him to back her up, to ignore his own childhood memories of his grandfather doing EXACTLY those things, and pulling them off as if they were the easiest things in the world, and turning away from me he finally muttered, "No dear, this time Mother has the right of it."
Now it was she who did the glaring, and I that sniffed in defiance, before I said, "I will talk with him." Returning to the back porch I stood, leaning against one of the old posts, and looked across the backyard to the koi pond and dojo while thinking about the man that I loved most in this world.
I could feel his mounting frustration every day now. He so desperately wanted, no, NEEDED, to pass on his legacy to someone. In the prime of his life he was quite possibly the greatest martial artist that the world had ever known, but he held no medals, no trophies, no physical reminders of the more traditional kind to impart that accomplishment onto the younger generations. I remembered his look of disappointment when Ken, as a child, had made it clear that video games and TV were more important then learning a new punch or kick. The look of quiet desperation that he sometimes gave to Ryo or Cho as they showed more aptitude for computers then sports. He had worked his way up from almost nothing, becoming an absolute master of his chosen craft, but had no student to pass it on to.
Walking across the lawn to the dojo I stepped inside to see father quickly putting down one of the bokken that rested against the wall. Grinning at him I slowly started some warm-ups, pulling from childhood memories how to twist and stretch ones body in the most efficient fashion, before settling into a facsimile of the relaxed stance I'd seen him use a million times.
"I'm ready for my lesson, Sensei."
The look of pure happiness on his face was worth it.
The police were just leaving when Ken arrived, stomping his way through the snow to the front door. "Mother, are you okay?" Glancing back towards the departing officers he added, "I was called from work. They said that you'd been attacked at the grocery store."
Taking his wet coat and hanging it I replied, "One could say that." Leaving him sputtering by the door as he removed his boots I entered the living room and resumed my tea. As soon as he joined me I said, "A young man tried to take my purse while I was shopping. I convinced him otherwise."
"You convinced him?!"
"Well, the elbow shot to his chest got his attention, then between the knuckle punch to the throat and the toe kick to the groin he decided that such activities were probably unwise." Unable to stop myself I grinned just a little as I added, "I can't wait to tell Father."
I almost giggled at the comical look of disbelief on his face, but was totally unprepared for the explosion that happened afterward. "ARE YOU CRAZY?!? Are you even listening to what you're saying?! You're 59 years old! You could have been killed, and all you're thinking about is how proud the old man will be?!"
I stared at him in disbelief before an anger I didn't even know I possessed boiled up within me and I found myself matching my son's voice with my own. "Yes I am 59 years old, but that doesn't make me a cripple! I was attacked, and because of Father I was able to defend myself so I damn well will be proud of the fact!"
We glared at each other before he finally sighed in exasperation, then looking around he asked, "Where are the children?"
"I would imagine they are still at the park with Father."
"What?! What if something-"
"Father is PERFECTLY capable of handling the children. I made him take my spare cell phone, and he's to call if anything happens."
Hearing the front door open a second time I stood and gathered my tea set, making it half way to the kitchen before meeting Reiko. Immediately realizing that we'd been fighting her voice took on a boorish tone as she asked, "So what did he do THIS time?"
I left her there, somehow managing to get Mother's tea set onto the kitchen counter without throwing it, before I screamed, "MORE THEN YOU EVER WILL!"
I tucked a light blanket around him to hold off the Fall chill as he snored, another one of a thousand sounds that brought back a lifetime of memories. The back pains were worse now, but he refused to take the implants, or even pills, that would help it. Brushing his now white hair away from his face I gently kissed his forehead before returning to the house, where I knew they were waiting.
Reiko started it by flatly stating, "We're putting him into a retirement home."
Not in the least surprised I immediately replied, "Never."
"He tried to attack a sumo wrestler this morning!"
"He thought the man was assaulting a woman and tried to help."
"It was the man's wife!"
"He didn't know that. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Face it Mika, your father is starting to go senile. Just last week he-"
"Reiko, stop." It wasn't often anymore that my son spoke up to his wife, and the look on her face clearly expressed the fact that she didn't like it. Taking a deep breath he then faced me and said, "Mother, I really do think you should consider this. His health is deteriorating and he's too stubborn to do anything about it. He's starting to forget things now, and it's only going to get worse. The children are old enough now that they don't need constant supervision, and-"
"And now that you've gotten everything you can out of him, you're just going to toss him away. Tell me, how long before I'm next?"
Rubbing his head in frustration he replied, "I don't mean it like that, Mother. I just think it would be better if he were someplace where he could be around people his own age, and who have excellent medical facilities should it be necessary. I can easily afford-"
"Where did I go wrong with you?" Not even wishing to give him a chance to speak I persisted. "How did I teach you that every problem could be solved by simply tossing money at it? We're talking about a man who has spent almost 60 years of his life raising me, you, and your children, and this is how you plan on paying him back? By tossing him out of the only home he's ever known? How dare you. How dare you to even suggest it, of him, one of the world's greatest living monuments of what can be accomplished with nothing but impossible dedication. This is his home, the place that he fought time and again to preserve, and he will ALWAYS be welcome here."
The silence stretched for quite some time before he replied. "Mother, I know you love him, more then anything else in the world, but this needs to happen."
Suddenly leery I asked, "Needs? Why?"
He paused, clearing his throat nervously, and it was Reiko finally answered. "My sister and her husband need a place to stay, and I offered them the dojo until they get their feet under them again."
Under the table I felt my fingers curl themselves into talons as I struggled to keep my temper.
"And when were you planning on consulting me in this?"
Clearly annoyed now the womans voice dropped into a sneer as she said, "Who cares. It's going to happen, so just get used to it."
I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or my son, but as those words rolled around in my mind I felt something snap, and closing my eyes I made a decision.
"Get out of my house."
"Reiko, apologize! Mother, we don't mean it like this-"
"Son, get that woman out of my house, before I physically throw her out myself."
"You can't do that! Ken, tell her-"
"THIS IS MY HOUSE!" Climbing to my feet I glared down at the woman who had stepped on, twisted, and ridiculed everything I believed in and stated, "You have till morning to pack your things, after that I'm throwing everything else to the garbage."
"Mother-" He stopped as I snapped my head in his direction. "You as well. Marrying her was your decision, so live with it! The children can stay or visit as much as they wish, but you two are no longer welcome in this home."
The next morning I threw them out.
Summer break, and with it the boys had come to stay to escape the wrath of their mother and enjoy what freedoms I could give them. Watching them at war over crumbs and bits of sugared dough as I baked cookies made me smile, and also helped take my mind off other worries.
Father was not doing well, though he took great pains to hide it. Now arthritic it was hard for him to be active for any length of time, and he had a tendency to hurt himself while trying to help around the house. He tended to forget things now, and every time it happened he would grow angry about it. But mostly he was just heedless, always looking for something to do, for a purpose, a challenge, a goal. I watched as the months went by and he sank lower and lower into himself, and it physically pained me to see him like that.
I wished so hard to find him something to do, something big, something that would give him just one more taste of the glory he knew when he was younger. I thought I owed it to him... I thought the world owed it. It was just wrong to let someone so important just waste away.
Pushing the thoughts away I peeked out of the kitchen to find him sitting on the back patio, staring out across the pond. He was wearing his favorite black Chinese pants, along with a red shirt, and looked deep in thought, though for all I knew he was napping. Ducking back into the kitchen I then stopped a major raid on the already cooling cookies and started another batch. I think it was the tone in Cho's voice more then anything that jerked me from my task.
"Grandma, who is the girl?"
Seeing both boys standing in the kitchen doorway, facing the back, I walked over and peered out, and gasped aloud as recognition finally hit me.
She was absolutely gorgeous now having bloomed into full womanhood, sleek and muscular with long flowing hair... and large spectacles on her face. She stood posed in front of Father, waiting, and as I took a couple steps towards them he turned to me.
He held in his hands an old earthen jar, a look of anguish and indecision clearly written on his face, and as we looked at each other I suddenly knew that this was it. This was his last chance, but to take it he would have to leave me behind.
A final chance to DO something with his life, and he'd throw it away to be with me. I basked in that love, something that could never be taken away, and then said the only thing that I could.
He smiled, that beaming smile of his that said everything in the world, no matter how crazy it got, would be okay, even as tears fell from his eyes in thanks. Looking down at the earthen jug he then took a deep breath before up-ending it over him, drenching him in what looked like water.
And magic happened.
Just as the first drops were hitting the deck the change, something I had only ever heard about, or seen pictures accompanied by epic tales, was completed, and where Father had stood there was now a young girl.
She was shorter then me, sporting a healthy solid build and long flaming red hair. Cinching tight her pants that were threatening to fall off she glanced at me and grinned, and I noticed that she had Father's eyes. Then turning towards the Chinese girl, the Chinese Amazon, she nodded and the two took off running.
With a single leap they cleared the garden walls and were gone.
Finding my face wet I wiped my eyes before facing two young boys, looks of astonishment plastered across their faces, and I burst into laughter.
Some legends were just never meant to die.
Saotome Ranma's certainly wouldn't.