Kawa Akari (川明かり, “Riverlight”)

 

By Alexis

 

She was like the sunlit moon

Blessing the world with her light

And I was one of many stars

Negligible, indiscernible

But hoping she would see me one night.

 

I was just a simple student from a small, unknown university, learning the dying art of the poet. That night was a terrible night, full of unwanted noises and unnecessary sounds, and I needed to get away from it all. I needed to think, to be inspired. I took nothing with me except the clothes on my back. My feet were left bare; gravel stung my soles while dewy grass soothed.

 

The more I wandered, the more disoriented I was. The Murogawa Basin called out to me then, in that moment of lostness. Dancing lights pulled me towards their leafy homes. It was far past the time for tourists to be awake, but I was no tourist, and a poet’s mind never slept. The fireflies wrapped themselves around my arms and snaked into the gaps between my fingers. Guided by curiosity, I touched the glowing tail-ends of their bodies. They burned like windows of skyscrapers at night, blinked like the yellow neon lights embedded in store signs.

 

The fireflies led me to the edge of a lake, where the water rippled with every breath of wind. Each concentric wave lapped at my toes, advancing then receding, drawing me in with calm oscillations. My eyes followed them as they returned to their origin, to the middle of the lake.

 

And there she was, ethereal elegance lit up by lightning bugs as she stood in a gondola. Her hair was dyed a dark maroon, almost the colour of blackberry wine. It trailed down the nape of her neck in waves, and then curved to her front at the edges of her clavicles. Her kimono reflected the autumn warmth in hues of brown and red, with printed creamy white bush clovers and purple bellflowers. A pastel beige kimono ribbon was wrapped around her slender figure.

 

Pink cheeks, long eyelashes, cherry red lips came together to form a delicate and refined profile. Light from the fireflies angled shadows on her face. In both hands she held a charcoal-grey yunomi, wisps of steam curling from it.

 

She smiled and beckoned me over, but I was at a loss. How was I supposed to reach the boat? I did not have the abilities of a water-strider, nor was there a bridge to walk on. So I told her as such, hoping my voice would carry across the large pond. She nodded once in understanding. She raised a hand, and a tiny yet intensely bright firefly landed on her finger. She brought it to her mouth, whispering words that were too quiet to hear.

 

As she uttered her final instruction, an outbreak of fireflies rushed between us. Their cacophonous buzzing was overwhelming, and I had to block my ears before it became any more deafening. Before my very eyes the swarm of bugs drew close to the lake, layer after layer covering the surface to form a luminescent bridge to the gondola. As the final few settled down, their hums subsided.

 

I looked up; the woman beckoned me over again. Stepping on the bridge of fireflies, I dashed across to the boat with light footsteps.

 

In the middle of the gondola was a full tea set atop a small table. The kimono-clad woman sat, her legs folded underneath her. I did the same, though not as gracefully. She poured out hot tea into another cup and offered it to me.

 

We sipped sweet gyokuro tea from yunomis in silence. The only sound I could discern was the rustling of silver grass as fireflies weaved between the leaves. I opened my mouth to speak, to ask the questions that buzzed in my mind, but she shook her head. Her quiet, mysterious smile was the only answer to my unspoken questions.

 

The basin was calm, reminding me of when I was a child and when I used to frequent the local library after school hours. The library held very few modern books, and its shelves were filled to the brim with old myths and poetry. I was one of less than ten people in the building, and often spent my time curled up on a windowsill with the fading sunlight illuminating the pages in my hands.

 

I was so engrossed in that fond memory of my younger days that I failed to notice when the fireflies went to sleep, their tail-ends dimming until only blackness remained. It was only when the woman gently coughed into her sleeve that I noticed that darkness engulfed the Murogawa Basin.

 

The yunomi was icy in my grasp; the tea had cooled. My companion had vanished.

 

In her place, reflected in my irises, was the silver glow of the moon mirrored on the surface of the lake, perfect döppelgangers. Moonlight kissed the skin on my bare arms and feet. I inhaled, taking in a deep breath of the crisp water. Without the fireflies the night sky suddenly seemed brighter, the stars winking at me from where they resided.

 

I would gladly have lived in this moment forever if it were not for my tired eyes. Try as I may, heavy eyelids gave way and closed. I awoke.