I am reading James Clavell’s Shōgun. It’s a big book (1,171 pages). But its size does not come from its number of pages, it comes from Clavell’s writing. It’s filled with passages of terrible violence, both man-made as well as the kind caused by nature. But what I am so in awe of is Clavell’s ability to give even his smallest, most intimate scenes as much power as his largest and most epic.
Suisen brought the saké quickly. And the cha. Her mistress poured Omi some wine and gave it to him. The young girl unobtrusively filled the cups. She did not spill a drop and she thought the sound that the liquid made going into the cup had the right quiet kind of ring to it, so she sighed inwardly with vast relief, sat back on her heels, and waited.
Kiku was telling an amusing story that she had heard from one of her friends in Mishima and Omi was laughing. As she did so, she took one of the small oranges and, using her long fingernails, opened it as though it were a flower, the sections of the fruit the petals, the divisions of the skin its leaves. She removed a fleck of pith and offered it with both hands as if this were the usual way a lady would serve the fruit to her guest.
“Would you like an orange, Omi-san?”
Omi’s first reaction was to say, I can’t destroy such beauty. But that would be inept, he thought, dazzled by her artistry. How can I compliment her, and her unnamed teacher? How can I return the happiness that she has given me, letting me watch her fingers create something so precious yet so ephemeral?
He held the flower in his hands for a moment then nimbly removed four sections, equidistant from each other, and ate them with enjoyment. This left a new flower. He removed four more sections, creating a third floral design. Next he took one section, and moved a second so that the remaining three made still another blossom.
Then he took two sections and replaced the last in the orange cradle, in the center on its side, as though a crescent moon within a sun.
He ate one very slowly. When he had finished, he put the other in the center of his hand and offered it. “This you must have because it is the second to last. This is my gift to you.”
Suisen could hardly breathe. What was the last one for?
Kiku took the fruit and ate it. It was the best she had ever tasted.
“This, the last one,” Omi said, putting the whole flower gravely into the palm of his right hand, “this is my gift to the gods, whoever they are, wherever they are. I will never eat this fruit again, unless it is from your hands.”
“That is too much, Omi-sama,” Kiku said. “I release you from your vow! That was said under the influence of the kami who lives in all saké bottles!”
“I refuse to be released.”
They were very happy together.
“Suisen,” she said. “Now leave us. And please, child, please try to do it with grace.”