From inside the shōji, the two-string koto went silent. "Miké, hey Miké, time to eat," called the teacher. Mikeko turned to me beaming. "The teacher's calling, so I'd better go. Do you mind?" I saw no point in objecting. "Come back again to visit." She raced off to the garden, her bell tinking as she ran, then suddenly returned. "You don't look so well. Is something wrong?" she asked with a look of concern. I wasn't about to tell her of chomping on the zōni and dancing a dance. "Oh that, it's nothing in particular. I was thinking too hard, and my head started to hurt. I figured talking with you would make it better. That's really why I came." "I see. Well take care then. I'll see you later." She seemed a little reluctant to part. At that the zōni was forgotten and my spirits restored. I was feeling fine. I decided to cut through the tea grove on my way back. I stepped over lingering needles of frost and poked my face through the old and broken fence. There on the withered chrysanthemums, arching his back and yawning, was Kurumaya no Kuro. Kuro no longer intimidates me like he used to. Nevertheless, I'd just as soon avoid him, so I sought to pass him by. Kuro, however, has never been one to let a perceived snub go unchallenged. "Hey there, nameless Gonbei! What's with the attitude? Awfully haughty, aren't we, for a cat on teacher's fare? I'll not be played for your fool." Kuro, it seemed, was unaware of my new-found fame. I would have liked to tell him, but he wasn't one to appreciate such things. The best course, I decided, was a cursory greeting and quick exit. "Hey there, Kuro. Happy New Year! You're looking well." I raised my tail and swept it round to the left. Kuro, too, raised his tail, but with no reciprocal sweep.