"Then the two of you headed off for Kabuki-za?" asked Meitei, an uncomprehending expression on his face.
"We wanted to, but it was already past four and too late, in my wife's opinion, to gain admittance. So we stayed home. If only the doctor'd come fifteen minutes sooner. I could have fulfilled my obligation, and my wife would have been so pleased. A mere fifteen minutes. Such a shame. Even now, it pains me to think how close we came."
The master, having concluded his tale, looked like a man who'd just unloaded a burden. He likely felt he'd held his own in his present company.
"That certainly was a shame," Kangetsu remarked with his signature grin, his missing tooth front and center.
Meitei's face was a blank. "Your wife must count herself fortunate, blessed with such a devoted husband," he remarked half to himself. The wife, from the other side of the shōji, conspicuously cleared her throat.
I'd listened patiently as the three of them, in turn, had related their tales. I'd been neither amused nor moved. Human beings, when they've time to kill, seeem compelled to exercise their mouths. Their sole talent, as I saw it, was invoking laughter in the absence of amusement and invoking delight in the absence of intrigue. I'd come to know my master as self-indulgent and narrow-minded, but his reticence had always left me thinking that there must be some side to him that I hadn't seen. I'd always worried that I must be missing something, but now, having heard him tell this tale, I was fully inclined to despise him. Why couldn't he simply listen quietly to the others' tales? What did he think to gain by heaping his own nonsensical chatter onto the pile? Perhaps Epictetus advocated such conduct in his writings. At the end of the day, the master and Kangetsu and Meitei, though they fancied themselves men of quiet leisure aloof from the fray, like dried gourds swaying with the breeze, were in fact ambitious and yearnful. Through cracks in their conversation shone flickers of rivalry and one-upmanship. They themselves were but a small step removed from the common man they so loved to denigrate. As a cat, I couldn't help but pity them. Their only redemption was a liguistic proficiency that set them apart from the usual dilettante and his hackneyed rub.