"Close friends are great. I'm all for that. But who on earth went and tagged Sorosaki as Natural Man?" "Me. I came up with that. Go to a priest and you'll just get something boorish." The master beams with pride at the superiority of his own creation. Meitei laughs. "Let's see this epitaph you've penned." He snatches up the draft. "What do we have ... From infinity born, in infinity versed, to infinity lost. Alas, oh infinity, Natural Man," he reads out in a loud voice. "I see. Splendid piece. Befitting indeed of Natural Man." "Not bad, is it?" the master confirms with a pleased look. "An epitaph like this belongs on a large takuwan stone. Have it inscribed in stone, then set it out back of the temple, a challenge to wandering strongmen." "I may well do just that," the master replies in all seriousness. "You'll have to excuse me a moment. I'll be back shortly. In the meantime, amuse yourself with the cat." Without waiting for Meitei's response, he disappears like the wind.
Unexpectedly tasked with hosting Meitei, I'm forced to put on a sociable front. With a couple of friendly meows I crawl up onto his lap. Meitei reacts with, "Whoa, packed on some pounds, have we? Let's see." Grabbing me brusquely by the scruff of the neck, he hoists me into the air. "Look at those dangly legs. How can you catch a mouse with those? ... Tell me missus, does this cat ever catch mice?" Not content with my company alone, he calls out to the wife in the next room. "Never mind mice. That cat eats zōni and dances." The wife, out of the blue, divulges my past transgression. My awkward situation, suspended in the air, grows all the more awkward yet. Meitei seems loath to set me down. "Now that you mention it, he looks the prancer. Better watch him, he's a shifty one. A nekomata demon from those storybooks of yore." Pulling nonsense out of his ear, he continues to engage the wife, who sets aside her needlework and proceeds into the parlor, a hint of annoyance gracing her brow.