I immediately picked up the hat. I used the backs of my nails to flick off specks of red clay and then called to Sensei.
"Your hat fell."
"Ah, thank you."
Sensei propped himself up and took the hat. Holding that same position, neither upright nor prone, he posed a curious question.
"If I may ask, is your family well off?"
"I wouldn't really say so."
"How much would you say you have? Forgive me for being so blunt."
"We own some property, fields and surrounding hills. Other than that, no savings to speak of."
This was the first time Sensei had ever asked directly about my family's finances. For my part, I'd never asked Sensei about his own circumstances. I had wondered, from the early days of our acquaintance, how he afforded his life of leisure. That question had remained with me, as I had never dared to ask him point blank. Now, as I paused in my study of leaves and permitted my eyes a rest, the question was suddenly ripe for the asking.
"How about yourself? How wealthy are you?"
"Do I look like a man of means?"
Sensei was always modest in his dress. His household help was also limited. His house, in turn, was not a large one. It was clear, though, even to myself as an outsider, that he didn't want for material comforts. In short, while not extravagant, he wasn't scrimping and saving to get by.
"To some extent," I answered.
"I do have enough to maintain my current lifestyle, but by no means am I a wealthy man. If I were, I'd build a bigger place."