Next I considered whether it might be a young man or someone older. Sitting where I was, I had no way of knowing. At the same time, I couldn't very well get up, walk over, and open the shōji for a look. My nerves were more than agitated. They knocked me about from inside. After the guest had departed, I made certain to ask who it was. Neither Okusan nor the daughter gave anything more than the briefest of answers. While my dissatisfaction was plain for all to see, I lacked the audacity to probe further. They were under no obligation, of course, to inform me. I maintained my self-respect, a self-respect instilled by an upbringing that emphasized dignity. At the same time, I wore with abandon a wistful look on my face. They both laughed. It may have been good-natured and fully free of derision. Then again, it may have been just the guise of good nature. I'd so lost my composure that, in the moment, all was unclear. Even after the fact, I couldn't make up my mind as to whether I'd been ridiculed.
I was a free man. I could quit my studies at any time, go and live wherever I pleased, or marry whomever I liked. There was no one whose blessing I needed. More than once, I'd resolved to approach Okusan and ask for her daughter's hand. Each time, however, I'd wavered and held back my words. It wasn't for fear of rejection. I didn't know how rejection might alter my fate, but I imagined it would simply set me on a new course, with the fresh wide world once again open before me. This was nothing I couldn't face. The one thing I couldn't face, though, was entrapment. Nothing was more mortifying than the thought of being manipulated. After my uncle had deceived me, I'd sworn that, come what may, I'd never be taken again.