The large room was earthen-floored and refreshingly cool. A table had been set in its middle, with small stools around it. The table top glistened with a shiny black finish. An old man sat by himself at one corner, with a square serving tray before him, drinking saké with a side dish of boiled vegetables.
The old man's face was bright red from the saké. And the skin of his face was taught and shiny, with not a wrinkle to be found. Only his white beard, which grew with great vigor, betrayed his advanced age. A young child myself, I wondered what this old man's age might be.
The lady of the place returned from the backyard spout with a bucket of water and was wiping her hands on her apron. "May I ask how old you are, good sir?"
The old man downed a mouthful of vegetables and replied in an easy manner, "Can't say that I remember."
The lady thrust her dried hands into her narrow sash and stood for a moment, observing the man's face in profile. The man took a big gulp of saké from a vessel the size of a rice bowl, then released a long breath through his white beard.
This time the lady asked him, "From where do you hail?"
"From behind the navel."
The lady asked again, her hands still thrust into her narrow sash, "And where are you headed?"
The old man gulped down more warm saké from his large vessel and, releasing another breath as before, said, "Off yonder."
"Directly?" asked the lady. As she spoke, his breath flowed through the shōji, passed beneath the willow tree, and continued on directly toward the river bank.