strange how things turned out.”
“I didn’t want him to die. I just wanted my money back. He was dishonest, pocketing 1.3 million on a consignment—”
“How do you know that? It wasn’t in the paper.”
“I met the family who sold the chest to him.” Over the course of our conversation, my breath was smoothing out.
“Really? They must be angry!”
“Yes, but there’s nothing we can do. I went back to Hita Fine Arts and they refused to be held responsible for Sakai’s sales.” Feeling depressed, I changed the topic. “Are we safe from your mother? Doesn’t she walk here sometimes?”
“I already told you my mother’s gone out today, but you’ll never need to worry even if you want to practice here alone. My mother once used the teahouse along this way, but after she built our new house with a tearoom inside, she stopped coming.”
“This teahouse looks really old,” I said, glad for an excuse to slow down as we came upon a building little bigger than a child’s playhouse. A few tiles were hanging haphazardly off the roof, and the sliding doors opening the house to the woods were cracked, but there was a charming, round window that looked ideal for moon viewing.
“Watch your pace, and picture your success! On the last lap, you can walk and do your stretching here,” Akemi ordered.
We circled the track again before I was permitted to walk. Akemi accelerated, legs flashing faster and faster until she disappeared in a blur. I had been walking only a few minutes when she passed me again.
All the sliding doors were swollen by humidity, so I had to shove hard to enter the small, square room floored in tatami. True to Zen style, the teahouse was decorated only with a chest for tea ceremony bowls. A musty smell told me dampness and insects had probably gotten inside the tatami and the few zabuton , cushions for sitting, stacked in the corner.
“You’re not stretching!” Akemi yelled as she passed again, so I went outside and did some hurdler’s stretches. What I really wanted was water. A small stream trickled near by, but I didn’t trust its cleanliness. I was preparing to head back to the water fountain near the temple when Akemi came around one final time holding two plastic bottles.
“You read my mind,” I told her, sucking down the contents of the bottle she handed me.
“Water is very important. I had these chilling in the stream behind the house.” Akemi balanced her foot against the teahouse wall and stretched. Her breathing dropped to normal within a minute. I was jealous, because I was as drenched in sweat and as exhausted as during my first run at Yoyogi Park. Still, I calculated that I’d run a mile without stopping. Akemi had shown me I had the strength.
“Has my mother called you?” Akemi finished her bottle and went back to stretching. “She’s forgiven you, I think.”
“How did that happen?” I was stunned.
“I pointed out how unfair she’d been. It was silly of her not to take what you’d bought for her. It was going into my room, and I don’t care at all about its age.”
I voiced something I’d been wondering about. “If your room does get redecorated with Japanese antiques, what will happen to your medals, all the things that are a part of you?”
“She wants me to put them in storage. It’s silly to keep them around, as I haven’t won a match in ten years.”
“But you’re always training in the dojo .”
“It’s just a hobby. I do a few exhibitions.” She shrugged.
“Why don’t you work at the temple? You’re the only child, so I assume you’ll inherit.”
Akemi shook her head. “In Buddhism, like your Catholicism, women can’t become priests. My cousin Kazuhito gets the temple. I’m sure my parents built me the dojo to ease their guilt.”
“I’m an only child, too. Growing up, I felt I had everything I could possibly want, except the most important—having someone to play with.” I thought about how I’d been taken