Tea Time in the Toshiro Mifune Caféby Evan Johnston
“I’m full of rage,” Hiro said sadly, sipping his iced mocha.
“That’s appropriate,” I replied, “you are a samurai.” We sat there, in the Mifune Café (it has a patio), a bit overdressed for the weather but such was the dress code of the samurai. Our helmets and breastplates were piled onto a nearby chair, and Hiro had placed his swords atop the whole mess. I kept mine on, the short one was useful for peeling oranges, a handy tirck I’d learned from watching a martial arts film.
“But I don’t want to be full of rage,” Hiro said dolefully, tossing aside his copy of Bushido Today, “Why can’t I just be a samurai? Maybe even a happy samurai. It’s been done before, right? Remember Kojiro? He was a damned cheerful samurai.”
“Before he was executed at Lord M-‘s banquet, yes, I suppose he was,” I said.
“Oh yes, I forgot about that,” said Hiro.
“We spend our lives preparing when we should die, Hiro. It is perfectly normal to be full of rage. You can be depressed, and its alright; beneficial, even. You’ll be much more likely to take your own life if you’re a bit depressed.”
“I know that,” I said to Hiro, sighing, “I fucking know all of this.”
“Well apparently you don’t,” I said, now a little bitchy, “Because if you did, you wouldn’t be talking like this. We are samurai. We are full of rage, a bit depressed, and god-dammit, I though I said there was to be no milk in this tea!”
The barista fearfully nodded. I drew my wakazashi and sliced the plastic cup, severing the top half so that not a drop spilled; the technique, as it is known in my ilk, is the vengeful breeze, a combination of delicacy and harshness that is not so much a strike as it is a – oh the hell with it. It’s a sword slice. You know what I’m talking about.
I was appalled by my drastic action. Various café patrons stopped talking into their cell phones long enough to register their unspoken disapproval.
I bowed, courteously, to the barista, who was quivering now, “I apologize for so needlessly decapitating that cup of tea in your honorable café,” I said, “Name someone who has wronged you, and I shall present you with their head at a later date.”
The barista assured me that an execution was not necessary. “I assure you, the head will be doused with a potent perfume, as not to bring the stench of death into your establishment.” The barista was adamant that no one be decapitated for my mistake; I felt slightly insulted.
“No more caffeine for you,” said Hiro. I purchased a bottled water.
“It’s not that, it’s the whole ronin thing,” I said, my voice rising in pitch, “I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do without our sensei. Shouldn’t we just commit hari kiri and move on with our lives?” My brow was getting hot; fortunately I keep a fan in my sash for these purposes.
“I’m sure we could,” said Hiro, “But we haven’t so obviously we don’t want to.”
Suicide was, of course, the action samurai were supposed to take whenever something bad happened. If you dishonored your master, you were supposed to carve a jagged trail into your own abdomen. If your master dishonored you, the same rule applied. Did your master perhaps dishonor another person’s master? Then it was time to do the samurai shuffle, all the way off the mortal coil. Then, if you were lucky, people wouldn’t speak quite so ill of you at your funeral.
We had been studying to kill others and kill ourselves for seven years now, and now the option had presented itself…We stood on either side of our fallen master, sword tips pointed towards our bellies, and waited for each other to start. After a minute, we dropped our swords and went out for hot drinks. It seemed like a sensible thing to do.
There was a moment of silence between us, as we meditated on what to say next. “Hiro,” I said, “I really do hate it when we fight –“
Hiro waved away my apology. “That’s not going to do any good now. We’re samurai, we do not apologize after we squabble. You are my associate and my friend; you see into my heart as I see into yours,” and here he paused, and frowned slightly:
“This is why I must tell you that it is unbecoming for you to wear that jacket with that sash. It matches nothing on your person, and thusly creates a certain sense of desperation in your attire.”
I was indignant: “It was a gift from sensei!” I said.
“Sensei is dead now!” replied Hiro, angrily, “Struck down by a…a—“
“Ninja assassin posing as a gutter prostitute,” I finished his sentence. He looked downward as I said the words, as I had brought great dishonor upon ourselves and sensei by mentioning this unfortunate life-ending incident. He rubbed his forehead with his palm, in an effort to regain composure, an then his chest began twitching spasmodically. For a moment I feared his latte had been poisoned by a rival calin, and then I realized he was laughing.
And then we both giggled like school girls: “I’m sorry,” Hiro said, trying to catch his breath, “it’s just so funny.”
“The damned trick had a goatee for Buddha’s sake!” I said.
“And the shuriken spilling out of his corset!”
I laughed, “Who would be so stupid? Do you think he just though, ‘Well, maybe he is a ninja, but I’ve gotten this far…”
The other café patrons were staring at us again.
“Go stuff yourselves!” I shouted at them, “Can’t you see two ronin are trying to have a conversation?”
The customers shifted their attention elsewhere. “So, we’re out of a job then, right?” said Hiro.
“Don’t be down about it. We’ll make excellent calligraphers.” This was true: we were fortunate to have studied Bushido during a time of peace, except for the occasional clan dispute. Since we did not spend our time trying to die for the emperor, we had time to learn proper penmanship.
“I’m still full of rage,” said Hiro.
“I know, I know,” I said, “But let’s forget about that now. There’s a used bookstore that’s open for another thirty minutes, if we hurry-“
“Right then,” said Hiro, strapping on his swords, and then suddenly pausing, “Well, I guess we really don’t need these, now, do we?”
I paused, thought it over. “Well, no,” I said, “Not for work, precisely…”
Hiro looked sad again.
“But they do go so well with our outfits. It would really be a crime to go without them.”
“Agreed,” said Hiro, “Agreed.”
Evan Johnston has published fiction in Punk Planet. He lives in Brooklyn.