Palm of the Hand Stories – Yasunari Kawabata

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories

“There are not many bell crickets in the world. Probably you will find a girls like a grasshopper whom you think is a bell cricket……. To your clouded, wounded heart, even a true bell cricket will seem like a grasshopper….”

The birds scurry over to the lake, noisily pecking the earliest fish of the season. A fresh flower bud opens to the flutter of the hummingbird. The white flower that bloomed last night desired to be pink. Pink was the colour that would erase its transparency. Pink was the word needed to woo the girl whose cousin had died of a lung disease. Pink was all she sought after. The pleasant smell of the spring even makes the sunrise look alluring. The goldfish on the roof glowing in the morning sun were the key that would open a life of happiness and free Chiyoko from the shackles of her perfidious past. Who would know the taste of genuine freedom better than the toes who among the folds of soft linen cheerfully witnessed the pongy shower of morning nails descending from the graceful sways of the mosquito net emancipating the feet from the burden of overgrown nails and the woman’s heart from the burdensome memories of her childhood? The heron is busy this morning plucking stems to build a nest. On a branch below, the blue jay fervently chirps fleeting from trees. The mother seemed to have lost her child. Similar to Yoshiko, would the baby bird be a stranger to the warmth of a mother’s affection? Would Yoshiko be able to find the vanished love in the jay’s frantic search? Ah! The altruistic motherly love! Such wonders it bestows. Ask for its soundness from the woman who in the process of giving a compassionate haven for a pet dog’s safe birthing found love birthing itself once again in her barren womb. The heavenly fragrance of young plumeria permeates throughout the street, but it desists from entering my room. Maybe, it is bashful to mingle with the divinity of cherry blossoms and luscious persimmons that have seemed to occupy my room this morning. The dull walls illuminate through the glittering lights of colourful paper lanterns and the morning silence is interrupted by numerous chuckles of children whose quest of finding the grasshopper and the bell cricket has made the dragonflies take a break on my balcony wondering if Fujio would ever know Kiyoko’s illuminated name on his waist when he gave her the bell cricket. In the world of grasshopper would Fujio ever remember the beauty of a bell cricket? The beauty of love? The umbrella that had witnessed a budding love would certainly vouch for it. So would Yuriko who was consumed by the splendour of love and worship blinding her soul as it dissolved in its own muddled opulence. The lilies gorgeously bloomed with all their might. As the canaries rested, the bonds of strange loves disseminated in to the depths of the earth freeing a man from a vicious guilt and a woman who loved her husband even through the darkest hours. While the lotuses blushed to the gossip of the hat incident and the trickery of the water imp ; the words ‘sacrifice’ and ‘humanity’ reflected through the ripples in the lake as a man solemnly pledged to marry the girl to the insistence of the sparrow’s matchmaking skills. The serenity of floating bamboo-leaf boats was cracked by a sudden childish game of war; the humble boats transforming into battleships. Uncertainty and fear of a new world permeated through the bamboo-leafs sending worrisome shivers through Akiko’s heart wondering whether her marriage was just an act of pity; a war-time sentimentality towards the cripple. The pail of fresh, pure water brought forlorn nostalgia to the women who were far away from their homeland striving in the muddied waters of Manchuria. Loneliness brings a plethora of diminishing memories. The friendless heart cries pleading the ruthless mind for some affectionate nostalgia. The vibrancy of gaudy snakes slithering through the moist soil of the lake brought back memories of Ineko’s dream equating human ambitions to the scheming slithering movements of a snake just before catching its prey and fragility of human sentiments to the recurrent shedding of the snake’s skin. The industrious heron was back again picking up dried twigs off the ground. In the coming months the tamarind tree will be overflowing with the whiteness of the heron eggs. The sight of the virtuous eggs in which new life resides was somehow repulsive to the aging couple who dismissed a meal of eggs. No longer was it a sanctuary of new life, the eggs were messengers of death. How peculiar is human mind and how brittle the heart depositing its deep-rooted fears in a pulsating mirage that swings between life and death? Ask, Noguchi who saw Taeko riding a white horse, the virgin pink replaced by a deathly black. Or can the young girl who picked up the ceramic shards of a shattered Kannon figurine give the legitimacy of a weaker vessel equating the porcelain fragility to the elusiveness of her heart? Are dreams the spiritual heralds or are they harbingers of premonitions? The rooster and the dancing girl flippantly tap the surreal vision protecting public morals through the flurry of love letters. Fate, beliefs, shadows of the past, will it ever let go of its mortal ugliness? Ask the blind man and the girl standing on the threshold of love and fate. Will the son who never knew his mother be able to let go the frightful suspicions over his fate and for once witness his wife pleasantly breast-feeding the child of their love? Up in the tree, the coquettish chuckles of Keisuke and Michiko resonated through the rustling leaves while a clandestine world was created away from the ugliness of earth, its beauty residing on the wings of the birds. As the clouds cast a silhouette over the lake, the wind roared making a couple shudder to the thought of the ferocious thunder in autumn. The birds flew to a sunny place where even though the novelty of the face like the beauty of first love diminishes as time passes by; its memories are solidified into the heart blinded by the ugliness of time.

“Thank you. A dray…… “Thank you. A rickshaw…… “Thank you. A horse…….. “Thank you…”

The girl whose smile outside at the night stall saw the possibility of the nightly sky being lit by dazzling flowery fireworks bowed to the coquettish love. At the pawnshop where shame and reputation crumbled under the weight of survival, I pondered on how the older sister would have looked adorning her younger sister’s clothes. The elegant kimono that once had touched the younger sister’s supple skin soaking up every passion of her heart; could the cloth then truly transmit those sentiments into the taut dermis of the older sister. Could the younger sister’s life bring the long forgotten enthusiasm in the older sister through the clothes? Could the sliding rock make a barren womb fertile? While the young lady of Suruga, drenched in the pouring rain parted from the train station with a poignant good-bye, the dutiful wives daintily holding onto the umbrellas patiently waited for their husbands at the rainy station. Oh, dear husbands won’t you hurry back before it is too late. Love is fickle, it abhors stagnation. Can you ever hold an ocean in the core of your palm? How can love be shackled with ignorance? Can love be fastened with a knotted string? Ask, the bound husband who breathes a life of a stringer? Ranko would know too. The beauty of love is as delicate and transient like the sprinkling of cherry blossom. Yet, in an uncanny way love resides in the sinister corners of brooding nostalgia. Ask the woman with a silver coin who waited for the silverberry thief from the moment the sour berry touched her tongue. The grandeur of the silver berries that countermand the simplicity of the persimmons found beauty in its ephemeral form. Is it then the human soul so besotted by the chimera of magnificence that the radiance of the ring made a young maiden forget her nakedness in the bath tub? The glass that has been firmly stuck on the back of the lowly man, will it ever break releasing love from societal shackles of class distinction without his shards piercing the heart of love? Can an urchin’s love find refuge in the bourgeois prefecture? Does gradation of love magnify in the class war? Can inked words bring a world of fondness? Will a half-torn photograph find its way back to becoming one complete entity eradicating the ugliness of a heart-break by singing a love song? Love is iniquitous. In its glory will it graciously bring the beauty of passion and in its waning carry the squalor of disgust. Can then the brazen culpability rescue the final ruins of love through love suicides? Does loving too much signify slaughtering the essence of love with its own opulence? The broken rice bowl will no longer hold the beauty of cooked rice. The beauty of her mother’s eye flourished in the malice of theft. The aspiration of love vanished in the desolation of its past. A child’s viewpoint conferred the man an honour of a bleeding heart. The hair that sowed the first seedling of love with a slap of affection grew when the lovers slept. And on the day when the insomniac love went into a soundless slumber the hair no longer interrupted the lover’s sleeping habit. The wife of the autumn wind left traces of an overpowering possessive love as she scattered like a paulownia leaf. The winds of change blew towards the hometown enlightening Kinuko to view the happiness that encircled her through the optimism of her sister-in-law. Is love egoistic? It is possessive? Or is it that man has planted its bleeding soul in the establishment of love. The sting of sharing a lover’s warmth is uglier than the writing a letter to a man on behalf of a woman who has shared a bed. The women of the harbor town wrote as wives of the nightfall weaved the poetry of momentary love. The chewed pieces of newspapers in the child’s mouth recited a tale of an audacious girl of samurai descendant who was as fierce in her actions as the woman who stood between the supernatural trance battling a saw and childbirth. The beauty of the chestnut burrs glowing from atop a tree is shattered in a puddle of ugliness the moment it hits the earth. Underneath the streaming exquisiteness of a prostitute lies a menacing melancholic sea. The legendary beauty of the O-Shin Jizo sculpture, guardian of the children, fades in the wretchedness of reality. “Thank you”, he courteously said to the rickshaw that passed by him whilst he tenderly glanced at the girl next to him who was about to be sold by her mother. Mr. Thank you was his moniker, the only source of stability in the turbulent economical times; his heart brimming with compassion and chivalry but would love ever find a warm place within it. The question lingered in the air as he drove the bus to the next town and the enduring fragrance of love found a way to trickle within the woven threads of tabi(white socks) and a red top hat as they rested in the frostiness of a murky grave. The two decorated accessories whose beauty was marred by the ominous shadows of death and disease.

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.”

It has been more than ten hours since the first flower of the spring had bloomed. The transcendent moonlight seems to have found a way to my room brightly stamping its authority on the room floor. The words of the priest from the mountain temple fleeted through the moonlight as the shuffling of ‘go’ stones were strategized on a day running toward winter. Did the priest’s astuteness intertwine the ends of fate and destiny together? Can the beauty of the nature be truly cherished when it achieves salvation from materialistic crudity? On the gloomy boulevard, the street lamp looked like a ball of fire; the tungsten blazing through the glass, its fiery flames engulfing a maiden’s prayers as superstitious whims roar with laughter. The girl who approached the fire did not yearn to walk to the home where her heart never belonged. Was it a forlorn heart’s pitiful dream? Or was it a blessing, the path to one person’s happiness that was found in the smiles of the woman he loved? True happiness? Where does one discover it? Does it lie down in the eyes of the deaf neighbors when they scrutinize youth while the ugliness of age depreciate their bodies? Is a philanthropic deed itself rooted within the egocentric domain of personal bliss? Can the purity of philanthropy escape the ugliness of self induced happiness? Does the crippled wife of the poultry man ever question if there is a God when her husband carries her to the bath house? If there was no God then how would the survival of Beppu Ritsuko to be able to glimpse several glorious seasons of autumn rain be elucidated? Was it divine intervention or as in the case of the peasant was it providence that bestowed him the veneration of lavatory Buddhahood? Can clemency be sought from those who have been wronged? Did Yumiko find her deliverance by distributing God’s bones? The paperweight that was cautiously bought with the prized silver fifty-sen pieces was now the only lasting remembrance that Yoshiko had of her mother and her life from the pre-war time. How is it that human sentiments are nourished through lifeless objects? One measly touch of the flawlessly cut riding clothes was all Nagako desired to feel the warmth of a loving family. Every tear, every twinge and elation crystallized in the core of these comatose substances giving it a timeline of life and death that ultimately liberates the human soul from the burdensome past. Is then death the truthful path to salvation? Does death actually erase the distinction between genders through its neutral death mask? Is it necessary to pile on some make-up and a fake smile to dissolve the agonizing pain of death and go on living? Will the solemnity of a funeral home be marred by the nitty-gritty of daily life? The sacredness of death is sooner or later misplaced in the allure of newborn memories. From the time one is born, we adorned diverse masks throughout varied life-stages as we get engrossed in the roles we play. Are we then afraid of that deciding day when the mask finally falls off and the repulsiveness of truth peeks from the dazzling veil of fallacy? The man who did not smile already knew the perils of a handsome mask. Is human spirit a frightening thing emitting the lingering fragrance of guilt like the chrysanthemums place on the grave? The incident of the dead face made me question the faithfulness of faces that are genetically connected. A wife’s search was marred by the faces of love. The face of the child nestled in her bosom yearned for a sense of belonging. Does it really matter if a child has a dissimilar face than its parents? Does the purity of parental love fail to permeate the external physical segregation? Is the solidarity of love so feeble? Ask the earth who embraces children giving them an optimism of love. Is the realm of noble love narrowed by pitiable visage similarities? When a heart can find a sense of belonging in a new household do practical imagery overrides the matters of genuine love? Love has no inhibitions, no boundaries; humans do. The couple, who resides within the tenderness of a tree trunk, ask them if they know a thing or two about immortality. The bleeding ankles of a young girl that searched for the summer shoes as she rode behind the carriage, may tell you the sweetness of an everlasting journey. As the snow tumbles down from the wings of the flying birds, Sankichi falls in love once again. The transitory beauty of the snowflakes crystallizes on my windowpane on a balmy spring night as the love of Shimamura and Komako cascaded through the artistic gleanings from the snow country.

The moonlight has been quite mulish as it seems to reside firmly on my bed gazing through the printed words held in my hand. The name of the man who will never write scintillating stories again, shine brightly in the moonlit room. The remnants of the luminous paper lanterns collide with the subtle moonlight, giving way to a flimsy apparition now occupying my room. Suddenly an arm is jutted out towards me and I nervously wonder why. And, then as the crickets take pleasure in their nocturnal chorus, from the palm of the hand are released ingenious stories overflowing with mystique, surrealism, melancholy, beauty, spirituality, allegorical narratives and a splash of haiku echoing in the haunting silence of the heart and even through the weakest of them all emit the fragrance of the teachings of Zen philosophy forming blueprints like the lines embedded within the fleshy palm. This may not be his strongest literary pursuit, nevertheless, unlike the face that may lose its freshness in the fullness of time, the words of man that made me fall in love with him will never lose their novelty and my periodic viewing will only strengthen their beauty time and time again. The melodious bell cricket amid the world of grasshoppers:- Yasunari Kawabata – my literary soul mate.

4/5****

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