There were so many faces. The sad sloughing man on the wall fresco frowning unknowable concern hundreds of years gone by. A metal statue worn nearly black, one eye shut, the other scuffed and wide, staring accusations at anyone who passed. Older men whispering and stern, watching children pass joyous handfuls of coins to people who hand them back sweet fried dough in the shape of fish.
I approached the temple's ceremonial rope cord and looked up. It reminded me of those times in school when they wanted you to climb the rope ladder for gym class. You saw everyone go before you. You knew how. But, finally first in line, you doubted yourself. One of my hands was open. The other clung to the 50 yen coin like a vice.
The woman behind me noticed my hesitation and laughed. She gestured to the rope, and then lightly clapped her hands.
"Arigato," I said sheepishly.
"Do not worry," she said, words heavily accented and slow, dripping with patience. "Just think of your family."
I nodded and tossed the coin into the slotted wooden box before me. The payment would help the temple fund repairs and sustain itself. I grasped the coarse rope, closed my eyes, and tried to focus on my grandfather, dead for nearly 23 years. A flash of his smile crossed my mind, from what at the time seemed like long walks for little legs through our West Los Angeles neighborhood.
I pulled the rope. The metal bell at its top rang out. I clapped my hands.