Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The guestbook

Hazuki showed me to my room after we finished dinner. We walked along the onsen's carpeted hallways, past closed screen doors, and up a flight of stairs that led to a wooden door.

"This used to be our suite," Hazuki said. "I hope you like it. Sorry we don't have electricity."

The floor was a polished bamboo and so were the walls. My shoes squeaked as I walked. She pointed to a small futon mattress folded against the far wall. I nodded, set my pack down, and bowed my head to her. She waved off my thanks with a wry smile and the wave of a hand.

"I rise with the sun. I'd be happy to offer you breakfast if you're awake," she said.

"Food, shelter, all these favors," I said.

"I'm just happy to have someone back under my roof." She moved to the door. "Sleep well."

Unfurling the mattress, I sat with my sleeping bag wrapped around my shoulders. The room was dark so I lit one of my candles and used melting wax to secure it to the floor. My breath was a steaming fog that caused the tiny flame to momentarily flicker and bend before it righted and continued to project its weak aura across the bamboo floor.

I was tired but restless and didn't want to sleep, so I got off the mattress, picked up the candle, and walked circles around the room. The room was spare, with no wall decorations save a single framed picture of Mt. Fuji in winter covered with layers of snow. Under the picture was a small desk with no chair. I opened each drawer but found nothing.

I sighed. There was no guestbook, no clues as to what life used to be like here. I wanted a story of a married couple here on honeymoon preparing to do a midnight trek to the top of Mt. Fuji so they could watch the sunrise in awe. Or perhaps a group of three or four trekkers working their way through Japan, top-to-bottom, splurging for a couple of nights to soak in the sulfur pools and drink too much. These were the stories I missed, unremarkable on their face but exceptional in the light of how they didn't happen anymore.

Closing the last drawer, I retreated back to the mattress and blew out the candle. I closed my eyes, but sleep didn't come.

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