Barefooted, hungry, thirsty, and armed, Akimitsu, a wandering swordsman, arrived to the seaside village of Hamanaka. He had been riding a horse from the village of Hirafuku which was located about two hundred kilometres away, but his horse died halfway through and the burly man had to trek through a woodland that covered Hamanaka on all three sides. As the early rays of the sun reached the village, Akimitsu began his ascent on a hill, atop which stood Hagamuchi’s cottage. The village itself was nestled at the bottom of this green hill, and 20 years ago, it was this very hill that had saved the lives of the villagers when a tsunami swept through and destroyed every single thing that lay on its path. Some people say that it was the spirit of this holy mountain that beckoned them to their safety, but that wasn’t the truth. It was Hagamuchi, and the village owed its life to him. As the people were busy celebrating the yearly festival, it was Hagamuchi and his grandson, Miko, who spotted the tsunami from atop the hill. Frantically, they thought of ways to warn the villagers down below. And at last, Hagamuchi burnt his own house to get their attention. The temple priest noted it first, and then the people rushed to his aide as soon as they saw the blaze and then heard the thundering of the ocean as it roared in and swept everything down below. Hagamuchi was a hero. He had sacrificed his own home, the home that he had built with his own hands, for the safety of the people. The grateful people of the village rebuilt his cottage for him even before they started rebuilding their own homes. Hagamuchi was a household name not just in Hamanaka, but also in the neighbouring villages. Now the man was about 80 years old and Akimitsu had come all the way to meet this valiant man whom he had heard so much about.
As the ragged and unkempt Akimitsu reached the top, he came across a young man, about half his age, practising with his sword. A few metres away behind the practising Miko stood Hagamuchi’s cottage.
“You must be Miko,” shouted Akimitsu, as he stepped on level ground from his ascent.
“And you are?” asked Miko.
“I am Akimitsu,” said Akimitsu, and nodded his head. “I am here to meet your grandfather.”
Miko nodded back. “I will let him know,” he said. “Are you related to him?”
“That I am,” said Akimitsu with a thin smile.
Under normal circumstances, Miko would have invited his guest to his house; but something about Akimitsu just didn’t feel right.
“Ojjisan,” Miko called to his grandfather as he entered the house. “There is someone called Akimitsu here to meet you.”
The old man slowly stirred from his chair and got up, trying to remember who this Akimitsu is. Miko read his ojjisan’s furrowed brow and understood that the old man was yet to identify the stranger. He stood by Hagamuchi and slowly walked along with him as he made his way out.
The sun was out fully by now and Akimitsu shielded his eyes as he peered into the dimness of the open doorway of the cottage. He soon saw the old man standing on the doorway along with Miko.
“Ah, my Chichi!” said Akimitsu. “I thought I would never see you.”
“Chichi?” the old man and his grandson looked at each other dumbfounded.
“Who are you?” said Hagamuchi gruffly.
“I am not one for playing games. I come from a long way off, and I am tired and hungry, ” said Akimitsu. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“I am here ,” the ragged wanderer paused, “to kill you.”
Miko who was still clutching his sword stepped outside. “Get out this instant and there will be no trouble.”
“Little Miko,” said Akimitsu. “My good little man. I hate tragedies, I really do. But it is quite unfortunate and tragic that I have to kill you today. I really feel for you.”
The weight of the situation was still dawning on Miko as he stood there trying to make sense of what was happening.
“You see, Miko, I have no reason to kill you; absolutely not a single reason. But I still have to. You know why? Because you will try to protect your grandfather, the valiant hero of this village, and I have no other choice but to kill you,” Akimitsu said, “quite tragic, isn’t it?”
With a deft movement, the wanderer unsheathed his sword with his right hand and stood still as a rock. The blade glinted under the morning sun.
With a sudden outburst, Miko charged towards Akimitsu, his sword held by both his arms horizontally above his head. Even before he could raise his sword further back to strike a blow, he noticed Akimitsu swinging his sword from behind his right shoulder in an arc towards him. But Akimitsu had begun the swing a bit earlier for the strike to land on Miko and the sword came down cutting through the air downwards one instant, and before Miko could blink, the sword up-heaved outward and slashed through Miko’s chest as he came close enough to land a blow on Akimitsu.
Drenched in sweat and blood, Akimitsu moved forward to the old man who was now on his knees.
“What have you done?” the old man cried. “Miko is such a sweet boy. He never harmed anyone. You are a monster! Why would you do this?”
“I’ve heard that one’s memory deteriorates as one ages, ” said Akimitsu calmly. “Is this your old age speaking? Or is it pride that is masking your vision of who you really are? ‘The hero of Hamanaka’ — that sounds so good, doesn’t it?”
Hagamuchi peered into his tormentor’s eyes searching for a clue. Those eyes did seem familiar. Where has he seen them before? Glimpses of a past memory came floating back to the old man. “I have seen those eyes,” he said to himself. He remembered looking into those eyes as they shrieked for mercy. He remembered tears rolling from those eyes as he forced himself onto her on a drunken night 45 years ago.
After all these years.
Those eyes don’t want mercy anymore;
They seek something else.
And Hagamuchi was at the receiving end of what they wanted.
“She is no more.”
Akimitsu’s right hand moved once again, cleaving Hagamuchi’s head clean off of his shoulders as it rolled down the floor.
The priest at the village temple down below stood still for a moment as he noticed smoke bellowing from atop the mountain. “Hagamuchi’s house is on fire!” he screamed as he ran towards the bell tower to raise an alarm. The memory of Hagamuchi burning his own house to warn about an incoming tsunami panicked him even more as he ran.
Hagamuchi and the tidal wave is a story based on a Japanese folktale that I read when I was 8 or 9 years old. The original story was a good little folktale for kids which showcased the heroic and sacrificing deeds of Hagamuchi who destroys his own house to save the people of his village. I am now 31 years old and I have been told by someone close to me that I am still a kid who reads bedtime stories for children. This is simply not true and I do read and write “grownup stories” too. And just like Akimitsu who slayed a monster to uphold his mother’s honour, I decided to uphold my honour (sorry, Hagamuchi) and prove once and for all that I am quite grown up and matured enough. So this little story, Hagamuchi and Akimitsu, is something that I built on top of the original story and I have introduced this character Akimitsu who provides enough ‘R’ rated material to keep things interesting. I hope this concludes the adventures of Akimitsu and that I don’t have reintroduce him into other innocent little stories that I enjoyed as a kid and ruin them as well.
In all seriousness, I did enjoy writing this story. Thank you, Nisha, for constantly pushing me to write. This one is for you 🙂