Wanderings, III

by Laura Bryannan

When they woke up, they were different. They even looked different. Jin without his glasses and his hair down, and Mugen with scars on his face that made him look like a cat. Of course, I was so unbelievably happy they woke up at all I didn’t care what they looked like.

They walked out of that room the first morning blinking at the daylight, looking like two avenging angels who'd been to hell and back—which they had—so beautiful and ethereal. They’d both lost so much weight, but they still seemed to radiate this power. It was kind of extraordinary, really. Maybe it was because I was crying at the time, maybe it was because even Mugen was pale, but I could have sworn they were shining when I first saw them. We shooed them off to the tub, and they turned into plain old Mugen and Jin again by the time they got back, but it was the most eerie experience I’ve ever had and I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.

They were different with each other too. They were practically joined at the hip after that. It was clear they needed to be together, so I tried to give them their space and stay out of the way. I’d go out to the tree they made camp at and bring them something to eat at midday. It became a little game of mine to try and guess beforehand how I’d find them. At first, I’d often find them both asleep. I’d sit and watch for a little while—they both looked so sweet when they were sleeping—and leave what I brought.

Later, maybe only one of them would be crashed, usually with his head on the other’s thigh, and I’d chat a bit with whoever was awake then take off again. I never saw them not connected in one way or another. They had never been particularly shy about being affectionate with each other in front of me anyway. But now every time I went out there I’d find them snuggled together, or at least touching. Jin seemed to smile more and Mugen seemed more grave and thoughtful. It was almost as though their personalities had infected each other a bit.

Sometimes I wished they would invite me to stay. And, honestly, they never hinted that I wasn’t welcome, but it didn’t feel right to hang out with them, for some reason. I was so busy anyway. And as the weeks went by and they got stronger, I realized I was going to have to let them go. They had both saved my life, so I had to give them theirs back. It was clear that all those assassins were after us because of me, because my father had been involved with the Christian movement here. I couldn’t keep putting them in danger any longer because of the quirk of fate that caused me to be the only child of the infamous Sunflower Samurai. But even though I knew it was right thing to do, I still felt really sad about it, and it made it harder and harder to spend time with them.

So I kept myself busy dealing with all my father’s stuff, trying to get everything settled so I could get out of there as soon as possible. I couldn’t believe how many people showed up in those weeks Jin and Mugen were getting their strength back. It drove me nuts! Everybody and their brother were gushing about how wonderful my father was…how kind, how brave, how thoughtful and helpful he had been to them. Well, I couldn’t take it after a while. I’d spent practically my entire life hating him, so I found all the nice stories pretty galling. Too bad he wasn’t as brave and nice and kind to his own family! I know everyone meant well and all, but sometimes the smile on my face felt so forced I thought my cheeks were going to crack. I knew that as soon as Mugen and Jin were ready to take off, I was going to take off too.

I was secretly hoping one of them would take me aside and ask me to go on with him but, of course, it didn’t happen. I didn’t have the guts to approach either of them myself, and part of the problem was I honestly didn’t know who I wanted to approach! Plus, I was convinced they were planning to be with each other. I couldn’t imagine them parting considering the way they were stuck together now.

Mugen was being so sweet, though. He’d chase me down every so often and ask me what was going on and stuff, but it was so hard to talk with him. Every time I got near him I felt like I was going to cry my eyes out, so I just kept running away. I mean, I didn’t even know what I wanted, so how could I know what I wanted from him? He didn’t seem like a settling down and raising a family kind of guy, and I didn’t even know if I was that kind of girl. And besides, I really felt like I owed them both a clean break. I saved them and then they both saved me. We were even and I honestly wanted them to feel free of any further obligations to me.

I decided to go to Nagasaki. I thought it might be where they’d go too, of course. Besides, a big city like that would have tons of places I could find work in, and I could hide and figure out what to do next. Once my nosy neighbors got wind of it, though, you’d think I was telling them I was going to sell myself on the street corner or something. Everyone thought I was nuts to go to the city alone, and put up so much of a stink I finally agreed to let someone’s son-in-law escort me there just to shut everyone up. After the three of us parted, I went to stay at their house overnight and then Waotaka-san drove me there in his oxcart. It was better than walking all the way there alone, I’ll admit.

One of the good things about all this was that there was some money in my father’s effects. A fair amount too! I was able to spare five ryu for both of them and hide it in their stuff, and still feel like I had enough for anything I might need. Once I hit Nagasaki the first thing I did was find an inn and get a room. The money I was sitting on meant I didn’t have to run out right away and find work, so I just crashed that day and went job-hunting the next.

It took me a little while to find something I liked, but it was worth the wait. The couple who owned the teahouse, Chiaki and Roku, were so sweet! They were my mother’s age, and we all took a liking to each other right away. I had been in and out of so many loud, smelly, dirty places in the past few days, or nice ones with awful people running them, I had begun to despair of ever finding a job. So there they were, happy to have a daughter to take care of, and I sure didn’t mind a set of adopted parents. It was great. They had a spare room upstairs, so I moved in there and just lay low for a few weeks.

At first, I would get up and go to work all day, then visit with Chiaki and Roku in the evenings until it was time for bed. But once I began to get my bearings and feel more settled and confident, I started roaming the neighborhood after work. As I wandered farther from home base, I realized I was really close to the seaport part of town. One evening I got brave enough to make my way there and it was so exciting. I loved seeing all the different boats and the bustling activity, but I had to keep my eyes open and stay on my toes because there were a lot of weird people down there. Even though I got my share of whistles and pinches and stuff, it wasn’t bad enough to keep me away.

At first Chiaki and Roku were concerned about me taking off like that and not coming home until it was dark, but I wouldn’t let them talk me out of it. I just had to go there, for some reason. OK, so I was hoping I might find Mugen, maybe working on the docks, maybe coming out of one of the taverns. I went there almost every night and ate my dinner, unless it was too cold or rainy. I’d just sit there and watch everything.

Boy, I never knew there were so many different kinds of people in the world until I spent time at the port! I saw this man once whose skin was as dark as a tree trunk. He was so amazing looking I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, and handsome too! And then there were these guys working on this one ship who had tattoos all over their faces. It made them look like wild animals. I loved it! I never saw Mugen, but sitting there being entertained by the crowd was sure better than feeling sad about him back at the teahouse.

So that became my life. Week after week I’d get up, go to work, grab myself some portable dinner afterwards and head down to the docks to eat and dream. Then I’d head home, visit with Chiaki and Roku for a bit and go to bed, get up the next day and do it again.

At night when I was alone I would lie in bed and think about them. Sometimes I’d remember Mugen’s mouth on me. Sometimes I’d remember Jin’s hands on me. Sometimes I’d remember their mouths and hands on each other! Little snippets of scenes would pop into my head and keep me company.

Like this one time we were on the road and we split up to go pee. I was walking back when I found them making out, and ducked down to peek. Mugen’s back was against a tree and Jin was grinding into him as they kissed. At one point, Mugen slowly drew his legs up and wrapped them around Jin’s waist. Then Jin’s hands moved downward and rubbed Mugen’s butt in a way that made his toes curl, and I totally melted at the sight. After a little while, Mugen lowered his legs and Jin tried to back away, but Mugen caught his head and kissed him again. When they parted they bonked their foreheads together and gave each other looks that made me sigh, they were so lustful and sweet.

Of course, my primary erotic memories came from those last few days in Aki. That night I watched them make love it was like a dream. I could see pretty well, but not so well that it took the magic away. At first, I was even kind of pretending it was me Jin was making love to, because Mugen sounded so turned on and happy. Later, I had some second thoughts about that, as they got more intense with each other. I’d never heard either of them make sounds like that before. It made me really horny, but it freaked me out too.

Mugen was so good at making me flail and scream when he made love to me, it was really satisfying to watch Jin do that to him. And even though it sounded as though Jin was hurting him toward the end there, I couldn’t believe Jin would do such a thing. So I just watched with my mouth hanging open in amazement, feeling more turned on than I’d ever felt in my life. Mugen said Jin was vocal when they were together and he sure was right!

The next day, when they started going at it right in front of me, I couldn’t believe it! In broad daylight it felt completely different, and I wasn’t sure I could deal with the reality of it. At first they were just making out, and it was really fun to watch. But then I could see Jin starting to writhe, and I couldn’t tell why because Mugen’s body was blocking my view of what he was up to. Then, ohmygod, I could tell that Mugen’s hand was inside Jin’s hakama because he pulled it up enough that his leg was showing. There was something about seeing it—black hair against pale skin—that seemed too private, too intimate for me to be looking at.

And then I realized that Mugen was going to…um…do it to him and I freaked out. I knew I couldn’t watch that happen. It was one thing to witness Jin turn Mugen into a squealing, mewling creature. There was something appropriate about that, to me, and I had fun watching it happen. But I couldn’t bear to watch Mugen turn Jin into something similar. I didn’t want to see Jin reduced to such a state, so I took off. Sometimes I wished I’d had the guts to stay, but I honestly don’t regret it most of the time. And, who knows? Maybe I was just jealous Mugen was doing that to Jin and not to me. So my days fell into a comfortable pattern and so did my nights. Touching myself wasn’t as good as having them with me, but it kept me going without dropping too far into despair.

But then I had a fateful experience. It was weird because I had been sitting at the docks trying to mind my own business and eat as I usually did and it just wasn’t happening that evening. Maybe I had a sign stuck on my back or something, but I got hit on at least two different times in the few hours I was there. And, because of that, I’d been thinking about when Mugen got it into his head I needed to learn to fight. Well, it sure came in handy that night.

I was walking back to the teahouse when I noticed that some slime ball was following me. Jeez, I thought, can’t a girl catch a break? I broke out in a cold sweat. I walked faster, but he did too, so I knew he was going to try something. My heart was pounding so fast I could hardly breathe, but when he grabbed my arm I was ready. I dropped into the stance Mugen taught me so quickly he let go.

”Get away from me, you creep!” I yelled. He just laughed. I could tell he was drunk by how he smelled and how unsteady he was. But I knew drunk men were dangerous, so I didn’t hesitate. When he lunged at me, I kicked him in the shin and he howled and fell down on one knee, cursing and grabbing his leg. He reached for me again, but my geta connected with his face and he fell over with a scream. I jumped up and took off, and he never even followed me. As much as I hated what Mugen put me through, I was never more grateful to him than I was then. I might have just saved my own life, I realized, and I felt proud even though I was still shaking and queasy when I got safely into my room.

It began when we were in Aki. Mugen came home after work one afternoon, grabbed a pillow from a futon in the bedroom and took me outside.

Come on,” he said. “I worry about you too much. I’m gonna teach you to fight.” I was thinking he’d gone totally nuts. Me? Fight? Uh, sure….

I’m only gonna teach you this one thing, but it should be enough, so long as your attacker ain’t got a sword,” he began. “Girls’ got no upper body strength and no reach, so you can’t fight a man with your arms or your hands. You’ve got to get to the ground and use your legs.”

He made me lay down on my left side propped up on my elbow with my knees bent. Then he grabbed my right leg, raised it up and pointed my knee at the sky. “This is your basic stance, Fuu. Someone looks like they’re gonna come after you, you drop to the ground and get in this position.”

But they can see up my kimono,” I protested.

Who the hell cares? Tuck it over yourself if you’re worried, but what’s more important, keeping yourself safe or keeping some asshole trying to hurt you from seeing up your kimono?” I grumbled, but managed to cover myself some.

Now when someone’s trying to grab you, you kick with this leg up here. When you stretch it out, pull your toes back, point them downward and strike with your heel. Now, try it.” He held out the pillow and I kicked it.

Good! And right after you kick, pull your leg back into position just like you were drawing a bow and get ready to kick again. Now, go!” and I did it again and again and again. Then he started moving around. He told me to pivot on my hip and keep myself aimed at him. I managed to hit the pillow most of the time, and I could tell he was pleased with me. The he told me to flip to my other side and we practiced with that leg too.

Good girl!” he smiled. “Now that you’ve got that down, let’s talk about strategy. Someone’s bugging you what do you do?”

I tell him to leave me alone.” He nodded.

And if he doesn’t listen to you…if he keeps bothering you, then what?” I didn’t know, and shrugged my shoulders.

You get down on the ground and get ready to defend yourself,” he said.

Right in the middle of the street? Wouldn’t that look weird?”

He made a face and shook his head. “Who cares, Fuu? If the guy ain’t listening to you—if he won’t leave you alone when you’ve told him to—he’s not a good guy, so who cares what he thinks? Get your back to a wall if you can. Get in your stance, pull your leg into position, and keep telling him to fuck off, K? Now, if you’re lucky, the guy will decide you’re not worth the bother. He’ll call you names and take off. Most assholes want easy prey. But if he tries to get you, where do you kick first?”

His privates?” I ventured.

He shook his head. “Nope. A man will expect that kind of attack and protect himself by instinct. You go for his knee or his shin, K? Now, let’s do this slowly first. If you kick me in the knee, I’m gonna fall forward. Do it.” I kicked him gently. He went down, holding himself off the ground with his hand.

So now he’ll be somewhere like this, and you hit his head next. Go!” I pushed his head with my foot, and he fell on the ground completely. “He’ll either be face up or face down, depending, but now what?” I shrugged my shoulders again.

You raise your heel up over his head and bring it down…hard! Smash his head into the ground with the back of your heel as hard as you can. Hit his nose if he’s face up, the back of the head or his ear if he’s not. That should be enough for you to get up and get the hell away.”

But wouldn’t that really hurt him?” I asked, wincing.

Yeah, that’s the fucking point! Is it OK for him to hurt you, but not for you to hurt him?”

I sighed. It seemed hopeless. I could never imagine myself doing such a thing to anyone, but he wouldn’t let up. He made me practice and practice, until I was almost in tears. He’d come at me in different ways, making me hit him as hard as I could. Even though the pillow took most of the blows, I could tell I was hurting him sometimes and he still wouldn’t stop. But, I’m proud to say that by the time the sun set, I had the routine down pretty well.

He dragged me out there almost every day we spent in Aki, and sometimes I really hated him for it. It was scary to think of needing to learn that stuff, and I kept running the routines in my imagination hours after we stopped, picturing unknown attackers and fighting them off in my head over and over again until I was about ready to scream.

One day we were practicing what Mugen called ‘shit talk defense.’ He would pretend to be a stranger and walk by and say stuff to me—the kinds of stuff any girl who has ever walked around in public has heard. Sometimes he would back down when I told him to leave me alone, sometimes he wouldn’t and I’d have to fight him. I could never tell what he’d do, but I’ve never found it too hard to tell a jerk to buzz off, so I was pretty good at it. Then I saw Jin sitting there. I hadn’t even noticed he was home, I was so focused on yelling at Mister Shit Talk.

Jin, make him stop. I’m so tired of this!” I begged. He shook his head.

You’re doing very well. It’s a good skill for you to know,” he said. Oh man, it was two against one. No fair!

Help us, Jin,” Mugen called. “We’re working on come-ons. Let’s see what she’s learned.”

Jin nodded, took off his glasses and walked over to me. “My, what a lovely sunset,” he began.

I looked up, saw him smiling at me and I smiled back. “It certainly is. Well, I must be going now,” I replied, and moved to walk away. But Jin without his glasses is so unnerving, when he caught my arm I turned back to him.

Oh please, not so soon,” he said softly. “Couldn’t you stay and enjoy the evening with me just a little while longer?”

Um…no…um…I really should go….” I stammered, but he was looking at me with those amazing gray eyes of his, and he reached out and stroked my cheek. Then he took my hand and started walking off, pulling me along with him. I was so ooogy about him looking at me like that, and I could still feel how his finger grazed my face, I didn’t even notice he was taking me somewhere. But then I heard Mugen yelling, “No! No! No!” And suddenly Jin twisted my arm up behind my back…gently, but I got the point.

Not every bad guy is gonna act like one, you know!” Mugen yelled. “What did you do wrong?”

I didn’t get down when he didn’t listen to me,” I replied, pretty mad that I let myself get tricked like that.

Right! That was a good idea Jin. Your kind of shit talk is more dangerous than what I’ve been throwing at her. Now let’s try it again,” he demanded, and we did. This time I did it right and it was worth it because I got the best look from Jin. I could tell he was proud of me, and he was proud of Mugen too.

You’re giving her very good advice,” he said. “I would never have thought of such a fighting style, but it makes perfect sense. Women’s legs are so much stronger than their arms. I believe this would really work.”

”It’s what we taught the girls in our gang,” Mugen replied. “It worked for them, so I figured it would work for Fuu too.”

And then Jin would come and help too, on the days he wasn’t staying late at work to hang with his boss. Mugen said he was grateful there was someone else to take some of my kicks. Even though they protected their bodies with pillows, I know I still gave them both more than a few bruises. They’d just wince, rub the affected part for a moment, then say, “Again!” God, guys are weird! But looking back on it now, I’m so grateful Mugen made me learn. I mean, he really had to make me a few times, because I never wanted to. By the time we left that place, I had gone over it so many times I could do it in my sleep. OK, so I forgot it when those creeps attacked Yuri and me, but I didn’t forget it that fateful evening when I was truly on my own with no one to save me anymore.

So, even though I made it through that little escapade unharmed, it really scared me a lot, and it took me forever to fall asleep that night. The next morning I woke up with this scathingly brilliant idea in my head, though. Maybe I dreamed it…I don’t know. But I realized I could do something to make it easier for me to get around without having to worry so much. I could turn myself into a boy! It took me a few days to really believe I could pull it off, but I finally decided I had nothing to lose by trying. I couldn’t wait for work to be over that day so I could hit the shops and start buying my new clothes. It took a little time to find everything I needed, and a bunch of white lies to buy it all, but finally I had my outfit pulled together.

I could use my own juban, of course, but I bought a new kimono in a really nice but sedate solid cream color, with a beautiful design woven into the fabric. I got a pair of black hakama too, and tabi and waraji, and a silk tie to pull my hair up. I decided against trying to do the fundoshi thing. I wasn’t used to wearing undergarments like that and figured no one would know anyway. And if I bound the “girls” up tight, you really couldn’t tell they were there. For once, I was glad to have my nice, neat smallish breasts!

So, the next evening I went down to the pier in my new outfit and had so much fun! I didn’t get one wolf whistle or catcall. No one paid any attention to me at all. It was really great to feel so safe. Chiaki was totally confused by my behavior. “Why must you go there every evening, Fuu?” she asked. “It’s so dangerous, we worry about you.”

But it will be safe in my new clothes, and it’s so much fun. It’s almost like going to the theater or something. And…well…to be honest, I keep hoping I’ll find an old friend there,” I finally admitted, certain I was blushing.

She shook her head, but her eyes were warm. “Ah, now I understand. Life with a sailor is a lonely one, Fuu,” she warned. Didn’t I know it? “Well, my dear, it’s not my place to tell you what to do, and I must say you do make an adorable young man!” I smiled and gave her a big hug, relieved she wasn’t going to try and talk me out of my wonderful new game.

Life became a lot more fun after that. I would put on my boy clothes after work and head out to wander and I never once got poked or propositioned or whistled at. It was great! I decided to call myself Fukashi. I didn’t know if I’d ever need to use a boy’s name, but I wanted to have it ready in my mind just in case.

It was amazing to me how different life was as a boy. I could go anywhere or do anything and no one gave me a second glance. Every once in a while some shopkeeper would peer at me curiously, but then they’d shrug and go on with their business. I ended up adding one more item of clothing to my outfit, just to be safe, though. I found myself a short haori in a dark shade of tan and wore it open like Mugen used to do. That covered up whatever hints of my breasts might still be there. I never felt so free in my life! I loved it! I could go down to the docks and enjoy myself without worrying about anything.

Then one day I was there a little earlier than usual. Things were quiet at the teahouse, and Chiaki let me go early since it was such a lovely day. The air had been getting cooler and we were getting more and more gray and rainy weather. That day it was sunny and nice, so I was really happy I could escape work and go play. I donned my boy clothes, grabbed something to eat and went to my regular spot to sit and hang out.

I did my usual scanning for anyone wearing red, but saw no one who looked promising. Oh well, I sighed to myself. I was getting used to it by now. I didn’t sit there looking for him with my heart beating double time, like it did the first few weeks.

Then something caught my eye…a flash of blue in that shade of indigo. I lost it in the crowd for a few moments then saw it again: a tall man in indigo blue with black hair. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. I tried to call his name and nothing came out, just like in those horrible scary dreams where you try to scream, but can’t. I started to panic and tried again.

Jin!” I managed to yell. No response from Mister Indigo. Did the guy even hear me? I couldn’t tell. I tried again and screamed his name this time. He turned and I could see it was really him. I just lost it. I fell to my knees and started sobbing. Then I freaked out and tried to pull myself together. I was terrified I’d lose him in the crowd, so I jumped up and called his name once more, wiping my eyes on my sleeve so I could see straight.

I could see him looking towards me, squinting…oh no, he really needs his glasses! I realized he probably couldn’t see me. And then I remembered that I wasn’t even looking like me. If he recognized my voice he’d be looking for my pink kimono. I tried to make my legs work and finally managed to run.

Jin, Jin, Jin,” I laughed, as I ran up to him. He looked at me with the most puzzled expression I’ve ever seen. “It’s me, it’s me!” I threw myself at him, I’m not ashamed to say.

Fuu?!?” he said, grabbing my shoulders and holding me at arms length so he could look at me. “Oh my god,” he whispered, his eyes wide. “It really is you!” Then he laughed out loud and pulled me into the biggest hug, twirling us both around and around. I started crying again, I was so unbelievably happy.

Then he set me down and looked at me once more, and there were tears running down his cheeks too. I couldn’t believe it! “What in the world? Fuu, you’re dressed as a boy!” he exclaimed, wiping his eyes and smiling the biggest smile. Then his face shifted, and he looked at me intently. I’ll bet I looked the same.

Are you with him?” we both asked at the same time, sighing unhappily when we heard ourselves. I shook my head sadly and so did he.

I thought the two of you might have made plans to go on without me,” I said.

I thought the two of you might do same,” he admitted. I was surprised. I really thought they were…well, together enough to have continued on with each other.

You’ve no idea where he is?” I had to ask.

He shook his head again. “We never spoke of our plans, I’m sorry to say,” he replied. “I wish we had, of course, and don’t know why we didn’t. I have absolutely no idea where he might be. But Fuu, tell me what you’ve been up to. Have you been here in Nagasaki all this time?”

I filled him in on my story, and it turned out we were staying quite near each other. I learned he spent time at the docks every day too, but he was there during the daytime when I was working, and I was there in the evenings when he was working so we had never bumped into each other. I was so happy I got off work early that day, or I might never have seen him. Life can be wonderful sometimes!

He seemed different to me, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. For one thing, he was smiling, so that was pretty amazing. And he seemed more comfortable in his own skin somehow, which was really nice to see. He kept looking at me strangely, like he was trying to find the me he knew under the new outfit.

You make a fine boy, Fuu,” he laughed. “Do you have a new name to go with the new clothes?”

It’s Fukashi, now. Isn’t it great? I got this idea a few weeks ago.” And then I told him the story of how I was tired of being bothered by lewd men, and how I got attacked and that was the final straw. I could tell he wasn’t happy to hear about the attack, but you should have seen how proud he looked when I told him how I fought the guy off. I must have blushed ten shades of pink, the way he nodded his approval.

Fukashi, is it? Well, Fukashi, I was just getting ready to walk the red light district one last time. Would you like to come with me?” I nodded and we headed off. I didn’t get what he meant by one last time, but it didn’t matter, I was so happy to be with him again. “I do this almost every afternoon,” he continued, “but I’ve not seen hide nor hair of him, unfortunately. Nor have my various spies reported back any good news.” He told me of his job at a brothel uptown, and how he had the girls’ network watching for him as well as many of the local urchins.

We wandered up and down the various streets, sometimes chatting sometimes just walking. I’d never seen such a place before, at least from the outside, so it was a bit of an eye opener. All those poor girls looking like they were stuck in cages, just like they were in a zoo or something. I shuddered to remember how many times I almost ended up with such a fate. Finally, we left and headed back to the docks. It was getting late, and I thought I should return to the teahouse before Chiaki had a fit worrying about me.

I should be getting back to my room now, Jin. My bosses are a sweet couple, and I don’t like to worry them too much. They already think I’m nuts for dressing up like this and wandering around the city alone. But now that I’ve found you, I’m not letting you get away again. Where can we meet tomorrow?”

He looked at me with the most helpless expression, then gathered me into his arms with a giant sigh. I immediately felt terrified.

Oh Fuu, how strange fate can be,” he said, his face looking tragic. “I’m leaving Japan. I’m leaving tomorrow morning!”

to be continued


If you would like to read the Fuu rant that originally began this chapter, please click www.homestar.org/bryannan/champloo/fuurant.htm