THE FIRST TIME I SAW YOUR FACE
Trying to prevent something from happening is often very much like trying to catch the wind with your fingers.
I had more pressing matters to attend to that day than an audience at court with Matsudaira Katamori. We had just arrived in Aizu and the troops needed to billet in their new location. I wanted to arrange for provisions, myself, to make sure there would be no problems and that supplies would be adequate during our stay. At that time we had no idea how the war would progress, or how long we would be staying there.
I was impatient to return to my troops to prepare for what was certain to be a difficult battle. Politics is not my style. I leave that to the bureaucrats with their fancy clothes and long-winded speeches. I am a man of action and I have a duty to perform.
However, Katamori was the one responsible for seeing that we had the financial and political means to exist and survive. There was no way to politely refuse him. Etiquette demanded that I make the requested appearance. Not that I am one to follow protocol, but on this occasion it was necessary.
That was the first time I laid eyes on her. She was sitting there so serenely, behind her lady. Like the surface of the sea on a quiet, calm day. The surface of a sea, which conceals the teaming life beneath it, was more like it, as I was to discover for myself at a later time. I know that she thought she was discreet, and that I would not notice her looking at me from behind her lashes. But she was wrong. Very little escaped me then. Very little escapes me now.
Although she is a beautiful woman, hers is not the type of beauty that takes a man's breath away at first glance. No, her beauty is subtle, only becoming apparent the more one studies her face. That day I did not have the time or desire to have another person in my life. I only paid attention to the introductions because duty demanded it.
Takagi Tokio was her name. It really meant nothing to me then. It was mentioned that her father was a retainer of Matsudaira, and that she was Teruhime's secretary. I have neither the time nor the patience for such pleasantries, so I was not unduly impressed, except for her face. I thought it strange that I would take the vision of it away from the meeting that day, seemingly etched in my mind. Usually, it was not a woman's face that I remembered. I was more prone to remembering the other aspects of my partners of convenience in those days.
It was inevitable that our paths would cross again, she being who she was, and me needing to discuss my preparations with Katamori. At first it was just a nod and a, "Good day, Takagi-san," from me, and a "Good day to you also, Captain," from her. Each time this happened I could feel her gaze lingering on me more than it really should have during a brief encounter between relative strangers.
As the days passed, I began to look forward to our chance meetings. We even started saying more than a few words to each other, actually stopping to talk a bit, usually about the war and our respective duties. I am known as a man of few words, but I seemed a bit more talkative when I was around her. After I left on a temporary assignment to the Shirakawa district, I surprised myself when I realized that I missed her company, not that we spent much time together, because we didn't.
The Boshin War ended as all wars do. It took its toll on everyone. But those of us who are survivors, found a way to stay true to our ideals. What happened in Tonami was unfortunate, but unavoidable. It was there, while living with the Kurasawa's, that I would learn that she was sensible and loyal to the core. I would also see the fire that burns beneath her placid exterior. That fire in her has sustained me for many years now.