• Norma Hughes


I believe there is a small kodama in my house. My otto does not believe me, but he is at work all day and does not see these things. It dwells inside one of the old discarded houseplant pots of a long since wilted flower. One night when I got up for yashoku I could hear it rustling in the kitchen, the soft blue light of the fridge gently illuminating the dark room. Its small frame was cast in shadow by the light and I could only just make it out. It had pulled out a small jar of plum jam and was licking the condensation that formed on the outside.

I knew I should have felt afraid, filled with some ancient superstitious pragmatism, but there was something so innocent and trusting about it. So, before I crept back to my bedroom, I grabbed a dusty children’s bowl, filled it with water from the sink and placed it next to the little houseplant pot. The next morning, the bowl was empty. I showed my otto but he smiled sadly and gave me a gentle, but patronising, hug.

「It probably evaporated」 he said, and my hands drooped down to my side.

The next morning after otto left for work, I tied my hair, grabbed some tongs and rolled up my sleeves. The house was quiet, watching in anticipation. Even the leaky faucet that dripped its melancholy tune into an old yuoke had ceased its tip-tapping as it turned its attention towards me. As I edged closer to the pot, tongs at the ready, a tiny, muffled voice coughed through the soil.

「water」 it said.

It went like this for a few more nights and I think the little kodama came to expect it. During the day, I would occasionally catch the pot shifting slightly, little stones and grains of dirt dropping over the sides as the kodama peered at me going about my business. Occasionally, it would stick its vine-like roots out just a centimetre or so above the soil and I would spray it with water using an old cleaning bottle.

「Where did you come from?」 I would often ask, but the kodama would retreat into its pot and would not come out for the rest of the day.

When I talked to myself, I imagined the little kodama was listening, and after a week I began showing the pot photos and trinkets from a long time ago.

「He would have been fifteen」 I smiled, showing the kodama an old photograph. The kodama tried reaching its arms around the image and bent it slightly and I became so upset. It would just happen like that sometimes. The kodama retreated back into its pot, afraid of my outburst, and I stormed off angrily to the bedroom. After an hour or so, filled with shame, I returned to the kodama. It had tried to smooth the bent corner and had placed the image upright in the soil, securing it to the pot with small green tendrils.

「I’m sorry」 I mumbled, and the kodama tentatively raised its head above the soil to peer at me once again with its large, clear eyes.

How crazy I must have looked! But I couldn’t help it. Once I had started, it was difficult to stop. I shuddered to think what would happen if otto came home while I was doing this.

「Are you sure you don’t want to see someone?」 he would say, his heart closing up before me. He went to work and talked and laughed, as if nothing had ever happened. Until something reminded him, like me crying, and he would lock himself up and disappear before my eyes. A shadow. I could see him wanting to speak. Occasionally, he would glance in my direction, his lips parting. In those moments, I could see all the greys of his hair and the lines on his face, and we both seem to realise how old we had become. So, he would close his mouth and nod sadly instead, robbed of his words and soul. Having someone else talk to me would save him from having to. I bunched my fists around the plate and sponge and sobbed into the soapy water-filled sink, the kodama watching me quietly once more.

On a quick visit to the shops, I picked up a small fertiliser.

「It was on special, I couldn’t miss such a good deal」 I told otto. He nodded, bemused with that same pitying look in his eye. He was glad I had found a hobby. I added just a little bit of fertiliser to the water that night, and by morning a small flower appeared out of the soil of the houseplant pot.

「Look it’s getting stronger」 I told my otto, 「soon it will be back to normal」.

When my otto left for work the next day, I came out of the bedroom to see small muddy footprints down the hallway. My otto always misses things like that. It looked as if the kodama had tried to find me in the night, and I followed the muddy path back to the kitchen. There, out of its pot, was the kodama.

It was very small and round, with large, wide eyes and a small white flower growing from the top of its little green head. It was trying to turn the tap, but it’s thin vine-like arms were struggling to twist the knob.

「I think we need to find you a bit more water」 I said to it smiling. I carefully placed the little thing in its pot and wrapped it in furoshiki. It did not resist, but instead grabbed curiously at the soft fibres of the cloth with its nimble tendrils. Grabbing my coat and bag, I carried the kodama to the bus station and caught the bus to Shikotsu Lake. The kodama wrapped it’s tendrils around my fingers as I held onto it in my lap, the pressure of its grip increasing with every bump in the road. Once the kodama had grown accustomed to the motions of the bus however, I was constantly having to press down upon its soft head as it tried to peer around at the young school kids sitting towards the back. The kids looked strangely at me and the pot, and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, staring pointedly outside the bus window.

The bus slowed to a stop at the rusted bus station and after fumbling in my pocket for the little orange ticket, we disembarked, the bus disappearing into a plume of dust leaving us completely alone. The heat beat down from the summer sun as the cicadas chirruped and screamed their songs into the perfumed air. I loosened the furoshiki and the kodama raised its small head from between the silken cloth, peering excitedly at the large forest before us. We trekked through the surrounding trees, between large rocky pathways, the sweat beading across my forehead and upper lip in the humid weather.

After an hour we came out to the shoreline of the lake and walked along its edge till we reached a peaceful spot amongst the komorebi. The lake lapped soothingly against the shore, the water sounding like the swishing of a satin skirt as it ebbed and flowed over the black, riverbed stones. Water dripped from the moss of overhanging rocks, forming a small creek, and yasou bristled from the earth. The kodama tentatively leaped out of the pot.

「Is this where you belong?」 I asked, and the kodama shone bright, moss and flowers erupting over its soft skin. With one final look back in my direction, it disappeared into the undergrowth. For a little while I could hear it moving around till the sound vanished all together, lost amongst the rest of the forest noises. I felt that flare of sadness beginning to build up in my throat, my eyes stinging with tears, but I did not cry. I did not storm off in anger and berate the world or myself. It did not belong to me any longer, and it was time to let it go.

木霊- Kodama- Tree Spirit 夫- Otto- Husband 夜食- Yashoku- Midnight Snack 梅ジャム- Ume jamu- Plum Jam 湯おけ- Yuoke- A small wooden basin used to douse oneself in water while bathing. 水- Mizu- Water 風呂敷- Furoshiki- Wrapping cloth バス乗り場- Basu-noriba- Bus station/stop 支笏湖- Shikotsuko- Shikotsu Lake 木漏れ日- Komorebi- Sunlight filtering through a tree canopy. 野草- Yasou- Wildflowers

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