Diurna: an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

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The Archer (2)

Back in the master’s house, the pupil found his master was sitting in front of the house. He was so afraid that his master would scold him for neglecting his training so long. He stood in front of his master and was about to apologize. The master said something before the pupil said a single word. “Show me,” he said. He handed the bow and the arrow to the boy standing before him.

The master’s disciple pulled the string with an arrow on his right hand, tightened his grip on the bow, and formed a graceful stance. His movement was swift and flowed, forming a beautiful curve as he moved into the position. The master realized it. The pupil’s body developed muscles, but they contracted in the most efficient manner. It knows where to focus the tension. The pupil was not conscious that he balanced all his body weight with the weight of the bow and the arrows. He balanced the force of the string, and he adapted to the gravity pull. The master knew that the pupil had understood the first lesson.

He asked his student to aim at a sign at some distance in front of the house. The sign was hung on a wooden pole, bearing the name of the old master. The master said, “Aim for the sign but do not let the arrow go. Not yet. Tell me what you see?”

The pupil answered, “The sign, the fences, the trees,—”

The master said it was enough for the day. His disciple knew, he must be doing something wrong. But he did not understand, what was his mistake. He did what the master asked. He told his teacher what he saw. “Something is still missing, I do not see clear enough,” so he thought.

So for the next months, the pupil practiced his stance, his aim, and he put more attention to what he saw. He tried to get all the details he could get. He realized things. The birds always lower their body before flying. The bamboo swayed in circle movement when a heavy wind blew. He could notice that a small squirrel just climbed a tree and flies flew with a predestined trajectory. But he still did not understand. What was his master wanted him to see?

Every time his master asked him, to tell him what the pupil saw, his student described things in greater detail. Each time, the details got deeper. The boy trained his vision well. He could notice the vague movement of the tree branches when the wind blew through it. He knows when a leaf fall on the pond, as he could see the soft circle from the surface of the water. He could differentiate the color of the sky, know how cloudy the day could be. Still, the master told him to put the bow down. He still had not seen the right thing.

One day, the pupil cleaned the master’s house. The master went on a journey to his relative. So his student thought, this is the right time to clean the house. He washed carpets, beat dust, and burned old garbage. In the warehouse, some things were not usable anymore but got stored nevertheless. The jar that has a hole, cracked plate, broken chair, various things filled the warehouse. As he opened the door, he found his master’s cat followed him.

The master lived alone, but he kept a cat as a pet. The master loved the cat. The cat was his only companion most of the time. After the war ended and all the kings got into long truce between each other, the life of the people had become peaceful. There was no need for soldiers or warriors. There was no job offering for swords, spears, and bows except a few. Warriors either became a hermit or a bandit. The master chooses the first one.

Perhaps in his solitary life, the old warrior still longed for a connection. That was perhaps when the cat came. The pupil never knew the real story. All these were only his guess as his mind wander while cleaning the warehouse. The cat was black and had a cut mark on top of its left eye. Perhaps someone wanted to hurt it before. Some kids might play a bad joke with the cat, and the master got rid of them. The pupil smiled alone. “Yes, why not?” he thought. The old warrior saved a cat from some kid gang and decided to keep the cat. The cat was alone and had no master just like the master himself. They both were old.

The pupil’s mind kept wandering until all of a sudden, a sound of things falling came from one corner. The noise of a raging cat and quick steps. The noise disturbed him, so he wanted to make the cat goes away. “In this rate, the cat would make more mess faster than I make order out of chaos,” he thought. He found a furry animal moved quick between his feet and the cat followed in an instant. It was a mouse. The cat tried to hunt it down.

He followed the cat and the mouse. His trained eyes could see and follow the quick movement of the two animals. The pupil took his broomstick, wanted to give a shock to the animals, so they go out of the warehouse. “At least they play the chasing game outside,” he thought.

The cat pursued the mouse without mercy. The mouse always tried to take a hide between the things that lay around the warehouse. No matter how smart the mouse tried to hide behind obstacles, the cat ignored it all. It faced everything head on as if it was not there in the first place. The cat did not care whether it runs into a jar, piles of books, or woodblocks. The cat seemed just followed some mysterious reflex. It knew when to avoid and when just to ram on those obstacles. It kept the chase tight, no matter the cost.

In the beginning, the pupil hesitated to use his broomstick because he found it amusing to follow the hunt. “What a stubborn cat,” he thought, “It is one hungry cat. Look at how fixated it is with its target!” After gave such a thought, the pupil received enlightenment. He noticed that the cat’s eyes never left the mouse. The movement of the cat was a pure reflex driven by instinct. The cat only kept its gaze on the mouse. When its reflex allows, it can move around the obstacles. But when it is not, the cat would ram into the things without hesitation. The pupil let the cat and the mouse alone. He let the mess of the warehouse as it was. His mind was on his bow and arrow. He never got to know whether the cat finally caught the mouse or not.

***

The next day, he waited with bow and arrow on his hand in front of the house. The pupil remembered that the master would be back by midday. So he waited in front of the house, bow and arrow ready. He took a deep breath and measured the time. He looked at the sun, back to his bow and arrow, then to the road leading into the wood. His master would come from that direction. Near the start of the road, there stood the sign of the master. He cleared his mind and started pulling his string. He knew the weight of his arrow, the necessary force, and the balance he had to consider. His stance was perfect. There he waited.

As the sun burned his skins and sweats started to fall from his hair, finally he recognized the robe of his master. The pupil’s heart raced. He tried to keep his composure. He breathed and regulated it. As the deciding moment came near, he could feel everything slowed down. His breath became slow; his movement was minute detail. The sound of the birds faded. He could see his master in full form. His teacher stopped near the sign. He realized that the pupil stood on a perfect stance with his bow and arrow ready. The master understood. He screamed to the boy with bow and arrow on his hands, “What do you see?”

“A wooden sign!”

“Shoot!”

The pupil let the momentum that he built for some time slipped into the air. He could feel the swing of the air as the arrow flew over his cheek for the first time in months. The feel of the bow vibrating, as the string release its full force, threw the arrow into the target. That momentum was not only from the stance that he made before. It was an accumulation of all his practices and wisdom he acquired throughout this time. Finally, he thought. He could feel all the tensed feeling on his muscle relaxed, as he let the bow swinging to the ground. His left arm followed, his torso followed, and when one saw what happened that day, one could mistake him from dancing. His movement was subtle and graceful, creating a circular form that effortlessly flowed.

The sound of a distant crack echoed throughout the horizon. The sign stood without a scar. The arrow missed hitting the target by a hair distance and landed on one of the trees behind the wooden sign. The pupil was silent. The power of his body escaped him. He fell and sat on the ground. A warm feeling was building behind his eyes, and he tried not to let the tears fell from his eyes. He regulated his breath, this time, a bit harder. There were conflicts in his heart. The master walked toward his pupil. He helped the disappointed boy stand and point at the terrace. They walked together to sit on the terrace of the house.

“You have understood the second lesson.”

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