Chapter 7: Empathy
"The great gift of humans is that we have the power of empathy."–Meryl Streep
To my dear sister Rana,
I must say that the content in your last letter is the first time you expressed anything about yourself in so long. Yes, I did know Masuzu for we had been close as blood sisters. Did Katsu tell you about her finally? Her passing away and then little Katsue's is what changed everything. Even now I remember them sadly. He was never the same after that. Yet your being there has brought life back to that home. Katsu has spent over the last decade away from home and us for the most part in the navy. He is coming home within a month, is he not? Write back soon.
From your concerned sister, Akane
I read the letter with shaking hands and carefully for reading was still a difficult thing for me. I had written to Akane a week ago after I had found out about the monster's secret. In the dining room, there hung family portraits on the cloth banners, but I had not observed them truly before. I had gone to check them for the image of the woman and child I had found in that storage room, but could not find a trace of them. Everything relating to them had been packed away and hidden from sight.
The monster was to return from his tour in a month. I had asked Akane about his previous wife and child out of curiosity for Ran would not talk to me anymore about it. I set the letter down on the bed beside me where I sat. I was in the bedroom and stared blankly at the wall before me. Somehow I could not seem to be able to process the fact that the monster had been married and had had a daughter. It made him…to human…
And in that portrait with her, years ago, he had been happy.
Akane had written in her letter as if I could hear her cheerful voice with a touch of sorrow explaining to me everything. I shuddered. This was becoming to…I needed to get out of here. And soon. I wrote to Akane as I usually did, ignoring the content of her last letter.
Iwao is like one of those constant annoying biting bugs that they have here in the Fire Nation that come out in the evening. They will follow you around and never leave you alone. Escape from this place with that man around is impossible. Over the next several weeks I would try to find ways to escape, finding road to scale down the wall or just going right out the door. To put it simply each attempt was foiled without any effort on his part. He had an easier time catching me than the monster did.
My lessons with Satoru continued. We were in the study, sitting near the table, as I attempted to play the erhu. Iwao was hovering out in the hallway I was sure. I grimaced as I struck a wrong chord. My hands were too clumsy with this stupid instrument! Satoru's grey eyes looked at me with kind consideration. "Don't try so hard, Lady Rana," He advised, "Just go with it."
Satoru was professional to his role, but I had found myself able to relax around him. He is a scholar, not a warrior, and less threatening than most of these barbaric people. I scowled and set the instrument aside carelessly. "I really hate that instrument," I muttered.
"I know," Saturou replied. I looked at his calm expression. He sat to the right of me on another side of the table. "But music is essential; didn't you have instruments where you are from?"
I looked at him surprised. He not once asked me of about home. Or anything like that before. "Uh…yes, but not like this," I said hesitantly, gesturing towards the erhu that laid on the ground beside me.
Satoru's face was thoughtful. "I'm not surprised by that, but I'm guessing you didn't play any instruments there either."
"No," I answered, "Not many do these days because…" I stopped and looked away. Sometimes from what I had heard from Akane, Ran, and even Iwao showed me that these people had very little idea of what was going on outside of the Fire Nation. They knew of the war, but did not know war. Not like I did or any child from my home.
I looked back at Satoru's wondering face. "It's nothing," I responded.
"It's the war, isn't it?" He asked. I searched his eyes, but found nothing but genuine honesty.
"Yes," I answered. I started to mess with the fringes of the pillow I sat on. Somehow it did not feel right to talk to Satoru about this; it felt too personal in a way…he was innocent of war…
No, they are all demons! They all support this war which is destroying my people!
"War is not a good thing, I think," Satoru said thoughtfully. I did not look at him, but my eyes widened at his words. "I don't really know what it's like, but I do know the damage it has done here. Yet who am I to judge the affairs of the Fire Lord?" He ended with a note of finality. Satoru gave me a considerate smile. "I'm sorry, Lady Rana, let's get back to your lesson."
The rest of the lesson passed as usual. Yet his words echoed in my ears, for I had never dreamed at them coming from one of them…. "War is not a good thing"….
Several days later, I was sitting in the study, reading a poem from a scroll of poems I had come to like.
A Fire Lily
Fire in ocean eyes
Weep not Lady Mine
My eyes gaped at this newest poem I had read. What kind of poem was this?
"You like poetry?" A voice asked, intruding upon the silence. A shiver slithered down the back of my neck as I immediately recognized that voice. I looked up to see him standing at the doorway. He was dressed in their stiff uniforms, making him appear more massive and threatening. He looked exactly the same, except for a look in his eyes I could not understand. I set the scroll onto the table in front of me silently. Katsu strode over and settled down onto a cushion across from the table. Even sitting down, he still towered over me.
He reached across the table, grabbing the scroll as I resisted the urge to flinch. The paper rustled as his eyes skimmed it as he read it. The corners of his lips tugged upwards as he set the scroll down. "Do you like these poems?" He asked softly, looking at me with subtle amusement.
There was a rock in my throat, but I managed to whisper, "Yes."
Katsu patted the scroll with his large, callused hand. "I wrote these poems," He announced with a touch of pride.
I gaped at him.
He had wrote those poems?! Many of them were…good!...And that last one… "ocean eyes"…
"Rana?" Katsu prodded. I looked down at my hands, which I noticed were clenching my clothes at my side. "Iwao had written to me about your tutor," Katsu went on with…something in his voice… "I'm sorry, I should have thought of that myself. Clearly you know how to read well now. Why didn't you write to me? I know Akane and you correspond."
…Write to him?...
That was all he had to say to me?
I let out a harsh laugh. "A letter to you would be a waste of ink," I declared coldly. I glanced up at Katsu's face which had darkened. He stood up and stormed out of the room without a word.
I stayed in the study for awhile. The feelings of anger, hatred, and confusion coursed through me. What was wrong with me? Eventually I headed for the bedroom and walked precariously inside, praying that he was not there.
A gasp escaped from me as I looked at the demolished room. Everything was strewn about, the furniture turned about, and one of the windows was shattered. Iwao was outside in the hallway as always. I heard his quick footsteps as he came into the room behind me. "Lady Rana, are you alright?" He inquired sharply.
"Leave the room," Katsu ordered menacingly. My eyes went straight to him as he came from out of the little room that I used for bathing. I looked back at Iwao with a look in my eyes that begged for me to not be left alone. Iwao looked at me with a bland expression, bowed towards Katsu, and walked out of the room shutting the door behind him.
I looked over at Katsu and felt the fear flow in me. My heart thudded against my ribcage. I had seen him angry before caused by me on purpose, but not like this. Katsu stared at me distempered face. There was a long silence as we both stared at each other. The atmosphere was tense, waiting for a moment to be released. Katsu broke it first.
"Why do you hate me so much?" He challenged me with flashing eyes. "I took you away from the war to a place of peace! You have good clothes and never have to be afraid of hunger! I have given you a good life!"
The furious rage leapt fourth from me, finally coming forth and bringing the fear down. "You took me from my home!" I yelled vehemently. "Of course I hate you! All of you! For no reason, you people kill and make war…you steal fathers, kill mothers, and innocent children! I hate you…all of you…" I finished weakly as I ran out of breath. My face was flushed from yelling at him.
Katsu looked at me strangely. He paused and then said calmly with a touch of urgency. "I was raised in a nation that has been at war for years. I cannot help being what my people made me," The anger had lessened on his face. "I do what I supposed to do."
"The war is wrong!" I protested. "How could you just go along with it?"
Katsu looked away from me before he looked back at me determined. "I saved you from the war and the prisons. Who did you lose to make you incapable of understanding?"
My eyes bored at him with disbelief and shock. Before I could stop myself the words fell out from my lips, "They took him…my father, like you did!" I spat, "And my mother died when a soldier blasted her down with fire, and my…" I stopped and pushed away those memories.
…The cry of a young child….burning smoke…burnt flesh stinging the air…
Katsu gave me an odd look. "What where their names?"
"Madoka was my father," I replied bitterly, "And my mother was Yamiko."
"Were either waterbenders?"
"My father," I admitted grudgingly. Why was I telling him this? My eyes slanted in my remembered anger as I seethed at him. "Don't try to understand because you can't!" I snapped. "Stop trying to relate to me!"
Katsu looked at me with a raised eyebrow and scoffed at me. "You think I can't understand at all? Everyone has lost someone, Rana. I know war as you do and I know loss."
It came to me than…his wife and child…He had smiled in that small wall hanging with her.
"I know about your wife and child," I told him tauntingly. "I found the room with all of her things."
Katsu looked at me with a shadow returning to his face. "Get out of here, Rana," He ordered. "Just leave."
I looked at his troubled face and walked out without saying a thing. Relief settled onto me, but also a strange feeling that I should have stayed. It was a feeling I pushed away.