Chapter 6 - Surprise
They waved goodbye to the driver. He had dropped them off at the mouth of a path that broke off from the road. Remy had noticed that they had travelled back in the direction she had come. The mountain range that she had put her back to now loomed over them to the north. And the path that was in front of them began with a slope - they were going up the mountain.
Beside the path was a wooden sign. Burned into the wood was a picture of a house - to Remy it looked slightly oriental as the roof curved up at the ends and the door was framed by two pillars. There were symbols printed along side and Remy made the assumption that it was the writing of the language that the locals were speaking. The writing didn’t look like any kind of Asian characters she had seen before - but held a similar style. If anything the symbols looked more like a cross between Chinese characters and the Arabic alphabet.
Hisao started up the path and Remy followed closely behind. For the last part of their hour long wagon ride he had made himself comfortable and rested his back against the crates. Remy noted that his face had been paler than it was in the morning and was certain this journey was extremely taxing for his body. She made sure to keep close to him as they walked - just in case his body decided for him that he needed to take a rest.
Her mind went back to wondering about who he was and his story. Though, now that she had seen the wagon she was considering that maybe he and his attire weren’t so out of place after all. If anything Remy felt the like stranger. The way the driver of the wagon had gaped at her made her feel like an animal at a zoo. Where ever she was it was evident that the people lacked the technology of the modern world - thus far. Perhaps this man had never left this area and apparently has never been introduced to the internet.
Remy pulled out her cell phone from her med bag. She had checked it while she was on the wagon and realized that from the time that she had seen Hisao’s body until that moment - she had left it on. She made sure to turn it off as soon as she confirmed that she was indeed without service - still. Remy had thought with the road that maybe there would be some kind of reception, but, being that she was riding in a wagon that a lack signal should have come as no surprise. Her finger hovered above the power button - maybe now? The screen blinked to life and again the top corner read: no service. Damn…
Remy quickly turned it off and reached around to place it back in her bag. With her eyes off the trail, Remy failed to see the root sticking out of the path in front her. Her foot caught and twisted sending her sailing toward the ground. She knew she wouldn’t be able to catch herself in time and braced herself for impact.
But - it never came. Her face sat inches from the ground and an arm was wrapped firmly around her waist. Hisao had caught her. Was she not paying attention? Had he not been walking a few feet in front of her? Now, he was positioned next her - holding her up from face planting into the ground.
He pulled her back to her feet and Remy watched for pain on his face. He showed none - though his colouring was fading even more quickly than before. He steadied her with a hand on either shoulder once she was upright.
“Thank you,” said Remy - forgetting for a moment that he might not know what that meant.
“Bey qi,” said Hisao. He turned to head up the path but stopped and reached for her cell phone that had been flung to the ground in her moment of grace. She saw it this time - his face twisted in pain as he bent for the phone.
“We should take a rest,” said Remy. She looked about to find place to sit down. Maybe some roots that were protruding from the mountain side could make a good seat.
Hisao held her phone in his hands. He flipped it over in his fingers and examined both front and back. He ran his fingers along the blank screen. Remy stopped scrambling to find a place to sit and watched him. He had clearly never seen a phone before. It hadn’t even dawned on her to show him. Everybody had a cell phone nowadays - it was so strange to see someone find one so… alien.
The wind rustled the leaves and Remy felt like she wanted to cry. Instead she cleared her throat and held out her hand to accept her phone. Hisao obliged and she tucked it safely back into her bag. He pointed ahead, said a few words, then continued up the path. Remy followed forgetting why they had stopped in the first place.
The vegetation thinned as they climbed. She noticed that the low leafy foliage had been replaced by the ferns and the trees grew taller with smaller leaves like the ones back home. The incline of the path increased but just when it became almost to difficult to climb worn stone steps protruded out of the dirt. The steps were wide and deeply cracked. The edges were worn and round so that each step looked as though it could be as old as the mountain itself.
Together they climbed and finally the steps broke onto a plateau. There a stone path paved the way from the top of the steps under a series of arches. The pillars were painted red and covered with twisting vines. They too looked old just like the stone steps. Remy followed Hisao as he walked down the path. Upon reaching the end Remy saw what the imagine on the sign at the foot of the mountain was suppose to represent.
It was a temple. Remy had seen pictures of old oriental style temples and this definitely fit the bill. It had clay shingles that sloped into an ornately designed trim and the corners of the roof top curved up into gusting swirls of clouds. It had a wide porch that wrapped around the building and was framed with four pillars - two near the front entrance and two at either corner of the porch. It was painted with a mixture of greens and reds with highlights of gold. The entrance to the temple were two large wooden doors upon which was carved a scene of clouds pouring over a mountain range and spilling into a valley. It was beautiful but so old. The paint was faded and the wood, though cured, was chipped and worn.
Remy followed her companion up the steps to the large doors. He made a motion to push them open but was stopped short by a sudden hollering voice.
Remy looked to her left for the source of the voice and saw that a portly man had just appeared from around the side of the temple. He walked across the porch toward them with his arms out in greetings. He worn robes similar to Hisao but they were somewhat ragged and ill fitted. The belt that wrapped his waist cupped a large belly that caused the rob itself to expose a large portion of his chest. As he walk closer Remy could see that his chest was decorated with some kind of markings. Careful not to stare she quickly focused on his face. It was wide like the driver of the cart and brown in colour. His cheeks were round and his nose was flat. His grin pushed his bulbous cheeks up so high that they nearly covered his eyes. And his hair - Remy nearly laughed at the sight of it - it was frizzy and stuck straight out from his head like wire.
“Rojin,” said Hisao.
The man’s grin quickly faded when his eyes landed on the state of Hisao’s robes. His tone changed from its friendly sound to a heated the string of words that were clearly of the scolding variety. As far as Remy could tell, Hisao was in trouble.
The man, or Rojin as Hisao called him, tugged at Hisao’s robes and pointed at the blood stains. His tone went from angry to exasperated to irritated. Up until this point Remy would’ve described Hisao as reserved, or borderline sombre. She had never seen an emotion last more than a second on his face - until now. Hisao erupted in protest. Both men were waving there arms about, pointing this way and that. Their voices rose and Remy watched as they both scolded each other and as far as she could tell neither side was winning.
Before things got too heated Remy decided to introduce herself. She cleared her throat once. No response - they couldn’t hear her over the argument. She tried again, louder this time. Hisao heard her first and he quickly returned to the reserved demeanour he had held previously.
“Rojin. I nachseon sanm eun jeojang,” said Hisao. The old man looked at Remy.
“oooooh,” said the old man. Hisao continued to speak and Remy was surprised to see that the old man didn’t look at her with astonishment or awe. His look was more that of simple inspection - like he was lightly perplexed, but more so curious. Remy felt her confidence grow in her theory that she had landed in a rather isolated area. She must be a site to see and she appreciated that the man didn’t gape openly.
“Jiao ta - Rem-ee,” said Hisao.
A smile returned to the man’s face and he bowed his head toward Remy, “Ta dekigon soona, Remy. Wo de ming shi -”
“Rojin,” Hisao cut in. To make things clear he did his pointing method starting with himself and ended with the old man, “Hisao. Rojin.”
The old man did not look pleased with Hisao and grumble quietly under his breath. Remy bowed her head like the man had done and replied, “Tah de-key-gon soo-na, Ro-jen.”
At that Rojin seemed delighted. He clapped his hands and laughed. He threw a hand over and slapped Hisao on the shoulder with enough forced to make Hisao place a foot out to stop himself from falling forward. Rojin waved at Remy to follow and moved to the front doors of the temple.
He pushed the doors open and ushered her inside. The room was vast. It was easy to see that the entire building was just this one room. It shape was rectangular. There were doors on the walls on either side of the hall. They were made with a wooden frame and covered with an opaque paper. Four support pillars created smaller rectangle near the center of the room and framed a shrine that sat opposite of where Remy and her companions stood. The shrine itself was a statue placed on a modest pedestal. The wall with the shrine held two more paper doors - one on each side.
She noted that the interior was better kept than the exterior. The floors were still old but they were clean and polished. The light let in by the paper doors and the windows gave it a look that was warm and welcoming. Rojin made his way past Remy toward one of the paper doors on the opposite side of the hall. She followed with Hisao closely in tow. As Remy got closer to the shrine she could see that this was the oldest piece of all. It was made of stone and as far as Remy could tell it was a figure of a man shrouded in flowing robes. The figure was bent slightly at the waist with one hand extended forward, palm up, while other was thrown out casually behind him. The figure looked like he was dancing.
Curiosity took over and Remy found herself stepping away from her guide to get a better look at the statue. As she drew closer she could see that the condition of the stone was pitted and worn. At first she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her but now that she was closer she could see that the statue didn’t have a face. It held the general shape of a face but there were no lines, no details to show any expression or to provide any human likeness. For some reason it made her feel so lonely - an aching loneliness unlike she had ever felt before. She raised her palm to cover her mouth worried that she would let the pain escape through her lips.
It took some effort for her to tear her eyes away from the faceless visage. Before she turned away she noticed an insignia on the palm of the statue’s hand. The symbol read “astonishment”. Wait, Remy felt her brow furrow - yes, that’s what it read, she was sure of it - however, she had never before seen a symbol like that in her life. It wasn’t the same as the markings on the sign she had seen before - no, this symbol was more geometric in style.
She inspected the statue further. On the other palm, the one extend behind the man was another symbol and it read “revelations”.
“What the fff-” she felt the words slip out of her mouth. How could she possibly know what these symbols meant? She knew she had never seen them before yet they were as easy to interpret as if she were reading a book. Her eyes travelled to the base of the statue where a string a symbols ran in a horizontal line.
“Be humble for the unknown is thy master,” said Remy. Her finger traced along the symbols as she read them.
She placed both hands on her hips and stepped back from the statue, “Huh…. Weird.”