On any other day, Miyo would have been intrigued.
She had discovered among the tea tins a red tea that she had never seen before. Could Master Daichi have made it here on Crescent Island? There was no label, no marking on the tin. It just a simple, dull, metal container. Or maybe it had been a gift from someone, a traveler who had happened upon this treasure during a wild adventure.
The last time Miyo had come across a “mystery tea,” it had been while she was at the capital. She had spent two weeks straight researching the tea and following the winding trail of people before she finally discovered that it had come from a small town north of the capital. Its beautiful valley of fruits and flowers was still one of her favorite places.
But this tea, as mysterious as it was, could not hold Miyo’s focus. Everything seemed to be conspiring to distract her. Once, it was an errant ray of sunlight that had glanced off of the new jade plant on the corner, which had led to a bout of pruning and researching about soil. Another time, it was a crooked groove in the middle of the working table, which had led to an inspection of not only the table, but also the counter for any carved messages. Yet another time, it was a childhood memory she had midway through a song to create water, turning it into something more suitable for the ocean than for tea.
She sighed and shook her head, hands flopping to her sides. She took up her long sleeve jacket and wide-brimmed hat and began locking up. It wouldn’t do her any good to stay inside the shop; she’d either end up wearing down the floorboards or breaking something in her distraction.
Miyo headed west down the road. She had no destination in mind, but still, she hesitated at the four-way crossroads. Continuing straight would lead her into town, but the thought of people and noise made her wince. On a whim, she turned right instead, starting on the northern route that followed the curve of the mountains that made up the east side of Crescent Island.
The road climbed gently upwards, the mountains looming to her left, while over her right shoulder she could see the edges of the ocean sparkling in the sun. Normally, the scene alone would have been enough to calm her mind, but the undercurrent didn’t ease its pulling. From where, and where to, she still wasn’t sure.
A low sound eased into Miyo’s consciousness slowly from behind and after a few minutes, the whine of a tricycle’s engine was unmistakable. The driver pulled up beside her, his covered motorcycle and sidecar painted in water tones. He was a young man who looked as if he were about to go fishing, clad as he was in a simple shirt and shorts.
“Are you walking far, auntie?”
Miyo sighed to herself. ‘So I’ve reached the age of being called auntie,’ she thought wryly. “I was just going for a walk,” Miyo said. She paused, then asked, “Do you know any place interesting along this road?”
The driver crossed his arms for a moment, eyes cast downward as he thought. “There’s a hiking trail,” he finally said. “Grandma said it was made during the war to connect the east and west coast together.”
“So you could get all the way to the west coast? How long would that take?”
The driver shrugged. “Depend on how fast you’re going, I guess.”
Miyo eyed the sun’s angled position in the sky. She had a few hours of sunlight left. The storm inside her kept her from contemplating too long and had her moving towards the sidecar instead. “Could you take me there?”
The driver had let her off at a stone marker on the side of the road, pointing out the path through the trees. “I’ll come back at sundown in case you need a ride back down the mountain,” he had said, giving his name as Ryou. Miyo had simply thanked him, not bothering to tell him of her intentions to get to the west coast.
She headed off with a brisk step. Though the trees were heavy, the path was well-packed, allowing her feet to be light and quick. She spotted another stone marker than matched the one at the entrance. ‘Must be making good time,’ she thought, picking up her pace into a jog.
The greenery began to blur as she continued, spurred even faster by the presence of another stone marker at the edge of the path. As Miyo passed it, she noted several colors embedded into the stone. She started to slow, but caught herself.
‘There’s no time to lose,’ she thought, setting her feet firmly with each step, as if pressing each word into the ground. She imagined it leaving an imprint for others to follow, not shaped in footsteps but in words.
It made her wonder, though, about the phrase. Translating from human English to Sirens’ songs was often precarious, creating melodies with unexpected shapes, hanging in odd places. A literal translation of the phrase would have been near impossible. ‘I mean, how do you win or lose against time?’ she wondered.
Maybe she had just used the wrong phrase. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time,’ Miyo thought, snorting at herself and memories of her English mistakes during her childhood. Things had been so much simpler then, what with school and their predictable, easy pattern of lesson and play, followed by food and rest.
But it wasn’t like her new routine here on Crescent Island was much different, she had to admit. Miyo had finally fallen into a routine that she liked, beginning by greeting the dawn with sketching and a cup of black tea before attending to the trickle of customers that visited throughout the day.
That morning, the postman had stopped by for his usual cup of tea and handed her the tea masters’ newsletter, which she had taken with wide eyes. She’d heard rumors of how the newsletter always found tea masters every month without ever having a formal registry or sign up. She could finally say first hand that the rumor was true.
Miyo had turned through the pages, happy for the announcements of new stores and excited about the new techniques and blends being made. She recognized the names of masters she had met on her pilgrimage, and even those she had studied with back in the academy, before they had all become specialists.
She grinned now as she had then, proud of the work they had done. She knew it must have taken a lot of practice and hard work to make those advancements.
‘But what have I done lately? Is it that I’m afraid of losing to them?’
Miyo slowed at the thought, even the trees holding silence with her as she searched deep inside herself. She listened for the whispers of songs that were sung so low that typically only her subconscious heard, hidden from her waking mind.
‘Perhaps it is,’ she thought finally, acknowledging the guilt that was still heavy in her heart after having left the capital. She knew how much people had expected her to stay and become the next Grandmaster, developing new techniques and being one of the foremost ambassadors for tea.
But the capital had exhausted her. There within the tall buildings and ever-busy streets, time was something people only reluctantly dealt with, as if burned by the failure to harness and use it at whim. To Miyo, time was a gift to be treasured; to the capital, it was something to attack.
It may have been invigorating for some, but to her, it had become too much. She had been constantly chasing after things without really understanding why, only knowing that it was on some kind of list, or to get on someone’s list and get some sort of title. But the last straw had been when she found her own self changing too much, becoming more anxious, more aggressive, and less at peace, less at giving peace.
The capital was what every specialist and master aspired to. But a year had been enough for Miyo. Now, she simply wanted to live her own life, not what others expected or thought she had to do. If she wanted to go back, she could. But for now, there were other things she wanted to do, slow things, quiet things, where she knew Crescent Island was more suited for her.
As Miyo tipped her head back to breathe in the forest air, she caught sight of the sun low in the sky. There was no way she was going to make it to the end of the trail. But when she looked inside herself, she found no longer a storm, but a quiet peace at that knowledge.
Miyo smiled to herself as she took her travel kit from her pocket, unfolding the collapsible cup and popping off the lid off of the finger-sized tea canister. Just before she started a song to create water, she plucked a flower from a nearby tree
‘Well,’ she thought as she started her song and walked back to the last marker she had passed, ‘At least there’s time for tea.’