It wasn’t often that the person he was delivering to was up during his morning rounds, but without fail, Miyo’s tea shop was always open and Miyo herself always waiting when Osamu go to the east part of town.
“Good morning, Osamu,” Miyo greeted calmly, which Osamu returned in kind. “What can I make for you today?”
Osamu smiled as he got into his usual seat, and gave his usual order. “The gunmetal green tea please.” Miyo didn’t seem unsurprised nor surprised at this, just happy to make it as she turned to begin her preparations.
Osamu breathed in deeply. Somehow, he always felt like he was at the ocean here, even though it was still a ways down the road. He liked ending his route here. It gave him a quiet moment that settled all of the thoughts in his head before returning to the post office. He remembered, though, that there was one more letter in his bag.
Osamu waited until Miyo had settled her hands after placing the steaming cup in front of him. “I nearly forgot,” he said, finally handing the letter to her, “This came in for you.”
Miyo studied it curiously before taking the letter, her curiosity seeming to deepen when she noted the seal on the back. Osamu put his attention to the tea he was drinking, knowing more than most the need for privacy when opening letters. One never knew what could be inside. Sometimes, they were thoughtful things, trinkets that brightened up one’s life; other times, they contained news that changed everything. Regardless, letters were things that deserved to be read first by the recipient in a space of their own.
He focused on bringing the cup to his lips, studiedly not listening to the opening of the letter, the rustle of paper as the paper was released from its envelope, nor the stillness that followed.
The second rustle of paper was typically a safe sign that the letter had been returned into its envelope, but he kept his gaze on his cup for several sips more before looking up at Miyo.
There were a myriad of emotions there on the tea master’s face, chiefly a pensive thoughtfulness that added weight to Miyo’s gaze. “Osamu, would it be too much of a bother for you to bring some stamps tomorrow?” she asked, slow like the steam curling up from his cup.
“Sure,” Osamu answered carefully, telling her the price, which only induced a nod. “Anything else I can bring?” he asked, letting the question linger in case there was anything he could help with otherwise.
Miyo smiled and did not answer. Osamu nodded, understanding without knowing.
The floorboards rattled under Naruko’s hurried steps, her small legs powering the toy airplane in her hand, which she brought to land onto the counter and nudged the edge of the open envelope.
“You got a letter?” Naruko asked, an eager grin on her face as she climbed up the chair. “I got one from my penpal yesterday! She lives in the Crossroads and she likes surfing.”
Miyo waggled her hand back and forth. “Not exactly. It’s from the tea master’s association. I’m to write a letter to a certain specialist who is in the middle of her pilgrimage.”
“Is it Kai? I really liked the sparkling tea she made.”
Miyo shook her head. “But I’m sure another tea master will be sending her a letter.”
“Did you write one already? Can I write one too?”
“Sure,” Miyo said, eyeing Naruko curiously. There were several sheets of paper missing from the notepad she handed the girl. Those attempts were full of scratches and crumpled up behind the counter where Miyo stood.
Without a second thought, Naruko put pencil to paper, humming to herself as she drew. ‘Sometimes being a child really is a strength,’ Miyo mused, ‘The weakness we learn as adults is to think too much.’
Several other customers came and went as Naruko finished her letter, only pausing to ask for colored pencils if Miyo had any. Makoto came as the sun began to set, a tired smile to match her slow tread. She thanked Miyo for watching Naruko and the two headed home as the evening crowd trickled in.
It wasn’t until the evening had settled into its deepest point that Miyo finally picked up the notepad that Naruko. She couldn’t help but laugh at the chaotic attempt to fit the everyday life of the young girl onto the page.
There was the tea shop, as well as her school, the ocean, and her favorite tree, all noted and colored in. There were also her family members and a bunch of animals of varying sizes all over the page. But what had made Miyo laugh were the large blue and purple letters written in the center: Don’t ever change.
Miyo guessed Naruko had heard it in the programs she watched or at school from other kids. It was an odd thing to have in a letter to a tea specialist, especially framed as it was with a crab and what might be a dolphin crossed with a bird. It was more suited for a calendar or a t-shirt.
‘But perhaps she’s on to something,’ Miyo thought as she started writing on a new sheet of paper.
The next day, Osamu finally asked after telling Miyo his order, “Do other people who come here regularly order different things?”
Miyo blinked at him, caught in midturn. “Not everyone.” She eyed him carefully, measuring her words. “There’s no rule that says you have to change or keep to your order.”
“I guess I was just a bit self-conscious, thinking that maybe I was missing out or something,” Osamu said ruefully, glancing at the many tins lined behind the tea master.
Miyo followed his gaze, looking over the teas fondly. “I don’t think one way is right or wrong. It’s all about what it means to you, if it’s truly something you want to do.”
She smiled and turned, but paused when she spotted the letter. “Ah that’s right, I have the letter for you.”
“Wind Island?” Osamu couldn’t help but ask when he noted the address on the envelope.
Miyo nodded. “Every so often, each tea master is asked to write a letter to a tea specialist currently on their pilgrimage. A way to encourage them, of sorts.”
Osamu placed the letter into his pouch as he asked, “Did you get one during your pilgrimage?”
Miyo nodded, her eyes growing distant. “I received mine near the end of my pilgrimage, from a master on Memorial Island. It didn’t really change anything,” Miyo admitted with a soft chuckle. “But I think that’s the point. The tea specialist already knows the answer; just like the people we serve, it’s not our job to tell them what is right or wrong, just encourage them to continue on the path they choose, and help them walk it in a way that only they can.”
Osamu smiled and patted his pouch, “I think the specialist who will receive this is quite lucky.”
Miyo shook her head. “I think I’m the lucky one, to have the chance to give it.”
Osamu laughed. “Well then, we’re all lucky perhaps – to be connected like this.”