BlindSide  Chapter One
Cherry Blossoms Turning in the Wind
The Secret Origin of BlindSide

The Broken Strap    21 April, 1986

Yukie looked out upon the lake; it always brought peace to her. Its waters, calm in the thick, serene summer air reflected the lights from the few houses on the waterfront. And with the light of the half moon, she could see the slightly disrupted mirror image of the forested far shoreline as well.

As with most such nights when her husband was away on his business, she waited there. But this night was more special than any of the others. In her arms, wrapped in silk, she carried her gift to him. And she waited.

As always, she did not hear when her husband approached until he wanted her too. And tonight, seeing his wife with a bundle in her arms, Shinjo Toranaga smiled as he removed his mask and hood of the shinobi shozoko and then said excitedly, "It was tonight, then? I wish that I did not have to go out and kill Kondo tonight."

Yukie turned. He could see the exhaustion in her eyes, but her pride came through that and burned strongly. "Yes, my husband. Tonight our son was born."

"My son! Wonderful. The Shinkou will have a new ninja master then," he said as took a step forward toward his wife.

"Would you like to hold him?" she asked, but needed no answer. Tora-sama took the babe from her, and he awoke in his father's arms as he pulled back on the silk swaddling. The proud smile on the ninja master's face quickly changed when the boy's eyes opened and stared up at him.

"No pupils, no irises. This is no son of mine!" the ninja master declared. Eyes burning, he glared at his wife, "This is all your fault. You disrespect the spirits by failing to pay attention to omens. You do things without thinking of 'four,' you step on the borders of the straw mats, you sleep with your head facing north. Why even just last week you broke a strap on your geta. And you never remedy the omens."

Walking in a wide circle around the room, Shinjo Toranaga kept his head turned away from both his wife and his child. He still held the infant, but no longer cradled him tenderly. Yukie cowered in the corner near the door, awaiting the strike that would surely come. "I will grant you your life, woman, but you will become a servant in here from now on, and I will marry one who can bear me a worthy successor. The Shinjo have always been masters of the Shinkou clan. And this one can be nothing more than a beggar pleading to people on the street for his next meal.

"As for your punishment for this most grave transgression . . ." The angry man slowly completed his journey about the room, at the open door that brought in the air from the lake below. He casually flung the swaddled child into the night, into the water. The ninja master said, "You forfeit your child as your punishment. Let's see if you will remedy this bad omen."

A loud splash broke the calm of the night. A scream cut through the thick air disrupting the steadiness of thought just as ripples spread from the source of the splash and rocked the boat.

Kato had been sitting on the boat, peering up at the house to gain insight on how best to attack his enemy and rival, the master of the Shinkou—the man who slew his parents and left a young boy to perish in the flames. Twice already, he had tried to kill the man, but a combination of the ninja master's skill and his host of ninja was too much for a lone ninja to take on. Still, some day, Kato knew, he would find a way to defeat his enemy.

He had seen and heard the exchange between Yukie and Toranaga. The last member of the Tora-no-Yuki clan had a suspicion about the source of the splash. He took up the pole that lay on the boat and began to push the craft quickly on the lake.

Diving into the water, he found the colorful bundle and the babe within. And, now, Kato knew, he would succeed in slaying his enemy. He only needed patience.

The Cat's Claws    18 August, 1994

"What color is the cup, sen . . . kunteki?" Haru had nearly called the man sensei, but that would have earned him a buffet. It was always kunteki—master—never sensei, and certainly never father.

"Ha! You are blind, boy. What does it matter, the color?" Master Kato retorted.

It was always the same. Haru felt a need to know what others sensed, what they saw. And Master Kato did not understand why a boy devoid of the sense of sight needed to know that which he could not perceive.

"Please, master, humor me. Is it brown? Is it red?" the boy asked.

But the answer came not in the form of words. A pair of chopsticks flew at him. They couldn't kill him, but they could hurt. Had he eyes, it was likely that the force was such that the wooden eating utensils could blind him permanently.

Haru's reaction was quick: he parried the two sticks fairly easily. One spun off to the side and landed on the floor. The other careened off and hurtled into the side of the bowl, causing it to tip and spill soup.

"Slow! Too slow, boy," the master ninja declared. "By now you should be able to catch them and send them back at me."

Nothing was ever enough to satisfy Cat's Claw Kato. Haru knew that he had reacted well, but every time that he thought that he had met his master's expectation, the bar was already raised higher.

"How can you kill your father if you fight without ferocity, if you are too slow, or too weak? You must work harder, boy." The man had a malicious grimace that told everything. And Haru knew already what he would say next. "He is the man who killed my family, my clan. He is the man who threw you in to the water the day that you were born. And I was the one who saved you. Do not forget it, boy. Strive to be better so that you might slay our enemy."

Haru nodded his head in acknowledgement. With that speech, he knew that today's training session would be twice as hard. There was a moment of silence enough that he could hear birds and insects outside the house: a bark of a dog, children his age laughing as they sang a song.

Master Kato stood up quickly as he always did. "Boy, it is time to practice again." Then he said something that surprised Haru. "Brown."

It was just one word. But still it was something of a reward. Then, Haru remembered what Master Kato had said would be the next level of training. And when he thought about the words live targets he felt nauseous. And he knew why his kunteki had just now rewarded him.

Wings of Shadow    14 July, 2003

He landed, but not gracefully. His nerves, his mind, were going at a hundred kliks a second. The dirt path was smooth and obviously was swept often by the monks of the shrine. Haru stumbled, not from any clumsiness or weakness of strength, but from an anxiety, an anxiety of what was still left to be done. The smell of clean—natural clean not that of detergent or antiseptics—and the faint sound of nearly imperceptible ripples induced by the light breeze told him where to go.

At the well, he let himself fall to the ground again and let his burden strike the ground, too, with a thud. He opened the bag and let it fall aside with the head facing him. He pulled the eyelids down to keep it from staring at him. Even if Haru could not really see its gaze, it seemed to burn him like some sort of spiritual flamethrower. Taking the long-handled ladle, he scooped water and poured it on the severed head of his father. Two more scoops and he replaced the ladle. This was not part of the Master's plan, but somehow, Haru felt that by going through a purification ritual, he too was cleaner.

Now the head of his father smelled clean. The faint iron smell of blood was nowhere near that of the strong smell emanating from his ninja-to. He placed the wet, but still warm head on a wooden block and attached the sign that he had made earlier. His elegant calligraphy strokes announced:

    Shinjo Toranaga, Ninja Master of Shinkou, killer of men, women, and children no longer.

Then he stumbled to the fence and leaned over as his dinner bubbled up and then poured over an exposed root of the cherry tree.

At the beginning of the night he thought that the killing would be the hard part of the mission that Master Kato sent him on. The infiltration of Shinkou was hard, but they were too proud to believe that one among them could be a traitor. Killing his father was even harder—the man who slew the family of Master Kato, the man who tossed his own infant son into the sea because he was blind. But the hardest part was the purification ritual. That was not part of the mission. It was something that he had to do for himself. And whether the difficulty was in facing his dead father or trying to purify an evil man, he did not know. Likely, it was both.

Haru looked at the well, wishing a drink to wash the acid taste away, but he willed herself to forget it. The wind blew a gust, causing the trees to shake, sending a spray of cherry blossoms to shower him and the rest of the temple's courtyard like twirling snowflakes borne aloft by the gentle breeze.

White . . . he knew that they were white. But that word was just a vague concept—all colors were just vague concepts. White, red, blue, pink, green, black, purple, crimson . . . all were even less tangible than concepts like infinity or zero, far less tangible than the concept of hate.

Blossoms and single petals continued to fall, having no regard for the turmoil within Haru, perhaps trying to bring peace once again to the shrine's courtyard. It might have been hours before Master Kato's weapon of revenge noticed the man standing at the doorway of the shrine's building.

The task had so distracted Haru that he neither saw nor heard the round-faced monk approach. Something within told him that the monk had been there the whole time, waiting patiently and unafraid, despite the bloody sword still in Haru's hand.

"You are not like him," the monk said softly. But Haru could not be certain if the man meant his father or his master. Truly, though, he wished that it were true of himself with regards to both. He continued, "Please, come inside this house of Buddha and let the Enlightened One help you to find peace and realization."

Haru rose and followed the priest into the shrine building through a small side door. Even before he entered, he could smell the spiced scent of burning incense. Once inside, he followed the monk's example and removed his tabi. It was harder to make his way about now. The straw mats dulled the sound of footprints and the closed door now stilled the air. There was little vibration and sound; the sharpness of definition to which he was accustomed blurred. Something inside him wanted to shout or wave his arms to help his perception, but he could feel peace in here. And that was something that was not familiar to him.

The young ninja bumped into a wooden object, perhaps a bench, sending sound abounding in the room, setting off a vibration from something metallic and large. Such clumsiness would have earned him a buffet from Master Kato. Haru wordlessly cursed at himself, but not for his clumsiness. He had disturbed the peace of this place.

"A killer of a killer," the monk said softly. "That is both what you are and what you are not. Perhaps it may be what you were and what you will not be."

Still Haru said nothing. The monk hadn't said much that was not a riddle. Yet for all that Master Kato had spoken plainly, it was always about death and killing. The monk’s confusing words were about life and seemed to echo the boy’s own thoughts without so much of the background noise.

"Life starts with acceptance of what you are, son," said the monk, this time in a more normal tone of voice. He had a gravelly voice, which told Haru something of his age. Perhaps if the monk did not shave his head or chin, he would hear the faint shifting of wispy hair that both absorbed and redirected sound but not air vibrations.

At last, the ninja spoke. "Brother, please give me guidance. Tell me what I must do."

The monk shook his head, stirring the air as his body moved slightly as well with the top of his robe shifting. "I can not tell you to do what you must. I can not tell you how to do what you must. What you must do first is ask yourself what it is that would set peace upon your soul. Search first for feelings, search second for words. Then do what you must and ask Buddha to help you achieve it in the right way. Enlightenment does not come in one day. For many, it takes several lifetimes. But each must start somewhere. For all, it is a journey."

Haru pondered the words and then lofted his sword through the air and into a waste receptacle by the door. It clattered for several seconds, setting of air currents and bouncing sound waves. He had never been in a temple before, and now he knew what one felt like.

He bowed deeply to the priest, then turned and walked to the door. Stopping momentarily to remove his shinobi shozoko, Haru left the temple thinking of what he must do. Certainly he needed to find shelter and food, for he would not now nor ever go back to the dojo of Master Kato. But shelter and food were trivial things and he needed only a minimum of such.

Haru discarded his pack, too, in the trash can. Then just as quickly, he retrieved it and removed three items from it before putting it back, leaving any implement of ninja gear forever behind.

He sat under the cherry tree and laid the three items before him. A single drop of water wet the inkstone. The brush liberated the black particles from the stone into liquid. And then, he applied soft strokes on the paper. A haiku for his dead father. The first, but not the last. He would find each person who had suffered from the killings carried out by his father and grandfather. Haru would meet with them wherever around the world they lived, offer his sincere apologies, and present them with a gift from his heart. It wouldn't bring their dead family and friends back. But it would be a start to Harmony.

Now and then, I go,
Heart held high and head held low,
Turning in the wind.

Ukiyoe painting artists (from top to bottom):  Kazuma, Shotei, Yoshida, Hiroshige