The traditional era of Kyoto, Japan brings forth strict expectations regarding honor and social status. Isao, an heir belonging to the wealthy Hirada family, lives a rather dull and sorrowful life under the cruelty of his father. That is, until a gardener for the temple is hired in place of another, a young man of the lower class with a passion for landscaping. Over time, Isao encounters a long lost innocence within the gardener named Ryo, who provides a brighter view on life.
Affections begin to unintentionally spark, causing the heir to seek more information and connect until a hidden relationship is formed. With this secret, however, follows potential downfall for both men.
The sky, somber with unlimited depression, fell to the mercy of the tears that fell in great quantities from the sullen clouds. Hidden among them sulked the sun, refusing to reveal itself for the third day. The overall gloominess of Mother Nature seemed to appropriately coincide with a particular young gardener; when he formed a frown upon his face, the weather would mimic it in such a way that resembled the same. On rare occasions, a smile would arrive and, for a brief moment, the sun would peer out from behind its curtain; that was, until the man’s smile faded, causing the light to then diminish altogether. This depressive episode of man and weather sprouted from tragedy aged a year old, gradually deepening as life resumed. Voids appeared frequently both in and out of his weary body: in his eyes, his heart, and within his distant memories. Often times his eyes stared longingly at nothing for a prolonged period of time until realizing that nothing was all it could be. Afterward, he would retire to bed without a word, shuffling inside the foreign floors of his new residence. Indeed, his heart had fallen victim to eternal sadness, drowning him entirely in loss.
With each day came about recurring memories of the unfortunate event of that night along with thick streams rolling down his pale complexion. Grief struck him hard, but guilt pierced his heart. His former persona, forgotten, was replaced by one he did not recognize, yet never attempted to adjust. Had adjustments been applied memories might have been lost. Even so, it felt impossible to forget the terror and pain of that night.
Constant thoughts stirred in his mind the hours spent outside in the rain, repetitive and overwhelming, consisting of:
How could it be dishonorable for two men of separate classes to hold affections for each other?
Plenty of others deserve to face death head on, yet they live longer than he.
In the end, his death was due to my inexcusable actions.
Is honor better to hold within the heart than love then?
These thoughts, among many others, obstructed his sanity and, eventually, his morals. Nonetheless, a single thought provided more damage than any before it and it was the mere image of his former lover committing the sentence of the suicide ritual, harakiri. The gardener could not understand how gouging the abdomen in front of others could possibly restore honor. This, he wished had happened to him either in place of the heir or instead. Despite that wish, the facts remained and time never once replayed itself. Of course, he was not entirely solitary, for there was the close company of a vassal of the heir who cared for the gardener’s well-being on oath. Even so, the positivity radiating off of him was incapable of restoring complete satisfaction and happiness to the man he housed. Gifts were large though unwanted, smiles scarcely reflected, and conversations were awkward and minimal. Although the gardener was plenty aware of the kindness given to him in being taken in, avoiding death in that situation, he was unable to admire his life surrounded by a thick woods which restricted him from the rest of the world. Abandonment controlled his emotions too strongly to allow room for gratitude.
Throughout the agonizing year of distraught, the gardener was again reminded of his deceased lover. He was seated on the porch of the traditional residence, caught in an emptiness as usual. Not long after its beginning did the vassal, Sion, join him. Quietly, while tying back silver strands, he spoke,
“Perhaps our friend has been reincarnated as the soil of this land. That may explain your garden’s brilliance.”
The gardener’s silence thickened, his shoulders slumping while his eyes became pained. He managed a short response of, “I didn’t hear you come out.”
Sion chuckled half-heartedly, “My apologies. If I frightened you it was not my intention.” He shifted his weight, cleared his throat, and continued, “How are you feeling, Ryo? You’ve been lonely longer than usual this week.”
Ryo sighed as soft as the wind in summer, and if he had been close enough to the flowers in his garden not a single petal would have been disturbed. Unwilling to ignore the man, as it would be incredibly disrespectful after the favor he did for the heir, Ryo replied hoarsely, “I can not say that I feel lively enough, but I thank you for your concern.”
“I only ask in hopes of aiding you,” Sion added with a desperate frown placed upon his lips. “You must know how unpleasant it is for me to see you this way constantly.”
After a moment’s pause, the gardener hung his head in shame. “I see.”
“You know I did not intend to insult-”
“I will retire to bed for the day. Excuse me.”
Given that, Ryo rose to his feet and ducked inside the home, brushing past the guilty caretaker.
After a week’s time, Ryo fell severely ill and was restricted from his daily visits to the porch. The jade in his eyes paled to a meaningless gray and his hair grew over-top his face in a filthy mess of faded black. Ignoring claims that he felt well enough to move about, Sion cooked healthy, light meals and created home remedies in hopes of restoring the gardener’s health. Ryo’s illness seemed to worsen over time, unceasing so long as two weeks. Coughing fits weakened his lungs, sweat escaped the pores of his body, and his voice left him altogether. Even throughout this physical drain, Ryo insisted on accompanying the weather. Reasoning had little to no effect, often leading Sion to frustration or even sympathy. In the end, the gardener accepted his illness and remained bedridden. Through this, the two were able to form a somewhat improved bond as well as respect for one another.
There came an evening just as dreary as many before it in which Sion ran out of supplies. Explaining to Ryo that he would run out to the town market to purchase more he added that leaving bed was restricted. Given little refusal from the ill man, Sion left the home with a paper umbrella in hand and deep concern in his head.
Unmoving in bed, the gardener began to notice the crippling weight on his body. The dampened rag upon his forehead provided some relief, but not quite enough. The blankets burying from his chest down brought discomfort but protection from harsh chills. At this point, hope was lost for his own life and he accepted his fragility. New supplies would turn out to be a waste of yen. Health rejected him entirely, shoving him further and further with each day. No amount of bathing was successful in providing the relief he desired. More and more, death was accepted. Ryo filled his mind with prayers of longing for the end of his life to come quickly. He murmured to himself in the quiet of the home, shutting his eyes, but an interruption flashed them back open. He listened, assuming it had come from the entrance of the home, questioning if Sion had returned so quickly. Given no response upon calling his name as loud as he could muster, Ryo then assumed the worst.
The possibility of a soldier from the Hirada temple being there was highly likely; after all, Ryo had been given the same sentence as the heir he had fallen deeply in love with. Perhaps now, after a year, he had finally been discovered. It was even more likely that, if it were a soldier, the ill man would be executed on the spot. With this fear rising inside came confliction. He suddenly wished for his life to continue despite the misery of it, wanting to avoid a lonely death. If anything, the void would not be so concerned for his soul as was life. Perhaps his fear tied back to guilt, but even if it did it still became the very cause of it.
As the ill man spent more and more time feeling the rise and then sudden decline in his heart, the sound of approaching footsteps gradually grew nearer until Ryo could just hardly make out the figure of a man he judged taller than he. His heart stopped, his breath caught in his throat, and his limbs froze. Gravity grew stronger it seemed, pulling him tighter in an aggressive clutch as the door began to open its mouth much too slowly for comfort. Within the moment the intruder came into view, the gardener dropped tears like a fierce waterfall at the familiarity of the one now standing before him.
“I have long awaited to see you again, my dearest Ryo.”