Off in the distance I could hear music, the most beautiful music I had ever heard. Lovely chimes accompanied by chanting, flowing gently through the night air from the direction I was traveling. My heart leapt to the top of my chest and felt like it was going to burst. I became overwhelmed with happiness and awe and began to cry. I walked through the dark toward the sound with new conviction, tears streaming down my face. gThank you. I will keep my promise. Thank you.h I repeated this over and over, as if the more I said it the more I meant it, but it wasnft necessary, I did mean it. I had broken promises before but this was one I was determined to keep.
I reached the beginning of the trail in about twenty minutes and could see the little tourist shops that lined the road dimly lit by tall streetlights. There wasnft a person around and all the shops were closed up with giant metal shutters. It felt so strange to walk on the flat pavement; it had a calming effect even though I could now feel that I had terrible blisters on my feet. I was feeling pretty nauseous and light headed still but the effects from my emotional delivery from darkness were helping me keep it at the back of my mind. I made my way to a little green pay phone at the side of the road opposite the shops and cleared a spider web from the receiver and listened for a dial tone. I took off my pack and fumbled through it for change but was only able to find ten yen, which was enough to make a quick call to say where I was but not to go into much detail as it was long distance. Karen didnft have a phone but my friend Sam in Tokyo did, and I thought that maybe she may have called him or will be calling him to check if he had heard from me. I decided it would be wisest to leave him a message that I was alright and to pass it along if Karen called.
gHellohc gHey Sam, itfs Mike, I donft have a lot of time to talk, can you give Karen a message for me if she calls?h gYeah sure, where are you?h gI went hiking but I was supposed to be home and she is going to bech The phone went dead. My ten yen only allowed me a few seconds on the phone but hopefully it was enough. I ached to know if Karen had called, I wanted so badly for her to know I was alright. I looked around me and realized that I was going to have to find a place to stay the night.
As I stood at the side of the road in front of the pay phone contemplating my next move, I was thinking that perhaps if I find out where the music had come from, I could see if I could stay there. I saw a set of headlights heading my way. I thought it was odd because I had not seen any cars earlier and thought it was strange that someone would be driving down this deserted street at this time of night. I bent down to pick up my pack and started walking toward the temple. As the car got closer it started to slow down, then it stopped beside me and the window rolled down. gHelloh, the man said in a familiar voice. gHih, I replied and walked up to the car. It was the young man who had given me the chocolates earlier in the day. I was both relieved and embarrassed. He had warned me about trying to do this hike in one day. He must have thought I was an idiot standing in the middle of a small mountain village in the dead of night scraped from head to toe, barely able to stand. All because I didnft listen.
gThe ropeway is closedh, he said. gI know, is there a place to stay up here?h, I inquired, knowing that the chances were going to be slim. gI think you can stay at the temple, but itfs very expensive. I can take you to the bus.h I was overjoyed to hear this. "Are you sure you donft mind?h gNo itfs okayh. I put my pack in the back seat and sat down beside him in the passenger seat. I could have fallen asleep; it was so comfortable after being on my feet for almost nine hours.
He drove very fast down the mountain road; I guess he knew it very well since he had worked on the mountain his whole life. He talked about how he liked surfing and all of the places he had traveled to and what life was like working at the family restaurant at the top of the mountain. All very interesting stuff, but I was starting to feel more and more nauseous. Ifm not sure if it was the winding road that we took down the mountain or exhaustion but when we got to the small town at the bottom of the mountain I had to tell him to pull over. When he did, I got out and threw up on the side of the road. The young man walked past me to a brightly lit vending machine and purchased two cans of juice. He handed me one and walked to his car and casually leaned on the hood and started to drink his. I finished getting sick and drank some of the juice, using some of it to rinse out my mouth.
He asked if I was okay and we got back in the car and started to drive again. I did feel a bit better after my brief roadside purge. That is until he decided to light up a cigarette in the car. As sick as felt, I just didnft have the heart to tell him to put out his cigarette. I mean, if it wasnft for this guy, I would probably be sleeping under the awning of a ramen shop in the cold. My reluctance to make this simple request may have caused more bad than good however. I ended up rolling down the window while he was driving and vomiting down the side of his car.
We stopped again, and after I was sure I was truly feeling up to it, I got in the car and away we went, non-stop until we reached the bus stop. We got out and looked at the bus schedule and saw that the bus was no longer running. He asked where I lived, and when I told him I could tell from the look on his face that he had no intention of driving me that far, sick or not. Instead he said we could probably make the last train in the next town, but wefd have to hurry.
Again he drove like a madman through the winding valley roads as I lay in the cozy bucket seat with the window rolled down letting the cool wind blow my face. He was also kind enough not to light another cigarette, even though I never told him thatfs what caused me to get sick the last time. When we got to the station, I grabbed my pack and ran gingerly on blistered feet and cramped legs to the ticket window to find that I would make the last train because it didnft leave for another twenty-five minutes.
I thanked the young man for everything he had done and took down his name and number, vowing to see him again so that I could somehow return the favor and so he could meet Karen. With that we said goodbye, he jumped in his car and sped away.
I bought a ticket and walked to the platform and waited for my train. I watched the ticket vendor sit in his booth watching television while I waited; the flashing blue glare had a hypnotic effect. I wondered what sort of life that man lived. Did he enjoy what he was doing? What about his youth, did he have a nice childhood, does he have a family to go home to? I felt as though I was looking at things through someone elsefs eyes.
It was agonizing waiting for the train because I knew that every minute I was away from home, Karen was wondering what had happened to me. When the train came, I got on and plunked down on the warm velvety seat. There were a couple other people on the train, no doubt wondering what my story was. We exchanged the usual curious, surreptitious glances and then focused on nothing at all while the train lurched and tugged its way down the track stopping intermittently to accommodate almost nobody, remarkably inefficient but characteristically helpful.
I reached my stop and walked the longest ten minutes ever to my front door. When the door opened I could tell that Karen was so relieved. She wanted to know everything all at once. I gave her a big hug and felt so safe, so happy.
When I told her what had happened, I began to cry when I told her about the music from the temple. She was surprised to see how much of an effect this had had on me. We spent the rest of the evening spoiling ourselves with each otherfs company.
It didnft seem to take long for the months to pass and for many of the things I learned on my way to Kumotori to vanish from my every day thoughts. It also didnft take me long to break the promise I made that night in the forest, once again allowing myself to take important things for granted and I let pride control my decisions. It nearly cost me everything.
I had put off contacting the young man who helped me on the mountain that day for so long that I eventually forgot all about him. Then when I would remember, I was always too busy or had some other excuse why I couldnft call him. I got comfortable again, and thatfs when you forget whatfs really important. It wasnft until much later that I found it ironic that the first thing I did when I got off the mountain was make a promise and the second thing I did was break it. It kept eating at me that I had become so weak that I had let myself sink back into old habits and that I hadnft contacted this man to thank him properly. Another thing I realized was that even though he never told me this, Ifm sure he was looking for me that night.
It was almost a year later that I made the long trip from Tokyo to the Mitsumine temple where my journey had begun. When I saw him at the shop he knew who I was right away. He nodded and said hello looking surprised to see me. I thanked him, and apologized for taking so long to return. My journey had begun.