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Local Boy Does Good

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Dear Mother and Father,

I hope you are well and that my sisters and brothers are well too. I miss you very much. I am fine, but there is something you should know. I have struggled with whether to tell you, but I have lately been worried that you would send one of my siblings to the temple with a gift for me, like sweets or a new robe, and that I would miss out on receiving it, which would disappoint me so much. So I have decided to tell you that I am no longer at the temple at all!

I will tell you what happened. After we parted, the priest showed me how to study and pray and do chores. I already knew how to do chores from living at home with you, but the priest showed me new ones I never did before, which was all right. All day, I studied, prayed, and worked.I think I did well with all three, the chores best of all, because you gave me so much practice. Even with all this to do, though, I found time to draw cats.

One day, the priest called me to him, and he surprised me by praising all the cats I had drawn.

"You are gifted," he said. "A talented artist!"

You will be proud to know that I showed proper humility in the face of his generous accolades. He then told me:

"I have received a letter from the head priest at the temple west of us, where it seems they are in need of a great many pictures of cats. I would like you to travel there and do what you can to help."

When I heard this, I knew I must go at once! Quickly, I packed my belongings and set off. I walked all day and reached the new temple just as the sun was setting. Fortunately, the fires there were lit, and dinner was not over. When I told the head priest there that his friend had sent me to draw him some cats, he jumped up and down with joy and picked me up and set me on his shoulders and took me around to meet all the priests and acolytes. There were many boys my age, and you will be pleased to learn they welcomed me just as warmly, and we are all friends today.

The head priest insisted I eat dinner, but I was impatient to draw cats. Soon I had set up my paints before a screen and before long the screen was much improved. I was warm and full of good food and glad to have already gotten a start on the temple's cat problem, but I was also worn out from traveling and all the excitement. The head priest saw me yawn widely, so he took me to my quarters to rest.

Mother and Father, the quarters he intended for me were so very large! Too large for someone so small as I. They made me recall a point of etiquette entrusted to me by the priest at the previous temple, which was this:

"Sleep in small places. Avoid the large."

So I begged the head priest's forgiveness for the trouble and persuaded him to allow me to sleep in a smaller space. The only space available was a cabinet, but it turned out to be quite cozy. I curled up like a cat and quickly fell asleep.

Nothing strange at all happened that night to wake me.

I have spent the months since then working hard alongside the other boys, pursuing serenity in prayer, and drawing cats. My only worry is that one day I will grow out of my cabinet and be forced to sleep in a large room. But perhaps before that happens I will be sent to another temple in need of pictures of cats and that has a bigger cabinet. Please rest easy knowing I am safe and healthy. If you have sweets or a new robe for me, please do not send them to me; it's too far to travel, and I think they gave that big room to someone else, so there would be nowhere to stay. It's probably best that no one visit.

I miss you both terribly, but I'm pleased at the progress I'm making so far from home. Please be well.

Eiji, Your Boy Who Draws Cats


Eiji carefully rinsed his brush and stoppered his jar of paint. The daylight that managed to shine into the building past the deep slant of the roof had dimmed considerably, leaving the interior of the temple as gray as washed-out ink. The sun must be setting.

All of his time since arriving at the haunted temple had been spent cleaning and repairing it. To begin with, he had removed the carcass of the rat demon by grasping its wrinkled tail and yanking it step by step out the door and into a clearing. Next, he had removed the detritus of the smashed furniture, piling the wood in heaps around the carcass and, when the wind seemed to have died off, burning the entire unwanted mess. Over the following days, Eiji cleaned, polished, and shined every surface and did his best to repair the remaining furniture. Following that, he got started on neatening and tending the grounds, which had become overgrown and uninviting, which was perhaps why no one had visited so far.

The screens on which he had painted the cats he moved from one good cat spot to the next throughout every day. A sunny corner in the morning, then by a window in view of the chattering birds and little animals that peopled the gardens, then in the evening by the shrine to the Buddha at the far end of the temple's main room. Eiji enjoyed eating his dinner, foraged from the forest, before the shrine, gazing at the wondrous pictures he had drawn. They did not move, and the blood had long dried and flaked away from their teeth. When it became too dark too see, he would crawl away to his cabinet and sleep, exhausted from his day's labor and undisturbed by more catfights. In fact, he heard nothing from the cats at all, not one meow or rumbling purr or angry hiss.

Tonight the sun had nearly set. Eiji set a pebble on his letter and looked all around the darkening temple, from the impossibly high ceiling to the beautifully carved walls and smooth floors. If he listened, he could hear the echoes of the small noises he made. Delicately, he padded to the far end of the vast space and used the last of the light to look closely at the cats. When he could no longer make them out, he lifted a trembling hand to the silk. It was so fine and smooth--until suddenly he felt a sharp nip, snatched his hand back and ran to his cabinet.


The End