Except for one man, Christina walked alone on the road to the top of Red Mountain. She thought he looked like a middle-aged tourist from Tokyo. His skinny knees hung out of too-large bermuda shorts, topped by a nondescript shirt. A Cubs baseball cap protected his bald head from the late afternoon sun. Japan was a very safe country, but LA instincts warned her against walking alone with a strange man, even if he didn't look much like a ravening rapist. She shrugged mentally. This guy was tiny. She could take him.
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"You going up to the monastery?" she said. The only other thing at the top of the mountain was an inn for tourists.
"Yes, I am. Are you?"
"Yes, I'm going to study under Kirashogi Roshi. It's a wonderful opportunity. Have you been there before?"
"They tolerate me from time to time."
Mid-September sunlight slanted thick and golden through the pines that lined the road. Her knapsack was getting heavy.
"Are you American?" he asked.
"Yes, from California." She smiled. "Your English is excellent."
"Thank you. I went to school at Illinois State. Are you tired? Should we rest?" She did want to stop, but was determined to get to the top before dark.
"No, I'll be ok. I tried to hire a taxi but none of them would help me. You must be tired, though."
"Only service vehicles are allowed on the mountain. It's not much further. Walking is good for you!" he smiled. Killer smile, she thought. Warm, happy, irresistable. She smiled back.
"Have you sat zazen before?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, a long time. Two years, in fact. Do you sit?"
He shrugged "Sometimes."
"It's really relaxing," she said.
He favored her with an odd look. "I've never found it so," he said.
They walked along in silence for perhaps half a mile. Christina was afraid she had offended him. It ate at her. She liked this guy with the sunny smile.
"Why not?" she said finally.
"Why don't you find it relaxing? Do you think you're trying too hard?"
He stopped in his tracks, a thoughtful half-smile on his face. "Perhaps I am," he said.
"Well, when we get there I'll help you any way I can."
Another happy, infectious smile. "Thanks!" he said. "I need all the help I can get."
"Wow, look!" she said. A break in the trees revealed cliffs that plunged through miles of space. The countryside lay softly below in greens and browns.
A storm brewed in the west. The setting sun shimmered, a golden diadem glowing just above the tumult. They watched for a long enraptured moment. Christina silently chanted a fragment of the sutras as the sun descended gloriously into the waiting bosom of the clouds. She glanced at her companion. He stood, hands folded, eyes half open, serenely illuminated, as still as the mountain itself.
"You are Kirashogi Roshi," Christina said quietly.
The sun returned momentarily in the brilliant grin. "Yes."
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