The house was empty when I got home, Hara was still at school and mom was likely going to pick him up, and dad was at work still. Dad worked as a maintenance technician for several office buildings in town, fixing heaters and electrical stuff. The hours weren easy on him, but the business he worked for was in Okayama city, and it was a pretty good company. They even gave dad a work truck for all his tools and everything, so we had two vehicles for the family, technically. As I walked into the kitchen, I saw a note that mom had left for me on the counter.
"Doctors appointment with Hara, going to be late. Can you start on the Shrine?"
I sighed despite no one being around to hear my exasperation. I had volunteered, sure, but I didn expect to have chores at the shrine during my finals week. I ran up to my room to drop off my school bag and change. My closet was nicely organized and at the back I found my shrine outfit. It was a little warm out to be wearing the full attire, a white kosode with a scarlet hakama. The kosode was like a thin robe that ran down to my thighs, although the hakama I wore wasn traditional. Normally it would be pleated trousers worn over the robe, but mine was a long skirt that ended at the knees. Changing in front of my mirror, I hesitated with my choice of clothes. I didn really want to change my underclothes, though my bra was not really meant for chores. It was lacy and see through, my soft pink nipples clear to me in the view of the mirror. Deciding that they were already dirty from the school day, there was no harm wearing them for chores. As I finished changing into the shrine outfit, I twirled for a moment in place before grabbing a scarlet ribbon to match the hakama. Tying my hair back just enough to keep it out of my face while I cleaned, I went back downstairs and ran outside.
There was a path from behind our house up to the shrine, but I never liked to take it when I was dressed up. Instead I walked a hundred feet down the road to the public entrance. It had a few parking spots for cars and a nice bike rack for people to stow their bikes. I began walking up the long stairway and path that led up to the shrine, passing through a couple torii gates on the way into the shrine. I stopped for a second at the last gate, running my hands over the wood and taking a deep breath. I don know why, I was never a spiritual person, but I always felt like walking through this last gate into the shrine was something that needed me to prepare for mentally. I left the stress of finals and swimming behind me, taking a step into the shrine with a sense of dedication to the work I was about to do.
The shrine was peaceful, tall trees centuries old hung overhead providing shade, only a small patch in the center of the shrine had bright sunlight spilling into it. The air wasn as hot up here, everything smelled fresh and cool. Somewhere behind the shrine was a small lake, though there were no paths to it. Nevertheless, it helped keep a flow of cool air moving through the forest. Heading over to one of the side buildings, I unlocked the storage shed and pulled out a few things I would need, starting with a broom for sweeping. The hard ground that the shrine sat on was so packed down that you could hardly call it dirt anymore. Sweeping it was just to get leaves and dust off of it, the clay rich soil underneath as solid as rock. There were no visitors around, not surprising for a Monday afternoon.
With the sweeping done I started on washing the floors of the shrine buildings. I could hear the cicadas and other insects coming out for the evening as the patch of sunlight began to dim slightly. I turned on the shrine lights, a bunch of paper lanterns with lightbulbs inside to give the illusion that they were lit from burning candles. I wasn far into washing the floor when I heard someone walking across the shrine grounds. He was a middle aged man, a business man of some sort who had likely just gotten off work. I made sure the steps into the shrine were dry, smiling at him as he walked up to pray inside. He bowed slightly, a little smile on his face for some reason. I made sure to bow lower than him, doing my best to follow shrine practices as much as possible. The man entered the building while I continued on with cleaning, making sure I had cleaned around the donation box so it was nice and shiny when he came out. He was in there for about ten minutes when he came back out and looked for me.
"Hello young lady, you look like you should be in high school or something, why are you cleaning the shrine?" I was caught off guard a bit by his question. I had people patronize me when I was a little kid helping out around the shrine, but in the last year or so no one found it odd for me to be cleaning.
"This is my familys shrine, sir, we all pitch in to help clean. Even more so now that we can afford our usual cleaner." It was a little tactless to bring up the hardships of the shrine, but I knew every little bit helped, and if that was all it took to get this man to donate money then I would consider it a success.
The man looked around casually, spotting the donation box. "I must confess, I don often donate at shrines. I travel a lot, you see. Im only in town for the night and wanted a place to pray. But… I suppose I could donate this time to help your family out. Tell me, how much does one usually donate?"
I wasn sure what to say, Ive never been asked something like this before. Of course the use of the shrine was free, so it felt wrong to say an amount for donating. "Sir, really it is just whatever you feel like or is convenient for you." I gave a quick bow, not realizing until it was too late that my kosode was slipping a little and the man had a clear view of my bra.
The man stared for a moment, his attitude shameless at what seemed to me a clearless slip of my wardrobe. I began to adjust my robe, not wanting to make it obvious that I had just flashed him. The man smiled at me, acting like it was all perfectly normal, "Well, maybe if you bowed like that once or twice more, I can see what I have in my wallet to spare."
"Sir?" I asked, not quite sure what he meant for a moment. He continued to stare at me, smiling, like what he asked was no different than asking for directions. I bowed again slightly, but my robe was already fixed.
"No no, not like that. Bow like you did last time. I think I have a few thousand yen on me."
I was speechless, was this man really asking me to flash him again in exchange for a donation to the shrine? I looked around, the shrine grounds were empty except for the two of us. I don know why, but I slowly loosened my kosode, letting it hang loosely off of me like it did while I was cleaning, possibly more so. I bowed again for the man, this time it was obvious that my robe was loose and coming undone. My white bra was a little lacy and I started feeling self conscious about a man seeing me in them. I thought back to dressing in front of the mirror, wondering if the man could see my nipples through the fabric. After a minute of being bent over, I finally stood up straight again and fixed my robe. The man smiled and thanked me, turning to the donation box behind him and reaching for his wallet. I could clearly see the notes he had pulled out, I think partly to show that he was actually donating, but I could see nearly five notes of two thousand each. Ten thousand yen, that was incredible.
"It feels good to donate, I rarely get a chance to when I visit other shrines, so it is good for me to donate when I can. Have a wonderful evening, miss." The man gave another little bow before turning to leave. With nothing for me to say, I simply bowed back, not caring if my robe was proper or not as he walked away.
My fathers voice broke the evening silence. It had been an hour since the stranger had come and gone and my chores were nearly finished anyways. Heading back down the stairway path to the entrance, I met my father halfway. He smiled up at me as he saw me, though it caused a shudder through my body. The thought of the strange businessman smiling at me was still flooding my mind. "Im glad to see that you are taking your duties seriously, Im proud of you. Did we have any visitors today?" my father asked me.
"Yes, just one though." I could barely get the words out, but I did my best to try and keep a measured response. Dad and I walked back to the house in silence, the smell of dinner being ready seeping out of the open windows. I told my family to go ahead and start eating while I changed, I desperately wanted to be out of my shrine clothes. Once I was in a more comfortable shirt and shorts, I joined my family at the table.
"Thank you for helping out today Shizu, hopefully it went alright up there?" my mother looked at me as I nodded through a glass of water. I didn want to speak, I was sure my voice would crack. When my parents started speaking between themselves, I practiced holding my breath again, using the focus of my concentration to put the days events behind me.
As my heart began to beat faster from the lack of air, my mind began to clear and the other parts of the day caught up to me. "Mom," I cracked out, but did my best to push on in a normal tone, "my last swim meet for the season is in Okayama on Saturday morning. Will you be able to drive me or should I take the train with the other students?"
My mother thought for a moment, "Well, with the shrine needing to be taken care of, it would be easier if you took the train. Is that alright?"
"Of course. Would it be alright if I stayed in the city into the afternoon? Im sure Echiko will tag along for the meet, and we both know she isn going to be happy until she does some shopping."
"Thats fine, we should be able to give you some money so you can at least go out for lunch with her." Mom did her best to keep a smile, though I knew it was difficult to bring up money. My mind wandered back to the man, the donation that he put into the box. I wondered if I should mention something, obviously not about how I got the donation, but that it was in there at all. Ten thousand yen could go a long way to ease her mind about a trip into the city for me, and maybe even mean a little shopping allowance. It took me a second to realize mom was talking to me again. "Shizu, did you ever decide what you wanted to do for your birthday?"
My birthday was on Sunday, not that I cared too much. "Oh, maybe just the usual katsu for dinner. I was thinking of going to karaoke with Echiko and Ami." Kodama Ami was another friend of mine, she also lived outside of town, on a small rice farm.
Dad seemed relieved when I suggested something so simple, "Sounds like a good plan. Any thoughts on what you might like for a birthday present this year?"
I shook my head, I never really wanted anything on my birthdays. Mom and I liked to shop at thrift stores or second hand stores, so almost nothing I owned was new except things like underwear or school supplies. After dinner I took a long shower, or at least longer than normal. I usually showered at the school locker rooms to save on water at the house, but after cleaning today I really needed it. As I finally turned off the faucet, I closed my eyes and listened to the dripping of water as it ran down my body. The air was full of steam, almost like a sauna. Opening my eyes, I looked at the girl in the mirror through the haze. Thin and slightly athletic, C cup breasts with small pink nipples, long dark hair swept behind my back, soft pale skin. I wondered, was I really that desirable to look at?
When I finally got to my room for the evening and didn have any more obligations, I pulled my notebooks from my school bag and sat on the bed. I had less than an hour left for a little more studying before I needed to get to sleep. As I opened my math notebook a small piece of paper fell out of it. It startled me at first, but once I realized that it was just paper I picked it up to examine it. It was the love letter that Echiko had gotten today, she must have slipped it into my notebook at some point during the day. The mysterious boys phone number was written on it. I rolled my eyes, Echiko knew I didn have a phone. Besides, the love letter was for her, not me. I threw the note into my nightstand drawer and got back to my notebook. I wasn looking forward to the math final, the teacher always threw in questions that she never covered over the term, but that she swears are in our book. This semester I wasn going to let her get the best of me.