Here's some prose to go with the verse:
door slid aside with a wooden whisper, revealing the kneeling child beyond the threshold. She was clad in loosely fitting black pyjamas, black tabi
, and thin black gloves. Even her blindfold was the color of night. She rose, stepped through the doorway, knelt, and slid the shoji
closed. She rose again, walked soundlessly to the edge of the dimly lit training area, and knelt precisely at its edge. All her movements were carried out with perfect grace; there was not a single misstep or hesitation. I watched with mingled pride and grief as the child waited in patient, motionless silence for the terrible, stone-faced man who was her teacher.
The training area was a shallow, sandy pit, above which ran a grid-work of narrow beams. Ropes of varying thickness were strung between those beams, some taut as drum heads, other so loose that the catenaries crossed bare inches above the sand. Only yesterday the pit had been filled with a layer of glowing charcoal, the air in the room thick and close with the fumes, despite the open skylights.
I remember how, blindfolded, the child had danced through her exercises at her teacher's shouted directions, leaping between beams, pacing swiftly along the tightropes as though they were broad and stable paths. My breath caught in my throat as I witnessed some of her more daring evolutions. Then her teacher barked an order, and the child froze upon the center beam, perfectly balanced. Another curt order from her teacher, and she slowly lowered a foot to a slender rope that ran slackly across the center of the pit, to a beam at the far side. The rope swayed as her weight came onto it, and her foot slipped a few inches. She wavered on the beam as she drew back her leg.
!" called the stone-faced man sharply.
"Do I hear can't
, little gecko?"
The child bit her lower lip, sucked in her breath and released it slowly. Again she lowered her foot to the slender rope. "Remember your training, little one," I said in the silence of my mind, as though she would be able to hear my thoughts across the room. "Do not fear." If she fell she would not be greatly injured; the minor burns she would suffer would be nothing against the shame of her failure. But it was hard to remember that when you felt the heat, when you had to regulate your breathing against the choking fumes, and when you could not see. All fears are magnified in the darkness.
Again her foot slid as she put down her weight, but she did not draw back. She shifted her weight over the foot, and brought her other foot onto the rope behind her. The rope swung alarmingly, but her body remembered its training, and did not try to resist the sway, riding with it instead. She edged slowly across the slender bridge, sweat streaming down her face beneath the blindfold. Twice she hesitated, almost overbalancing, but at last she reached the far beam. She stood there, trying to quiet the trembling in her legs, to steady her breathing.
The stone-faced man stalked out across the beam and halted before the child. He reached out and yanked the blindfold from her eyes, making the child stagger slightly. She caught her balance and looked up at him. The teacher grunted, reached up to the nape of his neck, and pulled free the black ribbon that bound his hair. With surprising gentleness he turned the child around and tied her hair back with the ribbon. Despite myself, tears of pride filled my eyes.
"Go," he told her roughly. "Clean up - you're a fright."
The child bowed gravely, her eyes shining, then spun about and ran for the door.
"Slowly!" the teacher barked, and the child caught herself, walked to the door, turned and bowed, and then was gone. The teacher glanced at me and jerked his head toward the door. I rose and followed my charge.
Now the child waited with quiet self-possession for a lesson that would never come again. Her teacher was no more, her family a handful of flower petals scattered on the wind. And I...I had one duty remaining. There was a place I must take this child, to relatives who would continue her training, and guide her feet along the dark path for which they had been destined on the day of her birth, only nine years ago.
And I would betray that duty. This beautiful child, who has been in my care all the years of her life, I am determined will become a normal girl. It will surely mean my own life, but I am resolved. I will take her to folk in Tokyo who owe me favors, and they will care for her. My life's savings will be assigned to a trust fund for her support. And the child I have learned to love will live her life in the light.