Sayōnara: The most final of goodbyes
That evening, the fifteenth day of the ninth month of the year, Hirotsugu’s grandfather passed away.
Fujiwara no Fuhito, the leader of their clan and the most powerful man at the Yamato court, died of heart failure as he was getting into bed.
It was late, close to the hour of the ox, and the servants were asleep. The blinds were drawn, and the moonlight fell upon his writing desk, where official court orders lay rolled and tied with a silk purple string. The wind whispered through the creeping wisteria overhanging the eaves. A crow flew through the window and landed on the desk, upsetting the neatly arranged scrolls. It fixed a beady eye on the old man.
“So, you come at last,” Fuhito said before his face scrunched in pain and he dropped to his knees, clutching at his chest. The crow said nothing as it watched him die.
Through the veil, I extended a hand, and Fujiwara no Fuhito took it.
“Sayōnara,” Fuhito whispered, the most final of goodbyes to the human world.
When all was done, I added his human skull to the back of my throne, where I kept the worst of them.
Empress Genshō decreed forty-nine days of national mourning to commemorate Fuhito’s spirit. The funeral was held in the Imperial Palace, hosted by Shinto priests coming all the way from the Grand Shrine of Ise.
In the capital of Heijo-kyo, the Fujiwara clan gathered, wearing their black funeral attire. It was the first time Hirotsugu had stepped outside the wall that secluded him from the rest of the world. He and his younger brothers rode in a goshoguruma drawn by black oxen. They sat on wolf furs and goose feather pillows. The driver walked alongside the oxen since there was no driver’s seat in the carriage, and he was accompanied by two servants who carried refreshments in case the boys grew hungry.
As the goshoguruma veered down Mount Kasuga’s roads, shaded by ancient trees, Hiro felt closer to the world than he ever had when he was spying on it from the watchtowers. He knew he was supposed to be sad because of his grandfather’s death, but his excitement at finally riding down the streets of Heijo-kyo outweighed his suffering. Hiro arrived in Heijo-kyo with a big smile. However, as he progressed toward the Suzakumon Gate where they would enter the Imperial Palace, his smile faltered, until ultimately it turned into a concerned frown. He wouldn’t remember much about that day, but the image of dirty, barefoot children running after the carriage and raising their hands to him, begging for food, would haunt his dreams for many years.