By Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Translated into English by Nathan Collins
Previously I wrote, "A servant waited for the rain to cease." But even if the rain were to stop, the servant would have no particular aim. Normally, of course, he would need to return to his lord's house, but he had been discharged from service several days earlier. As I said, Kyōto was in a severe decline. This servant's dismissal by his lord after many years of service was nothing but a small consequence of this deterioration. Therefore, when I wrote, "A servant waited for the rain to cease," it would have been more accurate to say, "A servant, caught in the rain, was at a loss because he had no place to go." Furthermore, this weather had a considerable influence on the sentimentalisme of this Heian-era servant. The rain, which had begun in the late afternoon, still showed no sign of letting up. And so the servant, half-listening to the rain falling on Suzaku Avenue, thought only about how to get through the next day—that is, he couldn't keep his mind from wandering onto how he could get out of this impossible situation.
As the rain enveloped Rashō Gate, the sound of rushing water came from a distance. With the evening light steadily fading, the tip of a slanted ridge tile, protruding from the gate's roof, seemed to prop up an immense, dim cloud.
The servant lacked the luxury of choosing how to get out of this impossible situation. If he decided to stick to his morals, his next choice would simply be whether to starve to death at the base of a pounded-earth wall, or in the dirt alongside the road. And just like that, he would be brought up into the gate and abandoned there as if he were but a dead dog. If he were to abandon his morals . . . well, however many times he might think about it, his thoughts always returned to the same place. He couldn't bring himself to make that "if" anything but an "if." Even accepting the idea that no other option remained, even if he could get past the "if," he failed to possess courage enough to acknowledge the inevitable conclusion: "I have no choice but to become a thief."
The servant let out a loud sneeze and, as if undertaking a great effort, stood up. The chilly Kyōto evening was cold enough to leave him wishing for the warmth of a brazier. Wind blew in through the gate's pillars, accompanied by darkness. The cricket once perched by the red lacquered column had already vanished into the night.
Head lowered, his hunched shoulders draped with a tattered blue kimono and undergarments yellowed from sweat, the servant surveyed his surroundings. If he could find a place to sleep in comfort, for just one night, sheltered from the wind and the rain and the view of others, he would spend the night there. Continuing his search, he stepped up into the Gate of Luck where he found a wide ladder—it, too, painted in red lacquer. Even if anyone were up there, they would surely be dead. The servant, taking care to keep his long sword safe in its scabbard, placed a sandal-shod foot on the lowest rung of the ladder.