By Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Translated into English by Nathan Collins
The servant, of course, did not know why the old woman was pulling hair from the corpse. Therefore, he couldn't reasonably know enough to dismiss her action as good or evil. But from where he stood, on this rainy night above the Rashō Gate, just the act of pulling out the corpse's hair seemed an evil he could not condone. Of course, he had already forgotten that he had recently been debating whether or not to become a thief.
The servant, summoning strength to his legs, flew to the top of the ladder. Once there, he placed his hand on the wooden hilt of his sword, and slowly, deliberately, walked over to the old woman. At the first sight of the servant, she shot up like a bolt snapping free from a crossbow, and began to scramble over the pile of corpses in a frantic attempt to escape.
"Where do you think you're going?" growled the servant, stepping into her path. Undeterred, she tried to charge past him, but he stopped her with a shove.The two struggled silently among the bodies, although it was clear who would win from the very start. At last, the servant grasped her arm, twisting it, and forced her down to the ground. Just skin and bone, it was less a human arm than the leg of a chicken.
"What were you doing? Well, what were you doing? Out with it! If you don't tell me, you'll answer to this!"
The servant, letting go of the crone, flashed his sword from its scabbard and pointed the shining steel blade at her eye. But the old woman remained silent. Hands trembling, shaking with fear, her shoulders rising with each sharp breath, eyes open wide as if her eyeballs could pop out at any moment, she was as unyieldingly silent as a mute. The servant then comprehended his complete control over this woman's life and death. With that realization, his anger, burning with intense hatred, melted away. All that remained was a serene pride and satisfaction in a job well done. He looked down at the old woman and spoke gently.
"I am not a guard. I am just a traveler who happened to pass by when I decided to take a look inside. So even if I were to tie you up, I wouldn't know what to do with you. If you would, just tell me what you are doing here."