There was a tiger in the back seat of my car when I got into it to drive home from work. I didn’t notice him until he cleared his throat after I’d put my seat belt on. When I looked over my shoulder he was sitting in the rear passenger-side seat, seat belt already done up. He looked like he was wearing a leather jacket over an under robe and trousers. “You’ve been away too long,” he said in a conversational tone.
“Strange, I got a letter yesterday telling me that I hadn’t been gone long enough.” I turned the engine on, put my window down and carefully backed out of my space. The other person who used the parking space was due in half an hour.
“I’m your spiritual adviser and I didn’t write it, so who was it from?” The tiger, his name was Jishin, was looking at the passing traffic as he spoke.
“It was signed by the abbot’s secretary,” I replied. “I wrote asking permission to return and visit my mother.”
“There are more places in the valley than the monastery,” replied Jishin, “and the monastery doesn’t control as many of them as the abbot and his secretary might think. You could stay at the Reed Pavilion – you wouldn’t be able to see your mother, but Crane would be happy to have you. You can show him how your calligraphy is coming on.”
I thought ahead. “I could come for the summer festival. The office closes down then and I could take a few leave days on either side.”
“Good, we’ll expect you then.” Jishin smiled at me in the rear vision mirror. “As it happens, there’s someone I want you to meet.”