November 25th, 2005
Autumn was ending the day the man who carried no name wandered into the village of Plum Rose. Nearly bent double by the pack upon his back, the stranger nevertheless moved with a fluidity and grace that immediately drew attention in the dusty township. Children watched from hidden places and whispered, “Ronin” to each other, and if the same thought crossed the minds of the adults, they held their tongues.
Indeed, it was not until the man unloaded his burden that the adults allowed themselves to speak the word their children used without reservation.
The first thing the man removed from his bundle was this: a small box of lacquered wood and paper that his deft hands unfolded into a waist-high table. Also brought out was a second box, larger that the first, and made of metal. It proudly displayed a funnel once unfolded, as well as a revolving bottom and a hand-crank that needed to be attached separately. A third box was carefully manipulated by the man’s rough hands, and once unfolded it also required nozzles and pipes to be screwed in. Though the burlap sack the man had carried upon his back was still filled to bursting, he did not pull any other wonder out of it. Instead, he merely displayed it’s contents to townsfolk who had gathered.
Within the dusty burlap, in their pristine, pale green glory, laid a prize worth more than gold, more than silver. For when the man who carried no name had come to the town known as Plum Rose, he brought with him coffee beans.
He called for fire, and it was brought to him. He called for water, and this element too was collected and laid in front of him. The village of Plum Rose was not a wealthy one, a villager could find himself enjoying and perhaps even preferring the synthetic meat and beer that made up his diet. But coffee was more than the stacked molecules that made it, and as such, synthetic coffee was tolerated, but never enjoyed. Only the Magistrate enjoyed coffee, his imported beans and personal barista bought with the broken backs of the villagers.
This much was told to the man who carried no name, and more, as the boiler he had unfolded reached it’s full heat and potentency and the roaster turned the green beans that tumbled down its funnel black and aromatic. Cup after cup was poured for the villagers, and so fragrant was this ronin barista’s brew that the smell even wafted to the nose of the Magistrate.
Perhaps the man who carried no name knew of this, perhaps he had counted on it. Only such could explain the slow smile that crawled across his visage as the corpulent Magistrate and his similarly begirthed barista plowed down the street toward him.
“There are worlds,” the ronin said. “Worlds far out in the edge of the sky, whose distance from the Earth curses them. They receive no beans from the home world, so distant are they, so far, and their lives are that much darker. Every night I write a prayer for them, and burn it with my best beans in the hope that the aroma will reach them.”
“You dishonor me, sir,” the barista said, after being forcibly prodded by the Magistrate. “Tell me your name so I may know who would have the disrespect to brew about my proximity without so much as ‘a by your leave?’ I do not wish to battle you, sir. But I feel my honor demands it.”
“Would that your honor was as demanding as your belly,” the ronin said. “Then perhaps I would have not needed to provide these poor souls with my paltry beans’ embrace. All barista are taught from birth that coffee is a drink of the people, yet you would bar the door and toss them the molded grounds! My name, like respect for you, it is not something I can carry. My pack is weighty enough. But battle I can provide in abundance.”
And so then, on the dirty streets of Plum Rose, did two masters do battle. Their ritual, their art taking all of their focus. The village found itself drowning in the swift hand motions of the two men, engaging in rites that had remained unscathed by the progress of time. And when it was over, every body held its breath as each man tasted the brew-work of the other.
The Magistrate’s barista drank deep. Upon tasting the dark, sharp beauty the ronin had provided him, he hung his head. The ronin bowed to his fellow barista and thanked him for the exquisite coffee. The Magistrate’s barista bowed lower, thanked the ronin, and proclaimed him the winner.
The Magistrate was enraged. He charged at the barista, drawing forth his pistol of flame and thunder. He never received his chance to fire it. The barista laid him flat with an expertly-aimed demitasse spoon right between the eyes.
“You have already disgraced your ancestors. Do not disgrace your progeny as well,” the ronin said, kicking the Magistrate’s pistol across the dust. “Any worth you might have claimed though this man is gone. You are now merely a man with more money than sense, and those are as the sand on the beach. These people owe you nothing. ”
That evening and well into the night, the coffee flowed freely to the townspeople, who engaged in revelry unlike the town of Plum Rose had ever seen. Such revelry was this that no one noticed the man who carried no name fold up his table, roaster and brew station. No one noticed him leave, the sunset turning his silhouette as dark and rich as the drink he gave.
But his presence in Plum Rose is not forgotten. Even now, carved deep into the wood underneath the sign that proclaims the village’s name, is written this:
Before the ronin came
Did we ever know the world
Or its bitter kiss?