We – Rei, Thomas, Tami Sensei, and I – are gathered in the small tatami room with paper walls, watching Thomas make his tea.
One of the paper walls has a sliding window. Through the window we can see the outer room, which has a window, too. Through that window, there is sunlight and a crab-apple tree.
In one corner of the room, a scroll is hung. I cannot read what it says because Tami Sensei has not told us. Below the scroll is a vase with one white flower. Even though there is only one, the flower looks as if it has been arranged.
The way I am sitting, the sunlight is on my back. I wish I was outside. Partly because the room is hot and stuffy from the hearth, despite the open window. But mostly because I despise watching Thomas make tea, and so does Rei.
Why? Because Thomas is very clumsy.
Tami Sensei says our individuality is revealed through the making of tea. For example, she says everyone has their own sound for pouring water.
...well, if that’s the case, then for Thomas, that sound is plop!
Rei and I feel the same way about this. And yet we are always patient, like we must be, for each and every class.
But today, Thomas is about to do something even clumsier than usual.
His purification starts out like normal – jerky movements, forgetting everything. Tami Sensei correcting him constantly. Splash. Plop! No grace; no peace.
Every so often, Rei and I exchange glances, and grimace. Tami Sensei says nothing, but I can see the tension growing in the line of her neck.
Then Thomas is ready to make tea. He’s got the scoop in one hand. He reaches for the natsume and his fingers latch around its base. But then he falters. The natsume slips from his fingers, and falls...
A moment frozen in time – the cloisonne lid falls as the natsume lands on the floor... green tea powder spills all over the tatami!
Like dye, matcha soaks into the perfect straw seams. In an instant, the mat becomes green and ruined.
We all – Rei, Thomas, and myself – gasp with shock. None of us have seen anything like this before.
We all look to Tami Sensei.
Tami Sensei narrows her eyes and purses her lips. At first, she says nothing. This is how we know she is angry. I have seen her do this before when she runs out of time to eat lunch and comes to the tea room hungry, then Thomas forgets one of the main movements. But this is worse. It must be.
We are all afraid of what happens next.
First, Tami Sensei picks up the natsume, puts the lid back on, and returns it to its place. Then, she says to Thomas in a sharp voice: “Go! In the kitchen. Fetch some rice. Quick!”
Rei and I exchange bewildered glances. What can she possibly do with rice?
We hear scrambling in the kitchen. We hope Thomas doesn’t knock anything else over while he is in there.
More scrambling. Presently, Thomas returns. He has a bowl of uncooked rice.
“Pour it over the tea powder,” Tami Sensei instructs. “A little at a time.”
Thomas does so...all at once, of course. There is a kind of plop.
Tami Sensei sighs as if she knew this would happen. Then, not in a hurry, but with slow, deliberate motions, she tucks her yukata beneath her knees. She scoots forward, towards the pile of rice.
Without speaking, she lets Rei and I know we must do the same. Uncertain of what happens next, we also scoot toward the rice.
We are all huddled around the pile of rice with tea powder staining the tatami beneath it.
The hearth is behind me now, its heat attending my bottom.
“Now,” Tami Sensei says. “Pat.”
She begins to pat the tatami with both hands at the edge of the pile of rice.
The rice nearest to her fingers starts to dance. The grains jump up and down on the tatami as she pats.
Still uncertain, Rei and I begin to pat, too. Thomas does as well, though he does so harder than the rest of us. We are all bent over, our hands forming a circle, thrumming in a rhythm against the mat, around the rice and the tea powder, in the middle of the tea room.
At first, I do not see what is happening. Pat, pat, pat! go Rei, Tami Sensei, and I.
Thump, thump, thump! goes Thomas.
As the rice continues to jump up and down before our fingertips, I see...the rice is turning green! The rice dances and twirls, taking up the green from the mat beneath. Rei and Thomas see it, too. We all grow excited and begin to pat more vigorously. The rice becomes greener and greener as the color of the mat ebbs away. Eventually, the stain on the tatami disappears altogether. We all stop at once, relieved.
But of course, we are not finished. “Fetch a broom,” says Tami Sensei.
Thomas hesitates, then goes to the kitchen. He returns with a broom and a dustpan. Tami Sensei nods for him to begin. Thomas tries to sweep it up carefully. Rei and I are surprised by how gently he does it. The dark green rice sweeps easily onto the dustpan, with Thomas encouraging the last few grains. Then it’s all in the dustpan and Thomas goes to throw it away.
And on the mat, there is no hint of green, nor the slightest bit of evidence of what happened. The tatami looks just as it did when we came into the room. I find myself wondering how many times tea powder has been spilled there before.
Tami Sensei looks pleased with herself. The tension in her neck is gone, and her mouth is relaxed.
“Thank you, Thomas. Let’s resume,” she says. She tucks her yukata back under her knees and scoots backward into her usual place. Rei and I do the same.
We sit patiently and watch Thomas finish making his tea.