Isa Kudo stood in the medicine hut and fumed. She had been called before Otako, great Medium of the village, who spoke for Artart.
Otako sat Isa down at a wicker table and took her place across from the younger girl. “Today I will impart a spiritual lesson to you, willful daughter, village miscreant, black sheep of Artart’s flock.”
The Medium set a pair of cups on the table. Then she retrieved a bag of tea from her satchel and added a measure of leaves to both cups. A cast-iron kettle sat on a small kerosene burner. Otako lifted the kettle and poured the hot water over the leaves, filling the cups to the brim. She placed one before Isa.
“Tea holds the wisdom of the universe,” said Otako, the Medium. She refilled the kettle and placed it back over the burner. “Within your cup lies all that you seek.”
Isa leaned back. “Tripe,” she said, “sentimental, spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Teach me something real.”
Otako fanned her tea for a moment, letting the thick, pungent steam fill the confines of the hut. “Is the tea not real?”
“It’s just tea,” said Isa, sniffing the air. “Chamomile. You could’ve at least chosen jasmine, or oolong, or something with spiritual import.” She took a sip from her cup. “You know, tea ceremonies and junk like that.”
“All that is superfluous and only exists to help you along the way,” said Otako. “Look into the cup, really look into it. Stare, unblinking, and tell me what you see.”
Isa looked. “I see tea.”
“And what is tea?”
She moved closer. “Well, the tea is yellow. Amberish? Honey-coloured? Yeah. I can see the leaves too, and if I squint, the faintest hints of tea dust, dark against the pale china.”
“Yes, very good,” said the Medium. “What else?”
“What else is there?” asked Isa.
“You tell me.”
“Well,” the girl began, turning the cup in her hand, “the liquid conforms to the shape of the container.”
Old Otako nodded. “Go on.”
“There is nothing else.”
Otako wagged her finger. “No,” she said, “you see nothing else.”
Isa set her cup down. “And you see ‘the wisdom of the universe?’”
“Then explain it to me.”
“I cannot,” said old Otako. “That is precisely my point. You do not see because you do not look. How am I supposed to tell you, if you will not listen?”
“But I did look!”
“For about ten seconds. And you declared, now and forever, to have complete knowledge of all the teacup held.”
“I did not!” Isa jumped to her feet, jostling the table, knocking over her teacup. It rolled on its side off the table and shattered on the ground.
Isa stared at the spilled tea, as it wicked through the wicker face of the table, dribbling, speckling the ground next to the broken cup. She quieted. “I suppose there’s a lesson in that as well, Grandmother?”
“Yes.” Otako nodded. “But for now, would you like another cup?”
Isa sat back down, subdued. “Yes, please.”