The old man with the bent shoulders came out of the rain, furling his rice-paper umbrella as if it were a ship's sail. With some deliberation he climbed the slate step and crept past the carved stone pot into which clear water flowed from a cut length of bamboo just above.
There he paused a moment, cocking his head like the most attentive of pupils, listening to the confluence of sounds: the pitter-patter of the rain at his back, the cheery gurgle of the flowing water at his side. There was within that mingling, he thought, the precise mix of the melancholy and the joyous that made life so exquisite to live. "There is sadness in beauty," he recalled his father telling him as a child. "When you can understand that, you will no longer be a boy."