We follow indentations in the sand when we walk along the beach. No one must ever know we came this way and so we slot our feet into cracks, leap gracefully from shallow hole to hole, contort our bodies into twisted loops just to avoid leaving a single mark that would speak of our passing. It is not because we are worried that we do it, fearful of someone following.
We are ninjas. And ninjas go unseen.
Ninjitsu is an ancient art, but Helen and I have mastered its three central tenets from an old dusty manual we found in my garage. The first law is also the most important: ninjas go unseen, and to do this we have studied the technique of passing without passing. To be a ninja, you must be truly invisible — to be unobserved in the moment, yes, but also in hindsight. The greatest forensic minds of a generation are incapable of discerning our presence. We are dry water, fluid and amorphous, flowing into crevices and oozing out again without dampening the soil. We are a stiff breeze that rustles through the corn stalks but then leaves them as they were.
When we practice passing without passing in Hennison’s yard, I’m the only one who gets yelled at because Helen is too short to be seen above the long grass. She is younger than me, but her ninjitsu must be stronger because she deflects blame like a ninja deflects the gaze of onlookers. Our mothers accuse me of being a bad influence on her, and I’ve never told them it was Helen’s idea to crawl about in the mud beneath the house because petty feelings like spite are unknown to the order of living shadows. Instead I smile and nod and accept their scolding with equanimity, secure with the calmness inside of me.
This is the second secret art of ninjas, being without being. Our bodies are conduits for silence; we channel the quiet of the universe and reshape it into our fury. We do not disturb the natural order and so we are undisturbed in turn. It is a great gift, and I am much better at the second art than Helen is. She gets upset often when people tease her or when things don’t go her way, but she is still very young and inexperienced and the second art requires the accumulated years of wisdom that age provides.
This is how the manual says it: “The accumulated years of wisdom,” with a picture of an old, contented wise man who I am not sure has much to do with ninjitsu. The manual used to belong to my dad. He says it’s a joke, but I think he’s just sad he couldn’t master its lessons, because I always hear him shouting over the phone which he wouldn’t if he’d learned the second art.
The third and final art is the most secret and mysterious of all. It is the art of knowing without knowing. It’s the most mysterious because Helen and I aren’t sure what it means. The third chapter has a picture of a raging sea crashing down on itself and a sword on the ground with a bent and broken blade, which I think are metaphors but Helen says are analogies for something else. Either way, our training as ninjas will be incomplete until we decipher its meaning. If we work hard and master the manual’s first and second lessons, though, I am sure that the third art will become clear.
And then I will finally be the silent typhoon and Helen the wrathful tiger that the manual has promised.
Image credit JassyLaw on Deviantart