Chapter 4: Anger I Didn’t Know I Had
I don’t really have any friends. That’s the idea that squats at the back of my head, like a big black toad, eating flies and croaking. But I do, I do, I keep telling myself. And then, I don’t. I keep dreaming of the plane as it takes off from Sendai Airport. “Goodbye, Lilly!” we should be saying.
In my dreams, all I see is a big black car, a big black horse, a big black aircraft, and Lilly in a big black box. I know I’m repeating myself a lot, and that’s bad style, but my dreams are big and black, and when I wake up, I’m always so cold.
I don’t want to dream of heat either. When I do, my dreams are all about fire and smoke, everything happening behind my back while I can’t see what’s happening. I never have a night in which I don’t dream, never a peaceful night.
It’s as if I’m writing all these words down in my computer. I feel my fingers flying easily over the keyboard, a demon journalist whose every thought is becoming perfectly typeset material. And then I wake up, and I snatch at all the words as they escape my sleepy head, and this is all I’ve caught.
Hisao sometimes has black moods and doesn’t keep in touch. I think about him, and I wonder if he thinks about me. I haven’t heard from him since yesterday. Sighing softly to myself, I rub ointment into the thickened skin on my right side, the daily ritual that literally stops me from cracking up. I don’t look at myself more than I have to. I just do it, then put my clothes on for a new day of people-avoidance.
I think of my day as a white piece of paper. It blackens slowly as people and things and places and events mess it up. But by night, everything is dark anyway, so you can start with a clean sheet in the morning. Hisao, on the other hand, it’s as if he wants both black and white, so that he can decide if he will do black one day and white another.
There’s a knock on the door. I can’t help but look around. But there’s nobody in here but me, in my Spartan little room. “C-coming!” I announce, my throat as dry as ever. I hate that stutter, but it takes time for the air to come cleanly out of my lungs.
I open the door.
My friends! I’m not sure exactly how I feel, but seeing Naomi and Natsume and Misaki seems good, as if some peculiar warmth is nuzzling me under my ribs.
Then I notice the expressions on their faces. They’re all staring at me! Why? Instinctively, my hand reaches up to my face. “W-what’s the matter?”
“Hanako!” they all say at the same time.
Natsume, ever the bossy one, waves a hand in the air. It’s such a strange thing to do, but I’ve seen her do it before. For some reason, everyone keeps quiet when her hand does that. She’s glaring at me. No, not glaring, staring. Frightened?
“Hanako, Nakai’s in hospital!”
The shock hits me like a punch in the guts. My mouth opens, but I can’t get any air out. “H… h…” — nothing, I can’t say anything!
Natsume doesn’t wait. She continues, while I gasp. “Naomi went to look for him, to check the interview transcript. But he wasn’t around. Saki told her he’d been taken ill while having tea at the Shanghai.”
Tea? At the Shanghai? I feel shame, because my first thought isn’t about whether he’s all right, but about whom he was having tea with.
“The Shanghai?” is all that comes out of my treacherous lips.
Naomi opens her mouth, but Misaki steps on her foot and Naomi shuts up. I notice all of that. People are so obvious sometimes. I glare at Naomi, who looks very uncomfortable.
“Somebody… who was there…” she begins.
Natsume interrupts her. “Maeda saw Saki and one of our juniors having tea with Nakai. Saki got up to settle the bill, and while she was away, the other girl was having a very intense conversation. Then suddenly Nakai got up from his seat, walked towards the door, stumbled, and fell.”
“W-who was this other girl?”
“Katayama. Rika, the albino with the very long hair.”
I’ve seen her before. Pretty. Like my day before people step all over it. I wish I could be as white as that. So, Hisao, you’ve been having tea with elegant Enomoto and graceful Katayama, have you? You must have recovered a lot faster than I thought you would have.
I find myself biting my lip hard enough to taste blood.
“Does anyone know how he is?” I ask. It’s the right thing to say. It comes out smoothly, like milk pouring from a carton. White words. Words with no meaning.
“We were thinking of visiting him after school,” Misaki says. “But we thought we’d ask your permission first, in case you knew something about his case.”
That makes no sense at all. Maybe I’m dreaming, having one of those surrealist nightmares that come with low-budget reading like Martel and Murakami.
“You don’t need my permission,” I hear myself saying. “He’s got some medical condition that means he can’t take too much stress, I think. But lying down in a hospital bed, he’s not likely to die.”
The words are so smooth, so white, like the sterilized surfaces of a hospital room. I’m not even stuttering. It’s like white chocolate. It tastes terrible, but you eat it because sometimes it’s better than nothing.
White chocolate and blood in my mouth. Almost like Rika Katayama. With sudden realization, I think I know something new about Hisao. He’s been looking for anybody who is the opposite of me—he’s been looking for a long-haired girl with pale hair and eyes that aren’t the colour of mud. And probably, someone with a smooth, flawless complexion.
That’s okay. I’ve always known I’m not the most beautiful girl in the room. I might be prettier than only Misha and Shizune, at least half the time, but I’m quite comfortable with being me. I don’t think Hisao would sleep with either of them, so there’s that.
I can’t even recognize my own thoughts. They’re like lightning in my head. They’re not me!
“Would you like to come with us? After school we’ll check in with Nurse and see if he has anything else to say about Nakai.”
“If nobody’s doing Newspaper Club, then I might as well come along, Misaki.”
I sound stiff, like a schoolteacher.
Natsume looks at the others, then looks at me. “Okay. Let’s get to class though, we can’t be excused for being late merely because we were gossiping about Nakai!”
In our school, people are always ending up in the infirmary. Sometimes, the worse cases end up in the hospital a few kilometres down the road. The worst ones end up in the morgue, I suppose, which is what a newspaper archive is also called. Such morbid thoughts.
I grab my books and shut the door behind me. Taller than all my friends now that Lilly isn’t around anymore, I feel like a reluctant flagship leading a squadron on the way to the open sea.
The schoolday is a blur. I sit at the back of the class, but because my brain isn’t thinking very well, I don’t feel the usual urge to run away to a quiet spot in the library. I just stare at my desk and do any work that comes to me.
My friends stop trying to talk to me after a while. They start again at lunchtime, when we each grab a bento box in the cafeteria and head towards the Newspaper Club table. I answer with polite little phrases, clean and white. By the time we get back to class, they’ve stopped again.
I think I understand something now, though. I’m angry. I also know what I’m angry about, and whom I’m angry with.
I’m not angry with Lilly. She has a family, and if I had one, I’d do anything for them. I’m not angry with Akira, because she’s the big sister in that family, and she doesn’t get to have a choice. I’m just sad for both of them.
I’m not angry with Saki Enomoto, who is a bit like Naomi. They both need to play games with people. It makes them feel better. But if you don’t play, they can’t do anything about it.
I’m not angry with Rika Katayama, who can’t help being fragile and beautiful and unhappy and glamorous. Deformed daughter of a mob boss, or whatever she is, she’s like me—we can’t help looking the way we do, and people tend to run away or try to protect us.
I’m not angry with the boy. He’s just a boy. He fell in love with Lilly and had sex with her in the room next to mine. Boys do that, if they’re not doing something else. And now he has tea with Rika and she does something to his heart. So what?
I’m angry with me. I’m so aimless, so pointless. I’m everybody’s shadow, stuck halfway between black and white most of the time. I don’t have ambitions, I only have occasional dreams of things I might want to be. I haven’t been working towards those dreams. I always think: it might happen, it might not, whatever.
I need to take control of something. Maybe I should wake Hisao up from his short, sad dream of being normal. Maybe, I should do a Shizune on him.
It’s suddenly the end of the day. My friends are packing up. In a short while, they’ll be dragging me along to the hospital. What have I been thinking? I can’t be like Shizune. It’s just not me.
But… what is?