The following story somewhat addresses something I've been meaning to try for a while. A different Rika. A project where Rika is far from edgy.
Requiem for a Heart Song
“Are you a snow princess?”
I give the little girl in the bed beside me a smile.
After being in and out of the hospital so many times, I've started to get used to meeting people of all ages. Last time it was this lovely older lady with heart-disease, she was really kind. She even asked if I’d like to come and visit her when we both got out, though I haven’t taken her up on that yet.
This time, I’ve been given a younger neighbour. She’s tiny, no older than six or seven years old, and her eyes are the deepest shade of brown I’ve ever seen.
“I’m not, but I look like one huh?” The nurse attending her smiles as well. Hospitals can always do with a little more happiness, and it seems this adorable little lady is providing that free of charge. I’m not about to complain.
“Kaiko, this girl is Katayama, I hope you get along.” The nurse comments, fiddling around with something or another at the foot of her bed.
“Nice to meet you Kaiko,” I give her a little wave and she returns it excitedly, “you can call me Rika if you’d like.”
“Okay Rika!” Kaiko says, she’s got quite a few wires attached to her. Poor kid, I know the feeling. She doesn’t seem very fazed though.
“See, friends already!” The nurse and I share a laugh, whilst little Kaiko looks on amused. “Okay, Kaiko, what do you do if you need help?”
Kaiko brings her finger up and points it, then she makes a rocket-ship sound and directs it at the call button beside her bed. She makes a little explosion sound, and I can’t help but giggle.
“That’s right! I’m sure Katayama will be happy to explain anything you’re not sure about too.” I give an affirmative nod and stick my thumb up, causing Kaiko to smile sweetly. “Mummy and Daddy are going to be coming to see you tomorrow, so you’ve got to rest tonight and get to sleep nice and early okay?”
“Yes Miss Yoshida, I’ll be good I promise.” Kaiko responds, but she turns to me and gives me an extremely obvious wink. I can’t help but burst out laughing, and neither can the nurse, who finishes up with a few more signatures, and excuses herself.
“She seems like a nice lady,” I say to Kaiko, who’s sitting upright now and looking around the room curiously. She gives me a beaming smile and nods enthusiastically.
“Yep! She gave me a chocolate, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone that.”
I wink at her. “That’s okay, I’m good at keeping secrets.”
“So, what’s wrong with your light?”
“I’m sorry?” I reply, confused by her question, and by how quickly a child can confuse me.
“Daddy says that everyone has a light,” she taps her chest with a proud smile, “but some people need help getting theirs to shine!”
I think I know what she’s asking me.
“Your daddy sounds like a very smart man.”
“The smartest and the coolest! He said he’d take me to Disneyland once they fix my light!” She’s positively beaming, and I can see the ECG machine she’s attatched too speeds up a little bit. Thankfully they turn the beeping sound off when it’s regular or below a certain threshold. From that machine, and the way she’s holding her hand to her chest, I have a pretty good idea what’s wrong with her.
“Well,” I begin to say, but I’m not sure how exactly to word it. Should I tell her the name of my condition? That seems like overkill… “my heart doesn’t work very well, in fact, only half of it works normally so it’s got to work twice as hard!” That’s probably a sufficient explanation, and Kaiko doesn’t seem very confused. In fact, she seems happy.
“Me too.” She thinks for a moment, “well no.”
Well that was a rollercoaster. She quickly remembers what she’s talking about and points to her heart, so I lean in and give her my attention.
“Both halves work, but it doesn’t beat in time.” Kaiko laughs, “Daddy says’ I’m lucky, because I have my own song.” It sounds like she might have arrythmia.
“You know,” I say, making sure to keep her attention, “I think my boyfriend has the same thing.”
Her eyes widen, and by now her legs have kicked themselves free of her sheet.
“Does he have his own music?”
I can’t help but giggle again at that.
“He does, it’s very relaxing too.” The thought makes me smile. How many times have I fallen asleep listening to the sound of his heart? We’ve only been together a few months, hell, I’ve only known him
for a few months, but every time we’re together I just feel, I don’t know, at ease, I guess… I like the idea that his heartbeat is its own kind of music.
I can’t remember what my parents would tell me when I was younger, but the way Kaiko’s parents seem to be talking about her condition with her feels familiar. It’s the difference between growing up abnormal, and growing up special.
I guess I ended up doing both, but that wasn’t my parents’ fault. I think I realised somewhere along the way that being special had less to do with what you are, and more to do with what you do. Hisao taught me some of that, not on purpose, but by being so lost when I met him. Helping him felt like the right thing to do, and he definitely returned my investment with interest. He’s like a superhero now.
We were sitting on a bench in the park, maybe four months ago, when he told me he liked me. I think we’d sent Takeshi and Suzu off for some food or something, and he just said it and I kissed him hard and I didn’t want it to ever stop and my heart was racing and pumping, enough to get it screaming in my ears.
Thankfully, we both calmed down, and I was able to tell him back, it felt so incredible – like I could live forever.
That thought makes me a bit sad for a moment. I mean after all, that heart flutter I had a few days ago landed me in here. Then again, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet little Kaiko if things had been different. You can’t change fate, it’s the way of the world.
“Are you thinking about your boyfriend?” Kaiko asks, looking a bit mischievous. I get the distinct feeling she gets up to some trouble when she’s at home.
“Yeah, I am.” Kaiko smiles, so I continue. “His eyes are brown like yours.”
“Mummy says my eyes are sweet like chocolate…” she’s looking into my eyes now. I’ve had kids come up to me in street and ask me if I was a vampire before, but she doesn’t look scared like those children normally do…
“Your eyes are like fireworks!”
That’s… that’s what Hisao said too.
“Cool right?” I ask, and she nods in approval.
I should probably make sure this girl gets some sleep – that’s what the nurse said she needed, and the clock beside me reads quarter past nine anyway.
“Hey, Kaiko, we should get some sleep okay?”
Her cheerful smile quickly turns into a grumpy pout, it’s pretty cute.
“But I’m not even tired yet, and I’m having fun with you.”
Me too Kaiko, me too.
“Okay, tell you what, “I’m winging it a bit here but, “how about I keep the curtain divider open, that way it’s like we’re having a sleep over?”
That seems to do the trick, as she beams from cheek to cheek, clearly excited by the prospect.
It takes some time, but eventually Kaiko settles into her bed comfortably. She gives me one last smile before she closes her eyes, and though it’s quiet, I hear her mutter something under her breath.
“Thank you, princess Rika.”
Over the last few days I’ve been hospitalised alongside Kaiko, I’ve had the opportunity to meet the famous ‘Daddy’. He’s… interesting
. A very serious man, who seemed from the outside to be an important businessman, but once the nurse left the room, he was pulling faces and playing around with Kaiko like he didn’t have a care in the world. He bought us both chocolates, and even offered to get a book for me, though I turned him down. I told him I’ve been having a lot of fun getting to know his daughter, and it was clear from his smile he believed me.
I really feel a connection with her, like she’s a little me.
Anyway, she’s had a few more visitors alongside her father, like her mother. She’s quite young, as is her father, and I’ve probably never met anyone so soft spoken. She doesn’t have the strange dichotomy of her husband; I think what you see is what you get, which is a kind lady with good manners and a lot of love to give. Kaiko’s grandfather also came to see her, but I didn’t see much of him because I had to do some tests with the nursing staff.
Today, however, it’s my turn to get a visitor, and sure enough, there he is, standing in front of the doorway, metaphorical cape billowing behind him in all his glory.
“Hey Rika, do you come here often?” He says, a corny smile on his face.
“Hi stranger.” I’m about to say something along the lines of ‘not if I can help it,’ but he closes the distance between us, and places his hand on top of mine. I can’t really think straight.
“Is this him?” Kaiko asks, and I feel my cheeks begin to burn intensely. Hisao turns to face her with a confused look.
“Yeah, what do you think?” I ask, Hisao is still looking confused but he’s smiling. I think Kaiko has that affect on people, or maybe I do. That’s a nice thought.
I giggle, and Hisao looks like he’s not far behind joining me. I can tell he’s a little embarrassed, but he raises an eyebrow at me and parks his butt on the side of my bed.
“How much did she pay you to say that?” He asks Kaiko, still looking at me with an accusatory stare.
Kaiko looks guilty, and she glances over at me. Come on kid, hold strong, don’t give in.
“She gave me her milkshake.” She finally says, giving away our confidential secret. I make sure to laugh extra heartily so she knows I’m not really upset with her.
“Hisao, this little snitch is Kaiko.” I say, and Hisao gives her a polite nod. Kaiko is beaming from ear to ear again though, all this bedrest has given her way too much energy.
“I’m Rika’s sidekick!” She exclaims, standing to attention upright in her bed.
“Is that right?” Hisao asks, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Kaiko, thank you for looking after Rika for me.” He offers her a high five, and she readily accepts. Sounds like she smacked his hand quite hard.
“Rika thinks we have the same light!”
Hisao raises another confused eyebrow, and I tap my chest and give him a wink. I don’t think he gets it.
I think Kaiko realises he’s not getting it, so she continues, “we both have our own heart music!”
A look of realisation comes over his face, but for the first time since I’ve known him, he doesn’t look depressed at the mention of his condition. In fact, he looks pretty excited. I rub my thumb along the top of his hand, and he turns that infectious smile on me.
“Our own music huh?” I think back to a few days ago when Kaiko first told me about her heart music. Hisao seems to be going through the process I did, realising it’s a new and exciting way to think about his condition. The wonder of her world is contagious. “I like that idea Kaiko, maybe we should start a band.”
I giggle again. I knew he’d like her.
“You could be the broken heart girls.” I say, squeezing his hand and returning that smile from earlier.
“Nothing broken about us,” he says defiantly. He really has come a long way since we first met. He thinks for a moment, “how about, ‘Supraventricular Spectacular’?”
“Supra – Superven…” Kaiko tries and fails to repeat what Hisao said. I don’t blame her, what does that even mean? I sometimes wonder if all that Science club stuff he’s in to is a good influence or not. “Super Spectacular?” Kaiko finally says, outright giving up on repeating him. Good, that was a real mouthful, and my name was better anyway.
“I think that’s the best name so far,” I say, pinching Hisao on the butt for his absurd suggestion. He mutters something under his breath, but quickly returns a happy glance to Kaiko. “the Super Spectacular duo.” Hisao runs his hand through my hair, god that feels nice, and smiles.
“Aren’t you a member of the band?” He asks.
“I’m the agent.” I giggle, and even Hisao laughs now. I don’t think Kaiko knows what an agent is, but she smiles regardless.
She twiddles her fingers in her lap, and looks a little nervous. I’m not sure what she wants to ask, but I give her an encouraging smile.
“Mr Hisao… Can I hear your music please?”
It takes me a minute to realise what she’s asking him. I wasn’t quite expecting her to ask that, but then, Kaiko is probably the most curious child I’ve ever met. I squeeze his hand as reassurance. I don’t think he’ll say no, but I imagine he’s feeling pretty uncomfortable with the request. My smile says, ‘you can do it!’, or, ‘I love you,’ or ‘chickpea’.
Smile’s aren’t a very reliable language.
His confidence falters for a moment, but he returns my squeeze and stands up from the bed. He gives Kaiko a warm smile. “Okay, can I have your hand please?” She obliges, and holds her little hand out for him – something inside me feels really tingly when I see Hisao’s hand take hers… it’s possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s including yesterday, when Kaiko had some ice cream stuck on the end of her little nose.
He gently places two of her fingers under his neck and leans in close. She closes her eyes, listening to the throbbing in her fingers, the music of Hisao’s heart. I wish I had a camera.
They stay like that for a few minutes, the whole room filled with their silence. Then Kaiko opens her eyes, withdraws her hand, and her face lights up with joy. I can tell that despite his reservations, Hisao’s happy too.
“He really is like me!” She says giddily, before placing her own fingers under her neck. “Beep, beep, beep beep beep, beep,”. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Hisao like this. Sure, in the few months we’ve been together he’s gotten more comfortable with his situation, more at peace with himself, but right now, right here, he’s, he’s my superman.
I smile at both of them. I think, even though it’s a hospital and I have this damn IV digging into me, I could stay in this moment forever.
“Hisao,” I say, and he turns his head to give me his attention. “I may or may not have promised Kaiko you would read us a story.”
He looks at me with an innocent smile, one that says, ‘of course you did you rascal,’ or ‘the keys are under the potted whale meat.’ Again, smiles aren’t a very clear form of communication.
“You did huh? Well it’s a good thing I brought my book then isn’t it.”
He reaches over to my bed, where he deposited his rucksack. After rummaging around inside for a few moments, he pulls out a thin looking sci-fi novel. There’s a book mark in the middle, but he opens it from the first page and once again sits down on the end of my bed. Kaiko turns over onto her side to face him, and snuggles into her pillow. Before he begins reading, he pinches my toes at the bottom of the bed. I yelp, and the three of us giggle again.
With one hand holding the pages open, and another gently stroking my hair, Hisao begins to read from… uh… After the dream.
It’s some story about multiple timelines interacting with one another, from the sound of it, it’s very interesting.
After forty minutes or so of reading, Kaiko’s breathing slows down to a gentle rise and fall. Evidently she’s fallen asleep. Hisao notices too, and slowly closes the novel in his hands. I’d liked to have heard some more, but I won’t give up the opportunity to have some alone time with Hisao, or as close as we can get.
He leans in and kisses me on the forehead, sending electricity all over my body.
“Hi.” He whispers.
“Hi.” I whisper back.
“She’s cute.” He takes my hand and starts to stroke it gently, but I, I want something else.
I take my hand from his and point towards my lips with a smile. He obliges, and leans in. His kiss is everything to me, and every part of me trembles from it. Even if I’m feeling fine now, I always get frightened when I wind up in the hospital. It happens quite a lot, but that doesn’t change that feeling.
“I was worried about you.” He pulls away from our kiss and reaches for my hand again. I’m happy to oblige, and again his fingers trace their way across my own. “At least you’ve got this little bundle of joy for company. Think you could smuggle her out when you leave?”
I laugh and roll my eyes. “Hisao that’s really creepy!” He gets flustered for a moment, obviously that’s not how he intended it to come across. But I squeeze his hand in reassurance. “She asked me if I was a snow princess when I met her.”
He laughs, “I guess you do kind of resemble one.”
“Princess Rika has a nice ring to it.” I say, and he lifts my hand and gives it a kiss.
“M’Lady,” oh god never mind.
We both laugh, still hushed to avoid waking Kaiko. Hisao’s face becomes very serious all of a sudden.
“Is she going to be okay?” He asks, the concern in his voice practically dripping onto me.
I give him a reassuring smile. “Yeah, her dad spoke to me yesterday. He said she’s just being monitored at the moment. They’re doing a minor operation in a few days, but it’s not very risky.”
Hisao immediately looks relieved. I have to admit, it was nice to hear that myself. I reach over to the table beside my bed and grab one of the chocolates left over from when Kaiko’s father visited. When I offer it to Hisao, he looks confused for a moment, but accepts it and pops it into his mouth.
“Kaiko’s dad gave me these. He’s really nice, the whole family is.”
He smiles, and begins to run his hand up and down my arm. It feels nice.
“Yyaor – “he swallows, “you know, she reminds me a bit of you.”
I know what he means, but I want to hear him explain it anyway. “How so?”
“She’s pretty upfront, and clearly very inquisitive.” Something about that makes him chuckle, “It reminds me of how we first got together, when I was feeling depressed at the festival. You were very… insistent.”
That’s a pleasant memory. After we spent the day together, he started joining me for lunch with my friends, and then I joined him a few times, with his friends, Suzu and Takeshi. About a month later he confessed to me, and we shared our first kiss. It’s been about four months now, and there’s uh, there’s still some things we haven’t tried yet, but I think we’re getting there. I think I’m falling in love with him.
“Was it something I said?” he asks, my cheeks suddenly warm after thinking about the things we’re yet to do and the things I’m nearly ready to say.
“N-no. I’m just remembering the last few months.”
He gives me a curious smile, but leans back a little, relaxing and enjoying the memories.
After what feels like hours, I take a glance at the mechanical clock on the beside table. Hisao’s eyes follow mine.
I don’t want him to go, in fact, if I could, I’d smuggle him under the covers here with me. But the visiting times are almost over, and from the look on his face, Hisao knows it. We don’t say anything, but he gives me a solemn nod and stands up from my bed.
“I’ll be waiting for you.” He says, dropping another kiss on my forehead. This feels sad. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m out in two days, can we go on a date when I’m back?” I ask, hopefully cheering us both up a little.
“Sure, I look forward to it.” He’s about to put his book away when he stops, and puts it beside me instead. “You could keep reading it to her.”
I like that idea, so I take it with a grateful smile. After hoisting his bag from the ground, he starts heading out, but stops just before the door. He gives me one last look, then glances over to Kaiko.
“Take care of my Rika please Kaiko.” He says, and then, with one more handsome smile, he disappears around the door.
Yeah, I’m nearly ready to tell him.