I'm back! And I'm not dead! COVID-19 plus a lot of stuff like exams and prep had occupied large portions of my schedule, and toss in the usual behaviours of ideas, that is akin to cats - they never listen to you and laugh at how helpless you are without them above your heads, led to the rather ... well, I feel like its a bit extreme delay. Not like the delay when I was rewriting, no, but this is a chapter I had already written and just needed to get fixed. And its that bad still.
I still have to watch K-on for this fic though
Shoot. I forgot to address this. Sorry! If there's one thing I feel like I can reliably promise and not forget, its to remove the requirement of you guys watching K-On for this. Ritsu will explain everything as the story goes; after all, Hisao doesn't know anything, does he? So yeah, I'll be picking up the slack and do the legwork. Y'all can just sit back and enjoy the show.
Speaking of enjoying the show, here's Scene 7! A two-parter, cuz it's long.
Scene 7: Short Trip
I ponder for a moment at the crossroad, considering if I should just go back to my room and hole up there for the rest of the day, or head out to the store Saki pointed out on the map I have in my pocket. I watch as the small crowd around me turns towards the dormitories, pausing under a tree. Well, when in doubt if I want to go or do something, I consider the practical approach.
I’ve got nothing in my room. No food. Only water, and even that is downstairs. At least I heard it’s there. I don’t know where, but if there’s not even a water dispenser then I doubt the prestige of this establishment. So if I head back there, after all--
I cast a glance at my stomach, before rolling my eyes. Well, that solves the question. I’ll be back later then.
The sun is already touching the horizon when I reach the gates.
Seeing those gates again makes me feel weird. It was just yesterday that I decided that the gate is a barrier between me and my now unreachable past. And now, here I am, coming back as if I’m looking for a second round. Maybe I should fistfight the bars? I purse my lips for an instant; that would hurt like hell. Instead I just pass through the gate again, studying its byzantine crenelations and decorative patterns, and I can’t help but hope at least a small chance that things will return to the way they used to be.
Of course it didn’t. Oh well.
I put those thoughts on hold as I look around to ascertain where I am. The road here goes both ways, right and left. To my right, it seems to lead nowhere recognizable except the fact it goes even deeper into the hills. But a street sign by the bus stop next to the gates seems to say there’s a town in that direction. I shake my head; I truly am at the edge of the world, huh.
To my left, it’s a constant walk downhill, but at least I can see the destination. Hoisting my bag up my shoulders, I keep to the side overlooking the forest below as I make my way down. It’s strange though; yesterday I’m certain I saw a large number of students heading outside, so I figured today I’d be among them heading down to this town I see. Today though, everything is silent. There’s only me here, with each footfall echoing loudly in the light evening breeze.
Maybe I’m just late. The sun’s almost setting, after all.
Oh well, whatever. It’ll be a quick in and out grocery run.
With only the winds accompanying me, I start recalling my actions here so far. Two days in, and I’m already caught in some of this school’s shenanigans. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, but a part of me is glad I’m not squatting in my room all evening. I did something to help, and that’s a good start I suppose. And Misha wasn’t kidding when they said they’re running out of time, as everyone’s working frantically to get their stalls done for the festivals this weekend. The music club was no exception; with their grand project of a performance for this festival, as Saki explained to me when we carried the boxes of instruments over to the construction site, had been something planned since last year.
“It’s a shame,” she said, although the irritation in her voice betrayed her choice of words. “We could’ve saved a lot of our budget and efforts by just using the auditorium, but even with the help of the student council the school’s administration wouldn’t budge.” They gave strange reasons why the auditorium is off limits, but sometimes there are things even Shizune can’t win, she said. I wondered what Shizune has to do with this, but I didn’t ask.
I look down the road as it curves around the slopes of the hillside ahead of me. I don’t know. Why did I choose the music club? I know I wanted to do something with my life; hell, that desire had been bottled up for the last four months I was trapped in that prison of a hospital. I don’t want to be back there, never again. But, now that I’m out, I’m here in this strange place I’ve been put in. I’ve been given an unwanted chance to rebuild from scratch, and I start with the same thing I started my old life.
Arguably it was my first passion, a hobby that I took up on my own and something I voluntarily got good in for my own enjoyment, not my grades.
My old school had split their music club into its various constituents based on genres, with the orchestra ending up as the largest. Takumi and I became part of the orchestra, primarily because initially we just needed something to pass the time and the club requirement that school had. But after a while we discovered that we both prefered another entirely different genre, Takumi and I split from the orchestra club in rebellion against the president. Afterwards, we met and took in Mai and Shin, who were left alone in the aftermath of the dissolution of the music club.
It was fun, composing our own songs, playing them. Our performances were our own, made from Mai’s melodies, my songwriting, Shin’s proficiency in editing software, and Takumi’s social contacts. All of us played something, and all of us worked to make our songs a reality. Sure, there had been troubles here and there, but we pulled through all of them together.
I genuinely thought our path was where none of us would split apart. And I knew that they thought the same as well.
Until that heart attack came and ruined it all.
My fingers instinctively touch my sternum, above where my misshapen heart beats its erratic rhythm. It’s a little more irregular; maybe it’s from helping Saki carry those boxes to the stage. Well, the Nurse did say I should do light walks, and I reckon I have surpassed today’s quota walking all over the place with big heavy crates and cases everywhere.
I don’t know. A part of me wants to blame Iwanako for breaking apart what I thought was an unbreakable circle we had going. But I keep remembering that day; the day I blew up at the one and only friend I could count on. I’m at fault as well.
I shouldn’t have done that. Try as I might to justify my actions and thoughts, it all leads to me being a depressive idiot. I didn’t have anything to do to keep my mind off of the fact I’m disabled? Why in the world did I not ask Shin, or Mai, or Takumi even, to bring a pad of paper if I can’t strum a tab or two with my guitar in the ward? I wanted to ask for help getting out. I could have just told Takumi, even though he might not be the best person to ask. I can already see him blasting off at the poor receptionist, and chuckle to myself at the sight.
I had so many things I wanted to say, yet I didn’t say any of them. Why?
In a way, I guess I trusted them, or at the very least, him, enough to believe that they’d look up what it’s like to live through a heart attack, and ending up like this. But, when he said it, I felt betrayed. And I still am. Takumi and I, we’ve been together for twelve years, and I spent a lot of it listening to his troubles, his joys, his issues. What little time I had in between taking care of my own life in the absence of my parents I dedicated to figuring out what I could do to help. He and his family had helped me countless times when we were younger. My parents were there for me only during infancy. Afterwards they slowly faded out of my life, and I was left to fend for myself. At least that’s what they said to me. Anyhow, it was the best I could do to repay the favor.
However, when I needed him the most, he turned his back and left even earlier than Iwanako did.
A few days after the argument, she came back. Iwanako knocked on the door, stepped inside with a quiet nod of a greeting, and sat there on the couch. She didn’t do anything except sitting there. I did nothing either. But I didn’t care. Deep inside, I was spitting curses at her for driving me and Takumi to the point he didn’t even respond to my calls. I didn’t say them out loud, but eventually, she got the message. After an hour of silence, she left.
A whisper of a breeze blows past me, waking me from the memory. I look up, at the horizon. Now the trio is over in Yokohama, and here I am in Sendai, in another school. A school dedicated for the disfigured, the marred, the damaged, and sometimes the unlucky. They abandoned me here and decided to cut me off from everything.
Okay, setting aside all they had done and how I’m only partially at fault for this, say if they really want to drop me off at the end of the earth with little help, what should I do?
Well, I answered that question already; in a way, I’m now part of the music club here. But, what’s next?
Should I try to get to know people here?
Every passing moment here I feel like I’m walking on eggshells.
It’s pretty obvious why some of the students are here. That dark-haired girl for example; she obviously has some serious scarring. And the countless, faceless people with navigation canes and their conspicuously unfocused eyes, they’re the blind and that’s good to know. Same for Shizune; she has her sign language. Even then, some of those who live here look like they could live elsewhere and none would be the wiser as to their conditions. Take Saki, for example. Aside from her cane, she looks as healthy as any other girl I’ve seen in my second year back in my old school. Granted, I haven’t asked her what her… What’s the word for it... Issue? What her issue is. The word disability feels wrong, disrespectful. It leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth, sorely reminding me why I’m here myself.
And that’s another problem. How do
I talk to the people here about that? If I am to rebuild my life here, I’ll need to know how to make conversation with the students here, or at least with the teaching staff. I can’t rely on letting them start things off; Misha and Shizune might have done that, yes, but even I can tell that’s not going to be the case with a lot of people here, going with the unlucky part of my definition of this institute. Who knows, they could be the same as I was when I was still back in the hospital...
Actually, I’d rather keep my distance from those kinds of folks.
Whatever it is, using the term disabled sounds disrespectful, at least to me, and from my two days here it’s enough to show that most of those who aren't
full of themselves like I was four months ago they’re little different from anyone else, really. Even Saki insisted that these details are trivial unless stated not to be. Take away their disabilities, and they could fit in any other school, she said.
It’s just me.
It’s nothing trivial to me; it’s not something they take as an inconvenience. For me, this heart is something that defines a certain point where I’m no longer where I usually am, and now I’m in a place I’ve never been in before.
Sort of like being exiled, actually.
And I don’t know how to take that trivially.
I know I’m not fine.
The doctors themselves told me there is no cure. It’s not something where you can spend a couple of hours on the table and come out fixed. Yet, why did everyone I knew, treat it as a phase? For four months I had been told the same thing so many times - by the head cardiologist, by my parents, by my old friends, by Iwanako … and by Takumi too - that I had grown to despise it. If they, who never felt a single brush with death, told me that it’s nothing to worry about, then the people who do know what it’s like and dismiss it would definitely tell me the same.
If that happens, I won’t be able to hold it off. I already blew up at Takumi over it.
I know I’m not fine, and that’s alright. But don’t tell me I will be fine.
Don’t ever tell me I’ll be fine.
I stop myself just in time to realize that the concrete sidewalk has ended, and there’s asphalt ahead of me. Planting my feet on the ground, I look around to re-orient myself. I’m at a crosswalk now. I press the signal box to start the countdown so I can cross. Here are more definite signs of civilization; an honest-to-god town ahead of me and some cars passing by, already turning on their lights. I check my watch; it’s half past six. I still have some more time before curfew. As soon as the lights turn red and the green man appears above it, I cross over, pulling out the scrap of paper containing Saki’s directions.
The forest gives way to a more developed part of civilization as her directions take me further into the town. The familiar sight of concrete buildings reminds me a lot of Yokohama back home. I follow the main street, or at least what I assume to be it, passing by various little ramen and udon restaurants, hawker stalls and other miscellaneous establishments. Many of them have already turned on their lights, transitioning to their night shifts. Their glow dominates the sidewalks as the sun above dims in the evening sky. Among the crowd, I notice a few other students of Yamaku milling about. I don’t see any faces I recognize, though.
When I first saw the town and its modern concrete architecture, I thought the gate back there actually brought me back. For a brief moment, I thought I could find Takumi somewhere in here, as he usually spends his evenings out with his friends and me. It takes me another moment to realize that there’s no distinctly familiar sight anywhere; no landmarks that I recognize, no signposts that we mentally labeled as a place to regroup and depart from for the night. And most of all, unlike home, this town seems to be more populated by the elderly and those past middle age; a great number of those I see have wrinkled faces and hands, graying hair, and some are relying on canes, like Saki. Sure, there are the occasional young mothers with their toddler children wandering, as well as the students of the local national schools, made apparent by their different uniforms. There’s even a Shinto monk in his full garment, presumably on the way to his shrine.
I definitely don’t remember seeing a lot of that kind of people around, back in my locale. A lot of the crowd back there were working people, on their way back to their homes or heading to pubs to get drunk. There’s even one time Takumi and I saw a man in a typical white-collar suit in full drunken stupor, laughing at his similarly dressed friend, who was unconscious by a trash can. We didn’t really do anything to them, but the sight of them, and their incoherent mumbling, made us laugh a bit. The memory makes me smile, for a second.
The crowd here consists predominantly of the old and the retired, quietly sitting by their favorite hawker stalls with lightly steaming cups of tea in their hands, gossiping or watching the world pass by them. What a strange sight, so familiar yet so alien.
Everything feels so different.
I spot the store Saki told me about, a block down the main road, sitting in a quiet offshoot of a side-street. It appears pretty similar to the convenience stores I’ve seen and been to countless times back home, and the same company sign above the entrances makes me feel nostalgic coming here. Even the bell sounds the same as I enter.
I clap the sides of my head. Right, I’m here to look for some quick food for dinner, not revel in familiar sights.
Ambling down an aisle, I scan the products for things I can afford, or at least want. I notice how the staff didn’t even bat an eyelid at a student wandering in this late. Considering how close Yamaku is, and its status as a boarding school, I guess the staff are used to students who live there coming down here for a quick trip for groceries. Seeing how different the students of this school are, I’m half expecting the cashier to be sneaking a few furtive glances my way, but as I look at the counter, she’s still minding her own business.
I shrug it off. At least that’s one less pair of eyes watching me.
With a basket filled with some confectioneries, I find the aisle for the precooked boxed meals section. Just as I reach out for a package of precooked chicken rice, I notice a partially gloved hand reaching for the same thing and pull back. She pulls hers back as well.
I look up at the owner and see the hairband girl staring at me. For a brief moment, our gazes lock. Her hazel eyes glisten in the artificial light, and they seem warm and inviting, familiar almost. But in that same instant I can’t help but notice that behind her somewhat concerned expression is a sense of fatigue. She seems withdrawn, exhausted. I break the lock by turning elsewhere. From the way she was acting today, and what she has been through, a part of me insists on not breaking the ice, but. Here’s an opportunity, man. Go for it, I tell myself.
“You can take it,” I chip in, trying to defuse the awkward moment between us. “I can take the other one.”
She stays silent, before taking it for herself, looking elsewhere as well. But she doesn’t move from her spot.
As I pick up my meal and dump it in my basket, I decide to push it. “So, uh … Hey, I know I didn’t do much, but I transferred here the other day. You remember that?”
She maintains her silence, but the slight furrow of her brows and staring at me from the side of her vision suggest she’s probably trying to remember. I take that as a probable yes; she seems to be the quiet type. “I’m still trying to get used to the place,” I continue, with a hand scratching the back of my neck, “and I figured I should try to get to know people. So, er …” Should I ask?
Eh, screw it. I’m here already.
“What’s your name?”
Okay. That’s the first time I had heard her voice, and uh, hmm. On the other hand, I have a distinct feeling she answered out of courtesy. Where do I, uh, go from here? “Ritsu, hmm,” I repeat to myself, stealing glances at her while trying to not get her attention. I notice she only has that package in her hand, and nothing else. “Not feeling up for cafeteria food tonight?”
She looks at the package in her gloved hand and turns away. “I felt like eating something else,” she responds flatly.
Is she not picking up anything else? If I’m her I would pick up something more. “Only that though?”
Her brows furrowed even tighter, and her sideways stare turns into an irritated glare. What, I was -- oh. I pull back, holding my hands up to my chest as I back off a bit. I want to apologize for being intrusive, but she turns away instead.
Very smooth, Hisao.
With a sigh, I take my package and walk over to the previous aisle for another chocolate bar. I honestly want to kick myself for that; what the hell was that attempt?! I get angry at people for not knowing what to say around me back then, yet I don’t even know how to talk to strangers. Did all those years I spent around Takumi erode my attempts at making new friends on my own?
This is quite the revelation. Looking back as I head to the cashier, Ritsu is a little behind me, arriving as I wait for the cashier to be done.
I quickly run through my mind for ways to revive the conversation and ways to keep it up, but with it ending as abruptly as it did, I can’t think of any other ways without adding more to the awkwardness. In addition to that, maybe she doesn’t even want to talk, knowing what happened earlier today. Which, I understand; even I would bear a grudge for the rest of the day, because that’s another set of clothes to wash. The cashier takes my payment and promptly gives me back the change.
I walk outside, only to see the blackness of the night sky above me. The sun has set.
I realized a bit too late why she wanted a convenience store dinner to begin with. Ritsu left the cafeteria with that sort of situation and passive-aggressiveness, leaving her tray for someone else to deal with. So, it makes sense why she doesn’t want to face them again if she doesn’t even want to talk to me. To add to that, who the hell am I to assume she’s only going to pick that package up and nothing else? “Talk about a really bad first impression, Hisao,” I say to myself, pinching my forehead in irritation, “real nice of you.” Looking for distractions, I pull out one of the chocolate bars I bought and take a bite, just as she exits the store.
Ah. I have an idea.
With a chocolate bar in my mouth I take the other one out of my bag. I intended that to be a snack for tomorrow, but I don’t mind giving it to her if it could smooth over my mistakes, no matter how unlikely that is. Unaware I’m there I hand it over to her as she comes closer, surprising her. “Here,” I garble around the chocolate bar in my mouth, “have it.”
Her neutral expression quickly changes to a frown. “Why?”
I shrug as with the other, plastic bag-laden hand I take the bar out of my mouth. “Think of it as an apology.”
She looks at me as her frown softens, and gingerly takes the bar out of my hand. As we wait for the road crossing sign to chance, she stays at a not so considerable distance from me. The girl’s already eating it quietly, taking bites off of the bar.
I never really found scenes of someone eating to be particularly cute, but I discover that this girl seems to be an exception: She clumsily holds the bar in her hands, both of which are enveloped in black wrist braces that limit her fingers’ movements and nibbles at the bar with a soft frown. All the while she tries to hold on to her plastic bag. Overall I find it very cute.
Now that she’s closer, I can finally take a good look at her. Ritsu’s somewhat shorter than I expected from the few times I spotted her in the distance - almost as short as Shizune. Her distinctive muted yellow hairband holds up a considerable amount of her dirty-walnut bangs, as her hair is swept back behind her head, leaving her forehead exposed. Two longer locks of hair at the ends of the hairband touch her shoulders, flanking her overcast face. She stills wears her uniform, but has taken off her jacket and tied the sleeves around her waist like a skirt. And unlike Shizune and her black leggings, she wears none at all, with only a pair of socks to tie it off.
Her eyes though, remain the most enticing feature. I don’t really know how it concerns me but it does. I saw the incident back in the cafeteria, and by her reactions to the girls she left to deal with her spilled tray, she probably made enemies in the past. But here, I don’t see a juvenile delinquent as my initial impression of her was, one I expected to have little regard for the rules. But I don’t see a bullied person either, who would hold on to hope that things will be fine one day.
Despite the brilliance in her eyes, I see an exhausted and broken girl. She doesn’t want to be here, yet here she is.
I take a deep breath before continuing. “I saw what happened earlier today.”
Ritsu stays silent.
“Sorry for annoying you like that.”
“I don’t mind,” I hear her mumble.
“And since you told me your name, I’m Hisao. Hisao Nakai.”
She merely nods, finally tearing off all of the chocolate bar’s wrapping.
A short moment of silence fills the emptiness between us as we walk back, surrounded by the din of the crowd. Speaking of that, the crowd hasn’t lessened at all; instead, it seems that as the night progresses it gets denser. The sky above gives way to the dark night, lit only by the stores’ and restaurants’ windows, display glasses and doorways. I check on Ritsu as she’s jostled closer to me by the denser mass of people, pushed together so that her shoulder touches my arm. I don’t pay it any mind, and by the looks she’s too preoccupied with the chocolate, or something else on her mind, to notice it either. I don’t want to try to talk over the din of the night walkers, and I’m certain I’m not going to hear her low volume as it is. So, we keep the silence on the way back, and before long we reach the road crossing.
The sign turns green, and we cut across at an even pace to the other side. Once we’re freed from the crowd, she steps away from me, pausing at an arm’s length. Every now and then, I catch her glancing at me, but there’s no intention other than suspicion in her eyes.
I don’t blame her to be honest. I did a bad
Nevertheless, through our entire walk back to campus, I don’t try to strike up a conversation, mainly because of that awkward note earlier. I also just prefer to quietly immerse myself in the peaceful evening air. The notion of missing curfew slips my mind if we’re returning this late already, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I had in mind to spend the evening of my second day here. But Ritsu doesn’t seem to mind. Sure, she’s staring at me as if expecting I might come up with another insensitive quip, but she’s the first person in what feels like an eternity that doesn’t immediately try to make my issues an issue.
Everyone I can remember always tries to put up an apologetic face whenever they’re around me, and wishes me the best of luck in recovering. Pitying me. Shin told me to not be so full of myself. My parents told me I should wake up from this nightmare. Takumi told me it’s not that big of a deal.
Looking back, I’m getting an inkling of how Shizune and Misha tried to say the same by taking me off on a tour of the place. And what Saki said was undeniable; she thinks it’s nothing big either.
Ritsu’s the first person who doesn’t try to repress what I’ve been through, solely through her own decision to not speak.
It’s a strange feeling.
It is as if her presence and quietness alone is enough to convince me to lower my guard. I look at her and back at the sky above.
Down the road, I can see the town below light up against the darkness of the night. The hill upon which the campus sits on is high enough to tower over everything down there, and there are distant city lights on the other side of some far off hills. I presume it’s Sendai. It reminds me of Yokohama at night when I was back home.
As I take another bite of the chocolate, I ponder on that word for a moment. Home, the world I can no longer reach. Do I miss it, when I passed through that overly fancy gates of this school? Am I trading the prison that was the hospital room, for a much bigger prison the size of an academy? I don’t know. I don’t want it to be that way, but I don’t know if what I’m doing is against what I want. As the streetlights of the school up ahead light up, seemingly as if to invite me back, I can’t find an answer.
I will be here for only a year. But do I want to make it as comfortable as I can? I mean, why not. Any sense of semblance of a routine can get my mind off of the hell I have left behind.
Do I want
to leave them all behind?
Perhaps the time in the hospital has wiped away a lot of the fond memories of my past life. All I can remember are the arguments and the gradual but inevitable betrayals before it. What were we doing before the heart attack? I can recall Shin mentioning a concert and him waving around tickets for all of us with a somewhat proud smirk on his face. And before that, only a few shattered remains, indistinguishable from imagination.
For such supposedly fond memories, I thought only of myself.
Without most of them, why would I miss Tokyo? Sure, I might miss hanging out with them in that classroom, and maybe doing it again will help me remember. Anything else though? They left me behind in that hospital, abandoning me to rot and fester as I tried to make amends. Why would I want any of them back?
They still hold a part of the blame. I know I’m responsible. I tried to fix things, but I can’t. Not without them.
But. Looking down the hill, at the now distantly quiet town below, I feel a twinge. Two days here and not even a couple of hours in the town, and I already miss the constant bustling of that metropolis I called home. The lack of the sound of cars I’ve always slept to back home feels hollow here. My own brain is trying to fill in the void, trying to make sense of the emptiness and fill it with something familiar, clashing with reality.
Do I want them back? Do I want any of them back?
I cast a glance at Ritsu. She’s been quiet all this while, and has stopped casting glances at me. Perhaps she’s enjoying the silence as well. Maybe she’s comfortable with me so far, maintaining the silence. Maybe it’s the only silence she can afford, and back in the campus she’ll be besieged by friends as loud as Misha. I can’t help but wonder. Does she miss her past life?
If there is one, that is. Maybe she lived here for most of her life. I wouldn’t put it past what Yamaku is proclaiming to be; the Nurse did mention they had junior high and lower schools somewhere on campus, or maybe elsewhere.
I look to her to ask, but quickly shut my mouth. Perhaps it’s best if I keep this up.
If I can find her again later, I might be able to find out. Not sure why I want to know. Maybe it’s a sense of camaraderie I’m looking for?
The silence feels somewhat comfortable too.
As we approach the pseudo-baroque iron-wrought gates, the school appears unearthly still, aside from the minute fizzing of the streetlights and the single shining window on the main building. We walk past the main faculty and make our way to the dormitories. I watch her as she ambles her way to hers, turns around to look at me before nodding subtly, and disappearing inside.
Well, I don’t know if that’s the conclusion I’m looking for, but I guess I have no choice but to comply. It was honestly a bit clumsy; I recall being more capable of talking than that, but I think what followed was a good enough recovery. She has been present in my mind since I first saw her, and to reach out today? Not bad. I had no plans to either.
I look at the sky one more time, but the clouds had gathered now. A whisper of a wind blows past me, chilling me somewhat. I sigh, and walk inside.