Zombiedude wrote:Any news on this?
Well... okay. Since you asked nicely.
Scene 3: Quality and Quantity
“Hey! You came!”
Emi waves enthusiastically at me as I step out from the stairwell onto the rooftop of Yamaku. She motions me over to where she’s sitting on a small bench with Rin as they eat their packed lunches. A third bag sits right next to Emi. Instead of her normal phone call this morning, I got a text message from her inviting me to come take lunch with her and Rin on the roof rather than “eating alone all the time.” She must have either gotten wind of the fact that I got my running fix with Miki the night before, or she’d given up on trying to coax me out to the track with her.
Both the time of the day and the absence of Rika make the roof a lot less frightening. The noise of the schoolgrounds, the heat of the summer sun, the sounds of the daytime clamor, the handful of benches and light brown picnic tables, which were almost invisible at night, make it feel so much less ominous. I glance at the spot where I remember Rika sitting atop the fence when I approached the school the first night we snuck out here. The cross-bar at the top of the fence looks so flimsy. My heart thuds just at the thought of perching up there the way she had.
I take a seat between Emi and Rin on the bench. Rin doesn’t bother saying hello, but just looks at me vacantly while she chews a mouthful of food, her metal fork dangling between her toes which remain poised at eye level. I try not to stare, even though I’m sure Rin wouldn’t mind if I did.
Emi plops the bagged lunch into my lap. “I made you a little extra! When you run in the evenings it’s important to fuel up with a good lunch!” She grins her approval at me. I can tell she’s pleased with the news that she must have gotten by now. Her joy is infectious.
“Yours looks bigger than his,” Rin interjects, pushing another forkful of food into her mouth.
Emi leans forward so Rin can see the forced scowl that she puts on, but Rin doesn’t seem to take notice. It occurs to me that sitting between them might not have been the best idea. I’m never sure what to expect from these two.
After a bit of a delay, Emi pipes in with a playful tone. “Well, lately I’ve been running for two, so I’ve got to recoup my energy somewhere.” She winks at me and takes another bite of her meal.
“Two people is a lot when you’ve got no legs,” Rin muses, and Emi giggles with her mouth full.
I open the lunch she’s made for me. Tofu with spinach and what smells like a black bean sauce, on a bed of thick noodles. It’s an unusual mixture, but not bad. I take a first bite. The tofu is a little thickly sliced so it has a slightly more rubbery texture than it should. It would probably taste better if it were heated up.
“Did you make this?” I ask Emi. She nods gleefully at me.
“You know, cooking is one of my many passions!”
Rin swallows another bite. “Can you still call them passions when you have so many?”
“Of course! I’m a very passionate person.”
We eat in silence for a minute or so before Rin suddenly looks at me. She stares for a second before speaking.
“There’s less of you,” she says.
Emi takes on an uneasy expression, maybe a little worried that Rin is about to say something taboo.
“What do you mean by that?” I ask.
She pushes her food to the side with her foot and sits upright, slipping her feet back into her sandals. She must be even less thrilled with Emi’s food than I am, because she’s not even half finished. She goes on talking.
“I thought there were two of you. But now there’s just one. What happened?”
“Rin,” Emi says sternly.
I just shrug at Emi and turn to Rin again.
“You mean Rika?” I ask. “She’s been sick this week, but she should be coming back soon.”
Rin nods, then continues.
“What’s that like?”
“What, being in the hospital?”
“I mean being two people.”
Emi makes a muffled noise like she wants to jump into the talking queue, but her mouth is full.
“Shouldn’t you guys know just as well as I would? Don’t you go together like a suit and shoes?”
Rin shakes her head and looks up at the sky, narrowing her eyes a bit as if she’s trying to reframe her question.
“You don’t need to wear two outfits though if you’re just one person. I’m lots of different people, too. I was a different person yesterday than today. But what if I were both people today instead of just one of them? I looked at my reflection once and thought about what it might be like if I could take it to school with me sometime and we could hang out. I thought it would be bad because we’d always wind up sitting in each other’s seats and eating each other’s lunch and talking when the other one wanted to talk. I was thinking that one day and then the same day, I met you in the art room.”
“Rin collects people,” Emi explains, as though that explains anything. Rin nods with sagacity.
“It’s my passion. I already had one of you. Now I have doubles.”
“But you have other doubles, too,” I say. “What about the blind boy in the art club, and that Satou girl?”
Rin shrugs. “They’re not the same at all. You shouldn’t just think that all blind people are the same. That’s not a very nice thing to do. I’m talking about you. You’re the one who has to exercise and take pills every day or his heart will blow up. The one who never talks to anyone unless it’s for an assignment and spends all his time skipping class in the afternoon and always eats his lunch in the courtyard and whose face always looks like he just saw a really sad movie. The one who always wants to talk about serious stuff like death and school and never seems to be having fun. I already had one of those.”
I laugh awkwardly at her and she just stares at me, seeming to not understand my response. Emi laughs too, maybe to try and lighten the mood.
“Maybe that means they’re soul mates,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be great to fall in love with someone who was just like you?”
“Sounds conceited,” Rin says, and Emi scowls at her again.
I feel like it’s my turn to talk, but I’m not really able to come up with a good counter to her argument.
“Well,” I say, “my hair is shorter. That’s a start.”
Rin ponders that for a moment. “No, I don’t think that’s good enough. My hair was shorter when I woke up this morning and I think that was still me.”
The lunch bell rings, and I’ve never been happier to hear it. Not that I dislike Rin, I just find it exhausting trying to hold a conversation with her. Emi gathers what’s left of our lunches up for us and stuffs the remains into her empty bag. She gives Rin a disapproving look as she does so, probably more because Rin hardly finished eating than because she’s guilty of any indiscretion. Rin, as always, seems unaffected. I find myself wondering how Emi has the patience to be Rin’s friend, since she’s so impervious to Emi’s arsenal of faces. Like shoes and a suit in more ways than one, I suppose. All the same, it’s admirable that Rin is willing to breach such a sensitive subject with such frankness. I can’t tell whether Emi was just being polite, but it was nice hearing her speaking about Rika without prejudice.
Rin’s ramblings echo in my head throughout my afternoon class, and not even Mutou’s lucidity can make its way through my skull. Her words twist and distort in my brain. Like that mural I helped her work on for the festival. When I asked her what it was a painting of, she just said, “it’s a painting of a mural.”
I tap my pencil against my paper, watching the clock, eager for the evening, eager to sit by my phone, wanting more than ever to see Rika again.
There’s less of me.
Scene 4: Lies
My mind heavy with thoughts of Rika, I trudge through the halls of the boys’ dorms, back to my room, eager for sleep.
It’s been the same day as it’s been all week. The prospect of exams is dizzying, the loneliness of being without Rika oppressive. Rin’s strange reflection on the nature of my congruence with Rika, absurd though it was, has been pressing my thoughts all day. I feel her absence more intimately than ever before. I feel as diminished as I must look.
After an evening with my study group in the student council room, with vending machine snacks for dinner, I met Miki on the track for another evening run. Fewer words came between us this time, maybe because she could tell I was bogged down in my thoughts. Even the workout failed to “scrub the bad thoughts out of my head” the way Emi insists a good run always can. Even if she was a bit quiet, I could tell Miki was gracious for my company.
Tired, hair wet from my late shower, I open the door and drop my knapsack on the floor. Something unusual catches my eye. My curtains are fluttering in a draft that’s coming through my open window, causing scattered moonbeams to flicker on the walls. I don’t recall leaving the window open.
Before I can turn the light switch on, I feel her arms fling across my shoulders, and her warm lips press against mine. My eyes stretch open in shock, and hers remain serenely closed. For half a second I stare at half of her face, my arms dumbly raised at my sides in surprise, while the faint light glitters on her fair skin. Even in the darkness of my room, she is radiant.
After what must have been a few seconds, but seemed like minutes, Rika pulls back just enough to look me in the eyes. Her crimson irises add intensity to her solemn expression, her eyebrows are raised anxiously, as if she were awaiting an answer.
I put my hands on her narrow waist, pull her body against mine, and kiss her deeply. She pulls me closer, her fingers clutching me tightly against her.
My mind is racing with questions, with things that I should say or ask, but I feel completely unmoved to say a single word to her. My heart pounds with intensity against my chest. But I don’t want to stop. Not even if it costs me my life. All I want is to be close to her, to feel her presence.
We release, and I look her in the eyes again. Her expression is the same, distant, pining look that she had before. She doesn’t smile. It almost looks like worry. I reach up and touch her face with the back of my fingers, brushing her bangs to the side. Her hair positively shimmers in the darkness.
“I wanted to see you,” she says suddenly, breaking the stillness in the room.
I give her a reassuring smile, which she returns in kind. I can see restraint in her expression as she lowers the corners of her mouth again, pursing her lips shut. She sits down on the end of my bed and looks out the window. She’s dressed in the same tank-top-and-shorts combination that she wore on the rooftop of Yamaku on our first late night rendezvous. It’s a beautiful, clear summer night outside and the stars are visible from my room. It makes me think of how seldom I ever open my curtains or even bother to look out the window, but the view is quite nice.
I take a seat next to her on the bed, and she scoots closer to me as we look out the window at the sky.
“I thought a lot about what I wanted to say to you when I saw you again,” she says.
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” I reply.
She gives a muffled chuckle behind closed lips. “There was never really any question that I would be okay, Hisao. People like us don’t die in hospitals. I’m never so far from death as when I’m there.”
“So you’re a regular hospital goer, I take it?”
The fingers of her left hand interlock mine, and she gives my hand a squeeze. “You could say that. I know most of the doctors and nurses there and they are good to me. They give me a bit more freedom than they used to. It wasn’t so bad, staying there, just a little bit…” she trails off thoughtfully before settling on a word. “Sterile?”
“I know what you mean,” I say. “Come to think of it, I wasn’t really scared at all during my hospital stay. At least, not of dying. I was scared of my future, about the fact that my life was suddenly going to be so different, that things were changing so much. I was scared of the list of medicines.”
“Were you scared of Iwanako?”
“I tried not to think about her when she wasn’t around. I mostly just read novels while I was there. It’s funny because I never was much of a reader before… well, before what happened. Do you read in the hospital?”
She shakes her head. “I do other things to keep busy. I take walks through the halls. Sometimes I talk to the other people who are staying there. Some of them are people like us, but most of them are the kinds of people we’re never going to be. People whose illusions of peace have suddenly broken, people staring death in the throat, sometimes for the first time ever, not knowing what to do or say or think. Or even stranger, people who have lived for years and years, waiting for the end to come. Their loved ones come to see them, when they have loved ones, and have those touching conversations with them and tie up the loose ends of their lives. Generations of people baring their souls to one another in the shadow of death.”
Funny, I think. Walking around and making friends is the last thing I'd expect from a recluse like Rika. I imagine the imposing image she must cut, a pale young woman in a hospital garb, long white hair, bright red eyes, wandering the halls like a specter. My doctors were barely willing to let me out of bed without supervision. Rika must really be a common apparition at the hospital.
“So you like to eavesdrop on the dying?” I ask her.
“Sometimes I don’t have to. Did you share a hospital room during your stay?”
“No,” I say. “I had my own room.”
She sighs. “I shared a room with an old woman who was at the end of her life. My doctor told me he thought we’d get along because our eyes matched.” Rika points to her face with a smirk. “She even brought up that old cliché, about how I look just like she did when she was younger. It was one of the first things she said to me. I guess she doesn't get to say it to a lot of people, though... since, you know, I don't look like most girls do.”
Rika’s tone grows a bit tense as she talks. There’s an emotional tenor in her voice that’s not like her. I look at her attentively as she speaks, but she continues to stare out the window, at the stars.
“She had a lot of things to say to me. We talked for the first few days that I was there, her doing most of the talking, and already by the third day it was like we were old friends. She was the youngest of three sisters and the last survivor in her family. Her husband had died the year prior and her health had been in decline. She never had any children, so, there was nobody to visit her there. She said to me that having me there was like going into the past and visiting the person she used to be. I think what she wanted to say was that I was like a child she’d never had.”
“That’s sad,” I say.
Rika closes her eyes, taking a deep, collected breath. “I was there with her right at the end, too. She held my hand. Her skin was so loose and she felt so brittle. She thanked me for being there, and I told her it was okay. But just before she expired she said something to me that made me really upset.”
“What was it?”
“She said, ‘I’m afraid.’ It was the first time she ever admitted it to me since I met her. I knew she was afraid. Who wouldn’t be? But I just wish she hadn’t said it. I wish she’d had something else to say. People shouldn’t squander their last words like that.”
I look out the window and squeeze her hand comfortingly.
“Last words, huh…” I mutter.
She tilts her head at me. “What was that?”
“Oh,” I say, waving my hand dismissively. “I was just thinking. You know, since we won’t die in the hospital, we’re not going to have a lot of time to think about what we want our last words to be.”
This obviously pleases her. She narrows her eyes and gives a morbid smile. “Well, maybe we can come up with them ahead of time. And even if we don’t manage to get it right in the end, if anyone asks, we’ll just lie about it. Will you lie for me after I die?”
I grin at her. “Of course. And you will for me, right?”
Suddenly, she kisses me again, pushing me down against the bed and laying at my side, with my arm around her. I wait for her answer, but it doesn’t come. Her arm rests on my chest, and I feel her toes toying idly with mine as we repose in silence. I stare at the ceiling, overcome with a feeling of immense peace and joy, and feel her gradually prolonged breaths on my neck as she drifts off. My eyelids are heavy, too, but the alertness of my thoughts defies them.
I think about the hospital. I think about Rika, and the gentle side she’s been revealing to me this evening. I think about how she managed to get in here without being noticed, and whether anyone did notice. I think about what it’s going to be like waking up next to someone. I think about how it felt to kiss her, how warm her body feels pressed up against mine, how comforting the feeling of her breath is on my skin. I think about what we might look like if we ever make it to old age. And I think about the last time I saw her, and those words that I thought might have been her last.