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Encounters #1: Ikezawa Hanako (first month, first year at Yamaku, first floor, corridor)
School is school. Miyako tastes the thought and finds it insipid, dull. It's true on a certain level, but after one has abstracted this much, truth no longer matters. It is rather early in the morning. Class will start not all that soon, so she has time. She hasn't slept a lot this night and, afraid of falling asleep, she has headed for class early. But now she can't bring herself to enter the room. She is sitting on the floor in the corridor, just near the corner, which earns her funny looks from everyone who passes, which isn't many.
Yamaku is special. She tastes that thought as well and it is bitter. A temporary shelter from the real world, it's moderately useful for people with a condition that modern medicine can treat, or that can be alleviated by physical features in the environment. An example: If you're in a wheel chair, you get treated to ramps aplenty. Isn't that nice? Well, don't get used to it. After three years – provided you're not terrible at tests, in which case you might have slightly longer – they'll kick you out, and you get re-acquainted with the real world, where wheel chair ramps are more of a scarcity. In addition to the transient nature of sheltered school-life, the we're-all-friends-and-help-each-other-out atmosphere that prevails feels oppressive. This is a place built and maintained by idealists. There is, the very place says, more to living than being born, doing things, and dying. There is a measure of judgement in here, and if you fail to take your role in greater society, you fail this place and its kind intentions. But out there... It's a terrible word: cripple, whether you're one or not. It reminds of you haven't got, or what you risk to lose. Mobility, perception, health – all potentially found lacking.
What does Miyako have? Her condition has a name, a descriptions, but only one known workaround – and that one doesn't work for her. Sleep paralysis. Threat of Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome. SUDS. Is she a cripple? She's losing sleep, but it's mostly her anxiety (which – people speculate – in turn makes SUDS more likely). All that's really wrong with her is her life expectancy. She's a statistical anomaly, perhaps a mental one, and possibly – in ways nobody really understands yet – a physical one. The biggest irony of her situation is this: she's supposed to want to live. She should feel more terrible about her situation. But instead she mostly worries about Mum worrying about her. Which is why she decided to come here. They get away from each other, and Mum gets to hope just a bit more.
So this, then, is her situation: from a place full of people who tried to make her miserable to feel better about themselves to a place full of people who try to make her her happy to feel better about themselves. It's a one-word difference, and the difference doesn't feel as big as the difference between the words in question.
Sometimes she thinks her true disability is big-city paranoia. She has a dorm room all to herself. In Tokyo you could fit two class rooms in there. Or maybe her pollution-trained lungs cannot take that much oxygen and it goes straight to her brain wreaking havoc? She doesn't fit in, and in not in the outsider way she remembers. It's a more basic incompatibility. Ghosts of goodwill haunt this place, and they reject her.
Well, even if brooding passes the time, she cannot sit here forever. She stretches her legs and back, readying herself to get up, and of course it's at that exact time that a student rounds the corner at a running speed. Miyako feels the stranger's feet hook her legs, and the student trips and falls:. A long-haired girl on all fours on the floor. Miyako waits, but the girl doesn't move, makes no sound.
“Hey, no running in the hallways!” Miyako calls.
A tiny voice stutters some apology. Oh, please. It was a joke. A proper response might have been: “No sleeping in the hallway, either.” No such luck. Miyako heaves herself up, rounds the girl and stretches her hand. “You all right?”
“Y-Yes.” The girl doesn't reach for the hand. In fact she doesn't even look up.
Miyako pulls back her hand. “Are you sure you're all right? You're not getting up.”
The girl makes some noise, and then scrambles to her feet. Another apology. Oh for... She wouldn't have lasted three days in Miyako's old school. Not like that. People would trip her up on purpose. Or worse.
“So, why were you running in the hallway, anyway?” Miyako asks. The girl's right hand, she notices, is badly scarred.
“P-People... pointed.” She is standing, now, but you couldn't exactly call her posture straight. Her hair is trying to obscure the right half of her face and failing. Scars here, too. How far do they go down? Miyako has a vague feeling that she should be surprised more. Instead she wonders about the intensity of the burns, and how it's a small miracles that hair grows at all on the right side of her head. And that her eye is still there, and – presumably – functional. Well, none of her business.
“Pointing at you?” Stating the obvious, to fill a silence that threatens to become awkward. How shy can you get? Pretty little princess waiting for people to talk? Lost her good looks and feared that people would talk?
Miyako's conversational skills aren't the best either, but this? “Well, you've got pretty hair,” Miyako begins, and even tries to put some cheer in her voice, but it comes out all false. She can hear the sarcasm in her voice: ostensible praise, but an implied “at least”. That wasn't her attention, was it?
The girl shrinks. No doubt, she is used to the false-compliment taunt. Idly Miyako falls into the pattern. It's easy. “And pretty eyes, too, now that I can see them.”
The girl fidgets. Miyako, what are you doing? She's no threat!
But there's a strange compulsion now pulling her forward. Pretty little princess waiting for her parents' praise. Pretty little princess waiting, waiting, waiting. No more praise for you. Poor little princess.
“But I bet they were pointing at these scars of yours.” Stop it, Miyako. Look, she's about to run. Or cry. Or break down.
“It's such a pity. You could have been so pretty.”
All hunched, the girl turns away from Miyako, starts walking. Stooped, tiny steps, but quick ones, and getting quicker. Still, Miyako has no trouble overtaking her. “You shouldn't hide them,” she purrs. So that's what it feels like to prey on the week. She is disgusted with herself, but there is no stopping. “It's deceptive. People think you're pretty, and then they get close, and... ugh!” She mock-recoils. The girl stands frozen; now that Miyako had overtaken her, there is no reason why she wouldn't do it again.
“P-please, leave me alone...”
Ah, that's better. Speak your mind little princess. Speak your mind. But such a tiny voice. Not good enough. A step forward. “You really shouldn't hide your scars, you know? Be a monster. Scare them off.”
“Leave me alone!”
Ah, almost loud now. Another step forward, and she is much too close. Miyako reaches out a finger, and gently strokes the hair out of the girl's face, tucks it behind her ear. The skin feels rough, but beneath her finger tips she feels the girl freeze. Her eyes widen; she grows rigid. Then, with no warning:
“LEAVE! ME ! AL-” The rest of the sentence gets lost in a furious screech. Miyako feels something impact her chest. She's pushed backwards, but there is no wall. Confusion. She loses her balance. Arms are flailing helplessly, hands find no grip. The stairs? She tries to look. Mistake. Her feet no longer stand. She twists in the air. Her hip, back and shoulder – misaligned – thump and bounce. Her brow hits something sharp and sparks replace her vision for a moment. Her neck hurts. Her arms desperately try to find a grip. A sharp pain, as her little finger snaps. She flashes in and out of consciousness. Blood is in her left eye. And then it is over. She lies on the floor, breathing heavily. She is sore all over. Her little finger hurts a lot; her head is throbbing. Her eyes are closed. She hears footsteps approaching her. A male stranger's voice; too old for a student. “Are you okay? What happened?”
What happened? Ah, that's right. Well done, little princess. But next time deal it out in smaller doses, right? In her minds eye, she sees the girl's eyes, just before she explodes in anger. All the fire that melted her right side is in them. Memory? Imagination? No matter: It's glorious! But, oh!, the pain. She could do without the pain. She feels like laughing, but it hurts too much.
Hanako breathes hard. At first, she doesn't know where she is. There is only relief. The noisy girl is gone. Hanako has pushed her away, and she is gone. Then the world comes flooding back in, and she takes a step forward. She has pushed... The stairs? For a while she looks down the stairs and doesn't comprehend what she is seeing. There are splotches of blood, not much, but what there is should be in a body and not on the stairs. Further down, there is a body. And she is lying still. It is the noisy girl. The nosy girl. The annoying girl. Hanako is surprised that she doesn't feel bad. And then a man in a white coat appears and kneels down beside her. So the girl is not dead.
Why is this no relief? It should be. Is Hanako a bad person? Only bad people push other people down the stairs and feel neither remorse, nor guilt. Maybe it doesn't count if the person you push down is a bad person herself? But is
the girl down there a bad person in the first place? If all the people who have ever been mean to her are bad, there is not much hope for this world, is there?
If that girl isn't a bad person, then perhaps Hanako herself is a bad person? What was it she said? Be a monster? Scare them off? Maybe that is the only way after all. Hanako doesn't want to believe it, but she feels empty. And doesn't the evidence lie down there?
She drops to her knees, can't stop looking down. And then the man beside the girl looks up. That's right. If you do things like push people off stairs, you have to take responsibility. Her hair is in disarray. Her scars must be visible, but she only feels empty. For once, she doesn't care. Whatever happens now, happens. She can only wait.
Nurse comes back in. “She's in shock.”
“I guess,” Miyako replies. “So?”
“She says, she pushed you down the stairs, because she's monster.”
Miyako chuckles. “Oh, dear. She's killing me. Yes, she pushed me down. But she's certainly no monster. I told her she should be one. She must have picked up on that.”
“This may sound unprofessional, but right now I have the urge to break your other little finger. The good one. You taunted her, didn't you?”
Miyako shrugs, then holds out her left hand, stretching the little finger. “Be my guest. I probably deserve it.”
Nurse frowns. “Well, I'll pass, for now. So, what happened. They'll want a report.”
Miyako takes a deep breath. “I taunted her. She pushed me down the stairs. What more is there to say?” She pauses. “Oh, wait. Yeah, it's totally
my fault. I was looking for her breaking point, you know? She has these scars and apologises for them. Really, it would be better if she didn't have them, but they're not as hideous as she seems to think, and even if they were, what's she doing apologising for them. As if any of that is her fault. That pissed me off, I think.” Another thoughtful pause. “I've only ever used the mind set on bullies before. It tends to keep them away. Maybe it's a skill I don't want to go to waste?”
“Listen,” Nurse says, “bodies are my speciality. Your finger will heal pretty quickly, and the wound on your head is nothing to worry about. I couldn't find any signs of a concussion, though I'd like you to stay here for a while. Her
shock will fade soon, too. But how long do you think your words and behaviour will stay with her?”
Miyako shakes her head. “Drop in the ocean, I'd say. I didn't make her who she is. And I'm not using that as an excuse either. Maybe you're right and – through some unhappy co-incidence – I crushed some new-found hope. It's not something I like to think about, but it's possible. I'm not proud of what I did, but there it is..”
“Hm,” Nurse says. “How do you feel about an apology?”
Miyako shakes her head. “I have no idea what I'll do if I see her again. What if she accepts my apology with that tiny voice of hers? Just like that?”
“How about self-control? Ever heard of that? Good for your health, too, I've heard people say.”
Miyako closes her eyes and lies back on the bed. “No promises. But I'm not opposed to an apology on principle. But not right away. And someone would need to be there. In case I fuck up.”
“She's in shock, now, anyway. You rest a while, and think about what you've done, okay?”
“Mhm.” Nurse goes outside again, to tend to the burned girl.