For story-post navigation please refer to the index post
Soul Dissipation (#2): Childhood Friend
The banded mongooses at the Small Mammal House of Ueno Zoo have had children. Little mongooses, Kotori counts four, are bouncing this way and that, energetic, curious, careless. Baby mongooses are so cute they even effect Miya.
“Aww, look at the little one,” Miya says, pointing. One is separating itself from the group, coming closer to the fawning visitors. An adult comes running in a circle, gently herding it back towards the group. But the little one is quite the handful, darting off in the wrong direction three more times.
Kotori looks at the little one, but only briefly. She doesn't turn her head, but in the corner of her eye she watches Miya smile. It's a rare view these days. Praise the gods for small furry cuteness!
Earlier today, Kotori found Miya in the back room of her parents' shop, putting the used records Kotori's parents had already priced into protective plastic casings. That is never a good sign. Miya only ever does this to distract herself from something unpleasant. And so it was today. This is how Kotori remembers it.
It is after school. As usual, Kotori enters her house throug the shop. A short greeting to Mum, who's behind the counter. She intends to pass through the back room where the stairs to the living area are located, opens the door and immediately spots Miya busying herself with the records. Miya must have heard her, but she doesn't visibly react. Kotori closes the door, and for a while just stands there. Then she sighs and turns to her mother . “Did you ask Miya to help out?”
“Miya is wrapping up the records again?”
“She's wrapping up the records again.”
Kotori's mum nods and gives her that resigned smile. “Cheer her up, honey, okay?”
“If I can. Where's aunt Hotaru?”
“I sent her on a delivery. On her way back she'll be buying stationary.”
“We're doing deliveries now?”
“We don't. It's an order from one of our regulars.”
“I see. How long do I have before aunt Hotaru returns?”
“Half an hour at minimum.”
“Understood. No promises, though.”
“I appreciate it, honey. You know how mopy Hotaru gets when she sees Miya like this.”
“That's mean, mum.”
“Why? It's true.”
true, but too much honesty doesn't do any good. The funny thing is aunt Hotaru, had she heard that, wouldn't have minded. Kotori is the only one to react like that. How that has happened she doesn't know. Miya certainly got her dose of surplus honesty, and see how that served here. Kotori shrugs, then returns to the back room. Miya is looking at the cover of some record Kotori doesn't know. “Yo,” says Kotori.
Miya doesn't react immediately. She tilts the record until it rests in one hand, then takes a plastic case and gently jiggles it in. She's extremely careful. And extremely slow. Eventually she speaks: “I'll be gone before mum gets back.” It's all she has to say, and she says it in her I-don't-want-to-be-a-bother-but-I-know-I-am voice.
“You're fired,” Kotori says. “You're such an inefficient worker. Too slow.”
“You get what you pay for,” Miya says.
Kotori can't tell from Miya's voice if Miya thinks Kotori is a bother, or if she's glad she's here. Both has happened often enough. Kotori abandons the joke and points at the boxes full of records. “Is it working?”
Miya puts the record away, looks up. She gives Kotori a sad smile, then shakes her head. “I'm brooding.”
At least she wants
to talk. Good. “What happened?”
“Someone at school said that if your parents don't love each other when they make you, you won't be able to love anyone either.”
“That's... silly. And harmless, considering.” Kotori pauses. “You are
smart enough not to believe such nonsense, aren't you?”
“I suppose.” The pause that follows feels awkward, but it's better not to interrupt Miya's silences. Eventually, she continues. “There's... something about this, though. In a very roundabout way. I don't know if I can explain. You see, it's about... boys. Everyone in class is fawning about boys. Who likes whom and stuff like that. Love love. I always thought it was silly. I get the hormones, too, but that's not love. Right?”
“Right.” It's not a completely honest “right”. It's not that Kotori disagrees completely, but the impulse to argue is there.
“However, what if... if I'm missing something? What if I really can't love anyone in... in that way. See? Maybe there's something past the hormones, and I'm not feeling it, and that's why it all sounds so... so silly. Maybe that's... a part of me that didn't develop, because... because I've always had to be different to defend Mum. Maybe if I allowed myself to... to feel that, I'd be too confused to... to do... anything... really... I'm not making sense, am I?”
Kotori sighs. “You're making plenty of sense. But... all that fawning over boys looks silly to me, too. Even though I do get what's behind this. But all those designer bento and shoe locker letters? Silly, silly, silly.”
“So there is
something I'm missing?”
Oh, Miya. Always picking out the negatives. “How can I know that? I think what everyone feels is... different. There may not even be one single thing to get. You may not be missing anything, and that's
maybe what you're missing.” She stops short. “Wait. Who doesn't make any sense now?”
Miya looks down. “I... I didn't think in... in that direction.” She stares at the table for some time, and then: “I... don't ever want to have children.”
Where did that come from? Sometimes Miya is hard to understand. “You know who does want children?” she improvises.
Miya looks up. Good, she's been caught off guard. “You?” she guesses.
“Huh?” A reversal, but Kotori regains her grounding. “Maybe. But certainly not now. No the answer is...” A dramatic pause. “...banded mongooses.”
“See, they're social animals, and there's... a bit of a hierarchy. Not as strict as, say, wolves, but it's there. So there's usually a lead breeding pair, but the group's full of rascals and they sneak off to make babies anyway. See? And then, when the kids arrive, the entire group takes care of them anyway, so it doesn't really matter. It's so confusing that different researchers see things a bit differently, and I'm not sure I got it right in the first place. But they're going to some sort of trouble to have children anyway, and then they take care of them, all together.”
“You really like animals, do you?” says Miya. Good. She's pulling herself together. Now Kotori can't allow her the time to think things through:
“We're a bit like banded mongooses, aren't we?” Kotori says. “Who cares who made who? Who cares who's the lead breeding pair. Everyone takes care of everyone, right?”
No pausing. Go all out. Overwhelm her. “Anyway, the real reason I'm talking about baby banded mongooses is because there are some at Ueno right now, and they're lively and cute and imprisoned, but they don't care because there's always food and everything's interesting. Let's go see the baby mongooses. They can be our utopia.”
“Baby Mongooses!” says Kotori. She jumps up, grabs Miya's hand, pulls. “Baby Mongooses
And Miya relents. “Ueno, right?”
“Right. And now hurry. They won't let us in after four.”