Freaks and Friends
My mom was never a good cook. When I was younger, my dad and I would wake up early and go to a local restaurant to get our breakfast. When dad's work shift changed, I started going alone.
Eventually, I got to know the restaurant owner and we became friends. Instead of charging me or even asking what I wanted, he'd just show up with a plate of whatever he considered a "mistake". Honestly, his mistakes were still better than most people's best efforts and it saved me a lot of yen. His jokes were always groan inducing, but in a way, they were rather endearing. Now that those breakfasts are a thing of the past, I miss the guy.
Suddenly there's a hard thump against my stomach, like somebody hit me.
"Hey~! Snap out of it. You're stealing Time Warp's gimmick!" Hachisame says. It turns out the reason it felt like somebody hit me was because Hachisame just hit me.
I stretch to look over at her. Tana is pushing Hachisame along in her wheelchair. Somehow they ended up walking on my blind side. This means I either have to turn my head further than is comfortable or talk to them without being able to see them. Neither way feels natural.
"Oh. Sorry. I spaced out for a bit. I was thinking about breakfast. So, umm … what were we talking about?" I ask.
"Time Warp's thinking about changing her look. Again," Hachisame says dragging out the last word as a show of exasperation.
After a couple of steps, Tana speaks up. "I'm thinking dying my hair. I've gotten used it being red but I'm thinking maybe I could go back to brown," Tana says. "What do you think?"
I look over at her and try to picture her with something other than the bright red hair she currently sports. Considering I just met her, I have a hard time imagining her any different than how she looks now. "I like the red." I tell her, "but brown would work for you too, I guess."
"Told you. Stick with red. It gives us the basic trio. Blonde, brunette, red head." Hachisame says, referring to my own natural color and her badly bleached and roughly cut hair. I just met them yesterday and, just like that, she refers to me as part of her group. She's being too welcoming. To be honest, it's a bit off putting. Then again, it's not as if I know anybody else around here. Maybe I should be happy I've made friends this quickly. "Just whatever you do, don't try that silver thing you tried last year," Hachisame continues. "Hey! I know. You could dye it pink like Mikado! It would match your shirt."
"Really? There's a girl with pink hair here? They allow that?" I ask.
"Uggh. No thanks." Tana says, making a sick looking face.
"Yeah. Lots of girls dye their hair around here. There's nothing in the dress code about it." Hachisame says. I suppose I should have figured that out by now judging by my some of the people I've seen, but it feels odd to hear it laid out like that.
"And you really had silver hair?" I ask Tana.
"She did ... maybe silver is the wrong word for it. It was more of a shiny white," Hachisame says. I actually wanted Tana to answer that; I'm curious as to why she'd choose such an odd color, but it seems Hachisame didn't feel like waiting for her.
"It wasn't silver. It was platinum blonde," Tana says in a defensive tone after she finally catches up with the conversation.
"And you looked like … what's-her-name. You know, that one creepy girl nobody likes?" Hachisame adds.
"I was also thinking about getting one of those padded bras. I could use the emphasis." Tana pats her hands on her chest, moving away from the topic of her hair. Watching Tana let go, I almost expect Hachisame's wheelchair to take off down hill, but she maintains her normal pace and control.
Time Warp reaches back to grab the handles of the chair and ends up missing one. She visibly grimaces and mutters something to herself but quickly regains her grip. I'm left wondering if wheeling Hachisame around is more for her own benefit than Hachisame's.
"Ah, you don't need it. Lots of guys are into that young girl look," Hachisame laughs.
"And they're called pedophiles," Tana replies after a few seconds. "That's totally not what I'm looking for in a guy." From the tone of their conversation, this seems to be more of a joke between them than any real criticism on Tana. It's not like she's flat. She's well developed for her size; it's just that her size is fairly small.
In a way, it's actually strange hearing two people that already stand out from the crowd so much talking abut their looks. It feels too normal. Although, I'm not sure what I'm expecting really.
"So, why do you bleach your hair?" I ask Hachisame, moving the conversation back to hair color. Asking Time Warp didn't really accomplish anything, so maybe Hachisame will be a bit more talkative.
"I dunno. I just like it. I'm sure I had a reason at some point," she says. "It's funny when you think about it, 'cause that's about the only thing I ever do to my hair," she says running her hands through her messy blonde cut. Well, so much for that. Maybe I should do something with mine. Being the only on here with their natural hair color, I feel somewhat left out.
"Anyway, I haven't made any decisions; it's just some stuff I was thinking about," Tana says as if to put a cap on the conversation.
We soon arrive at an old-fashioned looking cafe'. "Welcome to the Shanghai. We usually eat here on weekends. The place is decent enough, usually not too crowded, and there's a nice student discount if you remember to ask them for it," Tana explains as we approach the door “and you have to ask them for it because the main waitress isn't likely to remember.”
"It's also closed," Hachisame says wheeling herself up to look at the hours posted on the door. "Damn. I forgot they changed hours."
"So, what now?" I ask.
"Eh, there are a couple of other places in town, or--" Hachisame starts to say.
"Let's just hit the convenience store and head back," Tana says, speaking over Hachisame. "If that's okay, I mean," she adds, having caught up with what Hachisame had just said. "You didn't want to go anywhere else, did you?" With some distance between them, watching her talk to Hachisame is even stranger. She's looking and speaking to the place where Hachisame was a few seconds ago like its normal. I feel bad for her just watching …watching with my single eye.
Hachisame and Tana again take the lead to our new destination. A little bit further down the street, there's another familiar sight. "Hey, Rin." Hachisame calls out to the armless girl staring into the store window. Rin waits until we're practically right up on her before responding.
"Hello," she says and then immediately turns right back to starring into the window of an arts and crafts store.
"What'cha' up to?" Hachisame asks.
"I think there was something there that I think I thought I needed, but if there was, I don't remember it. It's like when you go into the kitchen to make yourself some popcorn, but make a sandwich instead, and then you wonder where your popcorn is. Something like that," Rin says. "Except I don't have any popcorn right now. … I suppose makes it exactly like that." I haven't talked with Rin much, but I'm starting to think that even for this place she's pretty weird.
"Why don't you go in and look around?" I ask hoping to get some form of logical response from her.
"I'm pretty sure I don't need anything. I'm just trying to make absolute sure." She's tilted her head to look at us better, but she's still facing towards the window.
"We're going to go get a bite to eat," Hachisame says. "How about you? Have you had breakfast yet?"
"I'm nearly sure I've eaten today, last night at the latest," Rin says.
"I'm buying," Hachisame declares.
"Okay," Rin says without hesitation.
The local convenience store is surprisingly well stocked. This is probably going to end up being the main place I shop this year. I can't think of too many things that I'll need that aren't here. As I shop, I try my best not to fumble around too much. Lack of depth perception is still something I haven't gotten the hang of and it shows.
It only takes me a few minutes to pick out what I want and a few more to fix the things I've knocked over before I meet the others at the checkout. I hadn't really been paying attention to them so I have no idea what they picked out. I do know that I bought more than I intended. Still, it's not like I just wasted my money. There are a few school supplies mixed in with the snacks. … Very few, but they are there. That has to count for something.
It occurs to me as I wait in line to check out, that visually, I'm probably even more of an oddity than Time Warp and Hachisame. People in wheelchairs have to be far more common than girls missing their eyes. Girls without any arms are probably rarer than either, though. Good thing Rin is ahead of me in line, otherwise I'd really feel self-conscious. As it is, I can't help but wonder if the cashier was trying not to make a big deal of my appearance or if they're just used to this stuff. I'm still thinking about it as we exit.
"There's a park somewhere over this way. We could go there to eat," Tana says as she unwraps a popsicle and holds it out for Rin.
"Nah. There's a decent spot just over this way, much closer." Hachisame says pointing the opposite direction. I don't know were anything is yet, so I stay quiet. Rin doesn't seem to care one way or another either.
Hachisame leads us to a nice spot a good distance from the sidewalk. She actually has to get out of her wheelchair in order to pull it through the grass. I blink my eye a few times as she does. Aside from the oddity of watching somebody get out of wheelchair to walk around, there's actually something unusual about the way she walks.
"Nah," I try to tell myself. It's just your imagination playing tricks on you. Trying to banish those thoughts from my head, I take a seat on the grass next to the others. The contents of our bags are emptied and we begin eating our newly purchased breakfasts.
I bought more than I intended on eating, so I split the sausages and the corn chips, passing them around. Hachisame hand feeds Rin, after barely stopping her from sticking her feet in the bag. Is that how she eats? With her feet? I suppose it makes some sense. How else is she supposed to do things? At the same time, it feels… weird? Gross? Unnatural? There's just a certain wrongness to it that I can't put into words.
God. I have to stop thinking like this.
It's actually a really nice day out. That's a much more pleasant thought. There's enough of a breeze for it to be called brisk without being chilly. The sun shining down balances that out to create an atmosphere that's just perfect. If I hadn't just woken up a little while ago, I could lie down and take a nap right now. Rin seems to have the same idea.
No. On second glance she doesn't like she's relaxing; she seems to be quite engrossed in something. I lie down beside her and look up. There's nothing in the sky but clouds and the occasional bird. "What are we looking at?" I ask.
"Clouds," she says, as if that's there couldn't possibly be any other answer. I tilt my head back and forth to try to get a full range of vision in the hopes that maybe I'm just not seeing what she's seeing.
"Looking at the clouds again, Rin?" Tana says. Neither Rin nor I make any effort to answer here.
Rin turns her head to look at me. I have to stretch my head further than normal to be able to match her gaze. I regret not choosing to lie on the other side of her. "Do you think clouds would more jealous of fog if they could, or would fog be more envious of clouds?"
"I've never thought about it," I tell her.
"I'm thinking about it," she says. "You probably could now, unless you're one of those people that can't think things right. You're not, are you?" I shake my head 'no' and say goodbye to my plans for quietly backing out of the conversation. I've never been into that artsy abstract thought stuff.
"Hard to say. Fog gets to go around near the ground and touch things, but clouds can see everything from high up." It's a vague answer, one that will hopefully get me out of this exchange.
"Cloud's don't see. They're too busy being clouds." Rin shoots my response down and looks at me as if she's trying to decide whether I'm crazy or not. Talking with her is like taking a quiz where all the questions are written in Japanese and the answers are written in a language I don't understand.
I sit up from where I'm laying so I can better see Rin without hurting my neck. A glance over at Hachisame tells me that she's been chuckling at my discomfort.
"Clouds tend to be lighter, fluffier, and you never see fog taking cool shapes, so it's probably the more envied one," Tana finally speaks out, saving me from further conversation.
Rin closes her eyes for a moment. She looks as though some great mystery of the universe had been revealed to her. "Perhaps," is all she says when her eyes finally open.
"Ahh! That was pretty good," Hachisame says excessively loud and makes a show of patting her stomach. "So, are we all ready to head back?"
"I think I'll stay here for a while thinking about things. Like the meaning of life. Or ice-cream," Rin smiles as she makes this last remark. For the first time, I can't help but wonder if she's just been messing with me.
"Then let's get going," Hachisame says, eager to move on.
"Maybe the meaning of life is ice-cream," Time Warp says to Rin. I chose that moment to engage in a brief talk with Hachisame. I don't think I want to hear how Rin responds to that. We clean up our mess, wave by to Rin, and head back towards the school.
Approaching the school, I notice a large crowd gathered around the gate. … Well, maybe not a large crowd, but at least a classroom full of people. Is it possible to have a moderate sized crowd? As we get closer, I can tell they're about my age and some of them are missing limbs, so it seems obvious that they're students. As we're walking towards them, a van with the school's name on it pulls up beside the crowd. By the time we reach the gates, most of the students have climbed in. A few of them stand outside assisting a bald kid in a wheelchair onto that little elevator thing that lifts wheelchairs into vehicles. Hachisame says 'hi' to a few people as we pass while Time Warp just holds up her hand in greeting. Nobody bothers to introduce me, but I don't really expect then to anyway, so that's alright. My bags have started to weigh down my arms so I just want to get back to my room and drop off what's left of my purchases.
"Hey, there," an unenthusiastic voice calls out to us as we leave the van behind us. There's a disheveled looking man walking in our direction. Hachisame and I both look at each other, wondering if he was talking to us. It takes her a moment, but Tana joins in our momentary confusion. If he wanted to get our attention, he certainly wasn't trying very hard.
"Are you talking to us, sir?" I ask. There's a strange look on his face, as if he's unaccustomed to receiving any kind of respect.
"If you're here for the town tour, you're going the wrong way," he says, having stopped in front of us.
"Not really our thing," Hachisame says.
"If you're going to be here for the school year, it wouldn't be a bad idea to get to know your surroundings. Most of the students staying here --,"
"We just came from town, Mr. Mutou," Time Warp interrupts, waving happily at him. He looks at us for a moment then towards the town.
"Then you probably already know where things are," he says. "Sorry. There were some last minute adjustments," he says momentarily raising and then lowering the handful of papers he's carrying as if showing us a stack of papers would explain everything.
"I'm new," I say meekly in the hopes of making him feel better.
"Hitomi is new," Time Warp repeats, "but we're showing her around."
"That's good. Well, take care now and keep up the good work. I've got an excursion to chaperone," he says waking on. There's a smile on his face but it's the kind of smile that doesn't look natural. If somebody had never seen a smile before in their life and were forced to do so with only a vague description of one, it would look a lot like this man's expression.
"That's strange," Hachisame says as we wander away. "Why would the school have him giving the tours? Talk about wrong man for the job."
"Okay. Clue me in," I say to her.
"That's not fair. Mutou's nice," Time Warp says.
"Mutou's the science teacher. He's kind of a kook. Don't get me wrong, he's nice; he's just a kook. Not in a creepy way or anything, just kind of a loveable geek sort of way," Hachisame explains.
"Gee, a weird-o at this school. Who would have guessed?" I'm going out on a limb saying this. It's kind of my way of testing the waters to see how they'll react to me speaking less than positive about the place.
"Welcome to Wonderland, Alice. We're all a little mad here," Hachisame smiles and slaps me on the back. "Yeah, but really, I've got no clue why they've got him doing the tour. Usually they have medical staff or the office people do the bus stuff."
"Maybe the normal guy is sick," I offer as a halfhearted explanation. "Who was the guy driving the van anyway?"
Hachisame shrugs. She's apparently lost interest in the topic already. Looking back over, all the students have gotten into the van, but Mr. Mutou still is standing outside the door talking to the driver through the window.
We continue on to the dorms. I take the first few steps up to the building before I notice that Hachisame and Time Warp aren't following. They've gone off to the side for some reason … oh… right. Wheelchair ramp. I stand there two steps up wondering if I should just finish climbing up the steps and wait there or go dash over to walk with them.
Catching up with them wins out in the end so I dash over. It seems like the less rude option. Hachisame twists around in her chair to look at me and nods. If Time Warp notices me at all, she doesn't say anything. They're talking about people I don't know, so I just keep quiet.
A beeping sound comes from Tana's pocket as we reach the top of the ramp. It beeps again before she reaches into her pocket and pulls a small phone. I'm close enough to tell that she has the ringer volume all the way down. "Hold up," She says. "I've just got a call."
"Who is it?" I ask, but she's takes a few steps away before she registers I've spoken. By the time she does notice, she's already texting someone.
"So, any plans for today?" Hachisame asks.
"I guess I figured we'd just hang out," I said.
"Cool. Me and Time Warp planed on going shopping today. You can tag along," Hachisame says.
Wait. Didn't we just get back from town?
I give her a confused look and point back towards the town, waiting for some kind of explanation. Although at this point though, I feel the pangs of a headache coming on.
Hachisame laughs and clicks her teeth together quickly. "That's town. There's not really much going on in town. We were going to catch a bus to the city. It's not too far and they've got a pretty decent mall."
That does change things. I had no problem with a quick jaunt to town, but this will be my first trip into any real crowded place since my accident. I'm a bit hesitant to do so, even if my head wasn't starting to throb.
"Sorry, I'm going to have to pass."
"Still up for Sunday?" Tana asks as she taps away on her phone.
"What's Sunday?" I ask.
At the same time, Hachisame replies with "You know it." I give Tana a minute to react to my question but she never answers it.
"What's going on Sunday?" I ask again.
"Ehh… don't worry about it," Hachisame says. I'm taken back by how quickly she dismisses me after having earlier said I was part of her group. It feels like they're going out of their way to remind me how little I know about them sometimes. "The next bus is in an hour and a half. I'll knock on your door when I'm ready."
There's a pause as we wait.
"Are you coming, Hitomi?" Time Warp asks.
"I'm not feeling that well, actually," I say. It's not a lie. My head is bothering me.
The rest of the day is rather uneventful as well as being long and boring. I decide to take the opportunity to rearrange my room in an attempt at making it feel my own. I spend a few hours making sure my things are exactly where I want them. I kinda want to go watch some TV but after blowing off Tana and Hachisame like that, it doesn't feel right, so I stay in my room a bit longer reading some of the magazine I've brought with me and nursing a headache.
I do find out where the cafeteria is, although by dinnertime, I'm really not in the mood to eat much. I have a light soup and some mixed fruit juice. After that, I take a nice long shower. The showers seem set to spray not too hard, but not soft either. I turn the water up until it creates a nice steam. I've always liked my showers and baths hot. The spray of the water is enough to make me feel temporarily comfortable again in this place full of oddities and strangers. I open my mouth and take a swallow or water as it beats down on me, and then I find myself taking another and another. I hadn't realized I was this thirsty.
My headache doesn't feel quite as bad as I exit the shower and return to my room.
It's not much longer afterward that I drift off to sleep.
Last edited by Oddball
on Sat Feb 02, 2019 12:05 pm, edited 8 times in total.
Not Dead Yet