I'm sorry this has been so long coming, life kind of got in the way for a while. I promise you won't be waiting almost two months for the next update! Also, another song reference used for the title of this chapter...
Act 3 – Chapter Ten, Second Branch: Summer In The City
“So, what do you want to do?” His question catches me slightly off guard.
“I... don't know.” My plans today were to see Lilly off, then sit in my room and do some homework, then read. I didn't think of anything else to do, I had no desire until now to consider doing anything else. With Hisao, however... assuming he does want to do anything with me, that is. I hope so, I hope for it so much...
“Do you want to head into town and look for a bookshop or something? We have the rest of the day free.” He pauses, as if he's not so certain of asking me, as if he thinks I might refuse...
“Okay.” Yes, oh yes this is perfect, more than I could have hoped for.
“R-really. Let's go.” I feel a bit annoyed at him for second guessing me, as if I might suddenly change my mind, but I suppose where I'm concerned it's understandable. He gives me a puzzled look and I can't avoid the thought that he simply doesn't understand why I agreed so readily, but as we wait for the bus into town he doesn't question my decision.
We aren't kept waiting too long and the bus ride is pleasant enough. The countryside is pretty, and it's not very far from the small town at the foot of the hill to the city just on the other side. The bus isn't very crowded either, though I can't say the same for the streets when we arrive. I knew it would be like this though, and if I have any problems coping then I only have myself to blame. I can't blame Hisao, not for agreeing to spend time with me like this, without imposing and forcing his way in. What would I have done if he had tried to force himself into my life? I can't even begin to imagine.
We step off the bus and the immediacy of the crowd hits me, all at once. My first instinct is to retreat and hide myself away, but I have to be strong. I settle for holding closely to Hisao, which I'll admit does have its benefits... a young woman clutching the arm of a young man, a rather attractive and nice young man at that... nevertheless my hat still hides my face, keeping hidden the worst of the scars. Not having to deal with the stares would be much better than succumbing to them.
“So, uh, where shall we go? A bookshop?” He gives me the choice of deciding where to haunt, but I don't know the city very well. It's exceptionally rare that I come here, and the night at the jazz bar was the first in a long time. I have no better ideas, so I nod my head. It takes a while for Hisao to notice, however.
“O-okay. D-do you know of one?”
“Actually, I do. We passed a few when Lilly and I were looking for your presents...” He breaks off suddenly. I know exactly why, it's the same reason why I look down for a second and show a hint of a frown on my face. I think I can deal with it while he's here, but not mentioning it would be much easier for me.
As he notices his error, I wait for him to continue, but when the silence between us is more than a few seconds old I decide to break it. “You both... spent a lot of time?” I don't move away from the topic at hand, but I don't know why. Perhaps it's another sign of how I'm growing, how I can cope more when he's around, when he's treating me as a human being. However much I deserve it, or however little, I feel happier and better about myself when he's with me. In any case, I want him to know that he doesn't need to tiptoe on eggshells all the time.
“We wanted to make sure we got the right present, after all,” he continues. I think he knows that the topic is okay again. I smile and blush, I can't help myself. After so long feeling so worthless it's nice to know that somebody truly values me, enough to go out of their way to make me happy. It's amazing that just a few days or weeks ago, I would have thought they were wasting their time, but now I can see that I really am treasured, at least in some small way.
Hisao carries on speaking as we both smile at each other. “Anyway, there should be a bookshop just up ahead, do you want to check it out?”
“S-sure.” We walk again, and I feel confident enough to lean across to Hisao and clutch his arm with my other, so now I'm holding on with both of my own. From the outside I suppose it could look more like a defensive gesture, and in a way it is. I still feel overwhelmed by the people surrounding us, but it's also a sign of affection, at least in my mind. I feel safe enough with Hisao that I can let him protect me, when I want to be protected. As long as I still have my space when I need it.
We don't talk for a while as we walk, but when we get nearer to the bookshop Hisao had mentioned, he asks me a question, seemingly from out of the blue. “I was wondering, Hanako... have you thought yet about when you're going to learn to drive?”
His question surprises me, and I can't help but wonder why he wants to know something like that? “D-driving?”
“Yeah. You're kind of lucky, in a way; there aren't a whole lot of students in Yamaku that are allowed to drive.” I don't answer, I'm too busy trying to understand what he means, and why he asked in the first place. Maybe he just wants to distract me from the crowd. He has a point, my condition is much more manageable in a physical sense (if not a psychological one) than most of our fellow students. Lilly certainly couldn't drive, and I think of Rin Tezuka, who wouldn't exactly be able to steer a car. I suppose Emi Ibarazaki might, though I'm not so clear on the legal side of driving with a disability. I wonder if Hisao would be allowed to learn? On the one hand, he has the physical capability, and could presumably take controlled lessons with no problems. On the other, what if he were to have a heart attack while on the road? What if he was in a road rage incident, and it triggered his condition?
By the time I finish running down the rabbit-holes of my mind in search of a conclusion to my thoughts of driving, we are standing outside a bookshop. A closed bookshop, no less. I see that Hisao shares my opinion on this turn of events... “What kind of self-respecting bookshop closes on Saturdays?” That being said, though I have the same opinion, I can also think of a very good reason for this.
“Bookshops... don't make much money anymore, because of the Internet. Maybe they just had to close over weekends?”
Hisao looks at me, and nods in agreement. “Huh, I guess that makes sense... it's easier to find books online. Anyway, it looks like this idea is shot. Anything else you'd like to do?”
There is one thing, though I didn't want to say anything before... “I-if it's not... not a bother... could you show me where you bought my present?” I smile, though I can feel the nervous stammer creeping its way in. I'll admit, I am certainly curious to find out where he and Lilly went that day, to find such a cute gift.
“Sure, not a problem. It's not far from here.” We continue walking in the same direction, turning down a few side streets and getting nearly lost in a maze of pedestrianised roads and small stores that sell all kinds of things. A chocolate shop on one side, books on another (also closed), a couple of bars with businessmen singing karaoke (this early in the day?). I spot the same jazz bar we visited before in another street, though it's one that we don't walk down. I'm half certain that Hisao doesn't even know where he's going, until we stop suddenly outside a tiny shop with a number of old chairs, dolls, clocks and other aged items in the window.
“Here we are, Othello's Antiques.” I wonder to myself if the name has any relation to the Shakespearian character (I may not know very much English, but I can certainly say I have a fond appreciation for the translated works of the bard himself). I can't imagine how.
“Well, yes,” comes the reply. “It took Lilly and I some time to find it.”
“Can we go in?” Now that we're here I have a longing to see just what else this cave of curiosities holds.
“I don't see why not; it's open.” I step forward and push the door open, Hisao following behind. I'm not so sure if there are ever many customers here, it seems pretty quiet. In fact, he and I are the only people here, save for the store's owner, who comes walking across as he hears the bell ring. The owner is a bearded man, around middle age or possibly a bit older, going grey. He reminds me a little of a museum curator. He barely glances at me, though my hat is slightly down again, immediately noticing Hisao. I take it he remembers seeing Hisao with Lilly, as he looks slightly forlorn.
“Oh, you're not here for a return, are you?” He probably can't afford to give many refunds with such a small shop and such an apparently low level of clientele. “Wait, that's not the girl you had with you last time...”
“Er, no, we're not here to return anything. We were just in town and wanted to have another look in here.” There's a pause as the store owner thinks about Hisao's words. Customers seem rare enough here, two high school students must be a once in a blue moon occurrence. He soon breaks the silence.
“Might this be the friend you bought gifts for?”
“That's right. They were presents for her.” Upon hearing Hisao's words, the store owner turns to me, and views at me properly for the first time. I freeze, for I can clearly see, and recognise, the look on his face.
It's one that I'm sadly used to. A mixture of pity and revulsion. I wonder if there's anywhere in the world that people like me can live without prejudice, without being looked down upon like second class citizens? Japan has such a well known and well respected culture, based upon honour, but nobody ever thinks about its ugly side. Honour is everything, and someone like me, or like Hisao, someone different, can never be equal. Yamaku is lauded as a place where we can be prepared for society on an equal level, where young people who happen to be disabled in some way can have a normal life until we're flung out to fend for ourselves. It never gets easier, though. It's easier for those like Hisao, who aren't marked so clearly by their weaknesses, but for someone like me? No matter where I go, no matter how strong I may try and be (even if I don't really feel it), I'm faced with this. I'm considered without honour for having these scars, or for not having arms, or legs, or for being blind or deaf or dumb. Lilly sometimes tells me of her uncle, Shizune's father, and how he reacted at finding out not one, but two members of his family were impure, were not perfect. People question why I appear so weak, but is it any wonder when even the most mild mannered citizen will treat me like nothing at all for simply daring (in their mind) to look different?
To the store owner's credit, he doesn't shy away, nor refuse to acknowledge me like others do. Neither does he stare, again like some I could mention. Instead, he looks slightly away, to the side of us both, though I notice his body is tense and his face clearly shows an awkward expression. I wonder how he reacted when he saw Lilly, when she bought me the doll, and noticed her blindness?
I recall my first meeting with Hisao, and remember that he had much the same look, acted in much the same way, when we first spoke. Or rather, when he first spoke, and I ran away. So it's hard for me to be too angry at the store owner today. “You're lucky there, young lady. To have friends that care about you as much as they do.”
I can't be upset, not now. There are many who would have refused to notice me, refused to accept my existence. He may have reacted in the same way at first, and may be struggling to accept my scars, but he's made some effort, and I can see how tough it must be to overcome years of prejudice (especially for an older gentleman like him). His words are sincere. “Th-thank you...”
I walk throughout the store, hoping that maybe the air will clear if given a chance. I look at all the items on display, antiquities and bric-a-brac that I know I can't afford but nevertheless admire. I find the dolls and can see several that look very similar to the one Lilly bought me, although not a single one is exactly the same. Each doll unique, just like I am. Just like Hisao, like Lilly, Akira, and all the other people in my life who have helped me, supported me, and made me the person I am. Sometimes, maybe it's a bit much, and I don't always need the help (a little overdone and overwrought by Lilly especially), but I think to myself how grateful I am to have them all there for me during the times I really need them. And how grateful I am to Hisao for suggesting this little trip. “This is a nice shop.”
“Yeah,” says Hisao, “it's not what I expected. Do you want to buy something?”
I wish I could, but I can't ask that of Hisao. “I-I didn't bring any money.”
“Well, we can always come again.”
“W-we can?” If we can still find it, though I have some faith now (at least, more so than earlier) in Hisao's skills as a human GPS.
“Of course. We can come here as often as you'd like.”
I can't tell him how happy I am to hear that, there aren't words for it. I settle on a simple, stammered, “th-thank you.”
“You don't need to thank me; I almost forgot where this place was.”
I've enjoyed the day, but I think it's probably time to finish this impromptu... well, I can't really call it a 'date'. Can I? “C-can we go back to the school now?”
“Sure thing. Let's go.” We say goodbye to the store owner, and he mumbles a goodbye in return. I see he's still struggling with my presence, but although he never looks at me I can tell from his voice that his goodbye was meant as a pleasant and peaceful wish. We start to walk back up the street, heading towards the bus stop back to Yamaku, when I notice in the corner of my eye Hisao turn his head, to look back towards the store. I don't turn my own head to follow suit, I feel that bit too self conscious to do so. I can't help but wonder, though without any grounding I suppose, what he was looking at...?
We barely speak on the way back, but the silence isn't a bad one. I think Hisao might have been more affected than I was by the look the store owner originally gave me, but what he doesn't realise is that I'm used to that kind of thing. It's new to him, and something that he'll have to deal with a lot less, with his condition being so much easier to hide from people. We're both lost in our own thoughts, whether good or bad, and even as we don't speak we both know there's not much need to. I had fun, and I hope Hisao did too.
Eventually we're standing, alone together, on the steps in front of the dormitories of Yamaku. “Well then,” I say, “goodbye.”
“Do you want to have some tea or something? How about a game?” I'm a little embarrassed, but I have to refuse. It's not that I don't want to, but rather that I need to have some alone time now, and I still have work to do. I've enjoyed myself, spending time with Hisao, but too much time together and we stand to lose what makes it so special.
“I... I'm tired. Maybe later? I've got homework...” The disappointment I feel leaks through my words, and on Hisao's face is a sort of half smile that's tinged with sadness.
“Ah, homework. Thanks for reminding me, I've got a stack to do as well.” Lazy! “I guess I'll see you tomorrow.”
“See you, Hisao.” I turn and walk away, though not without a genuine smile, and head back to the female dormitories, ready to start my work. I look forward to seeing him again soon enough.
Even so, there is something I'm a little worried about. I don't know if Hisao is aware, but tomorrow is the day before my... my birthday. I doubt I'll be in class tomorrow, and probably not for a few days afterwards either. My faith in him is more pronounced, and I hope he'll at least visit, but if he does he risks seeing me at my worst. Could I really face letting him see me like that? In another world, another time, I might be distrustful of him, maybe I wouldn't want him to be there, trying to help me and support me when I clearly don't deserve it. After today, however, I can see that he does care for me, even if it's only as a friend at this point, and he's been willing now to give me my space without complaint even after we've spent so much time in each other's company. I hope I can trust him to give me that space if I need it, and to be there if I want him to be. As for how our friendship, our relationship, develops from here? I'll have to wait and see...
Last edited by Trivun
on Tue Nov 12, 2013 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.