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Hanako's Story (COMPLETED 18/08/2014)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:00 am
Hi everyone, reposting this story since the previous thread was deleted due to concerns on the story length causing issues for some people with slower PCs and internet. If anyone still has problems seeing any of the text here then let me know and I'l see what I can do to remedy the problem
Comments are welcome, and constructive criticism is highly encouraged. Please help me improve as a writer!
Act 1 – Chapter One: Introductions (Part 1)
Another day. It starts so simply, like any other, I wake, I wash, I dress. I meet Lilly. I go to class. The teacher, Mutou-sensei, starts his lectures, as always. I avoid the looks of the others in the class. I try to ignore Misha's constant voice in my ear. Since I sit at the back of the room it's not so tough, however loud she can be. But there seems to be something different about today. I can't quite guess what it could be, but soon I don't need to. Just as homeroom ends, Mutou makes an announcement.
“Something I should have mentioned earlier, I guess, but we have a new student joining us today. Should be here soon, so please, try and make him feel welcome.”
A new student. Great. Someone else to avoid.
It's not long before he arrives. A young man, tall, with mousey brown hair. As Mutou introduces him, I notice that there doesn't seem to be anything outwardly wrong with him. That's not so surprising. Yamaku is home to so many, with all sorts of disabilities and issues. We have deaf students, like our class rep Shizune. Some, like Lilly, are blind. A girl in another class has a severe heart condition. With others, it's more obvious. Missing limbs, stunted growth. Me.
As I look, I notice the new student looking back at me. I cover my face with my hands. I suppose I've always been a bit self conscious. Hardly a shock given my... condition. As I try to hide, Mutou speaks up.
“...please welcome our newest classmate.”
And I realise that I have barely paid attention to what he was saying. He claps his hands together, and dutifully I do too, as does everyone else in the room. Except for those that can't, of course. In response, the new student bows his head a little.
“So... I'm Hisao Nakai. My hobbies are reading and soccer. I hope to get along well with everyone even though I'm a new student.”
He says nothing more. After a pause, Mutou continues talking, about everyone getting along, and I space out again, though I make an effort to at least look like I'm listening. At least things are better here than in my old life. It never consoles me much.
As he finishes, everyone starts to clap again. And again, I clap too. I suppose he's not so bad. I always try to avoid other students where possible, save for Lilly, but the teachers are much more understanding. It often throws me, since almost none of them have a condition like the students at Yamaku do. And adults could often be as cruel to me in my early years as the other children were. But I've never been shown anything but kindness from Mutou-sensei, or the other faculty. It's like a small ray of light in the darkness. I notice Mutou talking to the new student. Hisao Nakai. When he turns away he announces that there will be group work, that we are to form sets of three.
What I do next surprises no-one. It's my usual reaction to group work. I simply can't handle it, and there's a sort of... understanding between me and the school. As I quietly leave without a word, I glance at Mutou, who nods silently before turning his attention to the rest of the class. A few eyes follow me, but it's nothing new. I keep on top of my other work, and my grades are always at least average. As long as I can show that I'm still learning something, then nobody questions me.
Yamaku claims to not accept students with mental disabilities. They simply don't have the resources or staff to deal with those people. A missing leg is fine, but if you have Down's Syndrome then you're out of luck. But it's not entirely true. There is a line, of course. But in some cases you can't go through the experience that disables you without some emotional damage. Some instability. I'm hardly an exception to that rule. And allowances can be made.
I go to my usual place of retreat, where I can feel safe from the world outside. Yuuko nods in greeting and we make the usual quiet conversation that has become a feature of my visits. We never have a lot to talk about. I ask her about new books that she promised to order, and then head to the back of the library, where I settle down on my favourite cushion. I start reading the textbook from Mutou's class, so as to catch up on what I miss by being here. A mere chapter later, I put the book down and pick up a new one, that I had started just a few days before. It's an old classic by Mary Shelley, an English author, but translated into Japanese. The time seems to fly by, as I lose myself in the pages. I almost feel a sense of empathy with the creature in the story, misunderstood, but treated as a monster by the ignorant masses. Scared and alone. But as I read, I notice something. The villagers, the doctor, they're scared too. And in their fear, they lash out.
I've read through almost the entire book by the time the bell rings. With a start I am brought back to the physical world, and I remember that it's now lunch time. I put the book away and gather my things, saying a brief goodbye to Yuuko as I leave the library and make my way to the tea room, to meet Lilly.
Lunch is finally over. I make my way back to Mutou's classroom and return to my seat at the back of the room, avoiding everyone's eye. Not many people have returned anyway. As I sit down, I look up and notice someone else enter. It's the new boy, Hisao Nakai. As our eyes meet, I blush a little and try to look away, when another figure crashes in. Misha always has a tendency to be loud, something I learned long ago. When Lilly and Shizune still spoke without daggers in their eyes. All the excitement is too much for me, and I sink further into my seat, making every effort to become invisible. How easier life would be if I could really do that! Misha and Shizune walk past me to their own seats, and I simply sit still as a rock, my nerves tense. In the corner of my eye I notice Hisao looking at me with a curious look on his face. Slowly, the room fills, Mutou arrives, and classes begin again.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:48 am
Act 1 – Chapter One: Introductions (Part 2)
A new day. Classes begin, same as always. More group work. I get up and quietly leave, with Mutou's silent blessing. This time,however, I can feel a new pair of eyes on me, watching me leave. I take the opportunity as I reach the door to glance sideways. I see Hisao looking at me with concern. He doesn't seem to notice me looking back. I wonder what he makes of my disappearances during class? He hasn't been at Yamaku long enough to realise it's a normal habit for me. I open the door, step out into the corridor, and make my way to the library.
A crashing sound startles me and wakes me from my reverie. It's been some time since I last looked at a clock, but the windows show the sun appears to be setting. I look around but see nothing that could have caused such a sound. Perhaps Yuuko just banged her head again – common enough with her clumsiness. I look back at the book I'm reading. I finished the Shelley book early on and soon moved on to a new topic, my interests ever changing as new reading material presents itself to me.
Going back to my reading, I hear footsteps. These aren't the footsteps of Yuuko, but rather a louder, heavier sound, more fitting of a tall male than the petite librarian. I realise that hearing people in the library is a rarity. Aside from the library staff the only people to come here regularly are myself and Lilly. Instinctively I raise the book to my face, hiding myself away while continuing to read. Over the top of the book, however, my eyes are still able to peek out and see who else is here.
Of course. The new boy, Hisao. I begin to shy away, sinking further into the beanbag cushion and keeping as much of my face hidden as possible. My eyes dart between the book and the newcomer, unable to focus on one or the other. I try to ignore him and continue reading but it proves impossible to avoid his gaze. He sits down on another beanbag, setting down a pile of books he has clearly picked from the stacks. His eyes meet mine, before they flick away to the book covering most of my face. I am unable to feel insulted, since my embarrassment far outweighs any injury I could feel at his actions.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.”
His voice cuts across and tries to calm me down, a soothing sound almost tailor-made to put me at ease. The best I can do is stammer a quiet whispered response.
“It... it's okay.”
“So, um... do you mind if I sit here?” He replies. To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I can hardly lay claim to the beanbags, or the library, but nevertheless I feel as though I would be unable to withstand such an attack, however unintended, on my own private space. He seems genuinely sorry to disturb me, though, and the look of concern in his eyes is enough to disarm me. I nod gently and say, “Oh... okay.”
Hisao sits next to me and I bury my head once more in the book. As I try to concentrate, his voice resonates once more in my ears.
“Life of Pi... never heard of it.” A pause. “So, errr... sorry again for startling you. I'm Hisao.”
I already know this, of course. He introduced himself to the class, after all. Even so, I hesitate before replying.
“I... know. We... are in the same... same class.” I can barely speak, so nervous and timid as I am. But Hisao is making an effort to be nice. It's more than anyone has ever done for me since I met Lilly and her sister. The least I can do is make an effort in return. “H-H-Hanako. I'm... Hanako.”
The conversation stalls again. It's as though neither of us knows what to say. I know I don't. The silence is broken once again by Hisao.
“Don't let me interrupt your reading. I'll... just check these books, if you don't mind.”
His voice sounds so uneasy. I nod, relieved, and sigh just a little. Silence falls once more, but I can't concentrate. My gaze flickers from the book to Hisao to the stacks to anywhere else. Like a deer caught in headlights. I feel as though just being here is uncomfortable for us both. Every time I see Hisao, his eyes are drawn to me, to my scars. It's unbearable. It isn't long before our eyes meet again.
I stand up, as if our eyes had caused an electric shock to run through me. I take a deep breath.
“I... I...” I stammer. Hisao responds with the same short sound. Then it comes rushing out of me, in a single breath.
I can't take it. The pressure, the nerves, the awkward silences. Hisao noticing my scars. As soon as the words leave my lips I run, reaching the counter and fleeing past Yuuko and Lilly, out of the library and away. As I leave I notice that Hisao has followed, much too late, and looking back in the corridor I see he hasn't followed far. He hasn't even left the library. I'm glad of that. I couldn't face seeing him again after what just happened. I slow down, walking to the tea room. As I reach the door, Lilly appears in the corridor behind me. She must have left to find me after I ran. She can't see me, of course, so maybe she assumed I would come to the tea room, the closest place where I can feel safe. I wait until she gets closer, then gently call her name. “Lilly!”
“Hanako? Is that you?”
“Yes,” I reply. My voice is weak and soft, as always, but there can be no mistaking me for anyone else at this point. Since it's so late, most students are in their dorm rooms, or club meetings, so chances are Lilly and I are among the only students still roaming the hallways.
“Hanako, is everything alright? What happened just now?”
“It's fine,” I tell her. “Everything is okay. I just... just panicked a little.”
“Why? Did something happen to you?”
“N... no. I'm just... not used to people being in... in the library.”
I know my words sound false. But it's the truth. I go there for books, yes, but also because it's a quiet place to hide away. Sometimes I've wondered if my behaviour could be considered... healthy. My experiences and the trauma were enough reason for Yamaku Academy to request a therapist see me at weekends, to help me work through it all. But it hasn't helped much at all. Still, it's not as though I have no friends. I have Lilly, and Akira. And Yuuko. Even if I do keep them rather distant at times.
Lilly doesn't appear to be too happy with my explanation, though she knows I really do mean it. Nevertheless she decides not to push the topic. We go into the room and drink tea, and talk about various things. Classes, Akira's work, the school festival. I realise that I left my school bag at the library, in the rush to escape, so Lilly convinces me to return for it. I dread seeing Hisao again, but thankfully he seems to have left, so I am able to retrieve my bag without incident. I say goodbye properly to Yuuko, and head back to my dorm room with Lilly.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:51 am
Act 1 – Chapter Two: A Little Crash (Part 1)
The next day, I'm worried enough about seeing Hisao in class that I put off getting up for another ten minutes. Unfortunately, this is enough to make me late. No matter. Mutou-sensei is understanding enough of my circumstances to grant me leeway even on tardiness, so nothing is said when I turn up ten minutes late to class. As I take my seat I notice Hisao looking at me, the only one in the room to even bother, but despite my embarrassment I keep my nerve, and maintain a stoic expression until I sit down. No sooner have I done so than Mutou tells the class we are to be working in groups once again. Normally this would be my chance to leave, but I look across at the teacher and catch his eye. He gives me a brief nod, but even so I feel it would be a waste of time to just go now, so I remain. Instead of working with a group I can simply attempt the assigned problems by myself.
I do look up on occasion though, to see how everyone else is doing. People's reactions give me a clue on how hard the work may be. Some are sitting with their heads down, deep in thought, but across the row from me one boy looks prepared to throw his pen in frustration, while another pair at the front corner of the class are simply staring at the wall, doodling absent-mindedly, as though they can't be bothered to even attempt the problems. As I observe people, I overhear snippets of a conversation between Hisao and Misha. That is to say, I hear snippets of Hisao, since Misha's every word can likely be heard from the very next room. Hisao seems concerned for me, wondering why I so often work alone, or leave at the very mention of group tasks. I am genuinely unsure whether to be flattered that he would care despite not knowing me at all, or if I should feel hurt that he would wish me treated as a fragile package to be nurtured by those around her. Misha's response is as I expected it to be. She seems to be telling Hisao why I can't work with her or Shizune, but she isn't giving him the full details. I suppose it really comes down to Lilly and Shizune. Which would make me guilty by association, though guilty of what I can never tell.
By the time the bell rings for lunch I have finished my work, and begin to review my notes from the previous class. There's not much for me to catch up on, since I tend to work in the evenings to make up for the time I spend outside the classroom. Everyone else begins talking, taking out lunchboxes, rearranging desks, and generally acting rather loud. I ignore them, and they ignore me. Except for one person. I notice Hisao watching me, and suddenly I can no longer concentrate. As he watches I find myself unable to even turn a single page. It doesn't matter though, since soon Lilly will arrive. Before she does, however, Hisao walks up to me.
I freeze, worried about what he will say. I make no sign that I have noticed him, but still he speaks to me.
“Um, hey there, Hanako.”
I look up at him and see him smiling, very nervously. I still feel nervous, but am able to unfreeze long enough to reply, “H... Hisao?”
“Hey... I just wanted to apologise for yesterday. I didn't mean to startle you or anything. I'm just new here and thought I should get to know my classmates.”
His words are enough to make me smile. I can understand how he feels, but unlike him I have never had the urge to get to know everyone. Openness among people is all well and good, but in return for baring themselves, others expect to know more about you as well. I simply couldn't face it. Hisao's naïve innocence is charming though.
I notice him looking at my scars again, but this time I can't feel any fear. Hisao strikes me as someone who genuinely doesn't care about my deformity. He can't help but notice, and can't help but stare, but that's the same reaction I get from everybody. He's different to others, though, in that my scars don't repulse him. He looks at them and doesn't recoil in horror, doesn't turn away or treat me badly because of how I look. He doesn't stare. Instead he seems to treat them as a point of interest, but nothing to get worked up about. It's hard to describe, but with Hisao I don't feel as nervous as I did before. What I've seen, and what I feel I noticed when he wasn't aware, suggests to me that he isn't so shallow as to judge me based on my scars. It makes me happy, but to be honest, it also scares me a little.
“T... that's okay. It... it was my fault,” I stammer.
“Nah, that wasn't anyone's 'fault', it just kind of happened.” Hisao doesn't blame me. I wish I could feel the same way. After everything I almost feel embarrassed at myself, so it feels odd that Hisao can just ignore what happened in the library and move on so easily. It's another way we're different, I guess. I have a hard time moving on from things. Evidently, he doesn't.
“So, are you waiting for someone?” Hisao asks. “I saw you looking at the door before...”
“Y... yes. Lilly.”
“Oh, you mean Lilly the blind girl?” Hisao's response jars me. Maybe I was quick to judge him as being so lenient, given the way he describes Lilly. I nod in reply, annoyed at the way he so casually commented on my friend's condition. But then again, he did treat me kindly despite my appearance. It is hard coming here at first, something everyone at Yamaku can surely agree with. Since everyone has some sort of disability, and most of us don't come from places where such traits are considered normal, it is very easy to slip into the habit of referring to people by their condition. I was never able to get over that, in all my self-consciousness. Being new, maybe I can cut Hisao some slack.
Perhaps he realised his faux pas, as he continues. “She seems like a nice girl. Are you two friends?”
I accept the unspoken apology on Lilly's behalf, and reply, “Y... yes.” I begin to feel the same sense of nervousness I felt in the library yesterday. The conversation is getting somewhat awkward, and frankly I start to feel naked to his words. While on the one hand I am happy to be talking to Hisao, without any open prejudice on his part, I also feel uncomfortable being alone. I could use some support, and instinctively I look over my shoulder to the door to see if Lilly has arrived yet.
Clearly Hisao noticed my rather obvious reaction. “I hope I'm not disturbing you right now...”
“N... no, that's not it,” I comment. “It's just easier if Lilly doesn't come here...” I know that Hisao won't be satisfied with that answer, but like my words to Lilly last night, they are no less true, for all the relevance (or lack of) to the conversation. I know how Shizune is likely to react to Lilly's presence, and if possible I'd rather not be caught up in that. Before I can explain, however, Hisao comes up with his own conclusion.
“Oh, because it's hard to get around the classroom?”
“Not... really.” I look across at Shizune, hoping that Hisao will get the point. It's not my place to tell him for definite the nature of Shizune's and Lilly's feud, but I consider that his conversation with Misha earlier may have given at least a hint of the situation between them.
“Shizune?” he queries. I nod in reply. “What about her? Don't they get along?” I shake my head. With any luck he'll realise that I can't talk about it. It's not that I don't want to, but rather, I can't really make any sort of comment on it. It's not my business, after all. Fortunately, Hisao seems to recognise this, and moves on from the topic. He even notices the door open before I do.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:52 am
Act 1 – Chapter Two: A Little Crash (Part 2)
“Oh, she's here now.”
I quickly turn and see Lilly at the front of the classroom. Glad to finally be able to leave without causing offence, I walk across to her. I don't mean that I don't want to continue speaking with Hisao. It's nice that he's making some effort, and it's nice that I can actually talk to someone other than Lilly or Yuuko for once. But I have my limits, and there seems to be so very little that I can talk about these days. Ever since the incident, I've not been much of a conversationalist.
“Lilly...” I say to her.
“Ah, Hanako. Good morning. Is the president here?” It's clear who she's referring to, something even Hisao can easily pick up on.
“Y... yes.” I glance across once more at Shizune, even though I'm aware Lilly can't see me do so. It's more for Hisao's benefit than hers, though. Lilly seems eager to be off, in any case. The sooner we leave, the less chance of a confrontation. I've seen them argue in the past, with Misha acting as an unwilling conduit. It's never a pretty sight. They clash enough during official business, what with Lilly being her class representative and Shizune being student council president. With the festival coming up, there's likely to be more reason for them to butt heads, and as far as I'm concerned we're all better off out of it.
Apparently Lilly feels the same. “I suppose we'd best be off, then,” she says, with a sigh and a raised eyebrow that aren't lost on Hisao. He looks across at Shizune again, then back to Lilly, but to my relief he doesn't press the subject. I wonder what he thinks of the situation? Every school has its cliques and groups, after all. I'd imagine things were much the same at his previous school, but it's not something a newcomer would expect at Yamaku. It threw me a little too when I first arrived, but I've since had time to grow used to it. Of course, I wouldn't be counted as part of any such clique. Perhaps Lilly and myself could be considered one all on our own.
“Hey, Lilly,” says Hisao. “How are things? I'm sorry I made you run off yesterday.” Of course, Lilly and Hisao must have spoken after I fled the library the previous evening. She would have no doubt asked him what had happened before trying to find me. It's only when Lilly replies that I remember she had no way of knowing he was here as well.
“Oh my, is that Hisao? I didn't realize you were here...” She looks slightly embarrassed. It's not often I do this, but I feel almost obliged to come to her rescue. Usually it's the other way around.
“S-sorry Lilly. I thought you realized...”
Even then, she recovers quickly. “No, it's alright, Hanako. Hisao, please don't worry about yesterday. It was just a misunderstanding.”
Hisao seems almost unsure of himself with this. As though he's been caught flat-footed in the discussion. “If... you say so. I'm still working this place out.”
“Well then, I think you'll find most people here a lot more forgiving than elsewhere.” It's the same thing Lilly has said to me so often, but I've never been quite able to take her words on board. Again, I think of cliques and groups within Yamaku, and how out-of-place I am with any of them. “If you are feeling a little confused, please don't be afraid to ask questions.”
“Sure. I'll remember that.” Hisao, on the other hand, follows her meaning easily.
“Um... Lilly...” As fascinating as all this interaction is, I still feel uneasy around everyone else, and in the corner of my eye I notice Shizune surreptitiously glancing every few seconds. It's simply a matter of time before she finds some excuse to come over and drag Misha along for yet another verbal spar.
Lilly nods, recognising my voice and meaning even if she can't see what I see. “I'm sorry Hisao,” she says, “but we must be off.” Even I can see she hasn't fully recovered from Hisao bringing up the events of yesterday, and my own discomfort must be obvious to anyone looking. But Hisao clearly doesn't want to be on his own with Shizune and Misha – something I can certainly understand.
“Mind if I accompany you two?” I'm not entirely sure what to think, so I look across to Lilly. A hint of a smile is present on her lips, a slight humming sound escaping her mouth.
“I'm sure that we could accommodate you, can't we, Hanako?”
Damn her. Leaving the decision down to me. I know that she's doing this for a very good reason, attempting to give me more self-assertion and confidence. But I know that my problem isn't a lack of confidence in general. Rather, I feel almost resentful at times, of the way I appear to everyone else. How they change their own behaviour to accommodate me. It isn't enough that they see me as different, they have to draw attention to that fact without even meaning to, and it doesn't help me in dealing with the issues that surround my own self. Nevertheless, I'm in that scenario now, having to make this choice. Hisao seems like a good person, and everything he's done so far screams of effort and a genuine attempt to see me as someone normal. In the end, the chance to actually make a friend, unconditionally, wins out over my usual fears and worries.
Lilly smiles at me, almost as if I'd passed some kind of test. Knowing her, perhaps it was. A test of my own ability to make an important decision. A test of confidence. If only she could move on and let me show my true self without needing these silly games. But Lilly will always be Lilly.
“Well then,” she says, “shall we go?”
I still have a look on my face, like a rabbit caught in headlights, but there's no way Lilly could pick up on that without either myself or Hisao saying anything. He doesn't, and I certainly won't, so the matter is settled. We quickly leave, before Shizune can accost us. I see her watching us as we pass through the open doorway, but she makes no attempt to stop us. A narrow escape, it seems.
Lilly takes her usual position in the corridor, walking by the wall so her cane can tap against it and alert her to her rough position. I still feel uneasy, enough that I find myself unconsciously staying close to Lilly, almost hugging her as we walk. It would be easy for her to make comment, but she says nothing. Turning the corner, I suddenly witness a pink blob speeding towards us. Before I can focus, the blur of colour hit Hisao with full force, knocking him to the ground.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:53 am
Act 1 – Chapter Two: A Little Crash (Part 3)
“Ouch,” I hear from the floor. It's not certain who said it, but I let out a small high-pitched scream before I can fully observe the scene before me.
Emi. Of course. Dressed in her track kit, I've seen her cause more than a few accidents inside Yamaku's hallways, to the point that it's a small miracle no-one has ever been seriously hurt. Looking at Hisao, though, he seems to be breathing much more rapidly. He stares for a few seconds at her running blades, thrown by her speed despite her lack of legs – most people have the same reaction (I certainly did, the first time I saw her run). As Emi begins gets up, Hisao winces a little, still on the floor. It looks like he's in pain. Before I can say anything, though I'm unsure of what to say exactly, Emi starts to speak.
“Aw, man... hey, are you alright? I'm sorry about that, really! I wasn't looking where I was going, and you just came out of nowhere. Sorry... sorry!”
Emi has a way of speaking that borders on hyperactive. She's the complete opposite of me, feisty and bubbly, with a fondness for life that makes her an instant joy to be around. I've never quite been able to talk to her much, but in conversation she usually makes up for that with few problems. I certainly like her, to be sure, but we could never really be friends. We're just too different. She is nice though, and she seems truly apologetic. The look on her face is almost like a puppy dog, eyes wide and a slight frown gently marring her features. Apparently Hisao has already picked up on that.
“It's okay, don't worry about it... ouch...”
I'm not the only one to have noticed Hisao is hurting. Lilly is puzzled, wondering why I stopped so suddenly, unsure of what is going on. She hasn't quite put two and two together based on what she heard yet. But Emi's puppy dog look has been replaced by one of concern, turning more serious when Hisao rubs his chest and frowns.
“Hey, should I get a nurse?” Her voice has risen to an even higher pitch than usual, which is quite an achievement. Hisao stares at her for a few seconds before replying. I also stare, but at Hisao, who rubs his chest again. I can't speak, though I'm as worried as Emi. Upon witnessing how serious things could be, I have simply frozen out of fear. I still have no idea what Hisao's problem could be that brought him to Yamaku, but seeing the way his hand is touching his chest and the pain he is clearly in gives me a few ideas.
“Err... no need, I'm fine”, he says, downplaying the problem. He pulls himself to a sitting position, feeling his chest again, and sighs. Emi echoes my own concern.
“You sure you're okay? I hit you pretty hard.”
“It's okay,” comes the reply. “I said I was fine, and nothing's broken. No harm done.”
Emi seems convinced, but I'm not. Hisao has to have some reason for being here, and there's nothing outwardly wrong with him. Clearly his problem is something to do with his chest, which would mean he isn't alright, not by a long shot. But I find myself unable to say anything.
“That's good!” Emi is relieved at Hisao's apparent sudden recovery. “I was...”
Before Emi can finish speaking, Lilly has finally realized something is wrong. “Hisao, what happened?”
“Someone just bumped into me, nothing serious. Just winded.” I feel somewhat annoyed at his determination to deny anything is the matter.
“Er, sorry,” says Emi, returning to the previous puppy dog look. “I was just going to get some stuff, and I was in kind of a hurry.”
Lilly recognises the voice. “That 'someone' here is Emi, isn't it?” Emi coughs and looks rather sheepish.
“Hi, Lilly, Hanako.”
“Do please try to be more careful,” Lilly tells her. “You might be sturdy enough to endure these sorts of accidents, but there are people who aren't.”
A big understatement at this school. Especially given the figure still sitting on the ground in front of me. By this point I feel almost ready to speak again, but with Lilly giving Emi the usual lecture there's not much call for me to interject. Emi blushes a little and starts to fidget, embarrassed at what has happened. I look at Hisao to see if he's alright now, and notice a smile on his face as he watches Emi's reaction to Lilly's stern telling-off.
“I know that! I – I, um, I was just... Aaah! I gotta go! Teacher'll have my head, I promised to help with printouts but I went running instead! Sorry, but I've gotta change and everything!”
Emi starts to babble again at high speed, running off at a speed not so much slower than her previous blob-like state. I look to see Lilly's reaction, but of course she can't see. She does frown, however, noticing how quickly Emi's voice fades away down the corridor. Hisao is still on the floor, but pulls himself to his feet.
“Does that kind of thing happen often around here?”
Lilly takes the stand on this one. “There are more rules in Yamaku than usual for running in corridors... but that rarely stops Emi, it seems.” She shakes her head briefly, but there is a clear smile on her face. I'm sure Hisao doesn't need to be told why the rules are so strict for running here. But again, Emi doesn't seem to be one to follow them in general. This is hardly her first offence, after all. “I don't think there's anything we can do to stop her, I'm afraid. Shall we be off, then?”
Lilly continues walking, back the way we were originally headed, and I follow behind her. Hisao pauses briefly, but soon hurries in my wake. We reach the tea room with no further incident.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:55 am
Act 1 – Chapter Three: Debate and Confrontation (Part 1)
As we sit down in the tea room, Lilly and I begin the process of making lunch. I had only expected there to be two of us, so some adjustments are required in the amount everyone has to eat, but this is of little concern as Lilly starts to make the tea. I get out the lunchboxes we had previously packed, setting out food for three.
“So,” Hisao asks, “is this what you meant by coming here almost every day?”
“Yes, Hanako and I usually have lunch here.” Lilly replies. “It suits both of us, so we ended up using this room regularly.”
Hisao looks briefly towards me, and I can guess what must be going through his mind. It's much easier for me to eat here than in the cafeteria, surrounded by people. And Lilly is always beset with issues and matters relating to being a student rep – it gives her a much-needed break being away from everyone else. I have no such requirements of her time, so eating together gives us both a rest. Hisao sits down after the tea has been poured, taking the seat next to mine. I almost shy away at his closeness, but just about keep myself in check. I have the chance to make a new friend here, and showing my potential weakness will help no-one. I want them to see me as a strong individual, after all, and flinching at someone simply sitting by me will hardly do anything to aid that. I try to relax, smile slightly at Hisao, and start to eat.
Lilly is the first to break the silence. “So, how are you faring in Yamaku, Hisao? You seemed a bit flustered before.”
What a way for her to avoid the topic of her own embarrassment from earlier. With not noticing Hisao and with her failing to realise sooner what had happened during the incident with Emi, Lilly is still feeling rather uncertain of herself. Definitely not like her. Bringing up Hisao's own uncertainty is a great way for her to deflect attention from herself, while also getting a chance to learn more about the newcomer and make him more at ease in Yamaku itself. Hisao takes in stride regardless.
“Apart from getting lost every now and again, and being crash-tackled outside my classroom? Fine, I guess...”
I can't help but speak up here. I do still worry about Hisao after being nearly knocked out by the speeding bullet that is Emi. “You... you looked pretty hurt before. Are you really... okay?”
Something flickers on Hisao's face for the briefest of moments, before it returns to a normal expression once more. It's enough to confirm for me that something is wrong, or was wrong at any rate, and that his condition has something to do with it. He refrains from giving details though, refusing to say exactly what his condition is.
“Yeah, it's nothing. I was just a bit startled.”
I certainly don't believe it. I steal a look at Lilly, and she doesn't seem to agree either. Neither of us are stupid. We know when someone isn't being completely straight with us. But I don't want to drive Hisao to tell us something he clearly doesn't want to discuss - I can sympathise with him enough there. Lilly, too, chooses not to push the subject. There's too much pain down that road. Everyone here has their own tale to tell, whether it be something like my own story, or simply mundane – Lilly's blindness from birth, for example. Whether we choose to tell our tales is something for each individual to decide. Privacy is paramount here at Yamaku.
“So, uh...” Hisao starts. “How long have you been in this school? You both seem to know your way around pretty well.”
“Hmm... well, I've been here since the start of high school, but only moved into the dormitories a year ago.” Lilly would have started here early, of course, since her blindness wasn't a recent thing. Anything to make life a little bit easier. “Hanako joined at the start of high school as well, and moved to the dormitories when she did, if memory serves me right.”
“That's right,” I confirm. “Since... high school.” It would have been too difficult for me to spend even the smallest amount of time in a regular high school. Too many questions, too many people staring. Too much abuse.
Hisao continues the conversation, clearly curious to know more about us. “So you've known each other since then?”
“Since I moved, yes,” says Lilly. “Hanako lives next door to me, so it's only natural, right?”
She looks at me to confirm what she is saying. “R-right.”
“Yeah, of course,” Hisao says. That isn't the full story, and Hisao looks at me as if to say he knows the real reason. Lilly wasn't the first person to take a room next to me, but the others weren't blind. They could still see my scars. And I could still see the distance they kept.
The conversation ends rather abruptly. There's not really much more to talk about at this point. We continue eating in silence.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:56 am
Act 1 – Chapter Three: Debate and Confrontation (Part 2)
The bell sounds for the end of lunch, and Lilly and I clear away our lunches.
“I guess we'd better be off,” Lilly says. “Are you going to go with Hisao, Hanako?”
My first reaction is to say no. I may not mind Hisao's company so much, but being alone with him on the walk to Mutou-sensei's class is too much for me right now. Too much awkwardness. I even think of perhaps skipping this class to avoid walking with Hisao. But that wouldn't benefit anyone, and the slight hint of a smile on Lilly's face is enough to convince me otherwise. I voice my consent in a small voice.
Hisao has a hint of concern in his voice, but I feel compelled to brush it aside. I've made my decision. “We should hurry then. Class has already started by the sound of it.” We leave together quickly, and say our goodbyes to Lilly as she nods towards us, reaching down for her cane. She hurries after us though, and turns to Hisao to speak before entering her own classroom.
“Hisao, thank you for sharing lunch with us today.”
“My pleasure, Lilly,” he replies. With the formalities over, Lilly disappears into her class, leaving Hisao and I standing together in the corridor. I still feel nervous, and reconsider the idea of skipping to spend an afternoon in the library.
Apparently Hisao has picked up on that. “So, do you really want to go back to class now?”
I have to stay strong! I have to maintain my resolve. “Y-yes.”
“Okay then,” Hisao says. There is another awkward silence. Eager to avoid any further discussion, he opens the rear door of the classroom. I follow him into the room to see Mutou-sensei looking at Hisao with the start of a lecture on his lips. However, the instant he sees me, whatever he was about to say is lost, and he keeps quiet while nodding at us both. I wonder what could be going through his mind right now? Or through the minds of our fellow classmates. Hisao looks back at me, but doesn't say a word. His eyes flicker toward the desks where Shizune and Misha usually sit. They're empty. Yet Mutou doesn't seem to have any objection there, either. At least, none that has been so far articulated. The class continues. I sit down and try to work as much as possible.
The next day is routine as always. I wake, I wash, I dress, I head to class. What follows isn't quite as routine, however. I am about to enter Mutou's classroom, early for once, when I hear raised voices. I didn't plan to be quite so early, but I already owed Mutou-sensei some work, and if I handed it in with enough time to spare I could always spend the first period in the library again. The voices are familiar. One in particular.
“Today! The deadline is today! You're certainly taking your time, aren't you...”
Misha, of course. I decide to listen for a short while, though half of what is being said is just about inaudible to my ears through the door. Clearly Lilly's managed to catch Misha, and Shizune, at the wrong time, and is now paying the price for it. I'm somewhat surprised though, not to mention intrigued, to hear another voice.
“Hey, Shizune, aren't you being a little too hard on her? There's still a whole day left.”
I didn't expect to hear Hisao's voice crop up here, but it takes a back seat in my mind. As I listen I hear the conversation devolve into a full-on confrontation between Lilly and Shizune. With Misha's voice, of course. I've grown rather good at reading between Misha's lines, even when I can't actually see her as she talks. Or yells. It sounds like Lilly is becoming more agitated, while Shizune is thriving in the atmosphere that no doubt permeates the room. I can just imagine the grin spread across Shizune's face, that Lilly can't see. It makes me angry on Lilly's behalf, but I know better than to go in and join the conflict. Much better to sit this one out.
“Are you accusing me of slacking off?” says Misha, on Shizune's behalf. “It seems like you're confusing me with yourself...”
“I don't think so,” comes the reply. “That would be a very difficult thing for me to do, comparing myself to you.”
“You're right, the difference between us is like heaven and hell.”
“And it's not hard to guess which one you might represent.” A harsh sentiment, but no less accurate coming from Lilly's lips. It's enough to keep even Misha silent for a brief moment.
“Hicchan! Don't you slack off either...” Misha comments, clearly an attempt by Shizune to restore her control of the argument. A vain hope, as Lilly's barbed comeback has ruffled her feathers more than a little.
“What are you talking about?” He seems very out of his depth.
“Aren't you taking part in the festival, Hicchan? You are, aren't you? Then! I hope you're going to do a lot more to make sure it goes smoothly than this person!”
“Hey, I'm the new guy, remember? It's not like I could've done much, even if I'd wanted...” Hisao jumps on the defensive.
“That's right,” comes the added boost from Lilly, “you shouldn't expect a transfer student to jump right into it on his first week.”
Hisao's next comment is more than enough to add to my faith in him, as well as give more light to Lilly's newly found confidence against Shizune. “Yeah, you're being unreasonable with us both.”
I smile at this. Despite all the reservations I had about Hisao, I can see that he does care, and my respect for him grows immensely. He doesn't simply defend himself, but comes to Lilly's aid as well, presenting a united front against Shizune's pressure. When Misha next speaks for Shizune, she sounds audibly defeated, as though there is little either can do to salvage the situation in their benefit.
“Excuses, excuses. Miss Class Rep has had plenty of time to deal with her report. And we repeatedly offered you a position to help with the student council work, but you refused to commit yourself to making the festival a success.”
Shizune and Misha are simply repeating the same arguments as before, as if they hope that shouting loudly enough (how ironic) will be enough for them to 'win'. Hisao notices this too, and refuses to let them trap him in an ever recycling debate.
“Yeah, but as I said back then, I'm not sure if... Whatever. Forget it.”
It's clear that the discussion is over. Before I am caught eavesdropping, I swiftly turn on my heel and walk away, heading towards the tea room. I don't return to class, but it's a close call. I had already made plans to catch up later, and there's no way I feel strong enough today to face my classmates, but I would love to see Shizune's face after her defeat this morning...
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:57 am
Act 1 – Chapter Four: Breaking Borders (Part 1)
I don't spend the entire day away from class, of course. Although I may be good at playing catch-up, I still need to attend most of the time. I almost regret turning up to the classroom this afternoon, however, when I open the door to find the shrill high pitch of Misha greeting me.
“Oh? Hello...” She quickly realises who I am... “Hey! Playing delinquent again?”
I blush in response. I'm not entirely certain of what to say now, and back away slowly around the door as Shizune closes in. She makes a quick gesture to Misha, as my head disappears and only my fingers remain, curled around the open frame. I've never been entirely comfortable around Shizune, mainly with my shyness and her aloofness. My close friendship with Lilly hardly helps, either. But before Misha can translate, Hisao comments.
“What is it, Hanako?”
I reply directly to him, refusing to acknowledge the two girls staring at my hand on the door edge. “H... has Lilly been here?” It isn't Hisao who speaks though, but Misha.
“Sorry, haven't seen Satou. She, eh, came by in the morning though.”
I continue to watch Shizune, keeping an eye on her, but try not to react to what Misha has just told me. They don't know that I heard the confrontation this morning, and it would do me no favours to reveal it now. Misha seems kind of embarrassed though, understandable with Hisao right next to her. Shizune stares back at me, refusing to budge even a little. I wonder what could be going through her mind. She can't possibly suspect me of eavesdropping, she couldn't have heard me, let alone seen me outside the room. No, I believe she simply wants to intimidate me. I feel terrified, of course, but I won't let her beat me here. I maintain eye contact, refusing to break, while asking Misha for more details.
“Do... do you know where she is?”
Shizune signs to Misha, meeting my continuing challenge.
“If she has any sense in her head,” comes the translation, “she's in her classroom, working on their festival project. But who knows where that woman is loitering at.” It's clearly a direct attack from Shizune, trying to reassert her own dominance. Maybe she still feels put out from her defeat to Lilly and Hisao earlier in the day? Or perhaps she just wants to show me that she is the superior person here. It doesn't work.
“You need to find her?” says Hisao. “She was looking for you in the morning but I guess you missed each other.” I was rather surprised, to tell the truth, that she didn't come to my usual haunts this morning. Maybe she was too busy after all, but I didn't see her at the tea room, nor in the library when I retreated there for the rest of the period. Yuuko hadn't seen her either. Curious. I pause, thinking on this, when I realise that Hisao asked me a question, and I haven't yet replied.
“I can come with you,” he offers. “If it's okay.” I would honestly rather go alone, but Hisao's gesture catches me off guard yet again. Besides, he can always stay here. With the Student Council. I decide to save him, nodding furiously at his suggestion. Even then, he looks uneasy, as though he's afraid of doing or saying something to drive me away or make me more scared.
“It's dinnertime soon. Were you planning to eat with Lilly?” I nod again, more gently this time. I had tried looking for Lilly in the cafeteria, but too many people were present. I try to avoid the room anyway at the best of times, if only to avoid being judged. Hisao picks up his bag and we leave Shizune's glare and Misha's mild grin behind.
He walks quickly. I have to almost run to keep up, but Hisao notices and slows a little. I feel more at ease now that Shizune isn't here trying to provoke a fight. It's odd, I've never experienced anything like this before. It feels... normal. Walking with a boy. I still keep my distance, though. We aren't quite that close yet. I'm really not sure what to make of Hisao, except that... I trust him.
We reach the cafeteria, but Lilly isn't there. I bow my head, and Hisao picks up on that almost immediately.
“Have you looked somewhere else already?”
“J-just at the library... I was reading...”
Hardly a comprehensive effort. “Ah, so not exactly a thorough search then. Well, if I had to guess, she'd be in her own class like Shizune said, right?”
I guess so. “R-right.” I nod yet again, nearly imperceptible, and the silence descends once more.
Hisao breaks it again. It's like he's trying to do everything possible to keep me talking, to make me more at ease with him. Forcing issues isn't the best way for me to deal with them, but he doesn't know that – he's known me for less than a week. I try to humour him as much as I reasonably can, at least for now.
“So you and Lilly usually hang out together after class, right?” he asks.
“Y-yes.” Did he really expect me to give more than that?
“Must be a pain being in different classes, I'm guessing.” I nod again quickly.
“Lilly... comes by the classroom, though. Even when she's busy...” I really do appreciate it, and can't help but smile a little at her actions. Hisao smiles back briefly. I wonder what he's thinking right now?
We leave the cafeteria and head upstairs, towards Lilly's classroom. Other students pass us on the way, but I keep my head down and face hidden. I instinctively move behind Hisao, before realising what it is I'm doing.
“Hey, are you alright?” he says, a look of concern on his face. I don't want to discuss it with him.
“J-just keep going...” We carry on, and after passing the students I move back to Hisao's side, but whatever good cheer I had gained from the last discussion is gone. I stay tense, head still lowered, never getting closer than an arm's length to Hisao. We continue in silence.
Nevertheless, even that is broken again soon, as we get closer to Lilly's classroom and hear the noise coming from within. “Well,” Hisao says, “I guess we found her.” Truth be told, I'd expected this. But I didn't want to say anything, and if necessary I'd have simply stayed in the library for a while longer. But Hisao was willing to come with me, and the backup was useful. At least I have someone I can trust, no matter how little, to help me cope with everyone. Then again, this is a class for blind people. Much easier for me to deal with when no-one can see my scars.
On the edge of hearing Lilly's voice is audible, though I can't make out what she is saying. Probably instructions of a kind, taking charge of the situation in her class. I slowly edge behind Hisao, hoping against hope that he doesn't notice, or doesn't care too much. He opens the door, and I peer in over his shoulder, seeing a throng of people sitting, standing, kneeling over banners, mixing paints, talking excitedly about the projects they have for the school festival. Canes are swung around as some expertly side-step paint cans on the floor, everyone having found a way of dealing with their condition. If only it was as easy for me!
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:58 am
Act 1 – Chapter Four: Breaking Borders (Part 2)
Lilly stands at the front of the class, three or four students surrounding her. We walk over to her, me behind Hisao attempting to stay out of everyone's way, but feeling less nervous than I thought I would. Hisao greets her as we draw close, inadvertently interrupting a smaller girl who is busy chattering away to Lilly about the arrangements for the class stall.
She positions her head up, confused for a moment and not recognising Hisao's voice. “Sorry, who...”
“Ah, sorry. Hisao. I have Hanako too.” It's good of him to introduce me, rather than leaving it to me to alert Lilly to my presence.
“H-hi,” I say. Lilly turns her head in my direction and frowns slightly. Maybe she thinks I won't be able to handle being among so many people, when in reality I'm doing much better than usual. The fact that everyone here is blind, or partially blind, is the main reason for that. Still, she decides to take things slowly for my benefit, and turns back towards the girl who had previously been talking to her.
“For the moment, just ask Moriya for his advice. Kenji's busy with painting one of the banners already.”
The girl turns away, nodding, and skips in the opposite direction, using the wall to guide her. I steal a glance at Hisao and notice an odd look on his face. It seems like a sign of recognition – does he know her? Or this Moriya, or Kenji? I have briefly spoken to some of Lilly's classmates in the past myself, usually when I've been waiting here for her, but neither name jumps out at me. And I didn't recognise the small girl who just left. Hisao seems to know someone here though, as he looks over my shoulder and behind me. I turn my face to see where he's looking and see the girl talking to a boy with glasses and a scarf (a scarf indoors? Really?) hunched over a large sheet and some paint on the floor. Given what Lilly just said to her, I would assume that's Kenji. I turn back to Lilly as she continues to speak.
“Sorry about that. Our class doesn't have many students with even partial eyesight, so they're in high demand.”
Hisao doesn't surprise me much with his next words. “Need a hand? I could give you some help if you need some. Maybe Hanako could too.”
I would certainly like that, and I nod strongly to confirm that sentiment. It would be nice to actually do something with people, for a change, and maybe it would be good for me to do so. Lilly could use the help too, and maybe a chance to bond a little more with Hisao wouldn't be such a bad thing. I could never do something like this in my own class, or most others for that matter, but here I don't feel as judged. I'd love to help the blind class on their project for the festival.
Lilly sighs, evidently pleased. Of course, she couldn't see me nod, but no doubt she can tell that I'm happy to be involved. I would have made some comment, however small, if I wasn't. And Shizune can't complain at either Hisao nor myself now.
“Ah, that's good. This might actually get finished before everyone goes off to dinner, now.” Lilly sounds relieved. “Would you be able to help the person painting the main banner? It's a big task for him to do, but nobody else can help.”
“Kenji?” Hisao replies. “Sure.” I was right then, the boy in the corner is Kenji, and Hisao does know him. Lilly is apparently surprised by this, and I have to admit I'm also curious to find out how they know each other.
“I take it you've met?” Lilly asks.
“Our rooms in the dorm are right next to each other,” comes the reply. “Hard to miss each other, really.”
How obvious could that answer have been? It makes so much sense, and I missed it completely. Ah well, at least I wasn't the only one. “Well, it's good to see you're getting friends so fast,” says Lilly. I look at Hisao's face again and an odd gesture appears for the briefest of moments at the word 'friend'. Maybe that's hardly the right word for Lilly to use? I don't know, maybe I'll witness a little more when we start working with this Kenji guy on his banner. Hisao speaks up and brings the conversation back to the topic at hand.
“We'll go help him then. He knows what needs doing, right?”
“That's right. Just ask if you have any problems.”
Hisao and I both voice our agreement and make our way to the corner where Kenji is kneeling. His eyes are fixed on the rectangle of white on the floor ahead. Hisao greets him as we get closer.
Silence. Did he even hear us approach, or Hisao say hello? Or is he ignoring us?
Suddenly, Kenji rises sharply, paint dripping from his brush into the pot by his side. “Huh? What? Who is it?” How sharp and abrupt. Not to mention rather rude. And people wonder why I find it hard talking to new faces...
“It's me. Hisao. From the...”
“Right, right, I know that, man. What're you doing here, though?” Worse and worse. Not the best first impression, even if I do feel a very small bit more relaxed in this room. I decide to edge a little out of Hisao's shadow, though, if only for the sake of asserting my actual presence here. I may be the type to hide behind others, but I don't like being a third wheel. Hisao jumps on this as a chance to explain our being here.
“I was just going to help with the banner. Hanako and I, that is.”
“H... hello...” I stutter.
“Oh. Er, hey. I guess that's okay.” Kenji seems put out a little, but weirdly enough he also seems to calm down just a bit when he notices me. It's actually quite creepy, and I consider just walking away, but think better of it. Still. Creepy.
We all sit down again, Hisao and I on one side of the banner and Kenji directly opposite. I read the kanji that's half painted on the cloth – Class 3-2 Noodle Stall. Looks like Hisao was reading it as well.
“You guys selling noodles at the festival on Sunday?”
“Yeah,” Kenji says. “Some stalls outside. Or something.” I wonder at his words. 'Or something'? Does he even intend to bother going to the festival? That being said, I can hardly comment. I may be willing to help, but I won't be attending either. Does anyone really expect me to, with so many people being there?
Hisao returns us to the task at hand. “So, how do you want to split this? We do borders while you do the text? Or do you want to switch and do the borders?” He looks sideways at me and I wonder what his thoughts are. I'm not fussed myself, text or borders are both fine by me.
“Text is mine,” comes the response. “You do borders.” How abrupt again. He sounds very determined that no-one else should do the text. Ah well. I pick up a brush and try to decide which colours would look prettiest – it's nice to have some work to busy my mind. As Hisao starts to paint, I am already in the middle of a pattern of some kind, I haven't quite figured out yet. It looks nice, though.
As I paint, I surreptitiously glance upwards on occasion. I may not take an active part in discussions in general, but that doesn't mean I don't listen. One can pick up an awful lot by simply listening. And I'm good at not drawing attention to myself. I notice Kenji lean in towards Hisao and whisper, as if his words are not for my ears. I can still hear every word, though. Having to listen to Mutou-sensei over Misha in class has developed my hearing at least a small amount, but it's enough.
“Okay, man, why're you here?”
“Hanako just wanted some help to find Lilly, that's all.”
Kenji frowns at this. “I get it. It looks like I misjudged you.”
Curiouser and curiouser. What could he mean by that? I continue my painting and act oblivious, but I'm interested now.
“You're infiltrating them, aren't you? Going deep undercover?” What the hell is Kenji talking about? The look on Hisao's face is the same as I feel. I hide my own look of confusion, acting as though I'm unaware of the discussion taking place.
“Is that why you're here?” Hisao humours him.
“Obviously. It sucks, but there's no better way to get intel than going in yourself.” Intel? On what? “We gotta stick together, man. This is a harsh school, a harsh world.” Probably the only thing I've heard from Kenji that makes any sense at all.
Apparently Hisao agrees. “Yes, very harsh.”
Silence falls again as we all settle back to our work. I am left to wonder what I just witnessed, and decide to put it out of my head for now. Clearly this Kenji fellow has a severe mental quirk of some kind. I forget him briefly and return to the pattern I was working on.
“Finished,” I say, before the others. The border is all done, a very pretty piece of work too.
“Looks like I am too,” says Hisao. “Good job.” I feel pleased at the praise for my work, and see that Hisao has essentially copied my design in an attempt to maintain symmetry as much as possible. Ironic to some extent, but beautiful penmanship. With the last lines connected the banner is nearly complete.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:59 am
Act 1 – Chapter Four: Breaking Borders (Part 3)
Hisao pulls himself up and looks around the classroom. I look too and see that most of the class has gone – Kenji remains working on another banner, while Lilly is still talking and coordinating the efforts of a few stragglers.
“Need a hand?” Hisao offers his hand to me, which I take gracefully, and helps me to my feet. My legs feel quite numb after sitting down for so long in one position. With all the painting, I had failed to notice the pins and needles creeping along, but try to ignore them as much as possible. I know they'll soon go away. As I get up, however, I notice Hisao's eyes on my right wrist, and see the scars that extend even past my long sleeves. What could he be thinking now? I cover my wrist with my left hand, and turn my face down and slightly away, refusing to meet Hisao's eyes. His next words come as a brief shock to me.
“Looks good, doesn't it?”
I recoil briefly and my face registers a moment of surprise, until I realise he is no longer staring at me. Instead, Hisao's eyes are fixed on the banner, and I realise what he really meant.
“It does... I guess.” I smile at him, more as a sign of forgiveness than an agreement, although I most certainly do agree with his sentiments on the banner. Something we can both be proud of. We cross the room again and return to Lilly. Once more, Hisao takes the lead.
“We've finished the banner. I guess that's all that needs to be done?”
Lilly nods and smiles at us both, using the direction of Hisao's voice to know where to face her head. “Thank you Hisao, Hanako. If there's any way I can thank you...?”
“It's fine,” Hisao replies. “Beats sitting in my room studying, at any rate.”
“I don't mind either.” I feel a need to make it clear to Lilly, and to Hisao, that I was happy to be of some use today. Anything that takes my mind off things is good in my book. And it was definitely interesting, in a way, to meet Kenji. On that note...
“Oh, is Kenji still here?” Lilly asks. Before either of us can respond with the affirmative, Kenji himself shouts across the room.
“Yeah, just finished.” He puts his sign onto a shelf to dry, walks towards us, and passes us heading for the door. “See ya, man.”
“Bye,” Hisao says. The other students still remaining do the same, saying goodbye to us before leaving. Soon, Lilly, Hisao and I are the only people left in class 3-2.
“Well, I guess that's everyone,” says Hisao.
“I hope we don't have to do anything like that again.” I can kind of see where Lilly is coming from, with the sheer amount of effort she has had to put in to make this project a potential success, not to mention keeping Shizune off her back.
“Working past school time?”
“Indeed. The class's plans this year were ambitious. Maybe too ambitious.”
I feel a need to give my opinion here, seeing the dedication the class have clearly put towards their work this year. “The stalls look nice, though.”
Hisao agrees with me. “She's right, it shows that a lot of work's gone into them.”
Lilly can't see the smile on my face, but Hisao can. She must be able to sense the good cheer in both our voices though, a rarity for me, and chuckles a little as she speaks.
“My, my, I'm sure a lot of us would be glad to hear that. At least now there's not much work to do until the festival itself.”
I'm certainly happy to hear all that. Still, I can't help but feel a little tired now after all the hard work we just did. The clock seems to share my point of view. Besides, I've not eaten since lunch, and I feel kind of hungry now. I can always cook a small meal in the dormitories. “Umm... it's getting pretty late. Should we go?”
“That's probably a good idea,” comes the response from Lilly. “ Are you going back to the dorms as well, Hisao?”
“Yeah, I guess I'll tag along.” There isn't much else to do at this time, anyway.
We leave the classroom and head outside, into the Yamaku gardens. As curfew approaches we see a few students rushing around, but otherwise it's nice and quiet. Peaceful. The sun has already set, and the moonlight makes the trees look eerie, but so calm. The only sounds are our footsteps, and Lilly's cane. I hear Hisao yawn a little.
“Tired?” Lilly asks.
“Yeah. Still getting used to the flow of things, I guess. The... uh... thing with Shizune took me kind of off guard, though.”
I nod a little, before realising that they still don't know I was eavesdropping. I catch myself just in time, but Hisao doesn't appear to have noticed anything, looking back at the school building, while Lilly can't have noticed me anyway. I see Hisao grit his teeth in anger,or possibly annoyance. I still regret a little that I chose to skip class today. Seeing Shizune's face and her effect on the class would have made for an interesting morning, even if I risked being caught in her wrath by association. Then again, it doesn't seem to have done Hisao too much harm today. Save the teeth, of course.
Lilly decides to respond to Hisao's comment. “Ah... about that... I'm sorry about it being so public. Shizune and I... go back some ways.”
She hardly needs to remind me, but Hisao has no idea about their history. Hisao looks at me when he realises Lilly has no intention of elaborating, but it's not my place to say anything about it. Especially when one of the two subjects is present. I deliberately make my face unreadable, more so even than usual, and give Hisao no clues whatsoever. He'll have to keep wondering until Lilly agrees to explain matters to him.
“I'll be glad once the festival is over, in any case.” Lilly is clearly trying to change the topic, and it works.
“I can imagine,” says Hisao. “My old school's festivals were a lot more low-key than this.”
“Yamaku stresses the idea of a school community,” Lilly explains. “So the staff likes to make our festivals and such special occasions.”
“And yet the students are the ones who do the work. What an unfair world.” I laugh a little at Hisao's comment, agreeing and feeling slightly impressed by his perceptiveness. Lilly does the same, as Hisao smiles at us both. It's made more funny when we consider the previous topic, regarding Shizune. If only Hisao knew how much work she decided to take on as Student Council President, especially regarding the festival! Well, it's her own fault. As we giggle, Lilly puts on a straight face just long enough to speak again.
“I suppose coming from a strict all-girls school helped me a bit with Yamaku. Compared to there, Yamaku is much more relaxed.”
We continue onwards, the sounds of laughter not quite dead but certainly fading away. Eventually we come to the steps outside the two dormitories. I look at the wall where Rin the artist, a rather eccentric girl, has been painting a mural for the festival. It looks nearly done, but in the moonlight I can only see a few details standing out. Maybe it will look much better in the day.
“See you, Lilly, Hanako.”
Lilly and I each nod in acknowledgement, before leaving Hisao and entering our own dormitory. We pass the teacher on security duty tonight, and head upstairs to our rooms. I quickly eat and prepare for bed, wondering what the next day will bring...
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:00 am
Act 1 – Chapter Five: Silence In The Library (Part 1)
The next day passes normally. I actually decide to turn up to lessons in the morning, though I keep my head down and study hard, avoiding Shizune's gaze whenever she turns my way. After the lecture on electricity, Mutou-sensei gives a brief talk regarding the school festival, but I don't pay attention, even when Misha bursts out with her typical loud comments. Something about fried food? Never mind, it's not as though I plan to attend anyway. Too many people. As the class ends, I wait for Lilly, but catch a glimpse of a girl outside with strawberry blonde hair talking to Hisao. Looking closer, I see that it's Emi. I wonder what they're discussing? It doesn't matter anyway, as they soon leave. Given the time of day, I would assume perhaps they intend to eat lunch together. It's not long before Lilly turns up, and we walk to the tea room together, chatting quietly as we go.
Classes end, and I retreat to my regular spot. The beanbags are free, as always, and I settle down with a pile of books, happy to be alone (aside from Yuuko working on the new returns). It isn't long, however, before I'm startled by the sound of a bang coming from the returns slot, clearly someone bringing books back to the library. I can guess who it is, since not many students tend to come here on a regular basis. Except in exam time, of course. Lilly would be much more gentle, so it has to be Hisao.
We look at each other, our eyes meeting briefly. After a pause, he turns around and heads out. I guess he decided not to disturb me this time. It's nice of him to be so considerate, although truth be told, I'm still not entirely certain I would mind. I still don't know what to make of him, and the more I know about who Hisao is, the more easy it will be for me to trust him. Well, more than I trust most people at Yamaku, or anywhere for that matter. I decide against asking him about his chat with Emi this morning. It's his own business, after all, and I have no right to intrude.
It takes me another half hour before I realise where I'm supposed to be. How could I forget! Lilly and I have the same routine every Monday – we walk into town together and go shopping, food and supplies to last us both the rest of the week. This week, however, we couldn't make it, so we decided to postpone the trip until Friday. And I've left Lilly standing around for all this time alone! Then again, it's not the first time it's happened. Sometimes I get so engrossed in a new book that everything else leaves my mind entirely. Whenever it's happened before, Lilly has been happy to wait for me to remember, but it's still horrible of me to continue here without any consideration for my friend.
I put the books down and leave in a rush, asking Yuuko before I go if she would mind putting them back in the right places. She's used to the routine and agrees readily, though I hate giving her yet another burden on top of her already busy work and studies. I run through the now deserted corridors and out of the main school building, ignoring the 'no-running' rules – there are few people in the school at this time anyway, most students having left to go into town or to their dormitories, or working on festival projects. I reach the meeting place where Lilly always waits, and find...
Nothing. She isn't here. I look around, puzzled, wondering where she could be, when in the corner of my eye I notice a flash of gold in the distance. I look down the main path that leads from Yamaku towards the town, and far ahead I notice a figure with a cane and long blonde hair. Walking alongside the person is a young man with shorter, darker hair, apparently dressed in school uniform. They walk slowly together, the person with the cane tapping every couple of steps. I breathe a sigh of relief, though I still feel guilty – Hisao must have had the same intention of going down the hill, and saw Lilly standing alone outside the school gates. Maybe he offered to walk her down in my place? A kind gesture, but it doesn't make me feel better for forgetting in the first place. Ah well, I can apologise later. I choose to take advantage of the free time for now, and begin the long walk back to the library.
Before Saturday classes begin, I reflect a little on the previous night. Lilly turned up at my door with the shopping I would have usually bought, and I paid her my share of the money for it, as we discussed her journey with Hisao. I apologised profoundly for leaving her yet again, but she was fine with it – as mentioned before, it's not exactly a rare occurrence. Lilly spoke about the walk back with Rin, and her usual eccentricities, something I can relate to, if not understand. Lilly and I are alike in that regard, and we both tend to leave Rin alone in general. Neither of us can understand her, and so we try to keep our distances.
It seems that I was right, too, about Hisao's condition. Arrhythmia, it's called. Lilly told me how shocked she was when she heard it from his own lips, though she was careful to keep her surprise well hidden. Concern, however, still shone through, hardly odd when Lilly is involved. My fears following the incident with Emi a few days ago were confirmed with Lilly's words, and she correctly guessed that I already suspected something.
“You knew from the other day, then?”
“Y... yes. I saw him clutching his chest and I-I figured something was wrong.”
“You should have told me!” Lilly's concern tends to be rather stifling at times, but I suppose she had a point this time. From Hisao's point of view, maybe he felt embarrassed, but it doesn't do him any favours keeping something like that from those around him.
Then again, look who's talking.
Returning to the present, I look up to see Mutou-sensei staggering into the classroom, tired. And, I would guess, hungover. He writes some question and page numbers on the blackboard and collapses into his chair, but most of the class are used to it. Mutou has an amazing ability to still be able to teach successfully even when his state is borderline lethargic, at best, and as long as he can keep it up nobody will complain. It tends to just be Saturday mornings anyway, since even teachers deserve to cut loose a little on a Friday night. Since everyone appears just as tired as the teacher, we all work in silence. Helped in no small part by Misha's absence – presumably working last-minute with Shizune. The festival is only a day away, after all.
The silence is broken only by a quiet comment from Mutou.
“Nakai, can I speak to you for a moment?”
“Sure...” comes the reply from Hisao. “What's this about?”
“It's probably better if we speak outside the classroom...” Mutou-sensei walks out of the room, Hisao following, and I look up as they leave. My mind fills with possibilities for what they could be talking about, but I soon ignore it and get back to focusing on my work.
They're only gone for a couple of minutes, but even so I notice a couple of students who were borderline asleep suddenly jump up and start working again as soon as they hear the door. Mutou walks back inside, followed again by Hisao, and return to their previous tasks. I don't really know why the newly work-engaged students even bother – more are still resting, not even attempting to work on the assigned questions, and to be perfectly honest I can hardly blame them. Me on the other hand... well, I abandon classes enough that when I am actually present it doesn't do me any good to ignore the work set. Even if I feel like sleeping myself sometimes.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:01 am
Act 1 – Chapter Five: Silence In The Library (Part 2)
It takes a good long time before the bell rings, but we have a final minute of torture before we can finally go.
“Before you all leave,” says Mutou, “I expect the answers for those problems by Monday.” Typical. Still, I've done most of them already, so my weekend is pretty free to catch up on my never-ending backlog of books. Perhaps spend some time in town with Lilly (provided there aren't too many students with similar ideas of where to go). Judging by the sighs, I can think of more than a few students who will have a lot of work to do before they can enjoy tomorrow's festival, though...
The classroom empties quickly, and after less than a minute Hisao and I are the only ones left. I'm waiting for Lilly, of course, but it's not clear to me why Hisao is hanging around. I don't ask him either, and a silence descends between the two of us like fog. For the next quarter of an hour, Hisao writes in his notebook and I read my latest borrowed novel. The noises from the seat so close to mine become an annoyance, disturbing the quietness as I wait for Lilly to arrive. Paper rustling and pencil lead scratching. I don't look at Hisao, in fact I keep my eyes fixed firmly on the pages of my book. Soon enough, Lilly comes by.
Upon hearing her voice I get up and walk quickly to her. The awkwardness between Hisao and myself was stifling, and it's a relief to have Lilly here now. I guess after everything it still feels difficult for me to be in Hisao's presence. I can hardly even begin a conversation with him, and he seems in constant fear of setting off my anxieties – hardly a great combination.
Lilly and I start to speak quietly to each other. It's not that either of us wants to deliberately keep Hisao out of the loop. In fact, Lilly isn't even aware of his presence. It's simply that there isn't any need for loudness. Our conversation is between us, nobody else.
“Sorry for taking so long, Hanako.”
“That... that's okay,” I reply. “It's fine.”
“I, um, won't be able to stay for very long. Actually, I need to go pretty soon.” Lilly seems genuinely sorry, as if she knows what effect this could have on me.
“I had a phone call yesterday afternoon. Akira's in town today. I guess I should have told you sooner...” Lilly's sister. Of course, I understand why she has to go. I guess I'm just a little selfish at heart, but given my life so far one can hardly blame me. I look forlorn and make an effort to try and convince her to stay, though I'm fully aware of my actions. I can't stop Lilly from seeing Akira, especially since they don't often get to meet given Akira's work. And really, my issue is less to do with selfishness and more to do with being alone with only Hisao to keep me company. I like him, I really do, given the effort he's been making to overcome the difficulties inherent in even speaking to me. But it's hard for me to interact with him, and having Lilly around would be a great help.
“Do... do you really have t-to go?” I try to sound as innocent and helpless as I can. It usually works with Lilly, though I very rarely use it on her. I always feel so guilty afterwards, but usually it works when I want ask to do something I want for once. I wish she would treat me as someone stronger. But until then, subtleness is always a useful trait to have. Maybe she'll see that strength in time.
“I haven't seen my sister in weeks. I'm really very sorry, Hanako, but I can't just bail on her at such short notice. Is there anything you can do yourself while I'm in town?”
I already feel bad about my attempts to manipulate Lilly's affections. Plus, I do quite like Akira. She's one of the few people who treats me like a normal person. I decide to tell Lilly about Hisao's presence.
“H-Hisao is... here,” I manage.
“There you go then! You can spend some time with him, maybe. Talk a little.” She smiles sweetly at me, and although I know Lilly can't see me I try to suppress a grimace. Hisao can still look over, after all. I hate it when she tries to interfere! I know she means well, I know she thinks it's for the best, but pushing me does no good at all. Surely she knew Hisao was here from the start. He's still making sounds with his pencil scratching at paper, trying to work, breathing heavily, though it looks as if he's making a clear effort not to eavesdrop. I doubt he can hear us anyway given the volume Lilly and I are speaking at. She must have heard him from the start. All this was planned from the moment she walked inside. We may be close friends, and she may have my best interests at heart, but Lilly can be just as manipulative as I try to be sometimes. Such a facade to hide behind! It makes me so annoyed at times.
Resigned to Lilly's suggestion, and realising my defeat (even if I wasn't trying too hard anyway), I agree with her. We say our goodbyes, and I give my best wishes to pass on to Akira. As Lilly leaves, I sit down at my desk again, chin in hand, staring down. I think about what to do to pass the time. I have no work to do, having already finished during class. Going to my room is pointless. And I hardly want to stay here, perpetuating the silence between Hisao and myself. Awkwardness may be my calling card, but it's not my desire. I pull out my book again, and start to read, but can feel Hisao's eyes on me. When he next turns away, I get up and leave, heading for my usual spot in the library.
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:02 am
Act 1 – Chapter Five: Silence In The Library (Part 3)
I didn't expect him to follow me. I sit in a beanbag, my regular seat, reading the book I had in the classroom, when I hear footsteps. Quiet ones, not loud and clumsy, so I know it can't be Yuuko. She normally works elsewhere on a Saturday anyway, at the Shanghai tea-house, so the other likely contender would be Hisao. The low sound doesn't startle me, but I look up anyway and see him slowly sink into another beanbag near me. I don't appreciate him coming here, but I do appreciate the care he takes to avoid disturbing me too much. I feel rather conflicted, whether to be pleased or angry. I settle for neutrality.
“Is that the same book as before?” he asks, breaking the silence again.
“Y-yes... I'm almost finished...” I reply.
“Cool.” A pause. “Do you mind if I borrow it when you're finished?”
I can't say no, it's not mine. Anyone is free to borrow books from the library. But I feel like he's trying to engage with me through our mutual passion of books, and it's enough to make me answer without much problem.
“S-sure... you m-may not like it, but...”
Hisao interjects before I finish. “I'm sure it can't be that bad. After all, you've stuck with it, haven't you?”
Hisao settles and digs out a book from his own bag, starting to read. I try to do the same and focus on my own book, but it's hard to get back into it. The brief discussion has made me actually want to talk, just a little. If I want people to take me seriously, I can't just retreat into a shell whenever someone tries to interact. But even then, I can't bring myself to start the conversation. Hisao ends up doing so himself. Perhaps he came to the same conclusions regarding his book.
“So, I see Lilly left without you?”
I nod briefly, then look up. My attempt to read has been foiled, and I'm not too bothered. Doesn't mean I'll take the lead as we talk, but at least I can answer okay.
“Lilly said she had to go and... meet someone...”
“A-Akira,” I tell him. “Her sister...”
“Sister?” says Hisao. “I haven't heard her talk about her family...”
“She... she and Akira used to live together.”
Apparently this is news to Hisao. Then again, Lilly told him before, right? How she didn't always live in the dorms here, but only for a short while until now.
“I thought all the students lived in the dorms?” he asks.
“T-they... I mean we... don't have to.” I wonder if he picked up on the accidental 'they' comment? I didn't mean it, but I guess it's another reminder of how I tend to keep myself away from everyone else. I can't even consider us as part of the same group, between me and the other students here. A self-imposed segregation, born out of fear. And the worst part is, I'm fully aware of it all.
Hisao brings me back to the topic at hand. “But it's easier, right? I mean, there's food here, and you're close to school... I don't think I've been to class on time so often in my life.”
That makes me smile a little, though I try unsuccessfully to hide it. Hisao makes a good point.
“Hey, Hanako...” he begins. “What are you doing for the festival?”
This is a sudden change in mood. Surely he doesn't seriously expect me to go tomorrow! Or is it something else he means? The shock renders me almost speechless, though I manage to let out a brief “S-sorry?” while staring at him.
“I was just asking what you're doing for the festival tomorrow. Anything planned?”
So he is serious, then. “I... I don't know.”
I hope he gets the hint. I try to be evasive, deliberately, and make it as obvious as I can that we're both better off abandoning this line of conversation. Hisao seems to understand, because his next words sound rather defeated, but willing to forget the topic.
“Oh, okay,” he says. “So, what's Lilly's sister like?”
The change in topic is a good one. This is something I can actually talk about. “She... she's nice. She's pretty, like Lilly, but she dresses... business-like...”
“Business-like?” Hisao sounds curious.
“She... she's always wearing a suit...”
“Ah, I see,” Hisao says. “And that makes her less pretty somehow?”
It's kind of embarrassing to be heading down this path. Not to mention, after the effort Hisao has made simply to make friends with me, I almost feel a pang of jealousy at his apparent interest in Akira. Nothing so strong, but just a slight feeling. It confuses me a little, but I let it pass. I shake my head briefly and answer Hisao's question.
“N-no... just... different.” Something I can relate to again. But it's clear from my tone of voice how much I do like her, how friendly Akira is to me without even making the kind of effort Hisao is making now. Perhaps it's the Western influence in their family that gives both Akira and Lilly the tolerance so few people in Japan have for... people like me. Especially ones who see their condition the way I do.
“Well,” Hisao starts, “one day you'll have to introduce me to her.”
That, I can do. “O-okay.” I smile at Hisao, before the silence returns, the conversation over. We return to our respective books, and I think about the talk we have just had. It was nice to finally talk to Hisao properly, without my nerves getting in the way. Regardless of my feelings at the start, we had a good time, without it dragging on, and without Hisao intruding on me too much. He knew to back off when necessary, something not many people would do. Misha certainly wouldn't. As we read, the sun begins to slowly fade away in the summer afternoon and the light through the window takes on a more serene crimson colour.
A while later, we both notice the time has passed so quickly. We've clearly been in the library for a good few hours, not talking, but reading and just enjoying the calmness of each other's company. Hisao, as always, is the first to speak.
“Do you think Lilly would be back by now? I think I might head back to my dorm. I'm pretty tired from this week.” I look over at Hisao as he speaks, and can see his eyes starting to droop. It looks like he's struggling to keep them open. I, on the other hand, feel fine.
“O-okay. I... I might stay here a little longer.” I'm literally at the end of my book, and would feel bad if I had to walk to my room to finish, only to walk all the way back here to swap for something else. Hisao asked to borrow it next, anyway.
“Sure thing,” he says. “Well, I'm going to head off before it gets dark. I'll see you around, okay?”
“O-okay. See you, Hisao.”
“Later,” he replies. Before he leaves, though, I think of something else.
“T-thank you. F-for hanging out with me.” I can't hide the smile on my face, so I don't even bother to try. I can only begin to guess what Hisao's thoughts are regarding it, but I don't care. Either way, I feel happier today than I have done for quite a while, and certainly happier in Hisao's company than I was nearer the start of the week. I hope he realises that.
“You're welcome.” Hisao smiles back at me, though it looks a little forced. I guess with all the previous awkwardness between us, that's only to be expected, and the genuine sentiment is still clear for all to see. It makes my own joy that bit more profound. “Goodnight, Hanako.”
Hisao leaves the library as I watch, before I turn back to my book. I read the top of the penultimate page and drift back into the story...
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:03 am
Act 1 – Chapter Six: En Passant (Part 1)
Sometimes, I wonder whether or not I should try staying in the library overnight. I spend enough time there, and it seems a waste of effort to leave in the evening only to be straight back there the following morning. I'm certain Yuuko wouldn't mind. Then again, although the teachers are lenient about my skipping classes, I think they would take a much dimmer view of me actually moving into the library. I bring it up because yet again, the library is where I find myself during the festival, away from all the stalls and crowds outside.
I used to go somewhere else during this time. A quiet clearing in the woods, just off campus. Nobody else seemed to know about it, and I used it as another place of refuge when Yamaku became too busy for me to stay. Then someone thought it would be a good idea to go there with their family for a picnic, and my safe haven was no longer so much of a haven. Last year I chose to stay in the dormitory, figuring that everyone would be at the festival instead of staying in their rooms. Then I realised it would mean barricading myself in my own bedroom – too late for me to escape without running into the crowds again. I didn't think how people would be showing their families their rooms and spending time there during the day. I ended up staying in my own room for the entire festival period, not even leaving for the bathroom, nor to eat. Not so great a time for me.
So this year, I decided to leave as early as I could, before people started arriving for the festival. And now I find myself sitting in my beanbag reading through another new novel, listening to the faint sounds of the revelries outside. I have no desire to go out there and join everyone. I'm more than happy to sit here on my own, curled up with a good book.
It's something of a surprise to hear Hisao's voice, when I assumed he would be with Lilly enjoying the festivities.
“Hey, Hanako. I had a feeling I'd find you here...” Hisao's intuition serves him well, it seems.
I jump a little, before slowly poking my head above the low block of shelves separating the two of us. “H-Hisao?” I wonder why he isn't outside, actually.
“Hey. Lilly's pretty busy, so she sent me to find you.” The answer to my unspoken question is brief, but it makes sense. Lilly would be concerned, after all. It's just how she is. Neither she nor Hisao would have really expected me to be with the masses of people, so coming here was the obvious step.
“O-oh,” I reply. “Do you want to sit down?”
“Actually, I'm feeling a little hungry,” says Hisao. “Would you like to get something to eat from one of the stands?”
I guessed he would try this. Sometimes, it looks like Hisao can be as bad as Lilly, trying to get me to act a little more 'normal', or at least be more social. Fortunately, I came prepared. I knew I wouldn't get a chance to go and eat elsewhere during the day anyway.
“Um... I... I brought some food, so...”
Hisao frowns a little as I foil his plans, but he doesn't give up. The compromise he offers is much easier for me to bear, though. “How about we eat in the tea room? I passed by it on the way here, and no-one was around. We can make some food there, and it'll be a little more comfortable. What do you say?”
I think it over, and realise he definitely does have a point. It's not like there's anywhere to prepare anything edible here in the library, whereas the tea room has facilities long ago installed for students before Lilly and I started attending Yamaku. Nobody else tends to go there, so it'll certainly be private. If I'm with Hisao, it won't be so bad.
“S-sure. Let's go.” I close my current book and place it delicately into my bag.
“Good to go?” I notice Hisao watching my movements with a curious look on his face. What could he be thinking, I wonder.?
“Y... yeah.” We leave together, and walk slowly along the deserted corridors to the tea room. Without any windows to let the sound in, the festival is barely audible. I focus on the floor ahead of me and start to forget that Hisao is even here. My steps start to fall into an old routine, a game of sorts from when I was younger. I remember the times not long after my accident, when the other children would tease me and abuse me for my scars. In my loneliness, I made up all sorts of games purely to distract myself. The games worked, to a point, and eventually I was able to bury my thoughts and emotions behind deep walls, walls that very few people have ever breached. Even Lilly hasn't managed to break the toughest ones down. The therapists try hard, but they too have always met with failure.
As we walk, I manage to completely forget Hisao, which makes it all the more startling when he speaks up.
“Are you alright?”
I stop, completely still. My eyes turn to meet Hisao's. “W-what?”
“I dunno... it looked like you were tripping or something.”
So he noticed my footsteps. I feel my cheeks redden slightly and my gaze drops to the floor again. “It... it's nothing.”
“You know,” replies Hisao, “when you say 'nothing' like that, people are inspired to ask further questions.”
I pause for a moment. He's absolutely right, and I should know that better than anyone. I've had the same situation several times before, when people have asked me questions that I don't want to answer. Mainly about myself, and my scars. Avoiding the issue only makes them more curious, until I have to flee the situation entirely. I realise that answering honestly is the best course of action, though I won't give away any information I don't have to. There's no real need for Hisao to know the whys and the hows of my little quirks.
He's almost started to continue walking when I smile a little, kind of embarrassed, and answer him.
“It's a... a game.”
“Do you... see the floor here?” I point down at the linoleum tiles at our feet.
“Well, yes. What about it?”
“Sometimes... when there's no-one around... I only step on the darker ones...” My embarrassment at playing such a childish game grows as I finish speaking, but it hardly matters anyway. Truth be told, I do play it sometimes when walking with Lilly. She can't see me, of course, so it doesn't bother me with her being present. Occasionally though, I suspect she might be able to hear my erratic footsteps, but she's never commented on it. Not to me at least.
“Darker ones?” asks Hisao.
I shuffle my feet a little and point a toe to the kind of tile I mean. “L-like, these ones.” Some are a shade darker than others, not usually noticeable except in strong light. But I seem to have a knack for picking the right kind. I've been playing this game since I was a little kid.
“Oh, right, so these ones are no good?” Hisao nudges his own feet towards another, very slightly lighter, tile.
“Y-yeah. Something... something like that.”
“Oh, I see. Do you play this game a lot?”
I shake my head. It's kind of rare that I get the chance and actually decide to play. Which makes it all the more embarrassing when I do play it.
“Just when the halls are empty?” Now he gets it! I nod my head in confirmation.
“Well then,” says Hisao, “no point in stopping. I'm beginning to get really hungry.”
He says this as I can see the tiny miso soup stains on the bottom of his sleeve, and smell the strong flavours on his breath. Still, I agree with him. I'm getting pretty hungry too, so I nod my head again, but with a clear enthusiasm this time.
“Well then, let's go.”
As we continue to walk, I make a conscious effort to get out of my old routines from childhood, stepping wherever I please without caring what colour each tile is. I can see something rather different in the corner of my eye, though. Looks like Hisao's caught the game bug as well. I try to suppress a small giggle, unsuccessfully, but I don't think Hisao heard it...
Re: Hanako's Story (UPDATED 11/09/2012)
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:04 am
Act 1 – Chapter Six: En Passant (Part 2)
We soon reach the door to the tea room. We enter, and I move across to my regular seat, as Hisao walks to the window. He opens it and breathes deeply. I guess the air here is somewhat different to city air. Looking at Hisao, he strikes me as a city person, someone who's never really spent much time in a rural area like this. I learned how to judge people long ago, though my intuition isn't always spot on.
“Do... would you like some tea?” I ask, playing mother in Lilly's absence.
“That would be great, thanks.”
I fill the pot and set it to boil, following the same traditional ritual Lilly always uses. Although I can see exactly what I'm doing, unlike her, I still take the same amount of care and consideration, both in the brewing and in making a set of sandwiches from my meagre packed lunch. It's not the first time Hisao's seen me do this, but I can feel his eyes on me, watching intently. For once, though, it doesn't bother me. I feel much happier to be alone with him after the effort he's shown this week. And it's nice to have someone here with me today, of all days, when I don't feel up to going outside with everyone else. Everyone deserves to be with someone on a day like this.
When the tea is ready, I place the tray with the pot and sandwiches on the table and pour two cups for us. Hisao's voice cuts through the silence, but the room remains calm.
“I think I know why you like this room now.”
“Um... I don't know what you mean.” I think I do, really, but I'd like to hear him say it.
“Well, there are quite a few people out there, but in here it's like another world. You can pretend that there's no-one around for miles.”
“Y-you're right.” And he is. Even with the windows open, a gentle breeze flowing in through the warm summer sun, the noise of the festival is almost unnoticeable. Looking out, I can't see anyone. This room is like a tiny little bubble inside Yamaku, one that's not quite ready to pop. “It's like the world has forgotten this room. And b-because of that, you can forget about the outside.”
I smile at Hisao. I could do with forgetting so much. Even in Yamaku, I feel like an outsider. I stay away from people because I don't trust them enough, but it would be good for someone to make an effort, and at least try to be friendly. It never happens. Nobody bullies anyone here, because we're all in the same boat, but you can't throw a couple of hundred teenagers together and expect them to all get on alright, even when they're all united by something like our disabilities. We're still regular people, with everything that entails.
“That's a good point. It's like this room gives you some kind of complete freedom.”
“Y-yeah.” That's exactly it. Here, I feel like I can be myself. On that note... “Say... do you play chess?” I ask Hisao.
“Chess? I've played it a bit, I guess...I take it you've played before?”
“A little...” Or perhaps I'm something of a chess shark... then again, perhaps not. I walk over to a cupboard and pull out an old set. I usually play with Lilly, so the pieces are well worn, though they weren't exactly new when we first began to play the game together. It's Western chess, rather than Shogi, so I can't be sure how familiar Hisao is with it. Lilly often proves a challenging opponent, but her familiarity with Western culture would be a great help. I wonder if the specific cultural version of the game will be an advantage to me, or not so much?
“Do... do you want...” My query is lost in my nervous stammer, but Hisao realises what I was trying to say. Asking if he wants to be the White player, and start the game.
“Sure, why not?” We set the board up and take our positions, Hisao opening with his queen-side centre pawn moving two squares ahead. I respond with my opposite corner knight, and soon I find myself lost in the game, enjoying the moment of tranquillity. I used to play chess as yet another distraction, anything to keep my mind off the torment I suffered as a child. At least life got a bit better at the orphanage as I grew older. I suppose chess is also a reminder of happier times for me...
Hisao starts to build up a smart defence with his knights and pawns. I can see his plan, to free his king ready for castling. I try to counter with one of my bishops, but am soon driven back by his own, and lose control of the centre of the board. It looks like this game may be more of a challenge than I thought. I retaliate with my pawns, only for Hisao to engage in a risky sacrifice, losing a bishop to take one of my knights. Perhaps he thinks one is more valuable than the other? I wonder if I can use that to my advantage...
Another sacrifice, but a stupid one this time. Hisao sends his knight to attack one of my pawns, only to lose it to my remaining bishop. It's only afterwards that I realise how painfully obvious his plan was, and how I was a fool to miss it. His queen is already in place, and puts me immediately into check. With very few options open to me I choose to defend using my own queen. I realise it will lead to a mutual sacrifice, but I'd rather there be no queen on the board than have Hisao's queen ravaging my defence.
He takes the bait, and I take his queen with my king. I guess I can't castle now, which may have been his plan in the first place, removing another aspect of my defence. We continue on, and Hisao proceeds to wipe out my remaining central pieces, despite a suicidal yet brave attempt by myself to attack using my first bishop. A concentrated pawn attack is defended by one of Hisao's rooks, while his second remains unmoved in the corner. We exchange our remaining bishops, saving me from yet another check. Hisao's strategy has been very aggressive, forcing me to constantly react and giving no quarter for me to attack. What started as an equal match, a war of attrition, has quickly developed into an onslaught with a clear victor.
I take the chance to move my pawns on the unguarded left flank. My right, Hisao's left. He spots this quickly, however, and moves his knight into the empty space, driving my king back further. He reacts with his own flanked pawns and quickly takes advantage of my scattered positioning, before cornering my king with his knight, a solitary pawn, and a rook.
“Checkmate.” The game is over. I'm quite surprised at how well Hisao played. I'm normally a pretty good chess player, but today was something of an off day. I guess I just wasn't as into it as usual, but it was nice to play against Hisao. I enjoyed it. I didn't feel quite as competitive as I tend to be. I can't even remember the last time Lilly managed to beat me. When I play chess, I like to win, though I'm nowhere near the insane levels of competitiveness as, say, Shizune. I wonder what it would be like, playing chess against her...
“You're not bad at this, are you?” I feel something new at Hisao's words, something I've not felt in a very long time. I'm actually flattered. I smile at Hisao, just slightly, but the happy sentiment I feel is much greater than that.
“I... I guess not,” I reply.
“Does Lilly play?” He picks up a piece and studies it. Maybe he's wondering how a blind person could possibly play chess, at least with any amount of skill?
I pause at this. “A... a bit. T-this is the first time I've played against someone... other than her, or...” I stop suddenly. This is bringing up bad memories, reminding me of the exact reason why I'm at Yamaku in the first place. Why the people I played chess with are no longer around. I can't bring myself to tell Hisao why, so soon after we've met. Maybe one day, but I'm not yet ready.
Fortunately, Hisao knows when to leave well enough alone. “Well then, I'm honoured to have played against you.”
I smile again, a more sheepish grin this time, glad that Hisao has the foresight and intuition to avoid pushing things too far. I feel bold enough to make a small request. “Um... can we play again?” I think this time, I'll be sure to win. I'm all fired up inside from the last game, even if I don't show it outwardly.
“Sure,” Hisao replies. “Though don't expect me to go easy on you this time.”
I can hear the competitiveness in his voice. My eyes narrow and I continue to smile, but with a far more mischievous look. I briefly consider what Hisao might think of my expression as I reply to his challenge. “S... same here...”