This is the first part of Rika's arc in my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
The arc consists of the following parts:
Rika 1 — The Chance of a Ghost (this post)
Rika 2 — Watching the Watchers
Rika 3 — Counter-clockwise
Rika 4 — Sword of the Mountain
Rika 5 — Heartache
Rika 6 — Ghost Clockwork
Completed arcs: Shizune | Lilly | Emi | Hanako | Rin | Misha — Main Index
The Main Index contains the different parts in chronological order, along with other fragments.Rika 1: The Chance of a Ghost (T -16)
I am fortunate that my clan has hereditary ties with the other clan to which I now owe allegiance. You might think it strange that I, who look almost mythologically dubious with my albinism and inadequate blood, should be so traditional in that respect. But we all live in stories, and it is because of other characters in my world that this life of mine has now extended much farther beyond what I thought it would be.
Now, in our current tiny space of history in which I am permitted to make a mark, I have decided that, as is the custom of my people, my own story shall be a tribute to those who have gone before. Yet, I cannot make it too blatant a tribute—a hagiography or paean; I am going to speak as plainly as my overly ornate style allows. I have been an artist, a scientist, a specimen of the expertise of others in these disciplines; now, I will be Rika Katayama, a ghost writing through ghosts, and I will tell you about two people in whose footsteps I have followed, and whom I shall never forget.
Perhaps the best place to start would be in 2008, the year that I joined Yamaku Academy’s Student Council—and the year in which I became Shizune Hakamichi’s enemy.
“It’s insane, but Madam President can be inspiring in a kinky sort of way. Come on, think about it. There are many things we can do, although she just makes me want to lie down and groan.”
That is Aoi, caught up as usual in one of her many enthusiasms. Aoi is noisy and not easily daunted, but also somewhat lacking in subtlety. Keiko, my other friend, is perhaps the reverse. Very quietly, she proceeds to analyse the situation.
“Hmm. We are soon to be third-years. We will be seniors. Hakamichi has built a solid bureaucratic framework, and whatever she has done with her two henchmen, we too can do. After all, she has a lot of drive, but all the other two do is look alternately mad and sad, and we can do better.”
“Yes! And Rika, you have such a way with words! The teachers all like you, and you will help us get assistance from everywhere!”
I choose not to waste my breath nor sigh. This is how it has always been. Three of us—Aoi of the hot blood, Keiko of the cold blood, and I who have no blood at all, according to some people. And that is how we end up deciding to collect Student Council nomination forms.
Some days later, I painfully prevail upon Mutou-sensei to sign my form as teacher-sponsor. I say ‘painfully’ because my short time with him after Physics class makes me aware of some things I would rather not have recognized. This is how the conversation goes.
“Mutou-sensei, may I…?”
“Oh, hello, Rika. What can I do for you?”
“I am applying to be a member of the Students’ Council. Could I perhaps request your signature as teacher-sponsor?”
“Ah,” he says, giving me one of his famous Mutou searching looks. “That’s interesting. It is my duty to ask you why you intend to do this, before I recommend that you do.”
I have been thinking about that myself, knowing that I would have to answer such questions from him. The easy answer, and also a false one, would have been a traditional line about the duty and honour owed to one’s school. But Mutou, despite his air of perpetual absent-mindedness, is a perceptive man. He would have seen through this rather quickly and come to the “Really, Rika?” moment at which I myself had arrived. And so, the truth, no matter how embarrassing.
“Mutou-sensei, it is not just about serving the student body. That is something which is not quite ‘me’. I think it is more about continuing a legacy of achievement, if I can make myself understood? I do not know how long I have left, and maybe there is not much of that. But people like Nakai and Enomoto are as doomed as I, and they are trying to do something with their lives. Sensei, I feel that I have done nothing.”
If I memorize my lines, I can say a lot. I seldom speak so much, otherwise. And perhaps Mutou realizes that, because his face takes on a slightly sympathetic expression.
“Is that the only reason?”
I sigh softly. I am physically frail, although I do try to keep fit. When I sigh, it makes grown men shed a manly tear. Mutou, however, is used to seeing frail girls sigh at him. I suppose it makes a difference from loud girls with pink hair. His look of concern remains just one level above neutrality, although it does seem genuine. On my part, the hesitation is genuine. I like Mutou above all the other teachers, but am I ready to trust him this much?
This time, a deep breath is required. My thin blood needs it.
“My senior, Nakai…” —who is Mutou’s favourite student— “… he has gone through many difficulties of late, but he serves the Council and it seems to help him cope with those difficulties. It is as if serving others makes a difference.”
Yes, because I have been selfish all my life, but that leaves nothing for the future. Maybe Hisao has learnt something that I need. He has been kind to me, very human and decent. If only… ah, that way lies madness.
Mutou offers me a tentative smile, not very expressive, slightly wry. But it is unexpected enough to interrupt my repetitive musings.
“You see something of Hisao Nakai in yourself? That is surprising in some ways, although your conditions have a little in common. The young man has only been here for less than a year!”
It is hard to tell Mutou that while Hisao is a friend, and important in the whole scheme of things, it is something else connected to him that has drawn my interest. It is as if he is a heterogeneous catalyst of some sort; in particular, the kind that increases or extends the functionality of the people around him. I blush a little, realizing that I am thinking like a chemist, in front of my favourite science teacher—who, of course, over-interprets that blush and makes me even more embarrassed.
“Ah, say no more.” As he signs my form, he adds with a tinge of melancholy, “But don’t let the Council define you, Rika. You’re still one of my best physics students, and your chemistry is also top-grade. There’s always the Science Club.”
“Thank you for the encouragement, Mutou-sensei. I have great appreciation for your advice.”
“No, no. It is only what I owe my students. Have a nice day, Rika!”
I bow politely, he returns my bow solemnly, and I exit the classroom. My friends are waiting outside, and that is when all the messiness begins.
It has been a few weeks. I have learnt to be more a ghost than I have ever been. It is unpleasant to be glared at by Hakamichi, despite that she seems to have mellowed a little, and it is possible that it is equally unpleasant to be jovially shouted at by Mikado, who will translate for Hakamichi and insert her own wild spin on whatever the Boss has signed.
I have also learnt that Hisao, my erstwhile comrade of the medical unit, is slowly untangling himself from a truly complicated web of events—a drama not only of what I thought of as ‘difficulties’, but of love and disaster, friendship and obstinacy, near-death suffering and a lack of desire to live. He seems to not mind talking to me in his mostly laconic way; perhaps it is because I do not speak much, listen well, and am… well, only a lowly junior of no great presence, beauty, or threat to my lady seniors. He also tends to vanish when Aoi and Keiko appear.
“Where were you, Rika?! We got reamed out by the Great Dragon Lady herself! She kept saying through the Voice of Shizune that we were inadequate, unprepared, slothful, incompetent… Aaargh! I will never make my hair pink! Or blue! Nor blue! Whatever! And after all that, she took a deep breath, paused and told us to go away!”
“Perhaps she feels she has the right because she is an overachiever who has run the most efficient Council in decades. Or so she says. Records would appear to back her up. Or at least, the ones she has shown us. It’s unfortunate that you weren’t with us, Rika. At least we might have diffused her intensity a bit more.”
“Oh. I am so sorry for not standing around to get signed ferociously at by a maddened warrior maiden,” I say softly. My friends are used to such behaviour, so after further grumbling and a few sharp words, we wander off for tea.
Let me say that I have an advantage over my two friends in such situations because I can understand some Japanese Sign Language. My rather too wealthy parents ensured that I was given a lot of tutoring in preparation for transfer to Yamaku, and it is because of this that I am also a walking encyclopaedia of disabilities and treatments, medical conditions, drugs, side-effects, and drugs that offset side-effects of other drugs. Part of the reason is the sad fact that I have a long list on my daily menu, and I suspect it might be longer than Hisao Nakai’s own smorgasbord of pharmaceuticals.
While they were getting ‘reamed out’ as Aoi put it, I had been standing at the doorway, watching the unfolding tableau from one side of a folding table. It was grimly fascinating to watch Hakamichi behave so much like the father she professed so much dislike for, as I had been given to understand. Quite a character, that father. My own father used to tell me stories about him.
The only difference, it seemed to me, was that while Hakamichi’s father was said to rant about manly heroism, traditional kenjutsu or the bushido code, this younger version ranted with her fingers about student indolence, apathy and the noble heritage of the Yamaku Student Council. No doubt, she felt like the Lady of Aoba Castle.
I have no idea to this day why I did it. As Shizune Hakamichi paused in mid-tirade and by evil chance turned in my direction, our gazes locked. I mouthed at her something that might perhaps have looked like ‘bitch’ and fled the scene gracefully before anyone else had seen the eavesdropper.
I do not think either of my friends ever found out what I did. But a day later, a folded note written on Student Council official paper appears in my room. Thus begins inauspiciously a series of events that will someday become a key strand of my narrative. Reamed out? I treasure that note to this day as a masterpiece of sarcastic invective. It is a worthy artifact of the Hakamichi Council of 2007-08.
Thursday mornings are sacred times to me. They are times when I see Kaneshiro-san, who is as much ‘Nurse’ as Mutou-san is ‘Teacher’, and wonder if I am tipping over from life to death, ghostly Rika to Rika-ghost.
If I am fortunate, there are moments with Hisao, who has become more alive towards the end of his time in Yamaku. He satisfies my thirst for new and different knowledge, and I am proud to say that my reading habits have changed because of him. It will be a few years before I figure out that his habits were formed in turn by too many weeks in hospital, Mutou’s kind provision of science journals and books, and Hanako Ikezawa’s love of literature. For now, I am happy to be refreshed.
“Good day, Nakai-san. Is my esteemed senior looking at a shorter list these days?”
“Hello, Rika! It’s down to fifteen, maybe fourteen. My friends are helping me keep to a healthy lifestyle. One of them persists in monitoring my diet as if I am a pipette to be filled,” he says with a slightly sour look, but with a smile that makes it clear this is only a joke. “And you?”
“Ah, Hisao, I am not long for this earth, I feel. It is my fondest wish that when the flesh has finally let go, I can wander the world’s libraries in spirit form, discussing human transcendence, black hole physics and classical poetry with an old friend in similar straits.”
A terrible effort. But only Hisao bothers to listen to my limping efforts at literary humour. Aoi would just give me a giddy look and tell me to use simpler words, while Keiko would begin to explain everything to Aoi with even less humour, if possible.
This time, he laughs, which pleases me inordinately.
“Rika, I know I don’t know you very well, but…”
“Nakai, if you’re going to hit on your juniors, don’t do it in my office. Besides, there are people who would love to know what you’ve been up to, and I also have the option of adjusting your medication in a way that will alter your life quite a lot.”
I twitch guiltily as Nurse Kaneshiro chuckles in sinister fashion. His sense of humour has many barbs. Sometimes I sense that he is protecting Hisao, but I’m not sure from whom. Or for whom.
“Hey, I was only going to thank her for cheering me up now and then.”
“Well, if you’re going to do THAT, at least get some useful items from me first.”
Hisao blushes a little. I suspect I am a crimson disaster myself. It’s hard to disguise a flush even if you wear makeup, and I gave up on that many years ago. Embarrassment, however, is no excuse for discourtesy, so I try to salvage some dignity for both of us.
“I gratefully receive my esteemed senior’s compliment and am happy to have been able to make his life seem more acceptable.”
Nurse chortles. “Heh, always so polite, little ghost. Hisao, get out of here while I attempt to assess her own quality of life.”
Hisao smiles at me and leaves hurriedly. Nevertheless, this is a good day.
Or it appeared to have been going that way, at least. As I step out from my weekly check-up, I am accosted by a loud package of pink hair and sensual fragrance. And also, the Divine Wind of Yamaku.
“Wahaha~! So! Are you the one distracting Hisao from his Council duties?”
“Errm,” I begin indecorously, trying to recover from my instinctive flinching. “No, I do not think so, esteemed senior lady Mikado.”
I always lay it on thick for Mikado, because it makes her uncomfortable. Also, because Hakamichi gets impatient and sometimes becomes indiscreet with her fingers.
[We only have days. Tell the skinny –unfamiliar word– that if they want to replace us smoothly, they need to finish up the preparations for graduation.]
I feign ignorance while Mikado translates.
“Rika, we are running short of time! You and your friends need to hurry up in your preparations for Graduation Day! Then only can you take our place! Remember, we are not holding onto power, we are passing it on to successors who must be worthy! Haha~!”
Yes, I can see what idiomatic translation might look like in the hands of a pink-helmeted samurai of the mouth. I also reflect on the assets that allow Hakamichi to rightfully highlight my relative flatness of chest. Oh well.
“Please tell esteemed senior lady Hakamichi that I will try my best to convey this urgency to my cohorts.”
“Wahaha~! Always so formal. We have some editorial work for you! Our valedictorian has things to say but won't say them. She’s being very strange! Instead she wants Shizune to say them in her speech, and Hisao and I will translate. Please check for typos and such, we know you’re good at it!”
She hands over a thin, neatly typed and stapled sheaf of paper. How odd. I had thought that either Hakamichi or my friend in infirmity would be valedictorian this year. I look down, curious.
[Hanako Ikezawa] says the header. I must say I never saw that coming.