This is the third part of Rin's arc in 'After the Dream', my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic.
It begins in 2017 and ends in 2020.
Rin 3: Blossoms (T -7)
It’s good to have friends. I have been living with Emi and Hisao for a year now, at the Yamaku staff quarters in Sendai. No more friends in Tokyo, so I stopped renting Hisao’s old apartment. I was all alone there, except when Hisao visited once in a while. Then Emi asked me to come over to Yamaku one day, so I did.
The lighting is different here. There is a long eggshell white corridor and more space. Emi’s room is next to mine; it is almost like being back in school. My room at the end of the corridor gets the afternoon light best, so I paint after lunch. Sometimes I need to get the morning light and it is brightest in Hisao’s room, but Emi’s also in that room sometimes and it can get crowded. I try not to get in the way of their benefits.
It has been about five years since Hisao and Emi became friends again. I don’t mind that Hisao doesn’t hug me as much. When he does hug, he hugs better. Also, Emi hugs me too. It’s something that makes a lot of sense to me in a complicated way but is very hard to explain. I tried to paint it once, but everything was just warm colours swirling around and there wasn’t a centre to it. But when you’re hugged properly, you know it.
Hisao tells me things he can’t tell Emi. That feels wrong, but also right. This is because we’re planning surprises. I go over to Meiko’s new place, because we are keeping secrets from Emi for now. I liked the old place near Yaita, less than two hours from Tokyo, but it was a three-hour bus ride from Yamaku.
“Hello, Rin! How nice of you to drop by!”
“Hell-o. I brought some food and also some ideas.”
“That’s wonderful. Come in and we’ll get lunch going. I’ve also got some ideas. How are the Dynamic Duo? Has she guessed yet?”
Meiko is nice. I can even talk to her about feelings. She understands, better than almost anyone else who is my friend.
“No. Hisao keeps his secrets with his lawyers. And with me.”
“Ai, my daughter. It’s hard for her to think about making things permanent while worrying that they won’t be.”
“They do a lot of things together. I know the students talk about that because when I go out to buy supplies I hear them. Hisao says he will ask her on Tanabata Festival night.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. We should finish the last part and get it done soon, then. Lunch first, though!”
It is relaxing to cook with Emi’s mother. She has everything in just the right place. It’s after lunch that she shows me the large stone, and I understand why artists used to grind gems to make paint. That red is like fire, and it’s alive. She also has ideas for the smaller stones. I’ve never seen stones that can be two different colours at once. Meanwhile, Meiko draws some final ring designs and I paint them and she’ll find someone to make something that looks right.
A year is not enough time. I think preparing for a wedding is the most tiring thing on earth. It is like Hisao working for Shizune except that it’s more complicated. And now we have to explain why we need to invite Miki.
“The truth is always the best thing,” I tell Hisao. “Everything else is too messy.”
“I think it’s better coming from you.”
“Well, the truth is that you don’t sound like you know the truth.”
“You tell her.”
I understand why it’s that way. After all, I know Miki better than Hisao does. So I go and add ‘Miki Miura’ to the invitation list, blue-black ink on Emi’s beige paper. I know all her addresses by heart too.
When Emi gets in, she is not amused. “Rin!” she yells. “Did you do this?”
“Yesss.” It’s in my writing, and my ink. That’s Emi, asking questions with obvious answers.
“Why?? I mean, we don't know Miura that well, right?”
“She lived with Hisao for a couple of months.”
“What?! I guessed a couple of weeks only.”
“About seven weeks and a bit. They were never ‘friends with benefits’. But she stopped me from breathing water and dying. She got me back to where I was staying and then brought me over to Hisao’s place.”
“Miura?? All Hisao told me was that she bunked over in his loft before she went off to Nagasaki.”
“Yesss. We shared the loft. Girls don’t have those kinds of benefits, but Miki was nice to me. She has one good hand.”
Emi’s mouth opens and closes but nothing comes out for a while. That’s strange, and I look at her curiously.
“I can tell you more if you like.”
“Errr, no need. I’ll put her under your list of friends.”
“I don’t have my own list of friends. Meiko and you and Hisao are my closest friends and you all have to be there.”
“Well, now you do.”
The wedding is a great success. I am pleased because the dandelions behaved themselves and came in on time. Everything is pale blue and gold and just right. It feels that way because the good memories ended in Yamaku ten years ago and now they’re back again in Yamaku. The Art Club even made the old mural look better, although it now says things that I would not have said.
Miki came, and we hugged and she’s friends with Emi now. I told her not to make Hisao jokes in case Emi got upset and Miki laughed and said, “What do you take me for?!” and I said, “I don’t take you for granted.” So she hugged me again, and it was interesting because she was wearing a new second hand. And Lilly Satou was not around to make Hisao think complicated thoughts. Hanako apologized for her. I don’t understand why. But everything was good.
Two years later, the hospital darkness is full of flashing blue lights and diffuse amber glow. It’s still dark when Hanako arrives. Managed to get her before she flew off, probably a good thing for everybody. I’m testing the vending machines. Some are easier to tweak but some need hands. I miss Miki for that.
It’s why my mouth is full when she reaches me and I turn to face her. Hmm.
“Hello R-Rin,” she manages, probably wondering why I’m making faces. So I give her a practical answer. My lips wave the credit card across a charge panel. I hit a button with one arm-bit and I hear a canned drink fall. I tuck my card into a sleeve pocket. She looks stunned as I kick off my left slipper, dig the drink out with my foot and offer it to her. She takes it. I feel good about that.
“Hell-o. Emi’s on the third floor, room 313. Go up. Don’t wait.”
I have to get another drink, so I mess with another machine while Hanako heads for the bright foyer. The hospital is cheerfully decorated. Lots of yellow. It was a children’s hospital until the 2011 earthquake. Then they restructured everything, and Miyagi is now the local general hospital.
Meiko’s boyfriend works here now, when he’s not at Yamaku being school doctor. We used to call him ‘Nurse’ but now I call him Goro because that is his name. I’ve left them in the hospital café. They look very tired but I think they’re happy.
I’m just a bit behind Hanako, because she’s been stopping to look at the signs. The staff are very helpful, and I think they will make her feel comfortable. I’ve noticed she’s a lot less awkward than she used to be in the old days, though. In minutes, we’re at the nurses’ station on the third floor. The duty nurse looks up at Hanako with a perfectly friendly expression on his face, although she can be unnerving when she surprises you at night.
“Ms Ibarazaki? Yes, she’s fine. May I have your particulars please, madam?”
She signs in after showing him her passport. He looks genuinely interested in his work, although a little tired. I blink at him, and it’s clear he recognizes me, because he smiles.
“It’s breakfast time, so visiting is okay. Room 313 is just down that way, please.”
I’m right behind Hanako when she knocks on the door. I’m like a pale red-haired ghost behind her, from my reflection in a shiny metal plate. Hisao opens it, smiling when he sees us. He attempts a sort of greeting and then pours himself wearily into a chair.
Emi’s a lot louder, and apart from looking as exhausted as you’d expect, she sounds like her usual self. “Thanks for coming back all the way, Hanako! You’re a true friend!”
She gestures to the little crib next to her. “And this is Akiko, almost five kilograms of beautiful!”
Emi is happy. Then she does something which doesn’t make sense. She gives that big grin and says to me, “Rin, will you be Akiko’s godmother?”
She asks me if I can be godmother to that little girl. Rin Tezuka, a godmother? I look at Hisao to see if he is going to say anything, but he appears to be asleep. There’s only one reasonable answer.
Emi looks sad. She looks at me as if I have kicked her in the stomach. I remember that look well. It means I have done something very wrong. So I tell her why.
“I do not know anything about gods or mothers. I would be a terrible godmother. The baby girl is too beautiful to not be carried properly, and I don’t have enough arms for that. I cannot understand people sometimes, and people cannot understand babies sometimes, and that means I will be very bad at doing godmother things. So I won’t do it.”
Emi frowns. It makes quite a picture. If her head were a map of Japan it would mean there would be earthquakes all over Honshu.
“Whaddya mean, you won’t do it? I thought you were my friend! We’ve been friends for a very long time!”
I think she’s going to cry. I don’t like making Emi cry. I feel all wrong when she does. Emi has a very angry pink in her when that happens. I don’t know what to do. Hisao is waking up, but he won’t do anything fast enough.
It’s Hanako who knows what to do. Or at least, Emi doesn’t cry.
“E-Emi? It’s okay. Rin’s been with you for so long she’s going to be more like Aunty Rin now. You don’t have to choose a g-godmother until the baby gets home. Relax until then? Besides, you and Hisao just celebrated T-Tanabata!”
“Oh gosh! What day is it?”
“It’s j-just turned 9th August. Tonight was the end of the Festival.”
“Oh, that’s right. We were celebrating our anniversary and we’d just gone to bed. Hmmm. And you were headed back to Europe.”
She looks at me and then at Hanako. It’s a shy look, but I can see she’s made up her mind about something.
“This is so embarrassing. Sorry, Rin, you’re right. Akiko’s godmother should be someone more like you, Hanako. Will you? It’s not like you’re second choice or anything like that… I just wasn’t thinking straight! And you came back all the way from Narita just for the little one too.”
Hanako opens her mouth in surprise. She begins to stutter a reply.
While Hanako replies, I look into the crib. That baby has a strange colour. But maybe all babies are that kind of red. She has hair too, an interesting brown shade. I could paint that. She’s got a lot of Emi-ness in her.
Then she opens her eyes. She has golden-green eyes. That is not a common colour. Maybe it’s because the hospital lighting is too blue. So I blink. Akiko blinks back. Then she gurgles at me. That is just creepy. But I think we’ll get along fine.