- Hiro -
Hiro ran breathlessly toward the emergency room and was met by the school nurse, the principal, and a rather handsome looking boy, who all stared at her in surprise. Ignoring their glances, she grabbed the poor woman’s shoulder and shook her firmly.
“Where is she? Is she alright?”
Hiro stormed these questions relentlessly until the boy finally dragged her from the nurse.
“Calm down!” he told her, pulling her away.
She struggled to be free, but he only tightened his grip on her. The nurse suddenly pointed to the doors and together, the small ensemble watched with suspension as the bulb above the door blinked off and the doors itself opened.
The doctor pushed a bed toward them and paused as he explained, “The operation is still incomplete, but I warned them that if we continued, she would lose too much blood and therefore die. We’ll pick up where we left off at another time when she’s in a condition for further surgery.”
“Thank you,” the nurse cried, taking the doctor’s hand.
“It’s my job,” he returned, patting her hand.
Hiro looked at the lifeless and pale body on the bed. She gasped and covered her mouth as she examined all the bruises and bandages that covered her new friend’s face and all other visible areas on her body. She reached out and touched Akari’s hand and recoiled at how cold her skin was.
“She’ll be fine, right?” she whispered, looking at the doctor.
“Yes,” he replied. “If you’ll excuse me, I have another appointment to catch up with. My nurse will show you and your patient to an available room.”
As the doctor left, the group followed the hospital nurse, silently, toward an empty hospital room. The school nurse sank into an armchair beside the bed and sighed enormously. The boy stood behind her as Hiro stood on the other side and watched as Akari’s body rose and fell as she breathed. The principal watched the ensemble for a bit before giving his apologies and left to return to the school to report the situation to the higher ups.
Hiro reached out and took the sleeping girl’s hand. She clutched it tightly and stared at the limp, unresponsive hand.
She sighed and said, “How could this happen.”
“It was those wretched girls! They think they can do anything!” the nurse moaned, clutching her head with her hands.
“What’s been done has been done, there no use trying to plan revenge. I don’t know who this girl is, but I’m sure it’s something she wouldn’t want,” the boy said, massaging the nurse’s shoulders.
“You’re right,” Hiro agreed, her eyes glued upon her clasped hands. “I’ve only known her for a short while now, but I can tell that she’s a peaceful person. As angry as I am toward Sashen and her girls, there really isn’t anything that I can do. I feel so useless.”
“The time will come when they fall from her perch above us,” the nurse warned. “Mark my words!”
“Calm yourself,” the boy soothed. “Wreaking havoc upon people like Sashen and her family isn’t right! That’s just like doing what those girls did to this girl, except on a much grander scale.”
“Hold your anger,” Hiro added. “There will be a time for payback, definitely, but not now. Now is not the time.”
“What would you plan? Even if you get payback, Sashen’s backed up by one of the nation’s top security forces,” the boy tried to reason. “As much as I agree with you, I know it’s wrong. Why should we do what they did to this girl? Wouldn’t that just make it an endless circle?”
“But this isn’t fair! They think they can rule over us, but they can’t!” Hiro cried angrily.
“Look, I know how you feel, but you just can’t act out rashly!” the boy retorted.
“I don’t act rashly. I think my moves through. If it fails then I’ll try again, I’ll rethink it-”
“This isn’t a war. Just stop this senseless talk,” the boy said, walking away.
When he was out of hearing range, the nurse bent over and whispered, “I agree with you, someone needs to show those girls that they-”
“Nurse Shirou, he’s right. We have to do this differently. There’s no point in going forward in anger. If we do, we’re no less the monster that they are.”
The nurse looked down at her lap in shame and began to cry. Hiro looked at the small form and sighed. She sank into the couch by the window in the room and eyed the body on the bed. She closed her eyes and sank into a deep sleep, tired from running all the way to the hospital.
The boy shook her awake and told her she should go home. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and stood up, stretching her back out.
“What about you?” she asked.
“I’ll stay for a bit until her family comes,” he answered, looking over at Akari.
“Nurse Shirou left already?”
“Yeah, you should go too. I’ll stay with her. If anything happens, I’ll message you with Akari’s phone,” he told her, holding up the phone. “I’m Miyamo by the way. Miyamo Tsunada.”
“Thanks for watching over her, I’m Hiro Kanazaki.”
They shook hands and Hiro nodded her head, murmuring her thanks again.
As she stepped out of the room, she turned around and said, “You’re right. I’ve thought about it and going head on with Sashen is the wrong move.”
With that she walked away.
On her way home, she contemplated where to stay. It would be so awkward if she went back to Kei’s place, but where else did she have to go? She groaned and trudged her way to his house.
She rang the bell and waited nervously for the door to open. She sat down upon the steps to the house and waited, nodding off as she did. When the door swung open, Hiro snapped awake and turned around to see Kei’s mother’s face looming above her.
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
“I was at the hospital. My friend was in an accident and I had to go see her,” the reply came monotonously.
“Oh dear,” the mother sighed. “Come in dear before you freeze to death.”
Hiro did as she was told and stepped inside the house. She took off her shoes and walked toward the kitchen. She sank into one of the chairs as Kei’s mother poured her a cup of steaming hot tea.
“Kei isn’t home?” she asked, her hands shaking as she sipped her hot tea.
“No, he left with Seizuru to head over to the main branch for his annual… scorning, I guess you’d call it,” the mother murmured, pursing her lips in thought.
“Yes, he’s forced to go over there and listen to the elders complain, gripe, and curse about why he was born. They do this every time to make Kei hate himself and to succumb to their every whim. It’s terrible but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s my entire fault.”
“What’s wrong, Mrs,-”
“Don’t. Just call me mommy,” Kei’s mother interrupted, winking at her. “If you’re going to be living here for a while, might as well call me mommy, right?”
Hiro nodded her hesitantly, but consented.
“Why is it your fault?” she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
“There’s no point hiding it from you,” the mother said, smiling sadly. “I’ve been holding it inside for so long, so please listen to my story.”
Hiro nodded her head, leaned forward, and began to listen.
- POV Switch -
“Long before Kei was born, I was a young girl in my teens with so many dreams that have yet to bloom. I wanted to travel, to go places, see people, and experience the world firsthand. I wanted to fall in love with someone the way I’ve seen in the movies. I had so many things that I wanted to do, but all was dashed when my father arranged my marriage with Seizuru. I was confined to my room and wasn’t allowed to leave. I had to learn proper etiquette and manners, so I couldn’t leave to go dance in the fields like I used to.
I’ve never seen him in my life and I didn’t want to. I blamed him for taking away my freedom and began to loathe him, a person I’ve never met before. His family came down to visit one day and he was introduced to me. He was three years older than me but he looked so much older! His eyes were dark from sleepless nights and his hair was cropped military style. He was too formal and punctual for me, but my father’s words must be obeyed.
We spent so many times together and yet he was never able to grab my heart. He would give me things to sway me, he would whisper his love to me, but it was all in vain. My heart didn’t and wouldn’t belong to him and yet he was so persistent. He wouldn’t leave me alone and one day I got fed up with it. I slapped him across the face in front of our parents and ran away crying. I didn’t care where I went so long as I was away from all that mess.
I ran into the woods behind my house and just continued to run blindly. I tripped, I fell, I was injured, I was wet from the rain that poured down, but I could care less. Out in the rain, I never felt so free! When I finally stopped to catch my breath, I was standing at the very top of a cliff. I sank to me knees, tired, and just continued to sob. There was no way to differentiate the rain from my own tears. I was a wet mess but I didn’t care. I was happy to be away from all the social standings.
Then, suddenly, a voice came to me.
Soft and lilting, it asked, “Are you alright?”
I looked over my shoulders and saw a young man. He was had a starling resemblance to Seizuru, but I knew immediately that there was something different about him, something that drew me to him that didn’t happen with Seizuru. His name was Kyotaka and for the next few weeks, we spent time together in the woods away from the judging eyes of society. There was a little cottage that he had inhabited when his family first came over, and that was where I stayed with him. It was peaceful there and even though it rained relentlessly every other day, the time I spent with him in that forest was the best moment in my life.
We talked to each other, understood each other, and soon we fell in love with each other. Of course I knew that he was Seizuru’s younger brother, but I didn’t care about the controversy that would arise and he didn’t either. Love was all that matter to us, and yet when they found us together and tore us away from each other, we cared. We wanted to be together but his parents were set on my marriage to Seizuru.
I was married immediately to him and my heart broke. I felt like I had betrayed Kyotaka. I was still in love with him and yet I was married to Seizuru. I was so crestfallen that I didn’t eat or leave my room for days. Then one day, Seizuru left for a business trip to the Western Islands. His family had gone back to their own homes and all was quiet. I was left alone in my dark room.
I had stood up to go to my window when my door creaked open. I looked at the figure in the doorway in shock and surprise. Kyotaka was standing in my room! I fell to my knees in overwhelmed joy and sadness. He came to my side and held me. I grasped him back to know for sure that this wasn’t a dream. I cried into his shoulder and stammered that I was sorry, repetitively. He responded that it’s okay and rubbed my back to sooth my frantic and confused heart. But when that didn’t work, he leaned in and kissed me.
I was surprised at first but then I let him kiss me and returned his kiss gladly. We were in each other’s embraces and no one was there to bother us. That night we slept with each other and when we awoke the next day, his arms were still around me. I kissed him and began to cry again. We both knew that this moment would end soon and yet we didn’t want to let go of each other. We kissed and hung on to each other almost desperately.
We knew that Kyotaka had to go soon and so we kissed one more time before changing into our clothes. As I walked him to the door, he held me in his arms and squeezed me tightly in his embrace. As much as I wanted time to freeze, it just didn’t, and he slipped past the doors and left me to sob to myself.
When Seizuru came home, he came immediately to me and kissed me and exclaimed that he missed me dearly. I only nodded my head and as he tried to kiss me again, I pushed him away. He stammered his love to me, but I glared at him angrily and screamed for him to leave. We never once slept together and so it was obvious when my belly began to get bigger.
Both our parents and Seizuru demanded to know who the father was, but I didn’t tell them. I shook my head in refusal and succumbed myself to their beating and insulting. Sure enough, they figured that it was Kyotaka. It was obvious that we were still in love with each other. Kyotaka was called into question and he denied nothing. He accepted full responsibility for the child and was soon after disowned by his family. He never got the chance to see baby Kei. He probably doesn’t know if Kei’s alive or not.
Seizuru’s parents wanted me to be cast out as well, but he told them no, and kept me by his side ever since. I think it’s to laugh in Kyotaka’s face, saying that “Ha! I still have her and you don’t.” It’s cruel but that’s what he did. When Kei was born there were so many threats to him and me that I snuck away and moved to a small house my family had bought for me in sympathy. Seizuru found out but didn’t say anything and moved in with me.
As punishment, Kei was to go to the main house once every winter, doesn’t matter when, and pay tribute to them. He has been through all the ridicule and hatred for seventeen years now. I don’t know how he keeps on smiling and how he’s never blamed me for all his troubles. He always looks me in the eye before leaving and says, ‘Don’t worry mom, I’ll be fine.’ I’m not allowed to go with him so I don’t know the things that happen over there, but I have a feeling that it’s really painful to him.”
- Hiro -
There was a silence as the mother’s story sunk into Hiro. She blew out a breath and sat back in her chair in wonder. She thought on the words and exclaimed in amazement.
“Seventeen years of suffering and he looks as though he has no worries at all,” Hiro commented, rubbing her eyes with her hands.
“Yeah, I don’t know how he manages,” the mother sighed.
“Maybe he does it for you, staying strong so that you don’t have to worry for him. Maybe because he wants to stand up to them and fight them,” Hiro tried. “I mean, you don’t even know what’s happening over there.
“You’re right. But I’m sure it’s horrible and painful. He’s probably being tortured physically and verbally.”
They sat together in silence until Hiro got up and said that she was tired. She thanked Kei’s mother and retreated back into the room she shared with him. She sank into her pile of blankets on the floor and closed her eyes in thought. Soon after she did, she fell asleep.