[Chapter 5 – Raspberry Flowers at Night]
Everywhere I see pure angelic white.
“Where am I?” I mutter. I’m in a small room with only white walls. There are no doors, no windows, nothing.
“Yo,” a voice greets me from behind. I turn around and see… me.
“This is some crazy subconscious self-reflection thing, isn’t it?” I remark, “Is this where I’m supposed to ask if you’re really me?”
“Most people in this kind of situation would be more confused, you know,” the other me replies.
“Oh come on. Heaven-like whiteness and now another me? This is like straight out of some novel. Next you’re going to tell me I’m some kind of wizard or something and the power of friendship which overcomes my grief will present me with profound magical abilities.”
“You hit your head pretty hard, didn’t you?” the other me sarcastically inquires.
“I don’t recall. Though I guess I wouldn’t remember if I hit my head hard enough. So am I a wizard or not?”
“Indeed. Yer a wizard, Sorai.”
“You’re really not taking this seriously, are you?”
“Well since I’m you and you’re not taking this seriously at all, I’m not taking this seriously either.”
“Goodness, I’m hard to talk to.”
“Well said, me.”
“Why am I even here? Just tell me your profound message already and let me go.”
“I’m just here to tell you to take it easy with that sarcastic lip of yours when you wake up. She helped you out, you know.”
Before my subconscious can answer me, I wake up with a start.
“Looks like you’re awake” a girl to my right speaks.
“Oh, you’re ‘she.’ Crap, what’s your name again?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve already introduced myself; it’s Hayashida Rinako.”
“Yamanaka Sorai, the man who saved me.”
Ah, that’s right. I picked a fight with a group of guys who was harassing this girl. I guess we did introduce ourselves then.
“Wait, but he told me that it was the other way around. You helped me?”
“Oh right. That was just a dream…” I recall that white room.
“The only thing I did was treat your wounds. You’re the one who beat those guys.”
“It’s nothing special,” I retort, “I just wanted to blow some steam.”
Honestly, though, compared to what I did back in the mountains for fun, this was a warm-up at best. Back home, I had things like television to pass the time, but I used to be a rambunctious kid who hated staying indoors. But daytime was usually the time to tend the crops and manage the farm, so my only free time was during the night. Of course, Dad never let me go outside after sunset back then. Luckily, days of harvest were also days of not having to tend the farm. Dad at first asked if I wanted to accompany him when he went into town. I followed him once and regret it to this day. Whenever Dad delivered a shipment, he would also go drinking with Mr. Murakami and his other friends. No kid enjoys being around smelly, drunk old men singing songs and reliving their glory days, so I refused to follow him on future endeavors. Though maybe if I had three days ago, he would still be alive today.
Anyway, the days when Dad was gone were days when I could explore the mountains without him knowing. After a while, the two or three days of Dad leaving turned into, for me, camping trips in the woods where I battled Mother Nature. It wasn’t uncommon that I would run into wild boars or a bear. At first I ran away from them, but I slowly managed to figure out ways to outsmart the beasts. In addition, mountain bandits were actually quite common. At first, fighting the survivalist men that they are was tough; however, I soon developed guerilla style tactics to bring them down to size. Over the years, I had stolen quite a stash from the thieves themselves. Dad never found out, especially because I left all my mountain gear hidden. Compared to those bandits, these city thugs were a walk in the park.
“Well, either way, it’s certainly true that I’m okay now because of you,” Hayashida-san leans closer to me, “So, thanks.”
I stare into her hazel eyes as her black, shoulder-length hair flutters in the breeze. She’s a slender girl but not tiny either. I would not describe her as neither tall nor short. She’s quite an average girl, to be honest. But because nothing of her is extraordinary, her overall appearance is smooth and agreeable. If I had to compare her to something, I would say she’s like a newly fallen field of snow: smooth, uniform, and pure.
“Well, Hayashida-san,” I say.
“Rinako,” she interrupts, “Call me Rinako.”
“Hayashida-san,” I continue with much vexation from her, “while I understand your gratitude, I would appreciate some personal space, unless, of course, a thank-you kiss is in order.”
Startled, she retreats to the other side of the bench and stares down at the ground.
“Thank-you kiss? Yeah right!” she responds, “Anyway, I’ll hate you if you keep calling me Hayashida-san, Yamanaka-kun. Rinako. Ri-na-ko!”
Yamanaka. The name I share with my father and my supposed family. Hearing me addressed by that name disgusts me more than I could have guessed.
“Um… Yamanaka-kun? Are you okay?” Hayashida-san inquires, “Your face turned very grim just now.”
I quickly snap out of it, “Yes, yes. I’m fine. I’ll call you Rinako on two conditions.”
“Uhm. Well, what are they”
“One, tell nobody of what happened here today.”
“Two, just call me Sorai.”
Silence. Hayashida-san stares at me blankly for a couple seconds.
“Hahahaha!” she bursts out laughing. “Here you are making conditions on calling me Rinako and now you tell me ‘call me Sorai,’” she mocks me by imitating my voice, “Maybe I want conditions of my own too, huh? Ever consider that?”
“Cheeky girl,” I mutter.
“Okay Sorai-kun,” she continues, “I accept your conditions. It’s nice to meet you.”
It doesn’t matter what I call her anyway. I’ll never see her again. My head has cooled down enough that I know what I want to do. As much as I loathe the idea, I have to return to that house to grab my belongings. Before it becomes morning, I’ll leave for the next town over. There is no way I will stay here.
“You know, you have this weird tendency to go really quiet with a grim expression,” Hayashida-san interrupts my thoughts.
Seems my first order of business is to get away from this girl.
“Well, Ms. Hayashida,” I start.
“I’m going to punch you if you keep ignoring what I said before. When a girl says to call her by her first name, you do it.”
Now she’s really getting on my nerves. I call her by her last name in spite. “Hayashida-san,” I start once again.
I just beat up six grown men in an all-out fist brawl. Yet when I called her by her last name again, I suddenly felt true danger. The girl launches a short jab into my lower abdomen and digs her knuckles into my liver. This is no ordinary attack. This is an attack of malice and unadulterated anger.
“Okay. I get it,” I strain the words out of my throat as I clutch my stomach and curl over.
“Don’t mess with me, Sorai.”
Did I compare her to a field of newly fallen snow? More like black snow covered in dirt. Now I definitely hope I won’t see her ever again.
“As I was about to say,” I start for the third time, “it’s getting pretty late and I should be going now.”
“But you’re injured!” Hayashida-san complains.
“All the more reason to get home and get actual treatment.”
I stand up and start walking back to the entrance of the park. Now that I’m walking, I notice my lightheadedness.
“Get over here,” the stubborn girl commands as she supports my side, “I’ll walk you home.”
“Cheeky girl, aren’t you? It’s supposed to be the other way around, the guy walking the girl home, isn’t it?”
“Deal. With. It. Now, which way do you live?”
There is just no reasoning with this woman.
Dragged reluctantly by the most persistent female in the universe, I come up to the house that I ran out of just earlier in the day.
“Here’s fine,” I address Hayashida-san, “The house is right there, Rinako.”
“You sure?” she inquires.
“Well, any further and you’d be inviting yourself inside, so unless that’s your plan…”
“Don’t make me punch you again.”
“Sigh. Violent, aren’t you? Well, it’s quite dark now. Do you have a phone you can call your parents? Or if you don’t have one on you, maybe you really should come inside to call.”
“Doesn’t matter. My parents aren’t home anyway,” she replies, “I’ll just run on back home; I don’t live that far from here. Thanks again, Sorai. See ya!”
She lets go of the arm she was holding until now and runs down the street without even looking back. Idiot. This is how you get attacked by a group of thugs in the first place, going around in the dark by yourself like that. Well, I hope she gets home safe.
Now, I need to get my things and leave this place. No one should be awake at this time.
I left my things in the kitchen. With any luck, they are still there and I can sneak out without issues. Slowly and quietly, I approach the front porch.
“So you’re back,” a man speaks from the darkness. Crap. It’s Mr. Murakami. I didn’t expect him to stay.
“Is there a reason you’re sitting there with the lights off?” I mock Mr. Greatest Policeman Murakami.
“Your mother and sister fell asleep some time ago. I dare not wake them.”
“That so? And why is a stranger like you intruding in their home?”
“Waiting for you, of course.”
Tsk. Straight to the point, huh? Guess there’s no beating around the bush with him.
“Well, I’m here. Now what? You can’t make me stay,” I address Mr. Murakami.
“So you’ve decided to leave then.”
“And I don’t suppose you’ll let me convince you otherwise?”
“That’s right. You can’t stop me.”
“I guess that’s that.
“Like I told you before I brought you here, Sorai. You’re free to make your decision.”
“That… was certainly easier than I expected.”
My backpack lies on the wall right next to Mr. Murakami. He must have brought it out with him. He said he would not stop me from leaving, but for some reason, I have my doubts.
“If you’re not here to stop me, why are you here?” I continue our conversation.
“Your mother and sister were quite upset when you left,” responds Mr. Murakami, “Naho wanted to follow you immediately, but I convinced her otherwise.”
“As if I care how those two feel. They mean nothing to me.”
“Are you convinced they feel the same about you?”
“They just met me today.”
“Yet you’re Kochiyo’s son. You’re the son of the man who saved Naho. If it were me, I can hardly call someone like that a stranger.”
“If that’s all you’ve got to try to persuade me to stay, that was pitiful.”
“Naho stayed up all night worried about you, you know.”
Mr. Murakami sighs a deep breath, obviously frustrated at his pathetic performance.
“Fine,” the he continues, “if I can’t convince you, why not bribe you?”
“One month. That’s all I ask. Stay here for one month. If you still want to leave one month from now, I’ll give you some money and take you to the train station the next town over.”
“Just one month?”
“Just one. I’m being moved to a station in a town two hours north of here where the closest train station is. Since I’ll be making the trip anyway, I’ll gladly take you along with me.”
“Do they know about this?” I nod my head towards the house.
“I’m certain Kochiyo wishes for you to stay indefinitely, but I’ll inform them of our deal.”
I’m not happy about having to stay here, but funds and access to any place I want? The man knows how to make a bargain. I walk over to my knapsack, fling it over my back, and proceed towards the house.
“Well I hope they have a room for me or something, or this is going to a shitty month.”
“Hold on, before you go.”
“I have first aid in my patrol car. C’mon,” Mr. Murakami gestures to his car.
Damn man catches every detail, doesn’t he? Thought I had hidden the wound on my arm well enough.
Mr. Murakami drives away as I enter the house. I guess he doesn’t expect that I’ll just walk away after he leaves, huh? Bastard’s too trustful, that’s for sure. I guess he doesn’t lose anything if I do leave, so I doubt he actually cares. The house is silent except for the slight ticking of the clock in the living room. I was told my room would be the far room on the right. As I step into the hallway, I glance briefly into the open living room screen door. Surprisingly, the young girl from before is asleep, still sitting at the coffee table. Dad died for this person. If it wasn’t for her, he would still be alive…
I shake my head and drive these thoughts from my head. Dad died for Naho, but she didn’t kill him.
A blanket lies on the floor next to her; it probably fell off while she was asleep. It does seem to be a chilly evening. I sneak in to grab it.
I leave her alone and go to my room. I can use the blanket to keep myself warm.
And thus I spend my first night outside of the farm and my life in this new world.
END OF CHAPTER