Today was a day of celebration and mourning. All of this had happened on the island of Kozushima in March 2024.
This will be over soon, and then I can go home, my real home, in Tokyo.
Hodaka Morishima stood alone, a few steps away from the other mourners at Obasan Morishima's burial. It was raining, as it had always been since he prevented Hina's sacrifice two and a half years ago and the black-clad men and women held black umbrellas over their heads. They leaned on one another, the women weeping, sharing shelter and grief.
Hodaka had just come back from his high school graduation ceremony when he received the news. The gusts of wind within the rain blew stinging cold wet rivulets under the umbrella, down his neck, but he was unaware of them. He felt nothing, he was numbed by loss. But not the loss of his father's mother, but the loss of everyone he left behind in Tokyo. His grandmother, whom he had only known for a few special occasions was said to be the wisest woman on the island. But even though he didn't feel any emotional connection to her, he wanted to ask her if he made the right choice about running away and hurting his family emotionally. But since he never bothered to ask, he felt only misery.
This will be over soon, and then I can go find Hina. Maybe she can tell me.
"… ashes to ashes, dust to dust…"
The minister's voice penetrated the shell of numbness, the words registered.
Hodaka's head jerked to one side, denying the open grave, the plain pine box being lowered into it. There were small half circles sunk into the soft wood, marks of the hammers that had driven in the nails to close the lid above Oba-chan's gentle, loving, heart-shaped face that wrinkled over a hundred and four years of life.
Hodaka looked at the people surrounding the grave, and hot anger surged through him. None of them care about my problems as much as I myself do. Their lives are so simple and complacent it's making me sick, why else would I leave them and my parents? My father was the cause of my life's destruction and in spite of everything I did back in Tokyo, Hina is the only thing left of me in that wreckage. This awful day will be over soon and I can be away from here. Forever.
Hodaka lifted his chin, his teeth clenched to stop their chattering from the cold, to hold back the choking in his throat. His thoughts seem to be degenerating back to his 16-year-old self, before he returned home and saw his island in a different light. He had felt so chained down by his father and his school back then, but when he came back, home and school became natural places to live. He managed to suppress these thoughts, holding them back as he watched the pallbearers lower his grandmother into the wet and muddy earth. At this point, the rain would have filled up a tiny quarter of the grave.
His parents stood closest to the grave. His father, tall and thin and colorless, his pale dark hair now almost gray, his pale stricken face as empty as his staring, unseeing yellow eyes that he had passed on to his son. He stood erect, his stance a salute, the inheritance of his years as a man of good family and virtue. He stood motionless, without sensation or comprehension. His mother, holding the right side of his body stroked his hair and whispered sweet nothings into his ear. She looked like a tragic geisha, all in black. Her face was hidden by a veil and the wind gently blew against it.
It was his father who broke the solemnity.
"Okasan! Don't leave me! Don't leave me, Okasan!"
He was teetering on the edge of the grave, his wife struggling to pull him back up.
Hodaka may not have liked his father, even after he had softened up when he came home from his three-month getaway to Tokyo, but he couldn't bear to see him like this. Maybe at this phase of grief, he would be patient enough to hear his voice for a change.
"Otousan, stop!" he shouted. "Otousan!" He began to run, slipping and sliding on the wet grass. The umbrella he had thrown aside scudded across the ground, pushed by the wind until it was trapped in the mounds of flowers. He grabbed his father around the waist, tried to pull him away from the danger. He fought him.
"Otousan, don't!" Hodaka struggled against his strength. "Oba-chan can't help you now." His voice was harsh, to cut through his father's unhearing, demented grief.
"Let me alone!"
With that shout, his father's right hand swung at Hodaka's right cheek, slapping it and shoving him to the ground, drawing some gasps from the other mourners and a "Will you control yourself?!" from the minister.
Hodaka just sat there, stunned as he smoothed the surface of the slapped area. Smoothing it seemed to ring some distant bells into his memory as he remembered another reason why he ran away. He stood back up, looking at his father, who was lifted erect by his wife, with eyes of calm anger.
"You can go now, Morshima-kun," said his principal, standing opposite of the casket. "I only hope you won't cause us any more damage like that stunt you pulled two and a half years ago. Now that you're a graduate, my only hope is that you will make the right decision in the future."
"You're right, sensei. After today, this will be the last time I will ever see any of you again."
He had to get to Tokyo, he had to. Hina was there. Hina would put her arms around him, Hina would hold him close, cradle his head over her shoulder where he'd sobbed out all his childhood hurts. He could cry in Hina's arms, cry himself empty of pain; he could rest his head on Hina's lap, rest his wounded heart on Hina's love. Hina would hold him and love him, would share his pain and help him erase the memory of the father and the school that troubled him so much in the first sixteen years of his life.
His probation had ended. His terms at high school had ended. And his life with his parents was coming to an end as well. He didn't even bother to reminiscence when he walked back to his house alone. He just went straight to his room and gathered his things, emptying the drawers of what he considered were the most important and packed them in a small trunk.
"I suppose I could pack the black wool merino; it's going to be colder," said Hodaka to himself. He stared at the open wardrobe. Black wool, white silk, red cotton, tan twill, green velvet, blue jeans, brown shorts, and white trainers. He could go on mourning for the rest of his days. Mourning for Hina still, and now mourning for any of his other friends besides his grandmother. But today was also the day that he was officially a free man.
I should find something darker than black, something more mournful to wear to mourn for myself. But who am I kidding, I've got to wear something impressive when I see Hina again.
So Hodaka picked out an outfit that he considered appropriate, a black-blue hoodie with white strings, a white shirt, blue jeans and his white trainers, certain that Hina would recognize him with these types of clothes.
He went to the mirror in the bathroom to wash up and he smiled back at his reflection. He was no longer a boy being pushed around by his father and several silly classmates, but a free man who was now legally old enough to do what he wanted.
And so he took his bike from the shed, hooked his suitcase onto the back and left the house, a house of mourning that used to be a house of despair where he only ate meals that were healthy, raw and simple, not at all like the McDonalds in the city where he met Hina. Hodaka pedaled his way down the road and he never bothered once to look back or return to his parents in the graveyard. Now he had another reason to leave this place for good; he was giving his father all the time he needed to grieve. And his mother, while an understandable spirit to his own needs, needed to comfort him.
The streets that met at the docks were a quagmire. Cars and buses and trucks were sunk in mud. Their drivers cursed the rain, the streets, their cars, the other drivers in their way. There was shouting and the sound of horns honking, and the noise of people. There were always crowds of people at the docks whenever tourists came to Kozushima, people hurrying, arguing, complaining, laughing. For the quiet years that came and went after he returned home, Hodaka began to see that the adults on the island were imperfect, just like him. But even after he made more friends in high school and his grades went up thanks to his understanding of how to be an obedient student, he still had Hina on his mind.
But not today. Today the traffic was in his way, Kozushima was holding him back. The Sarubia-Maru was already there, looking just as it appeared in his memory, two and a half-years ago, when he ran away. And it looked like she was already getting to leave.
I've got to make that boat, I'll die if I miss it, I've got to get to Hina and Nagi or I'll break down.
His bike was strong, skillful, and the best that money could buy. Nothing better get in his way, nothing.
He made the boat with time to spare.
There was a loud blast of the horn. Hodaka held his breath, listening for the first clunking revolution of the engines that meant the ship was moving. There it was. Then another. And another. And the rattling, shaking of the superstructure.
He was on his way at last.