A/N: Yeah, you know how I said that Osaka and Yomi were hard to write? Yeeeeah, this was pretty tough. :-( I had to take this to the experts, so many thanks to the crew on iichan's /azumanga boards and specifically, Pete Zaitcev and a guy who went by Kimurin. All those anons helped me flesh out Kagura, someone who we know next to nothing about, and give me some really good ideas and feedback. Thank you, guys. Thank you for helping spur real Azumanga discussions on the Interwebs. :-)
On with the show!
5: Purple Socks
I've been changing. I've been improving, practicing, making it happen. I do it. I just do it.
I run in the mornings, I practice at the pool every day, and during the winter, when the school pool is closed and locked, I have to take a train a half-hour to an indoor pool and bathhouse in Sengawa. Ms. Kurosawa used a huge chunk of the swim team's budget to get us free-use passes. I end up running back home every night... no point wasting the fact that my heart's beating, moving blood around.
I've done this for years. Minus the free-use practice pool.
Why? I don't know why. Either from the trip to Hawaii when I was in elementary school (I still remember that one sunset with the green flash... "Look, daddy, it's blue and green and orange! The ocean is making a rainbow!" I was as kiddy as kids got.) or from when I saw a quiet little lake in the wilderness on a school trip in fourth grade. Aomori is incredible in the fall... I just jumped in, clothes and all, and shouted "Hey, look everybody, I'm gonna swim all the way across this lake!"
That was probably it. Ichiro, the kid who'd lived two apartments down, said "I betcha can't!"
Yeah, that was it. He told me I couldn't do it.
I was tired of hearing that I couldn't do it. "No, you can't have a mountain bike until you get better grades." "No, you can't play baseball with Ichiro and the other boys. They pushed that girl Chihaya down the other day." "No, you can't have that chawamochi until you have your vegetables."
But then there I was. They had told me I couldn't swim, so I swam. I jumped right the hell into the lake and swam.
It was about five meters before I started to sink and a teacher finally caught up and pulled me out.
Boy, I got it. Kanamori-sensei bopped me on the head a couple of times. "We'll deal with you when you get back."
You wanna know what they did? They had my parents take me to the local high school, handed me one of those boring swimsuits, and pointed me at the locker room. "That lake was at least a hundred meters across," Kanamori-sensei bellowed. "Go and do ten laps in that pool. You'll see that you can't do it."
Of course, I burbled under again.
"You see, Kagura?" my dad told me. "It's dangerous if you just go diving into things like that."
"It's not dangerous!" I shouted back the way only an angry kid could do.
They shrugged it off and I got bopped on the head again.
I've heard of worse reasons to swear revenge. Being told I can't swim when I wanted to swim. They gave me good enough reasons to want that mountain bike or for not being able to go play with Ichiro. Even that damn mochi that I would have pitched a fit for. Maybe I'm just ill-behaved. But they just said I couldn't swim that lake. They said I couldn't do that pool.
That was my last year in elementary school. The last year before I could join a sports team. Of course, in junior high, they didn't give me the time of day for the swim club.
So I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran. Every day, I would just run. I started out just running until I couldn't run anymore. It took weeks for me to figure out how to stretch out, how to warm up and cool down. I ran longer. I ran farther. I ran with half-kilo weights. I ran with kilo weights. I ran with leg weights. I ran with a mini-disc player.
I came home later and later. Dinners got smaller and smaller. But I started changing. I could feel it.
It was the last day of September, and the sun was setting. I had changed out of my uniform and I had been running for almost forty-five minutes straight. The streets of Sengawa gave way to one of the tons of canals that run through Tokyo. I barely knew where I was other than "This is the route I take on my runs."
The canal was banking west. The sun was setting in the west. Back east, it was black, and lights were coming on.
The Tokyo skyline was just an ugly, nameless blob, and it was just so damn pretty. I could feel the sun behind me, like it was warming me up. Of course it would. That old purple track suit I had was enough to attract heat.
I ran back to school; by this point, I was up to a kilo on each arm and leg. I ran, and instead of showering off and changing into my uniform to walk home, I put on that swimsuit, already about two sizes too small on me.
I jumped into the pool and I swam. In the shimmering light that the sun kicked up, I swam. I swam all ten laps.
Kanamori-sensei did not appreciate me going back to my old elementary school, bopping him on his head, and telling him "I swam it! Now YOU get hit!"
Maybe it was the track suit. I guess that's where it came from. I guess purple looked good on me, but I always thought whatever I wore would never look good on me. Ichiro sure thought I looked dumb in anything. But it was me and that track suit. When I grew out of it, I got another purple track suit. "Purple, purple, purple!" he teased me once. Him and a bunch of other boys. "Maybe you're just Purple-chan!"
Yeah, it hurt. When you're little, things like that hurt. Of course, I punched him pretty good afterwards.
After that, I threw away the old track suit. I just ran in whatever I could find. I just didn't feel right. Maybe they had gotten to me. Maybe purple just didn't feel like my color now that I'd realized the only good things came from it.
It kinda felt empty. All the changes I had made, every step I had made, was because of some old "lucky" matched set of nylon/polyester pants and a jacket. I only liked to wear purple whenever I wasn't wearing my sailor uniform. I felt cute. I felt like a girl who could do anything. But now... it was me being who I was.
I didn't feel the same for the rest of junior high. The Swim Club scouted me and I joined up. I got better with team practice. I finally had coaches who knew that the best way to get me going was not telling me what I couldn't do. "You can be the best, but you have to practice," they told me. They showed me how to practice. They showed me that I could do what I wanted. It didn't matter if I'd done everything on the influence of something like luck, something like that old track suit.
I couldn't find it anywhere when I realized I had to get it again. I couldn't find it when I realized I had to bid it a proper farewell. No more purple track suit. Good luck finding something like that in a size that fits me. Do no girls my age practice in these things?
All I could find was the socks.
My feet don't feel any lighter, they don't move any more in synch when I run, and they don't enable any superpowers.
But if nothing else, they're purple.
I can't wear them when I swim, which is when I really need every boost I can get.
But you know what? That just means I have to ride the wave of the purple socks whenever I can.
Because they're just that. Purple.