------Rice Cream------

"What colour is it?"

She asked, when she couldn't ignore anymore the colour's acrid and bitter smell...

"What?..."

"The colour...the one you're preparing...what colour is it?"

"Oh! It's a blond! A shade that will look very good on you!"

"...blond?..."

"Yes! That shade has a name...French or Flemish, I think. I don't really remember."

"Why blond?"

"What?"

"Why blond, of all colours?"

"I don't think we can use black colour...it's not right for you..."

"..."

"There are no real blondes in Japan..."

She laughed.

"And there are no blue-haired people, either, not from birth..."

She frowned.

A really out-of-place sarcasm, that she couldn't appreciate.

"I'd like my hair black."

Unwavering.

The hairdresser put her hand under the other's chin.

"mmmm...I don't think it would look good on you..."

"I'd like my hair black. Like everybody else."

She smiled sympathetically.

She hated such attitude.

She had been on the receiving end of similar smiles for too long, and now she couldn't take it anymore, from nobody.

She waggled her head.

"I wouldn't really recommend it. Black would make too much contrast with your complexion..."

"What's wrong with my complexion?...

"Nothing, of course. But rice Cream doesn't go well with Sepia Black...no offence meant, but it would make you look a little sick..."

"Rice Cream?"

"mmmhh...your skin colour is too light...there would be too much contrast if your hair were black..."

"..."

She sighed imperceptibly.

"..."

"And what about blond, instead?"

"Blond would be perfect for you...it'd give you that Nordic, delicate look that's so in fashion now..."

She sighed. And again.

This thing was becoming a lot more annoying than what she'd thought.

She couldn't stand to be contradicted.

"Let it be..."

Anyway, she knew that her hai was about to become blond, with or without her approval...

As a matter of fact, the hairdresser had been right.

The final result was wonderful.

That light hair, similar to the rays of a pale winter sun, suited her perfectly.

And it fell on her back, now.

It had become quite long, although it had taken a long time to reach that length.

She was beautiful.

Very beautiful.

She had become more accustomed to hearing it from him, than to really think it herself...

She touched those sleek and thin hairs, now blond, that coverei her head.

She'd never imagined herself blonde, before that day.

Actually, she'd never imagined herself with a look different from her usual.

She'd never had the need, nor the occasion.

"Didn't I tell you that blond would be perfect for you!"

She made no comment.

She kept looking in the mirror at the final result on herself.

Actually, she had to admit that her hair was really gorgeous...

She let a little smile escape from her lips.

One for herself.

"Yeah..."

Was her only, unheard, answer.

Everybody would fall for it, like fools...

If her original hair colour might have generated a few doubts, that blond would have opened the way for her...

It's more "normal" a Japanese girl with blond-coloured hair,

Than one who claims, and insists, that the blue of her hair is natural...

It took her a while to get used to recognize herself in the image she beholded every time she was in front of a mirror.

But she got used to it.

Unlike those coloured contact lenses, which she could only stand a couple of days before her eyes started to hurt...

Just on time.

She couldn't tolerate those dark eyes one more day.

In his eyes, she was so beautiful.

As usual.

She began thinking that, even with her head shaved clean, she would always look beautiful to him.

She hadn't been able to completely read the papers that she'd got.

She hadn't even signed them.

Neo Tokyo's subway had arrested, and the speaker's metallic voice was announcing the station's name.

She threw her gaze outside the window, confirming once again the name of the station she was at.

It was her stop.

She had to get off.

She took her back off the train's wall, to which she had leaned during her trip, and hurriedly got off.

A gust of fresh wind marked, as usual, her return to the surface.

Her long hair, blond since a few months, where moved by the air at the subway exit.

She let her hand flow like a comb trough it, putting it back in place..

Her house wasn't far from the subway station.

Just two blocks, and she would be home.

Who knows whether she would find him home...

She felt her mobile vibrate: two unanswered calls.

Both from the same person.

He needed to tell her something.

She decided to call him back, while she was on the sidewalk in front of the pedestrian crossing, waiting for the green light.

"It's me. Sorry, but I just got off the subway. What's up?"

He told her that he'd forgotten the house keys.

"OK, I'm almost there."

He smiled and told her something nice.

Of course.

"Obviously, yes."

"..."

She laughed silently.

"I said yes! I'm in the street, don't make me raise my voice more than necessary!"

She crossed the street on the zebra crossing, still talking on the phone.

The conversation reminded her abruptly of a commitment she'd forgotten.

"Oh! It's true! I'd completely forgotten about that!..."

She was supposed to go back home.

But that phone call caused her to detour, suddenly.

It was sleek.

So sleek you could almost use it as a mirror.

"Like new!"

The old, potbellied guy took a fiddle from under the table.

One made of ebony wood, not especially valuable...

There were many people who asked themselves why he hadn't made up is mind yet to change it with a more interesting model...

"Your husband has already paid for everything this morning. You don't owe me zilch!"

He hurriedly said that, before she could take her credit card out of her bag.

"I also fixed the bow...it was getting old..."

They both smiled.

She, of course, with her usual aplomb.

"Thank you."

The same that,a couple of years back, he'd taught her with tears...

"Thank you."

Under his round glasses, the old fiddler flushed.

He moved his hand behind his neck, like an embarrassed high school pupil who's just got the bentou from a girl...

"How are..."

She was about to leave, when he broke the silence, embarrassed.

She turned her attention to him.

"How...how are the works going?"

"Up to now...everything's quiet..."

Her answer confused him.

"Uh?"

"Up to now..."

She pressed the papers that she still had to her bosom.

"...I have other matters to think about, right now..."

She said goodbye, and left.

Without waiting for an answer from the man.

The small red bells, hanging to the shop's door, ringed when she closed it after herself.

Leaving indoor only their echo in the silence.

It was a very busy neighbourhood, that one.

As much as she tried to close her space, the street noise violated her senses.

There was a traffic jam, and the claxons flooded everything with their obnoxious sound.

She was, for the second time today, near some traffic lights.

In her hand, the fiddle in its box...

And in the other, kept close to her chest, the papers...

She leaned forward, trying to see beyond the traffic jam that was taking up the whole street, but it was not possible to see beyond that snake with no end...

She puffed.

The people waiting, like herself, to cross the street, where piling up little by little...

Hiding the blue in her hair, she'd also hidden what made her different from other people.

And with it, also that feeling of unease, of not belonging, that she felt toward others had somehow diminished...

Notwithstanding her not having black hair, just like everybody else.

It's more normal to meet a japanese girl with blond hair, than one who claims that the blue of her hair is natural.

From that day, that sentence had become her motto.

While she waited, she took again to read those jealously guarded papers.

But, once again, she wasn't able to complete her reading.

She heard a car pulling over beside her sidewalk.

Typical scene at NeoTokyo-3 traffic lights.

"I don't need a taxi."

She didn't even looked. She was used to it.

In that traffic jam, she'd never catch a taxi, instead of walking.

But the car didn't budge.

Unless what usually happened. Seconds ticked away slow and heavy, like the driver's gaze upon her...

Even though she hadn't taken her eyes from the reading, she strongly felt it.

It was annoying.

"I said I don't need a taxi."

Upset.

Yet, the man inside that car didn't stop staring at her.

"I know..."

It was the final answer, that was able to take her eyes from those sheets of paper, and – at long last – to concede him her visual attention...

Only now she understood why he kept staring at her like that...

She didn't take long to recognize him.

That face...

That look...

Those eyes...

...even without glasses, they were easy to recognize.

"You..."

Her only answer.

She just said that.

Even if he had recognized her too well not to imagine that inside her mind, words couldn't be mathematically counted...

In every house, there's a dominant smell in the air, that somehow sets them apart from the others.

Of course it could be pleasant or not...

He who lives inside that house, usually, can't perceive his own house's smell because his nostrils are used to it.

But if a stranger should get inside, in the moment when he crossed its threshold, he would immediately notice the peculiar smell of a certain house...

And in hers, of late, there was a strong smell of milk...

That didn't go unnoticed to the Stranger's nose.

"Tea or coffee?"

She didn't budge much.

She couldn't explain to herself why.

She was alone.

With a Stranger in her house.

That should have been enough to put anybody at unease.

But not her.

Differently from what she might have thought.

She still felt his gaze upon herself, from behind, while she was fumbling with something in the kitchen...

He was sitting on the sofa in the living room, next to the kitchen.

It was heavy;

His gaze on her back was heavy as lead.

She turned.

With resolution.

"Tea or coffee?" She asked again.

The stranger leaned his torso forward, resting his elbows on his knees and crossing his hands.

The usual sarcastic smile painted on that time-ravaged face.

"Tea..."

Having received the answer she wanted, she turned again, hoping to shake that gaze from her body...

"...I suppose you've learnt how to make it..."

He added.

She put two kettles on the stove, turning the gas on.

"I've learnt so many things..."

"Even to speak, I notice..."

"I was missing the foundations of that..."

She was beginning to get nervous, feeling observed. But she wasn't going to tell him.

Even if he knew, and, sure, he was doing that on purpose.

She made the tea, taking the tray to the low table in the living room, between the sofa and the TV.

She was careful not to stumble on a small toy sheep left unattended on the carpet.

She put the tray on the table, and the sugar box too.

He served him tea without uttering a single word.

Just an exchange of looks.

She sat on the sofa in front of him.

Drinking her tea.

The Stranger put his hands in the pockets of his reindeer jacket, silently taking something out...

It was a Compact Disk.

Music.

"I've listened to all of your pieces...it's remarkable..."

With a movement of his hand, he settled the CD down on the table, near the tray.

"Thank you."

"A fiddle player...there couldn't be a line of work that suited you more."

"..."

She didn't understand the reason behind what he'd just said.

"Will you do something else?"

Why did everybody ask her the same question?

"I don't think so. Not for a while, at least..."

She didn't offer more explanation to her answer. The fiddle shop's owner wasn't more stranger than him.

And he didn't ask for any...

What he seemed more interested in, was to keep on observing her...

So different yet so similar to last time...

"Why are you staring at me...?"

She stopped drinking her tea.

She had the heart to say that, since she couldn't stand thosa prying eyes anymore...

"I was watching you..."

She knew what he was talking about.

She let his finger touch the tip of her golden hair, that were flowing upon her shoulders.

"I had to make it blond...it wasn't my decision..."

The Stranger was silent.

She put her almost empty cup on the table, and stood.

She went near the stove again, took the other kettle out of the fire, and put the content of a baby bottle in it.

Milk.

This action didn't go unnoticed from him.

It surprised him, but not that much...

"You've got..."

He stopped.

He pointed, moving his face in her direction.

"You've got a..."

She stopped him.

She'd thought that the baby bottle she was holding would have brought on his attention.

"Yes, we have a baby. Her name's Miwa."

"..."

"She's been with us for two months now. I'm considering taking a maternity leave. "

He didn't go on, for some time.

He stopped.

"A baby..."

He had no surprise, nor wonder in his voice.

His eyes with no expression didn't let anything out but submission...

She put the baby bottle inside the kettle, to keep it warm.

"You couldn't possibly have had a baby."

She turned to look at the stranger she was talking to.

"You...know my limitations better than me. You know that's not possible..."

She confirmed his ideas.
She was contradicting herself.

She was sterile. She couldn't have babies.

But now she had one. She'd had a baby girl.

And the smell of milk inside the house gave the impression that gesture was usual for her...

"They suggested to go to the social workers in the most discreet fashion that was possible. My hair and eye color was just wrong..."

"..."

She didn't add anything to her explanation.

"Since I couldn't change my DNA, I changed my hair..."

"..."

"To put remedy to that, would have been possible for me..."

She felt guilty.

The stranger felt a weird sense of guilt.

Unjustified.

"..."

Her silence went on for a while...

He understood.

He didn't ask anything else.

"Rei..."

She didn't turn hearing her name.

She stood there, still, in front of the stove.

She was still having her back on her guest.

Completely careless.

She her the spoon banging on the china cup.

Only then she turned.

He was offering his empty teacup.

She got close.

Picked it up with one hand.

But she wasn't able to get away again. The stranger took her by the wrist.

She didn't budge.

Maybe she should be worried, but she didn't.

He wasn't looking at her in the face. He was looking her thin, white arm, so different from his own...

He didn't know what he was going to do.

They stayed like that for a few moments...

He smiled. A sad, almost ironic smile...

"Rice cream..."

"..."

It was the second time she heard someone talking in that way about her skin...

"You can change whatever you want, but your skin will always be the same color..."

"..."

She wondered what was hiding behind his words.

Did her skin colour matter that much, after all?

"I could tell it apart among a thousand...yours is a shade that has no equal in the world..."

Eventually, she understood what he was aiming at, with those words.

"I know. There will always be something different in me, that will make me stand apart from the people outside..."

"..."

She smiled.

This time too, with resolve.

"...and this difference will be exactly what will make me just like everybody else."

Her answer shocked him.

Obviously, it was unexpected.

He thought her words over. He had to give it to her, those words had some sense.

Being different, she would be just like everybody else...

Because no two human beings are exactly identical...

He'd got it now...

And she had anticipated him.

She'd been able to break the barrier that had kept her away from normality.

Every limit had been reached. The very nature that had been imposed to her, she'd been able to make it into herself...

He still wasn't answering.

They might have been locked forever in that pose.

The house door opened.

She'd forgotten to lock it, before.

"Tadaima!"

A man's voice.

"TADAIMAAA!"

A little girl's voice.

The Stranger's hand opened, too, freeing her arm.

He got in.

He was cradling in his arms a little girl, dressed in red suede.

Miwa was almost two and a half.

Nobody knew much about her past, only that she'd been found a year before, wandering alone about Kyoto subway.

A typical case of abandonment.

Nobody ever came to claim her.

Two months before, she'd been adopted by them.

A couple that couldn't have children.

She'd already started to say the first complex sentences.

She'd never caused any problem.

"Rei, the door was op..."

He stopped, noticing his wife was not alone.

There was a Stranger in the house.

A Stranger he knew.

He had no time to look him over.

The stranger suddenly got up from the sofa, got his jacket and without even putting it on, went to the door.

Quickly.

He passed in front of Him.

"Fa..."

The wind caused by his movement made his brown hair vibrate.

And Miwa's hair, too.

"Father!..."

He shouted.

He was unmoved by that cry.

Partly because in his life he didn't have many chances to be called that way.

But he stopped on the threshold, the door now open.

"FATHER!"

His cry was louder yet.

He ran to him, covering the short distance that separated them.

In his eyes there was a mix of resolution and rage.

He didn't say anything. He didn't even turned.

He just looked at him in the corner of his eye.

For a few moments.

He looked at that strand of hate in his eyes: legally, his son.

He wanted to tell him so many things.

But, right now, he wasn't able to say a word.

"Take care, Shinji."

He closed the door behind himself with these few words.

Take care, Shinji.

He'd called him by name.

He didn't run after him.

It would have been useless.

He just knew.

She'd stood still, exactly like he'd left her.

She could still feel his hand on her wrist.

"WHAT...THE HELL WAS HE DOING HERE?"

He couldn't dominate himself. He talked to his wife with an upset voice.

She looked at him for a while, then bowed her head.

"WELL?"

Miwa was frightened by his father's voice.

She started to cry, silently.

She moved. Caught up with her husband.

"Nothing..."

He tried to get his temper back.

Looked at his wife.

He had no time to make a comment.

He stopped.

Well,

She stopped him.

She put her hand near her husband's.

He noticed the difference.

His hand was white.

But hers was whiter. It was rice Cream.

"Rice Cream."

"What?"

He didn't get the relation to what they'd said.

"He told me...my skin is like rice cream... that he'd told it apart in a crowd..."

Shinji Ikari didn't talk. He didn't understand.

She put her hand on the baby's worried face.

There too, she noticed the difference...

"If only he's done anything to you I..."

"No."

He looked confused.

She looked peaceful.

She got the girl from her husband's arms.

She smiled.

To the baby first, then to her husband.

And eventually, to herself.

Proud.

Satisfied.

Happy with herself.

"He's just confirmed something I already knew..."

She knew that those words wouldn't have made it clearer for him,

But she could do that later, with leisure.

That sentence had to shine, in all its intensity.

In the end,

She had won.

THE END

Many thanks to Marcello Clarizia for the translation.

I'm sorry, but this fiction hasn't been checked by native english speaker yet, so I'll be happy if some of you would check and fix it for me in order to make this fanfiction more readable for english speaker fans J

Rei-chan ( mizuhokei(at)virgilio.it)