That's how many years she's been here. That's how many years she's been stuck in the same wonderland that she's created. That's how many years she has believed in the dreams of her far-flung youth.
But even so, even after so much time has passed, she never gave up. Never gave up believing. Believing her dreams, her imaginations.
She let the small butterfly land on her long, slender fingers. She bent down to examine the wings and whispered conspiratorially to the little butterfly before letting it fly off into the wind. She gave a small smile as a she gave a small wave to the butterfly. She turned her head towards a tall, slender figure that was coming her way.
The nurse sighed as she checked off the list in her hands. The next patient was her favorite, albeit she was wary of her. She was wary of everyone here. The next patient was, if not, just as volatile and violent as all the other patients in this place. She knew. She saw what the patient could do when angered. She knew what all the patients here could do.
The nurse approached the younger girl, a little wary. She had heard what happened a while ago in the lunchroom.
"Good afternoon, Masa-chan. How was your day?"
Masako smiled at the nickname. "It was good. Chihiro-chan. How are you feeling today? I heard from Hiko-sensei about the incident at the lunchroom with Hatoko-san."
"Hmf. I'm fine. It's that other woman you have to be worried about."
"Chihiro-chan." Masako sighed. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"She insulted me."
"Can't you be more elaborate than that, Chihiro-chan? It would help me a lot, you know. And I bet, it would help you too. If we know the problem, we could get right to the solution."
"I know what's my problem. Masa-chan. And my problem was her."
"Chihiro-chan. Please." Masako gave a little pleading look before Chihiro caved in.
"She told me that I was crazy, for believing that a man can turn into a dragon. And I told her that she should talk. She's not here because she's sane after all. She got offended and huffed and insulted my parents for siring a 'pathetic excuse for a child like me who's crazy'. And I told her 'What does that make you?'. Then she tried to punch me in the face, so I dodged and punched her in the gut. The rest is history."
"Chihiro-chan, please learn to control your temper. You know that's going to earn you more trouble."
"Masa-chan, I keep my temper in check." Chihiro snapped before getting up and going into the building.
Masako sighed before looking at the pond. She was fond of Chihiro.
Chihiro's parents were concerned for the child's welfare, Hiko-sensei said. They told him that she has been spouting tales of dragons and bathhouses and spirits ever since they moved here. Her parents thought at that time that she was just fantasizing. It was normal, for a young child. But at fifteen, her parents thought her to be insane. She kept getting into fights because of her childhood fantasies. It was worrying them. They thought that by sending her here, she would keep out of trouble and perhaps, discard her childhood fantasies.
She heard the story from Chihiro herself. The story of the dragon and the young girl, and the promise they shared.
It was beautiful, Masako thought. However, the story was one made from fantasies. If it cannot be explained by logic, by reason, it could not be real. That was what she believed in, what was ingrained in her from the time she was able to talk.
Perhaps, the story made her seem crazy. However, Masako felt that beyond that, Chihiro was not crazy, and that she was just like any other teenager. Masako couldn't help but feel that somehow Chihiro was different. Somehow. She's not like the other patients.
There was a fine line between reality and fantasy, just like hate and love. Sometimes, sometimes it's difficult to tell whether something is real or not, whether something is there or not. Sometimes, you see one thing, but others don't. That's when the lines get blurred. Because, then you won't know if what you see is real, or if what others don't see is real.
Chihiro learned that sometimes, it's better to remain quiet. Because then, people won't be so judgmental of your views.
She thought at times, that perhaps, she was only dreaming, and perhaps, there was no such thing. But, every time she does, her heart constricts with pain, because all she could ever think is that her mind could deny it, but her heart knows the truth. And the truth hurts.
Chihiro made a promise. It was etched in her heart, as was the dreams…no, not dreams, but memories of long ago. She will wait.
She doesn't need to prove to anybody that her story is real. It is enough that her heart knows it is real. No matter what other people say, she will still believe, and it is that belief that will give her the strength to continue.
Sometimes, Chihiro wished that it was only a dream. Everyday that passes, every hour that is lost, every minute that slips away was a blight on her heart. The long days she spent here was only a reminder of how long she has waited for their promise to come true. True, she promised, and she will wait. However, time has taken too long. Her days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. Months turned to years. So much time has passed while she waited. She wished she could stop. But she could not, knowing that every time she tries, her heart aches, to a point that she couldn't ignore the pain.
At times, she felt that her hope is lost. But, as she looked at the purple band in her wrist, she can't help but feel her hope rising, her dreams soaring, her feelings to strengthen. And so, she keeps on waiting. But, it was tiring. She was feeling exhausted now. It's as if her strength is leaving her.
Chihiro sighed. Maybe, she had been rather rude to Masako; after all, she was only being helpful. But, just as Masako couldn't help but be helpful. Masako could not also help but close her heart to anything that cannot be explained by logic, or reason. It was the one thing that made Chihiro like her less. She thought that perhaps, it was because of Masako's upbringing. She was raised in an environment where there was no room for childhood fantasies.
Chihiro knew that Masako thought she wasn't crazy, only her stories. But Masako was fascinated with her stories. She never believed them. But she let Chihiro tell them. That is what made Chihiro like her in the first place. She wasn't like the others who didn't give way. She wasn't like the others who judged her because of what comes out of her mouth. Masako judged her after she learned about her.
Maybe, it was that thought that made Chihiro want her to see that there are things beyond what the eyes could see. But all that is in the girl's head is logic. Hearing is one thing. But believing is another.
Chihiro sat up as she heard a knock on her door. The door opened to reveal a tall man in his twenties in a white lab coat. Chihiro looked at the only window in her room before turning to the doctor.
"Good evening, Hiko-sensei."
"Good evening, Chihiro-san. Are you well?"
"It's time for your medicines."
"I don't know why you even try, sensei. It's not like I'm crazy."
Sigh. "You still need your medicines."
"May I ask you something sensei?" Chihiro stated before taking the pills that was handed to her and swallowing it dry.
"Go ahead." Hiko-sensei felt confused. Chihiro has never asked him anything before. Their conversations had always been short greetings and moreover, they had never really talked.
"How do you know I'm crazy? Because I spout tales about adventures to lands only to be dreamt by children? When children spout tales of spirits, dragons, creatures of fantasy, people call them to have wild imaginations. But when older people spout such tales, they are called crazy and insane and sent to a mental institute. What's the difference, sensei, between the two?"
Hiko-sensei was momentarily stunned before coughing and answering. "Older people should know the facts. Children don't have the sense of what's right or what's wrong or what's real and what's not. The older you get, the more you should know of what's right and wrong, what's real and what's not. When older people 'spout such tales', as you put it, it's not normal, because they should have known the facts already."
"What's normal sensei? To conform to what society dictates? Is it wrong to be different?"
Hiko-sensei started to speak before Chihiro put up her hand.
"I think, sensei, that children have more sense than adults. They may have wild imaginations. But, they're not ruled by logic and reasoning. And that, sensei, makes them understand many things better than adults do."
Hiko-sensei looked at Chihiro slightly taken aback at the firmness in her voice that closed all arguments.
"And you know what else, sensei?"
Hiko-sensei sighed and signaled for the other to continue.
"You have a chance now, to tell her you love her. It's okay to wait. But sometimes, if you wait too long, your chance will be gone." She gave the sensei a cheeky grin before settling down on her bed and falling asleep instantly, signaling the end of the conversation. Hiko-sensei sighed before turning towards the door and stepping out.
Hiko-sensei strolled down one of the many pathways that led to the pond in the center of the garden. He saw the figure he had been hoping to find sitting by the pond, watching the ripples. He approached her and sat down beside her.
"Good evening Masako-san. How are you?"
"Hello, Hiko-sensei. I'm fine, and you?" Masako gave a smile before turning to the pond.
"A little disturbed." Masako gave him a confused glance before continuing. "I had a talk with Chihiro-san today. She seemed a little off today. She was more volatile today you know. It was odd. And when she talked to me today, she seemed a little weaker."
"She did seem odd. I mean, she snapped at Hatoko-san when she went off in her usual rant. Usually, Chihiro-chan would just let it slide. And she snapped at me." Masako told him. "Maybe it's the meds?"
"Somehow, I doubt it. It was like she was exhausted. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was tired. But she hasn't done anything all day, has she?"
"No. I've been keeping an eye on her all day."
"Yes. For her. How is she now?"
"She's fast asleep."
Masako looked at Hiko-sensei before turning back to the pond. "May I ask a question, Hiko-sensei?"
"Hmm? Go ahead."
"It's been bothering me. Do you think it was right for Chihiro-chan to be here? Do you think she's really crazy? I think she's just like any other teenager. It's just her stories that are difficult to believe. But, is it crazy for her to believe in her fantasies?"
Hiko-sensei was silent for a while. He looked at her for a minute, then turned to the pond before answering. "She asked that too, you know." He smiled, before continuing. "She asked me if she was crazy. She asked me whether there is a difference between the children having wild imaginations and adults being called crazy for believing in fantasies and I told her that adults should know facts by now and that they shouldn't believe in things like those anymore. But truthfully, I don't know. Maybe I was just saying that to assure myself. I was taken aback by her question. But, the truth is, I don't know at all."
"I don't." Hiko-sensei looked at her. Masako smiled. "I don't think…no. I know she's not crazy."
He smiled. They both turned towards the pond. There was a momentary silence before the winds picked up. It was so strong. They both thought that there was going to be some kind of storm. But, just as suddenly did the wind pick up, it stopped. They heard a twig snap and they turned their heads towards the sound.
They saw a boy. They have never seen him before. He was tall, seemed to be young, about eighteen or so. He had straight, dark green hair cut to his chin. He was wearing a white shirt and a hakama and was barefooted. He just standing there, as if breathing the wind, his eyes closed. Then, as though he felt the eyes on him, he opened his eyes.
Hiko-sensei and Masako stared at the boy's pool of emeralds, as if they were drowning. They stared at him and the boy stared at them for a long while. Finally, after a few moments, the wind picked up again and he started walking towards them.
Soon, he was standing in front of them. He smiled a little. Their affection between them was apparent, it seemed, to everyone but them.
Masako stared at him, he seemed familiar. As if she knew him from somewhere before.
Hiko-sensei looked at the young man in front of them with a wary eye before speaking. "Can we help you? Are you lost or are you here to visit someone?"
"I am here to visit someone." The voice was deep and like a light whisper.
"Oh. You must be here for the new patient that just came in." Masako exclaimed. "But you should go to the information desk first so the clerk there can give you an id before you visit someone. Come. I'll show you the way."
"No. I'm here for someone else."
"Oh. May I ask who?"
"Sen." He replied, his eyes twinkling, like the emeralds.
"Oh. I don't know any Sen. But maybe someone from the information desk does, and you still have to go through it anyway. So, come on. I'll help you get there." Masako tried to take his hand, but he shook his hand.
"It's okay. I know where to go." He smiled.
"Oh, you have an id already."
The boy didn't nod or give any indication of agreeing or anything else for that matter. He just smiled. Hiko-sensei though it was odd but kept his mouth shut.
However, Masako wasn't so tightlipped. "What are you doing here then? Aren't you going?" She asked with genuine confusion. She still couldn't shake the feeling that hse knew him. Somehow.
The boy laughed. "No. I need not to. She will come to me. It's time." As he said that, the wind picked up again. It was as if the wind was caressing the boy.
Masako tilted her head, her confusion shown in her eyes.
That's when they heard it. A small voice, like a whisper. It carried amongst the winds. The wind picked up again, this time, stronger and a gust blew all around.
A small figure stepped out of the darkness. Masako and Hiko-sensei looked at the figure in shock.
"Chihiro-chan!" Masako cried, before running to the girl, Hiko-sensei following behind her. "I thought you were in bed already! Hiko-sensei told me you're already asleep. What are you doing here?" Hiko-sensei gave her a confused look
Chihiro smiled at Masako before turning towards Hiko-sensei and giving him a knowing look. She took Masako's hand and placed it by her side and walked towards the boy. Masako and Hiko-sensei stared at her and followed her with their eyes.
"Haku." Chihiro whispered lightly.
"Sen." the young boy smiled and held his hand out. Chihiro took his hand and smiled, tears running down her face. They embraced and stood there. For a moment, all was silent and it seemed as if the wind was serenading them with her gentle caress.
Masako and Hiko-sensei's eyes widened in realization as they remembered the stories they heard from Chihiro. All they could think of was that the story was real.
Chihiro's hands went up to touch his face. "Kohaku." The tears wouldn't stop. "It's really you. You came. You came and fulfilled your promise. I'm so happy."
Kohaku's hands came to rest on Chihiro's. "Yes. Chihiro. It's me. I came. I'm here. I'll always be here. From now on. We'll be together. Forever."
Chihiro buried her face in his neck, taking in his scent. "It's not too late, is it?"
"To say I love you. It's not too late for me to say I love you, is it? But, even so I won't regret saying it now. But I'll ever regret it if I had not been able to say it now."
"Shhh." He coddled her. "It's not too late. And, I love you too. I love you Chihiro. And I'm here now. We'll be together forever. I'll stay by your side now. Always."
"Mmm…I'm glad. I was so tired. I was so very exhausted. But, now that you're here, I feel as if I can take on the world again. I'm glad you're here. Take me home, Kohaku. Take me to the place I could only dream of now. I want to see what's beyond. I want to see the world, together with you."
"Together. We'll see the world. I'm free. And you are free now as well. We'll go home and we'll see the world and what's beyond."
They embraced each other. Kohaku felt Chihiro's breathe even out as she fell asleep. He carried her in her arms as the wind engulfed them both. The wind died down and in Chihiro and Kohaku's place, they saw shadows that looked like a dragon and and a young girl settled on the dragon's back, sleeping peacefully. But Hiko-sensei and Masako knew who they were – Chihiro and Kohaku. The shadows rose up in the air, as the winds followed them.
Soon, the garden was silent again. Hiko-sensei and Masako looked at each other before a gust of wind blew towards them and they heard a whisper. Don't let the chance go. Masako looked confused and Hiko-sensei looked taken aback, before slightly smiling.
Hiko-sensei turned to Masako and took her hand. "Masako, I have fallen in love with you. I love you. Will you please give me a chance?"
Masako smiled before nodding her head and burying her head in his chest. Hiko-sensei smiled and whispered a thank you to the wind.
They stayed there for the rest of the night, enjoying the silence.
The next day, there was a commotion as doctors and equipments were rushed into Room 259. Hiko-sensei helped the other doctors put the girl's body onto the stretcher before walking away. It was too late, one of the doctors commented, the girl had been dead for hours and there's nothing we can do anymore. Masako didn't move an inch from her spot at the door watching the others carry the stretcher away. Hiko-sensei gave her a slight nudge, a knowing look and a small shake of his head. They both went out of the building towards the pond.
Chihiro was dead. Masako thought.
"She's been dead for approximately eleven hours. Doctors couldn't find anything wrong, even knowing what medicines she's been given still didn't explain anything. They're doing an autopsy right now." Hiko-sensei said before sitting down next to her.
"I think that ever since that boy, Kohaku, came, she's been dead. He said 'it was time'. I think he knew. He came to fetch her. And she just went to him. I think that's why she was so exhausted. Do you think she knew it was time for her? It was like she was waiting for him to fetch her."
"Yes. Perhaps, that's why she talked to me then. I believe that as soon as she fell asleep that night, she was already dead."
"Do you think so?"
"Yes. I realized now that if she never really talked to me before, why would she start now, of all times?"
"Ah. Do you think she's happy?"
"I'm glad then. She looked so sad before, even when she smiled or laughed or talk to me. But when I saw her last night, she was so happy, even as she cried."
Hiko-sensei looked at her and took her hand.
"We have to thank her. She's the one who told me to take my chance you know."
"Yes, of course."
And the wind caressed them and they heard the gentle twinkling of Chihiro's laughter laced with the deep sound of Kohaku's voice.