Mukashi no Koibito
1 : Serendipity
Takani Megumi sighed inwardly as she checked the schedule. Her next destination was an outpatient treatment room just around the corner. Exhaustion was threatening to catch up with her, but it was still two hours more before she could go home and crawl into her futon. Such was the life of an intern. The hospital worked them like dogs.
"I'm here," she announced wearily as she pushed the door open. But no senior doctor was around, just a young man sitting on the examination bed. His back was towards her, and he did not bother to look at her when she entered.
"Ano..." she began cautiously.
The young man turned his head slightly. "Just fix up my hand. The old doctor said you could handle that before he left."
She said nothing, but made her way to the examination bed, slightly irked that the man was behaving in such an arrogant manner. He was looking down at his right hand wrapped carelessly in a bloodstained piece of cloth. It was hard to see what he looked like with his face tilted down like that. He had interesting hair though; unruly and a dark chestnut brown colour, the longish strands flopped about haphazardly around his head, then tapered gradually down his neck. It was a distinctive style that was flattering on its owner, as far as she could tell from her angle.
"Let me see your hand."
Firmly she clasped his wrist with her left hand, pulling it closer to her. The young man did not so much as wince. She unwound the bloody cloth with her right. Examining his injuries carefully, she concluded, "There's a lot of blood, but otherwise the damage isn't as bad as it looks."
"Tough guy, aren't you?" The sarcasm was obvious. This time the young man looked up.
"Nobody asked for your--" he stopped midway, and stared at her.
An odd feeling came over her. She could finally see what the young man looked like, and for some reason it startled her. He was attractive in a roguish way, with dark brown eyes that gazed insistently at her. She stared back at him. For the life of her she could not put a name to what she was experiencing.
It was the young man who broke eye contact first. "Takani Megumi," he read slowly from the plastic tag above her right breast. "Megumi," he repeated her name softly; sounding quite disoriented as he did so. "You're kind of young for a doctor."
The sound of his husky voice in the quiet room dissipated the strange tension. She shook her head slightly, taking comfort in the tangible swing of her ponytail as she did so. "I'm an intern," she managed to answer.
The young man merely nodded, his gaze returning to her. Feeling awkward, she looked down at his hand, which was still resting in her grasp. "You... you need stitches," she said absently. "There's a big gash across your knuckles."
Taking out the appropriate equipment, she proceeded to repair his injured hand. She could sense him watching her as she worked carefully.
"So, you got into a fight?" she asked casually in an attempt to draw his attention away from her face. His staring was making her uncomfortable. He did look like the rough sort anyway.
He nodded. "Punched out some guy who was pushing a girl around."
Pausing in her work, she glanced up at him. "Really?"
"Sounds like heroics but I never lie." The young man was starting to sound arrogant again.
"Maybe you wanted the girl for yourself."
"You're a sly one, but no," he shrugged. "It's called honour, you know?" He said it in such a matter of fact manner she thought it would be mean if she laughed.
"Well, that's almost outdated these days."
He shrugged again in response. She finished up the final stitch and broke the thread. Taking out a roll of gauze, she began to wind it around his hand. Her motions were surprisingly quick and routine, as if she had done this plenty of times before. But in her limited experience people hardly came to the hospital with fists that got injured in fights. It was all very peculiar.
"I can go now?"
"Hai. Take care of that hand, and come back in two weeks," she said briskly, turning away from him as she cleared up the equipment strewn all over the small table. "Don't get into anymore fights."
She longed to take another look at him before he left the room, but restrained herself. He was just a patient. She would never progress beyond a naïve intern if she let her emotions run amok like that. The man was not even dead yet he was affecting her this much.
"Arigatou," he answered. Then he touched her shoulder briefly, making her turn around. As she did so, he took the opportunity to say hesitantly, "You're very pretty."
She could only stare at him in raw surprise. The cheeky bastard had caught her completely off-guard. He grinned somewhat cockily at her reaction.
"Ja ne, onna sensei."
He strode out of the room with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. The door swung shut. She was tempted to go after him, but it would be a foolish thing to do for someone in her position. What would she say when she caught up with him? After a brief moment of contemplation, she too made her way out of the room and towards the registration counter.
From the nurses on duty there she found out the young man's name. "Sagara Sanosuke," she said under her breath as she walked away from the curious nurses. It was an unusual name. Thinking about his name brought to mind an image of the young man, his playful grin and unruly hair and casual arrogance. Rare was the time when a man could occupy her thoughts so intensely like this; the plain truth was that she wanted to see him again. Impulsively, she walked back to the counter.
"If that young man Sagara-san comes back, could you please inform me?"
As much as she hated to feel helpless, the only thing to do now was wait.
The street ahead was so rendered in shadow that Sanosuke could barely see where he was putting his feet as he walked home. It was a bit depressing being surrounded in such darkness, but he had not much choice. Him and money - theirs was a stormy relationship, and it so happened that for the past months money had cruelly deserted him. No matter, he was never one to dwell long on what he did not have. He could handle cheap, run-down housing. There was only himself to please anyway and he was not one who was difficult to satisfy.
He started to whistle a wayward tune, wayward because his mind was preoccupied with something else. He was thinking about the young doctor who had just tended to his injured hand. No, she was not a doctor, but an intern. She looked so mature and assured it was hard to tell the difference.
It crossed his mind how she was exactly the kind of woman a man like him would never be exposed to ordinarily. Gangster, thug, street punk, hoodlum - these formed the usual variety of what people have labeled Sagara Sanosuke. He was all of them, and yet none of them. It really depended on his mood.
Che. It would be less trying on his self-esteem if he let his mind wander to other aspects of her. Like how beautiful she washe thought fondly. Really, she was much more than the mere 'pretty' he had accorded her. He shook his head in annoyance as he thought about their exchange at that particular moment. It was a cheap shot on his part. He had only wanted to look at her again and it was hard to when she refused to look in his direction.
Her response was worth it though. The woman looked absolutely stupefied. It was funny in an ironic way, surely he was not the first man to compliment her on her looks. She was tall and willowy, with refined features, almost startlingly pale - blessed with the kind of beauty that could just as well screw up her life. But she did not appear particularly besotted with her looks, and she was willingly subjecting herself to the hard life of a medical intern, so she must have her head in the right place.
He thought about the uncomfortable quiver that ran up his spine when he glanced at her the first time. It was not the kind of jolting excitement at the sight of a nice-looking woman, for he had experienced enough of those to know that like a spark they flared brilliantly, but fizzled quickly.
The feeling just now was discomforting yet tantalizing, something he could not find it in himself to explain. He rationalized that it was probably because she was by far the most attractive woman he had seen in the longest time - he had felt rather chaste for the past months, but the explanation seemed too simplified to justify the sheer depth of feeling.
It had shook him up enough to make him want to leave as soon as she finished fixing up his hand, to give him a chance to think. Yet he had also been reluctant to part with her, hence that impulsive cheap shot that still made him cringe when he thought about it.
"Bakayarou, Sanosuke," he cursed aloud as he looked up at the starless night sky.
On hindsight he should have stayed and talked to her, never mind that he noticed she had a sharp tongue. There was something intriguing about her that he could not put his finger on. Now he had to wait a whole fortnight to have a proper reason to see her again.
If he could even wait that long.